Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ours is not to win but to endure. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 25, Proper 28B, preached on Sunday, November 18, 2012.

    There will be blood, disaster, trouble, famine, devastation, war, and false prophets who lead you astray...  Wow, that is just what I need to hear. Life was tough enough without hearing this on Sunday morning.  Do you give up yet?  You probably should.  We will not prevail.  We cannot vote sin out of office.  We cannot pass laws and police them to make people righteous.  We cannot legislate peace or an end to violence.  We cannot stop the storms and natural disasters that threaten.  We cannot keep prices from going up.  We cannot keep the economy so it is always strong.  So what is left for us?
    This is not exactly the pep talk we were hoping for from Jesus.  The kind of future we were hoping for is one where bad things go away and good things come to us.  We want a world that is improving.  We want our lives to improve.  We want to improve our world and improve our lives.  But that is not the promise of Jesus.  It does not matter what the TV preachers say about a better life now, earth will never become heavenly, a heaven, or the heaven.  So what is left for us?  If we cannot win against these enemies, what can we do?  Jesus tells us.  We can endure.  The goal of faith is not earthly triumph or fixing earth’s problems but endurance.  Endurance to the end.  He who perseveres to the end SHALL be saved.  That is Christ's promise.
    We have come to think that it is our job to fix this world of all its ills.  We stir one another to good works in the false idea that we can fix this world and that God has put us to fix this world.  But our good works are not meant to fix the world or even make it a better place.  Our good works are meant to show forth the faith that is in us, to mark us as eternal citizens of heaven who dwell on earth for a time.  I read of a caption on an antique photo that said, “this is my family for a time in the summer of ....”  That is exactly the perspective of faith.  We are here for a time.  While we are here, we work not to end the problems of this world but to show forth the eternal, the Word that endures forever, the love of Christ that was shown to us, that lives in us by baptism and faith, and that naturally spills out into our daily lives.  We are not do gooders making a bad situation better.  The good we do is Christ living in us and shining through us.
    What we do here on earth is the fruit of Christ in us.  It is not because we are focused on this world and its problems that we labor for the cause of the poor or feed the hungry or clothe the naked or care for the sick or protect the weak.  We do these things because we are focused upon Christ, because this is what Christ did for us and now this is what we do for Christ by serving our neighbors in His name.
    Do not get confused.  Our purpose is not to win the battle to fix this world.  Jesus says we will always have the poor with us – this is not to depress us but to remind us the opportunity to show forth the Kingdom in word and works will never go away.  Jesus insists that the wrongs will not decline as life improves but things will become progressively worse and this is itself the sign of the times.  But do not despair.  Our life is not fixing the world.  Our life is in Christ.  Christ has redeemed the world.  We live as the redeemed of the Lord, enduring the troubles and trials in confidence in what Christ has done and of His gifts to us.  Endurance is not defeat.  Endurance is victory.  He who endures to the end shall be saved. You can take it to the bank.
    Our names are written in the Book of Life.  The world cannot erase or steal from us that which Christ has written in the ink of His own blood.  We are His.  He is ours.  This is our confidence.  We have His trustworthy promise proven in the resurrection.  What we do here makes an eternal difference even if it does not end the world's ills or fix what is wrong.  We do not have to see improvement or headway on the problems of the world to be encouraged.  Our encouragement, our hope, and our life lies in the fact that we are the redeemed of the Lord.  Ours is to endure the temptation, to endure the trouble, to endure the trial without losing this sense of who we are as the redeemed of the Lord.
    In the midst of the world's darkness we shine like the stars we are in Christ.  We reflect Christ's light to the world not to fix what is wrong but so that those who live in darkness may see Christ's eternal light.  They will be consumed with today unless they, like us, can see an eternal tomorrow.  The world is passing away but Christ and His Kingdom are forever.  So we speak to them His eternal Gospel and we show forth this Gospel in works that have eternal consequence even though they may not appear to make a lasting difference in this moment.
    We hold fast to our hope because we know how things will end.  We endure because we already know that Christ has won and that it is His gift of grace to give us His victory.  So we look beyond today and its trials to the day of judgment.  For the Christian this is not the dreaded and fearful day when all our sin is exposed and punished.  Judgment is when the ransomed and redeemed of the Lord are delivered from every enemy to enter into the joy and delight of our Master forevermore.
    It is not to stave off judgment that we endure and do the good works of the Kingdom.  It is BECAUSE we know how Judgment Day ends that we are free in Christ to endure without fear and to act in holiness and righteousness, doing the good He has called us to do and forsaking the evil that is death.  Ours is not to win.  It never was.  Christ has already won.  So forget the constant need to keep score and find out where things stand.  Endure in faith.  Endure in hope.  Do not grow weary in well doing.  Endure in good works.  Christ has already given us the victory.
    This is not defeatism.  Evil will lose.  It cannot triumph.  It has already been dealt its mortal blow by the cross.  This is not because of us or our doing. This is because of Christ and only Christ.  Those who stand in Christ receive every benefit of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  The success we seek if faithfulness to Christ and endurance in the face of His enemies.  We are not here to repair the world's wrongs but to be the people of God by baptism and faith and to do the good works of faith.  This may or may not improve the world, but that is up to the Lord.  We do to others and for others what Christ has done for us.  All the rest is in Christ's hand; we are in Christ's hand.  So do not flag with zeal because your life is a constant struggle.  We know the outcome.  Do not grow weary in well doing because the world is not getting better. We know who has the victory.  All is Christ's; Christ is ours.  He who endures will be saved.

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