Posts Tagged ‘Afterlife’

All Saints According to Titanic 11-2-14

This sermon is based on Revelation 7:9-14, one of the assigned readings for All Saints Sunday. Within the sermon I take a look at the tiny glimpse of what lies beyond death based on this passage from Revelation.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Today is a busy day for us here at Underwood Lutheran isn’t it? (pause) In addition to all the normal aspects of worship, we’re celebrating All Saints Day…we’re joining with three young people in our congregation to celebrate a milestone in their life of faith…we’ll share in Holy Communion together in a few more minutes…it’s a busy day…about the only thing we’re missing is a baptism, then we’d have all the bases covered. (pause)

By now, I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on my tendency to relate pretty much everything to a movie…and today is no exception…As I thought about all the different things that we are packing into worship today, I started relating it to a film that does the same thing…Titanic, the 1997 powerhouse that covered all the bases. It had everything…a love story…intrigue…action…comedy…dancing…betrayal. (pause). Oh and somewhere along the way, the boat hits a iceberg and sinks right?

Interestingly enough…the final images from Titanic seem to hold a lot of the same images that we heard in the passage from Revelation. In the conclusion of the film…the narrator Rose…a very old woman who had been on board the Titanic…who had made a promise to her great love before he died that she would go on…dies in her bed after a long full life…and in the afterlife, she is transported back on board, where she walks through the lavish dining room among a great multitude of other people…a great crowd of individuals…too large to count…individuals from all walks of life…rich and poor, old and young, passangers and crew…all those who had died in the great ordeal of the ship sinking…and as Rose walks through all those people she is reunited with Jack…her great love…they embrace…the crowd all cheers…they are together forever…and no more tears are shed among these people. (pause)

Sound about right? A great crowd…those who have died, experiencing a great ordeal…and nor more tears in the afterlife…Titanic…and today’s lesson from Revelation. Hmmm…maybe James Cameron was reading this when he wrote the script.

There are many images from that movie that come to mind for me as I ponder on this passage today…one of which is the look of terror on the face of one passanger as the water comes rushing up to him…and he knows that he’s about to die…that he’s about to experience the unknown.

That sense of fear, or apprehension tends to be associated with the book of Revelation does it? It’s one of those books in the Bible that we tend to steer clear of…and why? Well, because its full of imagery that we just don’t quite understand…but we know that its related to the last days…to that great unknown when Jesus comes back…and to be sure, Revelation is full of crazy stuff…but in the midst of all that craziness…all that stuff that we tend to shy away from…we find that God is giving us a glimpse of what’s coming…its certainly not the entire picture…but it’s a glimpse.

And so perhaps its fitting that we hear these words today, on All Saints Sunday…as we sit here today and remember those who have gone on before us…those who have followed the path that one day we will all face…those who have tasted death…and what lies beyond it.

Often times in life, especially when we encounter death…we begin to wonder just what lies beyond it…sure we have the promises of God that we are saved from our sin…and that Jesus has gone on before us into death…doing something about it…preparing us a room in God’s heavenly house…but really…that’s about it…and if you’re anything like me…you see a lot of unknowns in all that. And perhaps in these moments we experience apprehension or fear about just what’s gonna happen. (pause)

Now I won’t stand here today and claim to have all the answers…because I’d be lying if I said that. But what a gift God gives us today, as we sit here thinking about death…thinking about our own mortality…what a gift to catch this little glimpse.

A great multitude…beyond measure…from every nation and tribe and people and language…standing before the throne of God…For with God there is no distinction…and all are welcomed regardless of where they came from…and together in one voice this great crowd declares the truth that salvation belongs to our God…and they find joy in it because they know not only that its true…but they know that God chooses to share it with us…and so they stand there and praise God before his throne into eternity.

