"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts from Pastor Greg of Living Lord Lutheran Church Vero Beach, FL
9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing,
“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, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
our first reading for this Sunday
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” the gospel for Sunday
"Is That All There Is?"
Remember that famous Peggy Lee song from the summer of 1969, "Is That All There Is?" She's reflecting on things in her life - a romance, a tragedy, and others, as she asks the rhetorical question, "Is that all there is"? You remember the refrain:
Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friend, then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze and have a ball.
If that's all...there...is.
It's a song contemplating the existential nature of life. You live. You deal with stuff in your life - the good things, the bad things, and then you die. And so she asks herself, is that all there is? Well, if that's it, then let's keep dancing.
This Sunday is All Saints Sunday - the Sunday in the church year when we remember the "saints" in our lives, those present and those who have gone before us. We celebrate the hope and promise from God that, no, that's not all there is to life. There is life beyond the routine and ordinary in this life. Death does not, and will not have the final say over us, because, baptized into Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, we, too, live in newness of life. The grave, the tomb, the urn of our ashes, is not our final resting place, but is, instead, with all the Saints in light. "O death, where is thy sting?!" we ask.
I have a rabbit friend and colleague from my internship days (2004) in Rockland County, NY, when I served a Lutheran congregation there in my year of internship. He always said that that there is life at all in this world is indeed a miracle. Think about it - five elements known throughout the universe - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and potassium (eat your bananas!) would combine to come together into beings that can read, write, learn, care for others, laugh and cry, and more. He would argue that if this can happen, it's no less miraculous that that same power that made us live once, could make us live again. Not quite the Christian perspective, but I respect his thinking on this.
He used the example of two fetuses - twins - in their mother's womb just before birth. As their mother's contractions begin, one fetus says to the other, "I know that once we're out there, there's no more umbilical cord, so we won't be able to eat. And there's no surrounding sack of liquid, so we can't survive. This is the end. There's nothing beyond the womb."
The other fetus says, however, "Although I can't prove it yet, I believe that everything we've been going through here (womb) is preparing us for something beyond this existence in the womb. Maybe we don't need an umbilical cord, or maybe we don't need to be surrounded by this fluid in our next form of existence."
His point was that Judaism asserts that God, who created life, can sustain life, and that being made in God's very image means that we all contain a spark of eternity. That we are eternal is God's gift of love to us. And that death, in some way, is not final. Interesting!
In light of the recent war in Gaza and Israel, with all of the suffering and death; with all of the loss of life and hope; seeing the look of terror and sadness on the faces of those pulling their loved ones' dead bodies out of the rubble, for some, death may seem like a more attractive alternative. With the loss of home, family, sources of income, and worst of all, hope, for some, death may seem like a better alternative. We've even heard some say things like, "I wish I were dead", as if to say death must be better than what I'm facing now." If you've been near to someone who has taken their own life, you know that for those dear people, death at the time seemed better than any other alternative. It's hard to comprehend, but it's true that many feel that way.
In our readings for Sunday - all of them - the writer contemplates a time when things were really, really bad. In our Revelation text, John (the son of Zebedee, although the scholarship is still out on this one), lived in the time of the 2nd destruction of the Jewish temple. The most sacred and holy place in all of Judaism. How could anything be worse? How can his Jewish community go on living without the temple. It was central to their belief, to their culture, to their community. Now, gone! It was their 9/11 moment. Their October 7th moment, if you will.
And yet, God provides John with a glimpse of what lies ahead - multitudes of people from all faiths, all languages and traditions gathering together, praising God, giving God thanks. The angels fell on their faces giving glory to God. Soon, no more hunger, no more thirst, no more scorching in the hot desert. Every tear will be wiped dry. God had provided John with this amazing vision of what lay ahead for God's people. In the midst of their anger, their despair, their hopelessness, God shows the world what was ahead, and it was just amazing! Their sorrow, their anger, their hopelessness was not the end. Something even greater awaited them. God had promised them. And in this vision, John lays out what he envisions.
In our gospel (Matthew 5 - the Beatitudes), look at who Jesus is addressing - the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the meek and lowly; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are persecuted and hated because of Jesus. Those who work for peace; those who are merciful, and more. He's addressing the world then - and there was a lot of suffering and despair. He's also addressing those who work for peace and the restoration of the world. In short the world was messed up then, just like it is now. And he's saying that, "this is not all there is." There is something beyond your current situation, and it's more amazing than anything you could even imagine on this earth, in this life. And God has promised to make it all yours, Jesus says.
Theologians call this all the "already and the not yet". The already being the world we know now, with all its "stuff". With all its heartbreak and tragedy. The world in which we live. And the "not yet", meaning the blessings of God that will come to all, that are at hand. And Jesus is the one who will be ushering it all in.
Yes, we live in a world that seems to be unraveling before our very eyes. Not just with war in the Middle East, but with natural disasters, with flooding and fires, and drought and climate change, earthquakes, and more. Violence, injustice, hatred among the races. But in Christ, God says to His people, "This is not all there is." There is so much more beyond your present suffering, and it will be beyond anything that your mortal minds can comprehend. This spectacular time when all the Saints are united together around Christ, our cornerstone. Can you just imagine what that day might be like? BTW, how DO you envision this time when all will be reunited with Christ around the throne, with loved ones, etc.?
In the meantime, we are called in our baptism to live our lives in service to God and neighbor. To help usher in "thy kingdom come" on earth as it is in heaven, right? Right! Amen.
Hope to see some of you tomorrow. We'll allow time during worship to remember loved ones lost. Hope you can join us. Come light a candle in memory of a loved one/s lost. Offer up a prayer for them during worship. PG
"Is That All There Is?" by Peggy Lee https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sWTnsemkIs "Soon and Very Soon"
"Blest are They"