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Sermon for Sunday 12 May 2019

First Reading                                          Acts 20:17-35

17Now from Miletus {Paul} sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Psalm                                                            Psalm 23

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. 3He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake. 4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. 6Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Second Reading                             Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Gospel                                               John 10:22-30

22At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”


First let me begin by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day.”  In order to honor our moms, past and present, I was trying to figure out what to put on our sign out front this week, things like, “Moms, the greatest thing since hugs.  Or, having a bad day? call your mother.  Or, Moms, God’s everyday miracle.  Or, the one I chose, Moms, the best blessing ever!  Marquee dilemma aside, today we honor the women in our lives who nurtured us, who teach us, and who make us feel better, even when the whole world seems against us.  So, we set aside this particular day, each May, to remember and honor those who gave us birth.  So once again, Happy Mother’s Day!

Now for the majority of us, we’ve come to understand that a good mother is also a powerful example of God’s love.  And to our benefit, most mothers are willing to do just about anything to communicate their love to their children.  Some even try desperately to keep up with the changing styles popular with young people nowadays.  All I can say is, good luck with that.

Reader’s Digest magazine recently published some amusing texts from mothers who weren’t aware of the most current acronyms young people use for texting.  As you’ve come to understand, acronyms and texting go hand in hand.  As I’ve come to understand, our young people use several different acronyms all the time when communicating via phone messaging.  One mother, featured in the article, wanted to know the meaning of some of the acronyms she had seen.  So, she texted her son.  “What do IDK, LY and TTYL mean?”  Without further explanation, the son texted back: “I don’t know, love you, talk to you later.”

 Those, of course, are the meanings of IDK, LY & TTYL.  The problem was, mom didn’t get it.  She thought he was ignoring her with his message: “I don’t know, love you, talk to you later.”  She replied: “OK, I’ll ask your sister.”  Another mother texted her son: “Your great-aunt just passed away.  LOL.”  The son replied: “Why is that funny?”  Mom texted back: “It’s not funny, David!  What do you mean?”  The son texted: “Mom, LOL means Laughing Out Loud.”  Mom replied: “Oh, no!  I thought it meant Lots of Love.”  Then she added: “I have to call everyone back.”   It’s hard to keep up with the text message vernacular nowadays.

A few years ago, the Des Moines Register newspaper asked readers to send in stories of their Mom’s love.  A woman named Donna Copeland submitted this short, but powerful example of a mother’s love and comfort: “On my first day of kindergarten [my mother] gave me her wedding ring to keep in my sock as a reassurance I would be all right and that she would return for me.”  Can you imagine a mother entrusting her kindergartener with her wedding ring?  That’s a powerful symbol of comfort.  Her wedding ring was a reminder to her frightened child:  You’ll be all right, and I will come back for you.  Isn’t that what God offers us in the image of the cross?

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God left us a powerful symbol of comfort: you will be all right and I will come back for you.  There are times when we need to be reminded of that promise.  We all come to those times in our lives when we need God’s tender care–when no one else can offer us the comfort we need.  There are hurts that only God can heal.  There are burdens only God can lift.  There are fears that only God can put to rest.  So, it’s with great joy that we read the good news for the day from the book of Revelation, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  As most of us know, life is sometimes very, very hard.

We don’t always understand why it’s hard, but it is.  The writer of Revelation, the apostle John, knew about tears.  He lived in a time when Christians were being cruelly persecuted.  Revelation 6:9-10 indicates that during this time many Christians were tortured and killed for their beliefs.  We read: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Christians in the first century were beheaded, thrown into gladiator pits, torn apart by wild animals, burned alive, even crucified.  Nero, according to Tacitus, is said to have crucified Christian and set them on fire to light his garden.  The Apostle John, having been exiled on the isle of Patmos, had friends and fellow believers who suffered greatly under Roman rule.  He grieved because couldn’t be present to comfort them in their sufferings.  He could only pray and weep in their behalf.  Sometimes that’s all any of us can do . . . that and offer a word of much needed encouragement.

