We Know the Ending!

“We Know the Ending!”

Isa 65-17 new-heavens-new-earth

Isaiah 65:17-19 – November 17, 2019

Who likes to watch movies? I’m thinking in particular of scary movies. There’s the plucky heroine, the brave protagonist, the encouraging older character actor, the quirky supporting actor. I bet you recognize these typical parts of the horror movie formula. And, have you ever found yourself yelling at the screen, “Don’t go down in the creepy basement!” or “Don’t go up to the scary attic!” You and I could almost guess what was coming, couldn’t we? Many of them are so formulaic we already know the ending.

In the scripture reading from the end of Isaiah 65, we find out how things are going to end, at the end of all recorded time. It’s the end of the ultimate scary and suspenseful movie. Sure, there is a lot of scary stuff that happens in each of our lives, as well as really sad things and even some overwhelmingly traumatic happenings. But, there is no ultimate surprise ending to the overarching story. We already know the ending. God wins, and the whole world is re-created!

Let’s take a step back. What came before chapter 65 of Isaiah, in the original creation?

We all remember the blessed words of Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That was the time of the first creation. God created everything in this world, and God made it all very good. We have God’s word on it – it says so at the end of Genesis 1:31. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”

The sad—even traumatic—events of Genesis 3 happened so soon afterwards, where the spotless creation was marred by sin, and the whole world was changed, turned topsy-turvy.

Just think—creation, blessed and sanctified by God in the beginning, was indelibly altered, leaving a huge upheaval in the whole order of all created beings and created places. We are still in that in-between time, dealing with the aftermath of Adam, Eve and the apple.

All this fall, I have done a part-time chaplain internship in a busy downtown hospital. There is nothing quite so intense as a critical care unit of a busy hospital to get across the sorrow, agony and mourning of the human experience.

Here at this church last week, we prayed for a senior who was scheduled for a delicate procedure the next day, last Monday. I have not checked up to see how that dear senior is doing now, but there are several serious continuing health issues in this dear one’s life and body. I do not know whether or not there are additional concerns in this situation. All I know is that I promised we would pray for this prayer request for four weeks. That is what I could do for this dear senior, to encourage and come alongside of this dear one.

But, we all are still in the time of the first creation. We all know about that time; still in the time of imperfection, of fallenness, of crying and suffering and sorrow.

I have mentioned Rev. Janet Hunt before. She is a Lutheran pastor in DeKalb. She is dealing with a real-life experience right now, where one of the families in her congregation is reeling from the unexpected news of cancer. This heart-breaking diagnosis affects not only the young person medically affected, but the whole extended family as well.

Rev. Hunt is correct when she says that this loving family has resources, both material and spiritual. They have adequate health insurance, and live near wonderful medical care and excellent hospitals. This youth’s particular medical diagnosis is the most common, and the most treatable form of that hated disease, cancer. And still—and still, Rev. Hunt’s heart breaks “to be living in a world where mothers weep, and dads stand stoic so as to emit a sense of much needed calm, and [young people] try to hold back tears of confusion and fear.” [1]

While here in this flawed world, we groan, and we struggle; we cry and we mourn. Why me, Lord? Why us? Why are there many children and young people in horrible circumstances, both in and out of the hospital? For that matter, why is anyone suffering? Why do bad, negative, even traumatic things happen to good, loving and compassionate people?

Why, Lord? Why, oh why? Please let me know. Please, please, dear Lord, act in all their troubled lives, relational difficulties, and medical situations

As we consider today’s Scripture reading from Isaiah 65, Rev. Hunt says, “I want the world the prophet promises now:

  • Where the sounds of weeping and distress are simply no more.
  • Where little ones (and children) never die and where life is still short when we live to be 100.
  • Where hard work is rewarded with adequate shelter and enough to eat for everyone.
  • Where sworn enemies —- the wolf and the lamb — eat together.

Oh, what a world that would be, will be where not one is hurt or destroyed on God’s holy mountain.” [2] This whole reading incorporates God’s wish for the entire world. When God describes Jerusalem, God means the whole world.

Remember how I started this sermon, talking about scary movies? We wanted to warn the characters of the dangers.  But, what if we have already seen that movie for the second, third, even fifth time when we knew the ending?  Once we knew the ending we sometimes might want to tell the hero not to worry during the scary parts and sometimes want to warn the heroine to be careful when everything is going well.

In our Gospel reading from Luke 21, the disciples ask, “Teacher, when will these [dire, horrible] things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” The Hebrew Scripture readings for this week tell us God’s final ending.  The New Testament readings advise us on how to live until the ending comes. [3] Yes, we could concentrate on the disheartening Gospel reading, and look at all the bad, awful, and even worse things that are going to happen – and even happen right now. However, I wanted to look at God’s truly happily-ever-after ending. Let us all know and look forward to God’s ultimate, Good News ending.

Yes, creation is part of God’s continuing work today, and the continuing reality of the world today. Remember the prophet’s words in verse 65:19, that sorrow and crying will be taken away as God re-creates the world. Never fear – God will wipe away every tear from every eye. No more sorrow! In this reading, we see real celebration! Praise God, we will have joy in the morning on that day! In the words of that joyful gospel song, Soon and very soon!

Isn’t that God’s ultimate Good News? Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[2] http://dancingwiththeword.com/new-heavens-new-earth/

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/10/year-c-proper-28-33rd-sunday-in.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 28, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

All Things New

“All Things New” – November 4, 2018

Revelation 21:1-6a

Rev 21 making new creation

  “ . . . and they all lived happily ever after.” The end.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that the way that fairy tales are supposed to end?

Thinking of the scripture reading we just read, the new heaven and new earth haven’t shown up yet. News flash! We are still living in the same old heaven, same old earth.

Life here on this earth is okay, I guess, but it is sure no fairy tale. Fairy tale endings are few and far between. Once in a while it happens that someone inherits a huge amount of money, or wins the lottery, or signs a big sports contract, but that isn’t the way it works for the vast majority of people here.

What happened? Doesn’t somewhere it say that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good?” As the book of Genesis, chapter one, tells us, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God created everything good.

God gave humanity the world and everything in it for us to enjoy. It is all a gift, everything, for us to enjoy together with God. God wants to be in relationship with us. Can you imagine, daily strolls through beautiful gardens, in the cool of the evening? That’s just the picture that is painted for us by Genesis chapter 3.

You all know the plot line. God did have a close relationship with Adam. Then, one day, God came looking for Adam, but what happened? Sin happened. That relationship was fractured. Humanity was separated from God by sin. Now, today too, I am separated from God by my sin.

Another word for sin is separation. I know I sin. I displease God. And when I sin, I am separated from God. I feel it. I know I am alienated from God.

How many people here have seen a mime? I bet you are familiar with the wordless actors, who use gestures and movements to communicate. Can you see a mime coming up against a wall, trying to get through?   ((pantomime a wall))   Sin is like that wall. So high. So wide. Impenetrable. We are separated from God! That’s what sin does. Sin builds walls in our lives between us and God. And what’s more, sin builds walls between each of us, as well. Between me and you. Shutting us out, shutting us apart from each other.

The picture I’ve painted is pretty grim. If we were left in this horrible situation with no way out, the outlook would be pretty hopeless. I know that I am helpless to get myself out of this mess. I cannot overcome this separation from God, no matter how hard I try in my own strength.

I’m reminded of my children. When they were small, I can remember taking them to the playground, where I’d push them in the big swings. Then when they got a little older, they would always want to pump higher and higher themselves, so high that they would touch the sky. I remember my daughter Rachel (she’s in graduate school now, so this was some years ago) asked me if she could get as high as God. I laughed, and then told her that was a good question. But I said that she couldn’t reach God like that on a swing, no matter how hard she pumped.

But isn’t that just like us? To want to get to God on our own, on our own terms, in our own way? I want to do things my way! But, wait! I can’t get to God! There’s something in the way! ((pantomime a wall))  A wall, a barrier, a separation . . . I can’t get through!

But . . . thanks be to God. God has provided a way. God sent His Son, His only begotten Son, as a gift God sent His Son into this world, to reconcile this world to Himself, to bring us back into that relationship God wanted to have with us at the beginning. Remember God, walking in the garden? Giving humanity all of creation to enjoy? God has broken down the walls of separation and reconciled us to Himself. Praise God! We can now have that relationship with Him!

Let’s read again from Revelation 21, verses 3 and 4. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Did you hear that? What did these verses say? The home of God will be with us!

The One Who is Faithful and True has written this. Sure, we’re living right now in an imperfect world. Sure, there are many problems here and now. Sure, we all can think of things that ought to be changed. And, we can strive to make it the very best world that we can. I’m wondering . . . how can you make a difference in this world, here and now? In big ways, little ways, any way you can? How can I make a difference, right where I am? This is not only a God-given challenge to us, to you, to me. This is a God-given opportunity!

But . . . there’s more! We can also look forward to the new heaven and the new earth. Right here in Revelation 21, the One seated on the Throne has promised to wipe away every tear from every eye. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

No matter what, we can look forward to a close relationship with God! No more separation, no more alienation. No more walls or barriers. Instead, the home of God will be with us! We will dwell with God forever and ever, no matter what.

What a great expectation to have. What a future. What a promise. What a celebration. Remember, the One seated on the Throne is trustworthy and true. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End has promised these things. And our God is One Who keeps His promises.

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Unity of Christ’s Church

“Unity of Christ’s Church”

Gal 3-28 all one in Christ

Galatians 3:26-29 – August 28, 2016

One of my sisters lives in the New York City area, on Long Island. She has lived there for more than twenty-five years. She is a wonderful, generous hostess, and often takes her family and friends to various places around New York, site-seeing. We love to visit my sister. When my children were younger, we went with my sister to the top of the Statue of Liberty—on two different occasions!

The Statue of Liberty. A beacon of light for generations. When my grandfather was a boy in the early 1900’s, he and his family emigrated to the United States from a shtetl in western Ukraine. He remembered standing on the deck of a steam ship from Europe, coming into New York harbor.  He gazed over the rail at the welcoming sight, along with everyone else on that ship. The Statue of Liberty was etched vividly into his memory. I know, because he told me so.

This country has been called a melting pot, containing different nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. Some call this country a mosaic or a kaleidoscope of people. Whatever you call it, the United States is truly an amazing nation made up of a multitude of individuals (or, their ancestors) who came from all over the world.

Unity. Unity amidst diversity. That is what this country is all about.

Let’s take a second look at our Scripture passage for today from Galatians 3. The Apostle Paul writes to the believers in the region (or area) called Galatia in Asia Minor. He makes an all-important point at the end of chapter 3: our text for today. “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I think you all might suspect what the theme for today’s service is. Unity!

Just as our nation incorporates strong unity amidst wonderful diversity, so does the Church. Not only this congregation, this fellowship of believers, but I am talking about the Church Universal. The Church around the world.

Taking a closer look at verse 3:28, at first glance, we might focus on the differences. Wow! There are some pretty big differences here. Paul mentions some significant separations and divisions. Different categories. What does this diversity look like?

First, “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile.” That is a serious thing for the Apostle Paul to say. Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; a member of the Sanhedrin (that is, the ruling religious council of Jerusalem). A top-notch Pharisee who probably prided himself on his meticulous keeping of the Mosaic Law code, down to the smallest detail. Good, law-keeping, observant Jews of that time would not allow themselves to associate with, or even talk to a Gentile. So—after he became a Christian, we can see how serious Paul was about this unity of everyone, in Christ Jesus.

The second difference? “There is neither slave nor free.” Jesus Christ takes away all distinctions of social class and standing!

Wait a minute! That is not strictly true. In this troubled world, there are lots of differences, lots of separations in social hierarchy. In Morton Grove, we see many people who are solidly middle class. Different from wealthy people living on the Gold Coast, just off Michigan Avenue near the Water Tower. Go just a few miles further south, to the Englewood area of Chicago. I saw some of areas of extreme poverty when I visited there, earlier this month.

However, when people come to believe in Jesus Christ, social class and power can be dissolved, and go away. The unity of all believers is emphasized in this verse, again.

The third difference we notice? Paul mentions “nor is there male and female.”

Subtle difference! Yes, God created people male and female. Yet, when people come to faith in Christ Jesus, there is a new creation. All things are become new, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5. Even gender is given a back seat. Each person’s belief in Christ is emphasized in this new creation, differences are dissolved, and the unity of all believers is lifted up. We are all one big family.

Earlier in this letter, Paul mentions circumcision. That’s something that is very Jewish. And, very male. In the time before the common era, women and girls could not be considered full children of Abraham because they could not be circumcised. (For obvious reasons.) That was fully half of all religious people who could not fully participate in religious functions. Yet now, in this new creation in Christ Jesus, the old differences and distinctions no longer separate male and female. All things have become new.

Let me remind everyone of how earthshaking this all must have been for the Apostle Paul. Talk about having his entire worldview and frame of reference turned upside down! A good, observant Jew who studied with one of the leading rabbis of that day, now associating and eating with Gentiles. Staying in their homes. What a huge change of Paul’s way of thinking.

One big theme of the letter to the Galatians is that of identity. Who are we? What are our identity markers? How do we tell who others are, in our group? Paul says so, right here. Those who are baptized in Christ are children of God. Everyone who is baptized is our brother, our sister. That’s a whole lot of people, when we consider all the people who are believers, not only in the United States, but in the whole world!

I don’t know how many of you remember your own baptism, as infants and children. However, Paul is talking to people who were baptized as adults. The weeks beforehand must have been significant, too, in which these new believers were fully instructed and immersed in the understanding of Christ as their Messiah, their Lord and Savior. Then, often on Easter Sunday, the new believers were baptized. When possible, they were fully immersed, or at least had water poured over them in a large tub. Sometimes, naked, because they often would remove their clothing before the ceremony. After the baptism, they put on a new, white garment, signifying their new life in Christ. They were truly “clothed in Christ,” just as Paul says here.

As diverse and different as we are, considering world-wide Christianity, we all have become one humongous family of God. We are all God’s children.

How many of us, today, can say that? Yes, when babies and children are baptized today, we make a big fuss. We buy them special outfits for the occasion. But, do we truly take the new reality—this new identity—to heart? We have all been transformed, through Christ.

What a transformation! What an identity shift. We here at St. Luke’s Church are just as much God’s children as the Catholics worshipping at St. Martha’s Catholic Church south of Dempster. And, both groups of believers are just as much God’s children as those baptized at St. Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church on Caldwell. And, what about our friends at Love Sharing Disciple Church here, who will be worshipping in this sanctuary later today? This is duplicated at churches and auditoriums all over the Chicago area, with diverse ethnic and cultural groups of believers. We can enlarge that to a wide variation of church practices, all over the world. Wow! Double wow!

What a mosaic of identity in Christ. What a kaleidoscope of difference, made one huge family of God. Remember our sentence for the week, from the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission? Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to embrace the unity of Christ’s church.”

The unity of Christ’s church, in such beautiful, rich, worldwide diversity. This is truly something to celebrate! Alleluia, amen.

[Thanks to Dr. Richard B. Hays for concepts and ideas from his commentary on Galatians 3, from The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996).]

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Healing of the Nations

“Healing of the Nations”

Rev 22 leaves of tree

Revelation 22:1-5 – May 1, 2016

When some people take trips, they often take tours. Large tours, with a large group of people, or sometimes a small, intimate tour. When you go on a trip to a different town or an exciting place, don’t you enjoy tours? When I went to Washington D.C. last May to see my daughter, we went to the National Cathedral. We went on one of the behind-the-scenes tours there, and were in a small, intimate group that went through the cathedral from top to bottom. Fascinating information! And such a gorgeous, awe-inspiring place, too!

We can think of today’s Scripture passage in that light. John was on a tour of the new heavens and the new earth. He was getting a personal tour from an angel, showing him all the awe-inspiring highlights of the new-created Holy City.

This new creation is going to be great! Just from the short description here, I can sort of, almost imagine how intricate, how detailed, and full of splendor that new Holy City will be. Can’t you? Reading from the end of Revelation 21: “22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”

This City is not only full of glory and splendor, but, wait—there’s more. Much more!

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Did you hear? The river of life, and the tree of life, with leaves for healing of the nations.

Let’s start with the river of life. That life-giving river is free for any to draw from. We can follow the allusion to the river or water of life, throughout the Bible. In Genesis 2, a river watered the Garden of Eden and made it fruitful. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet spoke of a river flowing through the Temple. Zechariah 14 mentions “Living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem.” And in John 7, our Lord Jesus says, “Out of the heart of the one who believes in Me shall flow rivers of living water.”

John mentioned the tree of life here in Revelation. There are not as many allusions in the Bible to a tree of life, but there are two. The tree of life is found in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3. And, in Ezekiel 47, the prophet describes the tree of life at some length. So similar to the description here in Revelation!

This healing aspect of the tree of life really intrigued me. Yes, in the time of the new heavens and the new earth, we will receive life from both the life-giving river and the life-giving tree. But, healing? Who doesn’t need healing, in some way, somehow? Especially now, in this fallen, imperfect world. Individuals need healing in many important ways. Physical healing, yes. But also psychological healing. Emotional healing. And, spiritual healing.

We are not in that time of the new heavens and new earth, though. We are still in the in-between time. Sometimes today, certain churches and ministries teach the children of God that God our Heavenly Parent actually makes us sick.

According to these churches, God has given us diabetes, cancer or depression to teach us something. Or, God allowed, even orchestrated neglect, trauma or abuse to take place to somehow make us a better Christian. As if God would ever do such a thing!

In the Bible, we learn about God healing various people. Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus heals individuals in body, mind and spirit. Just like the tree of life, with leaves for healing. Healing, upbuilding leaves. When we enlarge that healing to groups of people, of nations, there can be healing of relationships, healing of resentments, healing of hatred and animosity. To reference the book of Isaiah, God will settle all disputes, and see that every sword is beaten into a plowshare. No one will ever need to fight or go to war anymore.

This is just one aspect of group healing or national healing. But, there is more! I am so appreciative of the point of view of a commentary I consult from time to time, The African American Lectionary. [1] In it, Reverend Michael Lomax gives a short background and history of healing services. How these services over the years have allowed and provided African Americans hope; “hope to endure racial discrimination, economic exploitation, and emotional trauma, debilitating physical illnesses, death, and ruptures in relationships.”

Thank goodness that—in many places across the country—conditions have improved. Not only African Americans, but all people of color are often able to, in the words of Rev. Lomax, “have access to various modes of physical, mental, and emotional healing, including advanced health care and various kinds of counselors. Still, healing services continue to be a mainstay in African American congregations, where worship leaders invite the community to look beyond problems to catch a glimpse of God’s plan for restoration.”

Here we are, in the in-between time. We are not yet in the time that John talks about in this passage today, the time of the new heavens and new earth. We cannot see the crystal clear river, or smell the sweet, medicinal odor of the leaves on the tree. Not yet!

However, God has given us promises. God has given us a plan. God’s plan for restoration.  In the here and now, in the in-between time, God does heal, in any one of a number of ways. As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s healing may not include a cure of our immediate ailments. Instead, God’s healing may provide resources for us to press on in spite of our ailments. In healing services, God awakens the hope that allows us to live with grace and dignity in the present, even as we await God’s ultimate transformation of our brokenness in the future.“

What do we hear from this passage today? This word picture of a life-giving tree that bears fruit every season and is fed by a crystal river that flows out of the throne?  Sure, we have an abstract message about the fullness of eternal life. Sure, it is a complicated picture of life. However, the world will be transformed. It is completely as God intends it to become.

We can ask a follow-up question: how would this picture of the end of the world help Christians who are having hard times now? I think this picture would give believers hope. Hope in God, and praise for hope in God’s name on the foreheads of the redeemed.

As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s ‘healthcare plan’ provides equal access to wholeness and does not simply favor those who are already powerful and privileged. The healing leaves that God offers in this scene are as accessible as the river that flows. The healing supplied is not only an individual experience but also a communal experience because the leaves are “… for the healing of the nations” (22:2).”

Yes, this visionary tour of the new creation by our angelic tour guide gives us hope for the present. Hope for provision of strength. Praise be to God! God’s healing is here and now. And, God’s healing is something we all can look forward to!

God willing, may God’s healing come on earth as it is in heaven. Alleluia, amen!
[1] Michael R. Lomax, Guest Lectionary Commentator, Associate Minister, Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, Nashville, TN,  http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=4

(Thank you to Rev. Michael Lomax and to the African American Lectionary for their excellent insights into Revelation 22:1-5.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)