St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 13, 2007)

Liturgical Color: White

Reverend Doctor Lyle McKee


"Come for the Gift"

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

Amazing as it is, my appreciation for the book of Revelation is growing. You may know that Martin Luther didn't like the book, but this is the second Sunday in a row that you've heard a sermon based on its texts.

John of Patmos writes in ways that lead lots of folks into weird side-trips of theological imaginings. But when taken as it is—as a letter of hope to the churches of all time—the book of Revelation takes on wonderful dimensions.

This morning, we get the final part of the letter. Here John issues fervently, directly, and repeatedly, an invitation to worship. It's a brilliant weaving of invitations, fulfillments and promises, beginning with Jesus' announcement that he is coming soon.

See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.

"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."

The expectation of Jesus' return is one of the joys of worship. Even as is the celebration that he has already come to be among us as one of us, fulfilling the ancient prophecies of the messiah descended from David. This is the one who came to fulfill and will yet come again to fulfill.

Then with the Spirit, the bride, and everyone, John invites us all to the celebration:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."

And let everyone who hears say, "Come."

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.

Amen.

Come for the gift—the water of life. Come and quench the thirst—the spiritual yearning—that wells up within us. Share the blessings of grace as we look back to what God has already done and forward to what God will yet do.

The invitation to worship is so appropriate for this day on which we baptize two new members of the church, welcome others into our worshipping fellowship, break ground in order to enhance our worship and welcome, and honor our Pastor Emeritus, Walt Johnson, for the grace to serve God's Church for 50 years.

This matter of invitation brings us squarely into the subject of worship. In Christian worship, we're engaged in the activity of creating sacred space in a flattened world. Without the church, in my view and that of scripture, the world is far less interesting and far from fulfilling.

There is much written these days about the cultural reality that is called the "death of certainty." Perhaps you've seen some of the related bumper stickers:

- Give me ambiguity or give me something else.

- Your kid may be an honor student, but you're still an idiot.

We're beginning to figure out that technology isn't the solution. We chat with people form South Africa on line, but haven't spoken to the neighbor in years.

Our world is filled with contradictions. By using advanced computer technology, we can now live in the wilderness—and still work in the city. Unrepentant consumers, we produce more waste every day—but our environmental consciousness also leads us to recycle more every year. We eat out more—while we build gourmet kitchens and try to eat healthfully at home. We have smaller families—and live in larger homes.

Life is filled with contradictions, and nothing seems certain. There appear to be no absolutes, of values or otherwise. Certainty, in what many have labeled a post-modern culture, is dead.

But we also seem to recognize our superficiality. This isn't a commercial, but I like Einstein Bagels—when I get to Indianapolis. Besides the food, I enjoy the cute pictures incorporating bagels in creative ways. There are also various sayings posted on the walls. Here is one that strikes me as relevant to the topic today: "Jump off the spiritual bridge of your inner bagel and splash around in the coffee of life."

Humorous, yes. But also a bit pathetic. Even eateries are attempting to appeal to our spiritual sides, trying to fill those places of emptiness and loneliness that reflect our need of God.

Which makes me think that the churches and we Christians aren't doing our jobs very well. Here are some statistics (Sally Morgenthal) that demonstrate the failure of our mission:

- Only 26% of American adults attend church (University of Notre Dame)

- The United States is the largest mission field in the English-speaking world.

- Three times as many churches close as open each year in the United States

- It takes, on average, 85 Christians working for one year to create one convert.

Those are some eye-openers, aren't they? Especially the last one. We aren't very good at sharing the grace that we have received from God. It's time us to give up half-hearted ways and speak the Word boldly.

Jesus didn't have much use for half-heartedness. He delighted in risky and extreme behavior. He ate with the poor but told parables about the rich. He preached the highest ethical standards and hung out with the riffraff. In John's Revelation, Jesus declares he is the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end. Jesus never claimed to be a moderate. He never played it safe. He didn't only take stands, he went out into the word and acted on his convictions.

Elsewhere in Revelation, the judgment on those who seek the safety of a half-hearted commitment is stated rather harshly—"because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:16).

In order to offer the good news of the gospel to the world of today, we've got to get out of the middling places of certainty and comfort, and take some action.

We need to confront very challenging matters in these days:

- Can we minister to the one extreme of Americans who say religion has lost its meaning in their lives, as well as to the other extreme of Americans who say that religion is more important to their lives than ever before?

- Can we minister to the swelling numbers of highly skilled and technologically educated workers, as well as to the expanding number of illiterate "service" sector laborers?

- Can we minister to people who cry out for more privacy and individuality and yet long to belong to a caring community?

- Can we minister to those who are feeling the emptiness of a materialistic lifestyle and yet want more and more "things"?

- Can we minister to a terrified society that passively tolerates torture, yet feel safe enough that airlines are experiencing historic booking rates?

- Can we minister to a world that is getting richer, and poorer at the same time? On this question, perhaps we should be reminded that the Lutheran church is largely a middle class church. Ministry with the poor and ministry with the rich are perhaps our two greatest challenges.

No comfortable or half-hearted efforts will do today in getting out the message of Christ's love and compassion. The incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, who loved to play in the extremes, is the model for our message.

John's Revelation clearly expects that Jesus will return at any moment. There is a palpable urgency to his words. The struggling, persecuted, fragile churches in those first years long for the new age to be inaugurated by Christ's renewed presence. But until then, the church finds solace and strength in two ways. They celebrate Christ's very real presence with them through Holy Communion. Their deep longing—and ours—for Christ to come is answered liturgically and experienced spiritually every time the bread is broken and the wine is poured. We know our Lord's comforting presence every time we proclaim the saving word of grace.

Our text brings to us this morning, as it always does, both solace and purpose, both comfort and challenge. We will soon know the holy and certain comfort for which the world can only yearn without our proclamation—the abiding presence of God in Christ in the forms of bread and wine. In this sacrament we know love, forgiveness, and grace—those precious gifts of which John speaks with such passion and urgency.

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."

And let everyone who hears say, "Come."

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.

Amen.

May that excitement infect us today as we celebrate so many milestones in ministry. And may it spread through the power of the Spirit moving among us. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, unto eternal life. — Amen








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