Monday, May 21, 2007

Sermon - Easter 7 - Revelation 22:1-20

Easter 7C
May 20th, 2007
Revelation 22:1-20
“Paradise Restored in Christ”

What will it be like in heaven? Books and movies speculate about how we will spend our time, or the 5 people we’ll meet there. Or maybe you have your own ideas of what it will be like – a giant, perfectly manicured golf course (where you always shoot under par), or a place where chocolate candy bars grown on trees. Maybe you think of it as just a bunch of clouds and people strumming harps all day.

But the Hollywood stories aren’t so interested in the truth as they are a good story. And our own ideas and imaginations are simply speculation. Where do we look to see what it will be like there? Scripture of course. And particularly in the book of Revelation.

In our reading today, God shows John a vision – the eternal home of his people, his holy city Jerusalem. And while using picture language to describe heavenly realities, what is clear is this: Heaven is paradise restored. We have only to look back to the Garden of Eden to see what Revelation is saying. The Lamb on his throne makes everything right. In heaven, paradise is restored. But let’s take a closer look. Let’s go back to Eden.

Man’s primeval home was the Garden of Eden, and here is a contrast with our forever-home, which is a city. Of course in Eden there were only 2, Adam and Eve, while Heavenly Jerusalem is filled with the people of the Lamb. But there are some striking similarities too in how these two places are described.

Both are by rivers. In Eden, the garden was planted near 4 rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Pishon and Gihon. In paradise restored, only one river is needed – the river of the water of life – and if flows directly from its source, the throne of God. In any case, water is always needed for life, and God always provides the water.

In Eden there were two special trees. One was the tree of knowledge, the other the tree of life. God forbade them from eating fruit from the tree of knowledge. And we all know how that went. Because of their disobedience, God mercifully barred them from the tree of life, so they would not eat of this other tree and live forever in their sins. Yet in Revelation, in the picture of heaven, the tree of life reappears, bearing fruit for God’s people year-round. Sin and death came by eating the one fruit, while life eternal comes from eating the other.

Likewise, leaves play a part in both accounts. Once fig leaves that were used to cover the shame of Adam and Eve’s sin. But there in heaven, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations”.

In Eden, the results of sin brought the curse to both Man and Women. But in heavenly Jerusalem, “No longer will there be anything accursed”

In Eden, God walked in the garden – his presence was so very near. But in judgment they were expelled from the garden and sin separated them from God. But in heavenly Jerusalem, “they will see his face” once again.

Shortly after God created the day and night and sun and moon, man ruined the creation. But the new creation is even better than the first – with no more night or need of light – for God himself and Christ will be their light and lamp.

And shortly after Eden, the firstborn son of Eve became a murderer, and needed a special mark on his head to protect him from the wrath of other men. In heavenly Jerusalem, God’s people bear his name on their foreheads – a mark of belonging to him.

So many parallels. So many connections. We can see in Revelation that paradise is restored. We can see God’s plan for his people come full circle. We can look back, and we can look forward, but what ties it all together is what happened just outside of earthly Jerusalem 2000 years ago. There at the cross, the nexus of all history, Jesus by his death brought paradise to the dying thief and to the dying world.

We can see paradise at the beginning, and we can see paradise at the end. But we can see it even now, through Christ.

We Christians bear the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A name which was placed upon us at the font.

We come to the river of the water of life in Holy Baptism, where Christ’s cleansing and life-giving waters wash over and renew us. The baptism of Jesus is the mighty Euphrates of Forgiveness.

We are not covered with fig leaves of our own making. We are not even covered with animal skins provided by God. We receive the robe of Christ’s righteousness.

And we benefit from the tree. By the tree of the Cross, Jesus wins for us access once again to the Tree of Life.

We eat of the fruits of his cross – his own body and blood given and shed there for us. In this sacrament, Christ is truly present with us – not as visible, but just as present as he was in Eden and will be in heavenly Jerusalem.

And we are freed from the curse even now, because we are freed from sin and all its wages. For those of us who trust in Christ, who celebrate even now his resurrection from the dead, we too shall rise to newness of life – indeed we already have – and will bodily rise at the day of his coming.

In Christ, the whole of Scripture finds fulfillment. In Christ, everything that went wrong in Eden is once again made right. In Christ, God has made us new, and will soon make everything new. In Christ, paradise is restored, our curse is removed, and we receive life forever.

Sermon - Ascension Day - Luke 24:44-53

Ascension Day
May 17th, 2007
Luke 24:44-53
“A Joyful Departure”

Goodbyes are tough. I remember several times in my life, saying goodbyes to dear friends as we were about to move across the country, or as they were. Often friends will exchange promises to keep in touch across the distance, though they seldom follow through. “Don’t be a stranger”, but distance doesn’t really make the heart grow fonder.

Perhaps you too have had some tough goodbyes, maybe even the death of a loved one. Then you know, that this side of heaven, you will never see the person again. Such goodbyes can be filled with regrets of things left undone and unsaid. We may just wish we had more time together. But they are hard.

You would think that the disciples, when they realized Jesus had departed, would also struggle with the goodbye. Here they had spent three years with him, day in, day out. They had given up much to follow him. They had grown to love him. It all seemed to come crashing down when Jesus was crucified and they scattered in fear. But then came a joyful reunion, many reunions actually, as Jesus had risen from the dead and he proved it to them convincingly. He died, but now he was alive. And right away, he was leaving again?

If I was one of those disciples, I’d find it hard not to be disappointed, dejected, and distraught at the idea that Jesus who had come back (even from death) was now leaving for heaven. Leaving his disciples behind.

But he would not leave them alone. And he would not leave them distraught. He would send them a Comforter, His Holy Spirit. And they were not distraught, but instead “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy”

At times it may seem like Christ has left us alone, too. Even though he has ascended and rules on high, they way he rules might not be what we expect. We see towns wiped out by tornadoes and fires. We see conflicts in our family, stress at work, and not enough money in our pockets. We watch our health decline and fail, and we see our loved ones taken from us. We may feel abandoned by the one who promised he would care for our daily needs. Even when we turn to him in prayer, it can seem like our complaints and requests fall on deaf ears. As if God has left us alone.

How can the disciples be so joyful when Jesus leaves them? They found joy in his promises! Can we find the same joy? Yes. His promises are for us, too.

Their joy was founded in the words of the angels, and the promise of Christ’s return. “For in the same way you saw him go, he will return”.
We too find joy in the promise of his return. We look forward to the last day, to the fulfillment of all things, and to seeing Christ with our own eyes, face to face. We know that his return in glory will be the day of victory over all sin, death, and devils. The times and hours are not ours to know, but what is ours to know is the promise.

Their joy was founded in the promise that Christ would send them a gift, a comforter, a counselor. His Holy Spirit. We saw this promise fulfilled in a powerful way on Pentecost, which is celebrated not this Sunday but next. But the Day of Pentecost wasn't the only time the Spirit ever worked for God's people. We too know the work of the Spirit, who has called us to faith by the Gospel and enlightens us with his gifts, who strengthens our faith and guides us in the paths of righteousness. The promise of the Spirit is for us too.

And though not mentioned in the Ascension readings, some of Jesus' last words to them are found in Matthew 28, where he promises, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” And so by his Spirit, and in his word, he was, and he is. He is with us. The promise of his presence gives us joy, when we meet him here at his altar. When we receive him as he has promised to be found in simple bread and wine. Here Jesus' promised presence gives us joy, as his body and blood are given for the forgiveness of our sins.

The promise of his return. The promise of his Spirit. The promise of his presence. These promises make his departure not only bearable, but also joyful, for the disciples, and for us.

Yet his ascension comes not only with promises, but also with purpose. He ascends to heaven in order to reclaim his throne there. And as with everything he does, he does it for us.

Jesus takes back his divine majesty and authority (which he had largely set aside during his time on earth). He sits at the right hand of the Father, far above all other authorities. And there he rules in power. And he rules in power for us.

Jesus Christ, true God AND STILL true man, soul AND resurrected body together – now reigning in heaven. And just as we will follow him through death and to life again, so too will we follow him to reign in heaven. We will receive the crown of life.

Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ has ascended. Not a cause for sadness, but a reason for joy. Not so much a goodbye, as a “see you later”. For he promises his return, his spirit, and his presence. And he rules there in heaven for us his people, preparing a place for us. Thank God for the Ascension of Christ. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sermon - Easter 6 - John 16:23-33

Easter 6C
May 13th, 2007
John 16:23-33
“I Have Overcome the World”

Are you a fan of the Olympics? Seems like most people have at least a casual interest, at least in some of the events. Most of us would like to see the U.S.A. do well in the competition.

Though it hasn’t been decided yet, I understand that Chicago is in the running to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. If that happens, not only will Racine probably see an economic boost even in our area, but people like us will be able to go and see, in person, world class competitors in all sorts of different sports.

I’ve always wondered, though I will never know, what it’s like to be a world champion – of anything. To be the best runner, or gymnast, or weightlifter. To wear that gold medal around your neck and know that at least for a moment – you are the best of the best. I think we all have a certain respect for someone who can achieve such a rare status as “world champion”.

Jesus concludes his remarks to the disciples today with the words, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” But what he wins is not for himself, but for us. What he wins is not a gold medal, but forgiveness, life and salvation. He overcomes the world by dying, rising, ascending and reigning for all eternity.

“The World” is a theme running through our readings today. The nations of the world, anyway, have come into focus in this late Easter season. The book of Acts has been detailing the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s people. Today we read about Paul going to preach in Macedonia. We see also, the holy city of Jerusalem, a picture of the Christian Church in her glory – and into that city the “kings of the earth will bring their glory”. And we already know the inhabitants of heaven are “from every tribe, nation, people and tongue.” There is a missionary undercurrent and backdrop – the message of Christ crucified and risen is a message that must be shared with the world!

But “The World” can also mean (and usually does in John’s Gospel) all that which is opposed to God. Being “in the world but not of it” is this same idea – that though we Christians must live in this hostile territory – behind enemy lines – our true citizenship is in heaven. And we are on our way home. But we must deal with the world. We must face it, for we live here, in the world. And the world, Jesus says, hates his disciples. This can be a problem.

It can be a problem when we are persecuted for our faith. I just saw another story this week about persecution of Christians – this time in Iraq, where radical Muslims are trying to force Christians to convert to Islam or suffer the consequences. We don’t face that kind of persecution where we live- but it could happen some day.

The hatred of the world works on us in more subtle ways. Our world hates God’s ways, and fills our heads with lies and temptations. Pastor mentioned last week the dangers of materialism – a message we all need to hear. But the world around us also seeks to shake our faith in the truth of God’s word, to make us doubt the perfect standard of his law, and in our me-first culture, to elevate our own needs and wants above everyone else’s. By our sinful nature we are selfish, greedy, petty, insincere, gossip-mongering, self-aggrandizing, fearful, disrespectful, and many things worse. And the world would cultivate all these things within us. The world would have us, too, be enemies of Christ and of his word and his way.

But Christ has overcome the world. And in Christ, so do we.

Christ has overcome the world by his death. A funny way to fight a battle, by laying down your life. A strange way to win the ultimate victory, by counting all as loss. But God’s power is made perfect in weakness. So instead of climbing the pedestal to the tune of a national anthem with a gold medal around his neck, Christ’s victory over the World is seen hung on a cross with thorns around his head, for all the world to see his shame and agony. But he declares the contest over with those powerful words, “it is finished”.

And though the price of our redemption was paid, and the work of our salvation was finished at the cross… Jesus’ work as our savior would go on. He would rise for us, appear for us, ascend for us, and reign in heaven for us. There, on his divine throne, at the right hand of the Father, with everything under his feet, Jesus has surely overcome the world, and rules it for us in love.

When Jesus was speaking to his disciples in our reading today, he had not yet gone to the cross. But he knew he would, and that by it he would conquer all his enemies. He speaks of his victory as a present reality, even though it hadn’t been fulfilled just yet.

We too know Christ’s victory over the world as a now-and-not-yet reality. For the cross and the empty tomb are accomplished and stand behind us. And yet, his return in glory is still on the horizon. We are the victorious people of God, but when we look around us we see defeat at every turn. The world seems to have its way with us. Sometimes it all seems hopeless.

“But take heart; I have overcome the world” Jesus says.

We get a glimpse of our future as we read Revelation and see the glories of our heavenly home. Our imaginations run wild at the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. So that even in the darkest moments of life, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we can and do “take heart” for Christ has “overcome the world”.

He does it not for himself, but for us. We couldn’t have done it ourselves. When it comes to the world, we win some, we lose some. We have our ups and downs. But we could never be free of worldliness, were it not for someone “out of this world”, namely Jesus Christ. He who “came from God” and has returned to God, also came to bring us back to God.

His victory is not a moment in time, or 15 minutes of fame. He will not be defeated by the next challenger. He has overcome the world. His victory wasn’t a narrow one, just barely winning the day. This contest was decided long before it started. He has overcome the world. His victory over the sin-filled and sin-scarred world brings wholeness and restoration, as he makes all things new. He has overcome the world. And in him, so do we.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


That's the sound of the LCMS 2007 Convention Workbook arriving at my front door.  This hefty 427 page volume, and its sidecar documents appeared at my home the other day.  Since then I have been taking in the fine print of the many reports, overtures, and appendices.

With the reports: I can't help but observe what a HUGE bureaucracy our synod is.  Something about that seems not so healthy to me.

With the overtures: Some good, some bad, some ugly.  

One particular church in California has submitted overtures asking for:  Full fellowship with the ELCA, Full communion between LCMS and ELCA in the military, Open Communion in general, and immediate Women's Ordination.

One overture also asks that delegates present from congregations that practice Open Communion would simply raise their hands.

Lots of overtures to reaffirm or rescind what we did in 2004.

I think the biggie at this convention will be the "Specific Ministry Pastor" proposal, which seeks to create a second-tier pastor (with less training), who serves under a traditional M.Div. type pastor, and who cannot take a call anywhere else.  First blush - do we really want to "dumb down" our clergy?  On the other hand - is it better to have that, than "certified lay ministers" and all the other funny business currently going on in violation of ACXIV?