Last Sunday of the Church Year – B (Proper 29) LSB #908, TLH #605, LSB #818
Text – Isaiah 51:6
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment & its inhabitants die like flies. But My salvation will last forever, My righteousness will never fail.
THE END OF THE WORLD
You’ve probably seen something like this on TV. A beautiful woman, a handsome man, a gold necklace with a glittering, sparkling diamond – his expression of eternal love to her. And you’re told, “A diamond is forever.” It is tempting to believe, is it not? PAUSE
Picture another scene: You’re driving through downtown, & you notice a man on a street corner ranting to the passersby. He has long scraggly hair. His clothes are worn & somewhat dirty. A shopping cart loaded with his life’s possessions is next to him. He’s waiving a Bible with his hand & he’s wearing a sandwich board that proclaims, “The end is near!”
You think to yourself, “Religious nut!” It’s tempting to believe, isn’t it? PAUSE I’m preaching on the end of the world today. Maybe that qualifies me as a religious nut in spite of the lack of hair or a shopping cart.
A young couple promised their four-year-old that they’d take him to the zoo. They didn’t set a specific date or time for the big event, so every day for a week their boy asked, “Is today the day?” Each time he was told, “No, not today.” A week passed, then a month, & the question came less frequently.
The boy had all but given up hope of going until one Saturday his father announced, “Today, we are going to the zoo.” Their son was filled with excitement & joy because his parents were making good on their promise.
Our heavenly Father will one day make good on His promise to end all the evil in this world & take His children to heaven. But that begs the question, “Do you consider every morning if this might be that day?” The early Christians eagerly looked for Jesus to make good on His promise. They expected it in their lifetime. But Jesus still has not returned. Generation after generation has passed, 2000 years have gone by, & the question, “Is it today?” is seldom asked by ‘normal’ people. Have you ever thought, “Is today the end of the world?”
I wondered about that as the stunning news reports came in on September 11, 2001. It is a question we should ask at least once in a while. That question will help us keep our bearings straight. It will help us get our priorities right. Maybe that preacher on the street corner isn’t such a nut after all, & maybe even a diamond is not forever.
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, & look at the earth beneath...” (Isaiah 51:6) God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, & let them serve as signs to mark seasons & days & years.” (Genesis 1:14) Those lights have now been there for thousands of years, yet Isaiah tells us, “The heavens will vanish like smoke.” PAUSE
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, & look at the earth beneath.” Whether you’ve looked at pictures of the Rocky Mountains, or climbed them, it’s difficult to imagine wearing even one of them out like a ragged old shirt. And whether you have sailed across the oceans or only stood upon their shores, it is incomprehensible to think they will ever dry up.
And yet Isaiah tells us, “The earth will wear out like a garment & its inhabitants die like flies.” The ‘End of the World!’ Is it today? The question seems ridiculous. Years ago we had plenty of warnings about Y2K & for the most part people ignored them. Let’s admit it, the ‘End of the World’ coming today sounds pretty far fetched, doesn’t it?
In fact, in the Gospel reading, Jesus Himself told us, “…You do not know when that time
will come.” (Mark 13:33b ESV) And it’s obvious that for most of us, our response is, “No sense thinking about it then.” But that is not how Jesus teaches us to react. Instead, He gives this order, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back…” (Mark 13:35 NIV) Jesus Christ is that owner, & He instructs you & me to live as if today is The Day.
Never mind that it seems as improbable as the heavens vanishing like smoke or the earth wearing out like a garment. You cannot relate to those things happening anymore than you can truly relate to that religious nut – on the street corner – when he says, “The End is near!” That’s why funerals are such good “teaching” opportunities.
Death & the casket are difficult to ignore. That’s why they’re so emotionally disturbing. That’s why so many adults have no clue what to say to the survivors, because death & a casket intrude upon our own sense of well-being. They so rudely interrupt as I go through life trying to protect the false belief that I can take care of myself.
For the Introit, we read from Psalm 39, as David wrote, “O Lord, make me know my end & what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4 ESV) King David is asking God to confront him with his grave & his casket. King David wants to know how fleeting is his life. You did you reflect on that as we read it, didn’t you?
The end is near, probably less than 30 years for the majority of us in this room. In my 1st year of the ministry I officiated at 11 funerals, the 1st one being a mere 8 days after my installation. I have found that funerals help me to appreciate the fleeting nature of my life, & yours, & yours & yours. Each man’s life is but a breath, & then gone!
Around the world, millions of people have died from Covid just this year. For many other reasons, the social structure of our society is being ripped apart at the seams. Each of us here is 12 months older than we were one year ago. None of us knows what day our end will arrive, yet, I’m certain that through our struggles God is able to teach us about death, & about the End of the World. Of that End Jesus says, “If the owner comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Matthew 13:36 NIV)
It’s apparent that many of us in churches across the U.S. have been sleeping for years. Jesus was telling us to watch, but we did not. And a lesson in that, for the future of every one of us, is that we should not be caught sleeping again. We are to be about the task, which God has assigned.
The task of the church is to be actively reaching out to our neighbor with the love of Christ. That takes thought, word & deed. God’s church is not simply a social club where we come to meet our own needs. It is a workplace where we labor to meet the needs of those who are not like us, who may not immediately appreciate the message of Christ that we offer.
And of death, God is able to teach us again to consider carefully the things of this world. Even the heavens & the earth will not remain. Their inhabitants will die like flies. St. Matthew Lutheran church is not permanent either. Whenever we encounter death, it should remind us that so too shall we. It should confront us with our own grave & our own casket. PAUSE
Such a grim sermon! But the text from Isaiah was written at a very grim time in the life of Israel. Their city of Jerusalem was about to be destroyed by the Babylonians & her people carried off into exile in a foreign land. Through the prophet Isaiah God was confronting His people with their casket & their grave, for they would die like flies. They did not listen.
Yet, even before this time of judgment arrives, God is already promising deliverance & hope as well. Though the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth wear out like a garment, its inhabitants die like flies, “My salvation,” says the Lord, “will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” (Isaiah 51:6) A diamond may not be forever, but your salvation is. 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, & the exile to Babylon, God sent a promised one, King Cyrus of Persia, to set free the nation of Israel. He allowed them to return to their land & even built them a new temple to worship in.
That King Cyrus was a picture of another Promised One to come. This One would be born in Bethlehem, of a virgin, & she would call His name Immanuel. He also was sent by God to set free His chosen people.
As we are confronted with all the things in life that don’t go well, all the frustrations, the injustice, & even death, know this, the “End of the World” will be that time when our Promised One returns, as King. He will release us from our exile in this sinful world, & we shall be ushered into the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, our heavenly home.
The book of Revelation describes it this way, “It shone with the glory of God, & its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” (21:11 NIV) That sounds a bit like the diamond commercials, only this jewel, heaven, truly is forever. A glorious day it will be, full of excitement & joy, when Jesus returns to make good on His promise.
Everything in this life that we wrongly place too much value on, our Lord eventually removes from us. He wants us to know how fleeting are the things of this world, including our own life. And He removes those things because He has far greater treasures in store.
We want to cling to the vanishing smoke & the worn out garments. Our Savior wants to give us His eternal Kingdom. It’s in that light, the light of eternal & never-ending blessing, that Immanuel – God with us, would have you & me consider every morning, “Is it today?” Amen.
O sweet & blessed country, the home of God’s elect! O sweet & blessed country that eager hearts expect! Jesus, in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest, Who art with God the Father & Spirit ever blest. Amen. TLH 605:5.
 Bloomberg, November 1, 2021, 4:55 AM EDT
Pastor Dean R. Poellet