Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29B)
November 21, 2021
Text: Mark 13:24-37
Stay awake! Jesus is coming soon, visibly, to judge the living and the dead! He will come suddenly, when He is least expected, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). You do not know the day or hour. It could be any moment. “(I)f the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into” (Matt. 24:43; ESV). So, stay awake. Watch. Be prepared. What will happen on that Day is that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised, and we will all be changed (1 Cor. 15:52). The Lord will open the scroll. He will divide those who believed in Him from those who did not believe in Him (cf. Matt 25:31-45). Those who believe He will give eternal life, in the flesh, in a new heaven and a new earth. Those who do not believe He will cast into the Lake of Fire (hell) prepared, not for them… Christ died for them, for the forgiveness of all their sins, so that they could have eternal life… but prepared for the devil and his evil angels. The reason unbelievers go to hell isn’t that their sins aren’t paid for. It is that they have refused the payment, refused the cross, refused Jesus. It’s a great tragedy. We don’t like talk like this, and it is a slap in the face every time we hear it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true: hell is real and real people go there. And if we fall asleep, if we do not stay awake, there is a very real danger that we could lose our faith and be numbered among the unbelievers. God forbid it. Christ help us.
The truth is, we’re not very vigilant, are we? It is so easy to fall asleep. What we mean by “fall asleep” is to take our eyes off of Jesus, to take our ears off of His Word, to miss out on His gifts here in the Divine Service, in Bible Study, and in daily Scripture reading and prayer; to pay attention to other voices over and above the living voice of Jesus. That is why last Sunday the writer to the Hebrews reminded us that we must not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some,” but rather we should “encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). The clearer it is that Judgment Day is coming, the more important it is to be in Church. You need the Church. We need you. When you are not in Church, it discourages us all (takes the courage out of us). But when you are in Church, it encourages us all (puts the courage into us), both you, and all your brothers and sisters in Christ. So as the Day draws near, don’t neglect to meet together to receive these gifts. And of course, we should always remember that even if Judgment Day is a long way off, you don’t know when you will die, when God will call you personally before His Judgment throne. So it is so important to stay awake and keep our eyes on Jesus. Jesus is our only hope in the Day of Judgment. He alone is our righteousness and salvation.
But we are so distracted, you and I. It has been said that when the Lord returns with the holy angels and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll, we’ll miss it because our heads will be down and our eyes attached to the little plastic screens on our phones. That’s silly, of course. Every eye will see Him when He comes, as the Scriptures say (Rev. 1:7). But the point is, in a world where very serious things are happening… violence, war, famine, disease, pandemic, beheadings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, little babies chopped up in their mother’s womb and sold for spare parts… well, we’re all too involved in our social media to notice… to look up at the fig tree and learn our lesson, to keep our eyes fixed on our Savior and our Judge.
Or perhaps social media is the only way we participate. It’s amazing how much time we spend staring at screens: television screens, computer screens (as I did in the preparation of this sermon), tablets, smart phones, and now even watches! I don’t know if it ever took off, but Google even had a pair of glasses you could wear and see the screen all day long as you go about the rest of your business. Now, all these gadgets can be a great blessing, I don’t deny it. I also realize that some of you have very little to do with this kind of thing, and good for you. But that doesn’t get you off the hook. The point is not the prevalence of technology, the point is how easily amused we are, how amusement and distraction has become the whole point of our life, and, as one of my favorite writers put it in the title of his book, we are Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman). Perhaps to our eternal death. Because, in a world where we’ve never been more plugged in, more connected to the ether, we’ve never been more disconnected from Jesus, and frankly (especially since March of 2020), from our fellow human beings. And that includes our brothers and sisters right here in the Church.
Now, I’m not against the internet, or technology, or even some use of social media. They are not evil in and of themselves. But think about the nature of our online world. Everything is temporal. Here today, gone tomorrow. Of course, we should heed the warning that the things we do and say on the internet could come back to haunt us years later, as is abundantly clear in this age of cancel culture. But it’s all so disposable. And virtual. Which is to say, not real. It isn’t tangible. It isn’t permanent. It isn’t substantial. The very words we say have no substance. It is a feature of some sites that whatever you say or post vanishes after a time. Think about that. Words that disappear are meaningless, or at least of very limited value. You can’t hold someone to a word that isn’t there. Is that really what you want? Words that disappear? Words that are unreliable? Words that, by definition, cannot be kept? Just how wrapped up in such words should you really be?
Or perhaps the other amusements offered by our information age. Pleasures that are fleeting? Two-dimensional digital images? And I have to say, though I don’t want to sound like and old fogy (but then, let’s be honest…), this really concerns me about this whole Facebook Meta thing that is coming, or maybe I should say more generally, the movement to go about every facet of our lives and experience the whole world, and all our relationships, virtually via our devices, without having to get dressed, from the comfort of our own couches. Beloved, that isn’t real. And it will lull you to sleep. Your life is not a video game. Is this really what you want? Shallow relationships, at the expense of relationship with real, flesh and blood, incarnationally present, people? Connecting online so we don’t have to connect in person? Our culture puts a premium on that which does not last. And so does our flesh. We prefer Facebook to the Church (and this is a great danger of our live broadcasts. There are benefits, of course. Our shut-ins get to have the whole service with us, and if you have to miss for health reasons, there you go. It has drawn some people to our congregation. But there are also perilous pitfalls. Because we so easily forget that virtual Church isn’t Church). We prefer Google to the Scriptures… or for those of you who aren’t online, the newspaper to the precious and holy Word of God. We prefer our favorite smooth-talking candidate, or glittery entertainer, to the Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified One, who saves us from our sins. Repent. Look up from your screens to a Lord who did not come virtually. He came, and He still comes, right up into your face, in the flesh.
As it happens, even the tangible world has an expiration date. But the tangible Jesus does not. “(F)or the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner” (Is. 51:6). “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says (Mark 13:31), but there is something you can cling to: “my words will not pass away” (v. 31). Jesus’ Word is more permanent and substantial than the Rock of Gibraltar. No Snapchat with Jesus. You can count on His Word. He always keeps it. And the proof is His crucified and risen, flesh and blood presence. The Word of the LORD endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). Listen to these Promises from our Old Testament reading: “my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed” (Is. 51:6). You are saved, you are justified (made righteous), because Jesus has spoken it so by the power of His suffering and death and resurrection for you. Things temporal can lull us into sleep, and all these temporal things are passing away. Nevertheless, take heart. Jesus is making all things new. “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13b; NIV). We are looking forward to a risen and glorified body, one with no expiration date, made in the image of Jesus’ risen and glorified Body. We are looking forward to that Day when our Lord comes back to get us and take us to Himself, that Day when He delivers us from our trials and tribulations and tears, from our meaningless and broken words, from our sins and our body of death, and gives us life with Him in the Kingdom of our Father, a life that will not pass away.
The Day is coming. Our Lord has spoken, and His Word cannot be erased. And this is a Day of great joy for you. Look up. Lift up your head. Your redemption is drawing near. Jesus soon will send His angels to gather you, His chosen ones, from the four winds, to bring you to Himself.
Days of great joy require preparation. We are preparing for the Thanksgiving feast this week, and hopefully for you that will include the Feast that takes place here at the altar the night before. And we are already preparing for Christmas. We will do that spiritually through the Season of Advent, as a new Church Year begins. Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming. How do we prepare? St. Jude tells us. Be edified, he says, built up in your most holy faith (v. 20). That happens at Church, by the Word preached and the Sacrament distributed to you and received by you. Pray in the Holy Spirit, he says (v. 20). That is, gather together here to pray the liturgy, and carry that prayer with you into the week wherever you go. Pray for the Church. Pray for the world. Pray for one another, and that by name. Pray for your own needs and those of your family and loved ones. That is your offering, your sacrifice as priests in the world. Give thanks and praise to God. Pray for the proclamation of the Word. And please don’t forget to pray for your pastors, for Pastor Taylor and for me. Have mercy on those who doubt, Jude says (v. 22). Have mercy on those who sin by snatching them out of the fire, turning them from sin to Jesus. Show mercy with fear… watch yourself, lest you, too, be drawn into temptation. Be always examining yourself, repenting of your sins, and trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. Stay awake!
It is a tall order. But Jude tells us it really doesn’t depend on us, thank God. It is really Jesus who does this for us, keeping us awake, prepared, and watchful. He is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the Father, in the presence of His glory (v. 24). He keeps you steadfast, awake, by His Spirit, in His Word. He prepares you by repenting you (giving you the gift of repentance). He keeps you in the one true faith. It is His work. Rejoice, dear Christian! Your Lord Jesus is coming for you. Indeed, He is coming soon. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.