Last Sunday of the Church Year
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Humanists are the biggest hypocrites of all. For no man seeking honesty and openness can look inside himself and find goodness. We are corrupt, defiled, and wicked. The ways of men are betrayal, violence, and greed. Our thoughts and secret desires are nothing short of shameful. Our most natural speech is full of lies, gossip, and slander. We are comfortable in our sin and quick with excuses and blame. Oh, we can pretend, like lying humanists, to be good, to be nice. And when it comes to spirituality we are drama queens without equal. We are capable of being total phonies. We can feign any virtue: compassion, righteousness, patience, faith. And if our fragile masks hold together we can fool men into thinking that we are honorable and decent. If we are willing to lie to ourselves, and we most certainly are, we might even fool ourselves. But we are only an hair’s breath away from being discovered. None of us has a pure heart.
Thus, our hearts betray us. God sees into them. He demands perfection and we have failed. He is no respecter of persons. He doesn’t care how much you give, how many hours you volunteer, or who your parents are. It doesn’t matter what hardships and obstacles you’ve had to deal with, what pressures and troubles you’ve suffered. Your excuses and bragging must disappear when confronted with the Truth. God doesn’t care what color your skin is, what your continent of origin is, or what language you speak. He has a Law. That Law is indisputably good. It is what we want, what all the humanists know we should abide by at least in part. But it is not what we have done. It does not describe who we are. We have broken it. We have behaved with cruel selfishness. All men have. All men born of women stand guilty, condemned before the Law and without excuse.
Repent. For you know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man comes. You cannot stand on your own works, by your own earnestness or sincerity. You cannot excuse away your failures and weaknesses. Be wise with the wisdom that expects the return of the Christ.
All the virgins, wise and foolish alike, slept. They were all weak. They all failed to keep a perfect vigil. Measured by actions, thoughts, words, and deeds, all had the outward righteousness of virginity, but all were equally foolish in their inability to keep alert with lamps burning. But there was a distinction between them, not of righteousness, not of intent, but of faith. For despite their weakness, five of them, by Grace, even in the midst of their sleepiness, clung to the hope that the Bridegroom would return. This didn’t make them better than their sisters. It just made them believers. And in the end, that is what makes the difference. For the One who wed Himself to humanity in the Virgin’s womb without the aid of a man will return. The judgment will be cast not by external things, like virginity or the weakness of the vessels with all their sins. The judgment will be decided by the condition of the heart. And the only way to have a pure heart, to face this judgment eagerly with confidence, is to have a heart that has been cleansed from the outside, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, and abides in the hope of forgiveness in the cross of Jesus Christ. Trust in Jesus. Expect His return and praise His Name. You will be with Him forever. He has taken up your sins and crucified them. In Him, you are perfect, chaste, and without guilt. The Law has been spent on Him and there is no one left to accuse you. He accepts you and welcomes you into the Wedding Hall. Rest confident and eager in Him.
But some people are afraid that being with the Lord, that this everlasting Marriage Feast, might be boring. Like the ancient pagans they prefer to imagine heaven according to the things they enjoy on earth. Instead of Valhalla, the Fiddler’s Green, or the Elysian Fields, heaven is thought of as golf courses without slices and stocked trout ponds, or even gentle retirement homes for visiting with our friends, loved ones, and famous historical figures whom we admire. But that is not the way that heaven is described in the Scriptures. It is not just the good things from this life only better. It is a life utterly different, completely focused in worship of the Holy Trinity.
You’ll be glad to know, though, that the holy angels, the twelve patriarchs and apostles, and the 144,000, never seem bored in St. John’s vision. Rather they are consumed with adoration of the Lamb who was slain but who lives. They are completely absorbed in the bliss of being whole and alive, creatures who know and worship their Creator. They are not distracted or bothered by other created things. Who wants to play golf or fish, or do anything at all else, when there are hymns of praise to sing to the Holy Trinity, who has bought you out of Hell? In perfect sanctification there is no other desire. In heaven, those who were baptized into Christ and confessed His Name are too enraptured with their Savior, full of Grace, to care about anything but Him. They know nothing but Christ crucified and alive. Therefore there are no famous people in heaven, no lines to get autographs. For there is only the One who matters, the One who brought them there, and who will bring you, too. Soon, by the mercy that surpasses human containment or words, He will bring you to the point where you don’t care about anything else either. You will be complete in Him, and completely, wonderfully obsessed. At last you will even be free of yourself.
What a glorious future you have! What joy awaits you. Be eager in Christ for the end is drawing near. Watch in prayer, with His Body and Blood upon your lips and His holy Word ringing in your ears. Stand innocent in His death, full of repentant joy and expectation. The Lord returns. He beckons you to the company of saints. His Word is true.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana