+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 19:11-27
Theme: The Return of Christ
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God doesn’t leave loose ends. He allows for no unfinished business. On this last Sunday in the Church Year we are reminded that Christ will “come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”1 The inauguration of Christ’s kingdom is initially interpreted by His followers as a defeat. Our gospel account begins by telling us that because Jesus is near Jerusalem “people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”2 In other words, they thought that the dramatic revelation of God’s glory was upon them. But Jesus commences the establishment of His dominion through suffering, scorn, ridicule, injustice, crucifixion, and death. Considering the shocking contrast with their expectations it’s easy to see their misunderstanding. But we shouldn’t think it’s merely a problem of human miscalculation. God grants the eyes of faith to perceive divine mysteries only in His time. The mind of God is not transparent.
Today’s parable ends with the horrifying reality of God’s judgment. It’s not something that can simply be overlooked. The judgment of sin and unbelief is a trenchant and comprehensive teaching of Scripture. All attempts to downplay the final execution of God’s wrath, which is nothing less than eternity in hell, are misguided. Appeals to the doctrine of God’s love don’t allow us to brush aside His justice. The consequences of a compromised doctrine of sin are far-reaching. Humans seek to be the arbiters of conflict and the sole determiners of truth and value. Personal accountability before God becomes a nonentity. Soon guilt and repentance are nothing more than psychological or therapeutic concepts. Finally, the very reason for Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection are eliminated. Repeated biblical warnings about people being unprepared for Christ’s return should suffice to convict us of our sin and the need for His grace. Still, the Holy Spirit must direct us.
The difficulty raised in speaking of the return of Christ is the implication that He has been gone. This is a natural, human way of thinking. People go on trips and journeys and then they return. Meanwhile, life goes on in their absence often with little or no influence from them. There may be preparation for their return accompanied by new expectations. But in the meantime circumstances and even fundamental realities change, often beyond the person’s control.
Things are a different with Christ. Nothing changes without His approval. We do not have an absentee Saviour. And is the Holy Spirit is not an agent that only acts in Christ’s stead. Remember Jesus said to His disciples before His ascension, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”3 Fleshing out what this means is pivotal for life in this “one, holy Christian and Apostolic church”4 in which we reside. We are not the body of Christ that exists without access to His body. To operate as such is to over-spiritualize the Bible’s teaching on the church and limit the parameters of God’s presence. The prophet said, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”5
Yes, God with us, in adversity and prosperity, in sorrow and in joy. God with us, forgiving, renewing, restoring, reclaiming. God with us through the humble means of word and sacrament. The sacraments are testimonies against the teaching- explicit or implicit- of the ‘real absence’ of Christ. Elvis may have left the building but Christ has not left His people.
You are His baptized child. Baptism incorporates you into the life of the Holy Trinity, not by your decision or confession, but by His willingness to receive you as His child; His willingness to be identified with you. And once He identifies with you He doesn’t forsake you. As true God and true man he addresses our every need. Consider what the Lutheran confessions say, “He has instituted His Holy Supper for the certain assurance and confirmation of this, so that He will be with us, and dwell, work, and be effective in us also according to that nature from which He has flesh and blood.”6
So how do these truths relate to today’s parable? We are subjects of the King, but we are not to live as if the King is absent. His return is not a matter of an absentee landlord returning to be brought up to speed on His business. His coming in glory is a matter of the final consummation of His kingdom. We live now as members of His kingdom entrusted with His gifts. Faithfulness is the key teaching here. Note that none of the servants claim to have gained more money on their own. “Sir, your mina has earned ten more, etc.”7 It’s not talent, ability or accomplishment that is the focus, but the integrity and trustworthiness of those entrusted with the riches of others. There will always be differences in outcomes. It’s no use fretting over the gifts and talents others seem to have which exceed your own. It is easy to be jealous of the blessings of others. But such comparisons are not helpful.
The man who simply hid his gift was driven by fear. He did not trust the nobleman or understand what was being asked of him. He didn’t understand himself as a subject of the king so he did not participate in the activity of the kingdom. His was a different loyalty. His heart was in a different place. His motivation was to protect himself. He feared the nobleman but did not trust him. For Him the king did not return in grace and glory but for retribution.
But for the saints, we poor sinners who labor under the cross, it will be pure joy. We will see with our eyes what we can only now see by faith. Remember the saga of the trapped miners in Chile. They were held captive in the bowels of the earth. How joyous was their freedom! There is more than one lesson in their rescue and transition back to the daylight. The Chilean miners’ eyes had to re-adjust to the light of the sun. This is a good analogy for the limitations of this existence. The darkness of sin prevents us from looking upon the brilliance of God. Even to see God as He has veiled Himself in His incarnate Son requires the Holy Spirit’s provision of spiritual vision. To see Christ in His glory will be something altogether more than anything human beings have ever experienced.
Dear friends, the Bible says, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him[Christ], and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.”8 He died for your sins and He is risen. He lives eternally. At the precipice of death, the Lord, our righteousness, swallows up all fears, darkness, and doubt; He swallows up hell’s power. Then the hidden baptismal life is instantly transformed to resurrected glory. God doesn’t leave loose ends. He allows for no unfinished business. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Last Sunday of the Church Year
21 November 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Nicene Creed
2 Luke 19:11
3 Matthew 28:20
4 Nicene Creed
5 Matthew 1:23
6 SD VIII, 79
7 Luke 19:16
8 Colossians 1:19-20