Last Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 29 – B)
November 25, 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 Gospel, which was read a few minutes ago.
This Friday, November 30th, the 2018 hurricane season comes to an end with a total of eight hurricanes, including two that that caused major damage here in the U.S. Hurricanes are frightening storms but, unlike tornados, those in the hurricane’s path can know with some certainty when it’s going to hit. They know how long they have to board up their windows, stock up on supplies, and get out of town before the storm hits. If it’s necessary for people to prepare for a hurricane, how much more necessary is it that we prepare for the second coming of Jesus? Without a doubt, it’s far more necessary because we don’t know when Jesus is going to return. We just don’t know and that’s why Jesus tells us to, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”
In last week’s sermon I talked about the struggles that Christians will face as we get closer to Christ’s return. If you remember, I also promised you that those whose names are written in the Book of Life have nothing to fear. And all this is true! At the same time, all the signs that we’re seeing in the world should drive home the fact that the return of Jesus is imminent. He says, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near.” All the signs point to Jesus’ return so it’s critical we prepare ourselves.
We don’t think about Jesus coming back, though do we? I assume you’re thinking about it right now, but it’s probably not something that occupies your thoughts very much. Maybe you’re like those who were telling Peter, “Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?… Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Perhaps you’re tempted to think, “Maybe all this stuff about Jesus returning is just a myth and a fairy tale.” But Peter reminds us that Jesus isn’t slow in keeping His promise, and He certainly hasn’t forgotten it. Peter writes, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He’s waiting so that more will be saved!
It’s more likely though that you just have more pressing things to think about, right? Christmas is a month away. Hunting season is underway. Doctor visits are scheduled. Sports and dance classes are in full swing. Jobs are stressful. It’s easy for us to think about the here and now and worry about the future later. And something like Christ’s return that is going to happen so far in the future can be worried about later when it’s convenient.
Do you remember what happened in San Francisco on October 17, 1989? At 5:00 in the afternoon, with fans filling Candlestick Park for game three of the World Series and the roads packed with rush hour traffic, one of the most powerful and destructive earthquakes ever to hit a populated area of the United States shook the entire Bay Area. Nobody was expecting it, it just happened. It’s going to be the same way with Jesus’ return! Saint Paul says in I Thessalonians, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” It could be next year, next month, it could be before the end of my sermon. All we know is that His return will be less like a hurricane and more like an earthquake.
Jesus doesn’t want us to be caught unaware, so He tells us repeatedly to keep watch. He’s so serious about this that four times in five verses He commands us to stay awake! He’s calling us to prepare ourselves for His return. Not by quitting our jobs or panicking in the streets, but by preparing ourselves spiritually. Paul again urges, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” To be sober isn’t just to avoid drunkenness, it’s a call to holy living. God has given you faith, He has given you the means of grace to remain faithful, and He has given you spiritual life. You cannot take this spiritual life for granted and live anyway that you want.
The number one issue in the church today is apathy. Christians don’t realize what it means to “stay awake”. It’s a constant wakefulness. We don’t close our eyes to God, our faith, or the return of Jesus for even a second. We don’t look around sleepily when we think about Him. We must repent of our dozing and napping because we’re all going to be held accountable to God. He’s the Master who has gone away and as His people we cannot be caught sleeping!
To help us prepare and stay awake, Jesus provides His Church with the resources necessary for spiritual preparation. You know what these are, right? His Word to encourage and exhort us to Christian living and faith. Prayer to talk to Him and to mediate on His promises. Baptism to daily wash away our sins and remind us that our names are written in His Book of Life. The Divine Service to sit in His presence and be stirred up to vigilance. The Lord’s Supper where He bodily comes to strengthen and equip us as we await His return. He has gone away, but He hasn’t left us defenseless or unprepared. He has given us everything we need and by the power of His Holy Spirit we are awake and prepared.
So, what do we do between now and Christ’s Second Coming? Two things really. Knowing that Christ may return at any time gives us perspective in life. Time is a gift and we’re to use our time in faith towards God and love toward one another. Whether it’s service in some capacity here at Emmanuel, at your job, with your family, in school, or somewhere else, God calls you to use the time He has given you wisely and faithfully.
The second thing is that we do the work He has entrusted to us. Jesus says, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” We all have an assigned task. For some it’s service in the Church, for others it’s in service to those around them, for still others it’s sharing the love and forgiveness of Christ with those who need to hear it, and who doesn’t, right? As His people, we faithfully live, work and witness knowing that He will be coming soon. The signs of the end are all around us, so we stay awake and watch for Him. We keep His return in the forefront of our minds, and we let it guide the way we live in the time we’ve been given.
When we were in Washington D.C. and New York City this past summer, the constant police presence was a little jarring. Everywhere we went, the monuments, the museums, the subway stations there were hyper-vigilant men and women. They weren’t looking at their phones or reading books. They weren’t lost in conversation and they certainly weren’t sleeping. Their eyes were constantly moving, they were prepared physically and mentally for anything unexpected. As we await the imminent return of Jesus let us stay awake and exhibit the same vigilance so that we’re not caught unaware because while the day will be unexpected, it’s going to be glorious.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen