Luke 21:5-28 (Pentecost 23C) 

St. John, Galveston 11/13/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

“Then woe to those who scorned the Lord

And sought but carnal pleasures,

Who here despised His precious Word

And loved their earthly treasures!

With shame and trembling they will stand

And at the judge’s stern command

To Satan be delivered.”

 

Those are startling words, even frightening. Jesus comes on the last day to judge both the living and the dead. We’ve confessed the certainty of His coming throughout our lives in the Creeds of the Church and we take it to heart each year as we close out the church year and move toward the Sundays of Advent. Jesus comes, not to judge all of the sordid details of our sinful lives, but to judge one sin, namely, the sin of the unbelief. Unbelief, after all, is what leaves the sinner accountable for his sin. Ultimately, the sheep and the goats are divided on the last day, not by the lives they lived, but by whether, or, not they were baptized into Christ, and thus, whether or not they believed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

 

Perhaps though it seems strange that God would judge unbelief so harshly. We live, after all, at a time when every viewpoint, every idea, every thought is considered equally valid. Right and wrong are no longer objectively measured. What is true is no longer contrasted with what is false. Rather, truth is measured against other truths. Ultimately each of us can have our own truth since truth is defined in very subjective terms. Thus, if something makes me happy, or, if something altogether different makes you happy, those things can be said to be our personal truth.       

 

Faith and unbelief equate to the living and the dead of the Creeds. The distinction between the living and the dead is as sharp as the distinction between light and darkness. The stark contrast between the two is evidenced in many turmoil’s and struggles in the world. Those who believe in Christ have faced and will continue to face the scorn of those who don’t believe right up until the time that Jesus returns. In that, perhaps we could say that the unbeliever, in their quest to destroy the church, or, at least in their effort to undermine it, recognizes the cavernous divide that exists between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not.    

 

In the Gospel reading for this morning, Jesus prepared His disciples, even as He prepares you and me, for the days ahead of us, in which the unbelieving world will grow less and less tolerant of the Church and of her message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. “Nation will rise against nation (He says), and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences (or plagues). And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” Such signs of Jesus’ return are written off by the unbelieving as ordinary occurrences. We, however, see them as prophecies of Jesus that continue to unfold in the drama of life’s narrative, which is leading us to the glorious day of our Lord’s return. 

 

The tension between faith and unbelief has been evidenced and will continue to be evidenced, not just in the groanings of this fallen creation, but in our relationships as well. Perhaps the most startling and painful thing we’ll experience as Christians is to be delivered up, to be turned over to authorities, by “parents and brothers and relatives and friends. You will be hated, Jesus says, for My name’s sake. And (some of you) will be put to death.”

 

The Christians who lived in the first century got a of glimpse of the world’s hatred of the Church in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The great edifice was destroyed in 70Ad, some 40 years after the death of Jesus. In a sense, it was a futile attempt of those who despised God and His Church to rid the world of the dwelling place of God. Jesus described exactly what the event would be like. “Some fell by the edge of the sword (He said) and some were led captive among the nations and Jerusalem was trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.”

 

It is amidst all of these prophecies of doom and gloom that Jesus offers us great hope as we anticipate the troubles that are sure find us. “But not a hair of your head will perish (He says). (I suppose that’s a bigger challenge for some of us than for others). But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” As we prepare for the day of our Lord’s coming and as the world grows more and more hostile to the Church, we have our Lord’s promise that He will shelter us and keep us in the faith that we received in our baptisms. And, we also have His promise that He will strengthen us that we might endure to the very end.

 

We need that promise because endurance is one of the qualities that many of us fear we lack. I looked up endurance in a thesaurus and I found words like courage and fortitude and grit and mettle and gutsiness. As opposites, I found words like timidity, weakness, compliance and fear. I was reminded of St. Paul’s struggle with the thorn in his flesh. God wouldn’t remove it and Paul learned endurance, saying, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”   

 

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul encouraged them to face their trials and struggles with courage, knowing that endurance is part of a process that begins with being justified before God in Christ and ends with hope. He wrote, “therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

 

Endurance then, is not solely a product of a steadfast will, rather, it is a product of our having been justified before God in Christ. “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And since we are at peace with God, we know that even sufferings serve a purpose in our lives. They are the fire, if you will, that heats the gold, that allows the artisan of our faith to skim off the dross, that on the day of His return we will be found to give praise, honor and glory to Him. 

 

Paul’s encouragement to endure in the face of suffering, having been justified by Christ, is really another way of saying that, in Christ, God is on your side. He is for you. He’s in your corner. As Luther taught us to sing, “He’s by our side, upon the plain with His good gifts and spirit.”

 

And so, as we once again close out the Church year, we anticipate all the more fervently the coming of our Lord. And we find hope and endurance in the faith that He has given us in our Baptisms. And we long for the day when the strife of this world will have come to an end, and we will finally be free of death and of every evil.   

 
“O Jesus Christ, do not delay,

But hasten our salvation;

We often tremble on our way

In fear and tribulation

O hear and grant our fervent plea:

Come, mighty judge, and set us free

From death and every evil.”

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +