Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning is taken from the Gospel just read, as well as the epistle text from 1 Peter.
Peter in his epistle gives us the right perspective when it comes to the times we live in on this side of the Ascension. “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV), he says. Now this shouldn’t evoke some picture of a guy carrying a sign around with THE END IS NEAR on it. We did get a bit of that with the whole Harold Camping thing a few weeks ago. The end is near, but not in the way that he thought. We often miss the simple reality that Jesus has ascended into heaven, and that He promises to return in the same way that He went up.
So what does Jesus’ ascension really mean for us as God’s people? More often than not we act like teenagers when they’re parents are out of town for the weekend. We know He’s coming back, we think we know when, and so we act as if there are no rules, no boundaries, and nothing is off limits for the next 48 hours. Throw a party, watch TV until 5 in the morning even if you have to work, whatever it is that gets you going. There is a great temptation when the authority in your life is hidden or not so obvious to just let it all go.
Now I suppose the opposite extreme is also possible. I remember once seeing the bumper sticker: “Jesus is coming back: everyone look busy.” There is be a very real sense that we think we are supposed to just be busy. As long as I’m busy, as long as I can scurry around like a little mouse, then that must mean I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Right?
But Peter has much more specific plans and requests for us. Let’s hear some more of the context to his words:
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:7–9 ESV)
What Peter holds up for us is that because Christ is returning soon, we should love one another earnestly, and show hospitality to one another without complaining. What’s the connection? What’s the relationship between Jesus’ return, love and hospitality?
The relationship is this. God has given you a new heart and Spirit in the waters of Baptism (Ezekiel 36:26). He has put His Spirit upon you. You are God’s people, and He is your God. This means that God’s character becomes your character by faith. And God’s character is that of love. God is love, as St. John reminds us.
Love means self-giving. Love means sacrifice. Love means speaking well of the other. Love means being welcoming and helpful. I don’t mean this in a get busy sense, or in the sense of everything is a divine ice breaker or potluck, where it means being pushy or sort of excessively happy. Ugh. No, this is how Dr. Luther explained it:
When a Christian begins to know Christ as His Lord and Savior, his heart is aglow with a flaming love of God and he desires gladly to help everyone to the same experience. For you know that Christ has redeemed you from death and brought into His kingdom and inheritance. And so you have no greater joy than to possess this treasure and trust Christ. Therefore, a Christian goes out and encourages other people, praising and testifying (in word or deed) to all, praying and yearning that they too enjoy God’s grace. (Blessed Martin Luther)
Now I don’t know about you, but when I read that, I’m thinking, “yeah that’s all fine and good, but he isn’t talking about me.” He is talking about you, dearly baptized. But this does not happen from your own work and doing. Jesus says in our Gospel for today:
““But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26–27 ESV)
What does this mean for you and I as the baptized children of God? What it means is this. The Holy Spirit is called the Helper. This can also be translated Comforter or Counselor. But helper really is quite good.
This is God’s job. By the power of the Holy Spirit, His job is to remake you in His image. His job is to create you over and over again. It has been said that the Christian faith is one of new beginnings, and this is true. The more you fail, the more you mess up, the more you refuse to show love to your neighbor and hospitality to those in need, the greater your need for a Savior becomes.
A fellow pastor friend of mine once described it this way. The only tools we really have in the church are the towel and the meal. God forgives us in the meal, and He serves us in our daily needs with the towel. There is some wisdom to that, and the simplicity of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is hard to deny.
So we wait for Jesus’ return just as He went up into heaven and was hidden from our sight. We wait, we gather for the Meal, and we serve one another in love as Christ has served us. Don’t be afraid of the end of the world, and don’t fear the unknown which is coming. Christ has ascended into heaven, but that doesn’t mean He’s gone. Christ’s ascension into heaven means that now He feeds you with His Word and Spirit. Christ’s ascension means that now we can see and understand that God is at work all around us, serving us and caring for us with all of these people whom He has put in our lives. “The end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter 4:7 ESV) as Peter said. So come, live in the grace and peace which only He can give.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.