Old Testament Reading: Malachi 3:14-18 (NIV)
14 "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.' " 16 Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. 17 "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
Epistle: Revelation 22:6-13 (NIV)
6The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place." 7"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." 8I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" 10Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." 12"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
Reading: Revelation 21:18-23 (NIV)
18The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. 22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23The 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.
Gospel: Luke 12:42-48 (NIV)
42The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But suppose the servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
This time of the church year has always been my favorite. I think part of the reason I like it is because it is autumn, the fall of the year. This is the time when things are coming to an end. In other words, up here in the northern hemisphere, the life of summer in nature has now been winding down to itís conclusion, and sleepy death of winter is upon us. On a summer night, you go out and you experience evidence of life everywhere... you hear the all the insects, you see lightning bugs, you canít help but feel nature being alive as you stand in the night.
But going outside now, and especially just after a lovely snowfall, presents a very stark contrast, does it not? Especially on nights when it is snowing, when you donít hear the distant roar of a plow, all there is to hear is stillness, silence. The silence of nature in winter is like the silence of death. Just as a body, even in sleep, still moves and makes some sounds, so at night in the summer, nature is alive. Yet as in the funeral home when around a dead body, the chest that once moved up and down to breathe is still. There is no life. There is only stillness.
So nature, all around us, is, as it were, choreographing for us the end of time in this end of the church year. All summer, we had this green on our altar, reminding us that just as green in nature shows the evidence of life that we cannot otherwise see, so the green on the altar reminds us that people canít see our faith, but they can see the evidence of it by our good works.
Someone asked me not long ago why I like this time of year. I could not come up with definite reasons. Well, I think for some of the reasons, above, that what is happening around us in nature is a living illustration, year after year, of the theological truth of this time of the church year. Maybe I like the sound of the music. I wonder if there isnít something going on at a subconscious level. (Yesterday) was my baptism birthday. Yes, On Sunday, November 20, 1960, I was washed with the sacrament of Holy Baptism at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Indianapolis. That Sunday was the last Sunday of the Church year in 1960. Oh, and some of you may know this little bit of trivia... but a baby by the name of Paul Bushur was baptized in that same church just a year or two later, isnít that an interesting coincidence?
In these next two devotions, we are going to hear about "THE END" as it refers to God making new beginnings. All four of the hymns we are about to sing come from a 3,000 line ode titled "In Contempt of the world", written by a 12th century monk. Weíll hear more about that in the next section.
Please stand for the reading of Lukeís Gospel.
There are a couple of reasons I printed the hymns for this service in place. One of the reasons is convenience. It is easier to follow a service of this format when the words are right in front of you. Another, though, is that I like the stern sound of the text. In the hymnals we use regularly here called Lutheran Worship, the title is "The Clouds of Judgment Gather". Not nearly as potent as "The World is Very Evil", words published in the 1941 hymnal, do you think?
Yet even in this stern-ness, notice what the hymnwriter, a monk by the name of ĎBernard of Clairvaux", which since he has been canonized by the medieval church would be called "St. Bernard"! Anyway, the first two stanzas of this hymn talk about the temporary nature of the world, or that the world is passing away. Thatís pretty ominous sounding, isnít it? But the last two stanzas talk about how with this end to the world there is also a wonderful, new beginning. This would also be consistent with the Lordís promises in the 8th Chapter of Romans, that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in us. Very simply, no matter how bad it gets in this life, no matter how much suffering or sorrow, heaven is far better on the "good side" than this world is bad. Another way to say it is, heaven doesnít just "make up" for how bad earth is. Heaven is a whole new way of looking at things. Heaven is a whole new reality. And all of that is ours not because we deserve it, not because we work hard, not because we become so scared of judgment that we want to be good people just to avoid Godís wrath. That is one of the wrong messages that could come from day. Painting the day of judgment as an ominous, dreadful, frightening day could result in the implied message of, "God is coming in judgment! Shape up before it is too late!" Certainly, the gospel I just read moments ago suggests that. But this is a clear situation where the message of the Good News of Jesus must dominate. Jesus has taken our judgment. The agony of Jesus, in the garden, as He was being scourged, on the cross Ė Jesus took Godís judgment Ė Jesus faced Godís judgement - judgement that WE deserved because of our many sins. Because of Jesus, judgment day for us as Godís people is not a fearful time. It is not the last "straighten up and be as good as you can and hope for God to like you." Judgment day has already been faced in all itsí stern-ness by our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. He alone has faced the wrath of God that is poured out against all sin, because he bore ALL SIN on the cross. In His body on the cross, Jesus took all sin, and He then faced the eternal wrath of God and all that we by our sins deserved. Jesus took away the sting of sin by absorbing Godís wrath in our place. As such, judgment day is not a time that we fear, wondering if God really will take us to be with Him. We already know the full story.
Have you ever watched a movie, read a book, or watched a TV show and you know that the character or situation is going to be okay? You watch as the character defies death, but you know that he or she isnít going to die, you already know how it is going to come out, you just donít know the details. You watch riveted to your seat, but you still know that it will come out okay. The same thing is true of us as Christians. Not only do we know that Jesus defeated death and won the victory; not only do we know how Jesus defeated death and won the victory; but we also know exactly what to expect on the Day of Judgment. On the Day of Judgment, because of what Jesus has already done for us, we will not have to wait on pins and needles, as it were, wondering what sentence will be pronounced. We walk up to our judge confidently. Because on Judgment Day, God is not our stern Judge. That has been taken away by Christ. God is the waiting father in the story of the prodigal son. The only thing we will hear on judgment day is the wonderfully friendly, "Welcome Home!"
You, who are baptized into Christ Jesus. You who hear Godís word and keep it. You who dine at the table of the Lord. When you leave this world, which is only our temporary place, you will hear the most powerful being in the universe welcome you as a loving father. The words you hear on the last day will not be words of judgment. The words you hear on the last day will not be words of condemnation. The words you hear on the last day will not be spoken in a harsh tone. Those words will only be the sweet voice of your loving God saying, "Welcome Home!"
When things are going well, we hate to see them come to an end. When we are miserable, we are eager to get it over with and behind us. The more tired we become, the more eager we are that the end will come. Anyone who has watched a loved one or friend battle a long-term illness knows very well that early in the process, there is a lot of willingness to fight, to survive, to live, to get on with life and get over the disease. As the disease ravages a personís body, the person begins to lose the will and the ability to fight. Finally, depending on the pain level and other circumstances, a person looks forward to death as the end of life. A great football game has us riveted to the edge of our seats. A great movie can go on for a long time and we love it. But distasteful things... uh... Votersí meetings for example, seem like they will NEVER end.
The message of these last two hymn sections, as well as the readings from Revelation, is to highlight the wonder of heaven. This particular reading from Revelation 21 shows the absolute inadequacy of the human language or of our experience to describe the glory and the wonder of heaven. But St. Johnís description is not meant to convey any particular experience. Rather, it is in how heaven is the final realization of what God originally intended for creation. God intended that Creation would not only be a glorious paradise, but that creation would be a glorious paradise where God would be in perfect, intimate communion with His people forever. 22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The Tabernacle, which is the portable "tent-church" for the Israelites, and the Temple, the grand structure in Jerusalem, and every church that we have are all attempts to create space on this earth for Godís people to gather and feel in close communion with God. Yet St. Johnís vision of heaven in the Book of Revelation shows us clearly that there is no need of a "separate place" where people would go to feel close to God. The goal of the entire activity of God throughout the Bible is to gather all people unto Himself in a community with each other. Indeed, as we trace the history of God dealing with His people, we see Him dealing with them in the pillar of Cloud and fire on the mountain just after they left Egypt; we see Him instructing them to build the Tabernacle, which was the gathering place of Godís people to be with God in the wilderness. We see Him instruct in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. Then, some 500 years before Christ, the temple is destroyed, and all at once, people are without a special place. When Jesus came, gospel writers make a big deal about how the body of Jesus is now the temple of God. And so, today, we have churches. In these churches Godís people gather around the means through which God has promised to make Himself available to us Ė His Word and the Sacraments. In churches everywhere, where Godís word is, where the sacraments are, there God is among His people, seeking to gather His people.
St. John carries this progression to itís conclusion. In heaven, we will be in full communion with God forever. There will be no temple, no churches, no altar, because there will be no need for a special place for God to be with His people. God will be with His people everywhere.
Thatís how God originally created us to live. Think about a world with all division removed; a world in which no distinction was made; a world in which nobody looked on any other with disdain; a world in which everyone was considered equal. Thatís the world God created. Sin has destroyed that, but God has been working hard to bring it all back into being. And when we reach heaven, we know that we will be with God forever. Amen.
(© All rights reserved by Rev. Jeffrey D. McPike. This sermon may be copied for reading by others, but if it is put to any other use, please contact Rev. Jeffrey McPike. Thank You.)
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