Grace and peace to you from our Ascended Lord Jesus Christ;
There is an old "blessing" that goes, "May you live in interesting times." Well, this is us. These live in interesting times. And, if I may say, I'm not too enthralled with a lot of the things that are going on in our interesting times. If you're like me, you find yourself on the "wrong" side of issues that are flying all over the place. Arguments for what's going on out there seem to be targeted right toward my gut.
- "Get out of the 50s and into the current century."
- "That's just your interpretation of the bible."
- "Paul was a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe. Jesus says 'don't judge' 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' You can't tell me what I'm doing is wrong."
- "God's doing a new thing."
- "The Spirit spoke to my heart, you can't tell me what I feel is wrong."
- "Don't be on the wrong side of history on this one."
I feel it right in here. A little hard knot. A dread. A doubt. An "uh-oh." The future becomes a blur. I wonder what's going to happen as the culture heads toward the cliff at break neck speed and I get dragged along mostly against my will.
But I want you to make no mistake about it. It's easy to blame people out there for our cultural woes. But the truth is, and you know it. This is our culture. This is our sin. This is our future. We are to blame. And specifically I mean me and you. You love material things way too much. Cell phones, new cars, new gadgets, new everything. You love your busy lifestyle that leaves precious little time for the really important things. You know what I mean. Any excuse gets you away from church and bible class. The family table is covered with everything but food for eating. You greet each other coming and going. You are way to me centered. You don't want to hear about your sin from your pastor. You'd rather he tell you how good God is rather than his anger over your sin. You cower in the corner for fear of harsh words when someone mentions gay marriage, abortion, or their plans to move in together and check each other out before the thinking of marriage. And that's just in you own family. The fear is overwhelming when it comes to work, or school or the public square. You just don't want to be seen as old fashioned. You don't want to be a bigoted, misogynistic, homophobe.
And there you go. Doing exactly what St. Paul says to not do. Living in sin. You can expect what you earn here. There's no mistake about this either. People who are self centered are people who should go to hell. God doesn't tolerate his people not making a God difference in society. So besides the culture heading on a collision course with God's law, you deserve the pit of hell and God's eternal wrath. When destruction and judgment comes, and God promises it will, will you be on the right side of history?
Well, the question is a good one and one of the most important you will ever hear or answer. And it seems as if the answer is "no." And that is the case, except for Jesus. We say that we believe he has won the victory. But it just doesn't look like a victory to us. After all he ascended into heaven and left us here to struggle.
Those disciples standing up there on that mountain looking up into the clouds were wondering "now what?" It looked like Jesus was gone. An angel had to kick them in the rear to get them to move, and do what Jesus said, and remind them that he would be coming again. The ascension seems like an end but it is really only the beginning. It is the coronation of the King. St. John got to see the other side of the ascension. He actually wrote for us what it was like. It was a vision given to him, a Revelation. We have it in Revelation Chapter 5. This chapter in this book really sets out to show us what this part of the bible is about. It isn't here to tell you bit by bit what's going to happen at the end of time. It isn't there to predict the future so you can sit down with the newspaper and tell what's going to happen next. It is given to the church by the Holy Spirit for the comfort of the sinner, that is found in the victory of Jesus Christ alone. It is given to remind us that no matter how bad it looks, Jesus is in control. He is the Lamb of God who rules the whole world and all events unfold according to the plan of salvation laid out before the foundation of the world. In other words, Jesus wins. His people those who are called to faith, those who bear the mark of the cross, "both upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified" will be with him standing victorious in the end. So imagine yourself standing with the disciples looking up at the clouds where Jesus disappeared and then being transported into heaven at that very moment.
1 Then I [John] saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5, ESV)
The scroll that God the Father is holding is the destiny of mankind. It is the future prophetic vision, what's going to happen in the world. No one can take it and open it and read it. John weeps because it means that all is lost. None of what is written in the scroll can happen unless someone is found to read it and make it so. And only perfection, only one who has earned the right to control the destiny of people can be it's king. John isn't worthy, he knows his sin. Even the angels in their perfection are not worthy. And Jesus appears. "Weep no more!" the angel proclaims. Jesus Christ the victor over sin, death and hell is worthy. He alone can take the scroll and lead God's future, God's people to the end of time. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign, Alleluia! And the victory that he has won by his life, death and resurrection is claimed at the Ascension. This victory is yours and mine. Victory won for us. It is the victory that determines our Christian life on earth. It is the victory that guarantees our life forever with God! It is forgiveness of sins. Our sins placed on Christ on the cross. Our sin and guilt paid for. Our living in this culture instead of God's culture. Our self-centeredness. Our inability to speak when we should. Our doubt about God's future for the world. Our thinking more about how people see us than how God sees us. Jesus, takes these your sins away through his cross. He guarantees your forgiveness for them. He has complete power and authority over all the earth, past, present and future. In Holy Baptism he promises that your sin won't keep you from his future where sin, and death and pain, and trouble, and selfishness, and greed, and hate will be done away with forever.
What's written on the scroll? It is a message about the future. It tells us that Jesus Christ our savior is in control of all things. He directs the world, and his church. He has given us a mission in midst of all this agony and death and destruction. It is the message of Jesus Christ crucified for human sin. It is the message that God wins through Jesus. It is the message of comfort because of Jesus. It is the message that he directs and controls all things and they are for the good of his people in spite of how they look to us. The message of the Ascension and the Revelation is this very comfort and encouragement to remain faithful even in the midst of what seems like failure; even in the midst of destruction; even in the midst of persecution. What does it mean to be faithful? It means pointing all people to Christ's victory in the midst of the rubble of their broken lives; when everything is lost; when life is scattered by foul weather; when dark clouds of death threaten; when everyone is running toward the cliff; when itching ears listen to Satan instead of God. Jesus is Savior of the world. His life, death, resurrection and ascension are the victory over it all.
So it is just as it is written in the scroll, from the time of Jesus victory and his ascension until the end of time. This is the feast of victory for our God. He doesn't leave us in the ascension he is with us in Word and Water, Bread and Wine. I mean really with us directing us as we teach and learn and care for the community around us. He is the resurrected one. The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Blessing and honor and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.