5th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 540 v.1-3, 540 v.4-6
Text – Revelation 21:6
And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.”
TO THE THIRSTY
Flint, MI. It wasn’t exactly a picture of heaven to begin with. Throw into the mix the whole contaminated drinking water crisis & it gets even uglier. Now it’s coming out that states across our nation have cities with high levels of lead in their drinking water. Clean water is a big deal, but we haven’t worried about it much here in the Great Lakes state. Water is plentiful.
For people living in the southwest portion of our country drought has been a constant presence throughout our nation’s history. Clean water is not rocket science, but due to inept people, across the entire spectrum of our government, it’ll be something we cannot take for granted even while we are surrounded by Lake Michigan, Huron & Superior.
It’s no longer just the thirsty who are concerned about something to drink. Pollution of the world’s water has been a problem for centuries. Now, incompetent people, working for incompetent government, are not doing their job & are putting the lives of many people at risk. You don’t even have to be thirsty anymore to be angry & concerned.
Expanding upon the common understanding of being thirsty, Jesus also relates that sensation to the idea of righteousness. The Son of God says, in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” That thirst for righteousness makes itself obvious in one of the most mundane activities of life.
Have any of you ever made an excuse for a perceived failure or shortcoming on your part? Have you been caught red handed & tried to explain things away? No one enjoys hearing excuses, so haven’t you wondered why that’s such a knee jerk reaction for human beings? Haven’t you marveled at how those words come out of your mouth with so little effort? Excuses are simply a form of trying to justify ourselves, because innately we thirst for righteousness. Because sin has confused us, we long to be right, rather than being forgiven. So let the excuses fly! In response, Yahweh Himself tells us in Revelation 21:6,
“It is done! I am the Alpha & the Omega, the beginning & the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” In other words, our Creator gives everyone righteousness for free – no strings attached, it is done! Just believe it! That’s the whole point of John 3:16. Yet, we are oh so good at making excuses.
You & I thirst for righteousness yet, of our own, we are totally unable to satisfy that thirst. But, we still try, & our striving to do so takes other forms besides making excuses. We disengage from the world around us, reasoning that in such a way we’re accountable to no one. We take on a self-righteous air & deny all wrongs thus eliminating any need for excuses.
We complain & criticize others so we don’t feel bad about who we are. We work obsessively at perfection & deceive ourselves into thinking we reach it. We associate ourselves with those who appear successful & hope to just ride along on their coattails. Yet every one of those strategies is still driven by the same thirst, & of our own accord we are never satisfied.
Jesus is aware of that thirst: “So He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the 6th hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’
The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, & who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, & He would have given you living water.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, & the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?’
Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’”
Jesus can see very clearly that she is thirsting for righteousness, but He also knows this woman is confusing that with thirsting for water. So now, He turns the conversation to the topic of her sin, the root cause of her thirst for righteousness. Jesus said to her:
“Go, call your husband, & come here.” The woman answered Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, & the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
This woman knew her sin & with Jesus’ counsel she’s led to confess it. She sees in Jesus the hope of forgiveness, the satisfying of her thirst to be righteous, because Jesus cleared the confusion from her mind. You, & I, & all the world around us, also constantly need Jesus to clear the confusion from our minds. St. John wrote of that event in his Gospel.
Now, we turn back to his writings from today’s reading in the 21st chapter of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven & a new earth…” (Revelation 21:1 ESV) Chapter 20 just concluded with the final defeat of Satan & Judgment Day. At this final judgment, John says that “earth & heaven fled” from God’s presence on the great white throne.
Chapter 21 opens with a new heaven & a new earth being seen. In this new creation the former things, like the thirst for righteousness, will no longer be remembered. Life in this age is marked by confusion, chaos, uncertainty, conflict & death. You & I could probably add a few things to that list, because in this age, God often seems distant or unconcerned, especially when evil is evident & pervasive, but Yahweh is drawing this age to a close. There is a beautiful connection between the 1st book of the Bible & the last. Holy Scripture resembles a flower. We find the seed in Genesis, the growing plant in the books which follow, the fully developed & beautiful flower in Revelation.
Genesis tells us that God created heaven & earth. Revelation describes the new heaven & earth. In Genesis the luminaries are called into being – sun, moon & stars. In Revelation we read: “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, & its lamp is the Lamb.”
Genesis describes a Paradise which was lost. Revelation pictures a paradise restored. Genesis describes the cunning & power of the devil. The Apocalypse tells us that Lucifer was bound & hurled into the lake of fire & brimstone.
Genesis pictures the awful scene of man fleeing from God & himself from the presence of Yahweh. Revelation shows us the most wonderful & intimate communion between God & those He has redeemed: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, & they will be his people, & God himself will be with them as their God.”
Finally, whereas Genesis shows us the tree of life, with an angel to keep us away from it, Revelation reveals our restored access to it: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life…” (Revelation 22:14 ESV)
The theme of all of Revelation is that Christ is victorious over sin, death & the devil. Our heavenly Father’s plan, though for a while seemingly defeated, is seen, in the end, to triumph completely. In our lives also, God often seems defeated but James 1:12 gives us God’s answer to our despair: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” Part of the message of Revelation is that while God promises us a resurrection from the dead, Yahweh is already now in the process of making all things new. We sure don’t see it, but He is asking us to believe it:
John 20:29 – Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.” That seeing does not only have to do with Jesus, but with all of God’s creation. What we find in Revelation 21 is a description of the redeemed universe of paradise, as foreshowed by the redeemed Church of the present.
Certainly, the Church of today is not beautiful. It is fractured & divisive. It is filled with people who are confused, broken & torn. The picture which the gospels portray of the weakness of Jesus’ disciples, right up to Pentecost, is entirely evident in Christian congregations still. Yet, God’s dwelling with mankind will finally be perfected in the new heaven & the new earth.
Today, we are still thirsty, not only for water, but for the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Not all Christian churches are growing, & they’re not all impressive places to be, but they are what our Lord has chosen to work through, just like His crucifixion did not look to be a good way to grow His Church.
But Jesus knows our need to be justified. He knows our need to be made righteous, & He gave everything He had in order to accomplish that for us. Excuses are the work of Satan. Confession & forgiveness are the work of our loving Savior. So trust Him when He says:
“…Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy & true.” (Revelation 21:5 ESV) Jesus said those words not just of the impressive Christians you have heard of or know. He said those words of you. Amen.
Christ, the living bread from heaven, food for body, food for soul; Christ, the manna
daily given, nourish, strengthen, make us whole. Feed us with the food of heaven, foretaste of the feast to be; quench our thirst with living water springing up eternally. Christ, the way that leads unfailing to the Father’s home on high, Christ, the truth that frees the captive, Christ, the life that cannot die. Mediator to the Father, sacrifice & great High Priest: lead us to Your heavenly mansions, there to share Your wedding feast. Amen.
 John 4:5-7, 9-11, 13-15 ESV
 Revelation 21:3 ESV
4th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #478
Text – Revelation 7:9
After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.
WITNESS TO VICTORY
The book of Revelation is such an intriguing book of the Bible because it is filled with fantastic pictures. The images were not created with a camera, nor were they sketched by an artist with paint, or pencil or ink. They were painted with words.
In the 7th chapter of Revelation, St. John shows us two family photos. One is from earth, past & present, in verses 2 – 8. The other picture is from heaven, in verses 9 – 17, which was the Epistle reading for this morning.
The earthly photograph shows the Church in the midst of the battle between Lucifer & God. The Church on earth is in the midst of the tribulations inflicted after the opening of the 1st six seals of the Lamb’s scroll. This Church directory is filled with the suffering of the saints throughout time. Many of those are the Christians suffering around our world today.
Revelation 6 has Jesus opening the seals of the scroll. They symbolically depict the tribulation of life in a broken, sinful creation during the entire NT era. You & I are alive in that era today, & the opening of seal #6 culminates with Judgment Day. To the people of God it is a day of vindication & deliverance. To those who refuse to believe, it is purely a day of wrath.
Chapter 6 concludes with the ungodly people crying out to the mountains & rocks, “Fall on us & hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, & from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, & who can stand?” Justice is finally arriving for all the suffering they’ve caused through their unbelief in Jesus as the Lamb of God.
That 1st family photo of Revelation 7 begins the interlude between the opening of seal #6
& the opening of seal #7. It is a picture of all true believers during their time here on earth. It is the 144,000 as they are ready to carry out their mission & enter the valley of the shadow of death. You & I are part of that army of believers today. As we look around us in our lives, there are others to add to the number of God’s kingdom.
In this picture we are having Yahweh’s seal put upon us before we go into battle, & St. John finds comfort & encouragement in seeing God’s army being sealed. It means that no matter how much the people of God on earth suffer shall suffer, as we fulfill our mission, our Lord will protect us in our faith. After all, we are the people redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
Our heavenly Father is in control of His creation, along with the tribulations & judgment coming upon the earth. A shrinking economy & corrupt bureaucracy & political system will not prevent our Lord from calling us as His own possession through the power of His Word & through Baptism.
Gretchen, Cliff, Joshua & Sarah have been called here by a God who loves them & blesses them each day. He will care for & protect His own. In the midst of trial, suffering, or gruesome martyrdom, the Church of God can take comfort that those sealed by the Holy Spirit with the sign of the victorious crucified & risen Christ will not be abandoned.
They have a future. That is what’s depicted in the 2nd family photo-op. The scene shifts there to the church triumphant, gathered before the throne of God & the Lamb. Those sealed in the victory sign have been delivered to the Father by the Lamb who is their Shepherd. It is a preview of the family gathering to come.
A sign that salvation belongs to God alone will be this great multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, & multi-racial crowd gathered at God’s throne. This family of God has a future because God has conquered in the fight & brought His people life & light. These have had their robes washed in the blood, & the good Shepherd will lead them to the fountains of the waters of life. The Word they heard, & which permeated their life in the waters of Baptism, & the food of the Lord’s Supper while they were part of the 144,000 on earth is now their eternal food & drink under God’s heavenly tent.
Both pictures – the Church of God in battle & the Church Triumphant – are a Witness to the Victory of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Book of Revelation was written, not so we could “decode” specific events of our day. It was given to strengthen & encourage those who follow Jesus when they struggled in difficult times or cultures.
As the prayer put it so well, earlier in the service, “Almighty God, merciful Father, since You have wakened from death the Shepherd of Your sheep, grant us Your Holy Spirit that when we hear the voice of our Shepherd we may know Him who calls us each by name & follow where He leads; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.”
The pagan crowds will suck your soul right out of you, but not the crowd in heaven. You are not part of the crowd of the walking dead. You are part of the host of heaven, a newly re-created world of God’s eternal presence. Never forget which one defines you. Don’t allow Satan to define you. You can imagine how badly that will end up.
Jesus gives us life here, but it’s a difficult, broken life, seen only by faith, so we need today’s view of heaven too, our hope for the future. Easter is a few weeks past for this year, but the text from Revelation makes plain that the reality of new life is ever-present, now & until Jesus’ promised return & eternal reign.
In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, St. John wrote how the disciples fished all night & caught nothing. Then the Word of Jesus fills the nets! Heaven will be a celebration like that for all of eternity, forever & ever. Today, tomorrow, & the next day, whenever we lack anything, faith included, our Lord comes to us, supplies our need, & restores us to fellowship with Him. He points out our failures only so we can confess them, turn away from them, & turn back to Jesus. Whenever we struggle to confess our sins, it is always because we’re seeing the glass as half-empty. That is the thief at work, stealing, killing & destroying.
So last Sunday’s sermon showed us a vision of victory with the overwhelming catch of fish in the net. In today’s reading from Revelation, St. John shows us a picture of heaven:
“After this I looked, & behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes & peoples & languages, standing before the throne & before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, & crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, & to the Lamb!’”
Chapter 7 is one of the most important sections in the Book of Revelation. Saints in all ages need daily assurance of life everlasting in heaven. We so easily lose our courage & conviction. That Yahweh will dwell in the midst of His people is a fulfillment of OT promises in place like Ezekiel 37:27 & Zechariah 2:10.
“My dwelling place shall be with them, & I will be their God, & they shall be my people.” “‘Sing & rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come & I will dwell in your midst,’ declares the Lord.”
Because we know that our dwelling place will be with our Creator, forever & ever, we can live our lives with peace, contentment, generosity & unselfishness. That kind of living is a witness to victory. It’s a life that says, “The glass is half-full, rather than half-empty.” We can live that way, for the same reason St. Paul wrote these words:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18 ESV) We do well to remember that in the context & the background for all of Revelation 7, is Yahweh’s rescue of His people Israel from slavery in the land of Egypt. For this moment now, & for whatever time our future holds, whether that be only days, or be it weeks, years, even decades, Yahweh will also come to rescue us from our tribulations here on earth. He will then deliver us into paradise & eternal life.
“And he said to me, ‘These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes & made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
& serve Him day & night in His temple;
& He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
& He will guide them to springs of living water,
& God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7:14b-17 ESV)
As a final touch, notice, & relish, the move from the endless, uncountable crowd to the tender individual attention of every tear being gently wiped away from every saint’s eye by God himself. The Christian life begins & ends personally & individually with your Savior’s call one on one (into faith & out of the grave). Christ is our witness to victory. Amen.
The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad, the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God. From death to life eternal, from sin’s dominion free, our Christ has brought us over with hymns of victory. Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth its song begin, let all the world keep triumph & all that is therein. Let all things seen & unseen, their notes of gladness blend; for Christ the Lord has risen, our joy that has no end! Amen. LSB 478:1, 3
3rd Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 905, 485 tune 901, 917
Text – John 21:5-6
Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered Him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, & you will find some.” So they cast it, & now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.
A GLASS HALF EMPTY OR A GLASS HALF FULL
Who of you has not heard the illustration about a glass with a liquid in it that is at the 50% level? Some people describe that glass as half empty. Those are the pessimists. Others see that glass as being half full. They are the optimists. So what does a practical person say, upon looking at the very same glass? “Are you going to drink that?”
As the Apostle John records this Gospel event, he doesn’t even admit to the glass being half empty. He puts it very bluntly: “They went out & got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” (John 21:3c ESV) Not even one little fish that was so tiny it had to be tossed back into the sea. Zero! They struck out, & were in the process of going home.
They had failed miserably, & St. John highlights that failure. Was he being a pessimist? Since God teaches that every Word in the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, is God being a pessimist? How about you, in your life of faith in Christ, are you also a pessimist? Is the glass mostly half-empty when you tell others the story of your life?
This will be kind of pointed, but haven’t you been there while a friend is describing something negative that happened & another person pops up with these words, “That’s the story of my life!” They aren’t talking about a glass that’s half-full, are they?
Relating to each other’s suffering is a good thing in many respects. It creates a sort of comradery that strengthens & encourages each other. Knowing that we’re not alone in our struggles is helpful in resisting the temptations to surrender or despair. But can the glass half-empty seriously be the story of any Christian’s life? We should be careful how “caught up” we get in that sort of viewpoint, because St. John also recorded these words of Jesus: “The thief comes only to steal & kill & destroy; I have come that they may have life, & have it to the full.” If we come at life from the glass is half-empty viewpoint, Satan may have already stolen our Savior’s promises from us.
Looking at the glass as half-empty can make for some hilarious jokes, which lighten the mood & relieve the tension. We can also cross that fine line from relieving tension to creating more of it through ignoring, or even denying, the blessings that our Father in heaven offers to you & to me each & every day of our lives.
