3rd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 8) LSB #’s 913, 698, 685
Text – Galatians 5:13
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
USING OUR FREEDOM
People who live in the United States hear a lot of talk about freedom. It is one of the founding principles of our nation. We defeated the British in the Revolutionary war so we could exercise freedom. Yet, our nation itself has struggled to give freedom equally to all people. We fought a civil war to end slavery & grant freedom to the people who were enslaved.
In spite of all the talk in our nation about freedom, in spite of all the history that has revolved around the concept & practice of freedom, much of the time people skip right over defining what they mean by the word freedom. For all the time & energy spent on discussing it, you’d think every American should be able to give a sound definition of the word.
If I were to ask, “What is the definition of freedom?” that may strike you as an easy question to answer. So, think for a moment – “What would you write down as a definition for freedom?” Keep in mind that in the very beginning, Adam & Eve had the freedom to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good & evil. They also had the freedom not to eat of it.
You know how that turned out. And the concept of freedom has been greatly confused ever since. As much as Americans talk about, or celebrate freedom, the vast majority of us have no idea what it means. Members of the church at Galatia had the same problem, therefore St. Paul writes to them in the hope of helping them understand.
Yet, because of our sinful nature, in this life, we can never live truly free lives. It will always be a constant struggle to do so, whether we realize that or not. Every one of us needs regular instruction in what it means to be free because our very own sinful nature wants us to be enslaved. So often today, when people think they are exercising their freedom they are instead acting as slaves. In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam & Eve by urging them to use their freedom in disobedience to God’s instruction. In their choice to disobey their Creator they put themselves into slavery, & submitted to Satan as their master.
Did the Devil warn them ahead of time, that slavery would be the result? Does he warn you, ahead of time, when you are being tempted to ignore the instruction of God? An evil master never sounds a warning about the suffering to come. Jesus is also a Master, but He is a Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. He does warn us of the dangers ahead.
Thus St. Paul begins chapter 5 of his letter to the church at Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV) If you caught the grammar in that sentence, it is telling us that we are responsible if we make the choice that throws us back into slavery.
After about 4000 years of history, millennia filled with the violence & suffering caused by man’s sin, God the Son came in human flesh in order to set all of mankind free. He lived a perfect life so we could receive credit for that. He made the payment that erased every one of our sins. To top it off, His body was raised from the dead as the beginning of the new creation.
In believing that, & in trusting that, you are set free from the slavery to sin & guilt that you were born into. Now that your Creator has saved you from an eternity of violence & suffering, you no longer have to worry about doing this, or not doing that, so you can enter heaven. God’s Son has given paradise to you as a gift. He has set you free from sin & shame.
The question now is, “How do you live?” How do you put that freedom to work? How does the new creation live in you? God tells us, by way of St. Paul, to use our freedom by serving one another through love. Satan tempts us to use freedom to serve ourselves. What he doesn’t say up front is that in serving ourselves we actually become his slaves. In serving ourselves we are pulling the old, broken & twisted creation out of the grave. In serving others we are simply doing what comes naturally to the saintly nature. Or, as Paul put it, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, & you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16 ESV)
As children of God, it is the Holy Spirit that animates us, empowers us & when we are tired & frustrated lifts us up as on eagles’ wings. That comes not from slavery, but from freedom. Here’s where our misguided definition of freedom comes into play & confuses us.
Because of our nation’s history, we naturally think of freedom in political terms. Because we are sinful, we think of freedom as the right to choose what to do with our lives, what to do with or to our bodies. We think of ourselves as totally autonomous creatures that have the “right” to do whatever we choose.
I’ve never heard anyone who supports abortion bring God’s design into the debate. They don’t make any effort to publicly consider God’s will. For people who are pro-choice it is all about the freedom of a woman to decide what happens to her body. They do not concede any role whatsoever to The Creator.
