Heaven on Earth: Benediction
Numbers 6:22-27 / Acts 8:1-8 / Mark 16:14-20
November 10 and 11, 2018
Sixth in a Series of Sermons
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to Aaron and his sons saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my Name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.
Dear Christian Friends,
Going back 8 weeks into warm September, we have offered two stages of our Annual theme, HEROES, HEaven Reaching Out through Every Saint. In stage 1 we walked through parts of the book of Daniel to see how Heaven has been reaching out through Daniel and his friends, in their exile, in a time and a place when their faith looks very different from the culture around them.
And today, we are finishing Stage 2, a six- part sermon series where we have been asking, “How does heaven reach out to us? How does heaven break in tour lives? And the answer has been that it breaks into our lives in the Divine Service, in this pattern and order of liturgy that we do week after week, year after year. The words we say and the actions we take here are important; they are to be a pattern that orders our actions on every other day. I direct your attention to the sanctuary screen as we focus on the final words of our Divine Service, the Benediction.
One question today – how does the Benediction shape us to go back into the world as the “loved and sent” people of God? Two answers we glean from selected lessons for today. Our first reading is the Aaronic benediction itself, recorded by Moses in the Book of Numbers, the second is a little snapshot of the first century and much loved people of God being scattered out of Jerusalem, suffering great persecution, and the third reading is Jesus giving final instructions to his much loved first disciples who were to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation.
If it is true that there are no atheists in foxholes, then 4 million American solders were sent away from the comforts of home into the military with God’s peace. We don’t really know how many soldiers enjoyed the peace of God that only Jesus Christ can give, but we do know that over 116,000 of our soldiers died in WWI due to all causes, mainly combat and much illness including a deadly influenza outbreak.
Today we think about what it looks like when God’s people are gathered into His sanctuary to receive this peace of God which surpasses all human understanding and then are sent scattered out into the world to give away what they have again and again received. The benediction isn’t just a pray for good times, it’s not just a wish that life goes well, it is the very word of the Triune God conveying what they say.
First of all, the peace that only Jesus can give is A wholeness that rejoices in the sign of the (holy cross) In today’s first lesson, God commanded Moses to speak in no uncertain terms to his brother Aaron and sons. They were to put the name of the one true God on their hearts and minds and souls. These people were to know again and again that God was watching over and keeping them safe, they were to know again and again that God’s face was shining upon them and their sins were forgiven, they were to live their lives knowing again and again that as a grandpa’s face lights up whenever a grandchild says I’m sorry, so does God’s face light up every time his children repent of their sins. The peace of God isn’t just an absence of war, it’s not just an armistice signed in ink, it’s a prophecy fulfilled signed with the very blood of Jesus Christ. The peace of God is first of all a wholeness that rejoices in the simple fact that the sign of the cross has been placed both on our forehead and on our hearts in Baptism.
Second, the peace that only Jesus can give is A fulness that endures (days of trouble). In the first century early Christians saw on the one hand Jesus getting crucified and Stephen getting stoned to death, but on the other hand they believed in the resurrection of the dead, and so they could endure. On the one hand they heard reports of Saul and the other Pharisees dragging church members into prison, but on the other hand they believed the truths that set them free, and so they could endure. On the one hand, they saw fierce and increasing persecution, but on the other hand they saw Philip driving out demons and healing the paralyzed, the preachers were preaching and the Spirit of God was moving and so they were doing more than surviving, Luke records there was much joy in that city.
Third, God’s peace is A calmness that keeps on going even when (frightened). After all these disciples had been through with Jesus, imagine them giving them final instructions before he ascends into heaven. Imagine Jesus looking them in the eyes and inviting, “Believe in me, dear friends and salvation is yours. Believe in me, and your sins are forgiven. Believe in me, and you’ll be able to cast out demons and speak in tongues. Believe in me, and you’ll be able to pick up serpents with your hands and drink deadly poison and not be harmed (at which point I would have been thinking “no thanks, I’m out of here!” Believe in me and as you go out and about, near and far proclaiming the Good News, be still, stay calm, and know that God is God, I am with you and will never be far away.
Which brings us to our final reminder of what it means to be loved and sent, loved and sent. First, we are sent with God’s peace, a peace that surpasses human circumstances, and Second, we are sent with (God’s purposes) It seems as though there two basic approaches to life, we can live for ourselves or we can live for a cause greater than ourselves.
President Obama spoke about service to country in this way, “It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role that yo7u’ll play in writing the next great chapter in the American story.” John McCain, who knew something about war and sacrifice as a prisoner of war, “Sacrifice for a cause greater than self interest, and you will be investing your life with the eminence of that cause. Of course John F Kennedy urged Americans to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
Jesus would look us in the eyes today and say don’t just be contented to be receiving grace and mercy and peace into your souls, be asking yourself how you can hitch your wagon to a cause so much bigger than yourself, be asking yourself how you can be going into the world and proclaiming the Gospel to the whole creation, be asking yourself how you can get more and more of this forgiveness of sins and more of the peace only God can give and then how can this grace and mercy and peace be bubbling over into the lives of others?
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where more and more of God’s people have desire, they have joy, and they have confidence. And not just a little bit of desire, joy, and confidence. No, they have great desire, they have contagious joy, and they have life changing confidence.
First, they have great desire to forgive as they were first (forgiven). The kingdom of God is like married couple who is gathered into God’s house Sunday after Sunday, and just before they leave, the Benediction is like music to their souls. They go home determined to let bygones be bygones, they are passionate about apologizing, they enjoy one new beginning after another.
Second, they have a contagious joy that looks towards the (future). The kingdom of God is like a young mom again and again is gathered into God’s house, and just before she leaves, the Benediction is like music to her ears. Every night she tucks her kids into bed with a prayer that God’s angels would be watching over her children, even though her days are hectic and her duties are draining and her challenges are many, she always seems to have a quiet kind of happiness, has figured out what it means to live a day at a time, what it means to do what she can and then trust that God will be working things out all the way into paradise.
Third, they have A life changing confidence in a cause much bigger than (ourselves). The kingdom of God is like church leaders who again and again are gathered into the sanctuary, and just before they leave, the Benediction is like music to their souls. They realize that money spent on Christian education of children is money well spent. They know that every time the waters of Baptism splash, every time God’s Word is preached and taught and listened to, every time Holy Communion is received, the Spirit of God is moving and He is active and they believe with all of their hearts that as often as the Spirit of God is moving and active, that often a cause much bigger than themselves is advancing.
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