Topic: Biblical Verse: Hebrews 9:24–9:28, 1 Kings 17:8–17:16
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost [i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Hebrews 9:24-28; 1 Kings 17:8-16; Mark 12:38-44
Are all your best days behind you?
This weekend, people around the world are reflecting on the past. One hundred years ago today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year at 11:00 a.m. local time, the armistice was signed that marked the end of World War I. After years of death and destruction, the future took on a brighter shine. But from our perspective 100 years on, we know that the future didn’t remain bright. Time and again, death and destruction returned. Is life ever really going to get better? Are the best days in the past?
In two of our readings from Scripture today, we heard of widows who didn’t have much reason for hope. The widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 didn’t have any hope at all. She was making ready to prepare a final meal for herself and her son with the very last of their supplies. The drought that God had sent against Israel had dried out the region of Sidon, too. The best days seemed to be in the past. And even if the drought hadn’t come, in the ancient near east a widow with a young son like this one didn’t have much to hope for in life: they were largely on their own. So was that widow who Jesus pointed out to his disciples in the temple. Everything she had to live on – a tiny fraction of a laborer’s wages for one day – it was all gone. Death had come for them before, stealing away their husbands; death would come again for them. What hope could they have for the future?
The people of one of our LCMS sister congregations have been struck by loss in these past days: Our Savior Lutheran Church in Paradise, CA was directly in the path of the fast-moving “Camp Fire” in northern California. This past Thursday, both the church and the parsonage were consumed by the flames. Even so, they know it could have been worse. As of Saturday, nine people have been confirmed killed in this wildfire. Death and destruction, again.
Imagine losing everything that you might take for granted in life: your job, your home, your spouse, your child. Any one of these losses can leave you staggered. You might already have experienced some of these yourself and been left wondering if the best days are in the past. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to lose everything and have nothing, though. Generally speaking, we like to take care of things ourselves. We get stuff done. That’s kind of the expectation in our society, especially in this part of the country. But what if you couldn’t? If you were to find yourself in the position of one of those widows from today’s readings, with no ability to provide for yourself or your family, what could you do? What hope could you have for the future? Would your best days lay behind you in the past?
We’re now in the closing weeks of the church year. While we as Christians remember the past and what God had done for us, we’re also called to look ahead. Jesus has promised that he will return – but how is that something to which we can look forward if we aren’t perfect people? If our present isn’t that great, and we’re clinging to the “better” past, how can we have hope for the future where God closes the curtain on the world as we know it?
I don’t know if you noticed it, but today we got to hear some of the most beautiful language in all the Bible. In this weekend’s reading from the book of Hebrews, we heard how Jesus gave himself to his Father as the ultimate offering. Every other offering in the life of God’s people – all those sacrifices at the Tabernacle or the Temple in Jerusalem – they were all pointing ahead to Jesus. He offered himself up for you and for me to provide purification. Through the offering of his perfect life, Jesus wiped out the debt of your sin and my sin before his Father; he took care of what we couldn’t. He defeated the enemy who wants to see you dead and destroyed and hopeless. Christ is the one that God the Father chose to be the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I could have life with him. Jesus did it: once, for all, putting away sin forever. Through Jesus, you have a future.
As Christians in an affluent society that values independence, let us instead consider the true nature of our situation: our hope is in Christ, not ourselves. When death and destruction and loss come our way – for they do – let us look to the cross. Jesus, who is the ultimate offering, has won the future for us. You have life now, life that God has given you to share with your neighbor. Jesus is the one who brings us into heavenly community here on earth, joining the now with the “not yet.” The son of God who took humanity, who lived for you, who died for you, who rose for you, and who ascended into heaven is now appearing before you in his Supper to bring you before the Father. When you come to the Lord’s Table, you can do so with confident hope that now matter how dark and desperate the days may seem, Christ has won the victory for you.
Jesus is the ultimate offering – and because of that, he’s the ultimate hope. The Bible teaches us what God has done in the past to bring deliverance for His people. It points us to Jesus as the focus of human history, where God did what we could not and gave us the rescue that we ultimately need. And it points us ahead. With the recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews, you, too, can look ahead to Jesus’ reappearance. He is coming to release us from the grip of death forever. You can look ahead to life where we should only be expecting death. Even though death and destruction and loss will continue to come in this present age, they cannot take away the victory that Christ has won for you. Are all your best days behind you? Look to Jesus and see God’s promise: the best is yet to come!
[i] This week’s memory passage:
But as it is, [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. – Hebrews 9:26b (ESV)