Last Wednesday my wife, son, and I pulled up to our house to find a car in the driveway we did not recognize. I told them to wait in the car and walked up to the front door and found it still locked. It was then that I heard a sound on the side of the house and walked around to find someone I didn’t recognize. He told me that he was there surveying the property in order to offer his services to clean up the leaves. I thanked him for the offer, but told him no. He drove away. I keyed into my house to find it ransacked. The TV from the upstairs bedroom was lying in a pack’n’play we use as a ball pit by the front door. The cabinet of the TV stand in the living room was open with everything pulled out. That TV was also moved and unplugged. One of my duffel bags was sitting where it didn’t belong with a piece of electronic equipment sitting in it. Turns out, our house was in the process of being burglarized. The police were called. Statements taken. As of now someone is in custody for the crime.
It is difficult to describe all of the feelings my family and I experienced even though to our knowledge nothing was actually taken. Those who have experienced know how your brain starts working overtime, suggesting all of the possible things that could have gone wrong. After all, usually my wife stays home with my 1 year old son. It just so happened that the day this occurred my wife was at a play date. What last week underscored in my life is a reality best expressed in poetry that doesn’t belong to me but to the church.
And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won;
The kingdom ours remaineth.
Those final lines of the well known Lutheran hymn “A Mighty Fortress” have been stuck in my head. Other than fame, which I have none of to begin with, all of those things could have been taken from me that day. While it is true that the same could pretty much be said of any day, last week, it became that much more real. But had that happened, had my life, goods, child or wife been taken from me, nothing would have been won, if all of those were gone, the kingdom mine remaineth.
In what has been by all accounts a difficult year I am not sure what stronger words could be spoken. We have no guarantees that life will be a great, grand, happy thing. This is doubly true for those of us baptized into Christ. If we read the scriptures we see that it tends to work the opposite for us who are found in Christ. Bad things happen. Persecution happens. Death happens. Satan comes knocking. There is no promise that God wants us to be happy and smiling the whole time. Rather, the promise we have is that when those things come, they will not have the final say. Christ has the final say, always.
His death and resurrection are not just about forgiving sins, though they are certainly integral to that forgiveness. It is also a statement about how God deals with suffering. He doesn’t avoid it. He endures it. On the third day, he overcomes it. For us, there is no promise that we will be able to avoid it. We must endure it. In the resurrection on the last day, we too will overcome it. But not before then.
One of the most abused verses in all of scripture is that one from Jeremiah, about God having plans to prosper. Christians love to take it out and fly it like a flag, as if it were some magic charm that would protect us from all things. As if God has super duper great wonderful awesome plans for Christians but the rest of the world is up the creek without a paddle. We need to read Job more, we need to remember what happened to John the Baptist, the one of whom it was said none of woman born was greater. We need to embrace the ordinary, normal, dare I say it, boring life. Because that is what we have been gifted. There is no promise I will change the world. How could there be? Christ has already done that.
Christ, the king of the entire world, has already done what no human could do, he brought humanity back to the Father. He overcame death itself. He took on suffering and in the end had the final say over it. The promise we have as Christians is not that we get to change the world for the better, not that we are going to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. No, the promise we get is far better. The promise is Christ has already won. The kingdom ours remaineth even if our life, goods, fame, child, or wife be taken. The promise is rooted in the death and resurrection of another who gives us his very life. Where he is, there his church will always be no matter what assails it. Make no mistake, things will assail it. Satan will come knocking. A diagnosis will be given that is grim. Bank accounts will empty. Someday you may come home to a burglary. We have no promise to the contrary. What we do have, however, is a promise that those things will never have the final say. Instead we have a God who has promised to be a mighty fortress that holds out in the end. As the old hymn goes:
A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from every need that hath us now overtaken. The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; on Earth is not his equal.
With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, who is this? Jesus Christ it is. Of Sabbath Lord, and there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.
Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us. We tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, he’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him.
The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.