Sunday, November 17, 2013

Your Redemption Is Drawing Near

Sermon on Luke 20:27-40
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 10, 2013 (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost)

In this old world, nothing is permanent.  Nothing will last forever.  Eventually everything under this old sun falls down or gets knocked over.  It’s true of buildings, it’s true of nations, it’s true even of geological structures.  It all decays, it all disintegrates, it’s all destroyed.  And that’s horrifying, if you think about it too long.  There is nothing and no one in this old world in whom we can ultimately place our trust.  Nothing we build for ourselves will last forever, either.  The sentence of death God pronounced upon Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is still working itself out.  Even those places where God has chosen for His name to dwell there, will be torn down.  It happened to the temple.  It has happened to many, many churches through the ages.  No earthly place is safe from the effects of sin.  Death and destruction is the ultimate end of everything in this old world.

The confusing thing about this section of St. Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus seems to go back and forth between the destruction of Jerusalem, which would take place a little less than 40 years from when He spoke these words, and the end of this old creation.  The discussion starts when the disciples start to admire the Temple in Jerusalem, and He reminds them that the Temple is temporary.  But the place where God dwells shouldn’t be temporary, because God isn’t temporary.  And it is certainly true that the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans was a horrifying time for those who lived there.  Living inside the city meant being so desperate for food that they turned even to cannibalism.  Compared to that, the destruction of a mere building, even if it was God’s building, seems almost to be a relief, because it meant that the time of horror was over.

But can God’s Temple ever really be destroyed?  If you tear it down, won’t God rebuild it?  Actually, yes, He will rebuild it.  And it will take Him only three days to do so.  You see, the building in Jerusalem had ceased to be the true temple of God already several decades before this.  The place where God had caused His Name to dwell was no longer a building, but a man.  “Tear down this temple,” Jesus says, “And I will rebuild it in three days.”  Everyone misunderstood Him as referring to the building, and it was even one of the accusations leveled against Him during His trial, that He had threatened to destroy the Temple.  But He didn’t say He would destroy it, but that they would destroy it.  He only promised to rebuild it.  And rebuild it He did.  He rose again from the grave on the third day.  Jesus wasn’t only talking about the physical building when He said that the Temple would be surrounded by Roman swords (though that did happen).  The true Temple was also surrounded by Roman swords and then was torn down.  One sword even pierced that temple, and blood and water came out, signifying that His death means our life.  The Roman siege of Jerusalem was horrifying; the Roman siege of the Son of God was even worse.  The sun turned to darkness, the moon to blood.  The dead were raised up.  The water of life and the blood that cleanses flowed freely down the hillside.

Amidst all this terror and horror, it is tempting to despair.  It is tempting to give up working faithfully and patiently in the callings God has given us in life.  It was tempting for many in the Church in Thessalonica.  It’s tempting also today, to abandon our sober and patient work in service to God and the neighbor, and be selfish and lazy.  After all, it’s all going to be destroyed anyway, so what good is it to help our neighbor?  Why not just get what fun we can, eat drink, and be merry, since it’s all going to come crashing down soon anyway?  But Paul, and Jesus, reminds us that since we look forward to the true Temple, the true Kingdom of God, we can be patient.  We can serve God and our neighbor patiently in our own callings in life.  Luther once said that even if he knew that the next day was Judgment Day, he’d still go out and plant a tree.  It’s precisely because the end is coming that we should go about our lives as if we were already living in the the new creation.

Because that’s what we are, after all.  The reason why we can work patiently and orderly in the midst of all the chaos and destruction, as Paul encourages in today’s Epistle, is because the resurrection has already happened.  It was the creation itself that died and rose again on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  The generation living then really did see the end of the world, even though we still patiently wait for it almost 2,000 years later.  The death and destruction of a world fatally wounded by sin and staggering toward its deathbed, were taken out on the very Creator of that world.  The creation can’t kill the Creator, however.  Instead the reverse happens.  The world is fatally poisoned by its own attempt to chew up and swallow its Maker.  And so death becomes birth, the grave becomes the womb out of which comes the new heavens and the new earth.  The old has passed away, the new has come.  You are no longer of the world, even while you live in it, because you joined your God on the tree and in the grave, by means of water connected with and comprehended in God’s Word.  Yes, you still experience the violent and wrenching death throes of this old world.  But the old creation has already given birth to the new.  The resurrected body and blood of Jesus which you eat and drink today belong to the new heavens and the new earth, precisely because He is the Resurrected One.  Look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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