If you couldn’t make it to church, here’s the sermon for today. If you could make it, and want to review it, GREAT! If you could make it, but didn’t go – read it anyway. Next week, see you there.
Jesus weeps over the city. This past week marks the 1950th anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem. August 10, 70 AD. The Romans took the city, the temple was be destroyed, so that not one stone remained on another, and it has not been rebuilt to this very day. Today, an idolatrous shrine to Allah stands on the site. God is not mocked. The people did not know the time of their visitation – Jesus the Son of God came into the world, he was dwelling among them, and they tried to destroy him by nailing him to a cross.
Back when Jesus spoke his words of prophecy and warning, they would have seemed absurd. The temple was 150 feet of gleaming carved rock. You could see it for miles. It was an engineering marvel. Israel – for all their complaining about Rome, was really doing quite well. The general peace over the land meant that travel was easy, tourist dollars were flowing in, God had preserved them 200 years earlier from an attempt to exterminate the Jews. The Maccabees miraculously were able to gain independence. Herod the great switched his allegiance from Greek to Roman and then from one Roman General to another at just the right moment so that no war was fought over Israel. They were blessed, protected from all evil. And they were the most religious they had ever been – the most zealous for the law in all their history. God must be pleased with them. He must have been impressed with their faithfulness. Certainly there was no danger of destruction.
Less than 40 years later, it all lay in ruins. They did not know the time of their visitation. Jesus came, and they rejected him. There are warning signs already in our Gospel – they were not as faithful as they thought. The temple was to be a house of prayer – they had turned the outer courts from prayer to sales. Money was flowing in. Times were good. Until Jesus comes along and flips tables, makes a whip from ropes and shoos the animals out. Prayer to God, not profits. What was really happening was hidden from them – God visiting his people. All they saw was a troublemaker – how to arrest him without angering the crowds so they could get back to all the important things they were doing. They were so caught up in their own works, their own righteousness that they couldn’t see what was really happening – Jesus had come to pay the penalty for sin. For them to acknowledge that, they would have to admit they were sinners. That wasn’t really possible – they were so prosperous. Things were going so well. How could they possibly be sinners?
That’s a question we might well ask – our nation is the wealthiest in all human history. We have medical technology that would be envied by previous generations. We can – so it seems – do anything. Independence Rock – to the west – used to mark the spot where you had to be by July 4th, to avoid dying in the mountains further west. You could go see it and be back home in a day. Make it to the sawtooths and back before the week is out. Even better – Fly half-way around the world in a day. Call a stranger in a foreign country. Look up live pictures of their city online
We had made death a problem only for the very old. Science could cure all manner of diseases. The Average lifespan doubled in a century. Certainly it would double again. We heard rumors of 150 years for the average lifespan. And then duddenly, our technology in which we trusted was taken from us. A single disease might wipe us all out – we didn’t know. Fear replaced arrogance.
Our amusements disappeared overnight. TV? No new shows. Sports? Still out of commission. Suddenly the things we distracted ourselves with were gone. Oh well, we could bounce back. After all, we are a nation of mighty cities. We have towers the top of which reach into the heavens. Certainly we are not going to be brought down by something so simple. We are practically invulnerable. And now our cities burn. Violent crime is through the roof, record numbers of murders in New York, Chicago, Minnesota, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver. On and on.
And still we wait – surely Science will not let us down. A vaccine is on the way. We hope. We hope it arrives, we hope it is effective, we hope it has no terrible side effects.
Our gods in which we trusted have been thrown down one after another. And yet, attendance at many churches is still far below normal. No one turns to the Lord in prayer and supplication. Instead our nation has doubled down on idolatry. Forbidding worship of the true God. Churches closed in many places. Where it isn’t attendance is not up. Church is unnecessary, sacrifice of the unborn and elderly are essential. Those who put their trust in princes have seen those princes powerless and ineffective.
And like the prophets of Baal, dancing around the altar, screaming and cutting themselves trying to get Baals attention, our nation goes from one idol to another, and there no answer, No response. Not even a word.
It used to be in times of trouble, we would have a day of Humiliation and prayer. We would humble ourselves before the Lord God, repent of our sin, and ask him to turn away from his anger. Even the wicked city of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes when Jonah brought the word of warning to them. We don’t do that. Rather, like the Pharaoh and the plagues, the heart of our nation is hardened. Is this moment the judgment – or is more to come? Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Is that the case for us? Does our nation worship the Lord God – Father Son and Holy Spirit and serve him only?
We can’t force someone to acknowledge the Lord God. We can pray for the people around us – this we must do – that they repent, return to the Lord, and that the Lord turn away from his fierce anger against us. That he not destroy the righteous with the wicked. Let our prayers continually ascend like incense before his throne.
A visitation from the Lord – that’s what Jesus is talking about. That visitation continues to this very day – through his Holy Church, where Jesus word is preached and His sacraments are given. Where his message of salvation is proclaimed and his absolution is declared to all those who repent of their sin.
The church can not be a little bit of Jesus-spice for our lives, like salt on our evening meal – as if we just sprinkle a little bit here and there to make our lives – which were already pretty good – into something amazing.
The truth is, we face death. We are dying. We need Jesus. He is the only one who can save. The people did not know the time of their visitation. But the sick, the lame, those oppressed by demons – they knew. They cried out with all their might Lord Have mercy. They would not be turned away from him. They are an example to us of faith and prayer. We need Jesus each and every day. We need forgiveness from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go back to sleep. As Saint Paul says – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.
We must be constant in prayer, faithful in study of the Word, not let our hearts turn cold to his promises, but always treasure them as the precious gift they are – our only way to salvation.
We dare not look at the church – the place where God has promised to come to us in his body and blood, and we say “Not today Jesus. I’ve had enough Jesus for now. Maybe later I’ll have some Jesus.” He promises to be hear to save us from our sins. To deliver us from hell. Let’s not shortchange him by turning away from the gifts he offers, as if we just don’t need them. Luther says if we understood what is really given here, we would run to it every day. Let’s not neglect the visitation of our Lord at his table, with his meal to feed us.
Now is the time of grace – the time when the Word of God is proclaimed, and all those who turn from their sin and repent and look to him for salvation are brought into the kingdom of His love and mercy. But the time of Grace will end. Our Lord will return to judge the quick and the dead as we confess in the creed. John the Baptist cried out with urgency “prepare the way of the Lord. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” So also today the church calls out repent. And that doesn’t mean just one-time turning away from sin. Luther explains Baptism this way – Baptizing with water indicates that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and again a new man daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Repentance is the every day activity of the Christian. Forgiveness is the everyday clothing we wear in Christ, according to our Baptism.
We constantly return to the Lord, and are fed by him at His altar.That is why he wants to feed us each week with his body and blood. So that we would be strengthened, so that we would not begin to despise his promise.
We repent of our sins. We receive the absolution. That’s why God gave his church to the world – so that we would have a place to go to receive his gift of forgiveness. And where there is forgiveness there is life and salvation. Because God does not want to destroy. He wants to save. He wants to forgive. That’s why, as we heard last week – there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. It’s why he warns against the things of this world – so we don’t get entangled in them. So, when our last our comes, we fall asleep in the blessed assurance of eternal life through Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, all those who die will live, and all those who live and believe in him will never die. That is the promise, it is our hope. That salvation is the gift Jesus gives to all who those who acknowledge the visitation of our Lord Jesus Christ into the world. Come Lord Jesus – return and bring us to be with you. Amen.