The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
“Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Well… based on what we hear in today’s Epistle lesson, it seems that St. Paul would certainly agree. “These things happened to them [the Old Testament Israelites] as an example, written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” We know from our history that Old Testament Israel did a lot of stupid and unfaithful things, and they suffered the consequences for their wicked and adulterous and idolatrous ways, time and time and time again. It’s like they never learned from their own history; the very definition of insanity; i.e., doing the same thing again and again and yet expecting a different result. St. Paul, in speaking to the fair-weather Christians in Corinth, directs them to their theological history. “You’re doing the same thing those fools did. They were adulterous and idolatrous. They put God to the test. They grumbled and complained and mocked God, and they suffered the consequences. Learn from your history! That’s why God wrote all this stuff down for you; so you’re not doomed to repeat it!” And with that, we look around at all that’s going on in our world, and we shake our heads in utter disbelief. We still haven’t learned from our history. It’s insane. We’re still doing the same dumb and wicked things our forefathers have done, and we’re still shocked when God permits us to suffer minor consequences for our wicked, murderous, and idolatrous ways.
But this is where I want to flip things around a bit. What about the history we should learn and repeat? Not all repetition of history involves doom and destruction. Not all repetition of history is a bad thing; i.e., something to be avoided. There are lots of good and faithful examples for us to emulate as we make our way through this vale of tears. Think about this in light of all the temptations and struggles and pains and sorrows that daily assail us. Are these struggles unique or new to mankind? We like to use the word “unprecedented” when speaking of these current events, but it’s simply not true. It may be all new to us, but there’s nothing unique/new about what we’re experiencing. It’s not like NO ONE else in all of history has ever struggled with wars and rumors of wars, and plagues, and fear and economic uncertainty. It’s not like no one else in all of history has ever had to deal with a sick/dying loved one or job loss or low checkbook balance or a coup full of bills.
Folks: Read the Scriptures! These things are all written down for a reason…for us and for our salvation! You’re not the only one to ever have a bad day…or even a bad life! I think Job would have something to say about that, right? You’re not the only one to ever suffer or struggle or worry or grieve. There is NOTHING new under the sun, and no temptation/struggle/strife has overtaken you that is not common to all man.
I want you to think about that for a moment. St. Paul isn’t just saying here that these trials, tribulations, and temptations that the Corinthians are having to endure are common to everyone ever borne of Adam. “Oh that? Everyone goes through that. That’s just part of life. Suck it, buttercup!” That’s NOT what Paul is saying here. What he does say is that these temptations and spiritual struggles are common to every man. Folks: That includes Christ Jesus. As the writer to the Hebrews states so beautifully, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to His throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Look to this cross. Look to this Gospel promise in the flesh. Talk about some wonderful examples to emulate. Learn from your history! This is what the faithful have done ever since the fall into sin. They looked to, fled to, and held fast to God’s Word and Promise; that Promise that would become flesh; the Promise that became flesh and died and rose again for the salvation of all children of Adam. Look to this cross. Look to Christ! Look at what your God and Lord has already done…for you. Here is the One who gave up all of heaven’s majesty in order to take on flesh for you. Here is the One who suffered and went through and did all that you cannot do. He can certainly understand suffering! Here is the One who was tempted, again and again and again…just like you, and yet He remained faithful…perfectly faithful. He trusted in His God and Father with a perfect trust above all things. He trusted that His Father knew what was best, and was working all things for the good of those who love Him. I confess that I don’t always believe this to be true, especially when I’m the one struggling and suffering.
Did Jesus not struggle throughout all this [the crucifix]? Was He not afraid? He knew what was coming. He knew the cup of wrath He had to drink. Of course He was afraid! Of course He struggled! He struggled so much that He sweat drops of blood! “Father, if there is any other way, take this cup of suffering from Me. But…not My will be done, but Thy will be done.” And it was. Jesus trusted. In spite of His fear, He held fast in faith to His Father. He went to that cross, not fighting and kicking and screaming, not even arguing or second-guessing. He didn’t flee from the cross. He didn’t flee from or turn away from the redemptive mission He was sent to fulfill. Not once. Not ever. From conception to Calvary, it was a long, purposeful, faithful march to do His Father’s righteous and holy will; to do that which we cannot do, no matter how hard we try or how good we think we are. It is finished, once and for all!
