Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Timelessness of Eternity

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Life in His Name

Second Sunday of Easter
Quasimodo Geniti
April 3, 2016
John tells us the goal. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Because Jesus has been raised it is possible for us to have life. You could do pretty well without believing in Jesus. And many people do. But you would not have life in His name. You would not have life that far exceeds life as you know it. And even so, doing pretty well in this life is good only for this life. Life apart from Christ is life in eternal torment.

John wrote so that you may have life. What he wrote, as he said, were the signs Jesus did. Even during Jesus’ ministry, John says many people did not believe in Him, even though they saw the signs He was doing. Signs are simply miraculous actions. They point to something greater. The disciples did not believe that Jesus was actually alive after dying until they saw Him. But now they believed and had true life in Him.

You don’t see Him, though. He does not appear suddenly to you as He did with the disciples. How do you believe in Him if you haven’t seen Him? Have you ever thought about that? Why is it that you believe in Jesus exactly as the disciples did even though they had the benefit of seeing Him face to face? Perhaps you think you don’t. Maybe you think it’s harder for you than for them. Maybe you have doubts. Maybe you wish it were easier to believe and if He showed you signs like He did then things would be better for you.

But John wrote so that you may have life. He wrote that you may believe. Is there a difference to the life you have versus them? Is your belief, while similar to theirs, on a different level than theirs?

According to what John has written, they are the same. Life in Christ is life in Christ. Belief in Him is belief in Him. Whether you see Him or not. But Jesus actually chides Thomas for believing because he saw Him. He said that all those who believe without seeing Him are blessed.

And that is you. The disciples must have been ashamed of themselves afterward for not believing in Him. If you have doubts, or your faith is not as strong as you wish it were, don’t worry, you’re in good company. And you’re actually in even better company since Jesus said you are blessed if you believe in Him without having seen Him.

And if you think about it, everything you believe from the Bible is that way. You believe God is one God in three persons even though you can’t begin to explain it and it’s impossible to understand. You believe that this is not all there is to life but that God will bring you to heaven forever. You believe Jesus raised people from the dead and that He Himself rose from the dead.

You even believe bizarre things like Him saving you in Baptism and forgiving you in the Lord’s Supper, and that He does these things because you cannot do them yourself. At all.

It’s no wonder you have doubts at times. All of this sounds too nonsensical and preposterous to be true.  We can readily understand why the disciples doubted before they saw Jesus actually alive. Tell people you were saved in Baptism and most will think you hold to imaginary tales. Tell them that you believe that Jesus actually is present in Holy Communion, His actual body and actual blood, and they will feel sorry for you that you believe in such nonsensical and preposterous things.

But think about it this way. If John says that he wrote these things so that you would believe and so that believing you would have life in His name, well, what is to prevent Jesus from continuing to do amazing things today? If He can step out of the tomb after laying in it lifelessly, He can certainly forgive you of your sins through the simple declaration of it from His called and ordained servant of the Word.

Of all of the miraculous signs Jesus accomplished, all the healings, delivering people from demons, raising people from the dead, perhaps it’s most amazing of all that He gave authority to a bunch of disciples who did not believe He had accomplished what He said He would in rising from the grave. These eleven men who had been cowering in fear were now given a mandate by Jesus to forgive the sins of those who repented and withhold forgiveness from those who would not repent.

When Jesus has done so much by His own hand, why would He now use ordinary men, who doubted just like we do, to forgive the sins of people? The same could be asked of the other things you believe. Why would Jesus, who did so much by His own action, use ordinary water to bring about new life for you? Why would He take simple bread and wine and give to you in and with that bread and wine His very body and blood for your forgiveness?

The answer is faith. He calls upon you to have faith just as He did the disciples. None of them believed. They heard the message from the women who saw His empty tomb. Some of them went themselves to the tomb and saw it empty. They still didn’t believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. As we know well, Thomas wasn’t there on that occasion and he didn’t believe the word of every single other disciple. His demands were strict. I must see. I must touch. I must handle with my own hands.

When Jesus appeared to them again, and thankfully Thomas was there this time, Jesus took Thomas up on his demands. Touch here, Thomas. See Me, feel Me. Do not continue in unbelief but believe. He now saw Jesus and as with all the other disciples he believed. All his demands went out the window. He was no longer intent on examining the wounds of Christ, His pierced hands, the wound in His side. Thomas saw Him, and Jesus exhorted him to believe. It is exactly what Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” He knew the Lord he had doubted was indeed the one who rose from the grave and was therefore his Lord and his God.

So here’s what it means for you to have life in His name. You trust that God gives you everything you need for your ultimate good. The way He does it is through His Son. Eternal life is life in the name of Christ. Jesus is the one who suffered and died and conquered the grave. He invites you to believe even as He did to Thomas. Don’t wonder where your help comes from, it comes from your Lord and God. You are Baptized. He brought you into His death and resurrection in those waters. Don’t fear that you have sinned beyond the pale and fallen so far that there’s no hope, you eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ. If you are taking Him into your being then you have something greater than could ever be if He were standing right in front of you.

When the one God has called preachers to preach the Gospel hear it as if God Himself is speaking to you. When God sends His servant to absolve you of your sins know that it is your Lord Himself forgiving you. The pronouncement of heaven is that you are a citizen of heaven, only here on this earth for a while.

You have life in His name. This means you don’t live to yourself. If you doubt or falter, lay it on Him. He can take it. If you sin, confess your sins to your pastor, you will receive forgiveness. You live in Christ; you know this because you were Baptized into Christ. You are strong even, and especially, in your weakness, because you are strengthened in body and soul by the very body and blood of your Lord and your God. Don’t live in your sins, repent of them. Confess them. Hear the pronouncement of forgiveness and go in the joy of being in Christ.

You have life in His name, you don’t live to yourself. You have compassion on others even as your Lord has compassion on you, even as He had compassion on those disciples who just wouldn’t believe and were afraid. You are ready to forgive others even as you have been forgiven by your Lord. You rejoice in the opportunity to serve others in their need, even as your Lord serves you in your need. You are not your own. You do not simply live and have a pretty good life. You have eternal life. You have life in the name of Christ.

Believe it! It’s true! Amen.