3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Our Lord has spoken, and it shouldn’t surprise us that he’s right. The world hates us. It always has, and it always will. It hates us because we, the holy catholic and apostolic church dare to speak the truth. The church reads the Scriptures and says that the whole world, if it is left on its own, is going to hell. We are sinners who live in a nation of sinners. All of us stand under the Lord’s wrath. All of us need to repent of countless sins. This is true of you whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or neither. It is true no matter who you voted for.
We all must turn aside from our lawless ways, and that, dear Christian friends, is the constant word that the church preaches. Our nation has murdered fifty million of its own in my lifetime, and the church dares to shout, “Repent!” Nearly two million Americans are homeless, and of those nearly half are children, nearly half are veterans, and over a quarter are mentally ill. The church dares to say that we should care for them as sinners for whom Jesus died. Our nation spends three billion dollars per year on pornography, and the church dares to call this what it is: evil. And no one, dear Christians, needs to hear these words of condemnation more than we do. And the world knows it. They say to us, “You’re no better than we are. You commit all the things you accuse us of,” and we dare to say, “Yes. You’re right.”
Our Lord knows all of this. He said it plainly in His sermon in Mark 13. He said, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” We like to focus on the last few words. We like to focus on them because they provide us with sure and certain comfort. Jesus promises us life, salvation, and the forgiveness of all our sins. He promises that there is nothing in this life that can separate us from him. He makes it clear that we have a heavenly inheritance. Our fate is absolutely secure. There is nothing for us to fear. Our sin has been nailed to the cross. Jesus has been punished for it. Eternity has no surprises in store for us. We will walk and breathe in the New Jerusalem. We will eat from the tree of life. We will rejoice in the Lamb who was slain but lives forevermore. Our joy cannot be taken from us.
Neither life nor death, neither angels nor demons, nor elections, or ballot initiatives, nor the Senate nor the House of Representatives, nor anything else in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But joy in Christ doesn’t mean peace in this life. It doesn’t mean that our lives will be without suffering. In fact, it means the opposite. Our lives will be filled with misery. They will be cruciform. Jesus suffered and died. He was hated by the world. Christians are “little Christs,” and because of that, we shouldn’t expect anything different. What goes for Jesus goes for us, and what went for Jesus was being stressed to the point of sweating blood, being beaten with fists and clubs, having his back ripped open by centurion’s whips, being spat upon by the people who had read about Him their own lives, having a crown of thorns pounded into His head, and finally, being nailed to a cross so that He could experience the wrath His Father has against your sin.
We, on the other hand, have to pay taxes. We have to watch stupid political ads on the plasma screen TVs in our warm living rooms while we sit on our cushy couches and sip hot chocolate while it snows outside.
Repent. Christ has suffered all that you have suffered, and more. He has suffered even though He doesn’t deserve to. He has suffered in your place. He has experienced hell on the cross so that you can experience an eternity of joy in the New Jerusalem.
It is hard to hear our Lord tell us that we are going to suffer. It is hard because we live in a world that does its very best to avoid suffering and to hide it behind closed doors when it does happen. Thousands of the elderly languish in nursing homes and are never visited. Some states allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs so that those with terminal illnesses can end their own lives. Many who suffer emotionally medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol. Every pharmacy is filled with medications to relieve every sort of pain we can imagine. The goal of our modern pharmaceutical industry is to allow us to live our lives as free of pain as chemistry can allow.
When suffering comes we have a tendency to jump to a lot of bad spiritual conclusions. We hear many of these each time disaster strikes. When an earthquake leveled much of Haiti, Pat Robertson said that God was judging the people there because he thought that the slaves of Haiti had made a pact with the devil when they revolted in 1791 and won their freedom. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, many Christians said that it was judgment against them because of the many sins that take place along Bourbon Street.
If we allow ourselves to think this way, we will be led into pride and despair. If when tragedy strikes someone it is because God is judging them for a particularly bad sin that they have committed, then should we really help someone when their house burns down? Should we really hold benefit auctions to help with people’s medical expenses? No. They are just getting what they deserve. If they were more morally upright like we are, then everything would be fine.
Thinking that each time a person suffers it is because of a particular sin will always do one of two things. It will make us prideful when things are going well for us. We will rejoice that God seems to be showing favor to us. He seems to be rewarding us for all of the good that we are doing. At the same time, we, in our pride, will look down on those who are suffering. We will think that just as certainly as we are getting what we deserve for our good and holy living, they are getting just what they deserve for their sins.
But what happens when the tables turn? What happens when suffering enters into the life of a Christian? If we use suffering as a barometer of God’s favor, then we will have to conclude that we have sinned against God in some serious way. We will have to conclude that He has withdrawn His favor from us. This will lead us to despair. We will be reminded of all our many sins. We will think that God no longer loves us because we are just too sinful. Despair is not just thinking that you can’t save yourself. Despair is believing that you cannot be saved at all.
You know that this sort of thinking is wrong. You know that loving service to our neighbors lies at the very heart of the fourth through tenth commandments. You know that tragedy befalls all sorts of people all the time. You know that God sends rain on the godly and the ungodly. You know that our Lord’s blessings do not discriminate on the basis of a person’s piety, morality, or theological understanding.
God loves all people. And, on the cross, we see that God loves all people in a very particular way. He suffers for them. He dies for them. He takes all the pain into His own body. He suffers what we suffer, and He suffers what we, by grace, never will.
He suffers all the physical pain and all the emotional pain, and on top of all that He suffers all of the Father’s just wrath against our sin. He suffers that wrath so that we will not. All of God’s anger against your sin has already been poured out on Jesus. All of it. That means that there’s none left for you.
All that we suffer in this world we suffer because of the horrific effects of sin. Sin has corrupted the very fabric of the universe. The world as we know it now is broken. It is groaning in birth pangs. It is waiting for the sons of god to be revealed. It is waiting for our Lord’s return. It is waiting for the resurrection of the living and the dead. It is waiting for all that is broken to be healed. It is waiting for the final stain of sin to be removed so that all of creation can reach the consummation that Christ has won even for it through His suffering and death on the cross.
Right now we suffer. Right now we are hated by the world because of our confession of Christ. In this life we can expect to be treated no better than our Savior was. But Jesus has overcome the world. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ has delivered to us every good thing.
We are baptized into His death and resurrection. Our sins are forgiven. We have hope of a life in a world better than we can imagine. Do not fear, dear Christians. You are forgiven. You are free.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.