November 21, 2017 – The Tree of Life – Genesis 2:9, Isaiah 11:1, Proverbs 11:30, Matthew 7:16-17, Revelation 22:1-5

tree of life

 

Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (NRSV)

The Tree of Life is a metaphor which appears throughout Scripture. In creation God puts the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It is interesting that in the narrative of the Fall, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden, to where they no longer have access to the presence of either tree as a result of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It has been said that pride is the mother of all sins, and in the story of the Fall, we learn that in our wanting to be God, we distance ourselves from Him.

The Tree of Life is a central image not only in the Creation and the Fall, but in the redemption of creation.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

The prophet Isaiah foretold the birth and life of Jesus 700 or so years before He was born here on earth. A descendent of King David (Jesse was King David’s father) would appear- as a new Tree of Life- but not in the way that his contemporaries expected.  The new Tree of Life is Jesus, and He came to give Himself to save us. He defeated death by pouring out His life out from the arms of a dead tree that was fashioned to bring about death.

jesus-on-the-cross

The redemption of creation is, as we are well aware, an ongoing work in progress. We as Jesus followers are invited- and were created to- bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  We get to participate in God’s great work of redemption, restoration and renewal.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away. Proverbs 11:30 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17 (NRSV)

This world and this life is not the end, but a beginning, an introduction for us into Life as God intended for us and created us to live.

new jerusalem

 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (NRSV)

Are we getting in on God’s plan for us to be trees of life that bring forth good fruit, and to be light-givers?

August 14, 2017- Apocalypse, Eventually- Revelation 15:1-4

god is everywhere

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.

All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” –Revelation 15:1-4 (NRSV)

Lately the lectionary has been taking us through the parables in the book of Matthew, in which we see the humanity of both the disciples and of Jesus. Now we come to a rather dramatic passage in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Here we see Jesus revealed as both divine and supernatural, glorified as a king.  Confusing?  It is, but remember that Jesus is both fully human, and fully God.

Apocalyptic literature is somewhat difficult for 21st century Westerners to understand, because it uses bold imagery and metaphor. Here are a few of Merriam Webster’s definitions of the word apocalyptic:

  1. forecasting the ultimate destiny of the world : prophetic apocalyptic warnings
  2. foreboding imminent disaster or final doom : terrible apocalyptic signs of the coming end-times
  3. wildly unrestrained : grandiose
  4. ultimately decisive : climactic an apocalyptic battle

None of these things sound regular or common. Ultimate destiny, imminent disaster, wildly unrestrained, and ultimately decisive all sound like final things- big and scary things.

The apocalypse is not something to be feared, in spite of the dramatic metaphor and sometimes gory imagery used by the writer of Revelation. The apocalypse is a completion.  It is an ending of the paradox we have lived our whole lives in which we have one foot in each kingdom. The heavenly kingdom comes into its completeness and fullness, while the earthly kingdom passes away.

In Christ we are given the privilege of having our sinful nature wiped away, and we become saints to live and reign with Jesus forever. Until that day we are in the process of being transformed- a little bit more saint, a little bit less sinner, by the grace of God.

In the process of becoming fully a part of the heavenly kingdom we may have to figuratively (and possibly literally) go through the fire, not as a punishment, and not because we have anything to earn or deserve. The grace of God in Christ cancels out any old notions that we can earn brownie points with God or that we “deserve” anything from Him because we try to be such “good children.”  Many people question, “How can a good God allow His people to suffer?”  There is no really good answer to that question.  Sin (anything that goes against God’s will) has been a part of the earthly kingdom since the Fall, which was when we humans got the insane idea that we have a better way to do life than God does.

Jesus followers have a different perspective on suffering. We may not understand why we suffer, or how suffering could ever be considered a good thing, but we can only trust that He uses our trials and suffering to mold and shape us, and to get rid of what is not of Him, to prepare us for life in the heavenly kingdom where there is no sin or decay or entropy. Good and bad things happen to “good” and “evil” people alike, just as the rain drenches the fields regardless if the owner is good or evil. (Matthew 5:44-45)   Everyone who lives on earth is equally subject to tragedy, disease, pestilence, decay, etc. because those things are part of the earthly condition (entropy).  Earth and everything in it at this point, is temporary and is waiting to be remade.

Humans allowed sin to enter in to the earthly kingdom, which is also a question for God that we really can’t answer. Why did God allow sin to come into the world to begin with?  We may never know the entire answer to the purpose of sin or suffering other than to know Jesus shares in our every suffering. We have been given the promise that God in Christ takes away our sin, He is beyond our suffering, and there is life in Christ beyond the suffering of this world.

This passage also talks about judgment, which is a squirmy subject for Lutherans, because we tend to (and I believe rightfully so) focus on the grace of God. We aren’t really into scary talk of hellfire and brimstone, and ultimately people are won over by the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, not by fear. While grace is not earned or deserved, and God pours His grace out on everyone, for grace to be effective it must be accepted and applied to our lives.  Judgment enters in when people refuse to accept God’s grace, and when we insist on having our own way even when it is damaging ourselves and others.  A wise pastor once said that if you are saved it is all to Jesus’ credit, but if you are damned, you chose that yourself.

Repentance is nothing more or less complicated than “doing a 180-“ seeing that what we are doing is not pleasing to God, and turning away from that thought or behavior. It’s not always easy, and that is why God gives us His grace, so that we can keep on coming back to Him so that He can transform our hearts and minds to conform to His will. (Romans 12:2)

Our salvation is not at all reliant on how well we “do life,” but on how we trust Jesus to refine and transform us.  Salvation is not a one time event, but an ongoing process, a transformation that occurs as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. He walks with us.  He’s been there.  He is Holy God, but also one of us.  The world as we know it is going to end.  This world will pass away.  Things are going to happen that are tragic, painful and destructive along the way.  The good news is that in Christ we are never alone, and the best is yet to come.

 

December 21, 2016-Simeon’s Answered Prayer: “My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”-Luke 2:25-32, Revelation 21:3-4

simeon

 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” – Luke 2:25-32 (NRSV)

The above passage is known as the “nunc dimittis“- meaning,”now You dismiss Your servant,” and it is also known as the Song of Simeon.  In some traditions it is used as a prayer for the ending of the day, or for the ending of a worship service.

There is nothing more joyful than experiencing answered prayer and the fulfillment of much-longed for dreams.  It is hard to imagine Simeon’s delight as he held the infant Jesus and realized: This child is the promised Messiah.

What an incredible blessing God granted Simeon in that moment, that he would come face to face with his Savior, and that he could die in peace.

We are still waiting in our “not yet” world.  Waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.  Some of us are holding on to a breakthrough in a hard situation. Some of us are walking through the stages of physical, emotional or spiritual healing.  Some of us are weighed down in depression and grief and just can’t see the way out of the dark.

We may not be blessed in the same way Simeon was, that we may see the face of Jesus before we die (although that is not impossible!) but we can trust God that His word is true.

One of the most encouraging words to the weary, to those who most need to experience the presence and healing touch of God is:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

God Himself is with us.  And in this “not yet” world, we can know in Christ that death and mourning and crying and pain are not the end.