Monday, November 22, 2021

Work, Watch, and Pray. . .

Sermon for Pentecost Last, preached on Sunday, November 21, 2021.

    I am not sure but I suspect that when you take a drivers’ license test, you still have to know the signs – informational signs, regulatory signs, warning signs.  The signs are important.  You cannot make your way on the road and not know how to read the signs.  We are not talking about tea leaves in the cup or life lines on the palm of your hand but obvious signs that do not guess at the hidden but communicate the real.  Jesus says there will be signs.  He expects us to be able to read them.  He does not say the signs will be hidden and special people or code books will be needed to decipher them.  He says that the signs will be as obvious as a tree budding out in spring.  Our call is not to figure it out but to watch & pray.

    It should not be that hard to watch.  The world is not exactly on course for improvement.  We have extreme weather and extreme consequences.  We have the threats of epidemics, pandemics, and economic collapse.  We have climate change people who think man is the enemy of nature and those who think it is our duty to rape and plunder God’s creation.  We have kooks with nukes and those who lead by following. We have men who think they are women and women who think they are men and those who have no need of marriage or children.  We have the legal murder of babies in the womb not wanted and parents who want children but don’t want to raise them.  We are running out of water and oil and aren’t sure if this is good or bad.  We will pay any price to keep a body alive if that is what they want but we will let anybody say when life is not worth living and give them a painless exit plan.  It is not all that hard to see that things are in bad shape.

    You do not need me or anybody else to read the signs.   Our hearts are failing us and I do not mean the ones beating in the chest.  But none of this is a surprise.  Jesus has warned us in advance and told us to watch and pray.  For too long we ignored the signs and bought into the lies that we were in charge of our earthly destinies.  We thought that we could either post-pone Armageddon or find a safe place to weather the storm.  But we are called to do neither.  We are called to watch and pray.  And work.  Watch and pray and work for the kingdom that will endure all of the destruction.  Fixing it or hiding from it are not options.

    Though I am not sure he said it, people think Luther suggested that if he knew the world was ending tomorrow, he would plant a tree today.  Maybe he should have said it if he didn’t.  It is what Jesus says.  Work as if prayer does not matter and pray as if work does not matter and stay alert, watching for His coming.
But that is not what any of us want.  We don’t want to work or pray or watch.  We want to be spared it all.  We want to find a way around the things that Jesus says are surely coming.  Well, we are in good company.  Did not Jesus pray that the cup be taken from Him in the Garden of Gethsemane?  He knew what was coming and had told His disciples as much over and over again.  And then on the eve of His crucifixion, Jesus prays to be spared it.  So there is nothing wrong with praying for God to spare you.  But our hope is not in an easy way out.  We do not hope for an easy exit plan but in a God who will keep us through the pandemonium.

    That does not mean our prayer is of no effect.  Of course, God wants us to pray honestly and not hypocritically.  But even more than that, God wants us to know His will so surely and pray in such confidence that we are good with whatever He wills.  Not my will but thine be done.  As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  Where we cannot see the path that God is making through the unknown and uncertainty of our future, it is even more important to pray “Thy will be done.”  It is not that we are praying for impossible things but we are praying to the One with whom all things ARE possible.

    So cry out to God.  Lament how bad the world is.  Complain all you want about the mess we have made of things. Let the Lord know what worries you, what keeps you up at night, and what causes you to be afraid.  But do not forget to pray “Thy will be done.”  The Lord loves us.  He has invested the most precious treasure He has to save us.  He gave up His only begotten Son into the womb of the Virgin, into an obedient life in an unjust world, into the suffering that only He could suffer, and into the death that we should have died.  He has done this not for sport but to save you.  You can have confidence in His gracious good will.  So complain to Him about how bad things are and pray to be spared but do not forget to pray “Thy will be done” and to trust in that good and gracious will.

    The purpose of prayer is not to convince a stingy God to let go a little grace.  The purpose of prayer is not to wrangle a better deal from an unsuspecting God. The purpose of prayer is not to trick God into doing what He does not want to do.  No, indeed.  Prayer is an exercise of faith.  Prayer is faith spoken out loud.  Prayer is an act of trust in what we do know of God in the face of what we do not know around us or in our future.  We work.  We watch.  We pray.  We refuse to believe that God is not listening or that He does not or cannot answer us.  Like Job of old, sometimes we raise our fists to heaven but we keep on praying.

    Heaven and earth will pass away.  We can give up carbon energy today and recycle all our waste and be the perfect models of social responsibility and the world will still pass away.  That is the hard truth.  Heaven and earth will pass away.  And there is nothing you can do about it.  I am not saying that you should not care about injustice or taking care of God’s creation.  I am not saying that at all.  But do not be deceived.  The world has an expiration date and that date was written upon everything God made when in Eden Adam and Eve tried a coup against God.  All they won was death and that death has dogged us and all of God’s creation ever since.  Heaven and earth WILL pass away.  That is the hard truth.

    But God’s Word will not pass away.  That is the good truth.  We cannot avoid the tribulations but we do not need to.  Our lives are rooted and planted in Jesus, in the Word of His promise and in the hope that will not disappoint us.  When we pray “Thy will be done” we are asking Jesus to keep His promise and telling Jesus that we believe He will keep His promise.  We are in but not of this world.

    Watch.  Work.  Pray.  But know this.  You do not know the day nor the hour when the Master will come but He is coming.  And He is coming for YOU.  He is coming to finish what He began in you in your baptism.  He is coming to bring to completion the faith you see in your heart and to open your eyes so that you will see it and see Him face to face.  He is coming to build a new heaven and a new earth where sin does not reign, where there is no room for trouble, no room for disappointment, and no room for death.  There is only room for joy.  Stay awake – not because you might miss it but because YOU have something to wait for. 

    Notice the sign.  Jesus does not say watch the fig tree to see when it drops its leaves because winter is coming.  No.  He says watch the fig tree to see when its branches begin to bud and the leaves begin to come out.  It is not winter of discontent that is coming but the springtime of hope and promise; not death but life, not disappointment but joy, not life with an expiration date but life that is eternal.  So watch.  Work.  Pray.  Heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of the Lord in which you have been planted will not pass away.  Thanks be to God!  Amen!!

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