Last Sunday of the Church Year – Jude 20-25
You may remember that last Sunday, I said very much tongue in cheek that the world would end that night at 7PM.
As you may have noticed, the world did not end. Just as the world did not end any of the 5 times it was predicted to end over the summer; just as it did not end the 5 times it was predicted to end before that, or the 5 before that, or the 5 before that, or the 5 before that or even the 5 before that.
But again, as you may recall from last week’s sermon, or if not, as you no doubt recall from the many prayers and hymns and readings that we use throughout the Church Year, at some point the world is going to end. As the readings, prayers and hymns all remind us of again today, there will most certainly come a day, when God will rend the heavens, and Jesus will descend, with angels and archangels and trumpet blast, and judge the living and the dead.
The only question that remains, is what to do in the mean time?
How does one occupy themselves while waiting for the world to end?
Well, one option would be to go out and pick a new day at random, and declare that previous calculations were wrong, and that the world will actually end on this new day. Make no mistake about it, this has definitely happened before, and still happens today.
But that goes against the Scripture, and thereby goes against our faith. The truth that we all know is that the hour, the day, the month and the year are known only by our Father in heaven. The world will come to an end when He says it will, not when we think it should.
Others will have you believe that because God has not yet come, it must mean that He has forgotten His people, and that He will never return to judge the living and the dead. Again, make no mistake about it, this too is a common idea in our world today; after all, it has been a long time since Jesus ascended into heaven, and promised to return soon. Where is He?
But you know that the word of the Lord is faithful and true; you know that God does not count time the way we count time, Christ will come in glory at the time appointed, and no sooner, and no later. That He has not come yet does not mean He will never come; it means that the appointed time has not yet come. God keeps His promises, and He has promised to return, and so we know it to be true.
So what are we left to do?
How do we as believers bide our time until that day when Christ will rend the heavens and descend in power and glory to judge the living and the dead? What is there to do when you are awaiting the separation of the sheep and the goats? How does one follow the words of Jesus in our Gospel text and stay awake?
No doubt, moving to a mountaintop and awaiting the return in glory is quite the appealing option. After all it is not like the world is going to make life for believers any easier; there will be increased temptations, increased pressure to conform to the ways of the world, increased isolation from the rest of society, which has moved on to ways of the twisted and crooked generation that speaks the loudest in the public square.
Likewise the desire to kick out those who would demean and defy the traditions and values of Christians is also quite appealing. After all, if we have to stay here, why can’t everyone else leave instead? Throwing out the trouble makers is gruesome and not our first choice, but the temptation is certainly present.
Each of these options however, while tempting, misses a key aspect of what Christ calls on us to do as we await His return. Christians forming an independent colony far away from all others, or Christians pushing out those who would cause great distress, assumes that the role of the believer between now and the return of Christ, however long that wait may be, is to sit on one’s hands and do nothing.
That is certainly what we would like to do is it not? The days until the return of Christ are short, why bother with unending tasks? The wait will not be much longer, anything done today will only be done in vain.
Better to sit back and wait, as opposed to getting up and wasting energy and resources on seemingly fruitless causes.
And yet, that is not what the Lord has called on us to do in these grey and latter days.
The Epistle of Jude is written as a letter of encouragement to Christians who are facing challenges in the faith; the letter is written to instruct the Church in remaining steadfast until the Lord Jesus Christ returns.
And so the words of Jude are written also to each of us. For as we await the return of Christ in glory, we are called to remain steadfast in the faith, not chasing after false gods or false teachings and the ways of the world, but clinging to the faith into which we were baptized.
And so the first piece of instruction is to build yourselves up in the faith. In a world where false teachings come to us in many and various forms in every form of media, it is not enough to just claim the name of Christian, but to study the faith; to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of the Lord. To know the Word, to be able to point to it when it is misquoted and misapplied, is to be able to stand firm in times of trial and persecution.
And in times of persecution, in times of anguish which we are no doubt facing today, what better tool do we have at our disposal than prayer. We gather together and individually and call upon the Lord, crying out for His Holy Spirit; crying out for Him to return and take us from this vail of tears; crying out for all those who are sick or who are hurting, or who have not yet heard the Word of the Lord and taken it to heart. We call upon the Lord in every trouble, we pray, praise and give thanks. We call upon our heavenly Father with the full and certain confidence that He hears our prayers and He answers them in His goodness and mercy.
And finally, we show mercy to those in need. The Church of God reaches out to those in need, and showers them with love and prayer, just as our Father in heaven has showered us with love and praise. The job of the state is to protect and preserve; the job of the Church is to show love and mercy. The job of the Church is to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; the job of the Church is to pray for those who are hurting; the job of the Church is to hold benefits and food drives and diaper drives and aid those who are in need.
What will be the result of this? Who will benefit when you know the Word of the Lord and are ready to make a defense of it? Who will notice when the hands and knees of the faithful are blistered and bleeding? Who will care that the Church shows mercy to those in need?
The world? It has deemed the Word to be foolish and nonsensical. The devil? He sees prayer as nothing more than babbling phrases. The unbeliever? He has been more than willing to look to the government for works of mercy.
Ultimately no one may notice the Word or the prayers or the mercy that the faithful bide their time with as we await the coming of Christ. But sometimes no one is more people than you think.
The tasks of the Church are done in the hope that they might snatch some out of the fires of hell. The tasks of the Church are done in the hope that the Holy Spirit might once more preach the Word into the hearts and minds of people, so that they too might enter the joys of Paradise.
The tasks of the Church are done in love, for it is out of the Father’s great love for each of us that He sent His one and only Son into the world to suffer and die and rise, so that we might live with Him in glory everlasting.
As the days grow short, so too does the work of the Church, so too does the work of the faithful. As we await the rending of the heavens and the descent of angels and archangels and of Christ Jesus Himself, we do so doing the work our Lord has given us to do, not so that we might be found worthy, but so that others might hear and believe, so that they too might hear their names read from the Lamb’s book of life.