Lectionary Homily for 12 November 2023 (24th Sunday after Pentecost)

Originally published at: Lectionary Homily for 12 November 2023 (24th Sunday after Pentecost) | Confident.Faith

  • Amos 5:18–24
  • Psalm 70
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
  • Matthew 25:1–13

I assure you, the balance of the homily will be in English, but:

Mit ihrem heil’gen Wetterschlage,
Mit Unerbittlichkeit vollbringt
Die Noth an Einem großen Tage,
Was kaum Jahrhunderten gelingt;
Und wenn in ihren Ungewittern
Selbst ein Elysium vergeht,
Und Welten ihrem Donner zittern —
Was groß und göttlich ist, besteht. —

If you will permit me, an English approximation, also in rhyme:

Necessity, with bolt and thunder,
inescapably she weaves,
what scarcely centuries may ponder,
one great day she achieves.
And when she with tempest razes,
e’en an Elysium secure,
And with her storms worlds unsettles,
— the great and godly does endure.

Surely the day of the Lord swiftly approaches, and, just as surely will all flesh stand before the Lord and give account. As the plans of princes perish with them, so all the plans — whether they be the construction of a utopia or the construction of a new hell — of all mankind pass away with the passing of this creation on that ultimate Day of the Lord. And yet there is not one day of the Lord. Yes, if we capitalize “Day” or emphasize the definite article, then, certainly there is but one Day of the Lord, for that is the Last Day (of this creation) — the great and terrible Day of Lord, the Last Judgement —, but there are many (lowercase, indefinite) days of the Lord, for every day in which the Lord visits judgement upon a man, a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, is, indeed, a day of the Lord.

I may not live to see the Day of the Lord; you may not live to see the Day of the Lord; no man knows the day or the hour, and, personally, I refuse to speculate on such things (and I suggest you also refrain from such speculation). It hardly matters anyway — whether we are raised from the dust or merely changed on that day, we will certainly stand before the Judge and Lord of all things, and we are all always only a moment away from that day. I could drop dead here and now (although, as I am writing and recording this homily, and not delivering it live, it would be fairly unlikely you would read or hear any of this if I should die before I finish writing, recording, et cetera). You are neither more nor less mortal than I. We are all but a moment — but a heartbeat — away from the great and awesome Day of the Lord. But we are also some unknown period of time away from any number of other days of the Lord. How long will God ‘tolerate’ our worship of Moloch — abortion and hormonal ‘birth control’ — before He destroys us as He did the Canaanites and the Carthaginians? How long will He ‘tolerate’ our not mere acceptance but promotion of sodomy and all manner of sexual perversion before He wipes us away like Sodom and Gomorrah? How long will He ‘tolerate’ our worship of Mammon before He destroys us with a foreign foe as He did the Northern Kingdom with the Assyrians or at least takes us into captivity as He did the Southern Kingdom with the Babylonians? How long will He ‘tolerate’ our obstinacy before He sends upon us plague and desolation as He did with the Egyptians? How long will He ‘tolerate’ our impenitent, high-handed wickedness before He gives us up to our sins as Romans 1 warns? There have been many days of the Lord and there will undoubtedly be more before the end finally comes. Or are we such fools that we hold to some sort of theological version of the secular foolishness that is the ‘end of history’? ‘Oh,’ the fool says, ‘God may have judged and intervened in ages past, but surely now, in these modern days, He no longer does so.’ Do you not know that God kills each man who dies? And I do mean ‘man’ in the general sense, for He surely kills every woman and child as well. Were you operating under the delusional belief that death is a part of nature? Hear the Word of the Lord:

»Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned[.]«
— Romans 5:12 (ESV)

Death was not part of God’s good plan, part of His good ordering of Creation; rather, death entered the world only through and as a consequence of sin. God hates sin and God hates sinners. Without sinners, there would be no sin, and you are not a sinner because you sin, but, rather, you sin because you are a sinner — it is an inborn and inescapable (in this life) corruption of your nature. You are inwardly tempted by your fallen and corrupt nature — this we term concupiscence; even when you do not actively sin, you still desire to sin, and that desire is itself sin. The Gospel is good news precisely because we cannot avoid sin in this life. We are born under an irremovable death sentence, and God will carry out His perfect justice just as surely as He has, does, and will uphold each and every one of His promises. In Adam, as the federal head of all mankind, we all fell, and so our status, from birth until death, is sinner, and God will kill every sinner, for God will see all sin destroyed. For those of us who are being prepared for everlasting glory, this means that, having already passed from death to life in the waters of Holy Baptism, we will never taste the second death, which is the eternal and inescapable fires of Hell. The perfect justice of God requires atonement for sin. Christ’s work on the cross (and during His perfect earthly life) atoned for all sin — not just the sin of the Elect, not even just the sin of men. Why, then, are not all men saved? Because it is possible to reject this free gift. If I were to ship you a nice bottle of wine, you could refuse shipment, and you would, therefore, not be able to enjoy said wine; this would not in any way change that I had paid for the wine. Similarly, the refusal of any man to believe is not in any way relevant to the fact that Christ redeemed all things in and by His work.

And let us take heed lest we fall: Those who believe may fall away. Look to the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Did the five foolish virgins have fake fire? Certainly not. They had true fire — saving faith — and they allowed it to die. ‘If you were of your father Abraham, then you would do his works.’ ‘Faith without works is dead.’ ‘Show me faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.’

Are you saved by works? Yes. You are saved — as are all who are numbered among the Elect — by the works of one Man, Christ. Your own works surely cannot save you — cannot contribute anything to your justification —, and yet sanctification is synergistic — in sanctification, we coöperate with the Spirit. Or we do not coöperate and we permit our faith to die. All ten of the virgins were given faith (the fire) and yet only five of them kept that fire alive (i.e., produced works — the oil). A living faith will necessarily produce good works. A bit of grammar and philosophy: It matters where we place the modifier and what the modifier is. If someone says that ‘works are necessary for salvation’, then he is a heretic; if someone says that ‘works are necessary to salvation’, then he is being dangerously vague, and should be corrected; if someone says that ‘works will necessarily flow from saving faith’, then he is speaking the truth, for he is just echoing Scripture — a living faith will produce works. To be abundantly clear: Your works will not save you, but, if you have been given the gift of faith and it is a living faith, then it will necessarily produce good works. The good news is that your good works will not save you (in isolation, this certainly sounds like bad news), but Christ’s good works will save you — through faith. You are accounted righteous via the attribution to you of the alien righteousness of Christ; His righteousness is not yours by nature or by right, but by the grace of God, Who applied this righteousness to you when He claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism. Baptizatus sum ergo salvatus sum — I am baptized, therefore I am saved. If just those two works — Baptizatus Sum — were on my headstone, they would surely be sufficient. Now, Baptism does not destroy or change our nature — I am still male, German, and pertinacious — my Baptism changed none of these things, for they are my nature, and God made my nature, just as surely as He made me —, but Baptism is, in this life, your most important attribute, for it is Baptism that marks you as a child of God. As a great Christian king once said:

I think more of the chapel where I was baptized than of the cathedral where I was crowned king. So the dignity of a child of God which was bestowed on me at Baptism is greater than that of the ruler of this kingdom. The latter I will lose at death, the other will be my passport to everlasting glory.

The great and the small alike take nothing with them when they leave this world, but your Baptism is your ticket to everlasting life. Your works may demonstrate that your faith is living — and God will reward you for them —, but you cannot plead them at the Judgement. Like your wealth or your intelligence, your works contribute nothing to your justification, which will be the matter at issue when you stand before the Judgement Seat; it is only Christ’s blood that you may plead, and you were washed in His blood in Holy Baptism. Your pastor did not baptize you — God did, using your pastor’s hands.

Thus, on the ultimate Day of the Lord, we must all plead sola gratia sola fide solo Christo — by grace alone through faith alone for the sake of Christ alone. With empty hands, but white robes, we will plead only the blood of the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world: ‘I know that there is nothing good in me, that is in my fallen flesh, but I know beyond all doubt that He Who dwells in me is my righteousness, my justification, my salvation — and He has promised to confess me before the Father as I have, in faith, confessed Him before men. I plead Christ and Christ alone.’ This is the Gospel. Or, in the words of Christ from the cross: “It is finished.”

And yet we must return to those other days of the Lord. What are we to do about those? Here we return to sanctification and works. God was pleased with Abraham because he had a living faith from which good works flowed; on the other hand, God was (and is) angry with the Jews because they did not have a living faith and thus did not do the works of Abraham. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament; the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament; the God Who walked in the Garden is the God Who hung on the tree is the God Who will judge both the living and the dead. If you have ever said ‘that was the Old Testament’, then you had best be certain that it was in reference to the ceremonial law, the civil law, or some basic fact, and not in regard to the Moral Law, for the Moral Law flows from the nature of God and is, therefore, unchanging, and to deny the Moral Law is to deny God. The God Who cast Adam and Eve from the Garden is the God Who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and to Abraham at the oak of Mamre; the God who burned Sodom and Gomorrah to ash — so thoroughly that the location can still be identified today — is the God Who walked with fishermen and tax collectors along the Sea of Galilee; and the God Who guided Old Testament Israel through the desert is the God Who will judge you from His holy throne. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. If your god does not slaughter the wicked, open the earth to swallow the apostate, close the heavens to starve the impenitent, send plagues to punish sinners, and actively hate evil, then he is not the Lord God and you are no Christian. God is as active today as He has ever been or will ever be, for God does not change. The faithless and the wicked are still punished; the faithful and the righteous are still rewarded. Children and rain alike are still gifts from God. Plants still do not grow without His good pleasure. He is the God Who raises up and no one breaks down, Who tears down and no one rebuilds, Who sets the boundaries of the nations, Who brings nations into being and destroys nations for faithlessness, and Who holds all things in the palm of His hand and together by His power. Your next breath is contingent on His good pleasure and your every cell division relies upon His guidance. If your god is any smaller than this, then I do not know who he is, but he is not the Lord God. If you do not hold that He blesses the faithful and punishes the wicked, then you accuse Him of hypocrisy and mendacity. Yes, the wicked may flourish for a season, and, in the words of the Psalmist, it may seem a wearisome task to understand this, but we can be absolutely certain that not only does God always settle accounts, but He does so perfectly and at the perfect time. For God, kairos is simply the perpetual and eternal state of things. He sets the wicked in slippery places that their fall may be the more poignant and the more damning — that it may serve as warning and blessing to the faithful. During the (brief) period of Old Testament Israel’s faithfulness, God blessed them both spiritually and materially — and the same holds true for us today. Both we and our fathers have sinned, and so we find ourselves persecuted and in the most desperate of straits in these evil days, but God promises that He will avenge Himself on those Who persecute and harm His sheep. How, then, do we benefit from such promises? By being His sheep — by obedience.

It is overlooked by many — perhaps most — these days, but many of God’s blessings are phrased conditionally — ‘If you will obey my voice, then I will…’ The Jews believed that they would be blessed without faith and without the works of Abraham; God disabused them of this with exile, subjugation by the Romans, destruction of the Temple, expulsion from the land, and many other such signs. Are we truly such fools that we believe we will be blessed if we are faithless? Look at the state of our nation, our country, our civilization, and tell me that we are not cursed, but blessed. Surely God must be close to removing our lampstand entirely, for we are a wicked and faithless generation, an apostate people, a rebellious nation.

And so our task is twofold: We must implore God not to sweep away the righteous (i.e., the faithful) with the wicked and we must endeavor to return our nation to God. The Christian faith is not a matter of quiescence or pacifism — both of which are sin; rather, the Christian faith is an active faith, seeking the conversion of all nations to Christ. The Lord is a Man of war, and we, His servants, must do His work while it is yet day. Christianity is neither a death cult nor a faith that calls upon us to abandon or to accept this wicked world. We are sheep with regard to the Shepherd, but we are soldiers with regard to this, His war. The powers and principalities are most certainly defeated, but we must announce this victory, this good news, this Gospel, first to our brothers according to the flesh and then to the whole world. All of His enemies will be crushed under His feet as He has already crushed the serpent, and it is, in the words of the Psalmist, ‘the glory of His chosen ones’ — of us, the Elect — ‘to strike our feet in the spilt blood of His enemies’. If you do not have one, sell your cloak and buy a sword.

Some will tell you that Christians are called to be ‘meek’, but they will never tell you what meekness actually is. To be meek is to exercise control over one’s strength. Christ is meek; the weak cannot be meek, for they have no strength to control. To be meek is to know when to restrain and when to employ one’s strength; so, yes, let us be meek in the proper sense of the term: Kind and caring toward the sheep, but ruthless to the wolves. Let us, again in the words of the Psalmist, see that ‘our dogs have their portion from the foes’, portions won by our ‘two-edged swords’. Just as we are not to tolerate false doctrine or false teachers in the Church — the Kingdom of the right hand of Christ —, so we are not to tolerate the wicked in the State — the kingdom of the left hand of Christ. As Christ owns both His hands, so He owns both kingdoms, and we, His servants, serve Him best by rendering unto Him what is His. But surely this raises the question: What is God’s? The answer is simple: To the Creator of all things belong all things. Everything is God’s. Thus let us render unto God what is God’s: Heaven and Earth and all that is therein contained.