23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Day of the Lord, Judgment Day, The Last Day. All three scripture readings this morning speak about this day. In Amos, a picture of woe and darkness is presented. In Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, a trumpet blows and the Lord himself calls out with the voice of an archangel to wake all the dead. Finally, in St. Matthew’s gospel, Christ relates a parable to his disciples warning them all to be ready for his return.
Three passages given in three different times of history speak to different attitudes or conceptions of the people. The first, from Amos, speaks of a people of God who saw Him as a benefactor who would provide food in time of hunger, water in time of thirst, power and strength in time of trouble. This was a God who wiped out the enemies of His people with His mighty hand. He was their God, but they treated him more like a trained attack dog.
They saw the mighty Yahweh as the enforcer and avenger, ready to smite any opposition to the people of Israel. They were the sons of Abraham, the chosen people, and they prayed and hoped for the day when God would come down from heaven and destroy all enemies.
God speaks to His people through the prophet Amos. He says, ‘Woe to anyone who wants me to make my presence known upon the earth! You think it will be a good thing for you but you are also under my judgment.’
Growing up, my brother and I fought constantly. We fought about who would get to use the bathroom first. We fought over toys. He was bigger and older so he won every fight. When we visited our cousins, it was as if I now had two or three big brothers pushing me out of the way or playing mean tricks on me.
This fighting amongst ourselves never pleased our parents but it never really occurred to us to stop fighting and it seemed we were being scolded more and more. My brother knew not to really hurt me because that would bring the wrath of our father down upon him. But, every once in a while, he would get in a good hit.
My brother and I had our rooms in the basement of the house. During an aggressive pillow fight, I was hit hard enough to cry out in pain so loudly that it was heard upstairs where my father sat in the living room reading the paper.
The footfalls from above could be heard as our father got up from his chair and came down the stairs. Now my father believed in raising his children according to the Old Testament which meant he did not spare the rod and spoil the child.
His common form of corporal punishment was the application of his belt to our backsides. This was the punishment my brother received that day.
As my brother howled at the whip of the belt, I thought, ‘Yeah! Smite him mightily!’ I must have been smiling watching my father avenge me, or I said what I was thinking out loud, because my father turned pointing a condemning finger at me and said, ‘And you! You’re no angel either!’
I tell you the truth. Neither my brother nor I ever hoped to see our father come down and mete out justice again. It was scary. It was not a good thing. We should not have angered our father by fighting each other. He did not want discord in his house; he wanted peace in his family.
The Israelites were not truly worshiping God with sincerity or fealty. The Israelites were to realize that their whole preconception about their relation to Yahweh was incorrect. They were going through the motions of sacrifices and repentance only to use God as a weapon against their enemies. God had had enough. He promised to, ‘…let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ [Amos 5:24]
Moving forward 750 years or so, the Apostle Matthew gives witness to Jesus Christ – could his incarnation be considered a day of the Lord, a foretaste of what is to come? Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary, became man. He is Emanuel; he is God among his people. He came down from above to smite our greatest enemies; sin, death and Satan.
We have been bullied and beaten by the Devil, by our brothers and sisters, and by our neighbors. We have been pummeled and beaten by our own sin. We abuse our bodies, souls and minds with all that is evil. Like the Israelites of old, we worship false idols and only pretend to worship the One, True God.
We justify our sin by saying everybody else is doing it. We cover up our iniquity by rationalizing our actions as the norms of our society. We are constantly inundated by murder and immorality yet we do nothing to stop it; we may even participate and encourage the sin for others.
As I teach the young men and women in catechism class, I feel somewhat sad that I must tell them about the evils of the world. I have to tell them that people will persecute us for what we believe. People will try to convince them that to go against God and His Law is okay. They will say it is okay to murder people as long as they are still in their mother’s womb or if they are very old.
People will try to convince them that having sex before marriage or living together as man and wife without being married is okay. People will try to persuade them into harming themselves with drugs and tell them it’s an acceptable practice. We are getting beat up by the lies and deceit of Satan and his minions.
Jesus comes to us in our sin to strike a blow against death and the Devil. He does this through his own death on the cross. Yet he dies not in weakness but in strength, for he is God. He defeats our great Adversary and rises victorious over death forever.
We lie here in our sin, feeling the pain and suffering of our own actions and we say, ‘Yeah God! Smite him mightily! Kill that mean old devil and let us live in peace in Your house.’ And Jesus says to us, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ [Matthew 25:12]
Why would Jesus say such a thing to us? We are his children. He provides for us and all our daily needs. We go to church every Sunday. We worship Him and Him alone. Jesus loves everyone, why does he deny us?
The answer is, because we have been foolish. We have pretended to be followers of Christ while we continue to sin in thought word and deed. We repent on Sunday and go back to our evil ways throughout the week. My earthly father was right, I’m no angel. I murder my brother with my hate. I covet my neighbor’s possessions. Name a commandment and I have broken it. I may not have the corner on the market for sin, but I’m pretty good at it.
You are no angels either. In fact, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, we must all stop our foolishness and prepare for the Day of Our Lord. Do not fall asleep in your sin and be unprepared for Christ’s arrival.
How do we prepare? We do as we have been commanded. We do not put anything before God. We worship Him alone. We love our neighbors instead of hating them. We repent of our sins before God and to each other so that we can forgive and be forgiven. We take the revealed Word of God seriously. We read it, we contemplate its meaning, and then we put it into practice. This is a daily and continuous practice. This is how we prepare. This is how we keep our lamps full of fuel and our lights shining in the darkness.
We help others through the love of Christ by telling them the good news of his salvation. We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing waters of eternal life to those who thirst for righteousness. We renew our hearts and minds with the body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine at our Lord’s table.
We do all of these things in faith and truth. For in these sacraments instituted by Christ himself, we come into a right relationship with the body of Christ, because no one knows the father except through the Son. [Matthew 11:27]
I used to hope to see the Day of our Lord. I would pray for Christ’s return in all his glory while I am alive so that I could witness his power and might when he would pass judgment on all people. After reading Amos and other prophecies of the days of great tribulation, I’m thinking maybe that is not such a good idea. In order to for the Lord to come, the entire world must fall apart. I don’t think I could handle the entire world being broken.
No, I don’t mind falling asleep in Christ. In him, we have a hope others do not have. For believers in Christ, death is not the end of life, but the beginning of true life. This is a comfort to us and a promise by God. Whether alive or dead, when we are in the body of Christ, we are always with him.
Because of this, The Day of the Lord is not to be feared. We need not worry about the darkness of our sin because the light of Christ now lives in you. We need not fear death because it has already been overcome by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He is the firstborn among the dead and we are resurrected in his death through our baptism.
On that Last Day –
…Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.Therefore encourage one another with these words. [1 Thessalonians 4:16-18]
 Douglas Stuart, Hosea–Jonah, vol. 31, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 354.