2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year, Nov 17th, A + D 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Cause of Generosity, in the End
Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Peter 3:1-14, Daniel 7:9-14
Why might I send money to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?
One of the headlines I saw concerning Typhoon Haiyan was a quote from a survivor who said: “I thought the world was coming to an end.” This suffering woman’s interpretation is not far off from the truth, since Jesus promised that natural disasters would come before the End, the beginning of the birth pangs, He called them, the beginnings of the End, but not the End itself. But if the victim’s of Typhoon Haiyan, or if we, watching the devastation from afar, turn our thoughts for a moment to that Day when God the Father will blow the final whistle and send Jesus to end this age, well that’s good. That’s the same thing our readings do every year, in these last couple weeks of the Church Year. On this second to the last Sunday in the Church Year, Jesus in our Gospel describes the Last Day, and the Final Judgment, in terms of blessed sheep on His right, and cursed goats on His left. Our Lord then focuses specifically on the question of serving the poor, the hurting, and the downtrodden. So, in light of what Jesus says this morning, why might I send money to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan?
Lord willing, I won’t be taken in by one of the devil’s most common twisting of Scripture, a twisting often built on a hasty reading of the Sheep and the Goats. You and I should not fall into thinking that if we love our neighbor, then, because of our good deeds, God will love us, giving us an inheritance in heaven. The devil wants me to think this, so he can suck me down into his whirlpool of doubt. So, if I love others, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, then the Father in heaven will bless me? Great, but have I loved enough? What about when I still sin? What’s the exchange rate between my sins and my good deeds? Do I always need to do more and more? And did I love well enough? How can I be sure I’ve earned the Father’s love?
I can’t. I could never know for sure if I’ve earned the Father’s love with my good deeds, because I don’t and can’t live the perfect life that He commands, that totally selfless life, the life of love toward God and love toward the neighbor that Scripture teaches. I don’t love that way, and I can’t begin to make up for all my sins with the puny good works I might produce, since even my best works are still tinged with sin, coming, as they do, from this sinner. If I believe the devil’s lie, I will be tormented by doubt.
It would be a tragedy if I fell down satan’s hole of doubt, because this is not what Jesus teaches us today. The good deeds Jesus describes are evidence of being in the Father’s favor, just as a failure to do good is evidence of standing outside God’s favor, in danger of eternal fire. But please note that Jesus does not say the blessed will be blessed with eternal life because they do their good works. No, indeed, Jesus first says they are blessed, they are inheriting the kingdom prepared for them, from before the foundation of the world. Their blessedness has its cause in the action of God, a choice made long before God ever created the world, long before any man, woman or child ever did a good work.
Good works are commanded by God, and when they are absent in my life I should take that as a warning that I’m drifting away from the Lord. When I fail to do good works, I need to repent, confess this sin of omission, and ask the Lord to change me. But this passage does not make good works a cause of salvation, and the rest of Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, not by works, so that none of us can boast. We are saved apart from works, saved by God, through the life and work of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. Salvation has to work this way, because God demands perfect holiness, and try as I might, I cannot produce it. I must receive holiness from somewhere else, from outside myself, from someOne else. The man Jesus is the only Holy One, the only Sinless One, the only One who could ever earn the Father’s love. And good news, because the man Jesus is also God, He can, and does, share His Holiness with His people. That’s how we become His people.
We love, as John the Apostle writes, because Christ first loved us, giving His life on the Cross so that our sins not be held against us, and by giving us His Cross in our Baptism and in the Supper, so that day by day we know, Jesus has saved us, by forgiving us all our sins. Knowing this, we love, because He first loved us. Our good works are really His love flowing through us to others, nothing more, nothing less. So why might I help the Typhoon victims? Because the One who has helped me, the One who has loved me unto death, and unto new life, is concerned for all hurting people, and by my union with Him, His concerns are my concerns. Indeed, Christ offers us the privilege of serving them, not to earn heaven, but because we know we have already inherited heaven.
Yes indeed. Why might I send money to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan? Because I know the end of the Story, and that sets me free. Daniel saw the Son of Man in his vision, five centuries before Christ was born in Bethlehem. I know that this Son of Man approaching the Ancient of Days to be given dominion over a great, countless multitude in the everlasting Kingdom of God, is none other than the Son of Mary, who has died, and risen from the dead, thus setting His people free from the bondage of sin. I know the Son of Man whom Daniel saw was a prophetic vision of the Ascension into heaven of the Risen Jesus, ascending to take His seat at the right hand of the eternal throne of His Father, the Ancient of Days.
This plan of salvation, complete in the will of God even before He created the heavens and the earth, is guaranteed. The place of mankind in God’s eternal presence is guaranteed, because the Man Jesus, who is also truly and fully God, has gone ahead to prepare a place for all who trust in Him.
And so, knowing the end of the Story, you and I need not fear going out on a limb to help someone in need. We need not fear helping a seemingly helpless cause, because the very Son of God became helpless, dying on a Roman cross, so that He could share His eternal power with His people. We need not fear that our giving will cause us to suffer want and need, because the King of Heaven gave up His rightful place in glory, and became needy, thirsting and wanting and lacking good things throughout His earthly life, as He worked to prepare endless heavenly treasures for all nations. The Creator of every good thing became poor, so that I can be eternally rich. That’s enough to make me generous.
The end of the Church Year readings, along with disasters like Typhoon Haiyan, will cause us to consider the End. That’s good, because it’s important. In the last week before going to His Cross, Jesus taught mostly about the End Times. So what does all this End Time teaching mean, for your life? It means you need not fear, even though surely the Bible’s description of the End is frightful, roaring fires burning up all the created universe. Peter speaks of how the Lord will end this world with fire, a frightening warning to sinners everywhere not to just sit, satisfied in your sins. Repent, turn away from your sins, before the End comes upon you like a thief in the night. Repent, and remember this Good News: Just as God created the world out of water, and through water, by His Word, and just as God used water in the Flood to destroy evil, so also, the baptized need not fear the fire of the end. For through the Water and the Word of our Baptisms, God has already made us part of the new creation, heirs by faith of the new heavens and new earth, that Jesus will bring us into, when He returns.
End times talk should never make us think we must get busy doing good, or else. This type of End Times teaching is false, no matter where you hear it from. The End will be fearful, but nevertheless, Jesus teaches His people to rejoice, to lift up your heads and pray, “Come Lord Jesus, come,” because the End is good news for all who abide in Christ.
This abiding, this trusting and resting in Jesus, is a gift He gives to you and me by the forgiveness of all our sins. As you consider the End, focus on Jesus, who has conquered your sin and death. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and He will give you a confident joy in God’s limitless blessings, joy that will overflow to your neighbor freely, causing you love the needy, from the love you have received in Christ. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and you will receive a confident knowledge. You will be made ready to give the reason for your hope, ready to give the good answer to anyone who might ask why the End does not frighten you. You can tell them because you know your future, stored up in heaven for you, by Jesus, your Savior, and theirs.
Come Lord Jesus, come, Amen.