Jesus was not lying, or even exaggerating, when He said, “I have come that they may have life, & have it to the full.” A persistent rejection of that Word brings the opposite of life, which is death. If you are looking at your life & honestly see it as only half-full, there’s a sense in which you are rejecting the Words & promises of Christ.
The basic premise of John’s Gospel is the promise of life given to us by the Son of God, who is our Lord & Savior. The promise 1st appears in 1:4, “In [the Son of God] was life, & the life was the light of men.” In chapter 14 is the famous, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, & the truth, & the life.’” (v. 6a ESV)
In chapter 20, St. John gives the very purpose for his Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, & that by believing you may have life in His name.” (v. 30-31 ESV)
Most Christians get that following Jesus leads to life, yet we tend to corral that ‘life’ off into eternity. It’s a blessing we trust in seeing one day, but don’t consider that life to be real in the here & now. On an everyday basis, we don’t understand that life with our mind. We don’t see it with our eyes. We don’t feel it with our heart. So we tend to look at our circumstances as children of God in this world as half-empty, rather than half-full. The disciples of Jesus had the same problem after the initial excitement of their Lord’s resurrection wore off. They were happy He was alive, but they weren’t seeing any real changes in their circumstances.
They still feared for their lives. They didn’t feel powerful or invincible. Almost no one else was following Jesus’ teaching, & they had no jobs or income. So they try to go fishing, something they used to be good at, spend all night working, & catch not one single fish. It had to be disheartening & embarrassing.
Now, there’s some impetuous stranger on shore yelling out to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” Anyone with a half a mind about fishing could tell by the way the boat was riding in the water their expedition had produced one more failure. Was the glass half-empty, or half full? You tell me!
So another way you can read verse 5 is that Jesus is rubbing in the fact that His disciples failed to catch a single fish. In today’s language we might say Jesus is throwing His disciples under the bus. It’s generally thought of as not a very nice thing to do. So why would Jesus do it, & why would St. John record that fact?
His Gospel is highlighting, himself included, the failure of the disciples to catch any fish. Since He’s God, it’s difficult to believe that Jesus is being a pessimist. Since He willingly died for us, it’s not likely He’d throw other people under the bus just to make Himself feel better.
People see the glass as half-empty because they are used to motives corrupted by sin & quickly jump to a conclusion. Jesus, & the people who follow Him, can’t be trusted to cover up their sin. I think that’s one reason so many people, Democrats & Republicans, are afraid of Donald Trump. If he’s elected, they can’t trust him to cover up their sin. He might even rat them out & expose their corruption. If the lifelong politicians & bureaucrats think their glass is half-empty now, just wait until all that happens. There will be failure exposed on a massive scale far beyond that of the Veterans Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. Our system is so corrupt because way too many people are no longer depending on Jesus for life.
That is the main point which the Gospel reading from John revolves around. When Jesus enters the scene, & His disciples heed His voice, we see these fisherman overwhelmed with God’s abundant supply. By the mere word of His voice, Jesus brings about transition & change in the lives of those who listen to, & obey, His Words.
Yes, there is no such thing as heaven on earth, but there is life, & that is life as God defines it, creates it & blesses it. As Jesus spent 40 days & nights fasting in the wilderness, Satan tempts Him with the premise that food is life. The devil suggests that Jesus turn stones into bread so He can eat, & have life.
Jesus’ godly reply is that man does not live by bread alone. Instead, man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. So as the disciples listen to the words of Jesus, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, & you will find some,” when they do it, “they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish.”
The reason we so often see the glass as half-empty is that we evaluate our circumstances with very different criteria than our heavenly Father does. If you’ve ever noticed it, the Gospel of John adds something unique to the account of the feeding of the 5000. Matthew, Mark & Luke do not record it. The closing verse in John says,
“Perceiving then that they were about to come & take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:15 ESV) In the minds of the people who were fed, the life Jesus gave them was merely physical. They did not at all grasp the spiritual dimensions of what Jesus had just done. He’d given them a taste of heaven, here on earth. When Jesus was transfigured, He gave Peter, James & John, a taste of heaven here on earth. When Jesus performed any of His miracles, people were seeing a glimpse of heaven, here on earth. For the most part, none of them get it, until the Day of Pentecost arrives.
Even after hearing today’s Gospel lesson, all of us will struggle to get it. The life Jesus promised to give us, is so far beyond what we can see, & hear & feel, that even when we have that life, we seldom know it. Our glass is full to overflowing, yet we don’t recognize the signs. We see only a glass half-empty & fail to be satisfied or thankful.
When St. Paul writes that we live by faith, not by sight, this Gospel lesson is one of the circumstances Paul is referring to. We already now have life to the full, but we rarely experience it in those terms here on earth. Jesus highlights the failure of the disciples to catch any fish at all, not to throw them under the bus, but for the purpose of highlighting how God does provide.
Whether it’s surgery, or cancer, a leaky roof, or a divorce custody arrangement for the children… How do you tell the stories of your life? For what purpose do you tell the stories of your life? Is it to gain sympathy, or to highlight Jesus & the work He does? Do you tell your stories to frighten people, or make them laugh, or to showcase the promise of life Jesus gives?
The Son of God never covers up our sins, as many politicians do. Jesus actually pays the penalty for them & then forgives us for our sins. He calls out the disciples on their failure to catch fish on their own, so they confess their need & notice all the more clearly that Jesus, with no effort at all, provided everything they needed to sustain them physically & spiritually.
The disciples fished all night & caught nothing. Then the Word of Jesus fills the nets! Heaven will be a celebration like that for all of eternity, forever & ever. Today, tomorrow, & the next day, whenever we lack anything, faith included, our Lord comes to us, supplies our need, & restores us to fellowship with Him. He points out our failures only so we can confess them, turn away from them, & turn back to Jesus. Whenever we struggle to confess our sins, it is always because we’re seeing the glass as half-empty. That is the thief at work, stealing, killing & destroying. The answer – turn to Jesus that you may have life, & have it to the full.
Are you going to drink that? Amen.
Long before the world is waking, morning mist on Galilee, from the shore, as dawn is breaking, Jesus calls across the sea; hails the boat of weary men, bids them cast their net again. So they cast, & all their heaving cannot haul their catch aboard; John in wonder turns, perceiving, cries aloud, “It is the Lord!” Peter waits for nothing more, plunges in to swim ashore. Charcoal embers brightly burning, bread & fish upon them laid: Jesus stands at day’s returning in His risen life arrayed; as of old His friends to greet, “Here is breakfast; come & eat.” Christ is risen! Grief & sighing, sins & sorrows, fall behind; fear & failure, doubt, denying, full & free forgiveness find. All the soul’s dark night is past, morning breaks in joy at last. Morning breaks, & Jesus meets us, feeds & comforts, pardons still; as His faithful friends He greets us, partners of His work & will. All our days, on ev'ry shore, Christ is ours for evermore! Amen. LSB 485:1-5
 John 10:10 NIV
 John 21:6 ESV
Life Sunday #2 – 2016 LSB #352
Text – Ephesians 2:4-5
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.
A NEW HEART, A NEW LIFE
Imagine for a moment, standing right here: Amy. She’s 21 years old, a senior in college. The future she thought was about to arrive has changed. She grew up without a word of encouragement. She never felt valued or deeply loved, just tolerated & taught. It’s not that her family hadn’t loved her, they just never really said they did – didn’t show they did.
Life was mechanical for her parents. Say “please” & “thank you,” get good grades, be helpful, & that’s all there really is to life. So, throughout her days in college, Amy searched for a sense of value & validation through casual dating, catching the attention of, being wanted by any young man she’d meet in the bar.
It’s happened again, another night of bad decisions. She knew it was wrong, it was a mistake, & there are always regrets & guilt, but now, this time, there will be a baby. She briefly thinks of an abortion – but her childhood connection to God’s church & Word still give Him a voice in her heart so she dismisses the thought. But she is racked with guilt, regret & fear.
What will her parents think? What will her friends think? The child’s father? What does God think? Has she messed up too much? Will He still value her? She’s about to go home & break this news. Amy is a young woman in need of grace.
Now, picture Steven. He stands at the back of a church & wonders how his life came to be what it is. He spent 20 + years chasing after what he thought he wanted most of all – the high figure salary, the power & influence – climbing the corporate ladder & all that goes with it. Now he has it, yet he’s discovering that what he really wants is what he sacrificed for the illusion. It all comes clear when he stands at the back of the church watching another father walking his daughter down an aisle to give her hand to a young man he doesn’t even know. He missed every 1st day of school, every 4-H meeting, every tea party, & every softball game. He missed the heartaches & the growing pains, the 1st date & the prom date.
He left them behind when he was too busy chasing after HIS heart’s desires, too busy to see what his heart really should have desired. He wondered if she can forgive him, & if God might still want him. Three marriages later, watching his child’s wedding from the back row, the spectator’s row, the guilt & sorrow & regrets all swirl around. He is a man in need of grace.
Over here, picture Margaret. She’s alone now, at least she feels that way. Illness took her husband a few years ago, & she’s never come to terms with her new situation. She wants to blame God, cry out to God, or even lean into God – but instead she just feels numb. The friends they had together don’t seem to be there anymore.
The children have all moved around the country. She doesn’t want to burden them by moving in or even moving near. She feels like a 5th wheel at the card games or social nights, so she stays at home & watches TV. Loneliness has become the weight she can’t carry any longer. She wonders if God sees her, loves her, holds on to her still. She’s a woman in need of grace.
Picture Christopher – in his 2nd year of high school & hates most of his life. He suffers from depression. He feels awkward & geeky, blocked out of the “in” crowd. He’s a computer whiz, with too much acne & teeth a little too big for his head. His friends are found on the other end of cell phones or Xbox games. He never learned social skills. He can’t talk to girls.
He’s an introvert, afraid to say “hi” to almost anyone. His family assures him that he’ll mature & grow & things are better in college for most people – they say. But he’d give anything to simply hang out with the so called “cool kids” for a while. He feels invisible. He wonders if
the world knows he’s here & if God can even see him at all. He’s a young man in need of grace.
Wasted years; bad decisions; broken hearts & broken spirits – all people find themselves in a mix of emotions in the various trials & seasons of life. The message of Easter is that God answers all our needs with grace. We might question our own worth in the world, but God answers our questions through His grace, which is undeserved mercy.
We talk a lot about grace in the church & in our lives. We say grace before a meal. We enjoy a grace period from the bank. Dancers are graceful. Donors are gracious. We love the way the promise of grace fills the right verse in a hymn. I begin every sermon by offering, “Grace, mercy & peace to you from Your Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.”
But do you know the fullness of God’s grace? Can you explain to the non-Christian friend what we mean when we talk about grace? Do we really grasp the magnitude of God’s gift of grace?
You see, grace is what grabs hold of you. It shakes you around & wakes you up in your very soul. Grace transforms the core of your life. It re-shapes you, re-makes you, re-forms you into the likeness of Christ. By grace, God gives you a new heart.
A few years ago there was a young man named Chandler. His heart was broken – I mean, it was physically broken. He was a young man with what seemed to be a lot of life still ahead, but his heart was dying. He was weak & fading, unable to live the life he dreamed of &, well, without a new heart he wouldn’t live much longer at all.
You & I had the same sort of need in a spiritual sense. We were in need of a new heart. We needed God’s heart or we wouldn’t really be able to live. We couldn’t live the life God had in mind for us. As it turned out, Chandler received a new heart; in fact, he received Lauren’s heart. Lauren & her family were a part of the church family in a small town in western Iowa. She was seventeen & full of life. Her mom, Mary, led the youth group. Her dad, Rob, was head elder. Lauren was pretty regular in church attendance, & a bit of a wild child, energetic, hard-headed, outgoing, faithful & challenging – exploring all the possibilities life held in store for her.
She loved country music, goofing off & hanging out with her friends. There was so much life ahead for Lauren. But, sometimes, we’re reminded how fragile these bodies really are. The car she was driving was hit by a drunk driver. Lauren suffered a major head injury.
The helicopter got her to the hospital. Surgeries were tried. Prayers were said. Lauren spent eight days in a coma, her family at her bedside, her friends in sorrow. Finally, the tough decision had to be made. “Do we end life support?” they asked.
How deeply did God value Lauren’s life? He loved her so deeply that, centuries before, Yahweh had entrusted His own Son to the care of another young woman named Mary. God so loved Lauren that He gave His Son Jesus to live & die & rise again for her – & for you – and for Amy & Steven & Margaret & Christopher.
God loves each of us so deeply that He gave us Jesus who redeemed us & made us His own. God loves Chandler, the young man in need of a new heart. God loves Chandler through Christ his Savior. God loves Chandler through a tough decision that Lauren’s parents, Mary & Rob, had to make.
They didn’t know who might receive the gift of a new lease on life when they made that hard decision to donate her organs. As it turned out, Chandler received Lauren’s heart, a young, strong, life-giving heart. Eventually, when their hearts were ready, they sought Chandler out, he sought them out, & when they met, Mary & Rob got to hear the sound of their daughter’s heart still beating & giving life.
Doesn’t God the Father do the same? You see, God knew we were in need of new life.
We needed a new heart. That’s what grace does. It is by God’s grace that you have been saved. It is by God’s grace that you are made new. It is by God’s grace that you’ve been given new life. In fact, God had promised that new lease on life some 700 years before He fulfilled the promise.
He spoke through His prophet Isaiah, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine… I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1b, 3b ESV)
God created you in the womb. He formed your very being. He called you by name for His great plans. He made your life new through the Holy One of Israel. God gave you a new heart through Christ. God has loved you so deeply, & He gives you the gift of life so deeply, that He gave you the heart of Christ. HIS heart beats within you. THAT is God’s gift of Grace.
Amy is terrified of what the world will think, what her future now holds. She bears the weight of regret, guilt & fear. Yet, by God’s grace, she is still saved. God still loves her AND her child. He created them, redeemed them, & He calls them both into the life He will guide them through.
Steven can’t bear what he’s done with his life – what he did, & didn’t do, for his family. He needs a new start, a new set of priorities, a new discovery of the power of love. By God’s grace he’s been saved. By God’s grace he is being transformed. He is created, redeemed & called to live with a new heart beating for Christ.
Margaret needs to know she’s still loved. She needs friends & family & people around. She needs to know God is still with her. By grace she is saved. By grace she’s been created, redeemed & called to live in His peace that surpasses all human understanding.
Christopher needs to know that he’s valued & blessed, that he’s a beloved treasure of God. By grace he is saved. By God’s grace he is loved, created, redeemed & called to live in the light of Christ his Savior. And so are you. You might think you’ve made mistakes that can’t be forgiven, you’ve been broken beyond repair, you’ve been lost in the eyes of the world.
But the fact is, God has loved you so deeply that He created you, He redeemed you, & He called you to new life through that same Holy One of Israel. He gives new life here on earth, but an even greater & absolutely perfect life one day in heaven. Live this new life of faith here to the glory of the Father & the Son & the Holy Spirit, today & forever.
You don’t have to be afraid of losing this new life, because it’s nothing you’ve earned or deserved anyway. It has been given to you as a gift purely by the grace of God. Amen.
Bruise for me the serpent’s head that, set free from doubt & dread, I may cling to You in faith, safely kept through life & death. Then when You will come again as the glorious king to reign, I with joy will see Your face, freely ransomed by Your grace. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet