Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Looking Forward in Faith - November 22, 2015 - Last Sunday of the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Jude 20-25
Today is the last Sunday of this current Church year. And again, as the last two Sundays, our readings remind us that this world is temporary, that this world is fast and fleeting, that this world will soon come to an end. Some people have even described life as being like a calendar, it is January when we are born, June and July are the mid point of our lives and as we grow older and near our own passing and death we reach the December of our lives. As I have said before and many times, we will meet our Lord. We will meet Him either when He returns as He has promised, or when we die. We will meet our Lord and that day will come, sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect, thus it is important, it is imperative that we are ready. And I do not mean being ready like the man holding the sign that said, “Look busy, the Lord is coming.” “Looking busy” is not being ready.
In our text for this morning the writer, Jude encourages us to be built up. We begin at verse twenty, “20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (v. 20-21). Notice first and foremost that Jude does not tell us that we are to do something to build ourselves up, except to look outside ourselves. We are to look to God to be built up. We are to be built up through our conversation with God, that is through our reading the Word, which is how our Lord speaks to us and through our prayer to our Lord which is how we speak to Him, thus through our reading the Word and prayer we are built up in this conversation with our Lord.
Here again we see the importance of the means of grace, especially the Word of God. It is through His Word that our Lord speaks to us and gives us the gifts He has to give. When we absent ourselves from the Word of God, we remove ourselves from the very means He has of building us up, of giving us the gifts He has to give and this is indeed gift refusal.
At the same time we see the importance of being diligent in prayer. And I would add, from other points of the Word of God, that in our prayer we might include a time of quiet and letting the Lord speak. Jude suggests that we “wait for the mercy of our Lord.” Certainly in our fast paced, immediate gratification society this is a most difficult task, but with God’s help it can be done. So, Jude begins by reminding us of our need to be built up.
After we are built up, Jude then encourages us to build others up. We pick up at verse twenty-two, “22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v. 22-23). How do we go about building others up? We build others up through encouraging each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This may not sound like too difficult of a task, yet, because of our nature we constantly live in competition with each other. The devil tempts us to divide and conquer each other. We think, it’s my way and every other way is wrong. Our difficulty is that instead of encouraging those who have doubts, those who are being snatched into the fire of hell, we empathize with them and only help strengthening their doubts and being snatched into the fire of hell. We become co-dependent with them. Instead of standing up for what is right we go along with what we know is not right because of our fear. Indeed, how often we fail to “hate even the garment stained by the flesh.”
Jude reminds us that we are to hate sin and we are to correct those who live life in sin, especially we are to share the good news of Jesus with those who are living life in sin apart from Jesus and faith in Him. And this too is no easy task because we are people who do not want to think about the fact that living life outside of faith in Jesus will condemn us. We do not like confrontation. We like the status quo. And so as Jude reminds us, we are to live life sharing the good news of Jesus when and where He gives us opportunity so that some might hear, believe and be saved. And this is certainly encouraging each other and building others up.
As we are built up and as we build others up, our goal is not for some self gratification, but is to, as Jude reminds us, give God the glory. We pick up at verse twenty-four, “24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (v. 24-25). We do not build ourselves up. We do not, in and of ourselves, of our own free will work to build others up. The building up of ourselves and others is completely against our nature. Thus, we are built up and we build others up only as the Lord works these good works in and through us.
It all starts with Jesus. Jesus gives faith. Through His means of grace He gives faith. Jesus gives forgiveness. Again, through His means of grace He gives forgiveness. And Jesus gives life. Through His means of grace He gives life. Jesus is the prime mover. Jesus is the one who paid the price for sin and forgiveness for us. He is the one who gives the gifts He has to give. And so rightly He should be given all the glory.
Jesus gives faith, forgiveness and life. And He helps us to fight against temptation and sin. Jesus has already suffered all that we will suffer and even more. What we justly suffer, Jesus unjustly suffered. He who was without sin became sin for us so that He might be our substitute. He is always with us to help us in our fight against temptation and sin.
And Jesus gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. The gifts our Lord gives are not gifts we get or take for ourselves. If they were something we could get or take for ourselves, then they would not be gift. Our Lord gives the gifts He has to give and He gives them to us through the means He has to give them, His means of grace. Thus, He gives gifts to build us up, working in us to build each other up and all this is done to His glory.
So, what does this mean? Today is the last day of the church year, which, as we have been saying means that we look forward to God fulfilling His promise to return. Interestingly enough, did you know that when we prayer, “Thy Kingdom come,” in the Lord’s prayer we are indeed praying that God would hasten the coming of the last day. So, today is the last Sunday of the Church year and so we speak of the last days, the end of this world, the day of Judgement, Jesus’ second coming. Next Sunday we will begin a new Church year and we will again be hearing similar readings, but the difference will be in that next week, and all during the weeks of Advent, the focus will be on Jesus’ first coming. As we approach the end of this Church year, as we have seen Jesus fulfill His promise to come in His first coming, we know and we can be certain that He will fulfill His promise in His second coming.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we concern ourselves with making sure we are ready, and that we are ready at any time and at all times. There is a comedian who jokes about the fact that he knows when he is going to die, because his birth certificate has an expiration date on it. Unfortunately, or perhaps rather fortunately, none of us knows when we are going to die. None of us has an expiration date on our birth certificate, and none of us knows when Jesus will return. Jesus says that even He does not know, but only the Father knows. As an aside, in good Lutheran fashion we explain this, the fact that the Father knows and Jesus does not know and that Jesus and the Father are one, by understanding that Jesus, as God the Son, wills Himself not to know what God the Father knows. So, if anyone ever tells you when the world will end, do not believe them, because no one knows but God the Father. However, the point is this, that we do not know and so we need to be ready at any time and at all times and we get ourselves ready by making use of the means of grace, by Jesus getting us ready and building us up.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we concern ourselves with working to help make others ready. Now, understand that this is not something we do by ourselves. We do not give anyone faith or the other gifts God has to give, but we do work to get others ready through sharing the good news of Jesus with them. We build others up by living lives of faith as examples of Christ, by sharing God’s Word with them, by inviting them and encouraging them to be in worship and Bible class and the like. It is God who works through means even through the means we use to give the gifts He has to give and to get others ready as well.
As we look forward to Jesus’ second coming we look forward to heaven. The hymn writer got it right and many like the hymn, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” And this is probably one of the most difficult things for us, even and especially as Christians. So often we invest so much of ourselves, our time and energy in this world, forgetting that we are but strangers here. Yet, this is where our Lord works so well to build us up, to give us the gifts He has to give, to get our attention away from this world and to get us ready, even to get us looking forward to heaven.
Finally, we give glory to the Lord. We give glory where glory is due. We do not get credit for our salvation as if our salvation is something we have gained or earned for ourselves. We give glory to God because He is the one who gives the gifts, He is the one who has given us faith. He is the one who has earned and given us forgiveness. He is the one who strengthens and keeps us in faith. He is the one who builds us up. He is the one who works through us to build up others. He is the one who deserves and gets all the glory.
And so, I end this church year with Jude’s words and with John’s word, “20But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; 21keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22And have mercy on those who doubt; 23save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 24Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” And, “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Amen.