(Significant Scriptures: Revelation 21:1-5 & Romans 12:1-13)
It is great to be back with all of you here at WGLC! Last weekend I was in Edmonton for the Break Forth Conference along with 8 others from WGLC who were learning and serving in various ways at the conference. And it was a great conference! There were wonderful times of worship and great speakers and I was able to renew many old acquaintances, but it is always great to get back home and be here with all of you again!
And as I made that trip between Edmonton and here, I was reminded again of the many striking differences in climate and topography between this part of the world and the prairies. And as beautiful as Edmonton is with its river valley winding through the city, we seem to have an abundance of natural beauty here in this part of the world. There are the mountains and the tall trees and the ocean. And even now in February, there are already fragrances in the air that hint of a soon-approaching spring. The Lower Mainland of BC is, in many ways, like paradise on earth. And the tourism slogans for our fair province promote that idea. This is “Supernatural BC” and “The Best Place on Earth.”
When we think of paradise, we think of a location and the next thought is if only I could get to paradise, then everything would be okay. Then there will be peace and joy and safety in my life. If I could only get to paradise, then I would really be living. Maybe some of us are living in this part of the world for that reason-we want to live in paradise, or as close to paradise as one can get here on earth.
But all is not well in paradise. Gang-related crime has become more violent in recent months. News reports yesterday said that there have been 5 shootings within six days in Metro Vancouver, and one of those 5 shootings happened just 4 blocks west of here on Friday afternoon. Paradise has become Paradise Lost and it is not just because of gang violence. Paradise is also lost in the drug trafficking and the high human cost it extracts from the families it infiltrates. Paradise is also lost in the high cost of living and the huge financial burden it places on families who struggle to pay for a roof over their heads. And these financial burdens have been compounded by the downturn in the economy and the loss of jobs and decrease in business that it brings. And we see Paradise is lost when we look into the faces of the homeless people in our community. No one ever makes it their goal in life to become homeless, but either through circumstances or through bad choices or through some combination of the two, the result is sleeping under a bridge with all of your possessions in a grocery cart. All of us long for paradise, but all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are living in Paradise Lost.
And into this paradise comes Jesus. He always knew the right thing to say and he said it. He always knew the right thing to do and he did it. Throughout his life Jesus healed people and he gave them hope. He taught people and he gave the truth. He loved people and he gave them life.
There was something special about this Jesus. People who had a relationship with him were often changed through that relationship. The impetuous Peter became the rock, the go-to guy in the leadership of the early church. John, who was first known as a Son of Thunder became the Apostle of Love. Saul, the zealous Pharisee and persecutor of Christians became Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. And Jesus is still in the business of changing lives today.
For many years, my Grandma was very reluctant to talk about death. When my Grandpa died 33 years ago, she was never able to talk about his death in a peaceful way. And as her own life began drawing to a close, Grandma was not able to talk about her own death either. Last Thanksgiving, she went to church with her son, my uncle, Grant. The topic of the sermon on this particular day in that church was “If you were to die today, would you have 100% certainty that you would go to heaven.” And no, Pastor Karl was not preaching in that church on that Sunday. Later in the service, there was an altar call. And Grandma leaned over to my Uncle Grant and said, “Get ready, Grant, I’m going up.” My Grandma knew about Jesus before, but Jesus did something special in my Grandma’s heart that day. From then on, she was able to talk about death, even her own death, and have a sense of peace about it. She knew where she was going. She knew Jesus was with her. And that made all the difference in the world to her.
Two days ago, my Grandma drew her last breath on this earth and passed from this world to the next. And I am reminded once again, as I grieve for her, that all is not as it should be in this world. Grandmas aren’t supposed to die. That was never part of God’s plan from the beginning. But I am also reminded once again that Jesus gives us far more than what our own ideas of paradise can ever give. You see, Paradise is not found in a particular place, Paradise is found in a person, and that person is Jesus.
You see, Jesus live a perfect human life for us, and then he willingly went to the cross and died a sinner’s death for us. And three days later, something amazing happened-Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive and he is with us here today. And he invites you into a relationship with him. He invites you to trust him with your whole life. He wants to come and live in your heart and give you the forgiveness, the peace, the joy and the life that only Jesus can bring. His desire is to come into your life and turn around your own personal paradise lost.
With Jesus, you have a God who loves you. With Jesus, you have forgiveness for all your sins and everlasting life and nothing can take that away from you. Gangland violence, the local drug trade or the high cost of living or the downtown in the economy, none of these things can take Jesus and his promises away from you. With Jesus you already have paradise in part right now through your relationship with him. But later on, you will also experience paradise in all of its fullness. For, one day, Jesus is going to come back to this world in a visible way to change Paradise Lost into Paradise Restored. He will raise all of us from the dead, we will see him face to face and we will live with him forever in the new heaven and earth. Revelation 21 describes that day this way, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
You are a person of Paradise right now because of Jesus. And you have an opportunity in this lost and broken world to choose how you will live. You could live in fear like everyone else and thereby amplify the fear that already exists in our society. But I challenge you to live according to a higher calling. As Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (cf. Romans 21:1) Paul goes on to encourage his readers to diligently use the gifts that God has given them to expand the domain over which God rules. And then Paul says these words of encouragement to you, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)
Right now, our region needs people who will live with courage and strive for what is good and beautiful and true. And with Jesus, you can be that person. You can have courage when all others are losing theirs. You can have peace when everyone else is in turmoil. You can have joy when everyone else is grieving the loss of their own personal paradise. And as people notice the difference in your life, they might ask you, “Why are you not worried about all these terrible things that are happening around us?” And when that happens, you will get to tell them about Jesus. And maybe, as we work together in the confidence that Jesus gives us in the power of his Holy Spirit, we can make the world a better place. Amen.
(Preached at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church 8 Feb 2009)