Sunday, November 25, 2012

Last Sunday (Proper 29), Series B

Sermon on Mark 13:24-37
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 25, 2012 (Last Sunday of the Church Year)

Compared to the upheaval and the destruction which will be seen on Judgment Day, even the Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Fukushima earthquakes put together, the destruction of “frankenstorm” Sandy, and all the other disasters on this earth, will seem quite minor.  On Judgment Day, the very fabric of creation itself with unravel, and the universe itself will come undone.  Even the havoc and destruction caused by a thermonuclear explosion is not comparable to what that day will be like.  According to our Lord, even the stars in heaven will fall, and the sun and moon will be affected.  Even though mankind’s ability to destroy things with technology is frighteningly sophisticated, we cannot produce that level of destruction, in which the universe itself and all the natural laws which govern it will fall apart and cease to exist.  Compared to that, any natural or manmade disaster we’ve ever seen will look like child’s play.

But this tremendous destruction is not the end of the story.  Christ says that “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.  And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of heaven.”  The massive destruction and dissolution of the universe which will happen on the last day is really only a prelude to this event, when Jesus Christ our Lord will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.  And while the many destructions and disasters which happen in our world almost universally cause fear and sorrow in the hearts of those who witness them and are caught up in them, this event will cause two different reactions on the part of the people of the world.  In some, the unbelievers, it will cause fear and terror like nothing anyone has ever seen.  In us, however, who have been baptized into Christ and who have believed in Him and have persevered despite the sufferings and the temptations of this world, it will be an occasion for great joy.

Those who have not believed in Christ will be in terror at these events, not only because of what will be happening to the world around them, but primarily because their Judge is coming.  To those who do not have faith in Christ, the Judge is a figure who condemns them and sentences them to an eternity of punishment.  And this is not only true of those who have led manifestly sinful lives, such as murderers or drug dealers or prostitutes or adulterers, but also of those who have led outwardly righteous lives.  The fact of the matter is, Christ does not simply demand that people lead relatively decent lives, but that they live perfect lives, and there is no one on this earth who has done that, except for Jesus Christ Himself.  For those whose sins are not covered over by Christ’s righteousness, even if they have been pretty good people by the world’s standards, they have not been good enough.   Even death is no escape.  On the day when Christ comes again they will be raised to life again in order to face the punishment they deserve.  The coming of Christ means that the punishment they have deserved by their sins is now going to come upon them.  An eternity in hell, separated from the life-giving presence of their Creator, is far, far worse than being involved in any disaster that takes place on this earth.

For those of us whose sins are covered by Christ’s righteousness, however, seeing Christ come again will be a joyful occasion.  For us, it will mean that the suffering, the trials, the temptations, the struggles we have with the sin that remains in us, will be over.  The reason why the universe itself will be falling apart is that God will be making way for a new heavens and a new earth to take its place, where we will live forever, perfect and holy.  Even those Christians who will have passed away before He comes again will be resurrected so that we can see that day.  And whether we are still alive or whether we are raised up from our graves for the event, we will be changed.  The sin which corrupts our hearts will be gone, and the effects of living in a sin-filled world, such as disease, deformity, blindness, the weakness of old age, and whatever else ails us, will also be gone.  We will be perfect, and Christ’s coming again will mean the beginning of a new, eternal life for us, in which Christ will be constantly with us to provide us with our every need, in which there will be no sorrow or pain or struggles with sin, but only perfect joy and peace, where no disasters will ever threaten us again, but we will live safe and secure.

Of course, this comparison between what it will be like for the believers and the unbelievers when Christ comes again raises some pretty serious and important questions in our minds.  Since the difference is so great between the believers and the unbelievers on judgment day, it causes us to ask ourselves, how do I know which category I will be in on that day?  Even if I am in the faith now, how do I know that I won’t fall away from the faith before that day?  Am I even a believer right now?  All of these are questions with which many Christians have struggled over the centuries, and so if you’re struggling with them, you’re not alone.  And yet, the answer to them is easy.  Those who are gathered into heaven by the angels in our text are referred to as the “elect” or the “chosen ones.”  In other words, God planned to save you, and He keeps you in the faith and prevents you from falling away.  But He does this through His Means of Grace.  Through the water of Holy Baptism, through the spoken Word of Holy Absolution and of Preaching, and through Christ’s Body and Blood, we are preserved in the faith.  A person who does not come to receive these Means has no promise that God will preserve his faith in any other way.  It is therefore vital that we are here in Church to receive His Word and Sacrament frequently.

But ultimately whether or not we will be among the saved on that day depends on God’s faithfulness to us, and not on our faithfulness to Him.  God is the one who provides us with the Means of Grace for our salvation, and through them He is the one who will preserve us in His fellowship until that day.  He doesn’t do it as a reward for our goodness or our faithfulness, or even as a reward for our frequent Church attendance.  It’s just that it is through what we receive here that God has chosen to work on us.  It is His own promises to us which bind Him.  His own Word of promise stands sure, despite the destruction and the hurt that goes along with life in a dying world.  The world will pass away, but Christ’s Word will not pass away.  And His word promises us eternal life.  He will keep His promise.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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