Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon: Last Sunday (Trinity 27)

22 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have reached the end of yet another church year. We also approach the end of another calendar year. We are all indeed another year older, and we are one year closer to the end of the age and the consummation of eternity.

On the one hand, we don’t like to talk about how things will come to an end. It can be almost depressing when a vacation draws to a close. We are terribly uncomfortable in confronting our own mortality. And the thought of how this world will end may even be the stuff of nightmares and anxiety for many of us.

On the other hand, people flock to movies that graphically depict the end of the world. Many Christians spend most of their time in Scripture trying to figure out hidden prophecies and codes, seeking special knowledge about the end of the age. And even the secular world has jumped on this apocalyptic bandwagon, with books and movies promoting hysteria about the year 2012.

But our Lord Jesus tells us not to worry. He tells us that we do not know when He is coming, so the best policy is to just be ready. He teaches us by way of the parable of the ten young women on their way to a wedding. The five wise virgins made sure their lamps were topped off with oil, so that when the bridegroom came, they would be ready. However, the five foolish virgins were not ready. They chose to sleep instead of remaining vigilant. They allowed other things to take priority. And when the bridegroom came “like a thief in the night,” they were not prepared. Instead of a glorious feast, they found a locked door.

Instead of foolishly poring over the Bible looking for signs and codes, the wise will take heed of our Lord’s call to repent, to “keep awake and be sober,” to watch and pray, to fill our lamps with the oil of God’s Word, and to be ready to follow when our Bridegroom calls.

For we are recipients of the greatest gift of all! We are being refashioned and re-formed, re-created for glory in a new heaven and a new earth. Sin, sickness, and death will be no more, and even better, these “former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” There shall be no “sound of weeping,” no “cry of distress.” This is what awaits us at the end of our days in this age.

For to us redeemed, dear friends, death does not mark the end of life. Nor does the end of this age mean the end of existence. Quite to the contrary! When sin and death have drawn to a close, we can truly begin to live. And so for the Christian, the end of the world is not something to fear. For we pray for our Lord to come and to “come quickly.” And nor is death to be a source of dread to us who are in Christ. For we know that “whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” For indeed, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And while the world frets about every sort of imagined disasters, both natural and man-made, such as “climate change,” meteors, melting ice caps, nuclear war, epidemics, food shortages, massive unemployment, alien invasions, and while the world plays to everyone’s fears through movies and books, in colleges and universities, and even in the halls of Congress, our merciful God tells us not to worry.

In fact, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, just after warning these Christians about the end of the world, St. Paul urges them to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

We are not told to build bomb shelters, or move to the mountains, or pore over Mayan ruins looking for clues nor shift our focus from the Gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture to looking for esoteric theories of biblical prophecy. We are not to wring our hands and become depressed. We are not to throw away our faith and seek pleasures of the flesh while they can still be had. We are not to stop paying our bills and run around like Chicken Little in fear and dread. No indeed! We are to “encourage one another and build one another up, just as [we] are doing.” And if we aren’t doing that, well, thanks be to God that He is giving us the opportunity to repent and to do just that. And thanks be to God that he has given us encouragement by way of the Parable of the Ten Virgins to show us how to await His coming – with preparation as opposed to panic, with the joy of His impending arrival rather than in sleep and slumber.

And in living in readiness, hearing His Word and partaking of His Sacraments, in devoting ourselves to prayer and praise, in giving thanks and in enjoying the Lord’s goodness, in repenting and in receiving His grace and mercy with joy, we realize that we have nothing to dread about any end – be it the “end of the day” or “the end of our life” or “the end of the world.” For we, the redeemed and the beloved of God, know that such ends are good ends – for the end of the day brings us one day closer to glory, the end of our life brings us into that very glory, and the end of the world brings us into that glory with our resurrected body, living in infinite joy for all eternity.

This is how our ancestors in the faith could walk to their deaths singing hymns. This is what gave the martyrs their courage. This is how St. Paul can be ambivalent toward whether he lived or died, knowing that either way, he was submitting to the Lord’s will and working for the sake of the Kingdom. This is how Christians can sing the ancient hymn of evening prayer that is itself a prayer:

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at the awe-full day.

For we Christians understand that the end of our day, the end of our life, and the end of the world are nothing to fear for us, the Lord’s dear children. And with the ancient church, and especially in these last days, we can continue to pray the magnificent traditional prayer used at the Office of Compline before going to sleep:

Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Very Meaningful to me! Thanks.

Blessings!
Theophilus, "Follower of the Way"