Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sermon for 11/22/09-The Last Sunday in the Church Year (LSB-B)

This sermon will be preached this Sunday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thank you to the Reverend Doctor Paul Anderson for inviting me to share the Word with the people God has placed into his care.

Stars Shall Fall
Mark 13:24-37

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

One of my favorite hymns is “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, hymn number 394 in your Lutheran Service Book. The fourth verse reads:
Sun and moon shall darkened by,
Stars shall fall, the heav’ns shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.
If some of those words sound familiar, it’s because much of the verse is quoted in our Gospel text. It’s a powerful and even terrible image of the signs leading up to the Day of Judgment. Genesis 8:11 tells us, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” Yet a day is coming when these things will no longer take place.

By these signs and others given in Scripture, many have tried to predict the day and the hour of the Lord’s return in glory. Heck, I could even do it now. Let’s see . . . We’ve already had eclipses, so the sun and moon have been darkened. Michael Jackson died, and I can’t imagine a bigger star than him, so you could say that stars have fallen. And clouds move away all the time, so the heavens have fled. Why, Jesus should be coming back any time now. We might not even get through the Divine Service this morning!

Now, I’m sure you can tell I’m not serious about my prediction, even though Jesus could very well could return before we’re done this morning. But many make predictions based on whatever evidence they choose, and they cling to those predictions to the bitter end. One of the best-selling books on the end times is The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. Even though, by his reckoning, the world was supposed to end sometime in the 1980s, the book is still being printed and sold today! He has made other predictions since then, but one would think he would have given up after being wrong the first time. And if that’s not enough, look at all the furor around the next big prophecy: that the world will end in the year 2012. It may end during that year, though it won’t be because someone predicted that it would.

Jesus would rather not have us focus on when the end will be. After all, no human knows. The angels don’t know. Jesus tells us that even He doesn’t know. People who claim to be able to predict the Day of Judgment are claiming that they know more than Jesus! Only the Father knows the day and the hour, and He’s not telling. Jesus has shown us the signs, and we recognize that these signs are being fulfilled in our sight, even as they were being fulfilled in the days of the disciples. We’ve been waiting nearly two-thousand years since Jesus spoke the words of our text to the disciples, and the day has not yet come. Yet we are living in the last days, which could last another ten thousand years . . . or another ten seconds. It’s enough that we know that the end is coming; it’s not for us to know exactly when.

We don’t need some crackpot standing on the corner with a hand-painted sign to tell us that the end is near. We already know that. Jesus has told us of that wondrous day, the day when He will return in glory, when His holy angels will gather us together to be with our Lord, when all trials and sorrows and illness and death will cease, when those who believe will be restored in the image of God. He has told us that He is coming soon. What is important for us as we wait is to be prepared—to watch for Jesus, to be ready for His return. Don’t get me wrong: Jesus is not telling you to save yourself. That has already been done, and nothing you can do can add to the work that Jesus has already done on your behalf. Rather, we are well prepared when we hear the Word of God and cling to it.

Jesus gives us the brief parable of the doorman who is waiting for his master to return from a journey. The master is returning; of this he is sure. He doesn’t know when that return will be. He may return in ten minutes, having forgotten his briefcase. He may return in a year, having successfully concluded his business. Either way, the master is returning. Is the doorman supposed to try to figure out when the master will come back? No. The doorman is standing at his post, ready for the master to come back at any time. It’s enough for the doorman to believe the master when he says he will come back. He stands his post. He does the job the master has selected him to do. He does not shirk his responsibility. He doesn’t earn a special reward for doing what he’s supposed to do; but if he abandons his post, if he shirks his responsibility, he will surely be in trouble when the master returns and finds the door locked with the doorkeeper asleep or away from his post.

This preparation sounds like an awful burden. And it is. Jesus died bearing it for you. He came in humility, came as a servant. He came as a sacrifice, bearing our sins to the cross. He has clothed you in righteousness through the Word in the water in Holy Baptism. Through that Baptism, Christ will recognize you as His own. Do not doubt that for an instant. His saving work has been applied to you.

How you prepare to receive Christ as He comes to you in glory on the Last Day is the same way you prepare to receive Christ as He comes to you in His body and blood in the Holy Supper. Luther tells us concerning the worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper, “That person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But anyone who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared.” Jesus has done the hard part. Now all we have to do is cling to the words and promises of Jesus by faith. And even that faith is a gift of God! It’s no burden for us to praise Christ as the Son of Man, God in the flesh, the one who shall return in glory to judge both the living and the dead. We’re even given the words to pray in Holy Scripture, which the Church has been blessed to pray in the Divine Service, as we do this morning.

Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” The signs are all around us. The end is near! For those who do not believe, it will be a dark day. They will have been found sleeping on duty. They will know in that moment that Christ is the Lord, and they will despair, for they will realize that they have earned the reward for faithlessness. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon!” And we, through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” Do not doubt this for a moment: He is coming soon! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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