Monday, November 21, 2011

Last Sunday of the Church Year A (2011)

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Matthew 25:31
Theme: Not IF, but WHEN.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

Not IF, but WHEN. The curtain will fall. The trumpet will sound. The world will be hushed. Yet the passing of time lulls us into apathy. It dampens our alertness and dulls our anticipation. Things we know well and even repeat frequently nevertheless may have little impact on our faith or actions. This is Satan’s way of undermining the credibility of the Almighty. The Second Coming of Christ is a central article of Christian belief. With the faithful throughout the ages we confess, “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.”1 Not IF, but WHEN. No one knows if this Last Sunday in the Church Year, 2011, could be the very last Sunday in history.

Alarmists throughout the centuries have claimed to have identified the exact date of Christ’s return. Sects, cults, and even whole religious organizations have been founded upon such claims. The human propensity to crave secret or privileged information is powerful. It goes without saying that all hopes of this nature have failed. Such attempts are futile- driven by ignorance or arrogance. Yet the issue they raise is vital: Christ will appear; the world as we know it will not continue on indefinitely. All existence will be radically transformed. Not IF, but WHEN. The nature of this transformation hinges on the authority and work of Christ.

The words of Christ today give clear testimony about His Second Coming. The nature of events should be no surprise. Things will play out exactly as Christ says: 1) He will appear in glory attended by angels; 2) He will sit in judgment; 3) all people, living and dead, will be gathered before Him; 4) He will separate believers from unbelievers, the wicked from the godly; 5) He will bestow an eternal inheritance on the faithful; 6) He will condemn the wicked to everlasting punishment. The bulk of Jesus’ discourse on the topic consists of the evidence of faith in the lives of believers and conversely the lack of evidence for those who do not believe.

It is noteworthy that the faithful expressed genuine surprise when the King commended them for helping those in need; the hungry and thirsty, sick and imprisoned. The reason is the Holy Spirit works in the lives of believers in such a way that good deeds happen as a matter of course. The faithful were not keeping score. They were not practicing discretionary generosity. Their helping of others was not self-serving. The gospel motivates believers in their daily walk. The Holy Spirit sanctifies those whom He justifies.2

The wicked too express surprise. How could they have failed when they couldn’t even recall Jesus making a request of them? Selfishness ruled their thinking. Having given into their sin they were not serving their neighbour or loving God. Though the evidence made public at the Last Judgment emphasizes their deeds- they failed in all opportunities- it is infallibly proven that they possessed no faith or trust in the heart. God knows His sheep. Just as great as the sin of lawlessness and disobedience towards God is that sin which believes God can be ‘won over’ by certain actions or a change in lifestyle. Either our actions are motivated by gratitude for God’s unconditional love or they are a sin against the very necessity of Christ’s sacrifice. It is for lack of believing that Christ’s death was truly necessary to pay the price for our sins that we often need to repent. When the relationship with God is broken, love of neighbour can only be orchestrated or driven by guilt.

There was a proverb that was in common use for many centuries. It went like this: What is it to the Romans that the Greeks die? (Quid ad Romanos quod Graeci moriuntur?) It expressed that fact that people tend to be concerned only with themselves and their own problems. In the present climate people are asking “What is it to us if the Greek economy dies?” Is this any better? Are such concerns driven by sympathy or by fear of how we may be impacted? What are the motivations? When the remorseful Judas returned the 30 pieces of silver saying, “I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.”3 The callous chief priests and elders responded, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.”4 What is that to us? What is it to the Romans that the Greeks die?

But what matters to Christ matters to us. Christ gave His life that we might be freed from enslavement to the god of this world. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is not a private matter or personal affair. His sacrifice was not made on behalf an isolated or exclusive group of people. There is no thought in the New Testament of a private practice of religion.

We don’t always know the circumstances of another’s life and we certainly can’t know the intentions of their heart. Too often we are quick to criticize the actions and motives of others. The preacher John Wesley thought poorly of a man he considered to be stingy and hard-hearted. One day he criticized him openly when he gave a very small donation to a worthy charity. The man came to him privately and explained that for many weeks he had been living on parsnips and water. Before he had become a Christian he had run up many debts and now he was living very frugally in order to pay his creditors and show his integrity. He desperately wanted to be an honest Christian. Wesley apologized to the man and asked for forgiveness.

Such forgiveness the world cannot accept save for using it with self-serving motives.
Relentlessly the world takes aim at the foundations of the faith. Barrages of uncertainty constantly bombard us. The culture of the age is always at odds with the goals of Christ’s kingdom. It is driven by different motives and operates by different means. The attitude of Babel is always the attitude of secular society, let us “make a name for ourselves.”5 Privately, we are taught to exploit our individual right to indulgence and affluence as the proverb says, “Let us eat and drink…for tomorrow we die.”6

But there can be no Utopia on earth. The schemes of humanity are no threat to the Creator and Judge. What does the Scripture say? “The One enthroned in heaven laughs.”7 Jesus’ words today conclude with clarity and finality. “Then they (the wicked) will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”8 There is no neutrality in the afterlife. There is life with Christ in the majesty of the Father and presence of the Holy Spirit or there is existence fully separated from Him- unthinkable, unimaginable darkness and distress.

Christian hope is centered on the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things. “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes!”9 declares Job. Soul and body are meant to be together for eternity. Christ makes this reality. Resurrected and purged from sin we will no longer suffer the effects of its decay. We will not be overcome by illness. We will not succumb to ageing. The Jesus who took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary will elevate our flesh to participate in His holiness. This will be a very physical reality.

Even now we are not people who cling to intangibles. God’s word performs what it promises. Hearts and minds are impacted when the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed. The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and renews weary souls. Our baptismal inheritance is not only a future gift, nor is it an immaterial and private possession. In our baptism we become part of the holy Christian Church. This has concrete expression in the local congregation where God’s people gather regularly around Word and sacrament and both cherish and admonish one another as the needs arises. In God’s house you eat this bread and drink this wine with the full assurance that His body and drink His blood are present there offering and delivering to you the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Together we look forward to that great last day and the coming of our Redeemer in full splendor. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
20 November 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 The Nicene Creed
2 See Ephesians 2:8-10
3 Matthew 27:4
4 ibid
5 Genesis 11:4
6 Isaiah 22:13
7 Psalm 2:4
8 Matthew 25:46
9 Job 19:27