Sunday May 26th Sermon-The New Jerusalem

Sermon Text:

Revelation 21:9 New International Version (NIV)

The New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

 

The Sermon:

On Revelation 21:9 – 22:5 (expanded lectionary)

 

As John takes us on a tour of the new Jerusalem,

there’s a sense of needing a tour guide for the text,

for thinking about these images and their implications.

Because as much as I have a new-found appreciation

for the “old” Jerusalem, John’s vision is not just about

a luxurious remodel in that corner of the world.

It’s bigger than that.

 

“I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb,” says the angel,

before taking John to the mountain top.  In the New Testament, marriage is a metaphor for the intimacy between Christ and the church.  So all that John tells us next is a vision for the believing community.

 

If you want to be literal, one of the verses you heard read

describes this city as being fifteen hundred miles on a side.

I always take great pride that Alaskan “cities” top the list

when ranked by land area.  Anchorage, where I grew up, is fourth;

with an official land area of 1,704 square miles.

But Alaska’s cities are dwarfed by the new Jerusalem.

To try to imagine this kind of area:

if Jackson was one corner of this new Jerusalem,

another corner might roughly be across the Mexico border

in Cabo San Lucas, another in Cancun, and another in Cleveland, Ohio.  To John’s listeners back in the day, this kind of size

was almost the whole of the known world.

To have this kind of view and perspective today, in the spirit one of the angels would have to carry you away to the moon.

 

The measurement speaks on other levels.

One scholar says measurement was a customary way of saying something is under control.   Further, in the original language

the distance is 12,000 stadia on each side.

As a multiple of 12, a number that had significance in Hebrew thought and tradition, 12,000 is another way of speaking of community.

 

So in this vision, John sees a new community,

gifted to the world by God, reigned by God, and big.

Big enough for you and me.  Big enough for lots of people.

 

And then the tour takes us inside.

The passage highlighted by the lectionary

emphasizes that there is no temple in this city.

This is a huge contrast to the “old” Jerusalem.

Even today, Jerusalem is often recognized

by the Dome of the Rock shrine, which sits on the Temple Mount.

When the temple was previously destroyed by the Babylonian empire, there had been a dream (and eventual realization) of rebuilding it.

So rebuilding the temple had to have been a preoccupation of believers

now that Rome had sacked Jerusalem.

But John says that in this new Jerusalem there is no temple,

and further says there is no need for one.

He offers an explanation:

“for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

One scholar reflects,  “If a temple separates divine presence from

the rest of the world, then here the divine is immediately present, without a preserve to guarantee and identify holiness.

Christ’s presence in the world, found in a variety of places,

takes the place of the temple in sharing the holiness of God.”   Although I would remind them of the communal aspect of this vision,

I think my spiritual-but-not-religious friends would resonate

with this part of John’s vision.

 

The city has walls, which are traditionally symbols

of safety and security.  But there’s something funny about these walls.  They have lots of gates – in the general description we are told there are 12 in total.  And now we learn that these gates are all open: they “will never be shut by day and there will be no night there.”

Rather than a fortress, this city is a welcome center.

The adult education hour imagined the angels at the gates

as greeters and visitor guides, rather than as sentries.

 

It seems to have a lot of visitors – the nations stream in

to walk by its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it.  And the visitors aren’t just foreign dignitaries and distinguished guests – John says the people of the nations bring in glory and honor.

This is expansive vision is shared with Paul’s carrying the gospel

to Macedonia, and with the psalmist’s including

of all the nations on earth.

In God’s community, this city image seems to suggest,

openness is a real way to safety and security.

 

But here John pauses.  He holds this image of universal hope

in balance with a clear warning of exclusion.

Nothing unclean; nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood will enter this city.

We have some understanding of how sin makes one unclean;

and what it means to practice falsehood seems fairly straightforward.  But today, “abomination” is less clear – it seems to be a label applied

to things we don’t understand or like.

But in New Testament usage, this word is more specific.

It occurs in three other places.

In Matthew (24:15) and Mark (13:14), the word is translated

as “sacrilege,” and is used when Jesus warns the disciples about the troubled times “when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be.”  Scholars comment that the “saying might have referred to the emperor Caligula’s unfulfilled plan to set up his statue in the Jerusalem temple in 40 CE, or as a reference to the presence of the Roman general Titus standing in the temple in 70 CE as it was destroyed.”   In Luke (16:15), Jesus uses the term when he is arguing with lovers of money.  He says, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts;

for what is prized by human beings

is an abomination in the sight of God.”

So this is a call to reject some of the particular ways of empire

and to follow the rule of God.

 

We need this call, this vision of community, today

just as much as believers in the Roman world did.

I am struck by the contrast of the New Jerusalem

with policies around the world

that want to deny entrance to displaced people –

just as the United Nations Refugee Agency reports that we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record,

with 68.5 million people around the world forced from home.

For me, some of the statistics shared at the immigration presentation this last Monday – of refugees’ repayment of loans being off the charts, of work ethics – corrected the practiced falsehoods

I hear all too often in this country.

I am struggling with the news that an ELCA pastor from Wisconsin

is scheduled to be deported next Tuesday.

What abominations are we practicing?

When do we perpetuate or allow false narratives to stand?

How do we justify ourselves and our money?

After giving his warning, John returns

to the promise of this new Jerusalem.

He continues his tour, inviting us in, giving more details.

I like John’s big open city because the cities I have known,

even the sprawling ones, sometimes make me claustrophobic.

The nature lover in me wonders why couldn’t John have seen a new Garden of Eden descending out of heaven from God.

 

And then John evokes exactly that first paradise.

New Jerusalem is no concrete jungle.

The angel shows John “the river of the water of life”…

and “on either side of the river is the tree of life

with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month;

and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

This is no ordinary tree.  I love that it bears not just one kind of fruit, but twelve, and that it is ever-bearing throughout the year.

I love that healing happens in this city –

that we don’t have to wait to be whole to get in.

Each of us has a street address in this city,

“with grace specific to each one’s needs.”

God’s provision is ceaseless.

This is a city of abundance.

 

And finally, John celebrates the source of all this peace and abundance: the same intimacy with Christ marked by not needing a temple.

In the New Jerusalem, the distance between God’s people and God

is erased.  As Jesus’ promised in the gospel reading,

the Father and the Lamb have come and made their home

with those who love him and keep his word (John 14:23).

God’s servants gather together to offer service and worship,

and God’s people even see God and the Lamb’s face –

an ultimate privilege that not even Moses was granted.

And John says that they will reign forever and ever.

“At a time when Rome claimed to reign forever,”

Revelation expert Barbara Rossing comments,

“Revelation boldly proclaim[s] that it is God who reigns –

not the Empire – and that God’s servants will also reign with God.  Note, however, that there is no object of the verb “reign.”

God servants do not reign over anyone else.  The text invites us to explore ways to understand our reign not as domination over,

but as sharing in, God’s healing of the world.”

 

Dear church, bride of Christ,

may that intimacy with the God who comes close,

whose life, death and resurrection split the temple curtain,

be reflected in the ways we live and move in our world.

May the image of the new Jerusalem give us vision

of who to be and become,

as well as give us comfort, courage and healing.

 

AMEN.

 

 

Sunday May 12th Sermon-“Lessons from sheepish dogs”

Sermon Audio

Sermon Text:

John 10:22-30 New International Version (NIV)

Further Conflict Over Jesus’ Claims

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication[a] at Jerusalem. It was winter,23 and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[b]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

 

Revelation 7:9-17 New International Version (NIV)

The Great Multitude in White Robes

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robesand were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the eldersand the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
    will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’[a]
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]

Sunday April 7th Sermon-Press on Towards the Goal

Sermon Audio

Sermon Text:

Philippians 3:4-14 New International Version (NIV)

though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christand be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Sunday March 10th Sermon-Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Sermon Audio

Luke 4:1-13 New International Version (NIV)

Jesus Is Tested in the Wilderness

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spiritinto the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted[a] by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’[b]

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’[c]

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[d]

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[e]

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Sunday March 3rd Sermon-Transfiguration

Sermon Audio

Luke 9:28-43 New International Version (NIV)

The Transfiguration

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and Jameswith him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.

Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy

37 The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38 A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39 A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40 I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

41 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.”

42 Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the impure spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43 And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

Sunday February 24th Sermon-Defined by God

Sermon Audio

Genesis 45:3-11 New International Version (NIV)

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

Sunday February 17th Sermon-Rooted in Resurrection

Sermon Audio

1 Corinthians 15:12-20 New International Version (NIV)

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Luke 6:17-26 New International Version (NIV)

Blessings and Woes

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Jeremiah 17:5-10 New International Version (NIV)

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

Sunday February 3rd Sermon-Hometown Hero?

Sermon Audio

Sermon Text

Luke 4:21-30 New International Version (NIV)

21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[a] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Sunday January 27th Sermon-The Body of Christ

Sermon Audio

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 New International Version (NIV)

Unity and Diversity in the Body

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[b]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Sunday January 13th Sermon-Being Seen

Sermon Audio

Luke 3:15-17 New International Version (NIV)

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with[a] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Isaiah 43:1-7 New International Version (NIV)

Israel’s Only Savior

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”