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MAY 2 – the Fifth Sunday in Easter
Wayne Olsen

 

Like any music head (Charles, Ruth), I could bend your ear and tell you about what music means to me and the great performers I have been lucky enough to see.  One particular concert was in April 1989, Mahler’s second Symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  Twenty-one years later I still get chills thinking about the drama and the beauty of that performance, the great spiritual power of the music.  Mahler’s 2nd is nicknamed the “Resurrection” Symphony because the final two movements are sung texts about our reunion with God at the end times.     In reading the lessons and the Gospel today, and thinking about last weeks’ baptism, I am reminded of one particular line from the fourth movement “I am from God and shall return to God.”

 

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

 

Peter immediately seizes on that sentence “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  “Take me with you Lord! I will lay down my life for you.”  Peter’s saying to Jesus “take me with you, you need me, Jesus.”  Brave, steadfast and faithful Peter. 

 

What he means is “Don’t leave me here alone, Jesus, I am a mess.”  Pure separation anxiety.  But Jesus is going where they can’t go, where we can’t go; to the cross, to death, to the tomb.  He’s going there on our behalf. 

 

Separation anxiety is dealt with in the reading from Revelations.

 

A perfect way to get a headache is to google “Book of Revelation” on the internet.   There are 3,350,000 results, each with a unique correct explanation of St. John’s vision at Patmos.  Babylon the Great is either Hollywood, the President of Venezuela, Wall Street, President Obama, or maybe it’s Oprah. 

 

Certainly the Book of revelation has been misinterpreted by those awaiting “The Rapture.”  The idea that somehow 144,000 of us will climb up to heaven.  But God is explicit in Revelation.  We don’t have to rise up to greet him, he comes down to gather us.

 

The visions St. John the Divine have can be hard for us to identify with.  The church becoming marginalized and brutalized by a hostile society, the rulers of the world completely beholden to wealth and power, wars of conquest and religious bigotry, people worshiping everything BUT the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Yes, hard for us to imagine such a place.  It must have been something he ate.

 

But the great revelation in Revelation is not monsters and mayhem.  It is this:

 

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. “

 

Now we all love a good day down the shore, no one more than our own dear Pastor, so the idea of no more sea doesn’t sound like such a good thing.  But Brian Peterson of Lutheran theological Southern Seminary in South Carolina writes “In the narrative of Revelation, the sea has been the source and the operational base for the evil forces lined up against God and God’s people.  It is from the sea that the beast, the personification of empire’s deadly reach, had come.  It was over the sea that Babylon ruled as a tyrant.  With the sea removed, there is no chance that the world will slip again into the sea.”

 

The sea was indeed a dangerous place.  To travel on the sea was to run the risk of sudden storms, whirlpools, sea monsters, on a boat with all the benefits of first-century technology.  If Bill and Carole went on a cruise in a first-century boat, we wouldn’t so much wish “Bon Voyage’ as pray that we would see them again.

 

So this sea that separates us from the Holy City is gone.  God has taken this sea of our fears, our shortcomings, our doubts, our sinfulness and made it disappear!

 

“See the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; 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.”  The promise is not only that God will wipe away any tears that might happen to linger on our cheeks after that Last Day, but that God will reach back through time to wipe away all the pained tears EVER shed.”

 

Not just the tears we have shed.  But the tears we have caused.

 

This sea between the earth and heaven has disappeared.  But of course, God can bring us closer to Him, can’t he?  When Moses and the Israelites were trapped in Egypt, separated from the Promised Land, God parted the seas.  Jesus calls the disciples to sail to the other side of the lake.  A perilous storm threatens them.  Jesus calms the violent waves, leaving the disciples to wonder “who is this man that the winds obey him?”

 

The great power of the sea, God turns around and uses to reveal his glory.  Colin last week drowned to sin, and was reborn.  “See I make all things new.”  Even a baby that looked pretty new to begin with.

 

When Pastor Gary paraded Colin around last week, he proclaimed “Here is a child of God, owned by God.”  I could grab anyone’s hand here and parade you around, “here is a child of God, owned by God.”  I won’t because well, we’re Lutheran.   The people on our prayer list today are God’s property.  Roswitha has been claimed by God, property of God forever.  In Mahler’s symphony “I am from God and shall return to God.”  Not that we go to God, but that God comes to us.  You and me.

 

My friend Glenn died three weeks ago tomorrow.  His death was sudden and violent.  His family and those of us who are his friends were left bewildered.  In terms of kindness, selflessness, gentleness, and humility, Glenn was a true Christian.  But his illness took him from us way too soon.  I was asked by the family to lead the Interment service.  What Good News could I share with these people? 

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,  and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

 

My friends, we are the witnesses of that new city.  We are the real estate agents of that new city.  We are charged by Jesus to gather his people.  On the way towards his days of great suffering, a place that we cannot go, the Son of Man tells us,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

Just as I have loved you.  While googling, I came across the story of the Reverend Joachim Alexandropoulos, who was an Orthodox priest on a Greek isle during World War II.  The invading Nazis came and demanded that he provide them, the next day, with a list naming every Jew on the island. The next day he handed them a list containing only one name, his own.  

Are we able to express that sort of love?  Who knows what action of love we are capable of?  Who knows at a certain point in our lives that we can love as he loved us?  Feeding the poor, fighting for the marginalized, random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.   When we leave this building today, can each of us be the Church for the world outside? God Only Knows what we as a church are capable of.  

 

The good news today is overwhelming.  The gulf separating us from God is gone.  Christ is Risen!  He has Risen Indeed.  We have all been made anew.  We are from God and we shall return to God.  We are His.