And we hear a few verses later, that these are the people who have come through the great ordeal…but just what is this great ordeal? What is this great tribulation that they’ve come through? (pause) If we think about that last image from Titanic, the great crowd is made up of people who died on the ship…and I think this great ordeal that the author of Revelation is talking about is quite similar…this crowd, praising God on the throne, is made up of those who have lived life and through death been delivered from it…the great ordeal is our lives…the ups and downs…the back and forth…the good and the bad…because that’s life isn’t it? Even life as a believer…its tough.

We experience much hardship in life…and following God…believing in Christ…it doesn’t give us a free pass from suffering…it doesn’t eliminate pain…it doesn’t take away anguish…it doesn’t stop us from mourning…mourning the death of those we care about…mourning the trials and tribulations that we experience in our lives.

As I stand here before you today…I know some of these stories of suffering. For some of you it’s a lost job, lost income. For others, there has been the hardship of watching a loved one deteriorate and die. Others struggle in relationships…there are countless stories just in this room today, not to mention the countless stories of all those who have come before, all those living now, and all those to come in the future…Life, wonderful as it is…joyous as it can be…is a great ordeal…and to deny this is to deny the truth.

But yet, our lesson today tells us that those washed in the blood of the lamb have come through this ordeal…and their robes are white…gleaming…cleaner than any soap could ever make them…and in the great beyond…in whatever lies beyond this life…beyond this great ordeal, the blood of the lamb has cleansed those saints of everything that tainted them in life…sin is gone…suffering is over…pain is no more…because God has taken it away.

There’s one more image from Titanic that has always stuck with me, and ironically, it’s a direct quote from today’s scripture. Late in the movie, as the ship is about to go down…the weight of the water in one end begins to pull the ship up vertical…and in the midst of that a crowd of people cling to a priest…and he himself is clinging to post in order to hold himself steady…and he utters the words to these frightened people that God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes…and there will be no more death.

In the end…we know that death claims us all…just as it has claimed those saints that we honor here today…but we also cling to the hope that we find in God’s promise that death does not get the last word in our story…God does.

And when each of us walks that final road of this life…and when we leave behind the great ordeal that is this life…we cling to the promise that we will join that great multitude…and we too will wear the white robe…washed clean in the blood of the lamb…and we cling to the hope that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, because death and pain and suffering will no longer hold us.

And make no mistake this hope that we cling to is wonderful…but yet we also realize that we live in the tension now…here in this life…We know that we still experience the hardships and the pain…and we still experience the tears…because for us, Revelation chapter 7 hasn’t happened yet…and so in these times, when we find ourselves looking forward to the end and wondering what lies beyond it, we look to the end of Revelation. The final words of the Bible are Amen, come Lord Jesus.

We say Amen, because we believe this to be true…and we say Come Lord Jesus because we anxiously wait for him…and we live in the tension between the two…The tension between the Amen which leans back to the promises that God’s work of salvation in Jesus Christ is for you…and between the Come that leans forward to the day when we stand before the throne, content in the presence of our maker and redeemer.

So today, as we find ourselves in this tension between Amen and Come Lord Jesus…and as we remember those beloved saints who have gone on before us while we still struggle here in our great ordeal, we cling to the promise that Salvation belongs to our God…and that he shares it with us today. Amen.

Just a Glimpse 11-10-13

In this sermon, I tackle the dispute over the resurrection that Jesus has with the Sadducees, found in Luke 20:27-38.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here. Disregard all the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
By now, most of you have probably figured out that I’m a movie buff. I enjoy a lot of different types of movies…different genres…different styles…different time periods…Sometimes I’ll watch a movie once and never come back to it again…other times I’ll get ahold of a movie and will watch it repeated for a few weeks and then have it fade into obscurity…and sometimes I find a movie that is so good, I put it on the shelf, but then dust it off periodically and watch it again.
I can think of several examples of that last type of movie…but today, there is one particular example…1989’s Lonesome Dove…a made for tv miniseries based on the book of the same name…starring Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall…and pretty much every other actor or actress that was working in the late 80’s. There is a scene about three quarters of the way through in which Angelica Houston, who has lost her husband, walks out to her family cemetery where her hired man Cholo is busy digging a grave. They sit and chat over a cup of coffee…and the subject is death…
Sometimes it seems like grave digging is all we do around here, don’t it Cholo? What do you think happens when we die…His response…Not too much. You are just dead… (pause)
Cholo has a pretty simple view of the end of life doesn’t he?  It’s like a book…you finish reading, and close the cover. Life is over…you’ve got a certain amount of time on earth but once its finished, its finished.
Cholo sounds quite a bit like the random characters in today’s scripture lesson known as the Sadducees. (pause)  Ahh the Sadducees…subjects of many Bible trivia questions…it seems like everyone has heard of the Sadducees, but other than partnering them up with the Pharisees as “religious leaders” we don’t know a lot about them.
Today’s lesson actually gives us a little tidbit about their beliefs though…they don’t believe in the resurrection…period, end of story. Like Cholo in Lonesome Dove…when someone dies they think “well, you are just dead.” I actually find it a little ironic when I see the Sadducees paired up with the Pharisees like they are allies…reality was quite a bit different…yes, both groups were Jewish “religious leaders,” but they actually differed in a lot of ways…one being what each group considered “scripture.” The Sadducees followed the torah…or the first 5 books of our Old Testament…The Pharisees…well they liked the Old Testament in its entirety.
And this is where their different views on the resurrection come from…its not mentioned in the Torah…and so the Sadducees don’t buy it…but the prophets were fond of the notion of resurrection, and so the Pharisees…well they believe that there is a little something more after death. (pause) But how can that be?  Both groups are Jewish…shouldn’t they all have the same ideas? (pause) You know what…hold that thought…we’ll come back around to it.
The resurrection…now that’s a funny thing isn’t it…kinda hard to really nail down just what its going to be like isn’t it? I mean…for starters…just what is it?  Is “the resurrection” something spiritual? Does it mean that our soul leaves our dead body and heads off to heaven? Or is it immortality…that our body never actually dies? Or does it mean that our bodies come back to life?
Have you ever stopped and really thought about that? Maybe we should…we proclaim it every week in worship…have you noticed that? It’s tucked discreetly in at the end of the Apostles Creed…but it’s one of those blink and you miss it phrases…I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…did you catch it there?
The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting…well…that’s sort of ambiguous isn’t it? Does that mean that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus body…that he rose again? Well, yah…we proclaim that earlier in the creed…but aren’t all believers members of Christ’s body?  Oh yah…so…does that mean that we raise again too? Seems like it…and then there’s life ever lasting…okay…that sounds good…but just what does it mean?  What does it look like? (pause)
That’s the million dollar question right there…what does the resurrection look like…or more simply…what does the afterlife look like? (pause) That seems to be the question being posed today by the Sadducees…what’s coming next Jesus…got a good answer for us? (pause)
We get a lot of images of the afterlife…of life everlasting…of resurrection don’t we?  Pop culture…including movies and tv…are full of them. I think of the movie Gladiator when the hero dies and finds himself walking down the road to his house where his dead wife and son are waiting for him…I think of the popularity of vampires…and that’s a different spin on the notion of living forever isn’t it?  And we can’t deny the popularity of zombies today…with shows like the Walking Dead…which even addressed this very notion in one episode…is the resurrection of the dead fulfilled when humans come back as zombies? (pause)
