DATE: November 25, 2001
LITURGICAL CALENDAR: Eternal Life Sunday
OT TEXT: Jeremiah 23:1-6
PSALM or WISDOM: Psalm 46
NT TEXT: Luke 23:34-43; Colossians 1:15-20
SERMON TITLE: Image of the Invisible God
SPECIAL MUSIC: P&W
MAJOR RECENT EVENT:
RECURRING THEME IN MINISTRY:
OWN "LIFE STORY" CONNECTION:
Robert W. Stackel, "Is He Your King?" in Clergy Journal, October, 1994, pg. 17: When Queen Victoria of England was only a girl, she was instructed in matters of court etiquette. "You are to go to hear "The Messiah" tomorrow night, and when they sing through the oratorio and come to the "Hallelujah Chorus," we shall all rise, but you are the queen; sit still." But when the chorus came to the place where they sang "King of kings and Lord of lords," she rose and bowed her head. This was at the beginning of her reign. Near the end of her long reign, she was listening to a powerful sermon on the second coming of Christ. Afterward she asked the preacher to come to the queen's box. Her majesty said to the preacher, "Dr. Farrar, I wish that the Savior might come while I am still on the throne, because I should like to take the crown of England and lay it at his feet."
Many years ago, Thomas K. Beecher once substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas raised his hand for silence and announced, "All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain." The example of godly leaders is helpful, but only the Savior is worthy of our worship and devotion.
Today we celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have passed on into Eternal Life. And as we look at the congregational family there are those who are no longer with us. In remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have gone before us we renew our hope and our anticipation of the eternal life that awaits us at the end of our earthly journey. This is the hope of those who have built their faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ, that one day we will rise up with Christ unto everlasting life. Every earthly sorrow will be transformed into heavenly joy and everlasting peace. And we will worship God in heaven in all eternity.
A few years ago in one of my courses at the University we had a guest speaker from the St. Boniface Hospital who works with terminally ill patients. In an excercise, to help the students get in touch with their own mortality, he asked us about our own fears concerning death. I was surprized that most students expressed a fear that they would not be remembered after their death. Someone said, "I'm not affraid of dying or even of suffering a slow and agonizing death. But, I'm afraid that I will not be remembered by the people who have shared my life after I've died."
A related sentiment is also expressed by those who are left behind when they say that they're afraid of the loneliness. At the funeral we get all the support we need. It is after the family returns from the graveside that the realisation hits hard, "What now? I'm all alone. I'm forgotten. Will anyone remember me in a week or a month?"
When we deal with the loss of a loved one we need some reassurance that things will be allright. We need some handles of hope to build our future. We feel weak and vulnerable. And we look for some reassurance. Some ray of hope. A word of comfort that doesn't assume to have the answers to life's toughest questions. A word of grace from God.
In those times we find strength and comfort in the presence of our Good Shepherd, and in the empathy and love of friends and family who have dealt with grief and loss. We search for a path that will see us through the valley of death towards a bright and hopeful new day.
Years ago, Dr. Arthur John Gossip preached a sermon entitled, "When Life Tumbles In, What Then?" He preached this sermon the day after his beloved wife had suddenly died. He closed with these words: "I don't think you need to be afraid of life. Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God. And as Paul puts it, ''What can separate us from His love? Not death,'' he writes immediately. No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of its terror, of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, ''Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom and it is sound.''
That is the kind of assurance that we need. Someone has touched bottom and has found it to be sound. When our hope is built on the great Shepherd of the Sheep, we are assured that help is never far away. God hears our cry and He will answer quickly.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote in the context of the fall of Jerusalem around 586 BC and Israel's exile to Babylon as a judgment against Israel and its leaders. Jeremiah 23 points out that when human shepherds fail us God is the Good Shepherd who will lead us in our time of need. Not only that, but God will also raise up a King from the Branch of David. And his name will be “The Lord our Righteousness.” This promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.
The King of Love, our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, leads us through the hard and difficult days in our life. He leads us heavenward -- to our everlasting home and eternal life. As our good Shepherd God leads us with wisdom far beyond our ability to comprehend. When He reaches into our midst and picks up a lamb, he doesn't do it to hurt us, but rather to draw us closer to himself.
In his suffering and death Jesus Christ has taken upon himself all the pain of the world. And in his resurrection he has broken the sting of death. He has gone into the deepest depths of human and divine suffering. Jesus has felt the bottom. He knows what it’s like to be alone, cursed, forgotten, laden with the guilt and sin of the world.
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus emptied himself of his Godhead, he took on the role of a servant. Therefore, God exalted him.
Similarly, the writer to the Colossian Church confessed the Supremacy of Christ. The entire letter is a confession of Faith that Jesus Christ is the Image of the Invisible God. HE is the ultimate Shepherd – if we want to use the terminology of Jeremiah. He is not only a shadow or a poor reflection of the real God that was hiden somewhere up in heaven, as some of the Greek philosophers believed. Rather, Jesus is the real thing. If you want to see God – look at Jesus!
In Christ we have the perfect image of God. Christ is supreme in all things: he is the firstborn of Creation; in him and for him all things were created; he is also the firstborn of the dead – that is the first one who rose unto eternal life. The perfect fullness of God dwells in him. He has brought us reconciliation and peace with God through his death on the cross.
Therefore, he alone is worthy to be praised! Jesus deserves our wholehearted worship. Our devotion to Him must be evedint in the way we live as God’s chosen people.
Col.3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Our dedication to God must be evident also in our relationships within our Families, in our workplace, between slaves and masters as Colossians puts it, and also in the way we act toward outsiders
Col.4:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
As we remember our loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord, we are encouraged by the Word of God to trust in God. We are invited to touch rock bottom and know that it is solid. Jesus Christ has blazed the trail for us. He is the image of the invisible God, and the firstborn of the dead.
And so, as we cast our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith we can be assured that we too shall rise with Christ and be on his side in all eternity. Then we will see with our eyes that which in this life we can only see in faith. And we shall fall down on our knees and worship Him… To Him be praise for ever and ever