Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday.17 “The End” Matt. 25:31-46

So, is the Last Day a good thing or a bad thing? Easy question, Lutherans. “Yes!” of course. It is a good thing and a bad thing. Our reading last week from Zephaniah emphasized the dark side: “the noise of the day of the Lord is bitter… a day of trouble and distress, a day devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm…” or, as my brother-in-law insists, a typical mid-winter day in Seattle. Ezekiel today, in our OT lesson, emphasizes the light side: the day of the Lord in his vision will be the day the Lord seeks out his lost and scattered sheep, separates the fat from the lean, the strong from the weak, a day when He destroys the fat and the strong with His final judgment and rescues the lostest, lastest, and leastest…

And we’re like, “uh, what was that bit in the end, Pastor? You say God prefers the weak, sick, and wandering to the fat, strong, and secure? Why?” Great question! Of course, He never says directly because God likes to preserve a bit of mystery, give us something to ponder, but it seems obvious to me, from reading to the end of the Story. The Pharisees were fat, strong, and secure goats. They were hard workers who had it all figured out and plenty of spiritual and material riches to keep them secure for a good, long while. And Jesus hated that about them. Read Matthew 23 to hear Jesus pass judgment on the Pharisees (especially the mission-minded ones!). It’s not pretty. They are in for a hell of time, let’s just put it that way…

What doesn’t Jesus like about them? No faith in Him. They’re not lost, last, or least, but found, first, flourishing, and are so on their own, by their good works, mainly. They will credit God a little bit for getting the ball rolling, but the real heavy lifting is done by their obedience, their heartfelt worship, their good deeds, their seeking and finding of the lost sheep to save others, for Christ’s sake. They need no Savior, for themselves, but are really out there to help God save the world, going so far as to design divine worship and doctrine for God and force it on us…

It’s not that such pride annoys God. He puts up with far worse from the lost, least, and last sheep. It’s that such pride destroys faith, destroys the beggarly posture that knows we are lost and need help, need a Savior who will do it all for free for us. Here is the rock too big even for God to lift: that is, a rock that God will not lift, for to do so would be to interfere, coerce in a way unworthy of the Divine Majesty and destructive of that grandeur of Spirit that God breathed into humanity at the first. God made Adam and Eve in His own Image, and to treat us like puppets on a string destroys that Image. So God will will entice and enchant, but He will not coerce, nor force His love on us, because then it isn’t love anymore, but assault

But the fat, strong, mission-minded Pharisaical sheep live by force. They are the Harvey Weinsteins of the world so used to getting their way they understand nothing but brute force, know nothing of how love really works. They muscle their way in wherever they want to go, assume they know better than you what you should be doing, and so will throw out all the old worship and ways handed down from God through the prophets and apostles in favor of their new-fangled, contemporary, glitzy services and shows that force Christianity on you whether you like it or not—to add to their numbers, their prestige, their power. You’re just a number to them, not a person.

Now, that ticks God off! That coercive, cajoling, criminal force that does not respect the dignity of the person made in God’s image. We read about it in the news with the rich and powerful men who seem to think women are their playthings. And while our government is not ever going to really hold those perps responsible, God is going to do something! The Day of Judgment will be dark and distressing indeed for the fat, strong, sheep who’ve butted and goated and groped their way through life, ruining the lives of the weaker and less powerful. Oh yeah, there’s judgment, baby(!); and it will be swift and devastating for those who want to stand on their own two feet and be judged by their might, power, and deeds!

And now you’re coming to see why we say a Lutheran “Yes!” to the question of whether the day of judgment will be good or bad. There will be darkness, distress, clouds of judgment that gather that will make the mighty men cry out. But seeing the goats finally get their just desserts, seeing the smirk wiped right off Harvey Weinstein’s face—priceless, right? Maybe Al Franken’s too? Not a bad way to start a day!

Again, it’s not that we are any better, sin-wise, than they are. We have broken all ten of the commandments too, all of us. We are in the grip of sin and powerless to save ourselves, the wretched men that St. Paul confesses himself to be. But in that wretchedness, we find our share in the wretchedness, the suffering and dying, the cross of Christ Jesus. In Him, we find a Savior who takes away the sin of the world. Seeing our sin engulfed, destroyed, drowned in the chaos of the Last Day is something we look forward to, most of all—knowing that it is only by sharing in the dying of Jesus that we share fully in the Life of Jesus. Seeing the smirks finally wiped off our own faces will be the greatest joy of all…

Jesus says unless we deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Him His way, unless we lose our lives in this world, we cannot find Real Life in the next. No living without dying with Jesus first. And He really means this. Which is why St. Paul rated most highly the distresses, needs, persecutions, and sufferings he endured—counting the loss of all earthly treasure gain in exchange for knowing Christ and His righteousness received only by faith through the Cross…

On the Last Day, Jesus will return, visibly, for all the world to see, all at once. And He will separate the peoples into two groups, like a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And how does He do that? Well, He tells us in John 10. It’s voice recognition. Jesus says “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Note well, the emphasis is not on the sheep knowing Jesus, but Jesus knowing them. Faith is not a positive doing of ours, it’s rather the non-rejection of the Shepherd, the Great Physician who did not come for the strong but for the sick, the lost, the broken—to save.

The whole world will see Him, and rush towards Him. Some will see the Righteous Judge who overlooks no sin, and recoil from Him in horror and hate. The others will look on Him with love and rush to our Savior’s wounded side—for the forgiveness, the mercy that makes us over in His Image, slowly, then all at once. After that separation, Christ then credits His sheep with what are really His own works, and notes the lack of same in the goats. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Faith receives what works cannot accomplish.

Why some and not others? Can’t say! Only that: it’s our choosing that keeps us out; His choice that brings us in, where Peace, surpassing understanding, guards heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Services

Advent Vespers –

Wednesday, 15 December 7:00 p.m.

17  December 2017

3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 – Sunday School and Adult Bible class

Classes for ages 3 and up

Advent Vespers – Wednesdays – 7:00 p.m.

December 6, 13, 20

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service – DS w/Comm

7:00 p.m  24 December 2017

Christmas Day Service – DS w/Communion

11:00 a.m.  25 Christmas 2017

Location

Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.