Sermon for Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 28)

Text: Isaiah 65:17-19
The Lord says, "I am making a new earth and new heavens. The events of the past will be completely forgotten. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create. The new Jerusalem I make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy. I myself will be filled with joy because of Jerusalem and her people. There will be no weeping there, no calling for help.


Safe in the end

Are there times when you wish you could have just a little peak into the future and see what is coming around the corner? 
Do you find yourself wondering what kind of people the next generation will become,
what kind of world will they be living in,
what kind of challenges will our grandchildren and their children face as the world, the climate, lifestyle, technology and jobs continually change. 

Sometimes we worry, I know I do, about what is coming and think maybe a peak into the future might put my mind at rest – or would it, especially when it comes to future events in this world. 

Jesus presents a pretty scary picture in the Gospel reading today telling us about wars, revolutions, earthquakes, plagues, persecutions when family members will turn against one another and false teachers who will lead people astray. 
The followers of Jesus will be hated; they will become a minority in a vast secular and anti-God culture.  We know that these things have already begun and will continue to happen until Jesus returns. 

Taken at face value all this is scary but as he talks about these things, he states that he will be right there with his people through every trial and anxious time.  He says, Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a single hair from your heads will be lost” (Luke 21:17-18).

The Bible doesn’t hesitate to talk about the frailty of human life, death, the personal troubles that we face that can shatter our confidence.  We are all aware that our circumstances can change in an instant and we can have the wind knocked out of our sails in an instant.  We like to think that the end of this world won’t happen in our lifetime; it seems so distant and remote, but can we be so sure?  

Blaise Pascal, a Frenchman, lived in the 17th century.   Pascal was a child prodigy, a genius in literature, maths, physics, an inventor (invented the first calculator and paved the way for the first computers), and theologian.  His maturity and intelligence were beyond his years; he was highly successful, driven, stubborn and a perfectionist.  Being so young he was the envy of much older and more prestigious scientists, mathematicians and theologians.

Pascal died aged 39 after succumbing to cancer that he suffered for most of his life.  He once wrote, “It is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship that may well be shaken by storms and tossed about by the waves, but no matter what happens, we know, it will reach the harbour”.  As clever as he was, his life wasn’t easy – like a fragile ship caught in a storm, but in the end, he knew he would reach the safe and quiet waters of the harbour, eternal life.

Our reading today from Isaiah reminds us that nothing is random in the way the world’s history will end or the where we will end when this life’s journey is over.  There is no deep bottomless ocean waiting to swallow us when the storms and waves overwhelm us.  Instead Isaiah gives us a look through a window into what God is doing.  He writes, “The Lord says, “I am making a new earth and new heavens.” God is creating a new and beautiful city where there is nothing of the past sadness and grief, conflict and troubles. 

This is a place of great joy in the presence of God himself; there is no more sadness and weeping. This is God’s new world; a return to God’s original plan for his creation; a place where God and his people and creation enjoy living together in community.  We are given the picture of wolves and lambs, lions and cattle eating together peacefully.

In the face of trouble and death this is our hope and comfort.  This is what we believe and know to be true.  We believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and that all who believe in him will not die but have eternal life.  But we also know that there are many who don’t know this Good News and see this life as all there is and that’s it, or have a false hope that somehow their goodness will get them to the next place after this life.

Perhaps I can follow this up with this comparison.  I enjoy a good thriller or murder mystery novel. As I follow the story, I’m never quite sure what will come next and how the writer will bring the story to a conclusion.  If the writer is clever, he/she will surprise me with a twist in the last few chapters, and I can’t put the book down until I have found what happens on the very last page.  Often after reading the last paragraph, I stare at the last page thinking, “Well! I never saw that coming!”

That’s how some people live life.  They’re always on edge as life’s story unfolds never too sure how things will turn out, how they will cope, every twist and turn in their life story is something they have to solve themselves as in any good detective story.  The ending is completely unpredictable.  The only certainty is the last full stop – death.

There’s another kind of story.  Whereas the author of a crime thriller obscures the ending of his story, there are some great writers who tell us at the beginning of the book how the story will end.  From the beginning of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet we know that there are two feuding families, and as Shakespeare says, “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”.  The skill of the storyteller then is not in keeping the reader in suspense because we know the ending.  The skill is in how the writer unfolds the story to bring us to the ending announced at the beginning.  In the case of Romeo and Juliet – what tragic events happened to bring about the deaths of these two young lovers.

Our life with God is not a mystery story with an uncertain ending, but rather on the first page of our life, when the baptismal blessing is pronounced over us, he reveals what the ending will be.  At your baptism you were "baptised into the death of Jesus" (Rom 6.3), but "just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father" you have been given the certainty of a resurrection like that of Jesus’.  Listen to Paul, "If we have been united with him like this in death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection" (Rom 6.5).  In other words, on the horizon of our story, there stands a person at whose feet all the winding and twisted roads in the journey of our life in this world will end. 

Because of Christ, we know that our future is safe in the hands of our loving Saviour who has already written the end of our life stories for us.  He tells us with the deepest love, ‘I love you.  I will be with you always! Your story will have a triumphant ending’.  That’s tremendously comforting to know when we walk under the shadow of trouble and defeat. The Lord is with us!  He is with us every step of the way as we go through it, to strengthen and help us if the way gets hard.

I know my ship will reach the harbour; I know that the next pages of the calendar contain only a prologue to this grand concluding chapter – eternal life with my Lord and Saviour. 
You can be confident that the operation you are facing,
the financial crisis you are confronting,
the successes and disappointments,
the health problems you are facing,
they are all stages on the way to this one great point.

Or to look at this from the point of view of world history – the famines, earthquakes, wars and civil wars, the refugees, the murders and the loss of love in our world, as Jesus says, are all stages along the way.  They are a prelude to the great moment when Christ will break into our history and call us to life forever in heaven – the new Jerusalem as Isaiah calls it. We know how the story of our earthly life is ending – it’s not a mystery.

Pascal, I think, had been reading his Bible and its message of hope when he said, It is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship that may well be shaken by storms and tossed about by the waves, but no matter what happens, we know, it will reach the harbour”.  He knew from personal experience as much as we do that pain, suffering, bushfires, floods, tragedies and grief, are very much part of life in this world, but we don’t see them as a tragic mystery, as fearful foes that will defeat us and destroy us.  God has written our final chapter.  He says, ‘I am making a new earth and new heavens. …  The new Jerusalem I make will be full of joy, and her people will be happy. …  There will be no weeping there, no calling for help’ (Isaiah 65:17-19).

Between now and that final ending we find ourselves in an extremely important time.  In the Letter from Jude we read, "You my friends, keep on building yourselves up on your most sacred faith.  Pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God, as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ in his mercy to give you eternal life.  Show mercy toward those who have doubts; save others by snatching them out of the fire..." (Jude 20-23a).

And didn’t Jesus say that in these days before he comes again, we should be busy serving God by serving others, sharing God’s love and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There isn't much time to do the tasks that God has given each of us.  We need to do them now; life is too short to put things off until tomorrow; our lives flee like a shadow and tomorrow the opportunity maybe gone.  Make the most of the time we have.  The end may come and all the things that we had put off until another day will be left undone.

No matter what triumphs, what losses occur between now and the end;
no matter what tragedies and strife will take place on the world scene; 
“It is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship that may well be shaken by storms and tossed by the waves of life, but we know that no matter what happens it will reach the harbour”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
17th November 2019

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