+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 12:35-40
Theme: Vigilant Faith
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The actions of Christ defy our instincts. His teaching refutes human logic. In His admonition to be watchful today Jesus reverses the normal course of events. The retuning master will gird himself and serve the household slaves. Christ is the Master who came not to be served but to serve. Our God is humble to the point of absurdity. But that doesn’t mean He is feeble or tentative. Christ speaks with unqualified resolve. Christianity that holds to its foundations claims the absolute truth which Jesus proclaimed. The world is offended precisely at this point.
By and large society can accommodate those aspects of Christ’s teaching which are amenable to, or at least not restrictive of, its goals and perspectives. The call to charity, generosity and self-sacrifice is hardly unique to Christianity. A moral platform of honesty and responsibility is shared by humanists and most of the major and minor religions of the world. But the inflexible decree that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”1 and can be justified and reclaimed only through this one man who is God-in-the-flesh- this is offensive to human sensibilities. It is sheer folly to those who have constructed their idols on the so-called certainties of human knowledge and achievement.
Therefore, the hopes of the baptized remain a mystery to the unbelieving world. God assesses things differently than we humans. Civil respectability is no measure of one’s faith. Was the Pharisee more righteous than the criminal crucified at Jesus’ side? Is the self-indulged, arrogant professional more righteous than the petty criminal who lives by taking what he can? Faith is a gift by which we receive the mercy of God in Christ. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”2 With these words the Holy Spirit describes the nature of Christian belief. Our trust stands firmly on God’s promises in Christ. Bombarded with the world’s “evidence” that “might makes right” and life is a fevered pursuit of materialism and pleasure; we nevertheless cling to the “foolishness” of the cross. Life has meaning because Christ was crucified for us and for our salvation. Christianity does not merely accommodate this truth but draws its very life and breath from it.
Today the Lord addresses the challenges of remaining vigilant in the faith. He does so by reminding us of His return. When the biblical teaching of Christ’s Second Coming- embedded in the creedal confessions of the faith, such as in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead,” - is neglected the church is tempted to immediately and persuasively become focused mainly on temporal concerns. It does so to its peril. It does so to the peril of souls. Without robust belief that Christ’s return in glory is both expected and inescapable the witness and mission of the church is compromised. Earnestness is not easily driven by uncertainty. Passion for souls and zeal for having people rescued from the power of sin, death, and Satan are not easily maintained by an indefinite conviction about the end of all things.
Of course no one knows the hour of Christ’s return. Therefore the resolution to this challenge must also be considered from the personal perspective of mortality. Indeed, from the standpoint of our spiritual future meeting the returning Christ and facing our physical death have the same implications. Here too, we see the profound impact of a prevailing philosophy that everyone and everything will somehow turn out alright in the next life. Evil will be overlooked. Guilt will be forgotten. Judgment will be dissolved. Unbelief will be ignored. Harmony and peace will just exist as a matter of course. The idea is called universalism. As powerfully appealing as the concept is, it has no foundation in the teaching of the prophets, Christ or the apostles.
Christians too can intentionally or unwittingly give scope and credibility to this falsehood. Do we give the impression, even if it’s from genuine soft-heartedness that on their deathbed everyone is indiscriminately handed a free-pass to heaven? Is Christ only a deliverer from current woes? Is He only a temporary companion for the often dark journey of life?
At what point do faith, the Spirit’s work, the struggle against temptation, and finally the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world become essentially meaningless? At what point is grace no longer the favour of God obtained by the blood of Christ but just a nice religious word conveying God’s tolerance of anything and everything? These are serious questions that are directly relevant to millions today searching for meaning to their existence. Is the call to take up one’s cross and follow the Saviour just a game that serves as a possible way to deal with our own personal angst?
Dear friends, faith can never exist aloof from its object or apathetic in its resolve. Faith’s activity cannot be suppressed. Luther says, Faith “is also a very mighty, active, restless, busy thing, which at once renews a man, gives him a second birth, and introduces him to a new manner and way of life, so that it is impossible for him not to do good without ceasing.”3 Was the faith of Noah a reflective faith? In the face of scorn and ridicule he prepared for God’s judgment as the ark was built. Was Noah quaintly brushing aside the attacks from every corner? Was his struggle of faith not great? Was there a greater struggle of faith- except that of the Crucified One- than that faced by Abraham! Was the faith of Abraham a pensive, navel-gazing speculation as he went about sacrificing his son Isaac? Was the faith of David a balancing of moral prescriptions and prohibitions? Was he merely trying to satisfy God enough to remain in power?
The Bible says, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”4How blessed are we in comparison to live after the accomplished acts of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension! Yet, not unlike the saints of old our faith looks forward. We yearn to be released, resurrected, and restored. St. Paul says, “Or citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”5 That same Saviour comforts His people today saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”6
We have these gifts of the kingdom already. His body and blood are a foretaste of the kingdom but they also renew your faith here and now. Strengthened by sins forgiven you can have the confidence to face all that the world hurls at you. You do not face it alone. Christ has come to serve. He has girded Himself with strength and compassion. His gifts are yours in time and in eternity. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Romans 3:23
2 Hebrews 11:1
3 WA 10.3:285
4 Hebrews 11:13
5 Philippians 3:20
6 Luke 12:32
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
11 August 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt