The Mills of God
The Collect for this Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year is really the Collect written in 1549 for St. Thomas Day. That's where the emphasis on believing “without all doubt” comes from. It's fitting to use this Collect when considering the end of the world because doubt is an ever present enemy. As the Collect says the Lord gives “exceedingly great and precious promises” to His people in the end times. We “will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” His angels will be sent out to gather His elect from the 4 corners of the earth. What great things to look forward do, but we doubt. You know why? Because as the 17th century German poet Friedrich Von Logau said, “the mills of God grind slowly.”
Ever since the Lord Jesus made this promise about returning with the clouds in power and glory, we have been moving toward that point. But how slow the mills of God turn! Not only your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, but great added to great till you can't keep track have been waiting for that day. Centuries upon centuries of your kin folk have been in Church on the last Sundays of the Church year and heard the pastor proclaim the Son of Man is coming to gather His elect. And yet nothing. All grinds on as before.
Hundreds upon hundreds of your faithful, Christian relatives have been born, lived and died waiting, watching. They thought this or that event predicted the arrival of Jesus. Your Yankee relatives might have thought the Civil War was God trampling out the vineyards where the grapes of wrath were stored. Your relatives in WW I might have thought it was going to put an end to all war and usher in the Prince of Peace. The Great Depression, the rise of Hitler, the dropping of the A-bomb, the founding of Israel, and the landing on the moon were all taken as signs that Christ was just about here, but He didn't come.
So after centuries of watching and waiting with nothing happening, we start to put Christ far away. He's not right at the door ready to step in at any moment, but a long way away. It no longer seems likely or even possible that Jesus could come in my lifetime. This errant view popped into my head around 1968 when I first heard the song “In the Year 2525.” One verse said, “In the year 7510, if God's a coming He ought to make it by then.” “7510,” I thought, and my mind went zzzp. “It could be that long,” I thought, and so I decided the promise of Christ's return didn't apply to me.
This error is the opposite of those who see God as micro managing every aspect of their existence by some direct, miraculous intervention in their daily lives which really is not so much faith in God's providential care but self-centeredness. These people look down on God speaking through the preached Word and acting in the visible Sacraments and exalt God speaking to their heart through their reading of the Bible and His acting in their daily lives. But it is just as wrong to put God so far away from you that you miss God working in your day to day life; that you miss Christ reminding you regularly that He's on the doorstep ready to return.
Let me ask you. How many eclipses of the sun and moon have you seen? How many falling stars have you seen? How many supernovas? Jesus says these are signs of His return. What is solar eclipse but a darkening of the sun? What is a lunar eclipse but a darkening of the moon? What is a shooting star to us but a star falling from the sky? What is supernova if not a heavenly body being shaken? Because these things are everyday and ordinary we take them for granted or ignore them like we do other gifts and signs from God. Because we're never without air to breath, eyes to see, or hearts to beat we take them for granted not seeing them as the stupendous miracles they are. And because Baptism looks like just water, and Absolution sounds like just words, and Communion looks, smells and taste just like bread and wine, we ignore, take for granted, look down on these miraculous signs God gives to us every day.
Repent people of God. Repent of ignoring the signs which Jesus says “you know” mean He is right at the door. Repent of thinking Christ is far away from you only dealing with you through ironclad laws of nature. Repent of thinking that eclipses, shooting stars, and supernovas are nothing more than astronomical phenomenal and not also special reminders from Christ to you. Repent of doubting of what Christ here promises: that He is near and He is surely coming to rescue you from this fallen world. Repent of thinking God grinds His mills slowly just because.
Many people know the first line of Logau's poem, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small;” they don't know the second line explains the first by saying “with patience He stands waiting.” The interminable slowness with which God does things, so slow that even the saints under the altar of God cry out “how long?” is rooted in patience. 2 Peter agrees saying, “The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” Had the Lord stepped through the door when I was 19, I would have been damned. Thanks be to Him that He didn't.
So, I'm to see my Lord on the other side of that door, not as twiddling His thumbs, not as unconcerned with what goes on here, but as patiently waiting for the full number of His elect to be gathered by the preaching of the Word and by the administering of His Sacraments. The slowness of His mills is a good thing; they turn slow out of love not laziness. But as you heard Logau didn't only note the slowness of God's mills but their exactness. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.”
In these end days which have been going on ever since Jesus rose from the dead, a distinct falling away can be seen. Men have become more consumed with what they can do, achieve, and build than with what God does, achieves and builds. Men have become more consumed with their relationships with each other than with their relationship with the eternal God. And all the while this emphasis on men and what they think, do and say is going on, the entire creation groans and Christians hear and feel it in their own souls.
Jesus tells us 3 things to console us. First that He will find us. You've read or seen this in many a love story. The man in the midst of war, disease, the falling of society shouts over the roar, “I will find you.” This promise of God stands firm. He knows them that are His. His mills grind so finely that not the smallest of His elect children will be lost. In these latter days the One who came into this world to keep the Law in our place, the One who came into the world to bear the punishments that the Law demands from us who break it, this One will not fail to send out His Word and Sacraments to locate His elect.
Having been located by the waters of Baptism that washed us clean of all sins, having been located by that forgiving Absolution that sent our sins as far away from us as east is from west, having been located by the Body and Blood of Christ calling us to Himself in Communion, Jesus will not fail to send His angels to gather us to Himself. You can't turn this around and make it a matter of you finding Jesus for then you will surely despair because He often hides Himself behind contrary things. No, it is a matter of the Groom who loved His Bride so much that He went to hell and back for Her, finding His Bride once more. That He will do. You can count on it.
The second thing Jesus promises to console us might sound strange. Jesus promises that right up until the end of the world the evil generation that has always rejected and persecuted the gospel will remain. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.” The phrase “this generation” is used 2 other times in Mark, 9 other times in Luke, and 6 other times in Matthew. It always denotes the unbelieving portion of humanity. When the word “generation(s)” is used the meaning varies, but the phrase “this generation” always means unbelievers.
And why is this comforting to us? Because we should not think it strange when we see unbelievers all around us rejecting what is so plain and gracious to us. We should not expect that as the end draws near the numbers of “this generation” will decrease. They won't. They're going to be right along side us, right in our midst even as Judas was among the disciples and Cain was in the first family, until the Good Shepherd steps through that door and separates the goats from His sheep.
Finally, Jesus comforts us by telling us that although we will see the heavens and the earth pass away, rolling up like a scroll, melting, dissolving, we are not to conclude that His Words to us are going to fail. His Word joined to the waters of your Baptism is going to save you though water is going to melt off the earth. His Word in the mouth of your pastor sends your sins away from you as far as east is from west even as east and west roll up like a scroll. His Word that gives you His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine is able to you give immortality even as bread and wine dissolve.
Yes, the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small. Logau finishes the couplet, “With exactness grinds He all.” Your Lord Jesus standing at the door is busy grinding so exactly that every jot, every tittle of His promises to you are being kept. You may doubt your faith sometimes, you may doubt your ability to hold on as the world ever so slowly unravels, but you need never doubt Jesus. And He says in this text that its up to Him to come and get you from wherever you may be “from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heavens.” “I will find you,” pledges Jesus to us. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus,” faith responds. And the angels shout hooray. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second-Last Sunday in the Church Year (11-16-03), Mark 13:24-31