Nowhere in Holy Scripture does God abdicate those rights. Do you sense a feeling of irritation in your sinful nature? Yet, God had Isaiah write these words, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (43:1 ESV) Those words drive our sinful nature crazy. It’s why the theory of evolution was put forward – to disguise the obvious truth that we are not our own.
Our Lord did not create us for corruption & evil. He created us for truth & beauty, but falling to Satan’s temptation, Adam & Eve shattered what Yahweh had so lovingly built. Even though we still see beauty in God’s creation, we also see unimaginable evil. That evil is not limited to unbelievers. Children of God also cause incredible harm because we do not understand the gift of freedom that Christ has given to us. We end up using it as an opportunity for the flesh, rather than to serve one another through love. A direct example of that has been given to Christians right now by our Supreme Court.
The overturning of Roe vs. Wade will present opportunities for the flesh & it will present opportunities to serve one another. How will you respond? There’s the temptation to vilify people who have had abortions. There’s the temptation to despise people who are celebrating the death of children through abortion. Hatred does not turn people to Christ.
There are also an unlimited number of opportunities, through love, for serving one another. From Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, we collected diapers & baby wipes to donate to a local pregnancy center. That is a very safe way of supporting mothers, fathers & children who are in difficult circumstances, but would not rather choose abortion.
Personally befriending single mothers, before & after they give birth, is a more difficult & time consuming way to serve one another. However, the rewards of loving in that way can be much greater than the rewards for simply donating diapers.
Raising your children in a home that is intentionally, & daily, focused on Jesus Christ will help them to be better parents one day. Volunteering at a pregnancy center, advocating for adoption, donating financial resources to organizations that do those things, all of them are ways to address the current situation that God has presented to us for serving one another through love.
You see, true freedom has nothing to do with politics. True freedom is actually the opposite of total, personal autonomy. True freedom is not about being free of any sort of earthly master. True freedom is about an honestly free & joyful conscience that is unafraid of the wrath to come. True freedom is being able to do the Godly thing, no matter the cost here on earth.
Nothing of this life is ours anyway. All that we have is on loan to us from the heavenly
Father, or, as the song lyrics say, “We give Thee but Thine own Lord, whate’er the gift may be. All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.” (LSB 781:1) Since nothing of this life is ours, children of God are free of the slavery that possessions would chain us to.
Still, living in this corrupted world, even as God’s children, you & I constantly face two dangers: 1) using our own works to justify ourselves before other people & before God; & 2) misusing our Christian liberty to live in sin. St. Paul encourages us to use our freedom through love to serve one another instead. Exercising that kind of freedom never harms anyone.
That is what the saintly nature desires to do. It is good to be reminded of it, especially as our Independence Day celebrations are just around the corner. Christ has given us freedom from a bad conscience even though we daily sin much. That gift was not given so that our lives can run amuck serving our every dream & fancy. Our lives are not our own. We belong to God.
In the Gospel reading we heard that Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. That means He focused totally upon the mission He was to accomplish there, through love to serve sinners. Jesus traveled there, focused upon His suffering & death, & focused also upon His resurrection. He served us in this way that we might have our sins forgiven & join Him in heaven.
Because Jesus was raised from the dead with now perfect human flesh, so shall we. We can rest at night, no matter what we have done, because repentance takes us back to our Savior who washed away our sins. We can rest at night in spite of the horrors of this life, because we know that the life to come will have no sorrow & no tears.
With nothing to lose from this life, we can use our freedom to deny ourselves & to serve others through the love that almighty God provides us with each & every day. Amen.
May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill & do on earth our Father’s will as angels do above; still walk in Christ, the living way, with all Thy children & obey the law of Christian love. Amen. LSB 698:1.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 7) LSB #’s 849, 541, 846
Text – Luke 8:37a
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.
SEIZED WITH FEAR
Right next door to my childhood home, was my grandmother’s farm, & behind her house was a barn. During the winter our typical herd of outdoor cats would get fed there. During one nighttime feeding, by flashlight since there was no electricity, some kind of creature made its presence very clearly known by a loud scrambling noise as if it was startled by my presence.
All I remember is shining the flashlight toward the noise & seeing a large, dark object above me on one of the beams that the barn was constructed of. I made no further efforts to determine what it was. Adrenaline took over & I simply ran as fast I could back to our house. It’s the earliest memory I have of being seized with fear.
Do you have stories like that of times when fear possessed you & your rational mind lost all control? In my case the cause of the fear was probably nothing more than a racoon, but I was not in any mood to try & find out. Our cats no doubt wondered what happened to dinner that night.
All of us, in fact all sinful beings, know what fear is. The very 1st human beings learned it the moment they sinned. God came calling for them & Adam replied, “I heard the sound of You in the garden… & I was afraid…” (Genesis 3:10 ESV) As a result, throughout Jesus’ ministry He is frequently saying the words, “Do no fear!”
In the world of today, fear is often caused by something evil. Think terrorist attacks, whether it’s 9-11, or bombings like in Oklahoma City & at the Boston Marathon. The mass shootings that have gone on with increasing frequency this year, or in years past, cause innocent victims to be seized with fear. Even a lone person wandering the streets at night & yelling may cause fear to enter another person’s heart. However, that is not at all the case in the Gospel reading from St. Luke.
Rather, a man possessed by demons lived among his community, naked for many years, whom they had tried to chain & shackle, yet he always broke free & ran off to live in the tombs at their cemetery. Holy Scripture never mentions that they are afraid of him. He’s been such a part of their community for so long that it’s just how things are.
However, when Jesus heals the man, & sets him free of the chains & shackles of demon possession, now the members of the community are afraid: “Then people went out to see what had happened, & they came to Jesus & found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed & in his right mind… & they were afraid.” (Luke 8:35 ESV)
After listening to witnesses of the miracle, “…all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked [Jesus] to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear.” (Luke 8:37a ESV) And in the familiar events of Luke’s Gospel, right before the lesson of today, Jesus is sleeping in the boat when a violent storm hits the Sea of Galilee.
As the boat was filling with water the disciples wake Jesus & tell Him, “We’re going to drown.” Nothing is mentioned about the disciples being afraid. Jesus wakes up & orders the wind & the waves to stop. Do you know what happens? The wind & the waves stop! That is when the Word of God says of the disciples, “And they were afraid…” (Luke 8:25b ESV)
All the people of the Gerasenes were seized with great fear, & Jesus’ own disciples were afraid, not because they’d seen a ghost; not because of an evil deed or some kind of terrorist act; not because a mad gunman was callously shooting people. They were afraid because Jesus brought out into the open – for all to see – the power of the almighty God. Jesus was doing good things & they are afraid. Are you afraid of Jesus? If you are not, consider this, “Could that be a sign that you are not normal?” Don’t be afraid of answering that question. In this case, it is a good thing to not be normal.
The reaction a person has to the miracles of Jesus reveals their faith in God or their lack of it. The herdsmen & townspeople & disciples are afraid. The man who was freed from the demon possession is not.
He had been the epitome of what it meant to “be unclean.” He was a Gentile, raised in the futility of pagan worship, possessed by a demon, living in tombs at a cemetery. Still, Jesus reaches out to this most unclean person, cleanses him & raises up faith. This man becomes part of the new creation & he does not reject it in fear.
From the perspective of God’s fallen creation, while the man was demon possessed, he was normal. Like the rest of the world around him, he was lost in sinful unbelief. Jesus changed all of that, & now the man knows who Jesus is & is able to trust Him.
On the other hand, recognizing Jesus for who He is & that He will overthrow them on the Last Day, the demons are startled & terrified that this future time has been projected into their present in the person of Jesus. Wherever Jesus goes, the new creation arrives there with Him. This rightly terrifies the demons & all human beings who reject the Son of God.
Those who have received the faith that Jesus creates are no longer normal & they are no longer seized by fear because nothing can be taken from them. Believers are not of this world & nothing in this world belongs to us. Everything God’s children possess is of the next world – heaven. That’s what the new creation has done to us. It has made us abnormal.
The text from Luke is honest, the people drove Jesus away, not simply because they hated Him or His teachings, but because they were afraid of Him & the power He displayed. We see people in our country who speak bravely about their conflict with the teachings of Jesus, yet beneath all their bravado is great fear. This demonstrates why Jesus did not come with might & power on complete display. Rather, He came in humility & weakness trying to counteract the normal fear of children like Adam & Eve, & you & me, who were once lost in sin.
Our calling here on earth is not to spread more fear, but to share the love & humility of Jesus Christ. All the sins of the whole world have already been paid for. There is nothing left in this life that is worth clinging to, even whether we live or whether we die, we entrust to the hands of God. If you know people well, that attitude certainly is not normal.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a ESV) Amen.
“Away from us!” the demon cried when Christ, the Lord, drew near. “Our dark, disordered world is lost when You, the Light, appear!” But Jesus spoke with God’s own power; “Come forth!” was His command; for evil cannot bear the Light nor sin the Truth withstand. O risen Christ, God’s Living Word, to us, we pray, draw near. Come, speak the truth that cleanses sin with love that conquers fear. Amen. LSB 541:1-3.
Holy Trinity Sunday – C LSB #’s 885:1-4, 575, 885:5-8
Text – Acts 2:26
Therefore my heart was glad, & my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.
DWELLING IN HOPE
Since I write a lot of sermons, & since I do a fair amount of research for them online, the browser that I use has apparently figured out something about my age. One of the topics that comes up fairly often in my newsfeed is this: Top Ten Places To Retire. I don’t know how many organizations out there are doing the research, but it gets fed to my computer.
Growing up where & when I did, most people just retired right where they had lived & worked all their lives. In that time & place, you didn’t really choose where to live. You just stayed wherever you were born. In 2021, Americans moved, on average, every five years. We live in a very mobile society, so where we dwell is much more of a choice than it was in the past.
Thinking about you, why do live where you live? Did you make that choice? Did the company that hired you influence your decision? Did you move where your spouse was living? Did your parents make that choice & you have never left?
In my life, there was a stretch from 1989 to 2009 where I never lived in the same place for more than 3 years. During those two decades I moved ten different times. I lived in eleven different places. Now, I’ve been dwelling in the same house for over 16 years.
Where are you dwelling this morning? Maybe you’ve already figured out that you can answer in different ways, depending on the context in which we ask the question. In the Epistle reading from the 2nd chapter of Acts, Peter is preaching a sermon & he’s quoting king David as the king speaks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The home in which we live has a large impact on our lives, not just because of the physical shelter it provides, but also the psychological shelter. It’s been said that a man’s home is his castle, & that clearly has nothing to do with the physical reality of the home. How many people do you know that actually live in a real castle? And when a person’s home is broken into that event often shatters the psychological sense of safety which a home provides. So, what does all that have to do with St. Peter & King David & the Son of God?
At Matthew 8:20 (ESV), “Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, & birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” It is not a stretch at all to say that during His three year ministry here on earth, Jesus was a homeless man. How would you deal with being homeless? Maybe some of you know.
The sinful world, you & I live in, is a very harsh place. The love of God & the Holy Spirit working through His children soften that to any degree that life here is not just plain miserable, yet there is still more suffering on earth than any of us can even begin to imagine or wrap our heads around. The news headlines are full of it.
The truth is, even if we have a physical castle to live in that alone cannot guarantee our safety. And no matter what outward protections we have, in the end, our own physical health will always betray us from within. Just ask anyone over 80 years old. It happens.
In your day to day life where do you turn for safety? Is it to your health or wealth? Is it to your wisdom & knowledge or to your castle? In his sermon, St. Peter works to knock out from under them every form of safety that his audience was providing for themselves.
And since they were a very religious people, though not necessarily saved, he cuts right to the heart of their spiritual beliefs: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan & foreknowledge of God, you crucified & killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23 ESV)
The people that Peter was preaching to had thought they believed in God, yet by rejecting Jesus they revealed that they did not actually believe in God. They needed to be convicted of their unbelief & empowered by the Holy Spirit to repent & then follow Jesus. God sent Jesus that the people might come to Him. Therefore, the sermon that Peter was preaching tells the people about the words of King David. David was describing the inner life of one who follows Jesus. That person literally rests in Yahweh & in what Yahweh has given.
What does that mean? This is the answer he provides, “Therefore my heart was glad, & my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.” (Acts 2:26 ESV) Our inner life, our saintly nature, literally rests in Yahweh & in Him alone. The result of that is gladness & joy. The speaker describes that as the place where he lives, dwelling in hope.
There is a lot of misery that is very publicly on display in our nation & in our world today. People are suffering & dying across the globe. None of that is new actually, but it seems like chaos is beginning to take over in our nation. Vladimir Putin has certainly unleashed chaos in Ukraine & the surrounding nations receiving the refugees. Yet, you can dwell in hope.
To do so, we have to realize that although we live in this world, all who follow Jesus are not of it. This is not our home or dwelling place. We are only strangers or aliens here. The place where we truly dwell is in the hope that Jesus Christ brought into this world at Bethlehem. The place where we truly live is in Jesus.
Faith kills the old Adam in us & creates an entirely new person who belongs to the age to come, but is for now still suffering here in this age. The person who perfectly illustrated that in this life is Jesus. He suffered & endured all manner of evil here on earth, but it never changed Him. And He endured all that for you. In the sight of God you have received the credit.
In these words from God, to David, to Peter, to us, Christ gives us a picture of the love & trust that are at the core of what it means to be truly & faithfully human before God. In Jesus, the voice in Acts 2:26 is also our voice. The relationship the Son enjoys with the Father is also our relationship through Jesus. And when our current sorrow & mourning is turned to complete rejoicing, on the day our bodies are raised from the dead, the fullness of joy & pleasantness of life in God’s presence will eclipse every shadow in which you & I live.
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood & righteousness; no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. His oath, His covenant & blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then alone is all my hope & stay. When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found, clothed in His righteousness alone, redeemed to stand before the His throne! On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. Amen. LSB 575:1, 3-4.
Pentecost – C LSB #’s 584, 831 (tune 498), 917
Text – Genesis 11:1
Now the whole earth had one language & the same words.
The Same Evil Words
Sticks & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me....... It was a well-worn phrase during the years I was growing up. It was meant as positive self-talk encouraging someone to stand firm in the face of ridicule by small-minded people. However, the testimony of countless victims makes it clear that names do have the power to hurt me & each of you.
Names are simply a specific type of word & all types of words have been used for evil ever since the Devil spoke in the 1st verse of Genesis 3. You may remember these words, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” Words spoken by human beings have continued to bring evil into God’s creation ever since.
Genesis 6:5 records this prior to The Flood, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, & that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Thoughts are basically words that have not been spoken yet, & every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.
Without the Holy Spirit living in us that’s where all human beings are at. Given what’s happening in our nation, & in Ukraine, Genesis 6:11 sounds eerily similar to what we perceive today, “…the earth was filled with violence.” Verse 13 says that God, “…determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.”
Noah & his family were the only human beings on earth who trusted God’s word. They built the Ark as Yahweh commanded them & He rescued them in it. Still, in just the 3rd chapter after God’s promise connected to the rainbow, we have the OT reading for today, & mankind is right back to their old, evil ways: “Come, let us build ourselves a city & a tower with its top in the heavens, & let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) Not wanting to destroy mankind again, as He did with The Flood, this time God addresses the problem in a very different way.
At the time, all people still spoke the same language, allowing them to communicate easily & without confusion. The problem, however, was not that communication was easy. It’s that the words of men were evil, & since communicating was simple much greater evil could be done, & it could be done quickly.
Fast forward from the tower of Babel to the year 2022. The internet & social media are allowing people to communicate much more rapidly than just 30 years ago. I suspect that many of you can remember what life & communication were like back in 1992. Cell phones were just becoming two G devices & the 1st text message was sent. It said, “Merry Christmas.”
If all of modern communication were still focused on celebrating the birth of Jesus, our world would be a much different place. Sadly, there are an increasing number of people in our country who are trying to leave the words of God behind. Those are words like:
“In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1) “…male & female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) “…You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13) “Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven & on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18) “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, & the truth, & the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)
Whenever human beings leave behind the Word of God all manner of suffering & tragedy will follow, yet many today are wondering, even in churches & among people, who claim to be Christian, “Is Jesus really necessary for salvation?”
Genesis 11 tells us what the Lord saw with the tower of Babel: “Behold, they are one people, & they have all one language, & this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” The people at Babel were trying to make a name for themselves. They did not want God’s name, nor they did they want God’s Word. We know that because here is the Word of Yahweh, “God blessed Noah & his sons & said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth.’” (Genesis 9:1 ESV)
That ‘filling the earth’ part is exactly what the people of Babel were trying to deny: “…let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 ESV) You may think, “Hey, they aren’t talking about murdering anyone or smuggling in fentanyl. What’s the big deal?”
The problem is that God is good. Have you thought of that as a problem? In fact, He is the only thing in this universe that is good, & the people of Babel are denying God’s will & God’s Word. Such denial always & only leads to bad things. Adam & Eve just ate a piece of fruit, but it was fruit that God’s Word told them not to eat.
Like the original fall into sin, the people at Babel did not trust God’s goodness. They were working as a team, but that teamwork was based upon their own ideas of what was good. They were wrong! They were evil! They were plowing headlong towards destruction & death. The heavenly Father intervened in an attempt to steer them away from it.
Why is all of that important to us in the year 2022? Because all the problems in this world, in your life & in mine, have the same root of disobedience. The moment we turn away from the source of all goodness, in that moment we are lost, naked & afraid. Sure, we struggle to admit that but it is still so very true. Each of us has built our own towers to heaven.
Katrina was baptized, 14 years ago, by God’s Holy Spirit, & it was done with simple water connected to the Word of God, by the command of God. The Holy Spirit has been working in her life ever since such that today, she will be, with her own words, confessing that Jesus has saved her from sin, death & the devil. No, she’s not going to begin living a perfect life, but she will trust that Jesus did that already, for her. And resting in the knowledge of God’s mercy, Katrina can live a life of purpose & meaning no matter how the world sees that. Katrina does not need to make a name for herself because Jesus has already made a name for her.
The Word of God makes a name for each of us. We are called to be God’s own. Therefore, His Word challenges us & encourages. It humbles us & lifts us up. Our own words are evil, due to our sinful nature, so we memorize God’s Word because it is holy.
Since His Word never returns empty, whenever we receive the Word of God, which we can do through memory work, that Word then shapes our hearts & our thoughts & our deeds. The prophet Zephaniah, as with all the prophets, was sent to shape the people of God. Listen to God’s Word in Zephaniah 3:
1 Woe to her who is rebellious & defiled, the oppressing city! 2 She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God. 3 Her officials within her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave nothing till the morning. 4 Her prophets are fickle, treacherous men; her priests profane what is holy; they do violence to the law.
5 The Lord within her is righteous; He does no injustice; every morning He shows forth His justice… each dawn He does not fail; 8 “Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day when I rise up to seize the prey. For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all my burning anger; for in the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.
9 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord & serve Him with one accord. 11 “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, & you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain.
12 But I will leave in your midst a people humble & lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, 14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice & exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. Amen.
“How shall they hear,” who have not heard news of a Lord who loved & came; nor known His reconciling word, nor learned to trust a Savior’s name? Spirit of love, within us move; Spirit of truth, in power come down! So shall they hear & find & prove Christ is their life, their joy, their crown. Amen. LSB 831:1 & 5.
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.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet