The Church is not in despair

1 Peter 2:11-17.
John 16:16-22.


Last Monday being Tax Day, no doubt, you felt relief. Relief because you had already filed your tax return, because you mailed it off that day, or because you requested an extension for time to file. On the other hand, if you owed taxes with your return, perhaps you weren’t feeling relief so much as exasperation.

April 15th, or thereabouts, is the day we’ve learned to dread every year. We either dread it because our bookkeeping is behind and we know it will be a monumental task to get it all together; or we dread it because we’re afraid to see the last number on the return: will it be positive or negative?

We all know that this settling of accounts is coming around each year. The wise consider how their actions throughout the year will affect their tax liability. The foolish live in the moment, oblivious to how what they do now will impact their future.

My work in accounting has shown me that the field is aptly named. Sometimes, there is a daily accounting of the financial situation; at other times, there is a monthly or quarterly accounting, and there is always the annual accounting that follows the close of the fiscal year. In working with a lot of small businesses, I’ve learned that one of the principle reasons businesses fail is a lack of accounting. That is, the business fails because the owner goes along thinking all is well when he really has no clue; he hasn’t examined the books well enough to know whether he’s actually turning a profit. This man is often found driving a Mercedes while living with his wife and children in his mother’s basement.

How shall we live?

In the reading from St. Peter’s epistle appointed for today, we see the apostle admonishing the followers of Christ. He describes how Christians should walk uprightly, bringing honor to the Lord. He exhorts believers to embrace the disciplines of the Christian faith. He does so by expounding the virtues of the Christian life, the demands of the Christian life, the necessary behavior of the man committed to the cause of Christ.

We must abandon the works of evil. Those who are committed to the cause of Christ must forsake all that is of this world, all that is fleeting and ephemeral, all that is selfish and self-righteous, all this is opposed to the holiness of our Lord. Instead, we must embrace those things of Christ’s kingdom, that which is lasting and eternal, that which is selfless, and that which brings humility before the majesty of God.

We do this by following the apostle’s direction found in this passage. We do that by obeying the Lord’s commandments. Instead of walking as the ungodly, who are vain, ignorant, and blind–“who have no compassion because they have been dulled by greed and lust and immorality”–let us be like Christ. We have heard the truth from him through nature, the Scriptures, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Let us not join with those of reprobate character when they seek to fulfill the works of the flesh. Instead, let us forsake the corrupt conversations and lusts, and let us be made new in the likeness of God according to his righteousness.

Having so received the Lord’s forgiveness, how do we uphold his commandments in the world? St. Peter tells us: be honest; obey the civil magistrate; honor everyone; show love to fellow believers; fear God; and honor the king. The reprobate has become callous to the things of God, but the Christian remains sensitive to the Lord’s will. The Christian, being driven by the Spirit, will be motivated to good deeds by the desire to honor the Lord. The man who recognizes God’s holiness will be desirous of good works because he wants to please the heavenly Father.

Soon comes an accounting. Soon comes the reckoning. After the short balance of our lives is done, we see judgement.

I think of the Babylonians, partying, oblivious to the consequences of their behavior before God. Though not invited, the Lord broke in on the party and wrote, with his hand, a message upon the wall. The idolater Belshazzar was called to give an account of his life. He was weighed in the balance and found wanting. That night, he was killed.

Unlike Tax Day, which comes at a fixed time each year, we are sometimes called to account at odd times. Whether our reckonings in this life occur with regularity or infrequency, we shall all be weighed in the balance. The evil man, the man who brings a reproach to his Creator, will be found wanting. But let us, as followers of Christ, be found worthy of our calling. Let us be found honoring his name.

We are not able to do so except by submission to his will and his Spirit. Our animation in good deeds comes from him. He has saved us by his grace and called us to good works, all for his glory.

Headlines and Hope

These are all top news headlines from the past few days. I thought of reading excerpts from a few of the articles, but the headlines are sufficiently descriptive of the content.

