Monday, November 14, 2022

Watch yourselves. . .

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28C, preached on Sunday, November 13, 2022.

Near the end of the Gospel for today – well past the talk of signs and a fearful end to the things we all think of as eternal – there is this from Jesus: “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life...”  It is bad enough that we must wade our way through signs of the end and the horrific picture of death that Jesus paints.  But to realize that all of this is not happening out there somewhere but deep inside of us is to admit how easy it is for dissipation (the indulgence to desire) and drunkenness and the cares of life occupy our hearts.

How much time do we spend thinking about all the things that are wrong in our lives and in our world?  How easy is it for our joy to be stolen by the cares of this life and the impulse to give it all up and simply do what pleases us?  What is it that keeps us awake at night or distracts our attention during the day?  Jesus has your number and mine.  He knows where we live and what we are listening to and what occupies our hearts.  And Jesus is worried but I am not sure we are.

Most of those who fall away are not people who simply argue themselves out of what they once believed.  No, the path to unbelief is a slow one where the joys of the world become the only joys we see and the troubles of this world become the only sorrows we lament.  We do not wake up one morning and suddenly decide that we do not believe.  No, we slowly lose track of the faith while at the same time becoming more and more aware of everything else around us.  It means that what becomes larger in our lives are either the troubles and trials of this world or the joys and wonders of this present life.  It does not matter if what consumes you is angst over the outcome of the troubles of the day or a desire to preserve this life and the joys of the moment.  When Christ is not our focus, we are vulnerable.

The times have shown us it is more likely to lose hope because of worldly fears that grip our hearts than it is to immerse ourselves in the joys of the moment.  It often seems that everyone is miserable.  The right laments the loss of order that once shaped everyone’s life and the left grumbles over anyone who might rain on the parade of desire that passes for truth.  Christians are in the middle - liberals worried that the Church will become irrelevant unless we keep up with the opinions of people and the conservatives worried that the Church will too easily surrender truth and the Scriptures without even a fight.

So Jesus is right on when He warns us to “Watch, yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”  The trap already has us.  It began long before Covid but it has inched up on us until our hearts and minds have become consumed with all that is wrong and our joy stolen from our hearts and lives.  The answer does not lie in facing a good place to hide or to give up in the face of an outcome we cannot prevent,  The answer lies in being awake to the working of God among you, in your, and for you.

The Word of the Lord will not pass away.  It is eternal.  It is our anchor in the storm and the ground to secure us against getting lost in the clouds.  We are secure in Christ from all that would steal our joy and all that would fill us with a false and misleading dream of tomorrow.  Christ is our anchor.  He warns us of what is to come not so we are ready for it but so that in bad and good we may rest everything on Him.  Furthermore, He reminds us that what is coming is still under God’s almighty hand and cannot prevent the Lord from doing what He has promised.

In the parable of warning, Jesus urges us to look for the signs of the times.  But the signs we are looking for are not the first glimpses of a long and dark winter.  They are the signs of summer when life and fruit are the focus.  The Christian does not live in fear and dread of the future ahead of us.  We live in hope because of the promise of Christ.  Never mind the horrific signs of the end, we see in those days the beginning of the life no one can take from us.  Judgment has already taken place and the verdict of the cross is forgiveness for you and me.  What we look for in that tomorrow is not the end but the beginning of that which is eternal.

So straighten up. Raise your heads. Your future does not hinge on the right politics or the savvy of a president or a physician.  Your heart belongs not to the social media but to the Word of the Lord. Your redemption is drawing near. Which way are you running?  Are you running to meet Christ or away from Him?  Have the angel’s trumpets rallied your hearts to His cause of left you afraid and empty?  We are not children awaiting Christmas but the people whom God moved time and eternity for us and our salvation.  We know who is coming, why He is coming, and knowing this, we are not consumed by the moment or driven into hiding because of fear.  Jesus is not some stranger to us whom we must figure out or predict;  He is our Good Shepherd whose voice and way we know and appreciate and in which we live and move and have our being.

To that end, we do not gather around a preacher man who must inspire us or music to distract us.  We are here for the Word that gives what it says and for the voice that speaks absolution and our sins fall away and for the water that is the womb of our new life and for the bread and wine that taste of eternity because of Christ’s flesh and blood.  

Remember the words of the Eucharistic liturgy.  The pastor bids us begin by saying:  The Lord be with you.  And we respond, “And also with you.”  Then the pastor calls us.  “Hearts up!”  And we respond.  “Our hearts are up!”  And then, despite what eyes see and the mind fears, we hear:  “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”  And we respond.  “Yes, it is right to give Him thanks and praise.  In other words, we have something to look forward to and not simply something to avoid.

The future that Jesus warns against is not some mine field we have to make our way through on our own.  The Church is here, the beacon of His Word and Light to shine in the darkness of the world.  The Word is here, the voice we know belongs to the Good Shepherd and can be trusted to guide us through.  The sacraments are here, the places where our identity was formed as the children of God and our life as God’s children is fed and nourished.

Finally, the future ahead of us is not of a world that will be destroyed but a new world to come, not of an angry God to punish but a loving God to welcome us into His joy forever, and not of wounds and defeat but of perfect healing and the eternal victory.  He will come.  He will finish in us that which He began.  He will complete your joy.  He will dry your tears.  He will guard you as His most valuable possession.  Do not fear but rejoice.  Your redemption and your Redeemer draws near.  In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen.

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