I read a story recently of Douglas Maurer, a young man in Missouri, who had been feeling bad for several days.  His temperature was ranging between 103 and 105 degrees, and he was suffering from severe flu-like symptoms.  Finally, his mother took him to the hospital in St. Louis.  He was diagnosed as having leukemia.  The doctors told him in frank terms about his disease.  They said that for the next three years, he would have to undergo chemotherapy.  They didn’t sugarcoat the side effects.  They told Douglas he would go bald and that his body would most likely bloat.  Upon learning this, he went into a deep depression.  His aunt called a floral shop to send Douglas an arrangement of flowers.  She told the clerk that it was for her teenage nephew who has leukemia.

When the flowers arrived at the hospital, they were beautiful.  Douglas read the card from his aunt.  Then he saw a second card.  It said: “Douglas–I took your order.  I work at Brix florist.  I had leukemia when I was 7 years old.  I’m 22 years old now.  Good luck.  My heart goes out to you.  Sincerely, Laura Bradley.”  His face lit up.  He said, “Oh!”

Relating Douglas’ story, journalist Bob Greene writes, “It’s funny: Douglas Maurer was in a hospital filled with millions of dollars of the most sophisticated medical equipment available.  He was being treated by expert doctors and nurses with medical training totaling in the hundreds of years.  But it was a salesclerk in a flower shop, a woman making $170 a week, who–by taking the time to care, and by being willing to go with what her heart told her to do–gave Douglas hope and the will to carry on.”

Sometimes all we can do is pray and weep and offer a word of encouragement. What we need to see is that God does all that, and more.  In our time of need God also comes to us with His love and comfort, if we will accept it.  St. John writes, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  What’s more, we receive additional comfort in our Psalm for today.  David in short wrote, The Lord provides green pastures and still waters.  He revives my soul.  He leads me in the right path and walks with me through the dark valley therefore, I have no reason to fear.  He provides me with what I need, and anoints me with the oil of gladness and blesses me.  I know that goodness and mercy will follow me in this life and I will live with God in His house forever.  When we put our faith and life in God’s care, we can be assured, God will take care of us.

A woman named Rose saw her entire family, except for her two young daughters, killed in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.  Now she’s a widow among many widows with little money.  But she refuses to be defeated.  She’s adopted two orphans and simply trusts God to provide for the food and school fees for her family of five.  She translates Christian literature into the local language and organizes an annual conference for other widows.  Rose weeps as she tells me her story.  But for every problem in her life she has one simple remedy. “For this,” she said, “I have Jesus.”

Yes, for many, life is sometimes very, very hard.  So hard that at times we question, does anybody even care?  The answer to this question is a resounding Yes, someone does care.  The God of all creation–the God who created the heavens and the earth–the God of everything that moves and breathes—it’s this great God who cares about your hurts, your needs, your concerns and mine.  Through His servant John, God promises that He “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Notice how personal and intimate that word picture is, “God [our Lord Himself] will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  It’s like the love of a mother holding her child in her arms giving comfort and solace.  A cynic among us would say that is too anthropomorphic.  That, of course, is a fancy word to mean that we try to create God in the image of man.  If so, we can blame that on Jesus.  After all, didn’t He teach us to pray saying, “Abba” or “Daddy?”  Ahh, let the cynics scoff.  For all His power and might and majesty, the God of the Bible has the tender heart of the most loving mother or father. 

Tim Gustafson tells of a grandmother in Burundi proudly displaying two photos, one of her daughter, and one of her new grandson.  Yet there’s deep pain in the grandmother’s face as she shows off these two pictures.  Her daughter died giving birth to her grandson.  A friend comes up to admire the pictures.  Two months earlier, she had buried her own son.  She senses the grandmother’s pain and takes her face in her hands and simply cries with her.  All she can say is, “I know.  I know.”

