Sermon for August 7, 2011

VBS Theme Week (8th Sunday after Pentecost)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

August 7, 2011

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This week in our Vacation Bible School we went on a Big Jungle Adventure, a Faith Journey with Jesus.  As has become my custom on the Sunday after VBS week, I will share with you what God’s Word in the Bible taught us this week since we are all in a faith journey with Jesus through life.  And sometimes, life can be a lot like a jungle.

Our Big Jungle Adventure stated along the banks of the Nile River in Egypt.  There among the reeds was a small papyrus basket.  Inside was a crying Hebrew baby boy.  His mother had made this basket to save her baby boy from Pharaoh’s command, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but let every daughter live.”  The Hebrew population had grown very large and the Egyptians feared a slave-uprising.  So this Hebrew boy was cast into the Nile, in a basket, that his life should be spared from drowning.  And God protected Him.

Anything could have happened to that little basket-boat.  But God allowed it to be found among the reeds by Pharaoh’s daughter.  God allowed this baby boy to grow up in Pharaoh’s house as a member of his family.  Of course, the baby rescued from the Nile was named Moses, whose name means “rescued from the water.”  Moses would be the one to lead all of God’s people when the Lord rescued them through the waters of the Red Sea.

Just as Moses’ mother hid him in the reeds, the Ugandan Kob, a small deer, uses the reeds for cover when sensing danger.  When you and I face trouble, it’s not reeds along the river bank that provide protection for us, but our Savior, Jesus.  As God sent Moses to rescue His people from Egypt, so He has sent His Son to rescue His people from sin and death, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  God takes care of us through Jesus our Savior.  He’s given you everything you need, most importantly, His Son Jesus.  We don’t have to be afraid and hide in the reeds because Jesus has taken away our sin and made us children of God.

After escaping from Pharaoh by God’s mighty hand, the people of Israel suddenly found themselves being chased by Pharaoh and his army.  The people of Israel were quickly running out of real estate.  The Red Sea was in front of them and their enemy was behind them.  In fear and terror, rather than in faithful trust, the Israelites cried out to God.  Putting ourselves in their place, we can understand their dilemma: a huge sea on one side and a charging army on the other.  They had no place to go.  Fear can often lead us to lose sight of God and loosen our faith in His power.  Yet, the Word of the Lord endures forever.

In rescuing His people, God calls on both Moses and His people to participate in His deliverance.  God tells the people to get moving toward the sea, even though it has not yet parted.  He tells Moses to raise his staff and stretch out his hand.  As both the people and Moses respond to God’s command, the waters part and the people pass through the sea, as one of our Easter hymns puts it, “with unmoistened foot.” (LSB 487)  Then, when God gave the command, Moses stretched his hand and the sea returned to its place, destroying the enemies of the Israelites.

We have enemies, too, and none of them worse than sin, death, and Satan himself.  There is no lack of sin and trouble.  Because of sin, death is always nearby.  And Satan is always pursuing us.  His lying and murdering will let us have no peace, within or without.  He’s prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us—to chew us up and spit us out.  But the same God who love the Israelites and rescued them from their enemies loves you today and gave His Son, Jesus, to rescue you from your enemies: sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus rescued us from sin when, on the cross, He took our guilt and punishment upon Himself and paid the penalty for them with His death.  Jesus rescued us from death itself through His suffering and death on the cross and His victorious resurrection from the dead.  He now gives us eternal life so that we need not fear death.  And through His cross and resurrection, Jesus has completely conquered Saran.  The devil can no longer accuse us of our sins; we are forgiven by the precious blood of Jesus!  Because of Jesus, we don’t have to worry or be afraid of our enemies: sin, Satan, and death.  Through His holy cross and resurrection from the dead, Christ has already rescued us from them all!

So what does it mean for us to be cared for and rescued children of God through Jesus Christ?  In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)  Jesus doesn’t say, “You will be the light of the world when this or that happens.”  He doesn’t say, “You can be the light of the world if you do this or that.”  Nor does Jesus say, “ You ought to be the light of the world.”  He says, “YOU ARE!”

Jesus makes an identity statement.  To be a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, is to be light for others.  Jesus makes us light and the light has a purpose: “to shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  This is our identity, and it is also our calling, our vocation, as Christian men, women, boys, and girls.  Through Jesus, we are light to be light.  But we are not light on our own.  We reflect the light of Christ’s glory since He is the one true Light.  Jesus is the light of our lives that we share with others!

In His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ destroyed the darkness of sin and death.  He replaced it with the light of hope and promises for anyone who will receive Him in faith.  Jesus shares His Word to give us not only a new identity and a new calling, but the ability to live as light to the world for God’s glory.  Being and sharing the light means that we are living extraordinary lives because of the power of God’s Word working in and through us by the Holy Spirit.  We can tell anyone and everyone that Jesus loves them and forgives them!

Our Big Jungle Adventure faith journey with Jesus then took us to a grave.  But this grave was different from any other grave in the world—it was empty.  Jesus had been crucified.  He had died on the cross to take away the sin of the world.  The Roman soldier pierced His side to make sure that Jesus was really dead.  He was; blood and water came out.  Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified, dead, and buried.  But then came the third day, a Sunday morning.  Jesus rose again from the dead.  He is alive.  Our sins are truly forgiven and we will live again because we, like Jesus, will rise from the dead on the Last Day.  This is the joyful message that we get to share with our family and friends.  “Christ is arisen, alleluia!  Jesus is living, alleluia!”

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven.  He promised in John 14 that He was going to prepare a place for us.  And so our last stop on our faith journey this past week was a picture of what our last stop on life’s faith journey will be for all who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior—heaven.

In Revelation 21 and 22, God’s angel revealed to St. John the New Jerusalem.  In those verses John is trying to put into words what heaven looked like as it was being shown to him by the Holy Spirit.  Listen to some of what John wrote, “. . . its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed . . . . And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.  . . .  The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. . . . And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.  And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:10ff.)

It would be easy to get lost in the picture language of Revelation.  But a simple interpretation of this scene would go like this.  The holy city Jerusalem stands in for God’s people, the Church.  The twelve gates stand in for the Old Testament people of God and the twelve foundations for the New Testament people of God.  This covers all of God’s people from all time.  The wall stands in for God’s strength and protection of His people.  The beautiful gems stand in for the glory of God reflected in His people, the brilliant light illuminating the city is the presence of God Himself in Jesus Christ.  This wonderful, amazing, take-your-breath-away scene is intended to help us picture one central truth: God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will be the fulfillment of every hope, beyond our greatest expectations.  Eternal life in God’s new heaven and new earth will be a place of His protection, lighted by His presence, a place where there is no fear and no sin.  It is where you and I will live face-to-face with God forever.  Through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the grace, Jesus our Savior, prepares our heavenly home—a dwelling place in the presence of God so brilliant that we are left speechless.

And that is where our faith journey with Jesus through the jungle of life will end.  But until that great day when we are forever with the Lord, we are confident in our God and Savior who cares for us.  He is the One who rescued us from all our enemies.  He has given us His Light to share with others so that they too will join with us in the heavenly home Jesus has prepared for us. Amen

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