Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today for Pentecost is our Old Testament Lesson. The account of the tower of Babel. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
What a strange thing for God to do. Strange enough that it doesn’t really sound like our God. This sounds a lot more like the Greek gods. Ones who came down to visit the mortal realm for fun. Ones who were jealous and shifty. Ones who were capricious and vindictive. Ones who needed to keep mortals in their place, lest they ascend Mount Olympus. It sounds like a myth. Devised as a clever way of explaining why people were from different places and spoke different languages. In fact, if you replace Yahweh with Zeus, you could hardly tell the difference.
As Christians, we bristle at that. Because this is God’s Word. This is God’s History of the World. And it is the correct one. After all, it was the people who were doing wrong. They thought so highly of themselves that they tried to reach heaven by themselves. They were so arrogant that they believed that they controlled their future. They were so full of themselves, that they were going to make themselves go down in history. So God had to show them that they had not reached heaven. They did not control their own future. They were under God whether they liked it or not.
If that’s why God changed their language and scattered them across the earth, then why these people at this place and at this time? Why isn’t he doing that again today where our towers are taller, our arrogance greater, and our self-indulgence more decadent than ever? Our standard Bible Story explanation is insufficient in the face of the most basic questions. God is seen as neither loving nor consistent. Is it any wonder that many Christians dismiss this text as myth?
However the failure is not the text’s, but our own. We read motives into God’s words and actions that aren’t there. We rewrite His story with our story, and wonder why we get confused. God doesn’t do all of this because they were arrogant or full of themselves. But because they are “one people with one language, and this is only the חלל of what they will do.” חלל is not the normal word in Hebrew for “begin” or “beginning.” In fact, חלל is normally translated as to profane. But to begin is within that word’s range of meaning.
It’s kind of like the word “cool” in English. It means either something with a reduced temperature, or something interesting. Those two meanings don’t seem on the surface to have anything to do with each other. And context determines which one is meant. However, you don’t even need to be that clever to use both. “That ice sculpture is cool.” חלל here is the same thing. This is only the beginning of the profanity they will do. If we are united in sin, there is no sin that will be impossible for us. No depravity too deep to which we could sink. And to this day, the sin that divides is a lesser evil than the sin that unites.
But why this? Why the languages? It’s because God already has Pentecost in mind. Being divided in sin is better than being united in sin. But to be divided is still not good enough. Because we are still divided from each other. Still divided from God. The death and resurrection of Jesus reversed the tragedy of Babel. And that news, that story, that reality brought true unity to the world.
That underlying problem, the profaning of all things, has been fixed, repaired, cleansed. The arrogance, the self-centeredness, the desecration of all things has been paid for. The sin, the shame, the חלל, Jesus took it to the grave. It is dead. And Jesus lives. And on Pentecost, the curse was lifted. Each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Speak the good news, the good story, that Jesus died and rose again on their behalf.
And you too hear the story in your own language. You hear what Jesus has done on your behalf. That you are no longer divided from God by your sin. That you are no longer separated from God by your grief. Your shame and loneliness have been overcome. Immanuel is here for you.
It doesn’t matter which valley or plain you happen to be in. Whether Shinar, or valley of the shadow of death. It doesn’t matter what you have constructed. What you have done. How you have divided yourself from God. He has come down out of heaven. Was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Born of the Virgin Mary. Suffered under Pontus Pilate Was crucified, dead and buried. By doing that, God has confused Satan your adversary, and has scattered your sin to the winds, never to be yours again.
This is not the story of some old, jealous God. This is not some made up myth to explain the strange things we see in our world. This is God saving the world through His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ. That’s been the intention from the very beginning. And God has been consistent throughout history in pointing there. Pointing to the cross. Pointing to where He has indeed saved us all. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text for this Sunday is our last reading this season from Revelation. Where John is shown the river of the water of life, along with the one who sits on the throne and the Lamb. And God gives John’s testimony his seal of approval by oath. “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
Soon? Depends on what you mean by soon. Because it’s all so far off. Even if it happens tomorrow, it’s worlds away. It’s great to look forward to. It’s nice to know what it will be like. Have our own little pocket map of heaven. But it’s a long ways from the reality we are in right now. Is that all this text is? Something to keep us looking forward? A carrot dangled in front of a horse?
If it is, it’s nothing new. It’s just the same old story. After all, Jesus ascended. Left this world. The only thing we can do now is look forward. Wait until Jesus comes back. Because what’s the point of looking at right now. Sure, maybe He’s around to give us spiritual pats on the back. Maybe He’s there on the inside to remind us to be good. But we wont really get to see Jesus until sometime down the road. Because He’s up in heaven now. Went there as the disciples looked on. Covered by a cloud. And no one has seen Him since.
Is that the point of Christianity? Making sure people have a ticket for the future? Getting them onboard, so that they wont miss the bus? And our text, is it a glimpse of that future? The brochure? Telling us what we want to hear in order to make surviving this world more bearable? Luring us forward with the promise that it will all be here “soon”? Hoping one day to actually see Jesus in the flesh? Get to really meet God?
If that’s the case, just let me off the bandwagon here. You can only string me along so far before I just get tired. Because this bus you’re trying to put me on has been sitting at the station for two millennia. How can you say that pastor? Don’t you know what Peter says? “[T]hat with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
My problem isn’t so much the waiting. It’s what we’re waiting for. Our text promises on oath that the New Jerusalem, the water of the river of life, and the Lamb on His throne in His kingdom is not just coming, but coming soon. Quickly is a better translation. The exact opposite of slow. The exact opposite of waiting. The exact opposite of patient. God is not patient in delivering this promise to you.
What are you waiting for! Get off the bus! The kingdom is here! Jesus is here! Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; That water is here. You have been baptized in it. The water that flows from God. The living water. The same stuff that flowed with the blood from the side of the pierced Jesus. Right here, in the middle of His Kingdom. This is the entrance to the new Jerusalem. This is where you become part of the bride of the Lamb, Christ’s Church.
How bright it is when we do look upon that water. Because that baptism is the promise of God. A promise for today. Yes, tomorrow too. But especially today. Because today is when we are sinners in need of God’s grace. Today is when our consciences overwhelm us. Today is when Satan accuses us, and he’s right. Nevertheless we can say, “I am baptized.” Washed clean. Claimed by God. Not by anything we have done. Because it is His baptism for us. The water of the river of life is here. It is in the middle of the street of this city. And it has already been given to you.
Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. Baptism isn’t the only thing that gives life. The tree of life is here also. The tree on which Jesus died. The fruit of that tree we eat every other week. Because that’s what fruit is for. Jesus’ body given for you. Jesus’ blood shed for your forgiveness. Fruit ripe and ready to eat no matter what season you are in.
But what about those leaves? What heals us Gentiles? What heals the nations? The Word of God. Jesus proclaimed. This word, this story, this is what gives faith. This is where we find help for today and hope for tomorrow. Jesus does not leave us alone in all this. The leaves of the tree of life were written by prophets and apostles. Old and New Testament both. All in order to give Jesus to you.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. Your curse is no longer yours. You are forgiven by Christ. And you stand before His throne right here. It’s here where we plead, “Lord have Mercy.” It’s here where we sing His praise. It’s here where we confess our faith. It’s here where we present our offerings. It is here where we say “Holy, holy, holy.” Here where we receive His gifts. Here where He puts his name on us. Just as the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
And that’s exactly our next verse.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
But don’t take my word for it. This image is the same one Ezekiel describes for the Old Testament temple. This image is the same as how Eden is described in Genesis two. The water, the tree, the Lamb of God in the center of it all. All centering around the worship of God. All centering around God giving His gifts to His people. All centering on Jesus. He is here. His promise is not just soon, but now.
So if you want to get on the bus and wait to see Jesus, you’re missing out. All these things that God promised on oath to be yours quickly, to be yours soon, are indeed yours right now. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this week is once again from Revelation. Particularly verse nine. “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
There is nothing more offensive to a human being than a story that tells the opposite of what story they hold most dear. It makes them angry. It makes them hurt. It closes them off, and the will no longer listen. Today we see the Bride of the Lamb. So when it comes to brides, and love, and marriage, which story do we hold most dear?
Our first should be familiar. Two people who shouldn’t be together meet and fall in love. That love looks past all obstacles. Struggles against everything that would try to destroy it. He is willing to give up everything to be with her. His inheritance, his standing, his pride, his life. And she likewise. They would die for their love. And when love does come to death, the remarkable happens. The things keeping them apart come to an Peace is achieved. That’s the kind of love we like. That’s the kind of love that makes a great story. And we want to hear the details.
The second is a much darker tale. A man falls in love with a woman. But she does not love him in return. The man would give up anything for her, except letting her go. So she runs from him, tries to escape, flees to the arms of death. But he chases her. Catches her. Marries her. Not by her choice. But he had bought her. Like one buys a slave. And she must be his wife. Things do not go well. He does love her. But she pines for her death. But when that death comes, he puts himself there instead. And that is enough for her to overlook all the rest. And realize that maybe she does love him after all. And when he comes back, they live happily ever after.
Again I will say, there is nothing more offensive to a human being than a story that tells the opposite of what story they hold most dear. The first story, that beautiful, touching ballad is the synopsis of Romeo and Juliet. The second story is dark, sinister, and hurtful. It’s story obviously ending in Stockholm Syndrome. Where the captive sides with the captor. We don’t care where that story came from. Just don’t tell it again.
The first story is true love. The first story shows all you need to have. This is indeed the story we grew up on. The story that shaped our lives. And we measure all love against this love. But Romeo and Juliet not just a story about love. It’s a story that says that a life without the one you love is not worth living. Therefore, death is an easy embrace. Death will comfort. Death will conquer. Death will fix everything. And in the story, it did. Romeo and Juliet were together in death. The Capulets and the Montagues ended their feud. Death was the Deus ex Machina that made everything work out for the best in the end. Dressing all in poison and blood, and calling it beautiful. And we believe.
But our second story is so wrong. No one should be taken against their will. No one should have to endure this kind of abuse. Loved by one you do not love. Married to one you do not love. Stuck with one you do not love. This is horror of the highest magnitude. This is sick and wrong. And yet this is exactly the picture what we have of Jesus and His Church. [B]ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… [W]hile we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us… We love because he first loved us.
Was it our choice that caused God to love us? Was it mutual affection when Jesus died on the cross? Or were we still racing headlong towards death? Doing everything we could to get away from God? But we couldn’t get away. God did not let us go. He bought us. Paid our price. Sin, death and the devil no longer own us. He died on our behalf. and lives again. So we too would live. And here we are, the Bride of Christ, His Church. Loving Him, because He first loved us, even though we first hated Him.
Love is an integral part of both stories. Love is what makes Romeo and Juliet a great story. Love is part of the great story between Jesus and His Church. Both stories show love that is greater than self. Love that is self-sacrificial. But the one we love ends dressed in death. While the one that offends us ends dressed in life. Love is beautiful. But love without life is no love at all.
Still, we could’ve portrayed Jesus better. Jesus as the noble hero. One who loves, but leaves everything up to you whether you will love Him in return. One who would let the one He loves go, in order to show His love to be pure. One who is only there if asked, so as to show his love respectful. Jesus could’ve been a gentleman. But He isn’t. Not when you go and dress yourself in poison and daggers and death.
Jesus will be the villain. Jesus will disrespect your wishes. Jesus will hold you against your will. Any vile thing you want to call Him, He will take. Evil, twisted, jealous, crazed, madman, you name it, He’ll take it. Jesus will be the villain. The man of sin. He will be the very worst you can possibly think of. Worthy of death on the cross. Worthy to be cursed by God. He will take it all. Every ugly, brutal bit of it. And take it gladly. If that means saving you. If that means you will live.
And because of what Jesus has done, you do live. You live. A life that death cannot overcome. Nor guilt, nor shame, nor pain, nor fear, nor Satan, nor even your own self. Jesus ends the story, your story, with life. And along with life, love. A horrible story? Perhaps. It’s not neat and tidy, to be sure. It’s not comfortable. But the ending is perfect. Christ’s church, who hated her husband. Christ Church, which struggled so hard against Him. Christ’s Church, who used to seek death in order to escape. Christ Jesus’ Church lives, and loves because of the death and resurrection of her Husband.
I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he… showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels… And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb… The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
A bride adorned for her husband. And like a bride on her wedding day, it’s not the adornments that are the most precious thing. It is the bride herself. She is precious enough to adorn with the most beautiful things imaginable. Not to hide the bride, but to show the world that she is even more radiant than these. She is precious enough to give up everything for. Precious enough to never let go. Precious enough to make sure she lives, no matter what. Even if when that costs the husband’s life. No price is too high for her. No price is too high for you. For indeed you are the Church. You have life. You are this precious to God. And no matter how your story goes, you are loved. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And the one who was seated on the throne said… “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
That sounds nice. I’d like God as my God. I’d like to be His child. I’d like that heritage, that inheritance. And all I have to do to get it? Be the one who conquers. Conquers what, exactly? In the context of this book, what is conquered is no less than sin, the devil, and the world.
Woah, now. That’s a lot. I can’t do all that. I’m not strong enough. I can’t even overcome my own self. I need someone outside of me. Someone, as we used to say in Latin, extra nos. I need Jesus to conquer sin, the devil, the world, death itself. I need Jesus to give me the gift of life, forgiveness and salvation. I have nothing to give. Nothing to add to that. He does it all.
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. This must be Jesus, right? Only Jesus conquers. Jesus has therefore inherited these things. Jesus is the Son of God. It all fits. Except in context. Because the heritage, the inheritance is for the thirsty to receive from the spring of the water of life. The inheritance is baptism. And while it is true that Jesus was baptized, baptism is for you. And therefore to conquer sin, the devil and the world is also for you. Which is also what Jesus happens to say to the seven churches in chapters two and three.
