Monday, May 07, 2007

Yesterday's Sermon

Here's what I preached yesterday with help from Timothy Hoyer at Crossings and from the here we stand confirmation curriculum.

5th Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2007
Revelation 21:1-6
Thomas Arth

A man lies in a hospital bed.
His life slowly but surely ebbs away.
He has suffered a mild heart attack.
He has just learned that he has a rare,
incurable blood disease.
He knows he is dying.
What thoughts occupy a mind at the end of a life?
The man in the hospital bed begins to evaluate the life he has lived.
That often happens.
But it doesn't have to be on a death bed
that those kinds of thoughts come to mind.
There are many times when we look back and take stock.
We make judgements about how we've lived our lives,
about what we've done.
Then statements pop into our heads that begin with
"If only I had..."
"If only I hadn't..."
"What if..."
"I wish..."
During our lives we come upon many forks in the road,
we come to places of decision,
choices are made, opportunities for second guessing.
"What if I'd stayed in school."
"If only I had taken them up on that job offer."
"I wish I'd told my kids how proud I was of them."
"If only I hadn't wasted that time and that money."
And then we also compare
ourselves, our lives, our situations,
with others.
We so often measure our worth according to what we see in others.
I earn more or less that one person.
I drive a nicer car than this one but not as nice as that one.
We're cramped in our home
but they have so much room in theirs.
Why do we feel our lives must be judged?
Why do we make those comparisons?
To judge our life is to measure its worth.
To judge our life is to measure its meaning
according to what we have done
and how much we have done.
This week I came across a story on the internet that said,
"Vacation homes and a third car may hold you hostage
and deprive you of real wealth."
Some people judge their lives by what they've accumulated
and spend so much effort and energy
trying to accumulate all they can
that they don't really live.
All of that judging is living by the law.
The law leads us to feel that we must judge our lives.
We hear "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not"
and it's automatic that we start to ask ourselves
"Did I?" or "Have I?"

The law leads us to judge ourselves,
but the one sitting on a great white throne judges the world.
In the verses just before today's reading from Revelation we read,
"Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it."
Earth and heaven fled from his presence.
They passed away.
They fled because they were afraid of being judged.
It's one thing to judge ourselves
according to whatever standard we choose.
But it's entirely another thing to be judged by our God.
The fear of that kind of judgement sends us running.
If you watch enough cop shows on TV,
or if you just know something about human nature,
flight is a sure sign of guilt.
If we're honest with ourselves we're guilty of many things.
We're guilty of death, mourning, crying, and pain.
That seems like a strange thing to say.
How can we be guilty of those things?
Perhaps down at the root of it all,
those things are the result of our sinfulness.
And the reading tells us that these things will pass away.
They're against the will of the one seated on the great white throne.
How do we know that?
Because he gets rid of them.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
They're signs that things aren't the way God intended them to be.
They're signs that the creation is not being preserved
according to God's will.
Sometimes when I hear well-meaning but misguided people
talking about it being God's will for a child to die
or a parent being cut down in their prime
I want to scream.
As I say, they might mean well but they're wrong. It's not God's will for them to die.
It's not God's will for their family and friends to mourn.
It's not God's will for the crying and the pain
that come with that loss.
As the preacher said after his son died in a car crash.
His consolation is that God's heart was the first to break
when his son died.
"‘Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.'
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
‘See, I am making all things new.'"

The man in the hospital bed who judges his life
according to what he had done
has a lot in common
with the passing-away earth and heaven:
neither trust in God as the giver of worth.
The man looks to himself.
He looks at his own life and what he has done,
what he has accomplished,
perhaps what he has accumulated and will leave behind.
And ultimately he's left wanting because it's not enough.
Along with his accomplishments he sees his failures,
he sees what he has missed,
he sees how he doesn't measure up,
neither to his own standards
nor to the standard of the Joneses
with whom he could never keep up.
Earth and heaven had their own deeds to look to:
mourning and crying and pain.
"I saw the great white throne and the one who sat on it;
the earth and the heaven fled from his presence,
and no place was found for them."
Without faith in God, heaven and earth fled,
Adam and Eve fled,
and we flee because without faith
there is no remaining in the presence of God.
There is no place for those who do not fear God.

But suddenly, a new heaven and a new earth appear.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away."
It's somewhat reminiscent of St. Paul,
writing to the Corinthians,
"everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!"
The one who is the Alpha, the Beginning,
who makes everything new,
first put an Omega, an End, to the old
by the death of Jesus.
In this reading from Revelation he says "It is done!"
It wasn't so long ago,
just over 4 weeks ago on Good Friday,
that we heard Jesus say from the cross
"It is finished!"
Revelation talks about the one who sits on the throne,
and we often talk of the cross being Jesus' throne,
so from the cross and the throne in heaven we hear
"It is done!" "It is finished!"
And then "See, I am making all things new."
The first to be made new is Jesus,
whom God raised from the dead.
Death has no more dominion over him.
In him, death will be no more.
Which means that we will no longer have a separate home from God.
The law is no longer our God,
he is our God.
We will be his people
and no longer be stuck in the old way.

The man in the hospital bed, like most other patients, gets thirsty.
A nurse brings a large cup of ice water with a straw
from which he drinks to great satisfaction.
We thirst for worth, for life, for life that lasts.
"To the thirsty I will give water
as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Those who conquer will inherit these things,"
says the one who sits on the throne.
We are given Jesus,
the Lamb who was slain,
as the water of life.
Remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well?
"If you knew the gift of God,
and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,'
you would have asked him,
and he would have given you living water."
And she replied,
"Sir, give me this water,
so that I may never be thirsty."
In him we do not fear,
for he has overcome,
conquered the world, conquered the law.
And this is something worth sitting up to drink in.
It is finished.
It is done.
Everything is new.
The judging is over.
The striving is over.
The comparing
and the keeping up with the Joneses is over.
"I am making everything new.
Write down what I have said.
My words are true and can be trusted.
Everything is finished!
I am Alpha and Omega,
the beginning and the end.
I will freely give water from the life-giving fountain
to everyone who is thirsty."
We have real life in the Lord.
We have true worth in the Lord.
We no longer have to judge our lives by the law,
by what we've done or failed to do.
The Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end,
has said "It is done!"
Not by us, because we'd never be able to do enough
or do it well enough
or do it completely.
But the one who gave himself for us,
who stretched out his arms on the cross,
he has done all that needs to be done.
I used these signs a while back in a sermon.
DO? (a sign says DO with a red circle around it and a line through it)
There's nothing we can do or need to do.
DONE? (a sign says DONE with a green circle around it)
Everything has been done by Jesus.
God's grace, forgiveness, and salvation
are not based on anything that we can do,
but is totally based on what Christ has done for us.

The man in the hospital bed lightly chuckles with an inner delight
that he is ready for the Lord to take him.
It is not death that will take him,
though it may look that way at first.
But the old is passing away
and God is making all things new.
The man in the hospital bed will be made new,
new because he will dwell with God in the new Jerusalem.
There life is not measured,
for there will be no night,
just the light of the glory of God the Almighty
and the Lamb.
Our worth is given to us free; it's a gift.
The man in the hospital bed ends up not only judging his life,
but he is rejoicing in all the good that he has been given.
We will still have tears and pain,
though not like those who have no place.
The glory of God and the Lamb shine on us now
through the proclaiming of the Promise.
And in that glory we are free
from the old way of judging our life for worth,
and free to use the worth of Christ
to serve those who need comforting.
Let us live in that new life,
because God has made his home with his people.
And let us drink in from the life-giving fountain
so that we need never thirst. Amen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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