Video of the sermon here.
Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s interesting to me that two opposite thoughts can lead to the same reaction. Two opposite thoughts can lead to the same reaction. When I was in school and we were coming to the end of a quarter or a semester, I sometimes did the opposite of what I should have done. I could see the end. I knew the date. I knew the time when my last class would finish. And it was easy to stop caring. One year, it was finals week, and I must not have had any essays—I can’t quite remember. So did I spend all my waking moments studying furiously for those final exams? No. A friend and I watched as many of the James Bond movies as we could. I figured if I didn’t have the information already, I wasn’t going to get it by cramming in a few last minutes of studying. So I didn’t.
One summer I had a job at Safeway. I wanted to be a checker, but the job I got was stocking shelves overnight. I didn’t like that job. I didn’t like the hours. I didn’t like the way it messed with my schedule. I didn’t like my boss. He was always grumpy or mad about something. Then I got another job, so I gave my two-weeks notice. And I had one more night to work. So did I finish strong and tough out one last night? (I’m not proud of this, by the way.) No. I called in sick, even when they tried to get me to come in because they were short-handed. I knew exactly when that job ended, and I just didn’t care any more.
So it can happen when we we know the exact date that something is ending. We can become complacent and apathetic. But the exact same thing can happen when we don’t know when something is ending. Jesus tells a parable about this in Luke 12, where the master of a house is going on a journey and puts one of the servants in charge over the house. And things go well for a while. The servant knows the master is coming back. But when the master of the house is delayed, the servant begins to eat and drink and beat the other servants. And when the master of the house does come back, Jesus says that he will cut that servant in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.
Two opposite thoughts: one that we know the end of something and one that we don’t know the end, but they both lead to the same reaction: apathy and complacency. And we have a mix of both the certainty and the uncertainty when it comes to Jesus’ revelation in glory. We are never told when Jesus is coming back, but Jesus says that the one who endures to the end will be saved. And Hebrews says that since we have a great high priest over the house of God, we draw near with the full assurance of faith, being sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water, and so we should hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, and consider how to stir up one another, how to provoke one another, to love and good works, and not to forsake meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, and all the more as you see the day approaching.
But that’s sort of the problem, isn’t it? Jesus certainly tells us that we will see Him, that there will be a day when He is revealed as Lord of the whole creation. Hebrews says the reason we should hold fast our confession of hope is because the One who promises is faithful. It is absolutely certain because He is certain. But we don’t see the Day approaching; we only have the promise. It could be in the next minute, or 100 years from now. And so our uncertainty about when it will be can sometimes lead us to act as if it isn’t happening at all.
We focus on all sorts of other things. We live each day pretty much as the last. It’s one thing after another, day after day. And because we don’t know how many days there are until Jesus returns, it’s hard to keep going sometimes. Jesus says that the one who endures to the end will be saved. Not the one who endures almost to the end. Not the one who gets pretty far, but the one who endures to the end. But sometimes, in those jobs we don’t like, with people we don’t like, in the midst of unhappiness and all of the things that pile up on top of us, threatening to bury us, we can barely see how we’re going to endure through this day, let alone all the days that there might be until the end.
But we must not hear Jesus’ words as if He were telling us that He’s done the hard work of saving us, and now it’s up to us to endure until He comes back. But we are not on our own. We are not left to ourselves to figure out the best ways to keep ourselves in the Faith. Hebrews isn’t telling us not to forsake meeting together because “going to church” is what the good Christians do. It’s much more serious than that. If we take Jesus seriously when He describes the relationship between His Christians and Himself as the same one as between a vine and its branches, then gathering together in the Lord’s House where He does His work of making us holy is a life-and-death situation. It’s deadly serious—not because going to church is a good work that will assure you that you’re in the good graces of God, but because whenever the baptized gather Jesus does His most essential work.
The things that happen here are the things Jesus has promised to do and promised to give. Jesus promises to deliver us forgiveness and speak His words and feed and nourish us with His Body and Blood. And He’s promised to do it for as many days as we are waiting and expecting and longing for the Day of the Lord. It’s not as if He did that salvation stuff once and for all and then left us to our own devices until He comes again. He has given us a promise and the one who promised is faithful: Look, He says to His baptized disciples, I am with you all the days until the completion of this age. I am with you until the end. I will bear you up every day.
Enduring is taking refuge in the only one who has ever endured everything until the end. And He says, don’t worry about tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own. And He has enough for you for today. Today we confess our hope in Christ. Today we are stirred up again to love and good works. Today we meet together, not forsaking His Word or despising His Supper. Today He reaffirms His promise that He will not leave or forsake us, today or ever. Today He gives Himself to you. Each and every day His Word is available to you. And each and every week, He gathers us again to Himself, baptized, forgiven, fed, and strengthened. He is enough for today. And for tomorrow when it is today. And the day after that, and all the days, until the completion of this age, when the Lord for whom we are waiting will save us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/17/18