Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8), June 30, 2019 (Luke 9:51-62) – “Foxes have Holes, Birds have Nests….”

“Jesus Traveling (Jésus en voyage)” (1886-1896), by James Tissot (1836-1902). The Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Originally preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.

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

It seems hard for me to believe (because it seems so recent), but over ten years ago, Honda had a certain advertising campaign on television and that featured an animated man who would talk about the vehicles and deals available during the Honda Year-End Clearance Event.  Once he had told the viewer or listener about the great deals available to them, he would either “rap” the television screen or “tap” the radio microphone and state enthusiastically, “I’m Mr. Opportunity, and I’m knocking.”

Mr. Opportunity was Honda’s way of telling prospective car buyers about the cars they could have if they acted quickly.  The Year-End Clearance Event wasn’t going to last forever, though, and the cars weren’t going to stick around. Just as soon as the event was over and the cars sold, Mr. Opportunity would be on his way until the next big sale.  But while the sale was on, he was knocking.

In a way, Jesus, in our reading from Luke this morning, is kind of like Mr. Opportunity.  He’s been going along, preaching about the coming kingdom of God, preaching repentance and healing people as he journeys toward Jerusalem where his work will be made complete.  He presents an opportunity in every town he enters, an opportunity for life and healing, an opportunity for second chances and changed hearts. But not everyone who comes into contact with him is open to that opportunity.  The Samaritans, theological opponents of the Jewish community, see that he’s going toward Jerusalem, the seat of their rival religion, and so they don’t let him into their town. He’s not acceptable among them, even if he is bringing with him the good news of the kingdom of God.

Some of the people who have joined Jesus on his journey don’t understand what taking the opportunity to follow him means.  The man who says he’ll follow Jesus wherever he will go doesn’t understand the stakes of being a disciple. “I will follow you wherever you should go,” he says.  But Jesus replies, “Foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay down his head.” To follow Jesus is to leave behind everything, to give up your comforts, to become homeless in this world.  Wild creatures have their homes, but not Jesus. The one who expects comfort and an easy time of it while going with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem will be sorely mistaken.

“Homeless Jesus” by Timothy P. Schmalz in the courtyard of the Papal Charities Building, Vatican City. From the sculptor’s website.

And those whom Jesus calls to follow him learn that the opportunity to follow Jesus is fleeting.  Jesus isn’t waiting around. “Permit me, going [with you], to first bury my father,” says one. “Let me say goodbye to all the folks at home,” says another.  But Jesus won’t give them time to do these things. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus tells the first, “but you proclaim the kingdom of God.” “No one who puts his hands upon the plough and looks back is worthy of the Kingdom.”  Jesus is Mr. Opportunity, and he’s knocking. He’s still heading for Jerusalem, and they either heed him or they don’t.

Of course, what Jesus tells these men who wish to follow him is a hard saying.  In the case of the first, he’s telling him that following the Son of Man means becoming essentially homeless in the world.  In the world of first-century Judaea, to follow a rabbi literally meant to take on their philosophies and lifestyle. Following Jesus guarantees hardship and difficulty–no earthly security, no earthly comfort.  The fox has his den, the bird her best, but Jesus, and by extension, his followers, doesn’t have that comfort and safety. When Jesus calls these men to follow him, they learn that in order to truly follow him, they must have no earthly attachments.  Jesus comes first, everything else comes second. Even the obligation to bury one’s father, the most important thing one could do as a first century Jew, must come second.

“Fox Den” (2018) by Yellow Oxide after Shingo Nono. Image from Instagram.

But surely Jesus can’t be serious, can he?  That his followers are not to expect any kind of stability, that family comes second to following him, so much so that caring for one’s parents is made subordinate to preaching the word of the kingdom of God?  What Jesus is doing for these men who wish to follow him is that he’s pointing out their idols, the things that keep them from committing to his call, those things that take their attention away from preaching the kingdom of God and instead focus their attention on worldly matters, those things which take Jesus’ place in their hearts, those things which keep them from fully placing their trust in him, either because they dominate their attention or because they are convenient excuses.

And that’s what Jesus is doing here. By calling these men to follow him (or in the case of the first, explaining what his call will be like), Jesus is asking them to trust him utterly, to give up all they have and to follow him wherever he goes, even to Jerusalem where he will die.  But these men have other worldly cares that seem to take place of Jesus’ call. They don’t seem necessarily willing to set these things aside and throw their lot in with Jesus. They hear the call of the son of God, and yet, when they hear what’s entailed, they are reluctant. The idols in their lives–comfort, family, societal obligations–keep them from trusting him fully and taking the plunge.  They don’t have their priorities straight. They try to put conditions on their following him.

It’s worth remembering that when Jesus talks to these men, he’s talking to people who haven’t yet seen his crucifixion and resurrection (though they’re looming in the distance).  Looking at ourselves, what does this mean for us? We’re Christians, living in the promise of the resurrection. Most of us have been Christians since our infancy. But just because you’re in the church, doesn’t mean that you’re automatically following Jesus.  To follow Christ isn’t some sort of casual activity. It’s not something that we do passively (though we can’t do it without Jesus’ help), because there are all kinds of things out there that vie for our attention and which we turn into excuses for not following him, living as baptized children of God, being the church.  Maybe you’ve noticed some in your life. Perhaps it’s a desire to be comfortable. “Lord, I want to follow you, but I don’t want to take the risk–I’m afraid of the social repercussions of living out my faith publicly.” “Lord, I want to tell other people about you, but I’m just too busy making ends meet.” “Lord, I fear what others will say.”  Maybe the desire for financial security gets in the way. “I want to help people as you would have me, Lord, but I want to save money. I’m worried that if I give this homeless fellow cash, he’ll spend it on drugs. I don’t want to be defrauded.” “Lord, I know we pray ‘thy will be done,’ but I really want things to go my way for once.” “Lord, I know what I should do, but I can’t bring myself to act the way you want me to.”  “Lord, I believe— help my unbelief!” These thoughts and worries are all indicative of the idols we make out of ourselves, our time, our money, and our feelings, among myriad other things. They’re all things that we use to say, “I want to follow you, Jesus, but….” When we do that, we’re going back to that old familiar sin of ours wherein we trust ourselves over Jesus, or at least show that we’re not so ready to take him at his word, to trust that he is God and that, with him, we will be in his care and under his protection.  We can’t put our hands on the Gospel plough and then have second thoughts about it.

