SCRIPTURES – Acts 11:1-18; Rev. 21:1-7; John 16:12-22; Psalm 98
Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Ps. 98:1
We live in a world of change. Right now the changes that come with Spring are very evident, as flowers and flowering trees and shrubs are bursting forth with their beauty. Then, there are the constant changes that inventors bring, especially in the fields of technology and medicine. Things are changing all the time!
Well, we in the Church are not left behind. The Church, too, is a place which not only sees but which celebrates change! Oh, I know that this may not be very apparent. Sometimes it seems like it takes a Voters meeting to change a light bulb! But, just look at the great change that is spoken of in our reading from Acts 11. The Church changes from welcoming only Jewish believers to welcoming Gentiles, also. That was such a huge change that it took a vision, a visit from an angel, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to make it acceptable to Peter and the other apostles. Because of that event we now have in our own congregation people from many different ethnic backgrounds, from Asian to Scandinavian to central European to African to South American to North American Indian. We have also changed from emphasizing circumcision and the sacrifice of animals to baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These changes are huge! One of the most important changes is this:
CHRIST CHANGES OUR LIVES!
How so? The very fact that we wonder and ask this shows that we need to change our focus. What kind of changes do we desire? They are often external:
- A job or career change;
- A change of weight;
- A change from being dependent to being independent;
- A change from depression and sadness to happiness;
- A change of worship, to make it more interesting and exciting.
When I say that such things are external, what I mean is that we often think that if things outside of us will change we’ll then feel better inside, be happier and more enthusiastic. This is not, however, how God normally works. He uses hardships and sorrows to teach us and mold us and lead us to find within, in a faith that is not influenced by circumstances, joy that is true and lasting.
This doesn’t mean that God is unconcerned about what is going on in this world and makes no changes to it. Far from it! We worship a Savior who joined Himself to us and our world by becoming a man and dwelling among us. He bore for us our sins and the sorrows they threaten and bring, but He is now risen from the dead and free from them. There could be no greater change than that!
Christ died and rose to live and rule over our sins and sorrows forevermore. “His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him,” and because of this we look forward to a day of great change, when there will be a new heaven and a new earth and everything will be far better. On that day, our reading from Revelation 21 tells us, “God will dwell with men, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” What a day that will be! We will be made new – with new and perfectly healthy bodies, and new minds and hearts that will be filled with nothing but love for God and for one another – and the world itself will also be made new. The beauty we see now will not begin to compare with the new heavens and earth! Oh, what marvelous things we have to look forward to in Christ!
While you wait for and long for that great and glorious change, have in your heart and mind, and in your prayers, the words that we prayed earlier: “Grant that we may love what You have commanded and desire what You promise, that among the many changes of this world our hearts may be fixed where true joys are found.” The true joys are the joys that God gives in His word of salvation in Christ. They last, and no one and nothing can take them away. They are the joys that are not dependent upon situations and circumstances, but which fill us in spite of them.
The most joyful people I have known had such joy, a joy that was utterly independent of their circumstances.
- Roberta Rall, who even in the last weeks of her life and while in pain from her disease laughed and laughed with me as we shared the jokes from the joke show of Prairie Home Companion.
- Rick Suggitt, a seminary classmate of mine, who, while dying of cancer, told his wife: “Hey, don’t mess with that electrical outlet. Let me do it. I’m already dead!”
- Michael MacDonald from STAR. Even while dealing with much pain in his last days, he smiled often and was happy simply in being in his home and his bed. When I visited, he greeted me enthusiastically with, “Pastor!” and would always end with, “I see you Sunday.” God’s house was where he wanted to be.
The most joyful person of all was Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
When you focus upon difficult circumstances and events and what you don’t have or like, they fill your heart with things like anger and fear and worry and disappointment. When you focus upon the things you don’t like in others – and there are many unlikable things in all of us, some that are actual sins and others that are simply irritating mannerisms or matters of appearance and dress – then you not only lose your joy; you lose your love for them, and this angers God, for He makes no distinctions but is the Creator and Savior of all people and gives His Holy Spirit to every person who trusts in Jesus. Remember, when you see a fellow Christian you see the face of God! You also see one who will be with you forever in heaven.
Rejoice in God’s goodness and mercy in Christ – especially to you! He has forgiven every one of your many, many sins, and will continue to do so as you desire and seek His forgiveness in His Word and Sacraments. By them He will also bless you with His Holy Spirit and fill your heart and mind with His joy. Because you are Christ’s, you can look at all the beauty of spring and know that it doesn’t just happen. God makes it for you to enjoy! Because you are Christ’s, you can live with weaknesses and illnesses and all kinds of afflictions and know that His Holy Spirit lives within you to help you endure them, and also know that He will one day remove them completely and make you whole and perfectly healthy!
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” He has worked His salvation for us and in us, and in Christ we are God’s children forever!