In a previous stage in my life I worked as a maintenance man (boy) at a summer camp in Central Illinois, just north of Springfield. It was a great job, in fact the only job I have ever had where I woke up each and every day excited about going to work.
Part of what I loved about this sort of work was learning new things all of the time. I am not a very "handy" man, so the work was all new and exciting to me.
My number one job was to wash dishes. That took about an hour after breakfast and lunch. The rest of the time was filled with mowing and trimming the grass, sweeping floors, making beds, and helping to fix things that had been broken.
We had a few construction projects that summer. They were all fairly minor: a new porch, some painting, a new door hung, etc. One such project was putting new trim around a set of garage doors.
It is here that I want to introduce you to Derald Henry Sasse. (For all of you Lutheran scholars out there, it is pronounced more like "saucy" and not like the German-Australian scholar of the same last name.)
Derald was a retired farmer who had also kept his construction business on the side. As he would tell you, he was "a jack of all trades, and an ace of none." But construction was his game. He knew what he was doing.
Derald was the maintenance chief at the summer camp. He lived there in a small apartment with his wife Carolyn and together they kept things up year round.
By the time I had the privilege of working with him, D.H. was in his 70's and suffering from extreme arthritis. So when it come to the work that needed to be done, a lot of the time he was the brains and I was the "muscle". (If you could have seen me then, or have seen me now, you know why I used "quotes".)
So the garage doors needed new trim. Derald was the brains of the operation. He was measuring the boards and I was cutting. He was pointing and I was nailing.
However, for a few minutes Derald climbed up on the ladder to do some measuring while I was down on the ground and supposed to be nailing two pieces of wood together. And I was having some trouble. No matter what I tried the nail would bend.
One hit. OK. Two hits. Bent nail. AGH!
After about my fifth nail D.H. began to get a bit impatient with me. I was supposed to be handing him this piece and he was going to hang it. And his aging body was not enjoying the view from the top of the ladder.
"Hurry up," he yelled from the ladder. "Stick those two together and give 'em here."
"I can't," I replied, exasperated.
And will will never forget what came next. Derald jumped (yes jumped) off the ladder, walked over to the make-shift work bench where I was, grabbed the two pieces from me, yanked the hammer from my fist, took one swing with the hammer and drove the nail home perfectly straight.
"'Can't' never did nothin'," he said. "Do, or do not, but don't ever say 'can't'."
That phrase has stuck with me. I have offered myself that excuse plenty of times. "I can't." I have yet to be cured of it. But the wisdom is potent. We either do something or we do not do it. And if we do not even try, well then that is all the worse. D.H. understood that. "Can't" was just a dirty word to him.
Often, our problem is not so much that we cannot do something, but that we won't. We don't have the will to do it, the gumption to fight on, to push through. But we need to recognize the problem. It is not a lack of ability, but a lack of persistence.
The rest of my days at camp were far from perfect. There were a lot of failures. I tried and failed at a lot of things. But I stopped using that 4 letter word, at least around Big D.H.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. So now what?
The Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God might seem like it is less than important when it is compared to the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all it is at the cross and empty tomb where our salvation is bought and guaranteed.
But Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand means power. It means, as Saint Paul says, that Jesus has all things placed under His feet. Jesus is the all-mighty, ruler of everything. And He is on your side.
The ascension means that the same God-Man who suffered the tortures of hell for you, who died alone on a cross for you, who rose on the third day for you, now reigns over the cosmos for you. And He will make all things work together for your good.
Jesus has been hidden from our sight. We cannot see Him with the eyes of our bodies, only the eyes of our hearts, by faith. But our reading from Revelation 22 tells us, assures us, that soon, very soon, Jesus will reveal Himself. He will open our eyes to see that He has been here all along as our divine protector and savior.
But what about now? As I asked at the beginning, so now what? We can’t see Jesus, speak directly to Him, or hear directly from Him without any mediation. Are we just supposed to sit here and twiddle our thumbs until He comes back?
By no means! Certainly not! God’s people, the Church, are to keep the eyes of our hearts open, to be patient, and to be eager as we wait for Him.
With His Word and Spirit Jesus has opened the eyes of our hearts to see His continued presence among us. We cannot see Him, but He is still here. And if He is not, we are all in big trouble.
If Jesus is not here, then your sins are not forgiven, because I am certainly not going to forgive you on my own power. If Jesus is not here then you are not baptized, because me pouring a few drops of water over your head is an impotent gesture. If Jesus is not here, then there is no Lord’s Supper, only bread and wine which we can buy at any convenience store.
By faith, however, we see Jesus, risen from the dead, still dwelling here among us. He is veiled, He is hidden from our sight. Make no mistake about that. But He is still here.
The eyes of faith see Jesus standing behind the pastor forgiving our sins in the absolution, preaching words of Law and Gospel, command and promise, that we may see Him all the clearer. Christ opens our faith eyes to see Him working through simple water to cleanse us from sin and to give us new life. The eyes of our hearts are brought into focus that we may see the true body and blood of Jesus, sacrificed and risen for you, under the bread and wine.
As we pass the days waiting for Jesus to return, as we pray, “Come Lord Jesus,” we must also remember by the prompting of the Holy Spirit that He is still here working hard among us. Jesus is still forgiving us, raising us to new life, drawing us into fellowship, keeping us steadfast in the one true faith.
Seeing that Jesus is still here among us leads us to be patient. The churches to whom John wrote this letter of the Revelation had to be especially patient. They were going to endure much before the end, just as we are.
Think about what John sees in the Revelation. He sees 7 seals broken, and with each one a divine judgment cast upon the earth. He sees and hears 7 trumpets blown, and with each one destruction reigns down from heaven. He sees 7 bowls filled with wrath poured upon the earth, and it is consumed.
John sees the Prostitute of Babylon getting drunk on the blood of the saints, two enormous beasts unleashed to deceive the saints, and Satan unchained to wage war on the saints. This calls for patience.
We endure trials, temptations, and persecutions here and now. We watch as our loved ones suffer through illnesses, as terrorists murder, and children are aborted and families crumble. We see our own selves commit the very sins that we deplore.
Yet Jesus is with us, forgiving our failures with His blood, granting us a refreshed existence day by day. Jesus gives us patience to endure through our own sinful nature, and to resist it. He gives patience to endure as the world around us continues on with eyes closed to Jesus Christ.
As we pass the days waiting for Jesus to return, as we pray, “Come Lord Jesus,” we are made increasingly eager to see Jesus with our eyes. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, Come.” Come Lord Jesus!
We are eager to see Jesus, and so we are eager in compassion, especially toward our fellow Christians. This was one of Jesus’ complaints against the 7 churches to which this Revelation was originally directed, they were lukewarm. They had lost their first love. They were not eager for compassion.
When Jesus opens the eyes of our hearts to see Him working among us, we cannot help but see Him working to have compassion on others beside ourselves. If He loves us He certainly loves those gathered around us. As He loves you, He so loves the world.
Jesus opens our eyes to make us eager to help the single mother with very few resources. He makes us eager to encourage our wayward son to come back to church. He makes us eager to see His compassion spread to the ends of the earth.
The Holy Spirit opens the eyes of our hearts to see the ascended Jesus Christ still working among us. Jesus makes us patient. He makes us eager.
In his famous poem of the same name, Alfred, Lord Tennyson writes of Ulysses, a man aged by two decades of war and traveling. After twenty years of fighting and sailing the weary king returns home to find his kingdom beset by enemies from without and enemies within. This is what he says:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven,
that which we are, we are---One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
We may feel ourselves growing weary as we continue to pray, “Come Lord Jesus.” We are beaten down by sin and guilt, evil within and evil without. Our patience is wearing thin. Our eagerness fades, grows weak.
