As I began preparations for next weekend, I came across this sermon from a few years back and decided to share it with you:
The Signs of the Times
12th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 15C)
August 15, 2010
Cedar Crest Lutheran Church, White Lake, MI
The signs of the times. We are all to familiar with them, and over time we become quite adept at recognizing them, even if we don’t realize that we are doing it. All throughout our calendar, every season, every holiday, every milestone is marked by the signs of the times.
As the leaves begin to change, as the days get a little bit brisker, a little bit shorter, we recognize the arrival of fall, and we act accordingly. At my house, we get geared up for football season, we get excited about Halloween and trick-or-treating, we go to the cider mill and pick apples, eat some warm, freshly baked donuts (sprinkled in cinnamon, of course), make some hot apple cider at home. These are the signs that fall is here, and the signs that winter is just around the corner.
Of course, winter has some signs of its own. At first, the signs of winter are exciting and invigorating. The lights come out of the attic and once again decorate yards and houses everywhere, people rearrange their living rooms so that they can fit in the Christmas tree, the stores are open later, the holiday music plays over the speakers, the cold air is almost refreshing as we count the days till Christmas.
It’s too bad that winter doesn’t end with Christmas. Because the signs of winter hang around long after the holly and jolly has worn off. There is the muck and slush at the side of the road, the salt residue that sticks to your car and your shoes, the six weeks of overcast skies and gloomy weather, the long hours of darkness where you drive to work in the dark, drive home in the dark, and go days at a time without ever seeing the daylight. All part of winter. All signs of the times. We see them, and act accordingly.
We see the signs and recognize what they mean. When the sky gets dark and the temperature drops, we move the party inside to avoid the rain. Last week at my parent’s house, we experienced this exact thing, except we didn’t listen to the signs.
We saw the clouds rolling in; we felt the temperature drop, we even felt the first few drops of rain, but we decided that we would not move inside. The rain fell harder, still we stayed outside. The wind picked up a bit, still we stayed outside. All the signs pointed us into the safety of the house, yet we ignored the signs and remained outside, right up to the point where a particularly strong gust of wind swooped in, picked up the umbrella from it’s base in my parents’ patio table and sent it into the air like a bottle rocket. As the umbrella was headed toward orbit, it got caught on the table and twisted in the wind. The torque of the umbrella against the glass table top of the patio table was too much for the glass to handle, so it shattered like it had been hit with a bullet.
The kids went scurrying toward the inside, some of them crying, the adults tried to grab the kids before they ran through the shattered glass, my brother-in-law and I grabbed onto the little pop-up tents that we had been sitting under for cover so that they didn’t follow the patio umbrella into the stratosphere. It was a disaster . . . all because we ignored the signs. We ignored the dark clouds. We ignored the signs, and paid the price for it.
The signs of the times. These are exactly what Jesus is talking about in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. He talks about it more clearly in Matthew, but his words read for us today have the same basic theme: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Jesus expects us to be able to read the signs, and so he has laid out those signs for us in detail. In Matthew 24 he says, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” Earthquakes? Check. Wars? Check. Rumors of Wars? Check. Famine? Check. All these signs lead to one conclusion: The end times are now.
All too often we hear people speak of the end times as if they are a distant reality, something that will begin at some future date. But that is not that way that Jesus speaks of the end times. “Look at the signs,” Jesus says, “and learn to read them! The end times are now!” We live in the end times. The end times began when Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, and they will continue until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
And what a tremendous sense of urgency this should give us. We don’t often think of it in this way, but the simple reality is that Jesus might come back before we finish this church service; he might come back before I finish this sermon; he might come back right now . . . well, I guess not, but you get the picture. The very literal reality is that we don’t know if Jesus is coming back in ten thousand years or before we take our next breath. But what we do know is that when he does come back, he definitely means business.
“I came to cast fire on earth,” Jesus says, and so he did. He came to bring division, division that always follows the introduction of truth. Think about it like a football season. There are 32 NFL teams and all of them have fans. At the end of this season, only one group of people will be fans of the Super Bowl Champions. 31 other teams will be on the outside looking in. There will be a division between them. Families will be split. Bets will be made. Trash will be talked. But at the end of the day, one person is right and another wrong. There is only one champion.
And there is only one Jesus. You are either for him or against him. Division. Separation. There is no half way with Jesus. He is coming back at any moment, and when he does the fire will be cast, the division will be clear, and those who believe and are baptized will be saved, while those who do not believe will be condemned. The time is coming. Look at the signs. The end times are here.
But the promise of Christ’s return is for Christians just that: a promise, not a threat. All the talk of judgment and fire and hell, it’s all true, but when it boils right down to it, that’s not for you. When Jesus comes back, he is coming to take you to be with him in paradise. He is coming to take you to the throne of his father. And in these last days, we must never lose sight of that.
Rather, we follow the example of such a great cloud of witnesses who went before us. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, among, others are all listed by the writer of Hebrews as shining examples of the effect that the eyes of faith have on the way you view life in this world, and how to act accordingly. The pages of the Old and New Testaments are filled with many more examples, Joshua and Elijah, Paul and John. All these examples have one thing in common – they kept their eyes focused on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The last times are now, and Jesus is coming again. But in your baptism he has already claimed you as his own. We have nothing to fear when we think about the end of the world. Rather, when we read the signs and see that Jesus is coming soon, we rejoice in the fact that his arrival here means our arrival in Heaven.
We don’t live our lives as if we have all the time in the world. We don’t live in sin and just plan on repenting and cleaning up our act some time later. Instead, we live seeing the signs of the times, recognizing that the second coming of Christ could happen at any time. And recognizing that reality, we fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
In his name. Amen.