Today is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday we will begin the Advent season, which is a season of anticipation of Christ’s coming. In the Old Testament, Advent looked to the coming of God in the flesh to deal with sin. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, died, rose, and then ascended back into the Father’s presence in order to atone for your sins, defeat death, and justify you before God. Now in these last days, we look for his coming again for the resurrection of the dead. Jesus came at that first Advent in the lowly manger as a humble baby; he’s with us now in his hidden Advent through Word and Sacrament; and he will come again in the final Advent in the clouds as a conquering King.
So, since this is the last Sunday of the Church year, the lectionary readings tend to anticipate Christ’s return. The Gospel text today (Matthew 25:31-46) deals with the resurrection at the final Advent. Christ will return in glory to raise up all flesh and judge all people. And he will separate the sheep from the goats, his people from those who are not his people. Last week we talked about vocation and about how God calls us as His own and then sends us out into the world to be His hands of love and care. The Gospel text for this week might lead us to talk about vocation again, but I think that would be missing the point, not only of the text from Matthew, but also the associated texts from Psalm 95:1-7; Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 as well.
For Jesus in the Gospel reading isn’t so much focussing on your works, but rather on the inheritance he gives you as his people. Because you are his, you are given the inheritance of eternal life as a gift. Because you are his, you have faith in this promise and all your good works flow from your faith; that is why the sheep in this text do not realize when they did all these great things that they are commended for – they did them not in the expectation of a reward, but because of their faith in Christ. They, and you, are Christ’s people by God’s grace through faith. Everything else flows from that.
Now, in my family at home we play with a lot of Legos. They’re little sets of blocks that you use to build something. We have all sorts of kits, and a base pad to put them on. Normally, the kit stays together for a little bit, but then the pieces get scattered throughout the house, pawed by the cats, chewed on, vacuumed up, stepped on, and otherwise tossed about.
However, even though these Lego pieces get scattered, they all belong to a set and are meant to be together. We spend a lot of time trying to search for these pieces, even looking through the vacuum container for them, so that we can build them up into what they are meant to be. All of these little, separate pieces are meant to be assembled into one big set. They are not meant to be alone, but are meant to be together, built up on the firm foundation of the Lego base pad.
We are not so different than these Lego blocks. We too are part of a set; we are the Church. St. Peter in his first epistle said that we are like living stones that are being built up as a spiritual house, with Christ as the cornerstone and foundation (1 Peter 2:5ff). So, we are like the Lego blocks, meant to be part of a set, built up into the house of the Lord – His Church, and built on the firm foundation of Christ, our rock and salvation.
But, we are not so different than these Lego blocks. We too get scattered, stepped on, and battered. We get pushed aside and chewed up and spit out by others. We too are pushed, thrusted at, and scattered. It’s true isn’t it? In this world we see a lot of suffering and hurt and pain. We read about things in the news that are unspeakably evil. We not only receive this evil ourselves, but are often also perpetrators of it.
So, all of us have been affected by evil to one degree or another.
When someone does something evil to us, we may even begin to think it’s our fault. Others may even blame us for being the victim of someone else’s evil actions.
Or, sometimes we do something evil to another. We may wonder if God will or can ever forgive us? We may even think that we can not be forgiven.
But, this is where the Lord steps in. He doesn’t let evil, sin, or death have the last word, because he has already defeated all evil, and sin, and death, and the devil. These things are here now in this world – they affect you here and now – but they are not going to last. You, however, are going to last, because the Lord loves you through Christ, for you are His very own possession whom he gathered to Himself. And the Lord promises you that a better day is coming.
He promises that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. He is coming to judge between His people and those who are not His people. He is the Good Shepherd who knows the sheep who are his. His people may be pushed, thrusted at, and scattered. His people may be affected by sin and evil and even fall into it. However, the Lord knows who you are and where you are, and He has forgiven you and claimed you as His own; he has said, “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey” (Ezekiel 34:22). He will gather together His people wherever you may be: scattered throughout the world, pushed into the corners, or buried in the ground and bring you into everlasting peace on a restored, perfected earth. This is your inheritance that He is giving you.
So as His people, the Lord’s promise to you is that a better day is coming. He will plant you in a new land, and feed you with good pasture, and He will be your shepherd. He will rescue you and bring you to Himself. He is restoring all things to perfection, so that you will live with the Lord for eternity in the new heaven and new earth, where there is no longer sin, death, the devil or any evil, but only the Lord and His people – you.
But, until that day comes, we are left in this life now, here on this earth, pushed at, thrusted at, scattered, and stepped on. We cry out to the Lord: What about this life? What about the sin and evil we have to endure? How long, O Lord, until that day comes when you make everything right?
This cry has been heard since the beginning. A consistent refrain of the Psalms is “How Long, O Lord?” God’s people have always endured suffering and looked to the Lord to return. In Psalm 94, for instance, the Psalmist looks to the Lord to bring justice against those who abuse His people and mock the Lord.
The prophets also consistently cry out, “How long?!” Habakkuk looked at the evil in the world and cried out:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you Violence!
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
God’s people have always struggled with the presence of evil in the world and looked to the Lord to bring His justice and repay to the evil what they deserve. And in the book of Revelation we see all of God’s people of all times and places, including you, crying out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10).
We also cry out “How long, O Lord,” because we see in this life that evil roams the earth looking for people to devour. “How long until your return at the final Advent?”
And, the Lord will answer our call. He is coming again soon. That future, final Advent will arrive. And He is bringing His judgement with him. You are His people: He has forgiven you, He knows who you are, He loves you, and He will gather you to Himself on that Last Day. So, don’t let what evil people have done to you or said to you discourage you. And don’t let your own sins or evils plunge you into despair, for you are forgiven; the Lord has made you His own, Christ died for those sins of yours, let them go into the grave with him, because he left them there at his resurrection.
So, on that final Advent, on that Last Day, Christ will gather you up from wherever you have been scattered and bring you to Himself. And, “He will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). For God Himself will dwell with you His people forever.
And the Lord will say to you:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
So, to our cries of “How Long, O Lord until this day comes?” – Christ tells us in the closing words of the Bible, “Surely I am coming soon.” And so we and all the Church continually say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). Amen.
(Image: Проповедь Христа на горе Елеонской о втором пришествии (“The Preaching of Christ on the Mount of Olives about the Second Coming”). 1840. By Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov – http://religionart.narod.ru/gal1/photo2.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9087446 )