Sunday, November 24, 2013

Last Sunday of the Church Year (C) 2013

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

Text: Luke 19:13
Theme: Reaching the Starting Line

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

You will see God face to face1. The Holy Spirit makes that promise. The majesty of God is presently hidden and His power mostly remains veiled. Satan wants you to believe that will always be the case. The devil uses both prosperity and adversity to propagate this myth. But he will not prevail. In the midst of the most severe trials Job exclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.”2 It is a fitting confession for this last Sunday of the Church Year. The end will come but for the believer things will just be getting started.

Meanwhile we have some preliminary matters to attend to. Viewing the Christian life as preliminary to the fully resurrected life may help to clarify our purpose in the here and now. It may help give meaning beyond the pursuit of personal, material, or self-centered goals. The analogy can’t be pushed too far. After all St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”3 It is appropriate that we talk about reaching the finish line. Yet in another sense, we’re just striving for the starting line. The would-be Olympic contestant strives to qualify- aiming to reach the start of the contest. Similarly we can understand ourselves not so much as seeking to win, but seeking to qualify and participate in the victory Christ has already won.

In no sense does this mean that we’re trying to earn our way to heaven. Christ has secured this by His sacrifice. It simply recognizes that our running of the “gauntlet” of life; our tussle with Satan and sin’s power, our morality and frailty ends not in us falling in an exhausted heap at the end, but in reaching the start of a vibrant and indescribable future called eternity. Christ’s kingdom is so much more than we can imagine and we cannot measure it with the parameters were are familiar with. Therefore His kingdom remains misunderstood.

The initiation of Christ’s kingdom was originally interpreted as a defeat. When Jesus entered Jerusalem many expected His elevation to earthly power and an immediate impact on their lives. Instead, He was cruelly, and seemingly helplessly, nailed to a cross. It’s wasn’t until after His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit that they began to understand the nature of His kingdom. Even with the Spirit we remain poor students of such a lofty subject.

Anyone who buys into the characterization that Jesus only spoke in simple stories with obvious meanings hasn’t read very far into the New Testament. His parables sometimes leave us scratching our heads. Sometimes they are frank to the point of being offensive and other times shocking in their portrayals. Humility requires that every failure to understand rests with our deficiencies and not with the Lord’s apparent ambiguity.

We certainly can’t pretend to understand exactly all the connections Christ intends to make in the parable of the ten minas today. Yet certain things are clear. The man who was appointed king represents Christ. Some contested His rule. His servants are expected to be faithful stewards of the gifts entrusted to them. And there will be judgment for unfaithfulness with severe punishment to be rendered. Aside from the severity of the judgment on those who oppose His kingship the most surprising part of the parable is that the man who has only one mina is required to forfeit it to the one who already has ten.

Yet this only emphasizes a truth taught clearly throughout the New Testament: The one who has Christ has everything, while the one who has everything now will have nothing without Christ. Each servant was given one mina and told to invest it wisely. What does this mean for us? It doesn’t just mean putting our extra cash on deposit with the LLL. It means investing in people and their spiritual well-being. It means fostering relationships built on the truth of the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Yet we often do just the opposite.

Do you keep a blacklist of those who have offended you? Do you find reasons to tear them down or, at least, avoid them? Do you justify your actions by your sense of fairness or revenge? Do you want your pound of flesh? But who are you putting on trial firstly and fore mostly? When you sin against others you firstly sin against God. Do you charge Him with apathy or neglect? Do you accuse Him of unfairness? Do you keep up an appearance of piety but disown Him in your heart? Have you forgotten that you are the sinner? Let our repentance be driven by a genuine desire to know this forgiveness.

This parable is appropriate today because it reminds us in a very practical way that the events of the end times are happening continually. We’re referring here not to those cosmic events, natural disasters, upheavals, wars, famines, earthquakes or revolutions. Rather we are speaking of the contest for people’s hearts and wills, their allegiances, their slavery or their freedom. We are in the firing line and sometimes the shelling is more intense than others. We can’t pretend that we can remain detached from the tension, the temptation, and the testing that characterizes life as a believer in a profane world. Remember you are at ground zero. Ground zero is the point of impact.

Each time we are convicted of our sin and comforted by the grace of Christ the event that straddles time and eternity- His death and resurrection- impacts our lives. We can be assured we are already part of the future kingdom. It is a Pentecostal event because the Holy Spirit always attends the proclamation of the word. The word of God is the Spirit’s sword4. It is an incarnational event because only the Child of Bethlehem could redeem our flesh and blood through His own. “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 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.”5 It is a sacramental event because we are beneficiaries of His blessings through very tangible means: baptismal water, bread and wine communicating to us His body and blood.

The Apostle Paul says that the Father “has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”6 This is language of adoption and legal standing. Christ incorporates believers through their baptism into His kingdom. We are no longer consigned to the fate of the world; to darkness, judgment and despair. Baptism qualifies us to share in the inheritance- all the blessings of the kingdom of light. We will wear the crown of life because Jesus bore the crown of thorns. We are children of the light and participants in His resurrection victory. This gospel truth remains unintelligible to those who don’t have the eyes of faith. Therefore we always pray for the clear proclamation of the forgiveness, life, and salvation found only in Christ and work for the establishment of His church here and throughout the world.

Dear friends, you may be here today because you got around in time to get yourself here. But, unless you are here under false pretenses, you are really here because the Holy Spirit has gathered you here. This is not crazy religious babble. It is the mystery and power of God’s work in Christ. It doesn’t mean you’re a puppet. It means a living faith exists within you. In the end that’s all that matters. When you meet God in judgment all that matters is Christ’s payment for your sins. He has already won the race. He remains faithful to the end so that we can reach the starting line. Christ will come again but the end will just be the beginning. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Last Sunday of the Church Year
24 November 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 See 1 Corinthians 13:12
2 Job 19:25
3 2 Timothy 4:7
4 See Ephesians 6:17
5 Colossians 1:19-20
6 Colossians 1:12