Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in End Times -- Saints Triumphant (November 17, 2013)

ISAIAH 65:17-25

In the name + of Jesus.

    I first heard of it starting in London, but now it has come to America—atheist churches.  Yes, you heard that right: Atheist churches.  Apparently, some atheists are feeling a little left out.  While they deny God’s existence and authority, they still like the idea of gathering with others united in their unbelief.  And their gatherings (not sure what they call them) are even designed to mimic what Christians have.  They join in songs, listen to readings of poetry and other literature, and have some leader offer an engaging talk about being better people.
     If you went to one of these atheist churches, you probably would not find much there that you would disagree with.  Most atheists don’t attack the Christian faith.  Those are just the ones who make the news.  Most atheists are nice people who are eager to see the world become a better place.  They want to see people be more loving.  They want pain, hardship, and heartache to go away.  In other words, they want pretty much what you want.
     There is one great problem with the prayers of the atheists: No one hears them.  And there is a greater problem with the goals of the atheists: They will never be fulfilled for them.  We would all love to dwell in a disease-free, disaster-free, death-free world.  But that will not happen.  The world has been corrupted with sin.  You will never see heaven on earth.  Heaven is in heaven.  Earth remains a place of happiness interrupted by grief, of blessings marred by bitterness, and of death in the midst of life.  For, the world and everything in it are dying.  That may not be a rosy picture, but it is an honest, accurate picture.  And no poem or pep talk is going to change that.
     But there is a God in heaven who has made a promise about a better life.  And to make that promise a fact, the God who is in heaven came to our sin-riddled world.  Jesus became flesh and blood to redeem us who are flesh and blood.  He came to save the dying so that you would have eternal life.  To do that, Jesus bore your sins in his body when he hung from the cross.  He shed his blood to make atonement for all guilt and to appease the wrath of God.  God became flesh and blood to give his flesh and blood for you.  And to assure you that your life will not end in death, Jesus conquered the grave.  Jesus rose, flesh and blood, from his grave.  He is the firstfruits of those who have risen from the dead.  Jesus is the first; and those who believe in him shall follow.  Only Jesus makes you a partaker in the resurrection.  Only Jesus gives you a better life.
     Now, the prophet Isaiah foretold what this better life will be like.  Isaiah declared God’s promise: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.  I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isaiah 65:17-19)
      Only Jesus gives you a better life.  It is a life where all things are new.  You will not remember the hard days, the anguish that your soul endures, the stress on your mind, the aches in your body, or the bitterness in your heart.  There will be no reports of typhoons or wildfires.  There will be no need for prescriptions or sessions of therapy.  You won’t even need Kleenex to wipe your nose because of hay fever or your eyes because of a funeral.  Those things will be done, and gone, and forgotten. 
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  It is a life in which the Lord delights in you and rejoices over you.  The God who became flesh and dwelt in this world has covered your flesh with his own righteousness.  Jesus cleansed you in your baptism so that God sees you as holy and blameless.  Your judgment is certain.  Your future is set.  God rejoices over you who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.  God delights in knowing that you will dwell with him in heaven forever.  And just as God does not tire of showing you mercy and in daily forgiving you, neither will he grow tired of having you in his presence forever.  Only Jesus gives you a better life. 
     The Lord does not reserve his blessings for heaven, of course.  He gives you blessings now already.  Even when the atheists recognize that this life has good things in it—though they will not acknowledge the one who gives those good things.  But amidst your good things are bad things.  The roses have thorns.  The fruit and vegetables rot.  The body grows frail.  Your grandfather dies.  And your plans and your efforts sometimes end up coming to nothing or, worse, to a disastrous end.  These are the former things.  They will pass away.
     Instead, listen to the Lord’s promise about a better life: They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” (Isaiah 65:21-22) 
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  While blessings in this world can be quickly swept away, Jesus delivers blessings that will not be stolen or lose value.  You will never be evicted from the rooms in your heavenly Father’s house.  You will always have a seat at the wedding banquet.  You will always be covered by the wedding garments.  You will always have a God who loves you, serves you, and delights that you are his.
     Only Jesus gives you a better life.  To a limited extent, you have these blessings already.  You are one of God’s household.  You have a seat at the banquet—the holy things given to the holy ones.  You have a heavenly Father who hears your prayers and answers.  God’s love for you is not limited, but your blessings are often interrupted by frustration and devastation. 
     Atheists may get together and sing songs about imagining a better life, a better world, and a better tomorrow.  And to be fair, they may even achieve some of their goals.  They plant more flowers.  They donate blood.  They give to the needy.  They pick up the check for a military family’s lunch.  And the world may praise them; for, such random acts of kindness are much needed and most welcome in our world.  These may win the praise of men, but they do not take away sins.  They do not eliminate death.  And they do not open the gates of heaven.  Only Jesus can do that.  And he has done that for you—and only for those who believe in him. 
     Only Jesus gives you a better and eternal life.  The atheists may dream about it, but that is the best they can do as they join together to sing John Lennon’s Imagine.  But you have a much better promise and a much brighter future.  You do not have dream about a better life; you simply have to wait for it.  Our confession, week after week is this: We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. (Nicene Creed)  Jesus gives you a better life, and only Jesus can.  Only Jesus can take away your sins.  Only Jesus gives you the garments of salvation which you will wear to the heavenly wedding banquet.  Only Jesus guarantees that you will walk away from your grave and into the gates of heaven.  Rejoice in the Lord’s goodness, mercy, and salvation.  And know that the Lord rejoices over you; for you are one of his redeemed.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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