Though the church is not the great secular power it once was, that which we are we are—one equal temper of opened hearts, made weak by time and sin, but strong through Christ to love, to forgive, to trust Jesus alone, and never to yield.
Jesus is coming. Surely He is coming soon. Do not lose heart. Do not grow weary. Jesus will give you patience. Jesus will make you eager. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!
Sunday, May 12, 2013
“There is no night there.” That is what John says about the city of God, the new Jerusalem. John is describing the Church of Jesus Christ in its resurrected and glorified state. It appears descending from heaven as a bride on her wedding day, beautiful.
One of the peculiar elements to this new and beautiful city is that it has no sun or moon. There are no artificial sources of light here. We probably don’t think of the sun as an artificial source of light, but it is. The sun was manufactured by God. Only God is a totally natural source of light.
This city has no sun or moon because it has God and the Lamb. It has the Father and Son in all their radiant glory as its light source. After the Last Judgment, in the Church of Jesus Christ, there is no night there.
I do not think that we should take this to mean that there is literally no night, no sun or moon or astrological features. The new creation will most likely have those things. But it will not have what they represent.
In the new creation there will be no powers of darkness, no evil, no sin, no death. That is what night and darkness have come to represent. Satan is the prince of darkness. Jesus tells Judas and the other Jews who have come to arrest Him that the night is their time. Night is when the devil is on the prowl, and in the new creation there will be no more of that.
Here, however, there is darkness, there is night. We are not yet to the new creation. We are not yet resurrected from the dead. We are living in the midst of a fallen and sinful world with fallen and sinful bodies and souls. We are struggling through the darkness of night.
Here there is the darkness of sin and evil. The night of sin descends upon us, or perhaps it is better to say that we bring it forth. We bring evil, anger, hate, lust, greed, and other such things into our relationships. And the result is multiplied darkness.
We see the results of this darkness in the conflicts that we have with other people. When you put two sinners together in a room there is going to be conflict, period. It is tempting to think that it is only the other guy who is sinning, but it always takes two to tango.
At times these conflicts are easily resolved. At other times they are not. And when we remain in the darkness of sin it breeds contempt. Anger grows to hate. We begin to despise the other person whom God tells us to love as ourselves.
Look at your relationships. Think about the people with whom you have contact throughout your day. Where is there conflict? Where is there resentment? Where is there contempt? It is all sin. It is all evil. It is all darkness and night.
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God and the Light of the World, has reconciled us to God the Father. He has restored that broken relationship with His death and resurrection. And now He gives us the command and the ability to forgive one another, to restore our broken relationships here on earth.
In marriage, in business, in family, or in politics, forgiveness bought with the blood of Jesus can and will restore light in the darkness. By the death and resurrection of Jesus we are called out of the darkness and into His congregation of saints where His light rules all. We are called to be children of the light.
Yet as children of the Light, we still live in a world of darkness, and the evidence for this continues to build. Here in this fallen world it is still night.
We see the darkness mount in the wake of the bombing of innocents at a marathon, the murder of children at a school, the abuse given from parents to children and from children to parents. You cannot watch the local news without seeing the darkness of night in which we live.
Fear not, Jesus says. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart. I have overcome the world. The resurrection of Jesus brings light, not only to our fallen nature, but also to this world. It announces the Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation to the ends of the earth.
Even as we struggle to proclaim the Gospel of Light in the dark and dismal world we see continued evidence that there is still night here. It is called death.
Neither the old, nor the young, nor any in between, are completely safe and exempt from this darkness, the result of evil in the world. You may have buried your parent, your spouse, or your child. It may have been a friend or a neighbor. But when death comes we all know instinctively that it is not light, but darkness. It is not day, but night.
Death is darkness. Resurrection is light. Jesus Christ has risen from the night of death to live forever in the day of life. He is the sunrise that will never set. He is the lamp that will never be extinguished. Christ is risen and it is that resurrection into eternal day and light to which we daily look forward.
