Monday, November 15, 2021

He who endures shall be saved. . .

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28B, preached on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

    If I see one more Facebook meme telling me that the church is not a building, I think I will scream.  Who says that?  On top of that, buildings are not what they once were.  We watched the twin towers fall to terrorists in planes.  We are not like the disciples of old who were awed by the mighty appearance of the Temple.  In fact, churches demolish their own buildings to build newer ones that fit what they think they want or because the old ones cost to much to maintain.  No, in our age the danger is not to believe in buildings.  The threat to us is not to believe that anything lasts.  We live in an era of change, of rapid, constant, and major change.  The old is gone and the new is come and we struggle to keep up with the pace and nature of the changes.  We are dazed and confused by all the changes.

    But I will tell you what has not changed.  Nation will rise against nation.  Kingdom against kingdom.  Earthquake and famine.  Pestilence and pandemic.  This does not change.  I will tell you what else has not changed.  Prejudice and racism. Oppression and slavery.  Lies and deception.  In fact our modern technology flourishes on the back of fake news and opinion that parades as fact.  We live in a time of constant change in which yesterday’s good is not good enough today but the threats around us and against us do not change.  They are shrewd and cunning and daily seek to deceive us and take from us everything there is to give. But do not be alarmed.  This must take place but the end is not yet.  Instead, be forewarned, be on your guard, and be prepared.  That is the call of Jesus.

    The end is not sometime in the future; it is already upon us.  But it will not come as swiftly as pressing a button.  Instead it comes gradually as things get worse, as Christians lose heart, as darkness parades as light, and as we get used to the evils God deplores.  The news is always bad and breaking news is even worse. We kill babies and call it health care.  We justify every perversion as normal and call it moral and good.  We oppress the family to the point where few want to be married and fewer want to have children.  Nations that once exported Christianity to the world have not only abandoned the faith but proscribed it.

    The devil has become a member in good standing in many churches.  Pastors preach anything and everything except sin and forgiveness.  Funerals are content to celebrate the life that has past without offering hope of the resurrection or the life which is to come.  Science has become the voice of truth to a world skeptical of anything and everything.  The Bible has become hate speech.
Even the freedom of religion has been reduced to the right to worship privately.  You would have to blind and deaf not to see it or hear it.  We do not need an oracle to see the future or a prophet to interpret the signs.  What we need is the voice of hope, the promise that delivers, the Gospel of salvation, and the gift of life that will endure the destruction.

    Jesus does not warn us so that we may see the signs.  Jesus warns us so that we might be prepared.  All of this is happening around us.  It is too easy to become complacent to evil, to presume that until it happens in my own back yard I am safe, or to think that adjusting the faith to fit the times will eke out a little more time and space in which to find refuge.  Don’t be a fool.  There is no safe place, no panic room, no hiding place.  There is only the Gospel.  Repent and prepare for your only refuge and hope lies in Christ.  Trust the Word of the Lord, confess your sins, find a clear conscience in His forgiveness, and feast as the baptized of God upon the feast He has prepared of His body and blood.  The signs do not tell time but call us to be ready, to endure the days of struggle, and to be faithful.

    You cannot get ahead of the coming destruction or hide from the one already happening.  But do not lose heart.  He who endures to the end will be saved.  Our hope is not a band-aid for today but in a new heaven and a new earth.  We were not redeemed for a life with limits, sorrows, sins, and death but a life beyond these.  We were not saved so that we might be better fight our enemies but so that we may not be troubled by enemies any longer.  God does not put in the fix for the things that trouble our lives but brings our troubles to an end.  What needs to be done has been done to save us.  What is left to us is faith, faith to endure while the times are running toward God’s purpose and faith when eyes struggle to see the victory and faith that trusts in what God has said.

    Now is the time we need to encourage one another, as the writer of Hebrews says.  Now is not the time to stay home or keep apart or neglect our meeting together in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day.  Now is not the time to give up doing the good works that serve as markers of God’s Kingdom and heralds of His coming.  Now is not the time to give into despair.  Now is the time to shine, like the brightness of the stars above, not with the light of our own goodness but with the light of Christ.  Ours is not a battle against the enemies of the Kingdom as much as it is a battle against ourselves, against the part of us that grows weary, that is ready to surrender, and that has given into fear. 
    Do not be afraid, Jesus says.  He who endures to the end, will be saved.  There is no “if” in Jesus words.  We live by faith.   Every age and generation of God’s people have lived by faith.  We believe what we hear in God’s Word.  We believe that Christ is risen from the dead, the victor over all His enemies.  We believe that we were connected to this victory when in baptism we died with Christ and rose in Him to new and everlasting life.  We believe this because this is the truth.  Believing it does not make it true but its truth offers us no comfort or hope without faith.

    Things are a mess.  We inherited this mess.  We added to this mess.  But it is not ours to clean up.  Yes, we should be agents of justice in an unjust world and we should work to ease the suffering of those oppressed, afflicted, and in pain.  Yes, we have a calling to be good neighbors, to act mercifully and to confess boldly Jesus Christ.  We are instruments of God’s kindness in an unkind world but at the same time we understand that the world is beyond fixing.  We do the good we can because God has been good to us but our hopes are not in a better today.  Instead we hope for a future that will last when all this is gone.

    The signs of the times are clear and stand as a warning knell for those who think that things are improving, that the world is getting better, that our wills or our technology will undo what sin and death have done.  They cannot.  The surprise is not that this world is falling apart but that God is working still in this mess, calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying a people to be His own eternally.  The miracle is that we shall endure by His power and strength, by His grace in Word and His gifts in the Sacraments, and by His mercy that is forever.  The miracle is that the Lord is right now making us strong enough to endure the bad news, strong enough to endure the temptations, strong enough to endure the taunts of the enemy, and strong enough to make it to the end of this race.  Your calling and mine is straight forward.  Believe.  Trust not in earthly rulers or kingdoms.  Look not for earthly victories that do not last.  Believe in Jesus Christ, trust in what He has accomplished, and look for the kingdom that will not be shaken.  And pray.  Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.  Amen.

No comments: