St. Luke 19:41-48
August 25, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Less than week before He betrayed to be tortured and killed as though He were an enemy of the state, Christ Our Lord pulls up outside the city of Jerusalem to weep and prophecy what will happen to those who reject Him and His peace. He fulfills all the Old Testament offices in an obvious way that day. He is received as the King of Israel who comes in the Name of the Lord. He acts as the High Priest who cleanses the Temple. And in this prophetic act, in His words, and His later teaching in the Temple, He reveals Himself as the prophet like Moses to whom we should listen.
The prophecy foretells a particular future event: the destruction of Jerusalem and its attendant horrors at the hand of the Roman general Titus in the year 70 AD. In this it both warns the people of Israel and shows something of the Messiah’s Divinity.
But there is more to it than that. This warning and Our Lord’s weeping is rooted in the Old Testament.
When the prophets of old prophesied calamity and punishment, they used external signs. Isaiah went naked and barefoot when he prophesied that the King of Assyria would lead Egypt away captive. Jeremiah hung a chain on his neck when he prophesied that the King of Babylon would bring all the nations under himself. Ezekiel made a model of Jerusalem out of a brick. Then he laid siege to it to prophesy that the Jews would be led away captive to Babylon. (paraphrased from Spannenberg)
In all of those incidents, and in this one, the warning is meant for more than its immediate hearers – for whom in all cases it was too late. These things are recorded for our instruction. There is a pattern that we are to discern. The Lord is not slack concerning His promises. The end will come. His Word cannot be ignored without consequence. Lifestyle matters. Finally, at last, we will be relieved of the false accusations and hatred of this world, delivered to Our Father in heaven who has purchased us as His own at the cost of His only Son.
And, of course, mixed into that great hope is also a warning for us. Do not go the way of Jerusalem, that city of hypocrisy. It calls itself the city of peace but knew not what makes for peace nor the time of its visitation. Even as Our Lord’s weeping is a physical, visible response to the hypocrisy and rejection of Jerusalem, so also the destruction of Jerusalem is a physical and visible example of what will happen to the whole world on the Last Day. Do not let that day take you unaware.
You need not be a prophet to know that when the trees bud, Summer is coming. We are called upon to see the signs in our culture and world and even in the context of the churches in America. The prophecies about the end do not enable us to predict an exact day or hour but they do teach us that things will get progressively worse and that every moment that passes amps up the tension and expectation. It is not going to get better. We are not going to win over the culture and usher in a just kingdom. We must fight for justice and compassion and decency in the world. We must speak to our neighbors and warn them. We must also engage in public witness against the depravity and injustices of our culture. But in the end we know where this is going. We know how it ends. We have never belonged to this world and we never will.
Ask yourself this: as things have progressed, in accordance with Biblical prophecy, and the world has become more and more open in its hostility toward Christianity, for what have you mourned? For the lost souls caught up in sin or for the potential loss of income and prestige and easy life? Repent. Repent and prepare.
Repent means to turn from your sins and the world and to turn toward God. It means to stop seeking your own pleasure and ways and a place in this world and to trust in God to provide what you need. It means being sorry for your sins and your constant longing for the things of this world and wanting to do better. It also means receiving the forgiveness that Christ has won for you by His death and resurrection and which He freely and generously bestows through faith.
That is the bread and butter of Christianity. It is the life of the Baptized: a daily, ongoing drowning of the old man by contrition and repentance and the rising of the new man who comes forth by grace to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. It won’t stop until the good work in us is perfected on the Last Day. Apart from this, there is no hope, no salvation, no meaning. It is the foundation and source of faith and still sustains it.
But how do we prepare? Not by making sure we have enough clean water stored in the basement along with food and guns. We aren’t trying to survive the apocalypse. We are striving rather to stay faithful in it. How does a soldier prepare for war or an athlete for a contest? We train. We aren’t about to play checkers with the devil and his army. We aren’t contemplating a walk to the kitchen for a sandwich. We are preparing for war and for possible torture. We look back to the destruction of Jerusalem and see a most possible future. We start and never move off of repentance. To be a Christian is to abide in the means of the grace and to trust in God to provide and see us through. At the same time, we are given a part in this war, and we do well to heed Christ’s warnings and to discipline our minds and bodies in order to train and prepare our souls so that if and when we are called upon to confess and to turn our backs on safety, health, and comfort, perhaps even family and state, we are ready do so.
Often we have heard that this is a major purpose of fasting and it is. If it is done mindfully, exercise and even following a schedule and making your bed in the morning could be as well. But today I want to talk mainly about training the mind.
You need to learn some things by heart, not just the Faith as ideas and principles, but the actual precise words and formulations. This isn’t to say that there can’t be deathbed conversions. We have the example of the repentant thief that shows us it is possible. But none of us are deathbed converts. We are Christians, baptized. We belong to God. We need to act like it and prepare for what He has told us is coming. Life in the Lord’s army is not the life of Reilly. It is the life of a soldier. That means work: diligence, vigilance, and discipline.
At the very least you to memorize, that is learn by heart, the Divine Service, the Catechism, and some Bible passages. Then, as you master that, add some hymns and more Bible passages.
You ought to know the words of the Sunday morning liturgy by heart. I am not saying that this particular liturgy fell out of heaven or that it is vastly superior to all others or it is the only possible rite. I am simply saying that this liturgy is ancient and faithful. It has been test and proven worthy. There is none better. And, in any case, it is ours, handed to us by our fathers. So learn it. Memorize it. Recite it. Meditate upon it. Keep it and hold it and love it. It is Divine. It unites you to God and the saints who have gone before you. It is food and strength not only for facing your mother-in-law or braggart co-worker but also for Korean POW camps. Try singing it, or at least parts of it, without looking at the bulletin or hymnal. Holding this in your mind will help fill your mind with the things of God instead of the things of this world. It will deepen your understanding of the words and help the chronology and placement of the bits of liturgy start to make more sense and their wisdom will be revealed to you. If you hold these things in your mind and carry them about, no one can take them away, and they will become part of you, change you from the inside out. And if they decide to roast you alive for your faith, you can sing the Gloria and the Agnus Dei and the Nunc Dimitis while they do it and die a Christian.
You also need the Catechism. It is not just for children. And it is not just rote memory without understanding. You need more than the ideas in the Catechism. You need the actual words, in order, in context, one after another, precisely. You need this because if you only have the ideas, apart from the words, you can corrupt them and get confused. You need the Catechism because it contains all of the Analogy of Faith. The Catechism lays out the life of faith as it moves back and forth between the commandments, the creed, and prayer and is fed and sustained by the Sacraments. As you work on this, add Bible Passages, particularly Bible passages that bring comfort to those suffering and that can be used to attest to God’s grace to fellow prisoners.
How are you going to go about doing this? Come to Church every week. We will help you learn the words of the liturgy by heart by not changing them. If you’ve never tried to sing the liturgy without looking at the bulletin or hymnal you might be surprised that with the tiniest bit of concentration you can do it after just a couple of weeks. You are almost there. So that is the first thing. Next: add daily Bible reading and disciplined prayer to you daily routine. Do not skip it. Read the Bible. Pray for our world and culture, for your family and city, for our church and pastors. Intercede as a priest of God. That is your duty. And along with that recite a piece of the catechism even as you do the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed. And add Bible passages to recite, to repeat, over and over again.
And make your children do this. Train them in the pattern of sound words, of pure doctrine, give them something to hold on to when their hands are cut off and their houses are burned. Prepare them so that even if they are taken away from you in this life, you will have them forever in heaven. Let them sing the Gloria at the kitchen table and the Sanctus while they bathe, encourage them to play church in the basement and give communion to the dog. Recite and pray with them with vigor and joy and demonstrate to them that the catechism isn’t just for children even as you model a life lived in grace, with repentance and forgiveness to each other even as we receive it from God.
I know it is scary and I know you’d rather not think about it. I know you’re tired at the end of the day. It will pass. Do the work now while it is day for the night comes when no man can work. Soon to faithful warriors cometh rest. Don’t quit. Keep fighting. If and when you fall, get back up. Start over. Keep on keeping on.
And rejoice in this: Jesus knows what is coming. He knows the end and the prize. You are worth it to Him. He makes for peace, is peace. He comes now in Word and Sacrament. Even in this veil of tears, He comforts us. There is goodness in the work of Bible reading, joy in the toil of memorization of ancient, sacred texts. For in them, God speaks and encourages, forgives and strengthens. Soon He will end your sorrow. He will end your trials and pain. He will bring you home. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.