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950 plus - Sermon on Revelation 21:1-6

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Worried about the final destination of your friends and relatives? The grace of God reminds us that we don't have to worry. All of us have the potential to be sinners and saints.  In remembrance of those who have moved on in the last year, including those people killed by police. 

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

November 1, 2015  - All Saints Sunday

"Freedom to Sin".  Text is from Revelation 21:1-6 and  John 11:32-44

Good morning my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God.

I find the story of Lazarus being raised out of his tomb a curiously maudlin one for All Saints Sunday, mainly because its content is about the restoration of an old life rather than the resurrection of a new life, and also more about Jesus's love and the power of Christ. Very simply, what we have is a man who Jesus loved like few others, and whose loss Jesus was so distraught by, that he called on God to bring him back again. And this was done at a time of great tension between Jesus, his followers and the Judaens, who are yet looking for a Messiah to lead their people from bonds of their Roman overlords. Jesus as much as says it. The tomb is engulfed of the stench of Lazarus's body, 4 days dead. Jesus speaks, not so much that God will act but that the people watching will see his power and believe. And Lazarus is risen once more.  

And we see this, yes, Jesus reanimates the life of Lazarus. But we know that eventually, Lazarus, whose old life was restored to him by the love of Jesus Christ, immediately begins to age and live in the same conditions he was in before his death, and will eventually succumb to the grip of death again. So this great miracle lifted out of the very center of the gospel of John does in fact attests to the divinity of Jesus Christ, the power that he employs and the great love that he has that moves him to restore the life of one who had untimely fallen, but speaks little on the ultimate fate of those who actually pass away into the arms of God.

What I find interesting in our readings today, is this text from Revelations, chapter 21. Now, like many mainline Christians, I tend to have a visceral avoidance of this, the last chapter of the New Testament. I mean, the evangelical in our denomination's name has much more to do with underlying meaning of the word evangelical, those who would bring the good news, rather than the people who become associated with that word evangelical, those who find a lot more in Revelations than your typical Lutheran. 

Now, Revelations was written quite nearly a century after the death of Christ and is attributed to a man we call John of Patmos. It describes a vision of apocalyptic proportions, drawing illustrations from the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, as well as some of the popular apocalyptic literature of the time that we don't see featured in our scripture. One thing that may be of interest when exploring these images of multi-headed monsters, larger than life creatures with swords that spout fire and references to the anti-Christ, all these things that scores of scholars and theologians over most of the last two millennia have desperately tried to make meaning of, all of this is written in the past tense. If we see it as the dream of John of Patmos, which he relates, which would certainly come as he is writing in the past tense. But it becomes interesting that with all that has happened, we move into the loud voice from the throne which describes things that have yet to be.  

In this text the earth and the heavens pass away.  But when we talk about death, we talk about the individual passing away. But where the old passes away, here comes a new life, of new heaven and new earth. One that humankind doesn't have to rise to, because it comes down, like a new city of Jerusalem straight out of God's Heaven.  And God will be with his people. God will no longer dwell in a far off place but among his people and there will be no more pain or suffering, mourning or crying. It is indeed the dawning of the new age. 

And this, my sisters and brothers, this final chapter outlining what is to come, is what gives me hope, that amid all the earlier despair and destruction that we find in the rest of Revelations, images that while they frighten us, can easily be drawn from human history, particularly around the time the author lived. And amidst the despair that takes place in our world, even today. And while bad things happen across the world, and people pass on, in some places the deaths pile up one after the other in the hundreds, the thousands, the tens of thousands, where injustice reign, where dictatorships give pause. One does not even have to look outside our borders. 

killed by police.jpg

A Berkeley friend shared a link yesterday from the Guardian's website that listed all of the people in the United States killed by a police officer since the beginning of the year.  And the number, 950, is staggering.  While these names are listed as a whole without judgement for indeed, many of these occurred in response to a public crisis, where someone with some intent was holding or firing a gun, having hurt or threatening other people's lives, including the police officer, it seems frightening to me that 491 of these people who died as the result of actions by police, or well over half of them, were not carrying a firearm at all.

When I read the stories of these people, some of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but all too many others were as the result of an overreacting officer. And with 950 so far this year, scarcely a day goes by in this country that there are not one, two or more officer involved killings

And it becomes critical to think of how each and every one of these lives mattered to someone, even the so-call justified killings. Because so many people take up criminal activity because they are living under the cloak of desperation or impaired by the demons of addiction. And this would not be so front and center in my mind if this were not such a politically charged era right now. That every one of these 950 souls were at one time innocent babies, and every one of these 950 souls is now a lost potential to do good on this earth, whether it be to go on to college and a life of possibilities such as two teenage girls in Georgia whose car was struck by a trooper going 30 miles over safe speed, or the numerous individuals involved in some type of criminal activity, every one of whom could have woken up the next day to a new decision or a new life. 

Their lives mattered. And it seems appropriate that on All Saints Day that while we remember those we love and knew that we also remember those who may not be so easily honored, may be forgotten because of the nature and conditions of their deaths. That 950 people killed by police is way too many, and no matter what our particular beliefs are about salvation, we acknowledge the possibility of their redemption because when Christ overcame death for us he overcame death for the whole world, not just the select few, that all might know the wondrous power and glory of God's new kingdom. 

And though we live in a world where it seems like every day there's more news on our televisions that is troubling, more viral videos of violent atrocities that stir up our emotions to higher levels of furor, can it be that it only seems as bad as it does because we're finally at a place in history where the world around is can no longer hide the suffering that exists. 

But those that have gone ahead of us, as they pass from us they are given to a new comfort in the arms of God. That we don't have to worry about whether those that we love are with God because we know that God is love, and that our capacity to love them lets us know that his mercy is boundless and his grace is unconditional. And if faith is required, and faith is his gift, how do we not know that this gift is given to even those we thought lost at the very end? It does not diminish our faith at all, but it magnifies it, that we may honor his glory and what he has done for us and our salvation.  

And maybe the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is, in fact, more suitable for this day after all, because Jesus loved Lazarus so much that he did something unexpected. Because although Jesus was not there to keep Lazarus from dying, he loved him enough to bring him back. And since we know that God's love is unconditional, and he will do anything for those he loves, that we, each and every one of us have something to look forward to. And our friends, family members and all of our loved ones who themselves are so worthy of God's love that through him, all things are possible and his kingdom has no end.  

And when we say all saints day, we mean all of us sinners who are also saints, our friends who have gone before us, those in our family that we love, the 950 plus souls this year whose lives came to an end because of a police officer's actions, the police who've lost their lives in the line of duty, and all those others whose lives have been tragically cut short. That there is hope for everyone and God's glorious kingdom, which is endless, and without tears or suffering, has a place for each of us to share in that glory, without end.  And that is good news.  Amen. 

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on November 1, 2015 3:29 PM.

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