But, wait that can’t be right. Jesus saved us. By conquering these very things. If sin, the devil and the world are ours to conquer now, then what does that mean? We can’t say that Jesus failed. We know that’s not right. We can’t say that we now have to save ourselves. We know that’s not true. The easy answer is to say our text is just wrong. Either dumping this verse particularly, or jettisoning the context around it. That way we don’t have to struggle with it. We can just say we had it right all along. Treat God’s Word as confirmation of what we already think. We’d have lots of company if we did that. After all, that’s how most people understand faith: Thinking the right things. If God’s Word challenged that, then it would be challenging whether or not we had faith.
But God’s Word does challenge what we think. Challenges who we are, our status as self-appointed judges of all things. God’s Word challenges us, even when we already believe God’s Word is true. Not to question faith, but to create it. And here, God challenges us by saying that you too can conquer such grandiose things as sin, the devil and the world.
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. How? Because any conquering that happens through us, we are very careful to credit Jesus for doing it. We do not want any hint of works righteousness to be found. Because works righteousness isn’t faith in God. It’s faith in self. And that kind of faith is damning. This is the heart of our struggle with what God says here. We’re very worried that this text might just be used to open up the way to hell. Works righteousness is that big a deal.
Because of works righteousness, we’re also very careful to separate this conquering from any idea of obedience. God attaches a promise to the one who conquers. The one who conquers will have this heritage and will be a child of God. And God doesn’t give the gift of salvation to those who first obey. In fact, Jesus made a point of getting that across by rejecting the Pharisees and eating with sinners. Works righteousness really is that bad.
But we already believe in works righteousness. We think that believing is merely holding a particular intellectual or emotional position. And if we hold the right one, we will be saved. If we hold the position that Jesus died and rose again for me, that is all I have to do. And then my job is done. My assurance is in my head. I’m saved by thinking properly. No need to hear more. No need to change anything else. No need to live a Christian life. That’s the problem with intellectual positions. They don’t have to be incarnate. Intellectual positions do not have to be in the flesh. But faith is incarnational. It lives, breathes, works, does.
So is that what this conquering all about? Doing? That doesn’t sound any better. Because salvation is still in my hands, not Christ’s. But this is out text. It has to mean something. We know that it’s not about what Jesus does apart from us. Because the text is about us. It’s not about us apart from Jesus. Because apart from Jesus, you cannot conquer anything, much less sin, the devil and the world. What this conquering is about, is who you are when Jesus is with you.
But we know who we are, even when Jesus is with us. We still succumb to sin. We still fall prey to the devil’s traps. We still cannot overcome the world. We may be saved when Jesus is with us. But we’re still sinners. Simil iustus et peccator. Simultaneously saint and sinner.
And what does that mean? Saint and sinner does not mean one is Jesus and the other is me. Do not forget the iustus. Do not forget the saint. That saint is you. The new you. The one who sits on the throne says, “Behold, I am making all things new, Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Seeing the new heavens and the new earth, God should have said, “I will make all things new.” But He used the present tense. I am making all things new. And he sealed with with a promise. These words are trustworthy and true. He is making you new. And He is doing it right now.
A you new. A gift that is given through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Given by His Word proclaimed, His story shaping you. Given in baptism and supper. Turning you from conquered into conquerer. This is done by God first. This is where faith is born. Salvation comes first. Inheritance comes first. Being a child of God comes first. And that creates the you who conquers.
When you resist sin, that is you resisting. When you avoid Satan’s traps, that is you avoiding. When withstanding the pressure of the world, that is you withstanding. When you listen to the story of Jesus, that is you listening. When you help your neighbor, that is you helping. When you’re a good brother, or sister, or mom, or dad, or grandma, or grandpa, that is you. Not apart from Jesus. But you’re not just a statue who happens to be there. You are have an active part. This is what faith looks like.
But that is also pretty scary. Because that means there are two yous in there. And one of them can’t do any of these things. And that you will let you know about it all the time. God may have given you a new you, but the old one is still here. Still getting in the way. Still trying to kill this new rival. These two do not peacefully coexist. It is war in there. And the fight lasts all your life. But God gave the name conquerer to only one. And it’s the you who will live despite death. The you who has Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. You have this heritage. You have this inheritance through Christ. You are God’s child, and He is your God through what Jesus did at the cross. He has made you new. Turns you into one who conquers. One whose faith is not just a mere thought, but one whose faith lives and breathes and does.
Yes, there are still challenges. Either in this world or from God Himself. Yes, we will still fail, and fall back on our old selves far more than we would like. But our identity doesn’t come from there. We’re not resigned to those things. Because God still gives. God still makes new. The inheritance of life without payment is yours. And together with Christ, you have already conquered sin, the devil, and the world. Thanks be to God.
There is no end of the people who will tell you what is plaguing Christianity, or to be more specific, Lutheranism. Nearly everyone has some example to point to. Whether it be congregationalism, or uninvolvement, or stubbornness, or being too focussed on one thing at the expense of this other thing that we think is more important. Nearly everyone has a different diagnosis and a different cure. Which in itself is evidence of a major problem.
I admit, that makes me little different than everyone else. For the problem I see is not necessarily the same one everyone else sees. Nor is my solution necessarily the same solution everyone else has. And yet, it isn’t radically different either. Which itself is another problem. If it’s too different, just throw a label at it, and your job is done. If it’s too similar, we all just nod our heads in agreement, and the problem remains anyways. The problem is systemic. Whether your a self proclaimed missional or a self proclaimed confessional, it’s two sides of the same coin. The problem is that we’re a church trained in modernity living in a postmodern world.
At this point, the eyes roll to the back of the head. Some may have already fallen asleep. Because no one is entirely sure what that exactly means. They’re words that get thrown around when people want to sound like they know what they’re talking about. They’re buzzwords. And we all know how useless buzzwords are. Lutherans are great at buzzwords. Law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament, Justification and Sanctification, Ablaze, Witness, Mercy and Life Together. We use these words when we don’t want to explain what we’re talking about. Modernism and postmodernism are words of the same caliber. Loaded with meaning, for those who know the language. Empty and useless to those who do not.
So instead of going on with useless and empty words, let’s give them some meaning. For most people, the word “modern” means something that is up to date, current, the latest and greatest. And that is a very solid working definition, if you’re somewhere in between the 1600’s and 1800’s. Modernism is the attempt to bring things up to date.
For a modernist, the use of reason is central. Through thinking, people grew. Through logic, people understood. Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would be the modernist’s aspiration. Though most would likely be content with emotion being a frivolous pastime, reason alone can comprehend existence. Reason alone can grasp the universe in it’s totality. Reason is how one gets access to the meta-narrative.
Narratives are stories. Some narratives are true in themselves. Some narratives allude to a truth beyond the story itself. But narratives only exist when they are told. A meta-narrative, however, is true without being told. A meta-narrative is true objectively. No need for subjective story-tellers. No need to understand a narrative. No need to be shaped by it. The meta-narrative is true whether you’ve heard it or not. Whether you believe it or not. Whether you understand it or not.
And in the Enlightenment, this meta-narrative was discovered. That reason is supreme. That reasonable people will progress. That reasonable people will discover and grow and understand. That reasonable people will, over time, come closer to living in a utopia. And each new discovery brought us closer to that utopia.
Modernism brought the industrial revolution. Where methods and machines made production less labor intensive. Modernism brought the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are documents written from a modern perspective. “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” is an appeal to the meta-narrative of reason ushering in utopia.
The Modernist narrative, however, often had little to do with the Church. Because the church taught by narrative. Something you had to hear. Reason was not something outside, but something inside. And so the age of reason fought against the church, using it’s meta-narrative as it’s primary weapon.
But what was the response? Some were convinced to give up the old narrative. Some were convinced to fuse the narrative with the meta-narrative. And some elevated the old narrative to be a competing meta-narrative. Which is where we are as a church. We hold the same thing they do. That our meta-narrative is true without being told. True whether you understand it or not. True whether you believe it or not. After all, why wouldn’t it be?
So the battle over the last 400 years has been on this front. Arguing which meta-narrative is true. Arguing which side has the better reasons. Creation versus Evolution is a modernist battlefront. Moralism is a modernist battlefront. All the church’s big guns were on the modernist battlefront. Though the church always had the disadvantage of calling on an authority outside itself. Still, we appeal to reason. We appeal to proof and reason that the Bible is true. We argue that faith is a reasonable conclusion. We believe the greatest threats to ourselves are atheists and scientists who hold a different meta-narrative than we do. And today, that is just not true.
How does it feel to fight an enemy for so long. Feel like you’re just about to win for so long. Worried that you were going to lose any day. Only to find out that someone else came in and conquered them with ease? And they’re coming to you next? That is terrifying. But we still fight. Bringing out the same guns that they used and lost with. Bringing out the same tactics they used and were beaten. Should we wonder what happened next?
Postmodernism has already conquered modernism. Taken it’s name away. Left it to die. Our children and grandchildren are already well versed in postmodernism’s language and style and belief. And we don’t even know what it is. We have no idea how to fight against it. What victory over it would look like. Because we are still modernists of a different stripe. We still think in terms of fighting and winning and being right whether anyone knows it or not.
What is postmodernism? Is postmodernism even something to fight? Is it something that needs to be overcome? Something with which we need to crush with our meta-narrative? With our truth that is true whether they understand it or not? You might as well try to cut down an oak tree with a dead fish.
Because postmodernism is the rejection of the meta-narrative. The rejection of all meta-narratives. Our modernist foes lost because they wielded the very weapon they created. The same weapon we took up to fight them. If the use of reason leads humanity towards utopia, why are things worse? The modern meta-narrative was deconstructed. Not demolished. Deconstructed. Pulled apart very carefully. Inspected. And was found lacking. The idea of a meta-narrative was also deconstructed, and found to be lacking.
And let’s be honest. That is true for the church as well. “But!” we protest, “God exists whether we believe in Him or not! Jesus came and died and rose again whether we believe it or not! Objective truth does exist!” That’s fine and all, but there are consequences of trading a narrative for a meta-narrative.
It’s true no matter what, so why come to church? It’s true no matter what, so why help my neighbor? It’s true no matter what, so why immerse myself in it every day? It’s true no matter what, so why should I care to hear more than I absolutely need? Why not spend time in shorter, more exciting narratives? The meta-narrative will be here when I’m done. Why let it shape me? Why let it be my identity? Why pass it on to my children? It’ll bee there when they need it. Our people may not be voicing these exact words, but they have been living them every day of their churchly life.
You see, we were told a lie. We were told that the meta-narrative is stronger than just a story. Stronger than just words we pass down to each other. And it’s not. Meta-narratives were just poor narratives, passed down by bludgeoning rather than their telling. And the postmodernist has correctly identified that fact. Narratives are powerful. Narratives shape people. Narratives define who we are. Narratives are where we turn when we want answers to life’s tough questions.
But we’re still early. Postmodernism has won its victory of modernism. But in winning, they’ve been left with no where to go but to themselves. They know the power of narratives, but are gunshy of letting anyone control the narratives besides themselves. Understandably so. Those who had control failed them. If I can control my narratives, then I have power over myself. I have the freedom they wanted so badly. And so a radical individualism is the norm. And nothing is as lonely as that. Because all communities are communities of one.
It’s not like much has really changed though. While we were fighting over meta-narratives, actual narratives were at work. Narratives that told people that they had to look out for themselves. Told them that if they didn’t, someone would take advantage of them. Told them which box they were in. Told them who the heroes were. Told them which villains to watch out for. Told them not to trust anyone but themselves. Told them that pleasure was the only thing in this life worth living for. Told them that nothing else mattered. Told them that as long as you don’t mess with anyone else, they wont mess with you. Told them that alone was the safest place to be.
This narrative was told in a hundred million different ways. From college professors, to kids’ cartoons. Books, TV, Movies, Internet, Video Games, anywhere that could tell a story, told this one. And it has affected every social interaction we have. Because the narrative has shaped us all. The one thing that makes us all community is our loneliness. A community of mistrust. And we are all products of this narrative.
Is it any wonder that we have people who have no interest in helping their neighbor? They have heard the story that doing so will hurt us all. Don’t give the homeless guy money, he’ll use it on alcohol. Don’t stop for the stranded, they may try to rob you. Don’t talk to the guy on the bus. He might be insane. Don’t offer your next door neighbor the use of your tool, you’ll never see them again. If you want to help people, you have to use protection. Let the government or non-profit organizations do the work. They’re professionals.
Since our churches see Christianity as a meta-narrative, the people don’t have to hear God’s narrative. They don’t have to have their lives shaped by this story. Is it any wonder that the individuals in our churches have no interest in evangelism? In helping our community? In helping members of their own congregation who are struggling? In making sure future pastors aren’t buried in debt? In making sure those pastors lost on CRM status are taken care of quickly?
But talk about money? People are experts. Budgets are of primary concern. Control of revenue makes the annual meeting a battle. Personal projects are vital. Someone else’s plan is questionable. And pastors are the most suspect of all. Can’t let that guy have too much control. Why? Because God’s people have let themselves be ruled by a foreign narrative. And it’s because we haven’t thought it that important to correct. Because we still think that we’re fighting a modernist battle with modernist weapons against a modernist opponent.
Narratives are powerful. It has been the tool God has shaped His people with throughout history. Genesis is narrative. Exodus is narrative. The Old Testament is narrative. Whether in common history, or common poetry, or common wisdom. The four gospels are first and foremost narrative. The epistles are a common narrative we share. God’s Word makes community. A common people with a common story. A state of being our current postmodern world is very interested in.
That narrative has ritual. It has a liturgy we hold as sacred. Because the liturgy is narrative concentrated down. We base our language around the narrative. We have our own grammar guide in terms of the Lutheran Confessions. It is a rich narrative. A narrative that explains what we experience. Whatever it may be. Most postmodern narratives aren’t that broad. Ours is. And people are interested and willing to hear it.
At least they are until we squeeze it into the less powerful form of meta-narrative. Why do we do that? What are we afraid of? That someone might listen to the telling of Jesus’ death and resurrection and reject it? How backwards! Our insistence on it being true whether we believe it or not is the very thing keeping people from hearing it. Don’t we believe that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him? Don’t we believe that the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel? That’s what our grammar says.
So yes, the postmodern worldview does deconstruct objective truth. Yes, we would still define the Christian faith as an objective truth. But that’s not really what matters. It didn’t matter for all the years before Christ was born. It didn’t matter for 1600 years after either. Far more important to hear the narrative. Be shaped by the narrative. Be community by means of the narrative. Because in that narrative, there is Jesus for you. Dying for you. Rising from the dead for you. Forgiving your sins. Being with you in all the events of life. That’s what makes it real. Not the academic insistence on objectivity. Besides, objective justification is never as comforting as subjective justification.
We live in a different world now. The subjective matters. Emotions and personal experience matter. And those things are given in the narrative itself. Part of the narrative itself. Reason, of course, isn’t simply thrown out the window. But it is now itself just one tool. Not the tool. And that changes the roles we’ve carved out for ourselves in the last 400 years. Pastors are more akin to the Native American Storyteller than the Academic Professor. Passing on the narrative of God becoming man, dying and rising, all for you. Making sure that you are not alone. Bringing you into His community. His family. His narrative.
Does postmodernism present challenges? Yes. But postmodernism is also tired of being alone. Hungry for true narratives to shape them. Hone your storytelling skills now. The world is waiting.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Each All Saints day, we have this reading from Revelation. It’s a text often used at funerals when someone dies. It’s a text that we use to give us the comfort that our loved ones are with Jesus. And for that, it is one of the most beautiful texts we have.
What we don’t get from it so often is the context around it. And the context starts with last week’s text. Where the Lamb who was slain was the only one worthy to open the seals of the scroll. The scroll that bears your name. However, with each seal opened, a disaster comes forth. In chapter six, we have the famous four horsemen of the apocalypse, one set loose with each seal. One bearing a crown, one bearing a sword, one bearing scales, and one whose name is Death.
A lot of art and imagination has sprung from that image. Stories that would curl your toes. Because each one is something we have every reason to fear. We fear being conquered. We fear having peace taken away. We fear not having enough to get by. Because all these things can lead to death. So we take precautions. We build our military. We write constitutions. We gather stores for the future. We cheat death. So to see those four ride out. It chills our very soul.
And we focus so much on them, that we fail to see who they must obey. They must obey the Lamb who was slain. Whose voice rings out like thunder. They must obey, even though they are the enemies of God. They must obey, because the Lamb has conquered the conquerer. Has pacified the sword. Has provided through the famine. Lives despite death. They can do no more than the Lamb allows. And he holds their reigns.
But why must he allow them to ride? How long will he let them run across our world? How long? That’s the cry that comes before God at the opening of the fifth seal. And they were given white robes. The robes were a symbol, which pointed to their baptism. The promise that God had given to them. The Lamb was with them. And cleansed them. And will keep His promise. Rest a little longer they are told. Until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete.
Because these things must take place. The sixth seal must be opened. With an earthquake, and blood, and fig tree dying. The sixth seal is the Lamb being slain. Jesus on the cross. The news of which is impossible to ignore. Flee to the hills. Mountains fall on us. The great day of wrath had come. Who could stand? Only the Lamb. Standing though slain.
Chapter seven, just a few verses before our text, we hear an angel shout, ““Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel. This is still the effect of the sixth seal. Still what happens with the death of Christ. You are given the seal of God. The seal which bears His name. Yahweh. I AM. He is, so you are.
That number though, 144,000. 12,000 from each tribe. Is a finite number. At least the way we understand numbers. But what was heard did not match what was seen. From today’s text. After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Those saved by the blood of the Lamb cannot be counted. The numbers announced were mere symbols. Twelve representing the Church of both the Old and New Testaments. Both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Jesus/ One thousand representing the complete number. So the complete number of people are sealed by the blood of the Lamb. Given the name of God. Claimed, never to lost again.
And our loved ones who have died in the faith are there. We will be there. Before the throne of God. Serving him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter [us] with his presence. [We] shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike [us], nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.”
No conquerer can take that away. No sword can end that peace. No famine or disaster will bring it to an end. Not even death and hell can stand in His way. The four horsemen are reigned in. The saints are robed. The Lamb is sacrificed. His blood covers us all.
Now, there is one seal left. Six down, one to go. Chapter eight, verse one. When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven. The ceaseless praise of the four living creatures ceased. The endless praise of the twenty four elders ended. There was no sound of conquering. No sound of war. No sound of hunger or famine or disaster. So sound from the mourning of death. There was no more asking how long. All are silent. In awe of the Lamb who ended it all. Ended in victory. In life. There was nothing more to say. For it had all been done. And silence was the most extraordinary worship of all.
Of course, there are still fourteen chapters left. We forget that Hebraic thought works in concentric circles. John will circle back a few more times, and look at all this again from a different lens. We still have seven trumpets, which will do the same thing. We still have seven bowls that repeat these events. We still have seven angels proclaiming this same story. Repeated again, so that we may understand. Understand that despite what happens to us in this world, Jesus has already won the victory. And that cannot be undone. He has sealed you for Himself. Baptized you. So that His victory over death is also yours. You bear His name. The name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Epistle lesson. A glimpse of God’s perspective. A glimpse of what worship looks like to Him.
Worthy is Christ the Lamb, who was slain, whose blood sets us free to be people of God. Power, riches, wisdom and strength and honor, blessing and glory are His. Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation. Blessing, honor, glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.
Too bad we’re not on a first or third Sunday. Because the new song sung by heaven is the exact same song we sing. Our new song is a response to what Christ has done, is doing for us. We sing it on communion Sundays, where the slain lamb is given to us directly. Jesus giving Himself to us directly. To be with us. To forgive our sins. To form us into His body. His people. Jesus gives Himself at the cross to us. His death. His resurrection. They’re on your lips. How can we not therefore sing with those same lips? Sing thanksgiving to Christ the Lamb who was slain?
But then, maybe one should ask why we’re singing an old song. If it’s the same song we find in Revelation 5, that was written nearly 2000 years ago. Our text clearly says that they sang a new song when the Lamb who was slain did His work. Shouldn’t then, we be singing something new? After all, music has come a long way from the harp and lyre. They had their new song then, and we can have a new song now.
Only if you go looking, it really wasn’t a new song. It sounds a lot like what we’ve already heard in other places. We have heard from the Psalms of David that the Lord is worthy. We have heard from Daniel of the sealed scroll. We have heard from Isaiah of the suffering servant being led like a lamb to the slaughter. We have heard from Hosea that the Lord has paid the ransom for death. We have heard from Moses that God has made His people a kingdom of priests. And God is praised with the words of this song over and over again.
What exactly is new about any of this? There is nothing new. Even the idea of a new song itself is old. Psalm 33. Psalm 40. 96. 98. 144. 149. Why not Isaiah 42? “There is nothing new under the sun,” writes Solomon in Ecclesiastes. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
So why call it new? Why not call it traditional, or antique, or ancient? Because that’s what it is. New is just the wrong word. Yet there it is. Coud it be that what makes the new song new isn’t its newness? That doesn’t make any sense. Might as well say that what makes the orange table orange isn’t it’s orangeness. Either the song is new or it’s not.
Unless, new doesn’t describe what the song is, and rather describes what the song does. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them priests to our God. The song puts the Gospel in your ears. The good news that Jesus died and rose again on your behalf. Those words are Jesus being given to you.
Those words create faith. Those words are what God uses to make you new. Yes, the song itself is as old as creation. But hearing it makes you new. Without it, the old Adam, the old sin is all we know. Without it, we age. We get older. We get closer to death. Without this song, we all die. And there is nothing we can do to change that. We can’t make ourselves new. We can’t make ourselves alive.
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, can. The song is not only about how the Lamb has made us new. God uses the words of that song as the means by which we are made new. We hear Jesus for us. And we believe.
We pray in the Lord’s prayer that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here’s heaven. The Lamb who was slain for you. Holding the scroll, which happens to have your name in it. Your life recorded. And He blots out the sins with His blood. It may be a heavenly vision or symbol. But heaven and earth meet. The same thing happens here. Your sins are covered by His blood. Which sets us free. We are no longer chained by sin. We are no longer controlled by death. We no longer follow Satan’s lead. We are free to be people of God.
Doesn’t mean the battle is done yet though. Sin still grabs at us. Death still puts it’s shackles on. Satan will still command, subtly if possible. Angrily if not. And they will hurt us all they can. Try to convince us that we are not free. Try to prove that they instead have won. But as Christ undoes the seals on the scroll, one by one, Their world ends. With Jesus on the cross, their world ends. With Jesus resurrection, their world ends. And all they have left is a gasp.
That’s why we’re here this morning. To remember that sin, death and the devil are on their last gasp. To be rid of their old, rotting remains. To be made new in Jesus. New in the singing of the new song. And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen.