Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 20, 2016
“It’s a Jungle Out There”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is, once again, the First Lesson from Malachi chapter 3.
My dear friends,
Imagine yourself in the jungle…yes, a literal jungle lost and alone. Stuck in the middle of nowhere. This is not – NOT – your element of choice. If you’re at the Mall or Sam’s Club or Selby Gardens or even Wal-Mart you can hold your own. But an actual jungle? Not so much. Worse still, you aren’t equipped. No machete. No knife. No matches. No flares. No food. You aren’t equipped, but now you are trapped…and you haven’t a clue how to get out.
Sound like fun to you? Me neither. Given such circumstances, what emotions would surface? With what thoughts would you wrestle? Fear? Of course. Anxiety? Yeah. Anger? I could understand that. But most of all, what about hopelessness? No idea where to turn. Who could blame you for sitting on a log (better check for snakes first), burying your face in your hands, and thinking, “I’ll never get out of here.” You have no ideas, direction, no equipment, no hope. Can you imagine, just for a moment, how it feels to be out of hope? If you can, you can relate to many people in this world.
For many people, life is…well, life is a jungle. Not a jungle of trees and animals. Our jungles are comprised of the deep thickets of failing health, frustrated citizens, broken hearts, merciless addictions, crippling loneliness, and empty wallets. Our forests are framed with hospital walls and treatment facilities and divorce courts. We don’t hear the screeching of birds or the roaring of lions, but we do hear the shouts of protestors and the complaints of neighbors and the unrealistic demands of bosses. Our predators are our creditors, and the brush that surrounds us is the rush that exhausts us every Thanksgiving and Christmas season. It’s a jungle out there.
And for some, even for many, hope is in short supply. Hopelessness is an odd bag. Unlike pain (full) and worry (filled), the baggage of hopelessness isn’t full. It is empty, and its emptiness creates the burden. Unzip the top and examine all the pockets. Turn it upside down and shake it hard. The bag of hopelessness is painfully empty but cruelly heavy.
The people of Malachi’s day? They wanted a better, brighter tomorrow but they were lost…lost in a nasty jungle of hopelessness amid widespread social injustice and corrupt Temple worship. They were a lost people in a difficult time. My friends, 2500 years have passed since Malachi, and these are equally difficult days. Of this there is no doubt. And a lot of people are losing hope: hope for our country, hope for their family, hope for their health, hope for a better, brighter tomorrow. Even though it was said 2500 years ago, “it is vain to serve God” (v. 14), Malachi, told the faithful, “you SHALL see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked.” In other words, you WILL make it through the jungle and you will be okay. There IS a way out!
We’ve imagined the emotions of being lost; you think we can do the same with being rescued? What would it take to restore your hope? First, you would need a person. Not just any person. You don’t need someone equally confused. You need someone who knows the way out. And from him you need some vision. You need someone to lift your spirits. You need someone to look you in the face and say, “This isn’t the end. Don’t give up. There is a better place than this. And I’ll lead you there.” And, perhaps most important, you need direction. If you have only a person but no renewed vision, all you have is company…somebody at least to talk to. If he has a vision but no direction, you have a dreamer for company. But if you have a person with direction – who can take you from this place to the right place – ah, then you have one who you can listen to and follow; they can restore your hope.
Note…you haven’t left the jungle. The jungle is still a jungle. It hasn’t changed, but YOU have. You have changed because you have hope. And you have hope because you know someone who can lead you out. See where I’m going with this?
Your Good Shepherd Jesus knows that you were not made for this place. He knows you are not equipped for this place. So He has come to guide you out. He is the perfect one to do so.
God, your Savior in every sense, has the right vision. He also has the right direction. He made the boldest claim in the history of man when he declared, “I am the way” (John 14:6); a message that is not popular in the cultural wars of today. The disciples wondered then and now if the claim is accurate. He answered their questions by cutting a path through the underbrush of sin and death . . . and escaping alive. He’s the only One who ever did. And he is the only One who can help you and me do the same. Who knows the jungle better than the One who made it? And who knows the pitfalls of the path better than the One who has walked it? Who better to lead and forgive than the One who brings forgiveness and life?
Does He remove the jungle? No, the vegetation is still thick. Does he purge the predators? No, danger is still out there. Jesus doesn’t give hope by changing the jungle; he restores our hope by giving us Himself in Word and Sacrament. We all need that reminder. For all of us need hope.
Some of you don’t need it right now. Your jungle has become a meadow and your journey a delight. If such is the case, congratulations. Good on you. But remember—we do not know what tomorrow holds. We do not know where this road will lead. You may be one turn from a cemetery, from a hospital bed, from an empty house. And though you don’t need your hope restored today, you may tomorrow. And you need to know to whom to turn and where to find Him: Word and Sacrament. Or perhaps you do need hope today. You know you were not made for this place. You know you are not equipped. You want someone to lead you out.
If so, call out for your Savior. He knows your voice. The people of Malachi’s day had to wait another 500 years for the cross. They never saw it. You have. Allow it to calm you in the midst of the jungle. And, for crying out loud, watch out for the snakes!