3rd Sunday after Epiphany (B)
I Corinthians 7:29-31
January 21, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
There are many people who have mottos by which they live their lives; an apple a day, learn something new every day, do one good thing a day, you get the picture. Mine is usually “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” I’ll own it, I procrastinate. This is okay in some areas of my life; if I don’t dust my office, it’s not the end of the world. If, however, I delay in mailing my quarterly payment to the IRS, that has the potential to get me in trouble. I work best when I have a firm deadline. Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t write my sermon last night or this morning, it was done on Friday. But if you told me I had to deliver a special sermon on July 1st, I’d probably start it at the end of June. I tend to lose sight of the fact that time is shorter than I plan for.
You may not realize it, or maybe you don’t think about it, but our time on earth is short. I don’t mean that our physical lives are short, although compared to eternity they are. I mean we are living in the End Times. Now, this isn’t an “End of the World is Coming” sermon and I’m not going to try to scare you with descriptions of fire and brimstone. I’m simply stating the fact that with His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus ushered in a new era; one of hardship and also one of anticipation. Nobody knows when Jesus is going to return, the angels don’t even know, but we do know that time is short. Paul puts it this way in his letter, “For the present form of this world is passing away.” Jesus isn’t necessarily coming back tomorrow or a month from now or even a decade from now, He could, we don’t know. What we do know is that since time is short, and the end uncertain, we must prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus.
So, what does preparing ourselves look like? Are we supposed to head out into the desert to wait for Him to appear? Do we spend our days at the church praying and singing hymns? Drastic steps like these aren’t necessary, we prepare where we are placed by God in this world. Preparation though doesn’t start with you, it starts with the forgiveness of your sins. When the time was right God didn’t procrastinate, He sent His Son Jesus Christ and through Him all your sins are forgiven. You’re forgiven so you don’t have to worry about what will happen when He returns. His death has prepared you for eternal life when all the faithful followers of God will join the company of Heaven and live in a new world He prepared for us. Until that day, the promise of a new world changes the way we think about life in this old world.
Jesus has prepared us for life in the old world by giving us faith and forgiveness; this is so important for us to remember. The second part of forgiveness is that we are now equipped to stop procrastinating in spiritual things. This means we place our focus on Him and not on this current world. In our text, Paul describes what it means to prepare ourselves. He starts by saying, “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.”
Now Paul was a single guy and while he said that there are good things with being single, he isn’t belittling marriage. Paul would agree that marriage is a good gift from God, created so that men and women would find fulfillment in one another and bear children. Marriage is good, so is singleness. What Paul says here applies to all relationships. Our marriages, families, and other personal relationships are vitally important, however, they’re not our most important relationship. We’re first and foremost in a relationship with God. This means that you can’t let earthly relationships lead you to procrastinate in spiritual things. You can’t love your children so much you tell them that they can skip church or Sunday school if they don’t want to go. You can’t love your significant other so much that you turn a blind eye to sin, theirs or yours. Nor can you allow your spouse, friends, or children to cut you off from God. You can’t put your family’s desires over God’s desires. The relationships you have in this world must flow out of your relationship with God, and not the other way around.
Another way we prepare centers on our emotions. Paul says we’re to live so that “those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing.” This sounds strange because people are emotional, and Paul isn’t telling us to ignore our emotions and become robots. There’s sorrow in this world so we’re going to grieve losses and hurts. There’s joy in this world so we’re going to celebrate happy occasions. What we can’t do is let our emotions dictate to us. I know this is hard because our emotions are powerful. They’re also fleeting. Paul is warning against getting so wrapped up in the ups and downs of life that we lose sight of what lasts beyond this life. Do you remember what Jesus promised? He says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We don’t live just for the joys in life nor are we destroyed by the sadness. Christ’s promises endure forever so we give our emotions to Him throughout the ups and downs of our lives. We prepare by keeping our focus on the new world where there will no longer be tears of sorrow, but of joy.
To prepare ourselves extends beyond our families and emotions, it encompasses our possessions too. Paul say those who buy are to live as though they had no goods. Working is a gift from God and through our employment God provides for our bodily needs. We can’t however run our lives in pursuit of having more and more. I know I’ve been guilty of putting too much stock in possessions. I’m a guy. I like nice cars and big screen TVs. I always want something nicer and bigger than what I have, and in the past, that has led to making bad decisions. We must live as if these things are temporary, and they are! We can’t focus on the things that bring us earthly joy because that leads us to not focus on Christ. Work is important, we need our jobs and the blessing our jobs provide come from God as well. But we must focus on the giver of the gifts and not on the gifts themselves.
The last way that Paul tells us to prepare is perhaps the most difficult. He says live as “those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” We are in the world not of it. Until Jesus returns we have to deal with this world, we have to accept that our world is rapidly changing and the world is trying to change the Church with it. Some churches have changed to suit the world and they’re wrong. They’re completely and utterly misguided. Scripture is clear on every issue confronting the Church and while we can’t avoid what goes on around us, we can certainly not take part it in. We can’t avoid acknowledging what we see in the world, but we absolutely don’t approve of it. This sinful world that hates God and His people will one day be judged and then cease to exist. We prepare ourselves by always and only looking to Christ who will give us the new world when He comes again.
So while I tend to procrastinate when it comes to cleaning my desk,
I encourage you to stop procrastinating when it comes to being spiritually prepared. Through Jesus’ death you’re totally and completely forgiven. Let this forgiveness move you to prepare for Jesus to come again. Time is short, this world is passing away, but this is exciting for soon the promise of Christ’s return will come true and we’ll be ushered into a new world prepared for all those who believe.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen