A Sermon on Hope and the End of the World as We Know It: 24 Nov 2019
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lutheran theologian Hermann Sasse wrote in 1967 what he titled simply, “Some Thoughts on Christian Hope” and at the beginning of this writing he wonders if the Christian Church still has anything to offer this world filled with fear and hopelessness. In the twentieth century, he notes, this nation and, indeed, the world entered a new century with such great hope in the powers of man. The glowing optimism with which we viewed mankind was almost indestructible it seemed. Able to conquer all disease, war, and it seemed soon death itself would be a thing of the past. Every need, want, and comfort seemed within our grasp and a new age of men had truly dawned.
But this indestructible optimism with which we strode soon hit an immovable object. Wars and rumors of wars. Revolution, communism, totalitarian states, and even with all our advances in technology, medicine, and science, we seem incapable of making any other use of them than to destroy our own lives. We’ve been fighting wars to end wars and making medicine to end the need for medicine, but things only seem to get worse. From the optimism and hope of the early 1900s to the pessimism and existentialism of the 1960s and not much seems to have changed.
Even in my short life I’ve survived the apocalypse no less than three times! Y2K came and went without a hitch, the Mayan calendar came to a close and it was business as usual, and Christian weirdos have been cranking away on their calculators predicting when Christ will come. It seems like these Christian doomsday people should work in the GPS industry instead because all I ever hear is “recalculating, recalculating.” The great 08/09 Recession, government shutdowns, and presidential candidates that have scared both sides into being doomsday prophets in their own right.
If we all weren’t R.E.M fans yet, we are now. It is the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine! So, what can we say in the face of this? As Christians, do we have anything to offer the world in crisis and chaos? Any words to break the terrified silence, any light to bring into the darkness of this, the Last Sunday of the Church year, Judgment Sunday.
If we look into our Old Testament reading what we find are Christians in crisis. Christians looking around at the world and instead of seeing the justice and righteousness of God reigning “eternally, forever, and ever, amen!” they see injustice and the wickedness of men. The situation is so grave that it even seems pointless to serve God and suffer for his cause. What benefit is there to serving God? The evildoers don’t suffer at all, in fact, they prosper. What’s worse is that they openly test God and escape with their lives! True then and true now. The world is run by wicked men and by their actions they demonstrate whose sons they are because the apple has not fallen far from the tree. The sons of this age are sons of the Devil himself and they display in themselves their own debased and wicked spirit. Greed, lust, envy, strife, warfare, hatred, impatience, gossip, and rejection of God’s word.
In the face of this present wicked age with its oaf of a ruler, what are the faithful to do? They come together, they gather as the body of Christ, and they speak with one another in such a way that God hears them. This leads me to believe that this is no ordinary speaking, but the speaking of a confession. The reason God hears them is because his own words are being spoken back to him. “I a poor miserable sinner confess to you all my sins and iniquities” “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right Spirit within me. Cast me not from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” “O Christ, lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.” They gather as a congregation of holy people around the word of God. And what happens next in Malachi should sound very familiar as people who have been rescued from Egypt, from the house of slavery. God pays attention to their cry for mercy, God sees their suffering, he hears their prayer, and God remembers.
If you want to know what God’s “remembering” looks like, read Exodus 3-15. It looks like rescue. It looks like God coming down and claiming his people to be his treasured possession. It looks like God shepherding his people, rod and staff in hand, and no one can take them out again. It looks like God leading his people through water, from death to life, from Egypt into the promised land, and the only way through is the Red Sea, which is baptism.
In fact, if you want to know what God’s “remembering” looks like you can also turn to our Gospel lesson today and Christ on the cross which is the Exodus part II. It looks like Jesus praying for sinners, even as they crucify him. “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” He presses God’s own promise, his own words, into the Father’s ear in the midst of his own suffering and death. After this prayer Jesus has a surprisingly intimate moment in the midst of very public shame and scorn. The dialogue between the three crucified men. The thief on the cross rebukes his compatriot and asks Jesus for a simple favor, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus does, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” By the power of water and the word, this promise is yours today. That even when the world is failing, even in the midst of suffering and just condemnation to death, Christ’s promise stands with power and truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.
In this way Christians are neither given to pessimism nor optimism because our trust is not in man. Our trust is in Christ and therefore, we are given instead to hope. We have hope because we are remembered by God, because he hears our prayers, he pays attention when we call, and we have the promise that we will be with him forever. In the meantime, let us dwell with God in paradise today, this very minute, and eat his body and drink his blood. Let us sit at table and receive the foretaste of the feast to come and have our hope renewed by bread and wine with the forgiveness of all our sins in the name of Christ. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.