Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pentecost 25 (Proper 28), Series B

Sermon on Mark 13:1-13
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 18, 2012 (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

As we look around us, we see many of the things that Jesus describes taking place.  There are wars and rumors of wars going on constantly.  Earthquakes?  What about the one that ravaged Japan and caused a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima last year?  People in other nations have experienced hunger on a scale we cannot even imagine.  Aside from famines caused by natural events such as a lack of rain, in many countries the infrastructure or the economy has broken down to such an extent that people cannot get the food that is there for them.  Hostility to the Gospel is on the rise, not just in places like the Middle East or China, but here in the United States as well.  Those who have been observing the course of our society suspect that the time may not be far off when we too will be arrested and put on trial for being Christians.  Certainly, the requirement that employers (via the insurance companies they contract with to provide benefit plans) pay for medications which cause abortions, is a direct attack on those of us who believe that life begins at conception.  To all appearances, it seems that the end of the world is very near, and getting nearer all the time.

One Lutheran pastor has had this to say about the nearness of the end of the world:  “Since the Gospel is so despised, I suppose that Judgment Day is not far away, not over a hundred years.  God’s Word will decline and fall; and, because of a lack of upright and faithful servants of the Word, a great darkness will come.  Then the whole world will turn wild and epicurean and will live wild and abandoned lives in all security.  But then the Voice will come and ring out: ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh’; for God will not be able to put up with conditions any longer.”  That sounds like it could have been written yesterday.  But the pastor who wrote it lived 500 years ago.  His name was Martin Luther.  The fact of the matter is, we don’t know for sure when the Lord will come.  All of the things described in this Gospel lesson have been going on since Christ ascended into heaven.  Sometimes things get better for Christians in God’s providence; sometimes things get worse.  It may in fact be true that Judgment Day is not that far off.  But we don’t know that for sure.

What we do know for sure is that as long as the world continues to exist, we will have these signs of the end times going on around us.  Although things like famines, wars, and earthquakes are useless in terms of trying to figure out exactly when Judgment Day will happen, they do serve as a warning for us.  We are living in the end times, and that means that Judgment Day could come at any time.  We are to be ready, not only because we wouldn’t want Christ to come and find us sleeping, but also because just living as Christians in the end times is a struggle.  Christ describes some of this when he tells the disciples that they will be arrested and put on trial for being Christians, and that they will be given the words to speak on that occasion, and they will be hated by everyone for the sake of Christ.  It’s not easy being a Christian in the end times.  It never has been, and never will be.

The temptation for us living in these end times may be to go along with what the world is doing, to keep quiet about your faith.  It’s easy to keep your mouth shut when someone says something negative about Christianity or criticizes what is right.  It is hard to speak up, and to keep yourself pure from the sins which are so prevalent in our society.  It is so hard that many even among Christians give in to these temptations when they arise.  We have all kept our mouth shut when we had the opportunity to confess the truth.  It is not easy living in the end times.

Christ has promised, however, to see us through these times.  He has promised in our text that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to speak even when we ourselves know not what to say in answer to those who would question us about our Christianity.  He has promised to see us safely through to the end, and to give us salvation.  Because of the trouble and hardship and temptation we must endure in this world, the fact that the end is coming is good news.  It means that our time of suffering and pain in this world will come to an end and we will be saved and live eternally with Christ.

He bases this promise on His own death and resurrection.  It is interesting to notice the similarity between Christ’s description of the end times and what happened at His own crucifixion.  When Christ died, the skies were darkened.  The earth shook.  The veil of the temple was torn in two, and many who had died were resurrected.  This sounds almost exactly like what Christ describes Judgment Day as being like.  There’s a good reason for that.  For Christ, and for Christians baptized into Christ, Judgment Day is already past.  It all happened on Good Friday for us.  Christ, who had taken the guilt of our sin upon Himself, was judged and punished for that sin on that day.  Christ endured the judgment we deserved, and that’s why His death caused things to happen on this earth that resemble what will happen when He comes again as Judge.  Christ has been judged in our stead and so we need not fear the judgment, even though we have fallen many times from our Christian life, He has still brought us back to salvation and will continue to keep us in His grace until the end.

Because the judgment is already past for us, and our citizenship is already in heaven, we in fact do not need to fear anything the world can dish out at us.  As we see the sufferings of those around us, and as we suffer the persecution that the world gives us for being Christians, and as the world seems to be at the very brink of collapse, we need not fear.  We walk among all these things as if we were walking through the Garden of Eden, as if we were walking through Paradise itself.  Why is this?  Because Christ is with us.  He covers us and protects us from whatever and whoever would harm us.  The worst this world can do is kill the bodies of God’s saints.  It cannot hurt our souls, and even our bodies will be raised up on the last day, just as Jesus was raised up on Easter Sunday.  Since we have this promise, and since Christ is with us, we really can walk as if we are already in heaven itself, even while we live here on earth.  We are already with Christ, and where Christ is, there is forgiveness.  Where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.  Everything that will be ours in eternal life is already ours here and now, even though we cannot see or feel it yet.  Even the eternal feast of victory, and the eternal songs of praise which we will raise in heaven are already here and now in the liturgy of Word and Sacrament, as we feed on Christ’s body and blood and join in the hymns of the angels in thanksgiving and praise to Him.  This is why we can live among this world’s troubles and sufferings and not let them get to us and make us despair.  There is an aspect of our existence that the world cannot touch.  The new life in us which was born in Holy Baptism is hidden with Christ in the bosom of God the Father.  And nothing the world can do will be able to touch or change that.

When we look around us, we sometimes think that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and when we think that, we’re not entirely wrong.  But Christ has overcome the world, and he protects us and allows us to live as His people, serving Him until He comes again.  In fact, He does His work in this world through us.  In our text, he mentions that the Gospel must be preached everywhere.  It is Christ who does that preaching, but of course He does it in the power of the Holy Spirit through the Church, as His pastors proclaim from the pulpit and reach out into the community, as His laymen tell their friends and neighbors about the forgiveness of sins that is theirs because of Christ.  It is Christ and the Holy Spirit who are really speaking when God’s people are called upon to testify publicly to their faith and perhaps face martyrdom or other kinds of suffering for the sake of Christ.  He uses our mouths and our hands to do His work, and he protects and keeps us safe until He shall come again.  He that shall endure to the end shall be saved.  By God’s power we shall endure to the end.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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