We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem in which there is no more night, no need for a sun or moon to give us light, because God is our eternal light and life. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God is our Sun, the Lamp of God’s glory to illumine all darkness.
Here there is darkness. But in the new Jerusalem there is no night there.
There will be no trace of sin or evil in our bodies, in our hearts, or on our minds. We cannot even begin to fathom that, a day where the darkness of sin is not even a shadow for us. We will always love God fully and freely. We will always love our neighbor and serve him willingly with joy. We will have no enemies for all will be reconciled.
We will have been raised from the dead, restored and revitalized to be the men and women that God created us to be. In fact, the entire world will be filled with people, resurrected and ready to serve each other, not bite and devour one another. No more bombings or shootings or abuse, only love and fellowship, mercy and friendship forevermore.
We will be raised from the darkness of death never to die again. We will be like Jesus in His perfect human nature. The shadow of death will be gone from in front of us. Ahead is only the brilliant light of Jesus Christ shining on for eternity.
Here there is darkness and night. But there, there is no night. New Jerusalem has God and Jesus as its light and lamp. No evil, violence, or death. Only love, service, and life.
The eternal city is safe from darkness because Jesus Christ dwells in the midst of it. Jesus Christ is with us here and now. We can only see Him by faith working in Word and Sacrament. But that does not diminish His presence.
Jesus is with us today bringing the light of His death and resurrection into our lives. He is the beacon of light shining in our darkness bringing us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He shines forever, never diminished, until all darkness is banished and night is no more. Amen.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Things that have been corrupted can be restored. It is best if they never fall into disrepair, but they can usually be saved and restored.
Some of you have taken the time to restore an old tractor. What started out as a rusty, over used piece of farm equipment has become fit for riding in parades or putting in a fair show.
Some of you may have taken the time to restore a house. The building might have needed a lot of work, some updating and modernizing, but in the end it became a real home again.
Left to themselves, these things, tractors, cars, homes, they fall apart. They will not stay strong, sturdy, and dependable forever. In fact, in-and-of-themselves, they are worthless sitting there in disrepair. They are good for nothing.
But if the right person comes along, the person who will care for the item, who will put the time and energy into restoring it, a person with the right set of tools, what was old and decrepit can be revitalized and rejuvenated.
It is, perhaps, fitting that this text from Revelation 21 falls today, at the end of the so-called “Earth Week”. The secular world, especially NBC, has been pushing us all to consider being more “green”. They want you to buy new light bulbs, use less water, recycle, and burn less gas. The popular term is to diminish your carbon footprint.
Whatever you think of such things, it is without doubt that the world is falling apart around us. This, of course, is nothing new. The curse of modern media is that anything on the nightly news automatically become a new problem, even if it has been around for thousands of years.
The world has been decaying from the very moment that Adam and Eve fell into temptation. From the very first bite of that forbidden fruit, the seas have been beyond our control, animals have resisted our training, and the weather has not wanted to cooperate with our plans.
The world is dangerous and deadly. And that is a result of sin; my sin, your sin, the sin of the whole world. And there is nothing that we can do to change that.
There is nothing wrong with trying to conserve energy, recycling, and being conscious of your carbon footprint. What is wrong, and extremely arrogant of us, is to think that we can save the world.
You and I, with all of our green efforts, cannot save the earth from destruction. John saw it in his vision. Jesus has declared it in the gospels. The world will come to an end, but not because we allow it to decoy. It will be destroyed because God will bring it to an end that He may put something better in its place.
With all our efforts we are merely pushing against the inevitable. This world will come to an end. Its downward spiral of decay and destruction began thousands of years ago and our feeble efforts will not stop it.
Humanity, also, is corrupted beyond repair. And as human beings we can look at this from two angles: the body and the spirit.
Obviously our human bodies are corrupted and decaying. From the moment a child is conceived we know that it will also die. Every person gets sick, has physical weaknesses, and suffers in many and various ways.
You have all experienced the decaying of your body in one form or another. Even the very young have gotten ill, been injured, and seen the reality of their mortality, and everyone else’s.
And you cannot save yourself from this. No matter what technological advances we make, no matter the amount of exercise and proper diet you endure, you cannot stop the constant decay of your flesh. You may slow it down, prevent it for a brief season, but not forever.
But we may also approach this corruption and decay from the point of view of the spirit. Not only are our bodies decaying by the moment, but our spirits as well. We have fallen under the corruption of sin and evil.
This has to do, not only with how we act, but with our very nature, who we are. We are sinners, corrupted by evil through and through. This is so true that Saint Paul exclaims at one point: the good that I want to do I cannot do; who will save me from this body of death?!
Like an old tractor sitting in the junk yard waiting to be sold for scrap, our spirits endure day after day of the harsh weather unleashed by our own evil deeds and those of the world around us. Our soul deteriorates at a rapid pace. And there is nothing that we can do to stop it. It is beyond our control, beyond our power to save.
Sin is a corrupting force. And whether it is the earth, our bodies, or our spirits, all things under the influence of sin are eventually destroyed. The earth will come to an end. Your body will be destroyed. You soul will be trapped in a dead state. And there is nothing you can do to fix it.
What we need is the right man with the right tools for the job, the man with the expertise to take this corrupted world and make it shining and new. That man is also God. His name is Jesus.
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is all about restoring the creation that God had made. Yes, it will be destroyed, at least the sin-saturated version of it that we all know. But it will also be renewed, rejuvenated, refurbished to be better than new at His second coming.
This began at His incarnation, as God was joined with human flesh and blood in Mary’s womb. When the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus, God took on our corrupted flesh. Although He never sinned, He endured the consequences of our evil deeds and desires.
It continued during Christ’s earthly ministry. As He healed the sick, drove out demons, calmed storms, and raised the dead, Jesus was letting the people of earth know that they would not be abandoned by God to the corruption of their sin.
When Jesus was crucified, as He died upon that tree, He did so to break the corrupting power of sin upon the earth and upon you and me. When He rose from the dead He put an end to that corruption and decay. In fact, He completely reversed it. The resurrection of Christ is God’s solemn promise that He will rejuvenate the entire world, and us along with it.
In the vision of Revelation, John sees a New Heaven and New Earth. The old corrupted world has been destroyed. But in its place Jesus Christ has built something even better. He has refurbished the universe so that it will now run and operate as God intended.
This includes the entire creation. It includes you and me. Our bodies will be on that new earth. And our regenerated souls will inhabit regenerated bodies. In that new world we will only desire what is good, noble, and true. We will only do what is good, noble, and true.
Like that broken down, rusted out tractor sitting in the field, we need to be rebuilt. We just need the right man for the job. Jesus Christ is the right man. He has the drive to make us new, His compassionate love for each human creature. He has the strength, the very power and knowledge of God. He has the tools, the Word of His mouth, the Sacraments He has left to us.
Through the continued ministry of Jesus Christ you are being rebuilt, refurbished, and rejuvenated day by day. Your corruption is being scrapped away and a new godly creature is being brought forth.
On the Last Day the work will be completed. As the New Heavens and New Earth appear, completely renovated and overhauled, we too shall be completed. We shall be as God created us to be, perfect mirror images of His beloved Son.
His death and resurrection has begun the revitalization of our body and soul. At His return He will bring it to completion. We shall be restored forever. Amen.
Friday, May 10, 2013
“The Lamb…will be their Shepherd.” Really? Isn’t that a little odd? It would seem strange to me to expect a lamb to be a shepherd, after all it is sheep who need the shepherd. So what is going on here in Revelation 7?
The shepherd is supposed to guide and protect the sheep of his flock. Can someone who is described as “the Lamb” really be capable of the sort of guidance that we need in the 21st century? Can a lamb protect us from the wolves ready to attacks us, the lions ready to devour us, the false shepherds who wish to lead us astray?
