Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 25th 2012
Christ Lutheran, St. Paul, NE and St. John's Lutheran, Palmer, NE
“Temporary and Forever”
“Temporary and Forever”
These few weeks of the church calendar we're focusing especially on the end times. The last couple of Sundays in the church year seem a fitting time to do so. And the Season of Advent, just around the corner, is a time not only to remember Christ's first coming, but also to anticipate his second coming.
There are many things we can say about the end times. That the Lord will return suddenly, like a thief in the night. That he will judge the living and the dead. That God's people, forgiven and righteous, sealed in our baptism – should look forward to, and not dread that day. It is our day of final victory in Christ, in which all his promises of eternity come to fruition.
Today, let's focus on an emphasis we see in both our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, and in our Gospel reading from Mark. See if you can catch the common idea. Isaiah says:
“the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”
And Jesus says in our Gospel reading:
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
There is a contrast, we see, between the temporal and the eternal. Between the earthly and the heavenly. Between the “here and now” and the “then and there”.
We are most familiar with the here and now. The world of our everyday life is the world corrupted by sin, in which things go wrong and chaos eventually wins. The temporal world is dying, just like our flesh is dying. Nothing in this world seems to last forever. It's why we value things like gold that DO seem to last forever, but even these will one day pass away.
But in our experience, what good lasts for very long? The youth and beauty you once enjoyed have now faded. The fresh flowers you buy your wife soon wither and smell. The brand new car you buy gets dinged in the parking lot. Moth and rust are the standard for this world of decay. Corruption. Chaos. Decay.
Who doesn't long for the good old days? Whenever they were, days long ago when things seemed better, simpler, more wholesome? With all these wars and rumors of wars, the world seems more and more dangerous. There's saber rattling in the middle east, threats to our safety from within and without, rising crime rates, news stories that shock more and more. And how many million unborn children are killed by their own mother's “free choice”?
And then there's your own record. Though all of us are conceived and born in sin, we can look back over our lifetime and the sins we've accumulated, too many to count. And the older you are, the longer you've had to go around sinning. Imagine the length of the rap sheet if every wrong you ever committed was read aloud. And it doesn't get better, only worse. For eventually the wages of sin come due, and the grave collects its debt.
Such is life in this world, where things wear out like a garment, and those who dwell here die in like manner. Such is life in this temporal, fading, corrupted world, where heaven and earth will pass away, and sinners like you and me will pass away. But....
Then there is the salvation of God which lasts forever. Then there is the righteousness of God which will never be dismayed. Then there are the words of Christ which will never pass away.
And what a thought – that words, of all things, could last forever. This is outside of our experience, where a word is spoken and quickly forgotten. Where promises are made to be broken. But not with Jesus Christ. His words matter, they have power, and they last forever. His promises endure.
His words stand in contrast to the world of temporal chaos in which we live. For all the death we see, he speaks words of life. For all the decay and decline, he speaks renewal and righteousness. When we look at our own works, our own merit, our own record before God and man, we can only say, “I am finished”. But the Christ who dies on the cross in our place declares once for all time, “It is finished”.
In Christ, your salvation is accomplished. In Christ, your righteousness will never be dismayed. His promises stand forever.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved”
“I am with you always even to the end of the age”
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
“In my Father's house are many rooms...And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
And all of these words which will never pass away, are not only for some other sinner, who's list of sins is shorter than yours. These words are for you. These promises are for you. For you, dear Christian, are one of his. You who have been baptized have had the name of God, the promise of God, placed upon you by water and the word – and you are sealed for eternity with a blessing that will also never pass away. He will not forsake his own, and you, in baptism are his own. You belong to God, in Christ, forever.
That long list of sins from this temporal age, they are gone forever, dealt with at the cross, forgiven at the font, and at the rail, and in the word which stands forever.
So now, stay awake and watchful for his coming – not in fear, but in hope. See the signs of the times not in despair, but in anticipation, that the one whose word stands forever will bring salvation that lasts just as long. Whenever he comes, today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years – our salvation is sure, and our righteousness secure. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.