Hope for Living in a World Gone Mad

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Advent B, November 14, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10.11-25; St. Mark 13.1-8.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Kingdomtide, the period of time in November between All-Saints’ Sunday and Advent Sunday. The focus of Kingdomtide is, well, on the coming Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven with King Jesus ruling God’s creation unmistakably and unambiguously. Kingdomtide is a pre-Advent season of sorts. Advent, you recall, is the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, with its focus on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory to raise the dead and renew all things in heaven and earth. Why is this important? Because Christians, at least many in the West, have lost their hope in Christ, and without hope we inevitably shrivel up and die. Hope is an especially important sign of God’s graciousness for us to embrace these days as we watch our society become increasingly unraveled and our lessons this morning point us to the exact nature of our hope in Christ. This is what I want us to look at. 

Any reasonable, informed person who takes even a superficial look at the events swirling around us today would conclude that Western civilization is under attack in various ways. Many of us find empty shelves in stores at which we regularly shop, a product of supply-chain and related issues. This is a strange new innovation that flies in the face of abundance most Americans are used to and there seems to be no quick resolution to the problem. COVID is still an awful reality with which we must deal, made worse by its politicization by all sides. We seem to hate each other more, with various forms of shaming and condemnation being the order of the day. Inflation is running rampant and we can’t seem to find enough workers. Family and traditional sexual values and mores are under relentless attack and the problem of indoctrination in public and private schools is a very real thing. Many of our cities continue to burn and are becoming increasingly lawless. These are but a few examples of the bad news and chaos that bombard us relentlessly, all made more intense by social media, themselves a window into the ugliness of the human condition. Then, of course, there are the personal and private burdens each of us bear: sickness, loss, alienation, mind-boggling rapid change in our lives and routines, isolation, and loneliness to name just a few. All of this (and more) can lead us to despair and hopelessness. We look around for some respite, but find precious little that brings hope and comfort. For us geezers out there (you know who you are), this is not the country in which we grew up, for better or worse, and it makes us afraid.

And what is our response? Despite the fact that we call ourselves “Christian,” many of us scramble to find any solution other than Christ to help calm us. We put our hope and trust in a political party. We put our hope and trust in our bank accounts and wealth. We put our hope and trust in a certain ideology. We try to amass power to exert some control over the chaos in and around our lives. Many of us become increasingly isolated, living almost a hermit’s existence. Regardless of our strategies and attempts to mitigate the chaos and uncertainty swirling around us and in our personal lives, they all have this in common: Every one will inevitably fail because they are based on human solutions, not God’s power. Try as we might to be the master of our own destiny, itself a product of delusional thinking, all our efforts to control our lives and the chaos in them are bound to fail. 

And so I ask you this this morning, my beloved. Is Christ your bedrock foundation on which you stand? Do you see him and the promise of salvation in and through him as your only real hope to navigate through these tumultuous times? If Christ is your bedrock foundation, you already know that what I am about to say is true. If he is not, then why isn’t he? After all, you profess him as Lord! Part of the answer is that the Church over the last 100 years or so has lost her bold voice in living and proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. I don’t have time to explore why that happened other than to say that parts of Christ’s Church have stopped believing her own story! Perhaps it is too fantastic for our “sophisticated” thinking. Whatever the reason, when we take the truth and reality of Christ’s resurrection out of the picture and stop teaching and proclaiming it, no one should be surprised that many Christians in the West refuse to stake their very lives on its reality. Simply put, the Church has lost her cred. Why should we expect outsiders to believe our story when many of us don’t even believe it, let alone stake our lives and future on it?

Another part of the answer also rests with us as fallen human beings. Since being expelled from paradise and losing our perfect communion with God, a communion that resulted in perfect health and happiness, humans have sought our own solutions to the problems we have largely created ourselves. We do this because from almost the very beginning, we have desired to take God’s place and pretend that God doesn’t exist. None of this will produce real hope for the future because it is all a sham and a delusion and deep down we know it, even if we refuse to admit it.