“The Man at the Plough” (1886-1894), by James Tissot (1836-1902). The Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain

Humans are creatures of comfort, after all.  We don’t like to be drawn into uncomfortable situations or ones in which we are vulnerable.  But that desire for comfort in the world distracts us from the fact that our Lord wants us to find our true comfort in him, not in the world.  That’s the issue that faced these men to whom Jesus called along the road to Jerusalem. But the difference for them is that Jesus isn’t calling them to follow him on their own, left to struggle and puzzle out how to best follow their master by themselves.  He is going to be with them! And while they may not understand who he is and what following him fully means, he invites them to trust him and follow him. It’s not unlike how the Israelites trusted God and followed his pillar of cloud and fire on their way out of Egypt in the Exodus.  God called them to follow him, and they did so, trusting him the whole way. They didn’t know where they were going, but he was present with them for every step, protecting them from danger.

“Moses goes through the Red Sea. The Army of Pharaoh is Drowned” (10th Century). Paris psalter, BnF MS Grec 139, folio 419v. Public Domain.

As it was for the Exodus-era Israelites, so it is for the men in our Gospel reading.  Jesus will be with them–in fact, they’ll be with him. And if they’re with him, then he will guide them.  In a sense, that’s what Jesus means when he talks about how no-one who puts his hands to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom.  If you’ve ever seen how an old plough works— the kind that’s drawn by oxen rather than horses— you’ve probably noticed that in addition to the person who guides the plough itself, there’s at least one other person to help goad on the oxen along and keep the plough moving.  Jesus is like that person who guides the oxen, and when they start moving, you’d better hang on! But he keeps the oxen from going out of control and keeps the plough in its furrow.

And so it is for us.  Even though there are many things that fight to control our attention and entice us to hem and haw about living as one of God’s children in Christ, Jesus invites us to trust him and follow him.  We don’t have to fear or worry about discomfort or worldly obligations preventing us from following Jesus with our whole being because he will help us deal with that discomfort and meet those obligations as we follow him.  As we “go along,” following Jesus, we can perform our duties and face discomfort and unsurety in the world, but motivated by a different spirit, not because we are motivated by fear or by some law or custom, but because Jesus has given us the freedom to do so.  When we trust Jesus when he says, “Follow me,” knowing that the Son of God has our back no matter where we go or where he calls us to go, we can follow him without fear or worry, and we can do our best to be who he calls us to be. He will be with us every step of the way, and if we stumble in our following him, he will set us back on our feet to continue with him on his way.

C.S. Lewis once wrote the following: “If you read history you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next.  The apostles themselves, who set out on foot to convert the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

When we remember that Jesus is with us when we go to follow him, we can live confidently in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, not worrying about discomfort, vulnerability, or fear, but living in the world while looking confidently forward toward the kingdom of heaven, made worthy of it because we trust the one who makes us worthy, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost, June 9, 2019 (Acts 2:1-21) – “Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”

“Pentecost” from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), F 102r 1. Public Domain.

Originally preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.

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

Imagine, if you will, the following:  The year is AD 33, though you, as someone in the Jewish community would have known it as the year 3794, or as the 786th year since the founding of Rome, or the 19th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.  You and all of the congregation are crammed together in a house in Jerusalem, praying.  The day is the feast of Pentecost, called “Shavuot,” the Feast of Weeks.  It is a Jewish harvest festival, which “conclude[s] the period of seven weeks which began with the presentation of the first sheaf of the barley harvest during the Passover celebration.”[1]  But it is also a festival commemorating God’s giving the Law to the Israelites at Sinai fifty days after their leaving Egypt, when God descended upon Mount Sinai in thunder and fire, when “[the] smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly” (Exodus 19:18, ESV).  You and the rest of the assembly are probably planning to observe the feast with everyone else in Jerusalem.  But recently, strange and wondrous things have been afoot in your little community.   Jesus has ascended into heaven.  Fifty days ago he was resurrected from the dead after being put to death by the Romans, and now he’s gone to be with God, his Father.  But he promised to send a helper to you, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to speak to his glory and be your guide.  And now you are waiting, following Jesus’ command to “not depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4, ESV).

And while you’re all together in the house, talking, praying, reading, there’s suddenly a mighty whoosh, a great wind, roaring like the sound of a jet engine through the house (not that you’d have known what a jet engine was). But nothing is moving, it’s merely the sound.  Suddenly tongues of fire, perhaps like those God sent down on Sinai over one thousand years earlier, come down through the air and rest above the heads of each person in the house, you included, and you’re filled suddenly with this indescribable feeling, maybe a warmth, maybe a prickling, you can’t say.  It feels unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, though.  Something is going into you, filling you, and you feel different.  Better?  Whole?  Alive?