But what about images of the afterlife outside of pop culture? We get those too don’t we? As I thought about this idea I found myself remembering the sermon preached at the funeral of my grandmother a few years back…and an illustration of Grandma walking through the pearly gates…being greeted by my grandpa who had preceded her by a few years saying “Hey there honey…what took you so long.” (pause) And while that illustration gave me a sense of comfort in the moment of mourning…I don’t know if its accurate or not?
And so we come back around to it…just what does it look like? Well Scripture…well Jesus? Do you have a good answer for us today? Will our relationships be the same? Will our bodies look the same…will our souls look like us? (pause) What’s it gonna look like?
Well…Jesus doesn’t give us a lot to go on does he? Just a quick glimmer…we’ll be like the angels…and we won’t be married…and that’s about it…unfortunately, scripture doesn’t really give us a lot to go on when it comes to this notion of the resurrection.
Jesus himself has raised some different people from the dead…most famously his friend Lazarus…but as far as we know…every one of those people raised by Jesus or Elijah, or Paul, or the disciples walked the earth for a while longer…and then died again…so not a lot of help there.
Later on, while hanging on the cross…one of the criminals asks Jesus to remember him in the kingdom…and Jesus replies “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And then they both die…we don’t know what happens to the body of the criminal, but we know he’s dead…and at that point so is Jesus…so did they both head off to heaven together? Well, no, they were just dead, and then three days later Jesus wasn’t dead anymore…
And Jesus’ own resurrection…that brings it’s own mysteries.  We call Jesus the first born from the dead, and so perhaps it’s helpful in this whole discussion to look at his example. Jesus interacts with the living…so we know that he’s got some sort of a physical body…but people don’t seem to recognize him…Mary Magdalene thinks he’s the garderner…the two men on the road to Emmaus spend the day with the guy without realizing it…so it would seem that Jesus looks different in the resurrection, so does that mean that we will to? (pause)
Lot’s of questions…questions that really don’t get an answer at this point in the game…and so we have the tendency to speculate….or to interpret…and we try to make up our own minds about just what’s coming over the horizon…what the unseeable will look like…and we talk about it…we talked about it in Confirmation class last week…we talked about it again today…countless religious scholars and groups debate it…different denominations dispute each other…different religious groups argue…atheists deny it all and think we’re crazy (pause)
In short…its all up in the air…but you know what…in the end…it doesn’t really matter what we think, or expect, or interpret does it?  I talked about this passage with the high schoolers earlier in the week, and we pretty much agreed that the Sadducees in today’s story are really just being jerks. They don’t believe in the resurrection…and for whatever reason they hate Jesus…and so they want discredit him by attacking his teaching on the resurrection…now obviously they’ve given this a lot of thought…and perhaps that’s not surprising…it seems like the religious leaders always try really hard when they are attempting to discredit Jesus or the disciples or other believers…we see the same sort of thing today when it comes to items of debate…know your opponents arguments so you can counter them, or make them look stupid…isn’t that exactly what they try to do here? (pause) and isn’t that what we tend to do to each other when we fall on opposites sides of an issue?
As I thought about this scene…and the feeble attempt of the Sadducees to argue against a point that only God himself has any merit in answering…and I wondered about Jesus’ reaction to the question.
Teacher…a woman is married to 7 brothers…in the resurrection, who’s wife will she be? (pause)  “REALLY?” Do you suppose Jesus got aggravated?  Or did he sort of chuckle to himself in the way that a parent chuckles at the odd ball notions that a young child comes up with?  I don’t know of course, but I tend to think the latter.
Humanity, in no way can fathom the mysteries of God or the resurrection or heaven or salvation, or the rest of it. We try really hard though don’t we…really hard…and often times we butt heads with each other when we come up with different solutions…but in the end, doesn’t Jesus really tell us…hey…I know this is over your head…I know this is confusing…but hey…just remember…its not up to you to figure it out…its not up to you to pull it off…its not up to you…but it is for you.
Salvation from sin is for you…the resurrection of the body and whatever that means…is for you…Jesus is for you…and regardless of what it will look like or be like…regardless of if its our soul or our bodies being reanimated or changed…regardless of just what the reality of a new heave and a new earth really means…we have the hope the hope that Jesus gives us that God, is not a god of the dead…but of the living…for to him…All are alive…and regardless of our understanding…Jesus says here…that there is…a resurrection…and we have a place in it…so let’s rest in that hope…Amen.




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