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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 4, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 11:32-44
All Saints Sunday

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: November 4, 2018 – All Saints Sunday

Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6; John 11:32-44


On Our Way Home


            Think for a moment about the stories your family tells. About your national heritage. About your grandparents or great-grandparents. About your own origin and place in your family story. Families, like every culture on the face of the earth, love stories of origin. We love stories that tell us who we are and how we got to where we are. In every story of origin, there are larger-than-life characters; heroes and anti-heroes; moments of great joy and terrible sadness. In my own family, my great-grandfathers Merle and Scott both come off as larger-than-life characters – in the facts we know about their lives and in the stories that have been told about them. There are the heroes: the fathers and mothers that guided their families through terrible economic hardships or that put their lives on the line serving their country in war. There are the anti-heroes, or the villains: the abusive step-parent or the ‘dark side’ of an otherwise beloved family member. And then there are the stories of why we came to be – who we are and why we are where we are. Why are we Lutheran? Why are we Hoosiers? All of these stories – and the explosion of genetic testing and genealogical research – show just how fascinated we are by our origins.


            What is just as interesting are the lack of stories about where we’re going. Not too many families have a story about where we will ultimately be, except for a generic sense of “heaven” or “still with us in spirit”. We usually turn to the stories and images we hear in Scripture for such a story, especially in a time of grief.


            And these are rich stories. They rely on imagery to engage our senses. In Isaiah, the image of the final reunification between God and humanity is that of a great banquet on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. We can almost smell the roasting meat, taste the wonderfully rich, complex wine, see the banquet hall packed with people from every kind of ethnicity, race, and tribe – united in God’s love. Death, the great agent of chaos, the great swallower of life, is itself swallowed up by God. It’s a series of beautiful images. The same goes for the images we get in Revelation – the New Jerusalem, the bejeweled, cubed city, descends from heaven as the dwelling place for God and God’s people, on a new earth conjoined with a new heaven. Revelation uses wedding imagery as well – the new city is like “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”.


            These are wonderful stories, and we can get great comfort from them in the moment. And yet, the pain of loss remains with us. Even if we trust that our loved ones rest in God’s presence, and that we will one day be reunited with them, we still hurt. And we wonder why God would permit Death to still have such free reign among us. Why would God permit two six-year old boys and their nine-year old sister to be struck by a car and killed as the bus dropped them off after school on Tuesday? Why would God permit a young man to die at his own hand? Why would God allow so much suffering, grief, and pain in the world?


            Such questions are above my pay grade. I wish I could answer them – for you and for myself. Sometimes I joke that I lost my magic wand after graduating from seminary. I also apparently lost the “big book of answers” I was supposed to get. The closest we get to any kind of answer to these questions is the cold comfort at the end of the Book of Job, where God essentially tells Job, “I created everything and everyone, including you, Job, so who are you to question anything that I do?”


            So we live with the pain of loss, especially with the pain of loss that seems senseless or evil to us. But here’s the kicker. Despite God’s hard words in the Book of Job, God is also a God of infinite compassion and care for God’s creation. How do we know?


            We only need to look to the story of Jesus in the raising of Lazarus to see how much God cares. Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from that tomb. He also knew that Lazarus, and all humanity, would be raised from death at the end of time. And yet, he still is “greatly disturbed” by the grief of Lazarus’ family and friends. He still breaks down and cries at the grave. One of the questions that the Joe and Jesus group asked was, “Why does Jesus cry?” Perhaps it’s because Jesus – God-with-us – knows the terrible cost of death among his beloved people. Even though Jesus will redeem and restore us and our lives; even though our place in the New Jerusalem is assured by God’s grace alone; God in Christ knows the terrible cost death inflicts upon us on the way. God in Christ not only knows our suffering; God in Christ also suffers with us on the way.


            And Jesus, even as we worship today, is leading us along our journey home. While we have our stories of origin, Jesus holds our story of destination. He is leading us home – home to that mountain where death is no more, home where the reunification of God and people is like a great banquet or like the most joyous wedding you can imagine. This is not pie-in-the-sky fantasy; this is God-with-us, suffering with us, feeling our grief and pain truth. Only a God who suffers can save. Only a God who knows our suffering intimately can lead us home. And Jesus will lead us home.


            Let us pray.


            Lord Jesus, we often do not understand why there is so much suffering in our lives. Help us to trust that you suffer with us and the whole world, and that because you know us, you will lead us to our home where death and everything that comes with it will die. Amen.


 © 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.