This is a vastly evil world in which we live. Man’s sin has touched all the world. Those who put their trust in things of the world are filled with anxiety. Sometimes, the attitude of others can be infectious. If we soak up the dread of others, we too may become filled with feelings of hopelessness.

Jesus knew that’s how his disciples would feel after he died. Thus he spoke those words we heard today from St. John’s Gospel. He told them that he’d soon go away, but that they would see him again. They didn’t understand his words. It must have been a bit like picking up a book in a foreign language for the first time: none of it makes sense. “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me.” Is this a riddle of some sort?

Christ’s death left his disciples in despair. They all forsook him at his trial and crucifixion. They denied they even knew him. The One on whom all their hopes depended had been killed. He, knowing all things, knew that they would do this, and he warned them about it. But he also knew that they would come back to him, that, in the end, they would be faithful. In the moment of his death, they were overwhelmed with anxiety. In the moment of his resurrection, they were overwhelmed with his glory.

Reading the headlines, we may feel a bit like the disciples when Jesus died. We are troubled by the things going on around the world, the things going on in Washington and Austin, the things going on in our neighborhoods. And we are often troubled by the things going on in our own homes. There is much to be concerned about, understandably. We are to discern the times and assess how we should live.

Some have given up hope. They have determined that evil shall triumph in this world, that the future is certainly filled with the extermination of mankind, with endless calamity, with pain and misery that only ceases upon the death of all. They despair of this world. They have resigned themselves to simply biding their time here, treading water until the earth is destroyed.

We are “strangers and pilgrims”, as Peter calls us. We are temporary visitors to this time and place. Yes, we eagerly await the Second Coming of Christ in glory and the consummation of all things. That yet more glorious day shall come.

In the meantime, however, we are not men of misery. We are not proceeding to the scaffold. We do not lurch about as men having no hope. Even in the face of boundless uncertainty in the world today, we do not despair. We know the promise of the Lord and we know the ends of his mercy. We are not to sit idly on the platform, tickets in hand, waiting for appearance of the train that will take us to heavenly places.

The work God has given us is to be done here. And we shall not please him if we are not engaged in his work. We may weep and lament while the world rejoices, but our sorrow shall be turned into joy.

It is this message that we hear constantly from the Scriptures. Certainly we should be sober-minded, filled with an understanding of the world’s sinfulness and our own. But we do not despair. We are not filled with dismay at the misery of the world, at the injustice of the world, at the pain and agony inflicted by evil men.

Do not look for a way out: our Lord has placed you here. He has placed you here to reflect his glory, even amidst the cesspool of wickedness of those around you. He has placed you here as a beacon to wayward ships, tossed about on the seas of skepticism, immorality, abuse, and faithlessness. He has placed you here as a witness of his gospel–that all men might return to their created purpose, that they might worship, that they should not fear his judgement.

This was the promise of Christ to his disciples before his crucifixion, and it is the promise to all who follow him. He has not left us comfortless. We are not without hope. We are not defeated. The church is not in despair.

Living Faithfully

As Christians, we are not yet perfect. We must maintain humility before the Lord and continually plead for his forgiveness. We must daily repent of our wrongs, and we must daily seek to do and to promote the will of God.

Let us remember that, one day, we shall all stand before the Lord in judgement. On that day, he shall require an account of all we have done. Will we be found faithful to his cause or will we be found as practitioners and enablers of unrighteousness? We must care for the things of God and care not for the spite or the ridicule of the world or our own flesh. If, in this finite and temporary world, we stand without compromise, we shall find comfort in the eternal things of God. It is only by being faithful to our Lord that we shall find true satisfaction.

“A little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.” We shall go to the Father also, and there shall we see him. For a while, in the church militant, we resist the world, the flesh, and the devil; in a little while, we shall join the church triumphant, having our robes washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

When the pain of delivery is over, a woman with child rejoices. She no longer remembers that pain, but she is delighted to hold the baby to her breast. So, too, shall our joy be in due season if we faint not. We endure here for a season; let us do so with diligence in the Lord’s work. We shall not please him in the glorious day of his appearing if we do not please him now.

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