Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Living in the Last Days." (Luke 21:5-28)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Redeemed in Christ:
Someone was reading the National Enquirer next to me in the grocery store check-out line. The cover story was about the birth of a cat with one eye and two tails. "We are living in the last days." she said to herself out loud.
But we don't need the National Enquirer or Trinity Broadcasting Network or Hal Lindsay or Pat Robertson to reveal to us some secret knowledge that we are now in the last days.
Because, believe it or not, it is the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh that is all wrapped up in predictions and date-setting when it comes to the last day. The great and terrible day of the Lord of the heavenly armies. The final day. The final end of this poor and miserable, falling apart world, plagued with sin and death and the effects of sin and death: earthquakes and storms. Violence and wars. The killing of the innocent. The persecution of the one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church. Famine — especially famine of the Word of God.
What will mark the last days? The prophet Amos has already told us and anyone else who will listen:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12 ESV)
A famine of the Word of the Lord. Do we see this today, even among church bodies that grew out of the re-discovery of the Gospel of grace through Martin Luther 500 years ago? Do we see a famine of God's saving Word today —when more and more pastors and priests have no understanding of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, no skill in telling the difference between command and promise, between Moses and Christ, between the sacrifice of salvation and the sacrifice of thanksgiving?
"We are living in the last days."

Jesus himself said as much as he says to all who would follow him in faith: "Beware. Be aware of what will come."
“See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:8b-9 ESV)

What marks the last days? A famine of God's redeeming Word. A continuous parade of false Messiahs who lead many astray. And increasing numbers of Christians who trade in their hunger and thirst for the Word of Christ in Scripture, the Word of Christ at the font and altar for something completely different: an insatiable appetite for the daily details by those who promise they have been given by God's spirit the ability to prophecy the specifics on when the last day will come.
Jesus' warning is the same for the Twelve as it is for us today. "Stay awake and do not go after those who announce they have an inside track on the all the juicy details of when the last day will come."

The last day will surely come. We pray that it will come soon. But woe to the one who neglects the saving object of true faith while running around in fear and excitement mesmerized by the dead-end desire to figure out if the last day will be next Tuesday or a month from last Wednesday.
Think of the time wasted. Think of all the energy diverted into a never-ending death spiral of numbers and nations, secret meanings and signs, disasters and conspiracy theories that attempt to convince you and everyone else that the last day is just around the corner — and only those who are smart enough and spiritual enough will be able to discern the secret writing on the wall. Think of the damage done to true faith.

Folks, let me tell you a secret. The Christian Church has been in the last days since Herod sent his soldiers to kill the baby Jesus. Since John the Baptist was thrown into prison and executed. Since Stephen was stoned and Saint Jude flayed alive. Since Jan Hus was burned at the stake.
Because ever since the advent of our Lord upon the earth, the body of Christ, the Church has been marked by rejection and betrayal, marked by imprisonment and false witnesses and kangaroo courts, marked with innocent suffering and death. All in anticipation of that great and terrible day of the Lord about which no one knows the hour or the day — except God the Father alone.

Do you find yourself all wrapped up in the latest predictions of how the headlines in the morning paper and the top story on the six o'clock news are secret signs that the last day is just around the corner?
Do not be deceived. Christ calls us to take our eyes and our worries off the latest rumors and prophecies and get them back where they should have been in the first place: on the Christ of Scripture, on the Christ of the Baptismal Font, on the Christ of the Holy Supper.
That's where our eyes and ears and attention should be in these last days. That's where our eyes and ears and attention must be in these last days.
Remember what Martin Luther is supposed to have said when asked what he would do if he knew tomorrow was the last day? Sell all his possessions? Climb up the tallest mountain and wait for the Lord there? Luther said, "I would simply plant an apple tree."
What would we do if we knew tomorrow was the last day? Simply do whatever God has called us to do every day, at school, in the garden, at work, in our homes, at our church.
Give the loudest and clearest witness to each other and to the world around us — by gathering around our Lord each and every day in this time of extended grace before the end finally comes.
And if tomorrow is our last day, then let us live today under God's Word and forgiveness and grace and strength. Receiving courage for the hours that lie ahead by remembering the eternal promise made by Christ at our Baptism. By coming to the altar rail with repentant and contrite hearts. By listening to Christ as he comes in the readings of Scripture, in the sermon, in Sunday School and Confirmation class. And by caring for one another as we have been called to do.

This morning God in Christ through the Holy Spirit has given us a new day, that we might freely confess our sins, receive forgiveness and the assurance that Christ is Lord of the Last Day just as he is Lord of his Church and the redemption of each of us. Everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth is destined to bow the knee before him.
And nothing — not even the Last Day — will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not even our unhealthy fascination and secret fears about how this dark and dying world will end.
And for the Christian faithful — for you and me — the promise that Christ is our gracious Lord is enough for today, and every day that God graciously gives us.
We live in the last days. But we live under God's mercy and the gracious Word of Christ.
Let us rejoice and be glad in that revelation. As we daily honor those in authority over us. As daily we live as responsible citizens of this land. As we freely serve our neighbor-in-need. As we sing the praises of Christ and his Cross to anyone who will listen.
In these last days, let us commend ourselves to our Lord's loving care as we daily put our trust in his suffering and death and resurrection.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit