Monday, November 23, 2015

Sermon for Last Sunday of the Church Year: "Stewards at the World's End"

+ Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 22nd, 2015 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B, Proper 29: Isaiah 54:4-6; Jude 20-25; Mark 13:24-37

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today marks the end of another church year. The hymns, prayers, and Scriptures all point us to the Last Day. The Day of the Lord. Jesus’ second Advent in glory.
 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

What things? Earthquakes. Famine. Wars and rumors of war. Persecution. False teachers. The disciples saw it all during their life time, and so do we: terror in Paris, Kenya, and Beirut, wars in our streets and against the unborn, and persecution of the faithful throughout the world. These are the birth pains.

And even though birth pains give way to the joy of new life, and the Last Day gives way to Endless Day, these days still cause us to cry out, “How long, O Lord?” “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” And as we wait, we cling to Jesus’ promise…

We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

And so Jesus prepares us as he prepared the disciples to continually watch for his return; to live in ready, eager expectation for his coming; to stay awake while the sirens of this fallen world try to lull us into spiritual sleep.

For you do not know when the Lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.

Today is also the day our congregation has set aside to remember our life of Christian stewardship. And usually we think, “Oh great, here goes pastor with the holy car sales man routine.” But stewardship is much more than money. In fact, it’s not first and foremost about what you do, but who you are in Christ. Like the servants in Jesus’ end times parable, we’re given charge of possessions, skills, and wisdom that are not our own. Everything in life is a gift, from our brain cells to our dollar bills. We give in response, not for reward. We give freely because Christ has set us free by his cross.

We’re motivated then, not by the Law, but by the power of Christ Crucified, the Chief Steward, who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we, by his poverty might be made rich.

That means every day is Stewardship day. Daily, we are forgiven by Christ, and free to serve the neighbor in our vocation, not just one Sunday a year.

Stewardship Sunday and the Last Sunday of the Church year, come together in a word…gathering.

The Last Day is a day of gathering. Jesus sends his angels to gather his chosen people – you and all the baptized – from all creation.

Our life of stewardship is also one of gathering. Though it’s entirely different from the ways of the world. The world gathers, hoards, and stores earthly possessions for the sake of power, wealth, and security. The Christian is called to gather for the sake of humility, vocation, and service.

Stewardship is about gathering, but not for ourselves. Don’t misunderstand this though; we each have our vocation in the home, church, and our communities. God provides us daily bread out of pure fatherly divine goodness, without any merit or worthiness in us. That’s why we pray the Lord’s Prayer, that God would lead us to see all we have in this life as gift, and to receive it with thanksgiving.

You see, stewardship begins with the Gospel. We give freely because Christ has set us free from sin and death. Jesus ransomed us from sin and death – not with gold or silver – but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death, so that we live under him in his kingdom and serve him, not for reward, but in response to his great love. St. Paul called giving an act of grace in 2 Corinthians. We give as we’ve been given to, freely by the blood of Jesus.

That means that our earthly possessions, skill, wisdom, our vocations –all exist for the sake of the Gospel and the love of our neighbor.

God made language to communicate his Word and promises to us. So that we could hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest his promises: Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died, and rose for you.   

God gives trees so we have a church building to gather in, a font to baptize in, an altar to gather around, a pulpit and lectern to hear Jesus’ Word; and paper on which we read, sing, and hold the Scriptures.

God gives us water for bodily life as well as eternal life. Jesus takes the same water we use for our bath or shower, adds his word and promise to it, and makes it a holy washing away of sin and a lavish flood of forgiveness.

And God gives the fruits of the earth, grapes and wheat, sanctifies them, and feeds us with Jesus’ holy body and blood.

In Gods wisdom, these created things serve his eternal promises.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Which words are those? Jesus’ promise to come again. Jesus is at the very doors. And yet it’s easy to be lethargic or fall asleep on the watch. How then do we live? As if today is the Last Day. For we know not the day nor the hour. Live as the free, baptized forgiven children of God that you are. Be active in love to those around us, even our enemies. Do not be afraid to give a reason for the hope that is within us in these gray and latter days. Be faithful stewards of the earthly possessions God gives you.

After all, these our earthly possessions are temporary. Even stewardship is temporary; yet in God’s wisdom, earthly things serve the eternal.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ words do not, will not, and cannot pass away.

In these Last Days we may be fearful and anxious, but the peace that comes to us in absolution – your sins are forgiven you – will never pass away. Jesus’ end times verdict rings out early today: you’re forgiven, not guilty. Today you are with me in paradise.

In these Last Days we may overwhelmed by doubt or despair Christ’s return, but his assurance to you in Baptism washes all that away.

In these Last Days we may grow weary of our sinful flesh and a rotten, wicked world, but Jesus’ words will never pass away: Take, eat; this is my body. Take, drink; this is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

And one day, our fears, illness, anxiety, doubt, death and sin will pass away as well; the former things shall be no more.

Today we live in joyful expectation, not fear of judgment; we’ve already been judged in Jesus’ death on the cross. And your verdict is not guilty. Forgiven. Free.

Free to be faithful stewards at the world's end, knowing that:
Jesus continually watches over his Church, even as we continually watch for Jesus’ return.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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