St. Matthew 24:15-28
November 11, 2012 A+D
“When you see the abomination of desolation,” says Our Lord, “flee.” He doesn’t say stay and fight. What would we fight for? We pretend we’re fighting for good things. We’re defending the faith and the American way.
The faith has in its service the Holy Spirit and the Angels. The twelve legions of holy angels that stood ready in Gethsemane are still ready. The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, it doesn’t afflict it. The Kingdom is won by love not by swords. So, too, can the Lord who put Cyrus and Augustus and Pharaoh to use, handle America.
What we’re really fighting for is our stuff. We hang on to life, which we usually call dear life, belying our true affections, with all that we’ve got. Why? Do we want to continue in sorrow, in pain? People are forever telling me they aren’t afraid to die, but I don’t believe them. I don’t believe you. You’re hanging on to your stuff and you don’t want to let it go. That not wanting to let it go is fear.
It is as though Our Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Grab you stuff, we’re going. Wait. Leave your stuff. It is only stuff. Don’t look back. Down bend down to grab your jacket. Leave now.”
But we like that jacket. And we like the earrings our mother left us and a favorite book and a fancy bottle of single malt we’ve been saving. And we’ve got excuses. We aren’t holding out on the poor, we just need to take care of ourselves for the sake of the poor. We aren’t keeping things for ourselves, it is just that they would waste them. Etcetera.
We like our families, too. We like the grandchildren and the old friends. We like our pets and we like our place. It is all stuff even when wrapped up in pious talk.
The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. What are we afraid of losing? Name the thing you can’t live without. Music? Freedom? A Child? Luther says that is your god. That is what you won’t let go off. That is why you fear death. Repent.
We aren’t so prone to turning statues into gods, nor do we normally turn to evil things. We turn to good things. We make gods of wives, jobs, children, reputations. We worship health, money, and pleasure. Those are the things we think we need. But the Lord pops His head in the door and says, “Let’s go. Leave it. Leave now.”
This world is coming to an end. It is under a death sentence. It can’t go on. Perhaps it will be global warming or global freezing, a meteor or the atomic bomb. It doesn’t matter. The point is that it is ending. It is inevitable. And our hope cannot be in it, cannot be in stuff.
Our few days, full of trouble, are coming to an end. You’re leaving your stuff – one way or another. Whether the call comes from the Lord as the world burns or before, the call will come. Are you ready to leave that which you love for Him who loves you?
There is the good news here, news that Job was afraid to believe: The Lord can, and the Lord has, and the Lord does bring a clean thing out of an unclean. He has reached into the septic tank where we were feeding, grabbed us, wiped us off, and given us good food and drink, a place in His house, and a Name. Do we now become nostalgic for cucumbers floating in the toilet? Do you long for the time when Stalin had the trains, full of dead bodies, running on time? What are we asked to leave? Stuff – nothing more.
Leave too your justifications, your need to excuse your lack of care for the poor, your need to declaim that you are not afraid to die, or that you’ve done your best or that, at least, your kids are good people even if they don’t go to church and live in sin. You don’t need to justify yourself. The Lord has justified you. He has answered for you. In Christ, there is no one left to accuse you, nothing to answer for.
Does that sound too easy, too libertine? So has God’s mercy always chafed against our fallen flesh, but this is what God has done in Christ: He brings a clean thing out of an unclean.
But that is not yet the whole good news: that God brings a clean thing out of an unclean. Here is a bit more. St. Paul writes: “Since Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him,” with Jesus, “those who have fallen asleep.” Here hangs our hope, the end of all our need for stuff: Jesus died and rose again. What of those who have fallen asleep? Since Jesus died and rose again they will be brought with Him, with Jesus, through Jesus.
But that is still not all. For what of you who are alive when the end comes? Since Jesus died and rose again, and has ascended to His Father’s right as your Advocate and Savior, He will descend. He will come for you. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. Since Jesus has died and rose again, you will be caught up, either from beneath the earth where you have been resting or from the surface of the earth, snatched away, into the clouds, to be always with the Lord.
Still, that is not all. For He is not a passive God. He does not sit and wait to see what you will do. He does not ask you to explain yourself. He intervenes for you, answers for you. He who came in lowly, despised ways to be a Sacrifice for sin, a shield from His Father’s wrath, a Lamb to be consumed in Hell’s fire – He comes still. He comes now, not just in the future, but He comes now to get you. Even if He does not yet come in clouds while the world burns, still He comes now. You don’t go to Him. He comes to you. He bestows life in His risen Body and Blood, separating you from your stuff and from death.
Ours is a faith build upon history, the historic fact of Christ crucified, the innocent and pure desolated as an abomination for the vile offenders and sinners who deserved what He endured with all their paltry excuses. Let us gather around that reality like vultures around a corpse. Let it draw us like cream draws kittens. Here is the source of our Life in Christ.
Ours is a faith that also, even as it gathers around the cross, looks forward, eagerly, to the Kingdom of glory. Jesus is coming back. We will be with Him always.
But ours is a faith that lives now, in the present. We confess: “Jesus lives.” He lives now. And now, here in time, here in this building, here upon this altar, the Lord comes with forgiveness, acceptance, and refreshment in His physical Body and Blood for us physical sinners. Jesus lives. He comes also in His Holy Word and Absolution, in Hymn and Chant. He speaks the Baptized clean. He renews wedding vows. He confirms the catechumens in their faith. He blesses the sick and dying and set us toward His final summons. And He ever hears the fervent prayers of His people. His Name is upon us and He comes for us.
Now is the day of salvation. This is the day that the Lord hath made. The world is coming to an end. Good riddance. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.