Sunday, May 20, 2007

Famous Last Words

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church and their guests on May 20, 2007. Megan and Shane are two young people who were confirmed during today's worship celebration.]

Revelation 22:12-21
Last words, whether in a will or from the dying or in other contexts are important to us. One woman’s last words from her deathbed were both scolding and funny. She turned to her husband and said, “I told you I was sick!”

And many of you have heard me tell the true story of the retired pastor, seemingly no longer able to hear or speak as he slipped toward death. The nurse at the nursing home where he lay knew his favorite song. So, she began to sing it to him: “Jesus loves me, This I know, For the Bible tells me so.” I heard that very nurse tell what happened next. That pastor popped up from his bed to say, “And don’t you ever forget it either.” He then fell back on the bed and died. Great last words!

Often the last words of a book explain everything that has come before it and give us understanding for the future. The words of our Bible lesson for today are the very last words in the Bible. And they both explain a lot and give us hope for our future!

Pastor John Jewell has identified three great truths in these words and since the Eleventh Commandment for all preachers is, “Thou shalt steal good long as you give credit where credit is due,” I want to put my own spin on these three truths.

Truth Number One: God is in charge. Megan and Shane, as you begin your life as adult followers of Jesus Christ today, this may be the most important thing for you to realize. No matter what happens in the world. No matter what happens in your lives. No matter how crazy things may sometimes get. God is in charge.

As He does at other places in Revelation, Jesus includes in the last words of this book of the Bible His claim: “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Using the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet in which the New Testament is written, Jesus says, “I’m the One Who got everything started. And when I draw the curtain on the life of this world and bring in the new heaven, the new earth, and the new city of God, I’ll still be in charge.”

Sherri Conley and her family learned for sure that God is in charge back in 1999, when a tornado ripped through their Oklahoma community. “We said a prayer that God would watch over us,” she told The Daily Oklahoman newspaper. That’s what Sherri and her family did as they huddled in their hallway linen closet for protection. After the storm had passed, they discovered that the closet was the only thing left of their entire house.

Of course, God being in charge doesn’t always mean that everything will go the way we want it to. Praying people are sometimes swept away by tornados, tsunamis, and the tragedies of life. The pastor who presided at my uncle’s funeral on Thursday said that my uncle wanted to confess his sins and his faith in Jesus Christ when the pastor visited him. That didn’t take my uncle’s pancreatic cancer away. But it did mean that when he died, the God Who is in charge was waiting for him. If you will persevere in your life with Christ, Shane and Megan, you can live each day with the assurance that Christ is waiting for you, too!

The second truth in the last words of the Bible is this: Christ has a gift for all who want it. The gift is life with God, now and forever.

Early in our passage, Jesus says, “My reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work.” And what is our work? It’s to listen to Jesus’ call to turn away or repent for our sins and to believe in only Him. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes [blessed are those, in other words, bleached clean by Christ’s blood, shed on the cross] so that they ...may enter the city [the new Jerusalem] by the gates.”

And describing the new life He gives as “living water” that can refresh us and renew us for all eternity, Jesus says, “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Megan and Shane today have affirmed that they want to live in the covenant God made with them when they were baptized. They want Him to be their God and they want to take the gift of new life offered to everyone through Jesus Christ! In our lesson today, Jesus is saying that all they have to do--all any of us has to do--is take it. Take God’s gifts. Let Him love you. That’s it!

The third truth in the Bible’s last words is this: It won't be long. It won’t be long until this life or the life of this world come to an end. But what does that mean exactly?

In an old joke, a man has a conversation with God. “Tell me, Lord,” he says, “is it true that in your eyes a million years is like a second and million dollars is like a penny?” “Yes,” the Lord answers. “That’s true.” “In that case, Lord, could you give me a penny?” The Lord says, “Just a second.”

When I was a child my birthdays only came around once a year. Now they come every single year! Just as the picture of time varies between children and adults, so does God’s picture of time differ from all of our understandings. When Jesus says, as He does to us today, “See, I am coming soon...” and “Surely I am coming soon,” we have to remember that, as Peter tells us in the New Testament, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”

There will be times in your life, Megan and Shane, when you’ll pray and pray and pray and wonder what God is doing. What is the holdup? God always answers prayers sincerely brought to Him in Jesus’ Name. But His answers aren’t always, “Yes.” Sometimes Gode says, “No.” And sometimes He tells us, “Maybe” or “Wait.” In my own life, I’ve had things for which I’ve prayed literally for decades and then, seen God answer them with a Yes that’s been stunning and totally unexpected! When God seems to put off His answers to our prayers, it’s because He’s waiting for the right time to do the right thing in the right way for us. Often, He makes us wait because it’s only when we do wait that we realize that the good things that come our way are really from Him, the God in charge Who loves to hand us His free gifts, and not because of anything we’ve done.

I hear some Christians say that they wonder why Jesus is waiting so long to come back into this world and usher in the new world in which all who believe in Him will live. They think that this old world is in worse shape than it ever has been before. Surely, Jesus needs to return before things get any more terrible, they think.

I have two responses to that. First of all, there are some ways in which this world is worse than it has been before. But in many other ways, it’s much better. When I was growing up, there were no seatbelts or airbags in cars and trucks. There was lead in paint and asbestos in public schools. There were no Amber Alerts. Racism and ethnic stereotyping, surely horrible sins, were widely accepted. And girls were made to feel that they shouldn’t aspire to use their God-given talents in the professions. I think that, at least in our little corner of the world, things are better in these and many other ways. When Adam and Eve, our first parents, plunged the human race into the cesspool of sin, the fall was complete. There are no new sins. But some sins go in and out of style. Don’t let the sins that people specialize in today make you think that the world is worse off today than it was when Jesus walked the earth.

But, here’s the real reason I think that Jesus is waiting to return: He’s giving those of us in the Church time to do our mission.

And our mission is simple...
  • We’re to make disciples.
  • We’re to tell others about Jesus Christ.
  • We’re to invite them to come and see our Savior Jesus active in our church.
  • We’re to invite them to worship with us and to follow Jesus with us.
Those of you who have been through the recent Witnesses for Christ classes have been particularly trained and empowered to share Christ both boldly and humbly. You can play a critical part in helping our congregation to grow by twenty-five new households before the end of this year.

I ask all members of Friendship to make it a personal goal to ask at least one spiritually-disconnected person to come to a Friendship activity each month for the rest of the year.

We all have our parts to play in Christ’s mission for His church and we all can be excited that at least five new households are about to go through the new members’ class, Friendship 101.

Jesus says that in His eyes, it won’t be long before He returns. However long that is in our eyes, our job is to invite as many people into eternity with us as we can.

I hope that you’ll make that your mission, Shane and Megan. I hope that we all will.

The Bible’s last words for us are simple and important:
  • God is in charge.
  • Christ has a gift of life for all who want it.
  • And He will return.
So, Megan and Shane, and all of us, let’s be busy doing the mission Christ has given to us and pray in every time and circumstance, “Come, Lord Jesus! Fill our hearts and our world with You!”

[THANKS TO: John Schroeder of Blogotional for linking to this sermon. Whatever good is in my sermons is from God. It's nonetheless reassuring to know that someone like John finds something of God in this message. Thank you, John.]

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