“Pentecost : The sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles” from the Hortus Deliciarum (1180) by Herrad of Landsberg (1125-1195). Public Domain.

Suddenly you and everyone else are running out of the house, dashing into the street.  The neighbors have heard the whoosh, as well as the out-of-towners who have come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.  They’ve come from all over the world for this, men and women from other parts of Judea and Galilee, from Parthia to the east and Crete to the west; from Egypt, Pontus, Persia, the Anatolian coast, North Africa, and far off Italy.  The whole known world is represented in Jerusalem this day.  And suddenly, like things possessed, you’re speaking to them about Jesus and who he is and what he’s done.  And they can understand you and you can understand them, even though you don’t know a lick of Farsi or Latin or Egyptian.

But some people in the crowd laugh at you.  They hear all these languages that they’ve never heard before, this literal Babel of voices, and they think you’re all drunk. They can’t believe it.  You can’t believe it.  How can this be?  What is causing you to do this?  How are you doing this?  You see, this is the work of the promised one, the Holy Spirit, and he has entered you and made these things possible.  The Third Person of the Trinity has come into you and made you his instrument to proclaim the Good News to the world congregating in Jerusalem.


That’s the first part of the Pentecost account from today’s Acts reading.  We have all heard the story before, but has it ever occurred to you that something is happening here that is an exact reversal of what happened on several occasions in the Gospels?  What we’re looking at in the Pentecost story is not just the story of a miracle.  It’s the story of— and I use this term carefully— a possession.  Or perhaps put a better way, an exorcism and a possession.

“St. Felix, priest of Rome performing an exorcism” (1170-1200), by “Frater Rufillus,” from the Weißenauer Passionale, Cod. Bodmer 127, fol. 146v. Fondation Bodmer, Coligny Switzerland. Public Domain. Cropped.

When we think about possession, we usually think about demonic possessions, especially the pop culture depictions of them, like the film depictions in The Exorcist or Ghostbusters or The Evil Dead franchise, or that scene in Ghost where Patrick Swayze inhabits Whoopi Goldberg’s body so he can give Demi Moore one last kiss, to name a few.  Or we might remember those famous Biblical possessions: the possessed man in the synagogue who tried to call Jesus out early in his ministry or the possessed man in the land of the Gerasenes who hosted the demon Legion, and from whom the demon was cast into a herd of hogs which drowned under its influence.  Or we may remember the possessed slave girl used as an oracle who the apostles healed in Acts.  We even have a famous story of demonic possession at Concordia Seminary, which is said to have served as the basis for the novel upon which The Exorcist was based.  And in all of these examples, we see demons, evil spirits, taking up residence in the bodies of individuals and bending them to their wicked wills, tormenting them and harming them.

But Pentecost is different, because instead of an evil spirit taking up residence in their bodies, the Holy Spirit enters the disciples and takes hold of them.  Prior to his coming upon them, they were open to demonic attack, but now the Holy Spirit is dwelling in them.  Their bodies are his temple, and he is with them forever, glorifying God, testifying about Christ through them, and helping them withstand the assaults of the devil and the world.  They have been “possessed” by him, and are now preaching his Word to an unbelieving world.  And even after hearing the sound of the Holy Spirit rushing through the house and seeing and hearing the disciples, these people from Galilee, speaking in tongues not their own, some of the Judaeans and visitors to Jerusalem still did not believe that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was at work there among them that day.  They chalked it up to “new” wine, “sweet wine,” the flavor of which masked the alcohol and made it far too easy to drink too much.  To them, this miracle was no miracle at all, just a bunch of lushes babbling drunkenly in the street.

“Pentecost” (1925), by Ludwig Glötzle (1847-1929), Saint Jodok Parish Church, Bezau, Vorarlberg. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber (May 27, 2012). This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic license.

It’s easy for us, too, to not see, or not want to see, the work of the Holy Spirit, either in us or in others.  The Old Adam, the old sinful man and servant of the devil who still lives within us, tempts us to sin and do those things that would harm us, contrary to God’s will and desire for us.  And because we are sinful beings, we enjoy following the Old Adam.  It is our basest inclination.  And so we sin in all sorts of ways.  We might gossip about a neighbor’s behavior, or get angry at that guy with Maryland plates who’s driving twenty miles under the speed limit in front of us in a no-passing lane.  We might let our gaze linger just a bit too long on someone who is not our spouse and entertain fantasies that, while we didn’t act on them, still were played out in our hearts.  Or we might get angry with our neighbor over some perceived slight, and say things that are very hard to take back.

But when we sin in these ways, when we give in to the temptations wrought upon us in the world, we forget whose we are, trusting in our feeble selves to know what is right and wrong and how we should act.  Isn’t this what happened to Adam and Eve, our first parents? And if we let sin rule us for long enough, when we go in search of unclean spirits and trust their voices over God’s, then God help us, because we become lost and cannot find our way back to him on our own.  And at that point, the law of God condemns us, and there is nothing we can do.  How shall we be delivered from this body of death?  Who can we turn to when the enormity of our sin comes crashing down on us and we realize just how helpless we are?

Peter provides an answer to the despair that comes from living under the rule of sin.  As Peter says in his sermon to the people gathered outside the house, quoting the prophet Joel, God has poured his Spirit out upon all flesh on account of the work of Christ, and he is now working through those who have received him.  They are doing his will now, conformed to him in righteousness so that they might do the works he has set before them.  He has cast out the unclean spirits that once made a home in those who have received him, and has made them his dwelling place. Just as God wrote his law on the hearts of the people of Israel, now he comes himself to rest upon the hearts of all believers.  The house swept clean from which the unclean spirit has been sent has been given over to a new and better Owner, with a very different taste in interior decoration.  They are his own, possessed by him to do God’s good and gracious will.  He, the Paraclete, the Helper, has come to protect them against the assaults of the devil and help them live according to God’s purpose.  Won by Christ, these disciples are now further preserved in faith by the Spirit who works in them, and his indwelling makes it possible for men to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.

How do we know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, especially if we have at times not lived as God would have wanted us to?  How do we know that he can help us when we see how terrible our sin is and desire deliverance from it?  I have this to say to you: trust in your baptism.  You see, when you were baptized, the same kind of exorcism and possession that we see at Pentecost took place in you.  In Luther’s Baptismal Rite, the pastor says to the one being baptized, “Fahr aus du unreiner Geist und gib Raum dem heiligen Geist![2]  (I bet you didn’t expect hearing speaking in tongues today!)  “Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”  And later, “Ich beschwöre dich, du unreiner Geist, bei dem Namen des Vaters und des Sohns und des heiligen Geistes daß du ausfahrest und weichest von diesem Diener Jesu Chrsiti [N.] Amen![3]  “I command you, you unclean Spirit, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, that you come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ, Amen!”  This rite still exists in our agenda.  The old unclean spirit, the old power of the devil, was cast out, and God’s Holy Spirit has made you his dwelling place.  Bought and cleansed in the precious blood of the Lamb spilled on Calvary to reconcile all of creation to the Father, you are his own.  His Spirit is living in you.  Because he lives in you, you can live the life he desires for you and do the good works that have been set before you for the good of your neighbor.  With him living in you, you can fight temptation to sin and remember whose you are and how you should live when you want to gossip or look with lust on someone or get angry with your neighbor, for he is your protector.  And with him living in you, you can have faith in the promises of Christ, that he died and rose to save you from sin, death, and the devil and turn to him when confronted by your own sin.

“Baptism” from the Reformation Altarpiece (1547), Stadt- und Pfarrkirche St. Marien zu Wittenberg, by the Cranachs. Public Domain. Cropped.

And if you fear that you are too great a sinner, that you have lost your salvation because of how you have lived, or if you fear that you are beyond redemption because you have fallen away from the faith for a time, take heart!  You might be a great sinner, but God is an even greater savior!  His promises are still for you.  You can’t wash off your baptism.  That promise is indelible, and you can always return to it.  The Holy Spirit is still working in you to show you your sin and lead you to repentance and Christ’s love and forgiveness.  And when you are restored, he helps you to live as God would have you do.

Jesus says in John 16: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Because of Jesus, we have been cleansed and possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Let us live joyfully in his dwelling in us, confident in the promises he has given us in our baptism and doing good toward our neighbors, and speaking God’s good news in Christ to them so that they too may know him and believe.  For this is the Pentecost mission of the church.

May the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

[1] Mark J. Olson, “Pentecost,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 222-223.

[2] Agend-Büchlein für die Nürnbergerische Kirchendiener in der Statt und auf dem Land, 1591: 54.

[3] Agend-Büchlein für die Nürnbergerische Kirchendiener in der Statt und auf dem Land, 1591: 56.

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019 (John 16:23-33)

“The Exhortation to the Apostles/Recommandation aux apôtres” (1886-1896), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Originally preached at Grace Lutheran Church in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and just as the Apostle Paul brought greetings from the churches he served throughout the Mediterranean, I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Fairfax Station.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus makes three promises to his disciples.  For the moment, we’ll take a look at the first two that Jesus makes: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full,” and “In this world, you will have tribulation.”  To be sure, both of these promises taken together seem somewhat…antithetical. The Father will give us whatever we ask of him so that our “joy may be full,” but we will receive trouble in this life.  How can one’s joy be full when one will also experience hardship and tribulation? Certainly it is a great comfort to us to know that God hears our prayers; as Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23), but what about those times when one asks God for something and appears to receive trouble?  How can one’s joy be complete then?

When Jesus told this to the disciples, he was preparing them for their future.  They were about to experience sorrow that they could not have imagined when Jesus would be taken to be tried before the religious leaders and Romans, and ultimately, to be killed.  Jesus needed to let them know that, even without him, God would still be with them and would still care for them. They would feel sorrow for “a little while,” but their joy would be restored, and they had the assurance that they could boldly ask God for whatever they desired in their prayers.  But how did they square this good news, that God would give them whatever they asked in Jesus’ name, for the completion–“filling out”–of their joy, with the fact that Jesus told them that they will have tribulation?

Of course, Jesus had told them all along that they would experience the coming sorrow of losing him, but on so many occasions they had disbelieved him, thinking that what he had told them about his coming suffering and death at the hands of the authorities was something that wouldn’t happen, or that Jesus was being a pessimist.  Do you all remember what Peter said? “Far be it from you that any of this should happen to you, Lord!” But he also told them that life wouldn’t go easy on them. To be a follower of Christ is to suffer with him; to take up one’s cross and follow him. Christ’s telling the disciples that they would experience tribulation–thlipsis, as John writes in the original Greek, a literal crushing or pressing–in this life is a warning for them.  This life will be difficult. You will face crushing opposition. The disciples don’t know it when he tells them, but they will all be sent to the furthest reaches of the known world, and all of them will suffer for Jesus’ sake.  Sin will try to have its way with them. They will be attacked in body and soul.

“The Protestations of St. Peter/Protestations de Saint Pierre” (1886-1894), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Our world is certainly one full of tribulation.  We see it in the news every day. There’s conflict in the Middle East and West Africa.  Terrorist activity in Southeast Asia. Shootings here in the United States. Rampant destruction of the unborn.  The Chinese Uyghirs are being placed in reeducation camps. There’s suppression of the Gospel in China, North Korea, and elsewhere.  There is terrible flooding in the midwest, and farmers unable to plant crops. Famine and economic collapse in Venezuela. The world is full of troubles and trials.  But there are common everyday tribulations, too. Illness, crime, and poverty affect our communities. Interpersonal conflict and stress threaten our families. We are subject to worries about paying the bills, doing well at school, and excelling in our work

C.S. Lewis. From Flickr.

Imagine this individual, described by C.S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters.  Imagine “…a man hag-ridden by the Future–haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth–ready to break [God]’s commands in the present if so by doing [he thinks] he can attain the one or avert the other–dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see” (Letter 15).  Does that sound like someone you’ve ever known?  Someone who feels like the fate of the world depends on human action?  It’s easy for all of us to give in to the temptation to make the cares and stresses of the world our own, to believe that we can or have to fix the world ourselves or else fall with it.  Today, we feel as if we experience more anxiety than previous generations have, likely because of our intake of mass-communications. Stress has become the norm. Our own personal struggles, as well as the struggles of the world, seem to crush us, weigh us down, make our lives miserable, and attempt to squelch any hope we have in this world.  How do we overcome them? Can we?

On our own, we cannot.  The world is full of sin, and sin is the cause of all this pain and tribulation.  Being sinful creatures ourselves, we cannot overcome this sin that defines and pervades the world.  That’s like trying to remove an ink stain by pouring more ink on it. But Jesus gives his disciples a third promise in today’s reading from John: Jesus has overcome the world.

Jesus was no stranger to tribulation, either.
“Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness” (1886-1894), by James Tissot (1836-1902). Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain.

Because Jesus has overcome the world, the tribulations that afflict his followers ultimately have no power over them.  The disciples will go through all manner of troubles and affliction; in fact, all of them except for John will suffer and die for their faith.  Peter, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, and Jude will be crucified. Matthew will be axed to death. James the Greater will be put to death by King Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, with the sword; James the lesser, stoned and clubbed.  Simon the Zealot will be killed, and Thomas speared to death. John himself was imprisoned and eventually released in his advanced old age. He still suffered the afflictions of this life. The oppression and crushing— the thlipsis— of this sinful world brought death and suffering to the disciples.  But, through Christ’s overcoming the world, they too triumphed over it with him, sharing his victory.  

“The Martyrdom of the Apostles” (1435), from the St. Lawrence Altarpiece, Cologne, by Stefan Lochner (1410-1451). Städel Museum. Public domain. Left wing: Sts Peter, Paul, Andrew, John the Evangelist, James the Greater and Bartholomew. Right wing: Sts Thomas, Phillip, James the Less, Matthew, Simon and Judas, and Matthias.

And notice the confidence with which Jesus says: “I have overcome the world”!  When he says this, he has not yet died and risen for the sins of mankind. But Jesus has won the long-game.  He knows that death holds no power over him, and that his dying and rising will redeem the world and open the way to eternal life for all people.  His disciples will live, though they die and suffer. Those who trust in him will be delivered from tribulation, if not in this lifetime, then at the resurrection of all flesh, and their joy will be complete.

This promise is for us, too.  Though we see and experience so much current suffering, though the Enemy tries to distract us with the cares of this life so that we despair or make gods of ourselves and our ability to fix the world, you and I can take comfort and solace in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and its tribulations.  We can trust in him for our deliverance from sin’s oppression. We can look to his second coming with expectant joy because we know that, having defeated death already at his resurrection, at his return, our joy will be truly complete and fulfilled.

So if you are care-worn and have been ground down by the world, beset by sin and in need of relief, take heart!  Jesus has overcome the world and sin and all their combined powers. He died and rose for you so that you might have new life in him, a new life freed from sin’s oppression and life’s tribulations.  Though you might still experience those pressures and troubles, with Christ, you too shall overcome and be freed from them. Christ has overcome. He is with you.

Going back to the beginning of this sermon and our reading, because Christ has overcome the world, we can boldly ask the Father for whatever we need because he has made our joy full in Christ’s resurrection.  In Christ, we have been made his children, and so he will hear us when we ask, and he will fulfill our happiness in Christ. He may not always give us what we want when we want it (like any good father), but he will give us what we need when we ask him, not always in our time, but in his.  You might remember how the Rolling Stones put it— “you can’t always get what you want…but you just might find, you get what you need.” God is in control. This is what Job learned in his afflictions— God is in control of all things; all of his vast creation is under his care and dominion.  Even those things that wish to do us harm are subject to him. Luther called Satan “God’s Devil” because God can even use the schemes of the enemy to achieve his purposes. Because Christ has overcome the world and its suffering, we can, with full trust in him, go to our Father in Heaven and ask him “as dear children do their dear father,” and he will give us whatever we desire to bring us joy out of our sorrow and an end to our troubles.  As we sang in our hymn of the day, 

4 Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Let your soul be still! Christ has overcome the world.  The Lord will fulfill you joy. Amen

Sermon starts at 35:00.

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019 (Acts 20:17-35) – “Finishing the Course”

Panathenaic amphora depicting long distance runners. From Gardiner, E. Norman (1864-1930), Greek Athletic Sports and Festivals (London: MacMillan, 1910): 280, Fig. 51. Public Domain.

Originally Preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.

Have you ever run in a race?  I haven’t; I was never much of a runner in school.  I was more of a weight-training guy. But I have always admired people who can get up the gumption to go out and pound the pavement and put in seven to eight miles before work each day, and who run 5ks and 10ks and marathons.  Such running requires immense physical conditioning and training. It can take a long time to get to the point where you are physically fit enough to run a marathon. Someone who’s never run before can’t just get up and put in a 26 mile jog.  You can get injured or overtax yourself. And even if you are in condition, you have to work to keep yourself in that condition. Otherwise, you might end up like Pheidippides, the first marathon runner. His heart exploded when he made it back to Athens after running those 26 miles between the battlefield at Marathon and the city to deliver the news of the battle’s outcome.  Running, whether it be a morning warm up or the Marine Corps Marathon, is hard work.

“Le soldat de Marathon” (1869), by Luc-Olivier Merson (1846-1920). Private collection. Public Domain.

The Apostle Paul liked running metaphors when speaking about his work in the service of Jesus.  We all know his famous statements in 1 Corinthians 9: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor 9:24-27 NIV). We also remember his statement to Timothy: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV).  

We have another racing reference in our reading this morning:  “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  

“That I may finish my course.”  ὡς τελειῶσαι τὸν δρόμον μου. The dromos, the racecourse, was central to life in the ancient world.  It was major entertainment; every town had its racetrack, either for footraces or for horse- and chariot-races (or both).  Racing was sort of the First Century world’s equivalent of NASCAR or soccer. Track and Field was a big deal, big enough that successful runners could win money and fame, and charioteers could win fame and acclaim for their teams (yes, they had teams–and even racing hooligans!).

“Paul preaches to the elderly of Ephesus at Miletus” (late 16th Century), by Giovanni Guerra (1544-1618). Private Collection. Public Domain.

Paul knew racing, as did everyone in his audience, and so Paul often speaks about “finishing the race.”  Here, speaking to the elders from Ephesus, he compares his life and ministry to running a race, a race which has start and a finish.  Paul is going to Jerusalem when he says this. He doesn’t expect to come back to see the people in Ephesus again, and he doesn’t know what God has in store for him there.  Little did he know that he would face beatings, threats, and ultimately arrest. But now, going into the unknown to Jerusalem, Paul tells the Ephesians that his race is now theirs.  They will have to run it, since they are now responsible for their own flocks in Ephesus, and he has done his best to prepare them with the Gospel, raising them up in the way they should go in their own roles as shepherds.  They will be faced with temptations and made targets by those with nefarious aims. Therefore, they, too, must keep themselves in top spiritual condition so that they remain strong in the faith, and so that they can protect those under their care.  They need to do this in order to keep the church in Ephesus alive.

But of course, there are distractions and enticements that can make finishing the race of faith difficult for believers in the church.  Paul’s Ephesians faced competing religions that demanded obeisance. The Jewish authorities sought to undermine Paul’s ministry and have him arrested for preaching about Christ.  The cult of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, virginity, and childbirth, especially, served as a major threat to the young church in Ephesus, and its adherents had attacked the church for its denial of Artemis’ goddesshood.  Ephesus was a major cult center for Artemis’ worship, and her followers had even forced Paul to leave the city. Other religions practiced by the Greeks and Romans were also about; Ephesus was a veritable melting pot. But there were other dangers from inside the church, too.

“Ephesian Artemis,” from the Naples Museum, Naples, Italy. Photograph by Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914). Public Domain.

Paul also knew that there would be those who would try to use the church as a way to gain fame or power, or who might try to defraud the church or use the church as a platform to preach their own ideas and philosophies, and so he charged the Ephesians to be watchful for such persons and to hold tight to what he taught them.  And then, of course, there are the “everyday” temptations and sins that the Devil uses to draw people away from the faith. Greed, sensuality, pride, hate–they’re all things that can harm the believer on his or her race of faith. They’re the potholes and rocks and branches that fall on the raceway that can cause a person to trip and fall, to stumble.  And without help or protection (and perhaps, we might say, without a good trainer), these enemies of faith can end a person’s race prematurely.

Even though it’s been nearly 2000 years, we Christians today still face these obstacles and pitfalls in our running of the race of faith.  We still see people who use the church for their own gain and who lead people astray in order to defraud them. We see wolves in sheep’s clothing using the church to conceal their crimes against other people.  Outside the church, just as in Paul’s day, we still see people in positions of power attempting to silence the preaching of the Gospel around the world, and we even see people in the United States using their positions of power and influence to belittle Christian faith or force Christians into crises of conscience.  And we experience the myriad temptations of the flesh common to all people, every day, that can draw us astray and shipwreck our faith if allowed to reign in our lives. How could Paul and the Ephesians–and how can we–run the race successfully? Who or what can keep us from stumbling?

Of course, we cannot run the race of faith successfully on our own.  No matter how much we train, our sinful nature will cause us to trip and fall, and those forces who wish to knock us out of the race will try their best to do so.  We cannot stay consistently alert of our own accord–eventually, we tire or become distracted and lose sight of the goal. So we must look to another one who can help us run; indeed, one who makes it possible for us to run: our Lord and Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He ran the race of life perfectly in our stead. Being both God and man, he did what we could not do. He lived a sinless life, and he died and rose again, indicating that he had indeed won the race for us by defeating the sin and death that threaten we who run. None of the various pitfalls that attack his church were able to touch him, and he thwarted all of their schemes in his running of the race of faith.  Because of this, he won for us the “everlasting crown” that Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians, and he won the completion of the course of a life of faith for us as well. This is what Paul looked forward to in our reading this morning. Christ had finished the course for him, and Paul had faith that his Lord had done this, so that he might finish strong in faith so long as he trusted him. And Christ has finished the race for us, too.  Though we are sinners, we can look to him at the finish line and forge ahead. He’s won the crown for us, and so when we trust him and fix our eyes on him, we share in his victory. Trusting in him, eyes fixed on him, victory is guaranteed.

This is what the race finished on our behalf looks like.
“Crucifix in a Classroom at Concordia Seminary” (2017) by Nils Niemeier.

But even then, how can we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus?  We’re sinners, after all, with all of the weaknesses that come with that.  How can we, like Paul and the Ephesians, keep ourselves watchful and in top spiritual shape to run the course in spite of the dangers?  In this race, Jesus has given us a coach who will aid us in our run, who runs beside us all the way, keeping pace with us and encouraging us as we run on.  This is the Holy Spirit, who helped Paul in his course; as Paul says, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (Acts 20:22-23 NIV).

“St. Paul Writing His Epistles” (ca. 1618-1620), by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632). Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Public Domain.

Just as the Holy Spirit led Paul in the course of his ministry through dangerous situations and foreign lands, yet kept him in the faith and gave him hope, so are we preserved in the faith by the Holy Spirit.  He helps us to daily die to sin and rise in faith. He strengthens us to daily fight against the temptations of sin and the assaults of the devil. He teaches us to joyfully serve our neighbors and steward God’s gifts, and he leads us in being a neighbor to strangers and foreigners.  And he leads us in worshipping God through work, rest, and recreation. By grace, Christ frees us from sin and death’s certain defeat, and the Holy Spirit drives us on to complete the course, helping us to grow in faith and focus on the prize Christ has won for us: eternal life with him, forever.  

When we “commit [ourselves] to God and to the word of his grace” in light of our faith in the work of Christ, God “build[s us] up and give[s us] an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).  Our faith in Christ and reliance on the Holy Spirit to run the race of faith preserves us in the face of threats, challenges, and dangers. When you trust in Christ, you can strongly finish the course upon which God has set you.  So keep your eyes on the prize, and trust in your Lord! Your Good Shepherd will not forsake you. You will finish the course and receive an inheritance among all those who are sanctified!

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019 (Revelation 5:1-14) – “And to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

“Hymn of Adoration to the Lamb” (1497-1498) from “The Revelation of St. John” by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Houghton Library, Harvard.

Originally preached at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Fairfax Station, Virginia.

“Who is this that comes from far,
With his garments dipped in blood,
Strong, triumphant traveller–
Is he man, or is he God?”

“Bozrah,” from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1854, sung at the Big Sing in Benton, Kentucky, 1966

So goes the first half of a splendid short hymn known as “Bozrah,” written by the late-18th, early-19th century Congregationalist minister, Joshua Spalding.  Who is this that comes from far? Is he man or is he God? This is a question that has come up a lot lately in our readings. Just last week we had Thomas’ confession of who he understood Jesus to be.  Now this Sunday we hear Paul asking Jesus who he is when he meets him on the road to Damascus, and we have the disciples afraid to ask who Jesus is because they recognize him on the shore after they go fishing.  But it’s the reading from Revelation that I want to look at today. Who is Jesus here?

Revelation (the “Apocalypse of John”), it goes without saying, is a weird book, probably the weirdest book in the Bible, at least from a modern perspective.  It’s not easy to read or understand; it’s a work of prophetic and apocalyptic literature that does not lend itself to modern American eyes and brains. We lack a lot of the secondary knowledge (what linguists call a secondary vocabulary) needed to know just what John is talking about.  We might be able to understand some of the more sweeping narratives of the book, but much of it is cryptic, the imagery bizarre, the supposed referents of the prophecies disputed. Even its inclusion in Scripture and the authorship of the book has been disputed, though historically, the Church has believed and taught that John the Revelator is the same John as John the Gospel-writer, the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved.  So what is John telling us about who Jesus is in Revelation, specifically Revelation 5?

In today’s reading from Revelation, we see John experiencing a vision of heaven in which he is standing in the midst of the heavenly court before the throne of God, surrounded by ranks of angels and strange looking creatures.  I’ll read the verses preceding those we heard in our Epistle reading this morning so you have the full context:

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits z of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” (Rev. 5:1-7, NIV)

“St. John before God and the Elders” (1497-1498) from “The Revelation of St. John” by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Houghton Library, Harvard.

God holds forth a scroll and a challenge is given.  Can anyone open the seals on it? Is anyone worthy to do so?  That is to say, is anyone, anywhere, able to do so? There is no one, in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth who can.  Not one, and if no one is worthy, then the seals will not be opened and the prophecies associated with them will not be spoken.  And when he hears this, John weeps, because the prophecies will not be spoken. How can God’s word come to pass if there’s no one worthy to unseal the scroll and read the prophecies therein, and by means of reading, bring them to pass?

John’s vision of heaven here reminds us that no one, anywhere in the universe, in all of creation, is worthy to stand before God for any reason, let alone to open the seals on a scroll.  And this isn’t the sort of worthiness where a person has to tick all the right boxes, as if he or she fulfilled the requirements of a job interview. There is no one who is intrinsically worthy in any regard to open the seals on this scroll–no one by reason of his or her person, power, or qualifications is worthy–and that is because these seals are fit to be opened by the ruler of all creation, the pantokrator, the “over-all-ruler.”

But what makes the rest of creation unworthy?  Ignoring the angels, who serve the will of the Almighty, the rest of creation is tainted by sin.  No creature is immune to sin itself or to its effects. Thus, all people are sinful, and all other creatures have been damaged or marred by it, such that creation groans and desires deliverance.  Sin separates all people from God, and prevents them from being able to live according to his precepts, and it’s not just the big sins. We’ve seen some bigs sins lately in the news, most recently at Chabad Poway in Escondido, California, but also the church and hotel bombings in Sri Lanka and the campus shooting in North Carolina.  We even had an armed robbery at the 7-11 up the road here from us in Fairfax the other evening. But the “little” sins also make us unworthy. Have you ever said something unkind about your neighbor? **BRRT** You’ve sinned and are unworthy. Have you ever thought about someone inappropriately? **BRRT** You are not worthy to open any such seals.  Have you stolen? Have you not paid for something you ought to have, or borrowed an idea without attribution? **BRRT** You’ve sinned and are unworthy. I could go on. No human being is worthy to undo the seals on this scroll and to speak God’s prophecies into being. Sin makes that impossible.

And sin taints all of creation.  Because of sin, as we learn in Genesis 3, all of creation has been fractured, damaged, broken, and so all creatures feel the pain and suffering that our first parents brought into the world.  Before the fall, all of creation lived in harmony. Now the world is dog-eat-dog, and where there was once paradise, death now reigns. Indeed, the world is chaotic, and we’re so used to the idea of the world being in the constant flux of chaos and terror that we’re largely blind to thinking about it.  In fact, the chaos and evil that afflict the world are so normal to us that they’ve become central to a lot of our entertainment. How many of our video games reenact war? (And I say this as someone who enjoys historical war-games, for what it’s worth.) How many games and movies glorify crime and violence and the degradation of others?  Game of Thrones, anyone? How about music that does that? Our culture is fascinated by this chaos that comes from sin, and in feeding our fascination, we’ve forgotten that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. In fact a lot of us function as if this fallen world is as it is supposed to be, some kind of “best of all possible worlds.”

“Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1497-1498) from “The Revelation of St. John” by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Houghton Library, Harvard.

But it’s not.  Sin still plagues the earth, and just as you cannot cure the common cold with the further application of the common cold, sin and its chaos cannot be cured by the application of the efforts of sinful people. And so something–or someone–needs to come in from the outside to cure sin’s disease.

So if there is no one above the earth, on it, or below the earth who is worthy to open the seals on the scroll that God holds forth on his throne, who is?  No one is worthy— no one, save one. “How’s that,” you say–“how can one person be worthy if no one is worthy?” John receives the answer to this question from the elder who is with him.  Like a good pastor, this elder who has gone on before John to the courts of heaven, points him to the One who can save him, the one who can break the seals on the scroll:

“Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Rev. 5:5-8, ESV)

“The Name of the Worthy,” Douce Apocalypse (1265-1270), Bodleian Ms180, p.011.
“The Lamb Enthroned,” Douce Apocalypse (1265-1270), Bodleian Ms180, p.012.

The Lion of the tribe of Judah.  The Root of David. The Lamb Who Was Slain, Jesus Christ.  He alone is worthy to open the seals of the scroll and to reveal its contents.  He alone has the power to defeat sin, and has conquered it. He is truly man and truly God, and for this reason, sin cannot touch him; he came down from heaven and took on flesh so that he might defeat sin through the medium in which it dwells.  And now ascended and exalted at God’s right hand, it is made apparent to all in the court of heaven that he alone has power and authority over all creation. His power is signified by his eyes and horns, not in the sense that he has seven physical eyes and seven physical horns— no lamb has those.  But rather, the horn is the symbol of power and might, and the eye the symbol of wisdom and intelligence. All strength and wisdom belongs to him, and the number 7, the number of God (3) paired with the number of creation (4), indicates that he indeed is the pantokrator who has dominion over all things.  Only he, the Messiah of all, has perfect might and perfect understanding, and because of this, he has conquered sin and destroyed its power.  He has conquered sin and death. The twenty-four elders sing:

         “You are worthy to take the scroll
     and to open its seals,
     because you were slain,
     and with your blood you purchased for God
     persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
  10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
     and they will reign on the earth.”” (Rev. 5:9–10, NIV)

“The Sealed Book of the Lamb,” Apocalypse Flamande – BNF Néerl3 f.6r, 15th Century.

Christ’s death and resurrection secured the victory.  Christ’s death and resurrection ransomed all people for God, no exceptions, and his coronation here in the court of heaven (because that is what we are really seeing here with John) has sealed it.  This is demonstrated to John, but it is something that has been demonstrated for our benefit as well. Christ is worthy because Christ has saved. The hosts of heaven sing:

     “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
     to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
     and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:12, NIV)

Christ has saved us from sin and death, too, and we see him as he is, exalted and at God’s right hand, the savior who now rules all of creation.  You no longer need fear or despair when you recognize your sinfulness—Christ has rescued you. When the chaos of life seems overwhelming, and you see no end to the violence, hatred, and exploitation that seems so commonplace, you can rest assured–Christ has rescued you and all people, and he is worthy to wield all power and authority over all things.  He has you in his hand. He will not abandon you. For he, whom the hosts of heaven and all the saints adore and acclaim, has ended the power of sin in your life. It may rage against you. It may try to entice you. It may even try to kill you. But when you trust in the one who is king in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, you will not be left to be destroyed by sin, because sin cannot destroy or harm those whom Christ has made his own.  The One who alone, by his death and resurrection, is worthy to open the seals on the scroll will protect you, and in the fullness of time, will bring you to dwell with him in peace forever. No power in heaven, on earth, or under the earth can separate you from his love.

So who is this that comes from far?  Who is this Jesus? He is your savior, exalted in heaven and given power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.  To him be praise, honor, glory, and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Adoration of the Lamb,” Cattedrale di Anagni