the river of life
7th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 389:1, 4-6, 673, 474
Text – Revelation 22:1
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God & of the Lamb.
THE RIVER OF LIFE
Mythology has been a topic that many people are curious to learn about. College courses routinely cover Greek & Roman mythology. It can be mystical & fascinating trying to tie together all the characters of those ancient stories.
The word is derived from the Greek word “mythos,” meaning story of people, & “logos” which means speech. Therefore, mythology is simply a story that tries to explain the origins or the meaning of life. In mythology, people are asking, “Where did we come from? Why are we here?” Every culture that has existed has stories they pass on from one generation to the next.
At their most basic level, myths comfort people by giving a sense of order & meaning to a world that often appears to be chaotic & even cruel. The recent murderous rampages in Oxford, MI; Buffalo, NY & Uvalde, TX, are modern examples of the type of event that mythology would be used to explain.
One of the chief roles of mythology is to explain what happens at death. Closely connected to that are explanations of the afterlife. In the land of the dead, the River Styx dominated the Greek underworld. It formed the border between that world & the world of the living. Translated from Greek to English, the River Styx would be known as the River of Hate.
Also translated into English, the other major rivers of Hades were the River of Pain, the River of Forgetfulness, the River of Fire, & the River of Wailing. Do you get the impression they thought Hades was not going to be a fun place? Those rivers are the invention of mankind, & their mythology was created by human beings in order to answer big questions of life, questions like, “Where did we come from? Why are we here?” The Bible is, in that sense, a type of mythology. Remember, at its root mythology has nothing to do with being true or untrue. It is simply a story given to explain the origin or the meaning of life.
Like Greek or Roman mythology, the Bible also attempts to answer those questions for us. By the definition of Christianity, Christians are people who believe the answers that the Bible gives. People who do not believe the Bible’s answers may believe other mythologies, like the ancient Roman or Greek myths.
The Greek myth had their Rivers of Hate & Pain, Forgetfulness, Fire & Wailing. The Bible also has a river. In the Book of Revelation, God presents to us the River of the Water of Life. It is a very different river than those of the Greek mythology. This river is meant to bring life & to sustain life. In fact, it flows from Yahweh Himself.
We don’t have to pay some dark shadowy figure to ferry us across this river, as in the Greek mythology. In the Greek afterlife, only the most exceptional mortals are blessed with eternal happiness. The mythology of the Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, God sent His Son to rescue us that we might spend eternity with Him in paradise.
That is the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth – to end up in paradise living with the very God who created us. The meaning of our lives does not depend upon what we do. It depends, instead, upon the perfect life that Jesus lived in our place. No mythology created by mankind ever grants paradise to human beings based upon the perfect life of a god.
In Greek mythology, for the vast majority of souls a bleak existence waits after death, a place of shadows, darkness & hopelessness. They weren’t overly bad, nor were they overly good, so their “blessing” is to drink from the River of Forgetfulness, meaning they forget their previous lives & exist forever & ever in mindlessness. Through the Bible, Father, Son & Holy Spirit offer so much more for the afterlife, & that blessing does not depend upon our being exceptionally good. There is no need to live in fear that I will fall short & end up in mindlessness forever & ever, or even worse, in suffering & torment that never ends.
Because Jesus died & rose from the dead for us, those who believe the origin & meaning of life that God’s Word teaches will rise from the dead as well. They will have a physical body to live a full & perfect life as God intended it to be in the Garden of Eden. We will live productive & useful lives where everyone will be exceptional, yet with humility.
And all of the new heaven & earth will experience that same vitality, purpose & meaning. All of that life will be fed & protected by the River of the Water of Life. There will be no sickness or death, no suffering or pain, but the best news is that we do not need to live exceptional lives here on earth in order to earn that.
God’s heart breaks as He sees us living in the brokenness of this sinful world. So Jesus endured the punishment that all of us deserve. He endured the torment of hell to pay for all the sins of all the people from all of history. If God didn’t pay for all sins, then how would He pick & choose who was good enough to enter His paradise?
In truth, it is often in this life that we exist in mindlessness, incapable of using our gifts & abilities to their full extent because sin has corrupted us. It is because of sin that the tragedies of life occur like the shootings in Oxford & Buffalo & Uvalde. It is because of sin that evil men like Vladimir Putin send their armies to massacre civilians by the thousands.
It is because of sin that you & I disrespect our neighbors instead of loving them, & we hate our enemies instead of praying for them. Ancient mythologies determine the eternal future of your soul by what you do & fail to do here on earth. There is no hope of resurrection to living a fulfilling life in eternity. At best, you hope for more of the same mindlessness we often experience already now, but without even a body. Since the Word of God came 1st, mythology is trying to do the same thing that the Bible does. It’s just that mythology is a secular, man-made version. It seeks to achieve its goals without the true God, who designed & created all things. By definition then, mythology has to be a false version of life’s meaning & purpose.
On August 20, 2021, Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee posted a photo of herself cradling an Afghan baby in her arms. “I love my job,” she wrote. On August 26th, she & 12 other service members were killed in a suicide bombing outside Kabul Airport during the chaotic withdrawal of American forces.
This Memorial Day, as all others, has been dedicated to remembering the more than one million men & women who have died in service to our country. And while, at our best, our mourning may last a day, for our Gold Star families that mourning occurs all year long.
Together, long after they are gone, the names & faces of those died at war bear witness to the words of Jesus, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV) Jesus laid down His life for us & was raised from the dead in order to pay for all that we have done wrong, & for all the good that we have failed to do.
In heaven, the River of the Water of Life will feed & nourish our body & soul so perfectly that no one there will ever suffer in any way. We will never take for granted the blessings that the heavenly Father bestows upon us. We will never weep, as the families weep today, of those murdered in these past months, anywhere in our nation or in Ukraine.
As a child of God, you have the hope that their families need – the message of the River of the Water of Life. The knowledge that everything will end well, in heaven, for all who believe, helps us to keep all of this life in its proper perspective. There is hope to come that will never fade. Each of us already now has infinite value because of the Lord who created us, & because of our life to come that will never end. Amen.
Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see? O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare for that bright home of love that I may see Thee & adore with all Thy saints above. Amen. LSB 673:1, 6.
 The American Legion Magazine, May 2022, p. 4.
humility, tears, and trials
4th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 709:1, 3, 5-6, 353, 937
Text – Acts 20:18-19
And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility & with tears & with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.”
HUMILITY, TEARS & TRIALS
Think for a moment, about the absolutely most humiliating thing that has ever happened to you. Do you bring that up very often in conversations? Have you worked at forgetting or even denying that it ever happened?
Serving others is difficult enough as it is, given that our ego prefers to be served. Yet, in this text from the book of Acts, Paul comments on his service to God by saying it was with all humility & tears & trials.
Some people are only willing to serve others if they get credit for it, but even if we are uncomfortable with getting credit, neither do we want to be humiliated in our service. And serving with tears & trials isn’t especially welcome either.
St. Paul knowingly served under all of those circumstances, yet he’s not bragging. Rather, he says these things to encourage people who will find themselves serving under similar conditions. Across all of world history, serving with humility, tears & trials is the norm for Christians, but here in the US, we’ve had circumstances that were anything but the norm.
People growing up in the United States, during the 20th century, were not all believers in Jesus as Savior. However, practically all US citizens received training to think from a Biblical worldview. They generally agreed on what was right & what was wrong, on specific roles for men & women & children. Christian beliefs were respected even if they were not adhered to.
Though the term didn’t exist then, it was completely out of the question that anyone would even try to cancel someone for teaching the things that Jesus taught. For example, the Word of God makes it perfectly clear that human existence begins with conception. Human accountability for sin begins at that same point. Regarding every human being, God created specific individuals, each one in a unique relationship with their heavenly Father. And He creates them as male & as female right from very genetic level.
For years now, scholars, politicians & all manner of leaders, have been trying to, & succeeding in, deconstructing that society. They’ve been tearing it down, tearing it apart, & tearing into a million unrecognizable pieces. And not all of their inspirations were wrong. The racism exemplified by the KKK that needed to be attacked & deconstructed.
The sexism of the 20th century USA was damaging & confining in ways that were not unlike slavery in some respects. Men & women, of all races, should have equal opportunities for education & service according to the vocations that our heavenly Creator gives to us individually.
In spite of its obvious & serious faults, the United States has provided equal opportunity in far greater ways than probably any civilization prior to it. The devil is now, in the 21st century, orchestrating its destruction. The tragedy of it all, is that a huge percentage of our population is buying into it.
Research has suggested that today, only 6% of self-described Christians have a true Biblical worldview. So it’s pretty safe to say that non-Christians do not in any way look at life through the teachings of Jesus. In that context, serving the Lord with all humility & with tears & with trials will become much more commonplace in the next ten years.
St. Paul, & Jesus too, do not want us to become discouraged. In order for that, however, we need to see our calling in realistic terms. No more rose-colored glasses or pietistic views of what it is to be a child of God. Satan is waging war against us & against the kingdom of God. The nation of Ukraine has no more illusions about the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation.” He is waging war & killing tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens. The war that Satan is waging on all of humanity is even more serious than that. To top it off, our sinful nature, even that of Christians, gladly works with him.
As Paul so aptly put it, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV)
Given that reality, it’s no wonder Paul’s service to the Lord was with all humility, tears & trials. He wasn’t only at war with Satan & the world’s unbelievers. Paul was at war with himself. You & I live with that same reality, & passing on our faith in Christ to others will become marked, more & more, by all humility, tears & trials.
One way the devil tempts us today is to believe that being a Christian should be easy & without struggle, no humility needed, nor tears & trials. We see that in people who are insistent that sermons should be a time for happy talk. There’s enough depressing stuff going on in life that they don’t want to hear about it in the worship service.
In a sense, they want to live their Christian life with their head in the sand. However, as Paul faces the elders of the church in Ephesus, for what is probably the last time, he turns to the future, facing imprisonment & afflictions, but that is not what concerns him. What does is that he remain faithful in the ministry the Lord has given him – unto death.
The future of the church in Ephesus too is dark. Those new people of God will be attacked by both foe & traitor. The elders must therefore be alert & vigilant in the exercise of their office, as Paul has been in his. He’s given the Word of life to them fully & faithfully. His predictions for the church at Ephesus provide a pattern for many of the problems & issues we face today. The solution to the problems at Ephesus is the love & power of the work of Christ on the cross. Daily, Jesus brings us life & salvation & strength for victory despite the problems around us. God’s Spirit gives peace of heart & mind so we can rest at night from the labors of our day. This victory, however, is not on the world’s terms, but on the terms of the kingdom of God. It is never in our own power that you or I run the race. It is always & only God’s mercy & forgiveness, through which He constantly restores us, that enable us to continue running the race, in spite of humility, tears & trials.
Serving God is normally anything but a glorious life. We see that here every day in the child care program. There are no TV news crews showing up to tell our story to the world. It’s similar for workers in nursing homes where people literally go in order to die.
In a way, child care & nursing home workers are following in the footsteps of Jesus who laid down His life for us. Humility is something that our sinful nature never aspires to. It can only be learned as a gift from Jesus. The world would rather not take humility, tears & trials seriously. These song lyrics give us a tongue in cheek view of the world’s opinion of humility:
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ’cause I get better lookin’ each day. To know me is to love me. I must be a hell of a man. Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doin’ the best that I can.”
That was a hit song back in 1980, for a singer named Mac Davis. In so many ways today, our culture seems to have lost any sense of humor. Might we guess it has something to do with having lost any sense of humility & need for the mercy of God? Every single one of us has a tremendous need for our Lord’s mercy. He offers it to us freely, with no strings attached.
Humility receives mercy. Pride does not. So, the next time you remember that most
humiliating thing that ever happened to you, give God a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s one of the most precious gifts that Jesus can offer to you. He earned it for us while hanging on the cross. Amen.
Jesus came, the heavens adoring, came with peace from realms on high; Jesus came to win redemption, lowly came on earth to die; Alleluia! Alleluia! Came in deep humility. Jesus comes again in mercy when our hearts are worn with care; Jesus comes again in answer to an earnest, heartfelt prayer; Alleluia! Alleluia! Comes to save us from despair. Jesus comes to hearts rejoicing, bringing news of sins forgiven; Jesus comes with words of gladness, leading souls redeemed to heaven. Alleluia! Alleluia! Hope to all the world is given. Amen. LSB 353:1-3.
3rd Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 411, 578:1-3, 578:4-6
Text – Acts 9:18a
And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, & he regained his sight.
It got to be an almost comical occurrence. It was the eyeglass mission trip to Chihuahua, Mexico in 2007. We begin with the lowest power of lens, as people sit down to have their eyes tested. Not having seen anything clearly for years, even the lowest power often made such a dramatic difference that they thought they had gained their sight once again.
We had to tell them, “Wait. We want to try the next higher power.” Again, they were startled by how improved their vision was & thought they were done. Sometimes, this went on until we finally got to the optimal lens for an individual. It was a life changing experience for many of them as they regained their ability to see.
Good eyesight is easily taken for granted. When I was much younger, & doing electrical work for a living, I could see very well, even in almost dark conditions. That came in handy with the power turned off. Trying to do work like that now is a much greater challenge, & to be honest it can be extremely annoying.
Losing sight, though often gradual, is a much more common process than gaining sight. The Pharisee named Saul lost his sight instantly. It’s a commonly told event in the history of the Christian church – the conversion of Saul. It’s a powerful & dramatic event that makes for great teaching material.
Much of the drama revolves around the moment when Saul regains his sight, as the Bible describes something like scales falling off his eyes that he could see again. However, it was in losing his physical sight, that Saul gained spiritual sight. In a similar thought Jesus spoke to Doubting Thomas, once he had seen & then believed: “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.’” (John 20:29 ESV) Once Saul could no longer see then he believed. Of course, the appearance of Jesus also had something to do with that. The point is that physical sight does not equal believing. Faith is an orientation of the heart. It is looking to our Creator in humility.
The Catholic church of Martin Luther’s day needed to regain its spiritual sight. Until he traveled to Rome, he optimistically believed that if only the Pope could hear Luther’s point of view, then all would be well. However, once he arrived at the Vatican & saw the city with his own physical eyes, Luther wrote this concerning what the Church of Rome had become:
“…the kingdom of sin, death & hell. It is so bad that even Antichrist himself, if he should come, could think of nothing to add to its wickedness” (Concerning Christian Liberty, Luther’s Works 31:336). The Pharisee Saul, by his own admission, was in similar condition prior to going blind. He was “breathing threats & murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Acts 9:1 ESV)
Paul learned his lesson well. By the time he wrote to the church at Rome, 1500 years before Luther traveled there, St. Paul writes: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3 ESV)
What do you think of yourself? Are you sure that you are so helpless that not even God can do anything with you? You see, God took a murderer like Saul & turned his heart around so that he could travel the Gentile world & share the Good News about Jesus. Are you even more evil yourself? You might be if you refuse God’s design for your time.
Paul could not, & neither can we, gain sight on our own. Sin is the temporary refusal of spiritual sight. Unbelief is the permanent refusal. God has to cause us to see the things of the Spirit. That’s what He did to Saul, & the Holy Spirit caused Saul to quit refusing to see. Three days later, the Lord gave back physical sight to Saul. The same almighty Spirit of God that came to Saul has come to you & me. Do you live as if you have spiritual sight? Or, do live still as if you are blind? Later in the book of Acts, Paul describes the Gentile mission that Jesus would send him on, the mission for which the Lord restored Paul’s spiritual sight:
“…I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light & from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…” (Acts 26:17-18 ESV) Paul knew what it was to be blind, both spiritually & physically. He knew what it was to be lost, & this helped him in his work of showing others the true light.
If you don’t want God to use the talents & abilities He has given to you, which is a refusal to see. If you are afraid of letting God use the talents & abilities He has given to you, which is a refusal to trust His goodness. Whenever either of those attitudes is true we need to be resurrected because in fear or in refusing we are not living out the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We might be responding, “He is risen indeed,” while we are yet choosing to remain dead. That’s what sin has done to us with its corruption of our heart & mind & soul. We need God’s Spirit to blind us to the things of this world that we might truly see. We need the Holy Spirit to breathe life into us that we might live.
We might not be breathing threats & murder against God’s church, but if we are not for Him we are still against Him. So God sent Ananias to Saul to reassure him that his Creator would be working in Saul to cleanse him of all his past sins, & Saul had a great many, as we all do. What joy it is to have that burden of guilt & shame lifted from us.
Now, what do we do with that joy? Lest you think that from conversion on all of your life is about the things you do for God, our Lord allows sin to remain in order to keep us humble. As Luther said in the 1st of his 95 theses, the Christian life is about repentance, not about what we do. A repentant heart is a gift of God & because we are still 100% sinner, everything we do for our Creator must begin at & with repentance. The Christian life is kind of like being blind & getting fitted for a new pair of glasses each & every day. Each day our faith feels strong, we think we have arrived, but tomorrow, we need repentance & forgiveness again.
How many times before had Jesus appeared in the lives of the disciples? He lived with them for three years, yet in the Gospel reading, they had to learn again to recognize Jesus on that day. Like getting fitted for ever stronger lenses & seeing more & more clearly, each new day repentance is needed to clear the sin from our eyes that we might see Jesus anew again.
Then, we can work to further the kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit instead of through our own misguided sense of power & accomplishment. It is through the repentance that the Holy Spirit works in us each new moment of every day that we gain our sight for now & for eternity. Amen.
Thy strong Word did cleave the darkness; at Thy speaking it was done. For created light we thank Thee, while Thine ordered seasons run. Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness, dark as night & deep as death, broke the light of Thy salvation, breathed Thine own life-breathing breath. Alleluia, alleluia! Praise to Thee who light dost send! Alleluia, alleluia! Alleluia without end! Amen. LSB 578:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet