Matthew 24:15-28, Job 14:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The earth is not the center of the solar system. The sun is. But the sun is not the center of this galaxy, let alone the universe. We ride this rock around space as one among billions and billions, lost in the murky middle, not even significant enough to be on the edge, to be noticeable or unique. For all of that not even the closest, next most insignificant planet is within our reach. Maybe we can get a short-lived robot there, but that is about it. If we pool all our resources we can get to the moon but it is dangerous, and the light of the stars we see at night are long dead. What is man, but small and insignificant? Like a flower, a shadow, fleeting and vain; a speck of dust on a speck of dust in an a desert, fathoms deep and miles long, not a needle in a haystack, but needle in a endless stack of needles.
If that were not bad enough, we have plunged all creation into chaos and death. Who are we, one needle among so many, to bring the whole glorious goodness crashing down in a one moment of lust and greed, one indiscretion when we thought no one was looking? Is the apple still so pleasing to the eye? It is not good for food. It has not made us wise. Now all the earth groans on account of our sins. Even dogs and camels get cancer and die. What did they ever do? Rivers are polluted. The earth itself is wounded. Everything we touch, even the air we breathe, is tainted. Woe to us, dusty men! Our lips are unclean. Is it not enough to abuse the universe? Must we also destroy our young, turn on our family and friends, divorce our wives, lie to our brothers, betray every trust ever given? Woe to us! We are so inwardly turned, so self-obsessed, so bent on reputation and fame, power and wealth, that we speak evil of the dead; we speak evil of the living; we speak evil of our enemies and of our friends. Our lying lips have shown what is in our hearts: evil. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? What hope is there for us, O dusty men, cause of the Universe’s pain and of our own? Repent.
But do not ask God to turn away. The limits that He has appointed, the days and months determined and set, He has endured. For greatest and most mysterious reality of all creation: God became Man. Despite our many sins, He still loves us. He entered into our futile land, endured our politics and lies, our hatred and brutality. He knows the worst of man. He has been betrayed, sold as a slave, lost loved ones to death, to greed, to lust. And He Himself has died to know your pain, your griefs, and your sorrows. He has borne the worst of man. He has let not only man but even all of Hell do its worst to Him. He knows your guilt as well. He has felt it in His soul, for He who knew no sin became sin to free you from sin’s curse. He knows, also, your complicated lives and constructions. He knows both the evil and the good in your heart. He knows your struggle to believe, to do good, to be fair, to tell the truth. He knows how hard the task even though He never failed. Job was wrong to despair. God as Man, even Jesus Christ our Lord risen from the dead, can bring a clean thing out of an unclean and He does. He brings life out of death. He purges and purifies the souls of men with His life. He cleanses and restores. He forgives. For despite our many sins, He still and always loves us.
We do not gather this day like vultures to eat a carcass. We gather as attendants at a wedding, as invited guests, to eat the risen and living Body of Christ our God and our Brother. He has tied Himself to the bread and wine. He has made a promise that will not fail and cannot lie. So do not believe the false prophets when they point around and say: “Look here’ or “there.’ “Look inside yourself.’ Where is the Christ? Follow the Shepherd’s Voice. Hear His Word. He is where He has promised to be, where He feeds His people. It is like unto lightening that is seen all over the earth at once. Christ is here today for us hidden in the bread and wine. He is here in our assembly. He rides in lowly forms and hears your greeting and praise: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.’ He is pleased by it. He loves it. It fills Him with joy to hear your prayers and praise, your songs with angels and archangels. He does not turn away. He is not ashamed. He is not angry. He loves you! He keeps His Word. You eat His Body. You drink His Blood. Your sins are removed and you are His. You are the center of His Universe. And at the right of hand of God sits a Man, an advocate and defender, a Savior. Like the lightening He is there and He is here, and He is present at the same time with our brothers and sisters all over the earth this Lord’s Day. He joins us to them in His Body. We eat as one communion of saints, all washed in Jesus’ Blood.
These end-time things, trials and sufferings, wars and rumors of wars, waxing cold, betrayals, and demons, all must come. Every earthquake, hurricane, and unjust imprisonment; every bit of vain office politics, betraying spouse, and corrupt government; every disease, death, and threat is but a sign that the end is coming. God has not forgotten us. Jesus lives and He will return. Is there an increase of these things? Who is sufficient to know? It doesn’t matter. The point is that we live now at the end of time, as the Church has lived since the 70th Year of Our Lord’s Incarnation when the Presence was removed from the Temple in Jerusalem, when God relieved us of Pharaoh’s priests and sacrifice was ended for the Sacrifice of Jesus long-awaited. By violence God has delivered us and declared us His people. And now all violence, man-made or “natural,’ is a matter of certainty. It shows the end. Violence will come. The kingdom of heaven will suffer it, but the gates of Hell will not prevail.
By these signs we know that God still loves us. He is working for our good. It is only if there was peace, if disasters stopped, that we would be afraid. But it is not so. God has told us beforehand so that we would know. His Word has warned us of persecutions and hatred, bloodshed and violence, storms and dangers. Nothing is accidental. Jerusalem was not our hope. Neither was Rome or Wittenberg. Nor is St. Louis or Ft. Wayne. Our hope is Jesus Christ alive out of death. He leads us to pastures green and still waters infused with His Name. And all these evil things, these broken bits of creation that come crashing down on us, or even rise up out of our fallen hearts, they show the frailty, the temporary character, of man and his world. So we will not be afraid, not even of those who can kill the body, for Jesus is our God and He is alive.
We read the signs like a farmer who sees blossoms on a tree and knows that spring is coming. Even now with dead leaves on the ground, and dead friends and loved ones buried beneath, we know that Spring is coming. We might be on the edge of a long penitential season, but we know that Easter is right around the corner. Jesus lives! We lift up our heads. We rejoice. The end is coming, thanks be to God. Our redemption draws near. God brings us clean out of uncleanliness. Our sorrows, our fasting, our worries, and our tears all end. What a glorious day it will be!
Do not turn from us, Lord Jesus! But come. Come, quickly. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen