Tuesday, November 27, 2018

He comes to gather the elect. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the Last Sunday of the Church Year, Proper 29B, preached on Sunday, November 25, 2018.

    This day is called on some calendars “Christ the King.”  But King of what?  Instead of earthly victories, we Christians seems to racking up defeat after defeat.  Instead of becoming an ever stronger force for morality and virtue, we seem to be impotent against sin that reigns without challenge and immorality that has become normal, even within some churches.  We find ourselves under attack and instead of advancing the line of Christ’s reign, we appear to be in retreat against evil.  Our numbers shrink if you include those who have decided to abandon the gathering together on Sunday morning and make membership just a name on paper.

    We thought that we were fighting for more than a toehold of this world.  We thought God had put us here to make a difference against evil and to make a difference for good.  We thought we were on a winning team that would grow ever stronger until nations would lay down their swords and pound them into plows to feed the world and meet the needs of the moment.  What happened?  The dream was false.  We missed what God said.

    God has never promised said we were to be warriors battling in His name to take back territory from the devil.  This world is already passing away.  Only a fool would fight to own what no one can possess.  We were not placed here to establish an earthly kingdom with borders and governments.  These things are also passing away.  Do not put your trust in earthly rulers or earthly kingdoms says the Psalmist.  Jesus is blunt.  My kingdom is not of this world.  We are not here to wage a winning campaign for land and power but to preach the Kingdom of God.  Jonah ran from his calling but the Lord sent Him to Nineveh -- not to win over a city but rather to preach the Word, calling His people to repentance and faithfulness.  The rejection of the prophets and their message was predictable through the ages but the Word of the Lord still endured to John the Forerunner who pointed to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

    The Lord is not about to prop up an earthly kingdom that must be constantly defended.  The Lord is about His Word -- the Law preached in all its truth to condemn the hearts of sinners and the Gospel to be preached with the holy and sweet balm of forgiveness.  The Lord is not about raising an army to fight His enemies but preaching Christ’s victory once for all.  So Jesus says that those who hear you or me, hear the Lord, when we repeat before the world the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The Lord is not in the business of simply trying to improve our bad behavior but is determined to make new old sinful hearts and to wash clean that which is stained with sin.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever.

    You know not the hour nor the day.  When He will determine to finish His new creation is a mystery we cannot crack.  The angels who will act as reapers of the harvest of judgment and the angels who will act as heralds of the harvest of the righteous do not know when. Not even the Son of Man knows.  It has been appointed by the Father alone.  He who saw through the ticking clock of the ages to determine the ripe and fruitful moment to bring forth from the Virgin the long promised Savior, He will also sift through the passing days to determine when the final day dawns.  Until that time, it is enough for us to be on guard and awake, doing His bidding and speaking His Word until He comes again.

    Our comfort lies in the fact that we are the elect, the chosen of the Father, to whom the Spirit has spoken and in whom weary and fearful hearts have been raised to hope by faith.  Our comfort lies not in earthly kingdoms and rulers but in the promise placed upon us in water that we are the children of God.  Our comfort lies not in earthly victories or successes but in the bread of heaven that feeds us Christ’s flesh and the cup of salvation in which we drink of His blood.  Our comfort lies not in improving our position against our enemies but proclaiming the Word of Him who surrendered Himself for us and when hell was dancing rose up on the third day to end their celebration.  Our comfort lies not in seeing with our eyes how God’s eternal purpose unfolds but in seeing through eyes of faith that we are His, we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His flock, and the Good Shepherd has lain down His life for us, His sheep.  And not only for us but for many in other folds we do not know.

    The sun will surrender to the darkness, the moon will reflect no light, and the stars will fall from the heavens, but do not fear.  Christ is our light and He is our sun, moon, and stars, the lamp for our feet and the light for our path.  The world will erupt with the uncertainty of wind and weather, of earthquake and storm, of human and natural disaster, but we shall not be moved.  We belong to Him.  He is coming.  He is coming with His angels to gather the elect from the corners of the earth.  Not one whom the Father has chosen will be lost.  Remember what Jesus prayed in the Garden, “I have lost not one whom You gave Me.”  Jesus is speaking about you and me and all who have loved His appearing.  Nothing shall separate us from the power of His love.  Not dominions or powers, principalities or kingdoms, height nor depth, things in heaven or things on earth nor things under the earth.  So great is His grasp upon us.

    Set free from our fears, we are free to speak the eternal word without constraint.  Since it remains His Word even when He speaks through our voices, we do not worry about the outcome.  His Word shall not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish the purpose for which He sends it.  It is enough for us to be faithful, to be awake and alert, always doing what He has given us to do while it is still day lest the night come when the work must be finished.

    He is near.  Though this is a threat to those who refuse His mercy, this word is comfort and promise to those who know that mercy in Christ.  We are not on our own.  We have not been abandoned.  The Church is not a franchise operation with a silent partner.  We are His and the Church is His.  He is always here.  His Word is the living voice through which He speaks and accomplishes His saving purpose.  His Sacraments convey Christ to us where He has promised to be, where His grace is accessible, and where the Spirit is working even now.

    Luther’s words spur us on.  A Mighty Fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.  He helps us free from every need that hath us now o’ertaken.  The old evil foe now means deadly woe.  Though devils all the world should fill we tremble not we fear no ill. They shall not overpower us. He can harm us none; He’s judged; the deed is done. One little word can fell him.  Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife – though these all be gone, our victory has been won.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.

    The year is surely drawing near, the day which God appointed.  But do not lose heart, do not grow weary in well doing, and do not surrender to the foe.  You belong to the Lord.  He has promised to speak through your voice and He refuses to surrender you to the enemy.  So take heart.  Rejoice.  Heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of the Lord and those whom He has redeemed will endure forever.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Pastor Peters. I needed to be reminded... we are the elect...God's Word is for us. What comfort.
"The Lord is about His Word -- the Law preached in all its truth to condemn the hearts of sinners and the Gospel to be preached with the holy and sweet balm of forgiveness."
I was sick with the flu and missed Sunday worship: 1st Sunday I missed this year.
Thank you.