Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 22:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a lot of confusion in the world. I don’t think I have to do much to convince you of that. There is confusion among people, and between people. There’s so much confusion that people who are talking to each other—or, more likely, typing at each other—have to wonder if they’re even living in the same world, they see things so differently.
The confusion in the world can cause people in the church to be more interested in apocalyptic things and events. At the end of the church year, it is natural to turn toward those things. But when we look at passages like Mark 13, we find that there is still a lot of confusion. Confusion about what Jesus is talking about in particular verses. Is He talking about the destruction of Jerusalem? Is He talking about the end of this age? How are they connected? And it is unlikely that people in the Church will come to an agreement on all of the details, even if they agree on the main themes.
It is good for us to listen carefully, to learn, to do our best to understand what the Scriptures are saying. But we should not lose track of the central theme, which Jesus repeats over and over. In the chaos and confusion of the world, and trying to connect what we hear and read to what we see in the world, we should not forget that Jesus has a word to us about our response at all times: what I say to you (disciples), I say to all: watch. Keep awake, keep alert, stay vigilant, keep your eyes open.
And this is not the kind of watching that some people have done. Some people have sold or left everything, and gathered in a cave, or a basement, or a compound, or on the roof of a barn, and waited for the coming of Jesus. But that is not the right kind of watching. Jesus reminds us that this watching is like when a man goes on a journey and He puts His servants to their tasks and to their jobs, and the doorkeeper He tells to watch for His return. Because the Lord is returning, they do what they’ve been given to do. They don’t get lazy and let the whole thing go to wreckage. They don’t get weary and tired of the work and give up, and sleep.
And we have our work to do. Most of the time, it is very easy to know what we should do, even if the real problem is that we don’t want to do it. What is right in front of you? Who is right in front of you? There is some obligation, some responsibility, some opportunity to exercise your gifts. That is what God has given you to do. Do it. It is good and pleasing to Him. Because we know He is going to return, whether in our lifetime or some other, we do what we have been given to do, in joy and hope of the expectation of His appearance.
But of course the confusion and the chaos still swirl around us. And there are a lot of dangers that threaten to pull us from our watching and working and praying. Just before the verses we heard from Jude today, he says that the apostles have prophesied of mockers and scoffers who follow their own ungodly passions, who cause divisions, who are without the Spirit. And Peter talks about those who say that Jesus is never coming back, that things always go on pretty much the same as they always did. Jesus says that lawlessness will increase, and so the love of many will grow cold. Paul tells Timothy about all the ways that people are turned from Christ. Jude says to the Christians, stand firm and build yourselves up in your holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit—whom you have—and wait faithfully for the mercy of Jesus. Peter says that God is not slow to keep His promises, as some count the slowness of these days. God is always on time, and He will appear at precisely the time He has chosen. Both Jude and Peter, and Jesus and Paul, recall us to the heart of Christ in the midst of the confusion and the chaos.
One of the dangers is the stories and the words that swirl around us in the confusion of this world. C.S. Lewis has a series of books that are often called the “Space Trilogy.” The main character is Elwin Ransom, who travels to different planets, first to Mars in the first book, and then to Venus in the second book. In that book, Perelandra, Venus is an unfallen planet; there is no sin or death. And then the devil shows up, having taken the body of a character from the first book. Ransome calls him the Un-man. And the Un-man is there to destroy Perelandra by pulling the lady of that world away from God. The way that he tries to do that is by telling stories. He tells her one story after another about women who were brave, courageous, who stepped out on their own even when no one believed they were doing the right thing. He tells the lady of Perelandra that this is actually what God wants her to do, to disobey Him and act on her own so that she can be fully matured and heroic. When one story doesn’t work, the Un-man immediately begins another story. And another story and another story and another story and another story and another story. And they begin to build and build until she gets the pattern into her imagination and is almost ready to leave the story God has written for her to pursue her own.
Every single day, we hear a thousand stories, and if we listen to certain stories over and over, we will be inclined to substitute those stories for the story that God is telling. But the fact is that there is only one story, and every other story ends in meaninglessness and nothingness. Here, in this place, week after week, church year after church year, we are recalled to the True Story of God. We are hearing the end of it today, but we will soon hear the beginning as God takes flesh, and the highlights of that story, until it reaches its climax in the resurrection of our Lord, and goes on until its fulfillment once more. We hear this story so that we are not misled and deceived by the confusion and chaos all around us.
So Jesus tells us that He is going to appear in glory, just as the angels told the disciples at His ascension. He is going to gather us from wherever we are, living or dead, to Himself. This creation as it is will come to its end and conclusion, and He will remake it without sin or death or confusion or chaos. But these things, this time of the end, has already begun. It began when the God of all creation appeared in His creation in flesh. The demons knew that His appearance meant the end of the reign of the devil, by sin and death. And at His crucifixion the sun was darkened and the powers of the heavens were shaken by His death. And at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit began the gathering of people from all places, from all four corners of the creation. It was not the end, not the full gathering, but it was the beginning. And the result of that death and resurrection and gathering have been going on since then, as they will until every eye sees Jesus and every knee bows and every tongue confesses that He is Lord, and God is all in all.
Until then, we wait, and watch, and pray. When we see the confusion of the world, we hear the words of Jesus. When we see the hopelessness of so many, we turn in hope and eager expectation to the coming of Jesus, which will not fail. Look! Jesus says, I stand at the door and knock, even now. The one who hears My voice opens the door, and I will come in and eat with him. He is knocking, and we hear His voice, and He comes in to be with us. He feeds us with His Supper, until the day when we eat the full marriage banquet of the Lamb of God.
This is His promise: He is the one who is able to keep you from stumbling in the chaos of this age. He is the one who will keep you blameless and present you before the Presence of His glory on with great joy that day. To Him alone be all glory and authority and dominion and majesty before all time, and now in this last time, and forever.
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, 11/20/21