Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sermon for Last Sunday of the Church Year

                                                                                                            Last Sunday
                                                                                                            Isa 65:17-25

            My parent’s dog Aussie had belonged to my grandpa Surburg at the end of his life.  When grandpa died in 2001, he became my parents’ dog until this year when old age finally caught up with him.  Aussie was a faithful companion and illustrated that truly unique character of dogs in general – the very reason they have been described as “man’s best friend.”
            I will always have one vivid memory of Aussie that illustrates this.  We were visiting my parents in Bloomington, IN and had gone to a state park near their home for a picnic.  All of us were in the process of gathering up wood to use in the fire that would cook the hot dogs, and of course, toast the marsh mellows for smores.
            The kids were picking up sticks and Michael, who was about three years old, was a little off from the whole group.  I noticed that suddenly, Aussie snapped to alert and was looking over in the direction of Michael.  He bolted, ran beyond Michael and then stopped.  When I looked, I realized that there was a couple that was nonchalantly coming our way.  Aussie had put himself between Michael and the couple.  He looked directly at them and began to growl.  The couple was no real threat, but Aussie had perceived a possible threat to Michael and had instantly reacted to protect him.
            I have heard it said that the unique relationship between human beings and dogs is probably the best illustration we have of what things will be like in the new creation.  Humans love and care for dogs – they become members of the family.  Dogs obey, love and care for humans.
            Isaiah refers to that new state of things in our text this morning. His words at the end of our text recall earlier words in his prophecy that spoke about how a time is coming when the animals will live in perfect harmony with one another, and with human beings.  On this Last Sunday in the Church year, our Old Testament lesson sets forth the future that awaits us and calls us to live in hope.
            Hope is indispensible for life. Where there is hope, we can keep going and get through almost anything.  Yet where hope has been lost, life becomes nearly impossible.  In fact the loss of hope often brings death.  In prisoner of war camps throughout history, it has often been the case that those who maintain hope about eventual release and return to family are able to keep going and survive, while those who give up hope soon die.
            The enemy of hope is uncertainty and doubt.  When we feel uncertainty about the future; when we feel doubt, we find ourselves living in fear.  We fear the future because we do not know what it will bring, and so more often than not we fill in our expectations of the future with bad things.  Our mind is very good at creating the worst possible scenarios and it fixates on them.  This fear of the future can then paralyze our present.  It robs life of its joy, as instead we dwell in fear.
            This is a struggle that we face in many areas of life.  We live in uncertainty and doubt about our health, our career, our family, our finances. The spiritual reality is that these are all just different forms of idolatry.  They are all prompted by the fact that we do not fear, love and trust in God above all things.  We place something before God.  We don’t trust God to provide for us, because the way he does it may not be what we want. We don’t trust that God’s will is better than our will.
            Our Old Testament lesson this morning is all about hope.  It’s about the ultimate hope that God provides to us – the hope that allows us to look beyond our doubt and uncertainty.  It’s about a hope that can give us joy and peace in Christ as we live in the midst of this fallen world.
            Our text begins by saying, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” God speaks of what he is going to do in the future, and he promises a new heavens and a new earth.  He promises a renewal of all things that will wipe away the memory of what has happened in the past.  He promises a future that is so good, that it will make the struggles of the present irrelevant.
            This future is one joy and gladness – that’s for sure.  In fact in two verses Isaiah uses the same basic roots about gladness and joy three times.  He writes, “But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”
            Isaiah speaks in Old Testament language.  He writes at a time when Israel alone was God’s people and the temple alone was the place where God’s located presence was to be found.  We now live at the time when the temple has been fulfilled and replaced by the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Sacrifices no longer need to be offered at the temple because Jesus Christ has offered himself once and for all on the cross as the sacrifice for our sin.  No longer are God’s people bound to look to Mt. Zion because God has promised that now, his saving reign is to be found wherever Christ’s Means of Grace are present – wherever the word of the Gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered.
            Yet what Isaiah speaks in Old Testament language still addresses our needs and concerns.  Our text says, “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” 
            Through Isaiah, God promises the hope of permanence and dependability. We live in a world of change, and therefore we are always at risk that what we have will be no more.  There was a day when the company Blockbuster seemed to have a store on every corner.  Everyone rented video tapes there. They had blimp. They had a football bowl game.  Today no one rents video tapes and this month Blockbuster announced it is going close its last three hundred stores. 
            We live in world that lacks certainty, permanence and stability.  Yet that is the future that God promises to his people.  That is the future that he holds out before us to give us hope.  He promises the future of a new heavens and a new earth.  He promises the future that is one of peace and harmony. And because of what God has already done, we can embrace this hope as it enables us to live with peace in the present.
            In the last verse of our text we hear, “‘The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.”  God promises the day when his creation will be very good once again.  He promises the day when sin will no longer cause death – even within the animal world.
            And in this statement we receive the key to understanding how this is going to happen.  We receive the key to understanding why we can embrace this hope. Our text refers us back to Isaiah chapter eleven. Isaiah writes, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.”  God promises the descendant of King David who will have the Spirit upon him. This one will judge righteously and slay the wicked.  He says, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”
            Jesus the Christ is the One who came forth from the stump of Jesse.  God put his Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism.  He went to the cross in order to provide the answer to sin; to provide the sacrifice that redeems us.  But if that were it; if that were the whole story, there would be no hope. And so the reason that we can have hope - the reason that we can embrace this hope – is that on the third day he rose from the dead.  On the third day he began this new creation that Isaiah describes.
            Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we have the hope of the new heavens and the new earth.  Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we have the hope of the day when things will be permanent and certain.  Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, we have the hope of the day when the wolf and the lamb shall graze together; of the day when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
            And so we do have hope.  We have hope that gives us joy and peace in the present – joy and peace in the midst of struggles and hardships.  We have hope that allows us to look beyond the struggles and entrust our present to the Lord, because we already know what our future will be.

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