In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Woe to us! The end is coming and we are not ready. Our lips are unclean. We have spoken vile things and thereby exposed what is in our hearts. Must we also destroy our young, rip them out of their mother’s wombs lest they become a responsibility and burden to us? Do we now have more compassion on lost kittens than unborn babies? Kittens are not so helpless or weak as those destroyed by our pretend medicine and make-belief choices. Our sickness is shown not in what we do to those who threaten us with bombs and guns, but what we do to the weak, or even to those whom we love. We divorce our wives, lie to our brothers, steal from our employers, and gossip about our friends. Is everything we are, and everything we do, soiled with fear and jealousy, calculated at what it will gain us, at what we can get away with? Woe to us!
Here is the ugly truth. We are self-obsessed. We are bent on reputation and fame, power and wealth, and a moment’s pleasure. We speak evil of the dead. We speak evil of the living. We speak evil of our enemies and our friends without discretion. The things that I have heard you say, and which I have also said, about our new president, about Senator John McCain, Senator Hilary Clinton, or President George Bush, has gone far beyond what a Christian should say of anyone. Not all is fair in love and war, or in politics. Repent. Our love of gossip has shown what is in our hearts. We are unclean. Repent.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? What hope is there for us? The Lord is our Hope. He can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing. There is more to the vision of St. Peter than just a bigger selection of stuff to eat. Do not ask Him to turn away. The limits He has appointed, the days and months determined and set, He has also endured. For here is the greatest and most mysterious reality of all creation: God became Man. He entered in His creation and submitted to His own Law on your behalf. Despite your many sins, He still loves you. He has always loved you. He entered into your broken world, endured your politics and lies. He suffered your hatred and brutality. He felt the sting of slander. He knows the worst of you, what dwells in your secret heart, your vain ambitions and lusts, your greed and anger. He has been betrayed and sold as a slave. He has lost loved ones to death and to sin. His family was broken. His friends were fair-weathered. He faced the kangaroo court called the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod and the soldiers, and the devil himself, all alone. This was no minor inconvenience. Your sins sent Him to His death.
But that was the death He came to die. It was not an accident, mistake, or surprise. His death was not caused by your sin but by His love. He came to lift Himself up from the earth on the most evil thing the universe had ever seen and to make it clean. Thus the cross of hatred and torture, of injustice and murder, has become holy and good. For by it the Lord has known your pain, griefs, and sorrows. He has borne the worst of man, the worst of you, and He has put it to death. Men and Hell have done their worst to Him and they are spent. They have no more. Hell cannot hold you. Justice has no more to ask. Your debts are gone. For even as He knows your pain and sorrow, so also He knows your guilt. He has felt it in His soul. He who knew no sin became sin. He has borne your guilt, suffered it on your behalf, in order to remove it. Thus it is no more.
And, so, too, does He know your complicated life 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, to walk away from temptation, and how it hurts when you don’t. He knows what keeps you awake at night and what you hope no one ever finds out. He knows how hard the task, how seemingly impossible the Law, even though He never failed in it, for He knows how weak you are. But despite all this He is not ashamed of you. He loves you.
Job was wrong to despair. For our God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is not far off. He is not cold and calculating. He is not petty or fickle. He has joined Himself to you, become a Man, to stop death’s terror and reign, to end the Law’s wrath, and to quiet the demands of justice, to give you peace. He has laid down His life and taken it up again for you. He can bring a clean thing out of an unclean. He can make the cross the most holy thing in all the universe. For He brings life out of death. He purges and purifies the souls of men with His life. He cleanses and restores. He forgives. Despite your many sins, He still and always loves you. Do not be afraid. He brings you out of an unclean things. He brings you a saint, declared righteous, out of a sinner, even as He has brought you here.
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 Jesus 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 inside yourself and find 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. That is what He has said, what He has promised. 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, one of your own. Like the lightening, He is there and He is here. He is present at the same time with all our brothers and sisters all over the earth this Lord’s Day in His Body and His Blood. He joins us to Himself, and in Him, we are joined to them in His Body. For 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, must all 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, that our sins are still with us, that death has its day. But God has not forgotten you. Jesus lives. He will return. Is there an increase of these things? Who is sufficient to know? It doesn’t matter. 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 and the sacrifices of bulls and goats came to an end for the Sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, they had long foreshown was complete.
Violence will come. The kingdom of heaven will suffer it. But the gates of Hell will not prevail. God has delivered us and declared us His people by violence. He brings clean things out of unclean. He is working for our good. 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 upon us, or which we bring down upon ourselves by our sins, they all show the frailty, the temporary character, of man and his world. Do not be afraid, even of those who can kill the body, of change, a new country, a stepmother, a policeman, or a substitute teachers. For Jesus is your God. He is alive and He is coming back.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen