Location, Location, Location

 

In real estate they say: location, location, location.

Sarah and I kept that in mind last week as we strapped the kids into their car seats and drove out to look at a house on Mountainbrook Drive.

We had seen pictures of the house online and they looked great…

But when arrived there, we found the house to be more beautiful than we had expected.

It had four bedrooms

I liked the location because it was close to church

(not as close as our current arrangement, but close)

I even liked the name…”mountainbrook” sounded natural and earthy

and like the kind of name you’d like to see on your mail.

Walking through the house… it felt like home.

The yard was small but we decided we could live with that.

When we walked the property, though, we discovered there were a series of yellow poles running along the back fence. Markers, which were emblazoned with the words: Plantation Pipeline Natural Gas.

Just to be safe, I spent literally an entire day on the phone trying to find out the story of what these poles would mean for the owner of that house.

In the end, the story was that those yellow markers represented a 30-foot    easement…in a really small backyard.

We loved the house, so we decided that could be okay.

But after we slept on it… we felt that, for us, it was a deal-breaker.

The best I understood it then, and the best I understand it now: Plantation Pipeline owns those 30 feet…and they can do ANYTHING they want with it, without asking your opinion.

They could come in and build a waterpark!

But they could come in and put a landfill!

As Sarah tells me, neither of these things is likely. The worse-case scenario is probably that they would just come and cut down any tree you tried to plant, but ultimately we felt we had to pass on the house.

Location, location, location…

That’s what they say, when you’re looking for a home…and we…all of us and all of humankind, are all in need of a home.

We need shelter from the storms of life.

We need a community in which to be our true self.

We all need a place of belonging, where we have a seat at the table.

Truly, our hearts are restless until we find rest in God.

And we have no home until we find our home in God.

How good then, to know: the Architect of the Cosmos designs a home just for us.

Hear the Revelation of Jesus Christ again and see the vision it describes…John writes:

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of    heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:”

“See, the home of God is among mortals”

God’s home is among you and me….Living with us, dwelling with us.

God prepares a home for us and invites us to come in

and set our boxes down and unpack our suitcases,

to rest from our travels and make ourselves at home in his embrace

where there will be no more tears, or death, or mourning, or pain.

This vision of a new home with God, free from sadness and suffering would’ve been an astonishing message of hope for the first recipients of the Revelation.

John received and wrote down this vision and sent it to the Christian churches sometime just before the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian in the year 96. He was writing to people who lived in true fear of the consequences of their faith in Christ.

At that time, in Rome and the surrounding areas, there was daily pressure to compromise and worship the emperor and to bow down to Empire.

In fact, John himself was writing from exile on the island of Patmos, having been sent away because of his faith.

And John tells us in his letter of the slaughtering of some for witnessing to the Word of God.

This astonishing message of hope comes in the form of a vivid vision of the cosmic battle between God and the forces of death, grief, and suffering in the world, and the emotional and spiritual climax of the vision is the picture John paints of a new heaven and a new earth.

You see, we might hope and even expect to hear God will create a new earth.

We are reminded earth needs re-creating every time we hear of another suicide bombing or militant attack; when we remember the violence and the failing schools in our own city; when we experience heartbreak in our own lives…

but God, surprisingly, even creates a new heaven!

Just as God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth and it was GOOD.

So God will RE-create the earth and the heavens…and the end of all things will be GOOD….

And this vision is given TO US (and to all those living in the time between that good beginning…and that good ending…) in order to reassure us:

That living under daily pressure to bow down to the gods of this world… will   come to an end.

That Christians who are persecuted for their faith… will be vindicated.

That for all of us who may feel, at times, like we want to give up on ourselves, or the world, or who feel that the stresses and pressures of life are too much….God will make all things new!

And listen to this:

coming down out of heaven to be the center of the earth is a New City–

a holy city for us to live together in…

And the MLS listing for this city describes its desirability:

Location, location, location!

It is located IN GOD.

God says: forget about looking to get into a good school district, because EVERYTHING will be good!

A new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem, a new home…God will make all things new…

This vision is not a “pie in the sky” vision, not a pipedream, not like some mad hope that someone will build a waterpark in the easement of your backyard…

This vision of God making all things new is already happening.

In the cross, the Good End which is to come, is breaking into the world now…we already see God’s unlimited love…

In Christ crucified, God is already making all things new.

We announce this when we sing the words of the Hymn of Praise:

“Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain

whose blood set us free to be people of God.

This is the feast of victory for our God.

Power, riches, wisdom, strength, and honor blessing and glory are his.”

Singing these words, which come straight from the fifth chapter of Revelation, allow us enter the song of praise around the very throne of God with all the company of heaven.

We proclaim that heaven is coming to earth and God is making all things even now, when we live together and share life in this Community of Love.  Here, in this place, its okay to be yourself…and to be the person God has made you…as we try to live out Christ’s command to love one another as he has loved us.

As much as Sarah and I, or any of us, ever wants to find the perfect house – to find a place where we can make memories, and share special moments, and show hospitality to friends and visitors… in the end, our search for the right house isn’t such a good illustration of God’s ultimate plans for us.

When God describes the NEW HOME he will create for us, he doesn’t give us a vision of a house…but of a city.

In a city, you see, people live together as a community, dependent on one another.  There is an economy in which all have something to offer and all have need of one another. There is a mutuality in which everyone contributes for the welfare of all.

Thanks be to God that he prepares a new home for us…and thanks be to God that even now, God is our home…

– sheltering us, protecting us, gathering us as a family, and granting us the hospitality to welcome other fellow travelers.

(…a city whose foundation is laid in love, whose governance is kindness, and whose boundaries are open to all…)

God is our home and he is a home, sweet home.

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Witness with Joy

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. And if you’d like to see a picture of Thomas, who says he is going to need proof before he believes…who is caught somewhere between doubt and faith…you need look no further than the nearest mirror.

Because we are people that come in and out of faith, and who sometimes feel closer, and sometimes feel more distant to God.

We have heard that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is raised from the dead, that death has lost its sting; and so we will all rise again at the Last Day.…But is there a part of us that still has doubts?

Because, like Thomas, who didn’t see the risen Lord when he first appeared, we are asked to believe and trust in someone we haven’t seen for ourselves.

I can remind you of all the signs God has given to reassure us of his love for us: Look to the font and see a sign God claims us as his own…to the table and see a sign God gathers us for his supper, hear the scriptures and know God speaks to us, look to the cross and see: God literally has open arms… for you, all people, and the whole creation.…But is there a part of us that still has doubt?

I can say to you: brothers and sisters: God comes to us in our neighbor!  Today, we shared the peace with one another… and in the same way the risen Christ stepped through the closed doors of the disciple’s Jerusalem hide-out to touch them and give them the peace of God….So the risen Christ steps into our very lives through our neighbor…and the risen Christ touches our very hands when our neighbor reaches out in living flesh –and touches us and says, “Peace be with YOU!”…But is there a part of us that still has doubt?

I can suggest to you that there are signs of God’s new life in the world: There is a child who was born weighing one pound, who doctors and hospital staff nursed to health, so that, now three years old, she can be seen running through these very halls down to song time before Sunday school to sing to God…

And there is a dear member among us who has been given a donor’s baby marrow cells, which are miraculously growing into mature cells, sustaining his body, and giving us hope of a long, healthy life…

But when I have to meet a couple from our community who reached out to us at the death of their two year old, requesting a pastor to be with them as they said goodbye to their son at a funeral home in town, and we touched his flesh and asked God for strength to meet the days ahead and to help us believe that the resurrection promise is true – that these grieving parents will see their beloved son again and that God will wipe away all tears and give new life as he has promised.  There is a part of me that doubts…

I have heard the story of God’s new life to be true…and I want it to be true…I can even say I know it to be true…but the grief is so real….and the death is so real…it can be hard to see or believe anything else.

In our relationship with God, there are times a part of us that doubts that the Lord’s resurrection has really changed the world.  Because people we love fight cancer, because there are new reports of terrorism every week, and the violence even comes to our own doorstep…

But thanks be to God, our relationship with God does not rest on our faith or doubt, our conviction or questions, or whether we feel close or far from God.

Our relationship with God rests on Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow – the one who was and is, and is to come…And HE believes in US and HE trusts US.

He asks us to BE WITNESSES for him…and seems to have no back up plan should we fail. The only thing witnessing to God’s new life in Jesus Christ is the church: a people filled with the Holy Spirit.

Those disciples locked in a room for fear of their lives, rejoice when they see the Lord, and he breathes the Spirit on them, and says, as the Father sent me, so I send you.

Jesus doesn’t just ask them to believe. He asks them to be witnesses!

Their believing is tied up with their witnessing.  Their confession of faith is connected to being sent out to tell the story.  The two things really can’t be separated.

Our new mission statement: Walk the Journey, Worship the Christ, Witness with Joy, gives voice to who we feel God has called us to be.

You can see the image we have chosen for a logo on the back of your bulletin.

It’s very easy to see, the Epiphany Star is a cross which shines in the darkness – giving witness to God’s new life in the midst of death and suffering of this world.

This is who we believe God has called us to be.

We are sure: That OUR believing is tied up with our witnessing.  And that OUR faith is connected to being sent out to tell the story.

And the only way we can tell the story is by the work of the Spirit in us.

If it wasn’t for the Spirit being breathed on the disciples, they would STILL be behind locked doors in Jerusalem!

And then we hear Peter, who has been arrested for testifying to Jesus and is facing the possibility of execution, say in response to the authorities,

“We must obey God rather than human authority because the God of our ancestors raised up Jesus whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree, but God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

And we are witnesses to these things, AND SO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN TO THOSE WHO OBEY HIM.”

Peter and the rest are doing what they are, because the Holy Spirit is at work with them…

In Greek, the language of the NT, “pneuma” is the word for Spirit and it can also mean, “wind” or “breath.”

This week at our house, we opened the windows for the first time this year.  We had the windows open in every room and as the breeze came into the house you could feel new life stir.

It was delightful.

It was like we were in a whole new house…no longer enclosed, but one with the rest of the world…

The Spirit of Christ blows through our lives,

renewing our faith

and making all things new.

And so we do not work alone…we work in partnership with the Spirit of God, who will use us, even if we have doubts!

We can learn from Thomas, from Peter, and all the rest – all of whom stumbled and struggled in their attempts to follow Jesus and give witness to his power in their life.

For each of them, and for us: our witness does not rest on how articulate or how smart or how gifted we are. Our witness rests on the Spirit that gives witness in us and through us.

So look in the mirror and see a portrait of Thomas, and see that we can make our witness, just as he did.

Thomas, when he has seen the risen Christ, exclaims: “my Lord and my God!”  The greatest, clearest confession of faith on the lips of anyone in any of the gospels!

And now Thomas, with the rest of the disciples, goes out to tell what he has seen.

We are able to give our witness…when we doubt, when we believe, and when we are somewhere in between.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and you, Epiphany Lutheran Church, are a picture of what it looks like when God believes and trusts in you to be his witnesses in the world.