Make no mistake, the 21st century poses a set of problems and challenges to the Christian faith that are dangerous to our Church. Atheism, the once quiet, disinterested, and small group of those who believe nothing spiritual exists, has become militant, intent on uprooting any form of serious spiritual faith.
The internet has given us easier access to dangerous tools of the devil. Those who bombed innocent civilians in Boston this past week could very easily have learned to make their explosives on line. With just a few strokes of the keyboard you can learn how to destroy hundreds, even thousands of lives.
The world-wide-web gives us access to too much information at times, the wrong kind of information. It can certainly be used for good, but also for evil. It can connect us to loved ones, but it can just as easily connect us to pornography, hate groups, and false information.
We have come to a tipping point in America where the surrounding values of the culture not only do not match with those of the Christian faith, but they are adversarial to it. We can’t simply agree to disagree. Christians are being systematically shunned and spurned, told to change, get on the right side of history.
The temptation for us is to think that the Lamb is not up to the task of defending us from this evil. Surely a meek little sheep cannot guide us through these turbulent waters. There is no way a lamb can protect us from the dangerous philosophies and religions that wish to destroy our faith.
And so we seek something more. We look for answers apart from the Lamb of God. We look to mysticism, trying to receive some sort of direct emotional experience with God, circumventing the person of Jesus.
We look to our jobs for meaning, to our families to give us hope, to science for absolute truth. We look to our nation, the good ole’ U.S. of A. to fill in the place and role of God. Of course a lamb cannot be our shepherd. We must look for a better one.
Perhaps John was thinking the same thing. As I explained last week, Revelation 6 is all about the judgment of God. John not only hears, but actually sees God pouring out His wrath upon this sin-filled world.
Can you imagine what John saw, how horrifying it must have been? He sees bloody war, unimaginable famine and disease. In the book of revelation John sees the earth destroyed three different times. He sees the devil unleashed upon the earth to wreak his worst havoc.
John had far better reason than we to think that perhaps the Lamb was not up to the task of being the Shepherd. And it is for this reason that John sees what he does in Revelation chapter 7.
At the beginning of chapter 7 John sees the church of God on earth, all Christians still living during those turbulent end times, sealed with the mark of God upon their foreheads. The seal of God keeps them safe during the horrors of judgment.
Then, in our text for this morning, John sees an uncountable crowd of people from every race and tribe upon the earth singing the praises of God and the Lamb. These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The Lamb shepherded God’s people through the greatest tribulation that the world would ever know. He sealed them with His blood while they lived through it. He raised them from the dead and gave them victory over death at His triumphant return.
The Lamb protects them from hunger, thirst, and heat. He leads them to drink deeply from the cool and refreshing waters that give eternal life. He wipes away all their tears.
If the Lamb can shepherd His people through the Great Tribulation, which will be far worse than anything you and I have ever seen, then He can certainly shepherd us through these dark days.
We are not living through the Great Tribulation, only a normal one. Times like these are merely par for the course when it comes to being a child of God, citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
We have been sealed through baptism with the mark of Jesus Christ, the Lamb. We belong to Him. We are under His protection from the dangers of false doctrine, false accusation, sin, and vise.
The Lamb continues to guide us with His Word. He teaches us time and again that He is our Savior, worthy of our trust. He leads us down the narrow way, and picks us up each time we fall.
John’s vision is for us too. It is to comfort us in our affliction, restore us when we have sinned, and reassure us of the strength of the Lamb, our Shepherd.
The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is just full of contradictions. He is a shepherding lamb. He washes us white with His blood. And He is the Lamb who was slain, but is alive.
This is no ordinary sheep, small and fragile. The powers of hell threw everything they had at Him and He took it all, overcoming even the devil’s most powerful assault: death. The Lamb is tough. More than that, He is all-powerful.
This almighty, undying Lamb is our Shepherd. He will guide us through the changes and difficulties of this world. He will protect us from the eternal consequences of our own sin. He will raise us from death.
Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen!