What Is The Biggest Threat To The American Church?

Text: Luke 17:20-30

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus talks about the coming of His Kingdom of Glory.  More specifically, He says that before the end of time, people will be filled with carelessness.  Yes, contrary to what we might think, before Jesus’ second coming, people will be living the good life; uninterested in the end of the world and the hereafter. 

Referencing the story of Noah and the great flood, Jesus explains that in the days of Noah, before the great and mighty flood, people were blind, confident, unbelieving, ungodly, and absorbed in temporal things.   They were apathetic to the warnings of the great coming flood.  They shrugged their shoulders to Noah’s Ark and went on with their way; eating, drinking, marrying buying, selling, planting, and building. 

The point that Jesus is making is that human nature never changes.  Just as Noah’s preaching and the building of the Ark should have been a warning to the people to repent and be ready for the coming destruction, we too should be ready for the second coming of Jesus.  And just as the people of Noah’s day were apathetic about the coming flood, so too are many apathetic about the coming Kingdom of Glory

This morning we also heard from the Epistle of 1 Thessalonians.  This Epistle was written to the church in Thessalonica.  And as we learn about the Christians in Thessalonica, we find that apathy had struck them as well.  Now, we must be very clear that they were not apathetic towards the Lord’s second coming.  They understood that the end was coming.  However, apathy began to take root in them quite differently.  You see, the people of Thessalonica knew that Jesus was going to come back (which is good).  However, because of this knowledge of Jesus’ second coming, they quit working.  They quit caring about life.  They stopped their usual jobs and became disorderly.  The idea of the end of the world and the knowledge that Jesus was coming back for them produced an enthusiasm.  However, their excitement led them to neglect the duties of daily life. 

And so, we can see that both of these examples are opposites.  They are ditches that we can fall into regarding the end of time.  Indeed, doesn’t apathy give birth to both of these ditches?  Isn’t it easy to want to give up on the responsibilities of life because Jesus is coming back?  And isn’t it equally easy to become so engrossed in life that the end of time seems to be some irrelevant pipe dream? 

Dear friends, we must pause a moment and keep in mind that we live in between the two great comings of Jesus.  Behind us, some 2,000 years ago, we have Jesus’ first coming.  In Jesus’ first coming, He came to this world to put on human flesh and die on the cross.  And so, the cross is behind us. 

But before us, we have the second coming of Jesus – His glorious return.  And with His glorious return, we have the end of time – the end of the sinful world.  This second coming will come suddenly, visible, and like a flash of lightning.  The second coming will be the judgment of all ungodliness and the deliverance of those baptized into Christ. 

What does this mean, though? 

It means that we are now living between the two comings of Jesus.  We are living between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming.  And as we live between these two comings we have assurance of what was done in the past and we have hope of what is to come.

But as you know, assurance and hope are easily influenced.  They are attacked by apathy. 

Dear friends, we must guard ourselves against the pitfalls of apathy.  For example, we become apathetic like the people of Noah’s days, when we consistently prioritize our jobs, sporting events, families, hunting ventures, and comfort above hearing and receiving God’s Word and Sacraments.  When we are too busy and too concerned with life to go to church and read His Word – to listen – well…. we are in the same boat as the people of Noah’s day.  We have given way to apathy. 

On the other hand, if we shirk off our daily vocations and callings because they don’t matter, we too are apathetic like Thessalonica.  The second coming of Jesus does not grant you and me an apathetic pass to skip school, work, and household chores, to lay around in our pajamas, watching reruns of Family Feud, while eating Lucky Charms and Cheetos. 

Apathy toward the second coming of Jesus and apathy toward one’s vocation and calling in life because of the second coming, are both wrong and sinful.  Lord have mercy on us for our apathy!

Dear friends, it has been rightly said before that the greatest threat facing the church in America is not liberal social justice warriors or perverted sexual ethics or Islamic terrorism or Hollywood agendas, but indifference and apathy of Christians.  Frankly stated; the biggest problem is in Christians turning an apathetic ear to the Word and Sacraments.[1]  

Keep in mind that the Word of the Gospel will remain on this earth until Christ comes back.  Hell cannot suppress God’s Word.  God’s Word cannot be muzzled.  No force of nature, no agenda of mankind, and no force of evil can silence the Word of God.  The Lord preserves His Word; the Lord has always preserved a faithful remnant.  But tragically, as we see from the time of Noah, apathy has a way of turning our ears off from the Word.  Apathy has a way of making us bored with the Sacraments.  Apathy has a way of making us roll our eyes toward the liturgy.  The sin of apathy is a plague with which the devil uses to bewitch and deceive us into unbelief, so that he can take us by surprise into his claws.   

Why have many churches closed their doors?  Some doors are closed due to changing demographics, and others are closed due to the Lord in His sovereignty removing the church’s ministry because of unfaithfulness. However, a great multitude of church closings are due to apathetic ears. 

Some churches, though, try to offset apathy by tickling apathetic ears.  However, mark this, the tickling only lasts for a season.  In due time, these apathetic ears will tire of the tickling, which will result in empty pews.     

Lord have mercy!  Christ have mercy!  Lord have mercy on our apathy!    

Dear friends, wake up from your apathy.  Repent of your apathy and realize that we not only live and move and have our being with the cross behind us and the coming of the Lord before us, but we also live and move and have our being knowing that the Kingdom of God is right here in our midst – today!  Now!  Right here! 

Dear Baptized Saint, Jesus not only died for you 2,000 years ago and He will not only come back for you, but He also comes to you in His Word and Sacraments in these church services – so that the devil’s kingdom may be destroyed. 

He comes to you now to forgive you of your apathy and to grant you the assurance that the devil has no right or power over you. 

The Lord comes to you now so that you may be granted – not apathy – but faith, knowing that the Lord Jesus Christ will come back some day to eradicate sin, death, and hell that you may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness.  

You, who have ears, hear!  The Lord saw to it that the Gospel – His Word – would be properly applied to you in your Baptism, making you a child of the Kingdom of Light.  And the Lord sees to it that the Gospel is properly preached into your ears, minds, and hearts so that you might have the assurance that your sins are forgiven.  And the Lord sees to it that His precious Body and Blood are delivered to you, to strengthen your faith towards Him and love for your neighbor.  He does this so that the Kingdom will permeate among you!  He does this so that you might be His own, today, tomorrow, and for all eternity. 
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Thought taken from Rev. Hans Fiene's Facebook page. 

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