God came to us in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ, to share our pains, our fears and our sorrows.  He is our great Comforter because He knows our weakness and our heartbreaks.  He came to wipe away our tears and anytime we’re hurting, Jesus says, “I know.  I know.”  But notice something else from our lesson in Revelation–God’s very intimate love is being expressed toward a very special group of believers.  

These are those who have come through the great tribulation when there was much suffering for the cause of Christ.  These are those whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  Now they are dressed all in white before the throne of God, and He is personally wiping away every tear.  It’s important that we understand that God’s promises are to a very special group of people.  Many of us have a mushy kind of faith that says, “Everything’s all right.  Jesus loves me, this I know.  It doesn’t matter what I do with my life.  He always forgives.  That’s what God is for–to forgive.”

I suppose this attitude was exemplified in a little song that Simon and Garfunkel sang on the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate a few years ago.  Remember the song, “Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you can know, wo, wo, wo.”  Mrs. Robinson was an adulteress.  Mrs. Robinson was morally bankrupt.  She was representative of a bored and dissolute modern style of living.  But that’s all right.  “Jesus loves you more than you can know, wo, wo, wo.”  We need to be very careful here because the message here is only a half truth.  Yes, Jesus loves us.  Yes, Jesus forgives when we come to Him with a repentant heart. 

But the God who revealed Himself to John on the Isle of Patmos is no dispenser of what Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”  The love and concern that God gives to each of His children has been bought at a terrible price.  It isn’t something to be trampled upon or taken for granted.  Far too many today are like the little boy who says to his father, “Let’s play darts.  I’ll throw and you say ‘wonderful!’”  Too many people today live with the lie that that’s what we want out of God.  To tell us that we’re wonderful.  They want sermons that tell us that we’re accepted–forgiven–loved.  They want to hear all about the gospel and nothing about God’s law.  In essence, don’t tell us that our robes are dirty.  Don’t tell us that they need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

Psychologists are telling us today about “tough love.”  Many parents think they’re loving their children when they give them no guidance, place no demands upon them, let them do whatever they please.  Such love is usually rewarded only with resentment.  Love is never a monologue.  God’s love is all encompassing, inexhaustible, everlasting–but in order to experience that love we must be open to Him, we must be doing our part to maintain the relationship, we must seek to give our best if we want to receive His Best.  “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Yes, but these words are directed only to a special select fellowship–those who have given their all to Him.

But there’s one thing more to be said:  If God has ever wiped the tears from your eyes, shouldn’t we be finding someone else who is hurting and do the same thing for him or her?  Jesus said the second commandment is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).  God’s love is immense and personal.  But love is a two-way street.  Indeed, love at its best isn’t only between us and God, it’s also intended to be shared–particularly with those who also have tears in their eyes.

Dave Branon writes of the pain of losing his seventeen-year-old daughter Melissa in a car accident.  It’s a loss I hope to never experience.  Dave writes that he has gone over the events of that awful night many times in his mind, wondering what he could have done differently to ensure Melissa got home safely.  Dave calls this the land of “What If.”  He says, “In reality though, the land of ‘What If’ isn’t a good place to be for any of us.  It’s a place of regret, second-guessing, and hopelessness.  While the grief is real and the sadness endures, life is better, and God is honored if we dwell in the world of ‘What Is.’”

Choosing to live in the land of “What Is” means remembering God’s promises that He will never leave us or forsake us.  It means holding fast to the promise that our Christian loved ones are with God, and they will never again experience tears or sorrow or pain.  In the land of “What Is,” God is an “ever-present help in trouble.”  And in the land of “What Is,” our fellow believers offer comfort and strength when we need it most.

So, which land have you been living in recently?  The land of “What If” where you feel trapped by despair and hopelessness?  Or the land of “What Is” where you find your strength and hope in the God who promises to “wipe away every tear from their eyes”?  Through Jesus Christ, God offers us His love and comfort now and an unshakeable hope for the future.


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