Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Sunday of the Church Year (B) 2012

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

Text: John 5:26-27
Theme: Authority to Raise the Dead

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

The conquering of death is the definitive sign of Christ’s authority to judge. He received this authority from His Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. On this Last Sunday of the Church Year our focus turns to Christ’s final judgment, the end of the world, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life. Christ comes to be our glorious and gracious King. At Christ’s Second Coming all of our hopes reach their fruition and believers receive their heavenly reward.

The end of the world has always been a topic of fascination for certain people. Not only does it lend itself to intrigue and speculation, it also has the capability of stirring unrest, even panic. Some think they are so skilled at reading the signs of the times or deciphering secret messages that they confidently predict the end of the world to the very day. Many well-meaning believers and even entire religious groups have been misled by such claims. These scenarios are nothing new.

The Lord’s teaching on the matter is clear and unequivocal: God alone knows the day when Christ will return. He has determined it. Believers should not be given to conjecture or burdened with speculation. We should not get caught up in unnecessary hype or spin. Yet there is great danger in being apathetic about Christ’s return. We are easily lulled into a sense of indefiniteness about the world’s existence. We experience change. We encounter joys and sorrows. We traverse through phases of prosperity and adversity. We see one generation give way to the next and we may falsely believe the cycle will endlessly continue. Moreover, if there is no sense of the immanence of Christ’s return we may be more likely to downplay the seriousness of sin. We become comfortable with our imperfections and simply “learn to live with them.” A sense of spiritual urgency can turn to lethargy.

Dear friends, if we are to take preparation for Christ’s return seriously we cannot overlook the fact that people often care very little about the forgiveness of sins. We cannot expect secular society to be interested but we must be aware how this attitude rubs off on us too. St. Paul warns, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God- I say this to your shame."”1 Genuine repentance and unwavering humility are hardly strong points of many who consider themselves to be Christians today. Perhaps we’re not good at addressing the negative feeling or shame that comes with true confession of sins. Often pride is just too great a mountain to climb.

Jeremiah strikes at the heart of the matter when he poses the question this way, “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”2 To this end we are taught to pray regularly- and especially in view of Christ’s pending return- for the Holy Spirit’s attention to our well-being. When the Scriptures are utilized He promises to be present; especially when absolution is declared and the sacraments are administered.

Of paramount significance in today’s gospel is the power of Jesus to raise the dead. “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it…for as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.”3 The resurrection of the dead is central to Christian teaching. So indispensable is this truth that all of Christian dogma falls down like a house of cards without it. The cardinal doctrine of the faith- that the sinner is justified by grace, through faith for Christ’s sake- becomes irrelevant when not validated by the resurrection. Any temporal benefits of Christ’s incarnation and passion would be relegated to the lessons of history. Jesus Christ would then truly be nothing more than a sage, moralist, or revolutionary of a by-gone era.

St. Paul makes the case as emphatically as it can be made in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…you are still in your sins…but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”4 This is not a trivial religious claim. It is not a pious crutch for those desperately clinging to a fool’s hope. Christ was publicly sacrificed for the sins of the world on Calvary. On the third day He appeared to His followers in His resurrected body. He will glory the bodies of the faithful and free them from sin. John refers to this in his address today, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.”5

Even as every Lord’s Day is a gathering of the baptized, so too the Last Day will be a gathering of all God’s people across the ages of time. Adam and Eve, the patriarchs, the apostles, prophets, and martyrs; men, women, and children of all ages, nations, and periods of history including those who still draw breath upon the earth- a countless host- will be assembled before Him. And the wicked too, a great throng allied with Satan and his angels will be summoned from their graves to bow before the Almighty. Then the judgment will commence and eternal separation between the righteous and the wicked will occur.

Though the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world will be an astounding spectacle, for believers it should come with no surprises. God has been preparing His people all along. There is a long history of deliverance all foreshadowing the final deliverance from death, sin, and hell. So there should be no shock revelations. But Satan will remain subtle to the end.

A New York City businessman once decided to avoid a service charge by replacing the fluorescent light in the office himself. After he had smuggled a new light into his office and put it in place, he decided to get rid of the old tube by throwing it in the garbage bin near his subway stop. That night he got on the subway holding the seven-foot light vertically, with one end resting on the floor of the subway car. As the train became more crowded other passengers took hold of the tube, assuming it was a stanchion. By the time the man reached his stop, he simply removed his hand and exited the car, leaving the other passengers gripping the burnt out fluorescent tube!

Yes, many will be surprised on that Last Day. They will find out they have been holding onto the hollow and dark promises of the world. They will find out the light of their false hopes and dreams has gone out. Their supports will crumble away. But believers will find their journey through the darkness of this existence has ended. The radiant light of the Son of God will shine upon us. Freed from our sins, endless joy and peace will characterize our fellowship with Him. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
25 November 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 1 Corinthians 15:33-34
2 Lamentations 3:39-40
3 John 5:21, 26
4 1 Corinthians 15:13, 14, 17, 20
5 Revelation 1:5
6 Matthew 6:26-27
7 Lutheran Hymnal #213, stanza 5
8 Isaiah 54:10

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