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ; all of you who have been baptized and adopted into His heavenly household; who bear His life-giving, life-saving Name upon your head and your heart: I know life is tough. We live in a very fallen, fractured, and sinful world, and there’s nothing unprecedented about it. It’s been this way since that first terrible day in the Garden, and it only seems to be getting worse every day that goes by. Things are bad everywhere. What are we to do?
Well… what have the faithful always done? What can we learn from our own history? Folks: The answer is staring you in the face. The answer—God’s eternal and unchanging answer—is being held out to you, without fail, without conditions, and without end. This is what the faithful have always understood and fled to and held fast to. Bubonic Plague? The churches were filled as people fled to be in Christ’s holy house, fed and nourished by His own holy hand. Revolutionary War? Civil War? Potato Famine? Great Depression? Measles, Spanish Flu? Multiple World Wars? Even September 12th… if you can remember back that long ago. When tumult and tribulation rear their ugly heads; when Christians are made to feel fear and terror, the churches have always been filled with the faithful fleeing to God. Look around. So many seem to be running the other way, don’t they? If only we’d learn from our history… and repeat the blessed lessons handed down to us from those who’ve been there and done that far worse than we’ve ever known.
Learn from your history. Like all those faithful who’ve come before you, look to and hold fast to the Rock and Anchor of your salvation. Hold fast to your Lord and His faithfulness, even and especially in the midst of your storm-tossed fears and sorrows. Your gracious God and Lord is ALWAYS faithful. He is with us ALWAYS, even to the end of the age, right where He promises to be; right where He tells you to seek Him. History shows us this, again and again and again. “As often as you do this, remember what I have said….” He keeps His promise. He keeps His Word. Trust in Him and His power and ability to save you. Trust in what He has already done and continues to do.
He has already declared, “It is finished,” and so it is, once and for all. He has already declared you forgiven, and so you are. He has declared you to be His child and heir, and so you are. Nothing and no one can EVER take this away from you. This Gospel Truth is NEVER out of reach. It’s NEVER rendered impotent or null and void. It’s NEVER beyond your ability to call upon and hold fast to. This is so important to understand! God never promises to not give you anything you can’t handle. That’s what we want to hear, but that’s not what God says. He says very clearly that He won’t let us be tempted beyond our ability. There is a HUGE difference. There is no struggle so great that it will cause His cruciform Baptismal promise to be rendered impotent or invalid. There is nothing so great and terrible that will ever be able to separate us from the love that God has for us in/because of Christ Jesus; neither height nor depth nor powers nor principalities nor viruses nor germs nor idiots in the streets nor elections nor struggling economies. NOTHING! Nothing is so great and terrible that it can prohibit us from calling upon and fleeing to the Lord for our hope, our deliverance, our comfort and assurance. There is NOTHING that will ever be so bad that it will cause you to lose your salvation. Folks: The devil can’t steal your salvation from you. If he could, he would. You may choose to give it up. You may let go, raise the white flag and turn and flee (which is what we’re seeing a lot of today). You may choose to stop believing, but your unbelief, your fear, your doubt, your anger… none of it makes this cruciform/baptismal fact any less true. It just reveals your sinful pride and foolishness.
My fellow redeemed: No matter how bad things get (or appear to be, because they never really are as bad as we think they are), your God and Lord keeps His promise. He is with you ALWAYS, even to the end of the age. Your God and Lord WILL ALWAYS love you, forgive you, and receive you as His own. He WILL ALWAYS be right here, just as He is right now, holding out to you His promise of redemption and peace; the promise that is the crucified, resurrected, and victorious Christ.
May you ever and always hold fast to this blessed Truth, for this blessed Truth WILL ever and always give you the peace of Jesus Christ; the peace that the world does not know and cannot take away; the peace that surpasses all understanding and abides into all eternity.
In Christ’s name…AMEN.
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