Monday, November 02, 2020

The Bethany Bullet Sermon Message - Week of November 1, 2020




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V  V  V


Message: “A Multistage Journey”

Text: 1 John 3:1-3


Many of you know that I am a sci-fi geek.  I love most works of science fiction.  I know it may be blasphemous to some but I like Star Wars and Star Trek equally, but I am also a self-proclaimed rocket nerd.  I have been fascinated by space travel since I was a child.  I had a book that was published sometime after JFK’s famous moon speech but before the Apollo astronauts took one small step.  The pages of that book captivated me to think of another world, almost another reality that one day humans would travel to. 


I’m too young to remember the Apollo missions but I was fixated on my little black and white TV when the first Space Shuttle flight trainer, the Enterprise glided its way back to earth.  My heart broke as I heard news of the Challenger and Columbia disasters and I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news.  I shed a tear every time I watch movies like the Right Stuff, Apollo 13 or Hidden Figures.  I have NASA T-shirts and stickers; I’ve watched countless YouTube videos of rocket launches and keep an eye out when one launches from Vandenberg. 


Now, unfortunately we don’t have daily non-stops to the moon like I had hoped when I was young, but with companies like Space-X, Virgin Galactic, Spin Launch, ULA and many others, venturing into space is more common now than ever and, perhaps, in my lifetime there will be a new age of space travel to boldly go where no one has gone before.


But rockets are not just the stuff of dreams and they are not just for scientific, military or transportation purposes. I would argue that they suggest a profound spiritual truth and one that may give some insight to us on this All Saints Day.  


Rockets are built in stages and after they lift off, they progress from stage to stage in order to achieve proper orbital insertion for their payload. As one stage ends, another begins and the old stage is left behind.  Often this results in a new trajectory and almost always changes the attitude and altitude of the payload.  Rockets may have two or three stages that are necessary to achieve their mission objectives. 


Our lives, at least in some respects, resemble a multiple-stage rocket: the first phase is from conception to birth; the second phase is from birth to death; and the third phase is from death into eternity. And just as there is a critical point in the progress of a rocket stage there are certain critical points in the life of a human being that are vital for continuation to the next stage. At some time in the second phase (and the earlier the better), a human being needs to experience the course changing phenomenon we call conversion. Having been born already, we are “born again”—that is the urgent language in which the Bible describes this critical stage. Having received bodily life as a process of the first stage, it is crucial to receive spiritual life in the next, or else the whole mission would be in peril and may plummet into eternal death. For some of us this happened in the waters of Baptism, for others it was that first encounter with the life-giving Gospel message found in the pages of Scripture.


The success of all phases are orchestrated by the Spirit of God who is at work.  The Spirit works to knit us together in our mother’s womb in the first stage and through Word and Sacrament and the witness of others in the second. 


All of you hearing this message have successfully passed through the first stage of life, that is life in the womb and have experienced all that this world has to offer. You have heard that life giving Gospel message or had God’s name place upon you in Baptism and our text from 1 John tells us that you, “are actually called God’s dear children.” (1 John 3:1) And as glorious and significant and real as this womb to tomb stage is, there is an even more glorious and significant stage ahead, a stage that staggers the imagination and with which nothing in this present mode of existence is worthy to be compared. I refer, of course, to heaven.  John writes, “What we will be isn’t completely clear yet.  We do know that when Christ appears, we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 2) Our goal today on this All Saints Day, is to fix our sights a bit more firmly upon this, the last and grandest stage in our journey.


It is common knowledge that many in our world, either by design or by oversight, regard the sometimes seventy to eighty plus years of existence on this earth as the whole meaning of life. They mistake what is a mere stage for the goal of the journey.  There are some who live in this stage who either turn their back on the work of the Spirit or who decide that they know the true trajectory of life.  Many ignore mission control and are in jeopardy of having the entire mission scrubbed. Even Christians sometimes have weak moments.  I know I do and I guess you do too.  At times this stage seems like all there is. 


Perhaps you have experienced the debilitating doubts that pockmark this stage.  Maybe you have let your mind wander into the unknown trying to use your own reason or strength to make sense of this world and attempt to comprehend what, if anything may lie beyond this stage. How can a person live forever? What kind of life can there possibly be beyond this? