Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 25, 2018
Beloved, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the holy Spirit be with you.
I began reading a recent biography of Martin Luther a couple of weeks ago and in the introductory material, the author painted a picture of piety and faith in the 15th century. For many, it was an holy dread. While the meanings in our Small Catechism for each of the commandments directs us to fear God, the average Christian in the year 1500 was terrified of God. They were terrified of His coming. They were terrified of that day of judgment that all knew was coming. They were terrified because the Jesus they were taught was enraged by their continual sin and when He was to return, He would exact judgment upon them. Such teachings may have been advantageous to the Church’s hierarchy as it advanced their total control, but it did not bring comfort to troubled souls. If any preacher began a sermon with “beloved” as I did today, it must have seemed oxymoronic to them. How can a most holy God ever view me as beloved when my sins are always hanging around my neck? How can an inspired writer of Scripture, such as Jude, address me as beloved in God when my errors are multitude?
Such a fear of Jesus coming as Judge must have reached a climax on a day such as today when the focus is upon the end. The words of Jesus in our Gospel reading must have stricken terror into the hearts of those who did not have a Bible for themselves and relied upon what they were told. What dread there must have been for all tomorrows as they anticipated the return of the Lord. IT would have fostered a hopeless resignation that the future would never be bright and that the Jesus who died for sin would only and always be displeased with my inability to deserve His forgiveness. What a travesty it is when the Gospel is taken and twisted into more law and used as a cudgel to beat the brows of the faithful.
It is against these, in part, that Jude is writing. As today’s portion of the letter begins, he is contrasting the beloved with those who are devoid of the Spirit. They did not receive the Gospel rightly. They do not believe rightly. And therefore, they do not observe the Faith and live rightly. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” He speaks of a way that anticipates the return of Jesus with joy. He speaks of a Lord that is merciful instead of vengeful, a Christ that comes to welcome the beloved to the eternal realms of glory that is eternal life. This is a Jesus whose return we can all look forward to and anxiously await.
But there still is a challenge for us. How do we keep ourselves in the love of God? For this is the key to receiving Jesus in His mercy. Jude puts forward this solution in the ongoing action of “building yourselves up in your most holy faith,” and “praying in the Holy Spirit.” Both can seem daunting but let’s take them one at a time.
The faith that we are to build ourselves up in is something that we already possess. It is our faith. It is a collective possessive faith. That means that it belongs to all of us together and not just to one individually. There are not two faiths; yours and mine. There is but one faith that is to be believed – the faith that is bestowed in and by God’s Word. This is the Faith taught by Jesus and recorded by the Apostles and Evangelists. That faith which is planted as seed by a word spoken, watered by a word preached, nourished by a word of encouragement, and nurtured by the Word of God applied throughout one’s life, is the one true Faith confessed in creed that speaks of the God that loves you enough to give even His own Son, so that His anger may be satisfied in the cross and that the final day of judgement would not be one of terror but one of joy for those being built up in the most holy faith that has Jesus as the cornerstone. Building yourselves up in your most holy faith is remaining in the Scriptures and clinging to the Apostolic teaching that begins in Divine Worship and is a part of the daily lives of the beloved.
In our day and age, a phrase such as “praying in the Holy Spirit,” can conjure up all kinds of wacky ideas. Those ideas belong to the errors that Jude writes against. Praying in the Holy Spirit is to pray as one in whom the Spirit dwells. It is an extension of the being one who has a most holy faith. To pray in the Holy Spirit is to pray in faith that the heavenly hears for the sake of His Son Jesu and in the confidence that He will answer in accordance with His will. To pray in the Holy Spirit is to pray as a Christian. It is to pray the Christian prayer. It is to call upon God as father and to know that you are His dear child to whom He listens and desires your good. Praying in the Holy Spirit is the privilege of the Christian, the one who has been Baptized and given the Holy Spirit. It is the response of your individual faith that believes the Christian Faith; that clings to the promise of God that you are His beloved, for He has adopted you to be His own in Holy Baptism and He feeds you at His table of the most holy food that is the body and blood of His Son.
The God in whom we believe is not a God that awaits to exact judgment upon you. He is not a God of terror to His beloved. As the Baptized adopted children of God, who are built up in the most holy faith by Word and Sacrament, who have learned to call upon their heavenly faith day by day, you have no reason to dread the day of judgment for you have already been judged. That day will be a day of homecoming, a day of joyous welcome into the realms of heaven. It will be a day of embraces and kisses for you who stand in this most holy Faith.
You see, you have witnessed God’s judgment today. It was declared at the beginning of the service when Adeline and Caleb were baptized and God’s name was applied upon them. God’s judgment against sin was exacted upon Jesus in His death and God’s judgment of righteousness was bestowed upon them as it was all of you when He adopted you and you became His beloved. You belong to Him by His choice and by His election. Hold fast to this faith and the day when Jesus returns will be a day when your every sorrow and tear will be forgotten.
Jude then encourages us to be merciful even as our heavenly Father is merciful. Forgive those who sin against you and pray for them. Continue to bring your children to the font and teach them the Faith that also makes them holy. Plant those seeds for it is by the Word that the Spirit works faith and snatches sinners out of the fire.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.