Third Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 12, 2017
The Lord Speaks and We Leave It All Behind
In the name of the Father and of the ☩ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“When you see the abomination of desolation,” says our dear Lord, “flee.” He doesn’t say that we should stay and fight. Even though we really want to.
What we’re fighting for is our stuff. We hang on to dear life with all our power. Why? Do we want to continue in sorrow, in pain? People are forever telling me they aren’t afraid to die, but I don’t believe them. I don’t believe you. You’re hanging on to your stuff and you don’t want to let it go. That not wanting to let it go is fear.
It is as though our dear Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Grab you stuff, we’re going. Wait. Leave your stuff. It’s only stuff. Don’t look back. Don’t bend down to grab your jacket. Leave now.”
But we like that jacket. And we like the earrings our mother left us and a favorite book and a fancy bottle of single malt we’ve been saving. We like our families. We like the grandchildren and the old friends. We like our pets and we like our place. It is all stuff even when wrapped up in pious talk.
The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. What are we afraid of losing? Name the thing you can’t live without. Music? Freedom? A child? Luther says that is your god. That is what you won’t let go off. That is why you fear death. Repent.
We aren’t so prone to turning statues into gods, nor do we normally turn to evil things. We turn to good things. We make gods of wives, jobs, children, reputations. We worship health, money, and pleasure. Those are the things we think we need. But the Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Let’s go. Leave it. Flee.”
This world is coming to an end. It is under a death sentence. It can’t go on. And our hope cannot be in it, cannot be in stuff of this world.
There is the good news here: The Lord can, and the Lord has, and the Lord does bring a clean thing out of an unclean. He has reached into the septic tank where we were feeding, grabbed us, wiped us off, and given us good food and drink, a place in His house, and a Name. Do we now become nostalgic for cucumbers floating in the toilet?
Flee the abomination of desolation. Your body is God’s temple and in it lives your lying flesh that is always trying to get justice, instead of receiving mercy. There are incidents when abominations have been erected in God's house: a Zeus statue in the Temple, a pope masquerading as God’s voice on earth. But the worst is within you.
Leave behind your justifications, your need to excuse your lack of care for the poor, your need to protest that you are not afraid to die, or that you’ve done your best or that, at least, your kids are good people even if they don’t go to church and live in sin.
You don’t need to justify yourself. The Lord has justified you. He has answered for you. In Christ, there is no one left to accuse you, nothing to answer for. You don’t owe anybody anything, not even God.
Does that sound too easy? God’s mercy always chafes against our fallen flesh, but this is what God has done in Christ: He brings a clean thing out of an unclean.
But that is not yet the whole good news: that God brings a clean thing out of an unclean. Here’s a bit more. St. Paul writes:
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.
1 THESSALONIANS 4:14 NIV 1984
Here hangs our hope, the end of all our need for stuff: Jesus died and rose again. What of those who have fallen asleep? Since Jesus died and rose again they will be brought with Him, with Jesus, through Jesus.
But that is still not all. For what of you who are alive when the end comes? Since Jesus died and rose again, and has ascended to His Father’s right as your Advocate and Savior, He will descend. He will come for you. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. Since Jesus has died and rose again, you will be caught up, either from beneath the earth where you have been resting or from the surface of the earth, snatched away, into the clouds, to be always with the Lord.
Still, that is not all. For He is not a passive God. He does not sit and wait to see what you will do. He does not ask you to explain yourself. He intervenes for you, answers for you. He who came in lowly, despised ways to be a Sacrifice for sin, He still comes. He comes now, not just in the future, but He comes now to get you. Even if He does not yet come in clouds while the world burns, still He comes now. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. He bestows life in His risen Body and Blood, separating you from your stuff and from death.
Ours is a faith built upon history, the historic fact of Christ crucified, the innocent and pure desolated as an abomination for all our vile sin. Here is the source of our Life in Christ.
Ours is a faith that also, even as it gathers around the cross, looks forward, eagerly, to the Kingdom of glory. Jesus is coming back. We will be with Him always.
But ours is a faith that lives now, in the present. We confess: “Jesus lives.” He lives now. And now, here in time, here in this building, here upon this altar, the Lord comes with forgiveness, acceptance, and refreshment in His physical Body and Blood for us physical sinners. Jesus lives. He comes also in His Holy Word and Absolution, in Hymn and Chant. He speaks the Baptized clean. And He hears the fervent prayers of His people. His Name is upon us and He comes for us.
Now is the day of salvation. This is the day that the Lord hath made. The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Adapted from a sermon by the Rev. David H. Petersen.