But for those of us who take our story seriously, we can find real hope for the present and future because our hope and trust is centered on God’s power, a God who loves us and desires for us to be and act as the image-bearers he created us to be. We see it in all of our lessons this morning. In both our OT and gospel lessons, we are reminded that history is going somewhere, that despite the chaos and madness that swirl around and in us, God the Father is still firmly in control. Daniel and St. Mark describe this chaos as the time of anguish and the birth pangs respectively: wars, rumors of conspiracy, chaos, suffering, persecution, death and destruction to name just a few. For reasons unknown and unknowable to us, God in his infinite wisdom and providence allows the forces of evil and their human minions to wage war on God’s people and world. Rather than wasting our time trying to figure out why God would allow this, we would be better off focusing on God’s promises to us. And what are those promises? God promises to be with his people, you and me, not necessarily to protect us—although he certainly does—but to assure us a real future, a future with new bodily life equipped to live in a world devoid of evil and sin and sorrow and brokenness and chaos and all the rest. Daniel is the OT’s clearest statement of the hope of resurrection and when he speaks of a dual resurrection with some being raised to everlasting life and others being raised to everlasting shame, he makes it clear that how we live our mortal lives has direct implications for our future. (And as a sidebar, it is noteworthy that the first followers of Christ did not use Daniel’s language of resurrected people shining like stars to describe the risen Christ, indicating that his resurrection was real and unexpected because they struggled to accurately describe it and him.) This is part of God’s promise to Daniel that despite the fact that Daniel and his fellow Jews had suffered God’s punishment for their idolatry and unbelief, God remained faithful to his people and promised to ultimately heal and restore them. The NT promises essentially the same, except the promise is offered to all people, not just Israel, in and through Christ and we see the promise played out vividly in the Revelation to St. John. If we are ashamed of Christ in this world and deny him in our professions and living, we can expect the same from Christ when we stand before his judgment seat. But we should not seek to follow Christ primarily out of fear of judgment because that will ultimately fail. We are way too sin-sick to be motivated by fear to do what’s right. Rather, we should take our cue from Daniel, whom twice God called precious in God’s sight before revealing this promise of resurrection to him. Daniel sought to obey the Lord because he loved the Lord and wanted to please him. Of course there was holy fear and reverence in Daniel’s life, but that was not his primary motivator. Love was.

As Christians we too have ample reason to love God the Father because of the work of God the Son, and here we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. If we are going to enjoy an eternity with God, living in God’s holy Presence, a Presence that cannot tolerate or allow any vestige of evil or sin, how are we ever to have a hope and a chance of achieving the promise of eternal life? After all, we are hopelessly corrupted by the power of Sin and that by definition excludes us from living in God’s direct Presence as Revelation 21-22 promise. The solution? The power and love of God worked out in the death of Jesus Christ. Christ is our great High Priest who bore God’s punishment and wrath on all our collective sins himself, allowing God to work out God’s perfect justice and condemn our sins without condemning us. The result? We are made fit to stand in God’s holy Presence forever by virtue of Christ’s blood shed for us. This is why Christ could sit down at his Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was made once and for all. There’s no need to repeat it, unlike the old priestly order that offered sacrifices for sin but could never take away sin the way Christ did and does. Incomplete work requires one to continue standing. Completed work allows the worker to be seated as Christ’s work on our behalf did. This is why Christ is the only way to the Father. No one else has the power to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sins, making it possible for us to live in God’s direct presence. If this great love for us does not produce a desire to respond faithfully and obediently to God’s commands, nothing else can and we really are hopelessly lost because we are without a saving faith.

So why does this all matter to us? First, we who put our faith in Christ are no longer under God’s just condemnation. That means we have a hope and a future. There is no good reason for us to ever fear the chaos that swirls around us and in our lives or our future. Whatever the reason God allows this chaos is trumped by the fact that God has acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the madness. And because it is God’s promise it cannot and will not fail, giving us the basis for real and legitimate hope. This promise will be made complete at Christ’s Second Coming and we focus on it during the seasons of Kingdomtide/Advent to remind us and help us in the living of our days. God is in charge and always has been. The world and its agents try relentlessly to get us to believe otherwise. That is why we need to know our Story contained in Scripture and that demands that we attend to and read holy Scripture on a regular, if not daily, basis. If you want real hope, my beloved, you need to put in your sweat equity so that you know the nature and basis of that hope. 

Second, in addition to being the only real antidote to hopelessness and despair, having a real hope in Christ’s future gives us a reason to live faithfully in the present, even in the face of failure and resistance. Why? Because like Daniel, St. Paul also reminds us our present work is directly related to our future hope. And since our future hope is made secure in Christ, we need to keep to the task of being faithful and obedient to God, working hard to do our part to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, always remembering that it is God who ultimately makes that happen. Hear St. Paul now: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless [or in vain]” (1 Cor 15.58). So the next time you forgive someone and it seems to make no difference, or the next time you help someone or comfort someone or lend to someone and you see no results, or the next time you proclaim the gospel to an unbeliever and are laughed at or ridiculed, or the next time you profess Christian values in the areas of sex, economics, or politics and are scorned and mocked and hated, take heart and hope because you know Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and he promises you that you share his destiny despite your unworthiness and failures, God be thanked and praised.

There are other applications to all this, of course, but here is my challenge and exhortation to you, my beloved. Believe your story. Live it together and celebrate it together. Continue to give your life each day to Christ and live in hope. Don’t fall into despair and don’t be afraid—Scripture’s most frequent exhortation to us. This will require you to be mindful about it because there is much in this life that makes us afraid and shouts to us that God and God’s promises are a lie. Don’t believe the liars. Jesus Christ is crucified and raised from the dead for you. You are part of his Body and you belong to him forever. Don’t give your pearls to the swine. Don’t settle for second best (or worse). Jesus Christ is King and Lord of all. His rule is not always obvious to us but it is real nevertheless and his promises are true. Accept the gift and stake your very life on this truth. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.