Saturday, November 1, 2008

Where Will This All End?

All Saints Sunday–November 2, 2008
Dedication of Elevator
Bethel Lutheran Church, Herman, MN
Revelation 7:9-17

In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Where will this all end?
Ever ask yourself that question?
Where will this all end?
When will the two wars we’re waging in the Middle East ever end? When will we–if ever?–be able to relax once again, take a deep breath and live in peace?
Where will this all end?
All the ups and downs of the last month’s economic crisis? When will we be able to trust again–to trust that our economy is back on track?
Where will this all end?
All the campaign 2008 bickering, mud-slinging and political posturing? What good, if any, will come of it all after Tuesday, Nov. 4th comes and goes?
Where will all this end?
Where will all our successes, all our accomplishments, all our goals attained, all our achievements–where will all of that get us? To what end, toward what purpose are we progressing?
Where will all this end?
Each of us could easily add our own personal “take” on this question. Each of us has a work situation or a school predicament or a failed relationship or a troubled child or a sick relative or something else gnawing away at us, forcing us to ask: Where and when will this all end?
In the trials and tribulations that sooner or later come to us all...we wonder how things that seem so awful now can ever resolve themselves...we wonder whether anything that begins as painfully and despairingly as this or that...can ever possibly end in happiness or hope.
Where will this all end? What's the world coming to?
“Well, I'll tell you,” responds John the Seer, John the Visionary as he testifies to us in our First Lesson on this All Saints Sunday.
Where will this all end? we ask.
“I'll tell you where it ends,” answers John in Revelation chapter 7.
“It ends at the heavenly throne of God... ends in a white-robed multi-national, multi-racial, multi-lingual multitude that cannot be counted... ends in the confession that God alone deserves blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might... ends in a liturgy without benediction or dismissal... ends in a life no longer marked by the deprivations and ordeals we know here below.... ends under the shelter of the heavenly throne, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Where will this all end?
“It ends,” declares John here in the Book of Revelation, “it ends in God who reverses all our ends in God who brings hope out of every hurt.”
Such language has, unfortunately, become foreign in today’s church.
We have immunized ourselves against such talk about heavenly hope.
We've been taught to regard such visions with suspicion--even with disdain.
“That’s just pie in the sky in the sweet by and by," we mutter, dismissing visions like John's here in our first lesson.
"Christians are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use," jaded skeptics like to say.
Talk about heaven too much and something awful could happen--people might actually want to go there...abandoning prematurely the struggle for peace and justice and solidarity and a better world.
That criticism, though, gets it dead wrong.
In its valid concern for faithful life in this world...that criticism robs us of the very hope that makes faithful earthly life possible.
Having a heavenly hope doesn't encourage escapism from earth.
"Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" the elder asks of John in our text...and then the elder answers his own question: "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal..."
This great host...this mighty multitude here in Revelation 7...these are no escapists, no play-it-safe cowards, no ethical quietists who turned tail and ran, who bailed out when the going got tough.
These are the tough ones, the witnesses, the martyrs who walked through the tribulation....who made their way through the fiery ordeal...who confessed Christ faithfully, who lived the Christ-life the face of massive opposition.
They have every right to be singing: "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."
But they don't.
Instead their heavenly anthem is: "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
This multitude here in Revelation 7, these saints around the throne owe it all to the Lamb...not a warm, fuzzy, snow-white Easter lamb...but the bruised and bloodied Calvary lamb...the Good Friday lamb who was slain....the Lamb who sits now upon heaven’s highest throne!
Having a heavenly hope doesn't cause us to discount life here on earth.
On the contrary: only those with a sturdy hope in the life to come can keep faith with this creation...can continue to care for this good earth and all its we await God's new day.
Years ago, in a Christian Century magazine article....a professor of the scriptures observed how the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, standing on the verge of the exile, spent nine whole chapters of his book describing in excruciating detail the new temple, the new land and the new Jerusalem that would come some day...after the period of old Israel’s captivity had ended.
The prophet Ezekiel described this vision of what lay ahead in great detail....not to provide emotional escape for the exiles....but to give them a hope they could lean into...a hope that could draw them forward.
John's magnificent vision in the Book of Revelation does the same thing for us.
Rather than giving us a respite from the so-called “real world”....these verse draw us forward, give us a hope that we can live into....a hope that attracts us like a magnet toward God's new as we must through this world with all the ordeals and tribulations that are here.
God in Christ graciously gives us a hope that we can live into, a hope that draws us toward God’s own future.
God in Christ promises us, his beloved children, that the day is coming when it won’t matter what nation or tribe or people or language we belong to.
· That hope frees us and all people to start living now as though such unity is already ours.
God in Christ promises us, his dear offspring, that the day is coming when we’ll be utterly clean, when we’ll no longer be warped, curved in on ourselves.
· That hope frees us to start living now as though sin doesn’t have a future with us.
God in Christ promises us, his precious people, that hunger and thirst and scorching heat will one day cease.
· That hope frees us to start living already as if such fullness and plenty is our destiny and the destiny of all persons.
God in Christ promises us, his treasured ones, that the day is coming when we’ll never wander, never get lost again.
· That hope draws us boldly onto the path that is ours, enticing us to start living now as if Christ already were guiding us to springs of the water of life.
God in Christ promises us, his ransomed and redeemed ones, that the day is coming when we can forever put aside our handkerchiefs and funeral clothes.
· That hope draws us, even now, to start living as though tears are in fact becoming a thing of the past.
Now I suppose someone walking in here off the street could listen to all of this and say: All of this is just a bunch of escapism and wishful thinking and "Pie in the sky in the sweet by and by?"
Yes, I suppose someone could call it that.
But, look around you, here on this All Saints Sunday. If you’re so heavenly-minded as to be of no earthly use, I’m sure not seeing the evidence of it!
Look around. What do you see? I see people praising God joyfully, drinking in the Word that will guide you in the next seven days. I see young and old growing in God’s Good News in Jesus Christ. I see a congregation living out its hope in this world—testifying, serving, upholding one another, embracing your neighbors in this corner of the creation.
I see a congregation that has made a fabulous down payment on your future, in the form of this elevator that we’re dedicating today…an elevator that will expand access to this congregation, to your worship and to your whole life together in Jesus Christ.
Your hope in Jesus Christ has not dulled you, has not gotten you so stuck on heaven that you have left this earth behind. Far from it! Your hope in Christ is what fires your imagination and opens up your arms and makes you love and care for all the neighbors God has given to you. Your hope, in Jesus Christ, is so powerful that it’s shaping your present on the basis of all the good things God surely will give you in his great and final future.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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