Stay Awake

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Mark 13:24-37

Dear people who are awake: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Stay awake. Jesus tells us to stay awake because it is possible to fall asleep. It is possible for us to fall asleep instead of keeping watch and being ready for Christ’s return. That is to say, it is possible for us to fall away from the faith.

So, stay awake. Stay awake from the false sense of security in which no thought is given at all about Christ’s return on the Last Day. Stay awake from the expectation that things will just keep on going as they have been since the foundation of the world. Stay awake from the lull of worldly comfort. Stay awake from giving highest priority to the cares of this world. Stay awake from the deceitfulness of riches.

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. You do not know when Jesus will return. Yes, Jesus gives you signs so that you can recognize when the time is coming close, but no one knows when it will be. We have had wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes and famines since Jesus ascended into heaven (cf. Mk. 13:8). We’ve had signs of the end times for two thousand years. Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost that they were in the last days already then (Acts 2:17). Saint John writes, “Children, it is the last hour” (I Jn 2:18).

Live every day as though it might be your last, because it just might be your last. One day it will be your last.

Our Introit from Psalm 39 prays, “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.” This is praying to God that He would lead us to realize that our life on earth is extremely short, so that we would think more about where we will spend eternity. Lead us to not spend all our time and energy stocking up treasure on earth and thus give up treasure in heaven. Lead us to not live lives in the pursuit of pleasure on earth and thus give up the pleasure of heaven.

Recall the parable of the sower. The Word of God that is heard by hard hearts is snatched away by the devil. The Word of God that is sown in some hearts endures for a while, but then, when tribulation and persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away. The Word of God that is sown in others proves unfruitful when the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word (cf. Mk. 4:1-20). There is great danger that we fall away if we allow hardships or worldly desires to turn us away from God.

Falling away doesn’t just happen overnight. You don’t go to sleep one night filled with faith and trust in God and wake up the next morning hating Him. It happens over time as a Christian does not prioritize the feeding and nurture of his faith. Little by little, he allows the world to influence him. He doesn’t even realize the things that he’s starting to believe are against God’s Word because he isn’t listening to God’s Word. He’s done listening to it because he thinks he knows it all and doesn’t need it any more. Maybe later, like on his deathbed, he thinks.

Do not think that you have lots of time to prepare for Jesus’ return, so you’ll prepare later; that you have lots of time to repent, you’ll repent later. We don’t know when Jesus will return. When He has returned, it will be too late to prepare or repent. The watchman cannot expect to be awake when his master returns if he figures he has some time to sleep, even just for a little bit, and then wake up before his master returns. His master will return at a time that he does not expect.

The Son of Man will return in clouds with great power and glory. Those who receive Jesus now when He comes humbly, are ready to receive Him when He comes in glory. Those who don’t, are not.

The day that Christ returns will be a day of great terror for some and a day of great joy for others. For some it will be scarier and more terrifying than anything they could have imagined. The hearts of unbelievers will melt with fear because they will see all their idols destroyed by fire. Everything they held dear and in which they hoped will be destroyed. Everything for which they worked, everything they valued, everything they believed in will be revealed to be foolishness, lies, and rubbish, while the almighty God they rejected will justly punish them for the truth they rejected; for the grace and mercy they rejected.

Stay awake and prepared for the return of Christ. You may well say, “I’m trying!” I’m trying to prioritize the right things in my life. I’m trying to think more about eternity. I’m trying to hear God’s Word more and even read it more. I come here to hear the pastor absolve my sin and to receive the body and blood of Jesus… but it doesn’t seem to do anything.

My sin that God has apparently thrown into the depths of the sea still remains in my heart. I come to church week after week; I hear the Gospel week after week; I receive communion week after week, but I cannot get rid of my sins.

I still make bad decisions. I still get caught up in the cares of this life. I still doubt. I still cannot be perfectly content. I despair. I still want things that God says I cannot have. I still get angry. I still lust. I still covet. I still say things I shouldn’t say. I’m still selfish.

The truth is, you are still sinful. That does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not doing anything in you. That does not mean that your hearing and reading of the Gospel has been in vain or that Jesus’ body and blood have done nothing for you.

This cannot be the case because you believe. You believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sin. The only reason that you believe is because the Holy Spirit gave you faith when you were baptized, and He has fed and nourished that faith through the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar even to this day. You are awake.

The Holy Spirit has given you faith. He has also kept you in the faith. Even though sin still clings to you, the Holy Spirit has continually forgiven you your sin. The Holy Spirit helps you in your struggle with sin, even though the struggle does not go away in this life.

Your struggle with sin will go away when Christ returns. Then you will be completely delivered from all sin. Not just delivered from sins of word and deed, but even of all sinful desires. Our very sinful nature, which is the reason that we sin, will be destroyed.

Thank God that this life is short! And thank God that He sends His Word and Sacrament to us to keep us awake until the coming of Christ. Christ will return and send out the angels to gather His elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. He doesn’t gather you because you’ve lived a good life, but because He died for your sins and you belong to Him, purchased by His blood. He gathers you because you are His elect and He will keep you in the true faith to life everlasting. Jesus will keep you awake. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

The End of the World

Sermon for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost based on Mark 13:1-13

Dear people waiting for Jesus: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If we look at this world, we can tell that it cannot endure; it cannot survive. Fires burn people out of house and home, killing many trying to escape. Hurricanes wipe out coastal cities and flood cities far inland. Earthquakes cause destruction, death, and panic. Bombs fall from the sky in response to rocket fire. Deranged, fatherless mass murders shoot up schools, concerts, and other places where people gather. Politically divided countries are filled with hatred, threats, and violence. Tensions are high, tempers flare, violent crime spreads even as victims lose their rights.

We know this world cannot go on. Not only can we tell that these volatile signs indicate that we are destroying each other and the world, but Jesus also tells us that they are signs of the end times; signs of the close of the age.

Another sign of the end times, Jesus says, is “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” God’s Word offends the world because Jesus claims to be the only way to the Father (John 14:6). God’s Word offends because it condemns the sins that the world loves to commit. Thus, anyone who believes and follows God’s Word will be hated. Jesus told us this would happen as we near the end of the world, and this is indeed happening now.

God is patient with those who hate Him and revile Him. He desires their salvation. He desires them to turn from their wickedness and live. That is why He has not yet destroyed them along with this world.

One day, His patience will end, and the wicked and the proud will suffer terribly and know great terror. They will be set ablaze by the fires of hell. Their punishment will have no end just as their wickedness knew no bounds. They will suffer the righteous and just consequence of their sins. They will receive the just punishment for their crimes.

If we were judged by our lives, by our works, and by our deeds, we would face the exact same punishment. We have lived selfish lives. We have lived for ourselves, as if we alone mattered. We have not loved God with our whole heart or our neighbours as ourselves. Repent.

God out of His great love and mercy will not judge us by our lives, by what we have done and left undone. God judges us by His Son’s life; by what His Son has done for us. The good that Jesus has done is credited to us even as our sins were charged to Him and He suffered and died for them.

Thus, God does not want us to be terrified of the Last Day or the return of Christ. He does not want us to be in fear or panic as we see signs of the end times in the world around us. Rather, He wants us to lift up our heads in glad anticipation. Our redemption is drawing near.

That terrible and great day of Christ’s return will be a day of joy for us. It will be the ushering in of a new heaven and a new earth where we will live with God in perfect peace and harmony forever.

Wars between nations will be over. The rage within nations will cease. The hurtful fighting within families will be no more. The battle with sin within ourselves that’s always tearing us apart will be gone.

Sin will lose its appeal. Temptations will have no power. We will be content and happy and filled with joy that never fades.

Now, you suffer. Your brother may not have delivered you over to death and your children may not have risen against you. You may not feel hated by the world, but you do suffer hardships, most of them secret and internal. You endure in prayer and faith, by hearing the Word of God and receiving the body and blood of Jesus. You wait with all the saints for the reappearing of our Saviour. You wait for the fulfilment of all of God’s promises to you. You wait for Judgment Day without fear, because you have God’s promise, that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more.” (Heb. 10:17)

God’s Word does tell us that God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ec. 12:14). It also tells us we will have to give an account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12), even for every careless word we speak (Mt. 12:36). The Bible tells us these things so that we would fear God and keep His Commandments. That is the whole duty of man (Ec. 14:13). Fear God and keep His Commandments. The Bible tells us these things so that our conscience would be awakened and we would repent, so that we will not be found secure in sin, impenitent, and apathetic when Christ returns, and then be judged by our deeds with the unbelievers.

Repentant, faithful believers don’t have to wait until Judgment Day to hear their verdict. You hear it every Sunday when you hear the words of Absolution. You are absolved by God Himself. You are forgiven. Your sins are blotted out. Since God promises you that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more, you can rest assured God isn’t going to bring them up on Judgment Day.

Jesus has taken the punishment of your sins and was judged in your place. The only verdict left for you is innocent. God grants you the opportunity to hear this every Sunday so that you will be ready to face Judgment Day. God grants you to receive the body and blood of Jesus so that you will be forgiven and strengthened in faith until you die or Jesus returns.

This world will not endure. However, it won’t be destroyed by our warring or pollution or climate change. God will destroy it with fire on Judgment Day.

Because of God’s love and mercy, you will not be judged by your lives, by your evil works, or by your sins. You are already judged to be forgiven saints of God with His promise that He will remember your sins and your lawless deeds no more. God will thus usher you into a perfect new world that will endure. It will endure forever. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Widows and the Church

Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost based on 1 Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, and Mark 12:38-44

Dear people with faith: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We heard of the faith of two widows in our Scripture lessons this morning – the widow of Zarephath who gave all the food she had to Elijah, trusting that God would take care of her, and the widow at the Temple who put all the money she had into the offering, trusting that God would take care of her. They both demonstrated by what they did, that they had faith that even though their circumstances seemed dire and hopeless, God would not forget about them or forsake them.

This was a faith that God shaped in them through suffering. That’s the thing about widows with faith. They have a wisdom of experience, and I’m not talking only of old age, but of fighting the good fight of faith. They are veterans of the war with sin and death. They have accompanied their spouses through the process of dying; and that last enemy, that has somewhat kept its distance from the rest of us, they have seen face to face. They know death. They know what is at stake. They know what in the world is truly important, and for them in their wisdom, they supported the preaching of God’s Word.

The widow of Zarephath supported the prophet of God, Elijah, in a time of drought and famine. She had intended to make a last meal for herself and her son before they would starve to death. Instead she made a little cake with her last flour and oil for the prophet of God, and God took care of her.

The widow at the Temple supported the work of the Temple and the worship that took place there. What happened to her is not told to us, but we can know for sure that God took care of her.

In her case, it was not a time of drought or famine. She was not supporting a prophet in need. She was giving offerings at the Temple – offerings which the greedy scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests used for their long robes and their lavish feasts. Indeed, Jesus accused them of devouring widows’ houses.

They made long shows of prayer and piety, but it was all a hypocritical ruse and a scam to get more money from poor widows. We are told they were lovers of money and they ridiculed Jesus for telling them that they cannot serve two masters; that one cannot serve both God and money (Lk. 16:13-14). They were so greedy for gain that they preyed on the poor widows, taking the little the widows had to add to their own wealth and riches.

What a stark contrast to the poor widow who trusted in God and gave everything to God. She gave herself to God. She entrusted her life to Him. She was thinking about eternity, not her earthly needs, knowing God would take care of both.

These two believing widows knew their Saviour from death, and they knew that it was of the highest importance that the message of salvation and the promise of forgiveness be preached by Elijah and flow from the Temple before death sticks his face into the lives of others.

Widows have a faith that has been tried and tested and strengthened by the Lord through tribulations that we have yet to experience. They trust God to get them through their current trials and tribulations, just as He has gotten them through all their previous trials and tribulations.

Where would we be without widows? Widows make up a large percentage of the hearers in the pews on Sunday morning [in many congregations, certainly at Zion]. Widows support this congregation with sacrificial offerings and with their time in preparing meals for events and sandwiches for funerals. Widows have told me that they pray for me and for my pastoral care for you. Widows volunteer at the nursing home and gather the residents for Divine Service in the chapel. They volunteer at the thrift shop and in the community in many ways I don’t even know.

Now, I don’t want to downplay the many contributions of those who are not widows. That is not the point. Rather, I want to highlight what a blessing faithful widows are to the church; what a blessing they are to me. They have seen our heavenly Father get them through at least one battle with death, and as they await their reunion with their husbands in heaven, they serve their neighbour and serve the church as the two widows did in our lessons.

God blesses the church through widows, and He blesses widows, and all of us, through the church. Church is where our sins are forgiven – our sins of not trusting in God when our situation seems dire and hopeless; our sins of clinging to mammon; our sins of being angry with God when we have faced trial, tribulation, and loss. All our sins are forgiven.

Our sins are forgiven because Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb. 9:26). Your sin has been put away because Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for you. It was a once for all sacrifice. No more sacrifice is needed. Your sins have been paid for in full.

Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him (Heb. 9:28). We eagerly wait for Jesus to return. Jesus dealt with our sin the first time He came, so now when He returns there is no more sin to deal with. Our sin has been put away, so Jesus returns to take us to Himself, so that we will be with Him in heaven. There, believing widows will be reunited with their believing husbands. Believing widowers will be reunited with their believing wives. We will be reunited with all our loved ones who have died in the faith.

For that day we pray. For that day we wait. We wait with widows. We wait with widowers. We eagerly wait with the whole Church on earth for that day when Christ returns. Then death will be no more, only life, and we will live forever with our Saviour who has saved us from sin, death, and the grave. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: We will being following the One-Year Lectionary in Advent. Also, as always, I am indebted to the many preachers with which God has blessed our church. I regularly steal ideas from the sermons of others that I find insightful or helpful. For this sermon, I stole entire paragraphs from a sermon by Pastor Kurt Lantz related to widows.]

Heaven is for You

Sermon for All Saints’ Day based on Revelation 7:9-17

Dear saints: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Thus, all believers have the promise that they will be included in that great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb in heaven. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the reason we will be there.

The great tribulation will be over. No more hunger or thirst. No more tears. No more war or bloodshed. No terrorism. No riots or murders. No heresy or prejudice. No sadness, pain, illness, loneliness, or death. No more sin.

Heaven is perfection, with nothing bad, only everything good.

We will again see our loved ones who died in the faith.

Even more, God will be there. We will be before His throne, sheltered by His presence. We will be with God forever.

This doesn’t mean much to most people. They spend their lives running away from God. They flee His presence. They avoid the place where He has promised to be here on earth. They deny Him by their words and their deeds, and want to silence anyone who would dare so much as mention Jesus’ name.

Those who flee God’s presence seek to build their own heaven here on earth – perhaps with thoughts of some kind of communist utopia. Steal from one group and give it to another. Force other people to “share.” They use lies and prejudice, rioting and terrorism, war and bloodshed, to quiet those who oppose them to bring this “heaven” about. But it never comes. There is no other heaven than the one created by God. There is no utopia that worldly governments can create.

Those who have sought to build their own heaven have always and will always fail. The only thing that has ever come out of such attempts is more suffering, hunger, thirst, and death than you already had. There is only God’s eternal heaven which is good and perfect with nothing bad. Fleeing God’s heaven to make your own just doesn’t work.

Fleeing God’s presence here on earth results in not being in God’s presence in heaven. Avoiding the presence of God, where He has promised to be and give forgiveness here on earth, is rejecting God and His heaven for eternity. Rejecting Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper – the places where God is present with forgiveness – is rejecting the eternal presence of God in heaven.

Being in the presence of God in heaven will be everything to us. We cannot quite understand that now because we love God so little. We have so many things that we allow to compete with our love for God. We cannot image how we would ever be content just by the presence of God, but we will be.

In heaven, we will love God perfectly and completely. We will love Him so much that we will desire nothing else. He will be our everything. He will be our joy, our glory, our comfort, our contentment.

We cannot really grasp this now. That’s why it might sound odd to us that part of the description of heaven includes us serving God day and night in His temple. Day and night? Twenty-four hours of service a day? That doesn’t sound so great to me!

That’s because we don’t love God like we will love Him when we are in heaven. In heaven we will love Him so much that we will love serving Him, even though we failed to serve Him faithfully on earth. We will love to serve Him, worship Him, and sing His praises. There will be nothing that we would rather do. God’s desire will be our desire. God will be our life, our strength, our wisdom, our happiness. What more is there? It is far better than anything human words can express or human thoughts can understand while we remain here below. As Scripture speaks of it, it is “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9, citing Is. 64:4).

We will love God then as we are commanded to love Him now but cannot. We will love Him as He loves us. Only then can we fully comprehend the words of the hymn, “Lord, Thee I love with all my heart… Yea, heaven itself were void and bare if Thou, Lord, wert not near me” (LSB 708 st. 1). The presence of God will be everything to us and we will lack nothing.

Jesus’ death and resurrection have opened the kingdom of heaven to you. He has promised you that He will bring you out of the great tribulation and bring you to Himself in heaven. He will take you from this vale of tears and wipe away your tears.

Jesus will bring you into heaven because you are clothed in robes made white by the blood of the Lamb. You will get into heaven because your sins have been washed clean by Jesus’ blood. His suffering and death were for you. He has taken the punishment for your lack of love.

No amount of your own washing will wash your sins away. Water by itself cannot wash sins away, but only water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. No blood can wash away your sin, but only Jesus’ blood, given and shed for you washes your sin away – that blood which flowed for your sins.

Through Baptism and His holy Supper, Jesus washes you and makes you clean. He makes your robes white, with all your sin forgiven, so you are ready to enter heaven whenever He takes you home.

The kingdom of heaven is open to you, and Jesus will bring you through the great tribulation to the eternal joys of heaven. Your tears will be wiped away. You will be before the throne of God, sheltered by His presence, and you will love God as He loves you. God will be your everything and you will lack nothing. You will desire what God desires, and never again will you have any tribulation. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[A note to readers: We will be following the One-Year Lectionary beginning in Advent.]