Nov
28

What’s Going to Happen Now?

Nov. 25/12, Last Sunday of the Church Year, Book of the Prophet Isaiah 51:4-6,  Riverbend Lutheran Church, Edmonton, AB.

 

AUDIO VERSION: http://www.riverbendlutheran.com/sermons.php

 

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

Today is the last day of the Church year. This week our readings follow a theme that the appointed readings of the Church have been following for a few weeks now, that of the End.

My grandmother was the first of my grandparents to die. She was my step-father’s mother, so I remember the first time I met her. My mother had told me that my new grandparents were “from the olden times” and so I remember fully expecting them to be in black and white like the movies on TV from the olden times. Much to my childish disappointment, they were live and in Technicolor. I remember my grandmother being a very tough woman; it took her years to warm up to the idea of my brother and me as new grandchildren. I remember that when she finally did, she was as warm and caring as anyone.

I remember when I got the phone call that she was dying, I had just moved to Edmonton with Vanessa and entered classes at Concordia to begin my studies towards a Bachelor’s degree and eventually Seminary. To my parents, that was enough to warrant me coming to grandma’s bedside and “Do that Jesus stuff.”

I remember being terrified, and clutching my Bible, not knowing what I would use it for, but I figured that I should have one. I remember trying to talk my family into calling a Pastor in, I even offered to do it for them, but eventually, against my objections, I was ushered into the hospital room where she lay in pain, dying. I looked at the concordance at the back of my Bible and tried to find an appropriate passage; I stumbled through some painfully awkward readings, and came back each afternoon for a few days to do it all over again, as her condition deteriorated.

On the last day of her life, she was literally writhing in agony, and could hardly communicate except to wince and moan, so I just prayed for her and read awkwardly out of the Bible some more. Then she suddenly stopped writhing, looked at me with eyes full of pain and fear with my family all standing around us and said, “What’s going to happen now?”

Our text for today is our Old Testament reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

You know, I have spent years studying theology, I have read literally hundreds of books on the topic, been blessed with learning under brilliant Professors, even once took an entire Seminary course on this book of the Bible, taught by a Professor who is a member of this very congregation. I could maybe spend some time here waxing eloquent about when this book was most likely written (8th Century BC), about the fact that some scholars believe that more than one author helped to write it, how it impacts our understanding of the various prophecies about the coming of Jesus, or even tell you about how various theologians throughout history have understood the book, from the Early Church Fathers, to Luther himself, to modern academics.

But you know what? In that moment, when faced with my grandmother’s question, I’m not sure any of it would have helped. For sure this education that I am receiving is critical in understanding the Bible, and it is in His Word that we find answers to the questions that we have, and I wish back then that I had had more of an understanding of His Holy Scriptures, but…what do you say? When a loved one is nearing the End? When you are? When they have gone?

Our text starts with, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” The Hebrew translated here as “law” is torah which can mean several things, like law, but also includes the meaning of “teaching.” Here God is promising us something amazing, something gracious.

Here He is telling us to listen up, to “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation” because His teachings are going to be given to the world, and it is within those teaching we learn of His “justice.” His teachings are contained in the Holy Bible, which is why we Lutherans demand such a rigorous education of our Pastors. It is not so that they can know a whole lot of scholarly stuff, it is so that they can prepare to guide us through incredibly difficult times with the only source of real Truth that we Christians have, God’s Word.

Our text then continues, “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.”

In these ancient words that are given us our Holy and Most Gracious Father in Heaven speaks to us in all of our desperate times and places, in all of our needs, in all of the moments where we don’t understand and we desperately look around for any sign of Him. To those who are facing an end, to those whose loved ones are facing an end, to those who fear that inevitable enemy, death, He says, “My righteousness draws near.” To those who fear, to those mourn, to those who suffer, and to those who cannot deal with what they are going through for one more second he says, “my salvation has gone out…the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait

Isaiah continues, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be for ever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

Beautiful. This is the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, our Lord. This is the hope that we were baptised into. This is the hope that we receive orally when we eat His body and His blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. This is the hope that we have when Pastor Van Maanen proclaims to us the forgiveness of Christ when we confess our sins at the beginning of each service. It is all here, in a scroll penned by a Prophet who was dead for almost eight centuries before Jesus was even born.

We know that Jesus read and even preached in the synagogue from the Book of Isaiah, and we know that people throughout the ages have read and re-read these words and gained comfort from them. Close to three thousand years, give or take a century or two, these words have rung out to God’s own people and been preserved by His mighty power so that today, in Edmonton, Alberta, each one of you could hear them read and know.

You will know that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” He is the source of the Promise made to you in your Baptism, and He won your freedom and salvation through His sacrifice on the cross.

This last passage of our text tells us to look around, look at everything we find so permanent, at the very Earth we stand on and the very heavens and the celestial bodies therein, at the sun, at the moon, at the very stars themselves, and know. Know that every single thing that you see can pass away. Nothing is so permanent as the Promises of God.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner, reads our text. Everything we know will pass away eventually, even ourselves. We will die and through the passage of history be forgotten. Death, the End, is inevitable, but the last part of this passage sums up our hope: “but my salvation will be for ever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

On the last day of her life, she was literally writhing in agony, and could hardly communicate except to wince and moan, so I just prayed for her and read awkwardly out of the Bible some more. Then she suddenly stopped writhing, looked at me with eyes full of pain and fear with my family all standing around us and said, “What’s going to happen now?”

What did I say? What could I say? The only thing I knew for sure at that moment, and I am not certain if it was the right thing or the best thing to say, but the only hope that I had to give her was what I uttered.

With my family standing around awkwardly looking at their shoes, I paused, and simply said, “Grandma, you’re going to be with Jesus soon. It’s OK.” She slowly lay back down and seemed to calm a bit, and just stared up at the ceiling. I asked if she wanted to pray, she said yes, and so I began the Lord’s Prayer, with my family joining in – the only time in my memory that has ever happened – and she was gone by next morning.

The same hope I expressed is far more beautifully put in God’s Holy Word, again, “but my salvation will be for ever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.”

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen.

 

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