Twenty-Sixth Sunday after the Pentecost-Sermon
11/17/13- YEAR C
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From 1935 to 1982, the DuPont company attached to their varied products a phrase which probably some of you are familiar with and some not so much. Their tag line was, “Better Things for Better living...Through Chemistry.” Their competitors liked the promised hope in those words so much that they condensed the saying to the now much more familiar slogan, “Better living through Chemistry.” It was in its day a product of the hopes and dreams for advancement and the future through the achievement of man. And to think of the advancement that that first generation had seen and experienced, their optimism was certainly understandable. They had witnessed the transition from equine transportation to mechanical horse power. They had fought and been victorious in the Great War that was to end all wars, while ironically standing on the verge of the next one. Even in the midst of the Great Depression, there was still a budding optimism and hope in the advancements of technology and thus better living.
Thinking through my Grandfather’s life and all that he had witnessed to even what I have seen in the years of my own life, one cannot help but be impressed and awestruck. And what great achievements will my own kids see? It is humbling to realize that my kids are growing up in a world that has never been without the iPhone and iPad. Thanks be to God! How on earth—until their advent—did parents keeping their little ones occupied while mom and dad decompress at the end of the day or waiting at the doctors? Thinking about what will be coming in their lifetimes is no less impressive, with Google Glass, and advancements in Artificial Intelligence as we approach the Singularity, according to Ray Kurzweil; that moment when machines surpass the ability of the human brain. Growing up in the 90's, we just knew it as the day Skynet became active. Look indeed upon these noble stones and offerings of our creation, our work and achievement! They are indeed very very impressive! We encounter a world now that is living longer and to the claims of many, better through chemistry.
Yet progress itself has been the hope and hobgoblin of countless generations. From the tower of Babel to the Pax Romana, all has fallen well short of its hoped for end. The achievements of mankind always and forever are limited by the nature of mankind. We are the product of creation, a fallen creation, one that is limited by the disease of sin. The world is not a vacuum in which progress and invention can grow and leap, without the crushing weight of gravity to hinder it. Humanity, the world, and even time itself is not neutral. But rather it is moving toward its natural end, the end of all things of this world, death. The reality of the fall has placed the world and all creation on the trajectory of mortality. An ending that will end in an encounter and confrontation with the Immortal One. In that encounter, even the great stones of the Temple or technological prowess of the iPad, will fall away like the house of cards that they are made of.
The Temple will give way to Rome. Rome will give way to the Turk and the rising of independent Kingdoms. Nation will continue to rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Products will give way to newer and newer updates, fighting the ever advancement of newer viruses to take them down. All that we build, whether they are made of recyclable material or not, will at the last...at the end...fall away. Our achievements and advancements will give way to the wages of sin. Our own flesh will fall to that almighty Word of Law spoken to Adam. I know that’s a hard thing to say to college students, who feel already invincible, but trust me at some point the hair starts to go and the knees start to ache and you realize that this flesh is starting break down. I think that starts to happen shortly after the arrival of children or when you enter the ministry. I’m not quite sure which was the true root cause, but take a look! This is what you have to look forward to!
This world, this reality, is what Our Lord depicts for us this morning. Though speaking directly about the upcoming fall of Jerusalem, his words bespeak a more somber message about the world. Like Jericho of old, the walls of the world will come a tumblin down. Into that darkness, like sheep in the midst of wolves, Jesus tells them that is their moment to witness and to be his disciples. They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This....THIS will be your opportunity to bear witness. It is in the face of the reality of the fallen world, this death, that our Lord says is the very moment and time of their testimony, their martyrdom. It is so, because it is the very time in which the Church will live as it moves across time and space. A cursory view of the news shows the continual reality of wars and of rumors of wars before us. Kingdom against Kingdom. Political Party against Political Party. Natural disasters continuing to reap havoc upon land and people. It is in the face of it all that the Church and her faithful live and bear witness.
Knowing the truth about this end of all things, then how are we to go forward? How do we bear witness as our Lord asks of His disciples? The words of Dr. Doberstein to a class on Pastoral Theology at Mount Airy Seminary, put it simply and profoundly. Professor Doberstein told his class: “Put a crucifix in the hand of the dying and preach the resurrection.” Put a crucifix in the hand of the dying and preach the Resurrection. Such as St. John Chrysostom did, “A virgin, a tree, and a death were the symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve; she had not yet known man; the tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death was Adam’s penalty. But behold again a virgin and a tree and a death, those symbols of defeat, become the symbols of his victory. For in the place of Eve there is Mary, in place of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of the Cross; in place of the death of Adam the death of Christ. Do you see Satan defeated by the very things through which he had conquered? At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil.”
Though this world and all that it is in it will pass away, it is not abandoned. Though it and we are fallen, we are not forsaken to that finality and mortality. For Christ came to undue death, to break the the bonds of the evil one, to crush hell underfoot and to give life, sweet joyous everlasting life to the world. In the midst of death, in the city and people that would kill him and be overthrown, our Lord Jesus entered to give and bestow His endless life to that very city and people. And bursting forth from the grave, our Lord dresses us with His glory and immortality, covering up our sinful flesh with his everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, now by faith. That is the reality which we celebrate each week as we gather around the altar and table of our Lord. Here as bread is broken and wine poured, death is being undone as our sin is met by the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here the crucifixion stands before us as His death is proclaimed, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The good news of our salvation is that singular message that the disciples are not only to receive in Word and Sacrament, but also to proclaim to a dying world.
As a mission congregation of the NALC, but more importantly of the Church Militant, the church catholic, it is your great joy to witness this hope and joy to the world around you. To place a crucifix in the hand of the campus and Santa Barbara and to proclaim to them the glorious joy of the Resurrection. And that time is now. More often than not we think that we need to wait until the opportune time presents itself, but the reality is there is no such thing. For every time is the right moment. Every second that passes is space in which the glory of Christ can be shared and extended. Every breath breathed is a perfect opportunity to repent of sin and to give praise to Jesus Christ and share His love to another. To shine His divine light into the darkness of the world. And you are already doing it. As you gather for worship, confessing sins, hearing the word of absolution and enjoying the peace of God. For God is at work in you, bring His eternal life to you and strengthening you to bear His death and resurrection in your own lives. Here eternal life is ours and heaven now stands before us as we gather round the throne of the spotless Lamb in the Holy Supper. Here we are already united with the saints and angels at this very moment in worship and adoration of God, Father, Son, and Holy spirit, singing the angelic hymn. In the presence of this most wonderful and joyous encounter with the Lord of heaven and earth, there is no greater sight than this. The sight of which no iPad, no feat of human will or strength can compare. Here in the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ outpoured is true better living.