Things are changing. The election season and the boiling passions of the electorate, coupled with the recently passed legislation dealing with stimulus and health-care assure us that change is not going to disappear any time soon. People are hoping for recovery - economic recovery, or political recovery, or societal recovery, or a combination of those things. We are called to be the people of God in the midst of these rapidly changing circumstances. God would use us to accomplish His will for us, for this nation, and for those around us, called "our neighbors" in the Bible. He is taking us somewhere for His purposes. The question is, "Where does the will of God want to take us?"
The answer is, ultimately, to heaven - salvation, eternal life, whatever that all will entail - and we can just guess at that. The reality is probably beyond our imagining and utterly different than what we have in mind. Because we know His will, in broad outline at the very least, we can just say that this divinely appointed destination is good, perfect in fact, filled with glory and the full awareness of the presence of God and of His will - and we will agree with that will and know no sin. I can hardly wait, but, at the same time, I don't trust my imagination to tell me what or how it will be. After all, most of the people who have ever lived before us could hardly have imagined our world and life. How much more must "heaven" be beyond our imaginings!
In the short term, recovery - where it is God would take us personally and as a nation - may look different than we expect, and our experience of it may be other than we would dream right now. Where does the will of God want to take us tomorrow, here on this world in this life? Once again, it is difficult to imagine. If you had asked me what life would be like today from the vantage point of ten or fifteen years ago, I would never have imagined what it is today. If you had described it for me, including my little place in it, those ten or fifteen years ago, I still would not have put the picture together the way it exists, or seems to me, today. I would have imagined that it would have felt different and I would be responding differently, somehow, to the world around me. I tend to imagine I am more competent and spiritual and heroic than I actually find myself to be in daily life, so I would have pictured things differently, I suspect - especially me, and how I would deal with things, and where I would be physically, financially, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually facing reality as it is.
We don't know what effect the elections will have on things, or on us. We can only hope that the people we have voted for, and who have been (or will be) elected in the elections of November 2010, live up to their promises and our expectations in a way that is satisfying for us. Even if they do, we cannot really predict how that will shape life around us or for each of us. We can only hope.
Well, that is not exactly true. We can also pray. We can lean on God and try to live out our confidence in Him and His will. That is what God has given us to do. We can be certain that what goes on around us is in the hands of our God and that every moment of our lives will present us with an opportunity to be faithful. We can also know that nothing about our lives is inconsequential, as the child of God. The Old Testament people of God kept finding themselves under the condemnation of the prophets because they lived their lives as though God was not watching and as though not every moment was particularly important. As a result, they did not live up to their knowledge of God and they did not live out their dependence upon Him. They acted as though they could take life by the horns and twist it any which way and it would make no difference. Their happiness for the moment, their comfort or their wealth or how they impressed their neighbors seemed to be the foundation for their conduct of life. They couldn't see God, and so they acted as though He could not see them. They were wrong. The Bible says so.
Every moment of our lives is lived in coram Deo, in the very presence of God, with Him watching us. He is watching us in particular because we are His people. We want Him watching us, so that when we need His special assistance, He is there and listening to our prayers and aware of our situation. But since we have His eye, we want to live with that awareness. Every moment is an opportunity for faithfulness and confession of what we believe, and of in whom we trust. So, God is watching us. Angels, too, are watching us. And our neighbors are watching us.
Every moment is consequential because God has a plan, and we have a role in that plan. We cannot know in advance which moments are crucial, or how this moment or that is crucial to a part of the plan of God, but we can know that He has factored us and our faithfulness into His work in this world. We also know that our lives are being observed by those around us, and what they see bears witness to them about us, about God, and about what we believe is true. We want to do our part. In some ways living this life in this manner is like putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle that has no picture on it. Each piece is important, but since we don't know exactly how it fits or what specifically God is working through us, we need to be ready to be faithful and live out what it is we believe about Him, and about us, and about the world around us, at every moment.
We also should expect that we don't know in advance what those moments may be like when we are asked to do our specific part. Some of it will be quite delightful, I am sure. I am also sure that some of it will be difficult and painful, some sorrowful, some frustrating, some disappointing, and, well, you get the idea. We call it "the cross". If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
What is ahead of us may not be to our liking. We may see things happen that we want to happen, and yet the results may not serve us personally, or they may disadvantage us in some way. Even when the world hands us precisely what we imagine that we want, it is in the nature of this world to bury some thorn or hook in the process to tempt us or to injure us in some way. Whether times and events are favorable or unfavorable from our personal perspective, we need to be on the watch because, while we live in this world, the adversary is still working to destroy us. Remember Peter's words, and Peter knew their truth by bitter experience, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Peter also goes on to speak of suffering as something we should just naturally expect as Christians, although it has a promise connected to it, too. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
Now it may sound like I am being negative here, but that is not my intention. I just know that the plan of God to use us in these last days may require us to endure hardship and even pain and suffering. The world around us seems to be heading in a direction which is not friendly towards Christians. Even a great portion of what is called "Christian" in our world is not friendly to true faith and clear confession of Christ and of the truth of God's Word. The world prefers the sweet and light froth of generic "worship as celebration" to the clear preaching of the Law and the Gospel, and humbling one's self in repentance and to the confessing of sins in order to hear the precious absolution. The world prefers 'fun' to 'holy', 'exuberant praise' to reverence and humility. Faithfulness to the Word of God is already mischaracterized as "fundamentalism", "bigotry", and "hate speech" in public discourse and in the Media.
We need to be ready, mentally and spiritually, to stand firm in the face of whatever may come. It seems that the elections will bring about some sort of change. It may be more than we expect or much less that we hope for, but it is going to be a change of some sort. Add to the equation that life will go on for a time, unless our Lord returns very soon, and we will have to deal with the changes we experience as part of the aging process and the passage of time. How we hold up and move forward with our lives will also be part of our service to God and confession of Christ.
With all of that in mind, this month we will celebrate Thanksgiving. While it is a civil holiday with a religious sensibility, we will still want to be first among those we know to offer our thanks to God as our confession of Him. We understand that our thanksgiving is not rightly restricted to any single day or season, but when the world around us is making those sorts of noises, we want to be loudly proclaiming the true God and His goodness - and our thanks to Him on that day as well. We will also mark the end of the Church Year this month, and once again fix our minds on the coming of the end, with all that it brings to mind. We have the goal of communicating the coming of the end of time and of all things, and our confidence, and even our hope, as we see that day approach, so that the world around us will be stirred by the urgency of the approach of the end, and then comforted by the hope of the Gospel which makes the end not-so-terrifying but, rather, encouraging and even inviting.
And then we also will begin the season of Advent this month. We will rehearse once again the faithfulness of God in promising salvation throughout the Old Testament times, and delivering it in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, both in the happy Christmas events, and in the horrific passion and crucifixion leading up to the joy of Easter. All of these 'church things' will give us opportunities to share our faith and even provide some possible structure to our public confession of faith and hope in Jesus Christ.
In whatever changes the elections produce in the society around us, we will want to be prepared to show forth the love of God, and the meaning of forgiveness of sins for life in this world as well as for the hope of salvation. And we should have ample opportunities to do that. The society around us is deeply troubled. People no longer have any confidence that there is an absolute truth that is valid for everyone, everywhere, and at all times. But we know that Truth! For many of our neighbors, life has lost any sense of meaning. Too often, the public perception of the meaning of life boils down to Shakespeare's critique in the play, Macbeth, "... (Life is) a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
We have a meaning and a purpose. The meaning is found in God's grace, in God choosing us for salvation and valuing us with the life and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are worth all of that in the grace of God, and not just death of His Son, but death on a cross, bearing our sins and shame. Now we have life - and not just this life, day to day, but eternal life in glory, in that new heaven and new earth which He has promised through the Apostles.
All of that means something: it means that our lives aren't just about the moment, and that we do not need to fit everything into the here and now. Life will not be over when it seems to end, in the eyes of the world around us, in death of the body. It also informs us that while the gathering of things and accumulation of credit and glory in this world seems so urgent and the time seems so short, we know that it is merely an appearance, and not the reality. God, in His goodness, has answered the great threat of death and revealed that this world and all it contains is not all that there is, and it is not even close.
We have all of that good news to share with those who are lost in collecting stuff, and fearful of what that approaching 'end' means for them. We have comfort and we have hope to share with them. First, we can explain that the things of this world, and all of its glories, are actually temporary and transient. We can spend years gathering them, but then they must be left behind. Then we can share with them that the greater realities lie ahead of us, and beyond the doorway of death of the body, and that, in Jesus Christ, God has opened the door to that greater and more lasting world and life. We can confess that God will be giving us our bodies back, refurbished and renewed, and then we can work on what really lasts and what will ultimately satisfy us. The stuff of this world is a temporary thing, a tool to be used for a time and then set aside, but it will be replaced with something permanent. We do not need to fear the end, or cling to our 'things'.
And while we are here, in this fleeting world, we have the comfort of the grace of God which marks us as His chosen ones, precious and beloved of Him. He has promised to watch over us and care for us and guide us. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves, we can cast ourselves and our well-being upon our heavenly Father, for, as Peter reminds us, He cares for you. Our lives and our conduct should speak of this confidence before our words ever do. Then, in the midst of the changes that come, the world around us can watch, and wonder, and even ask, and we can be prepared, as Peter tells us, to always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.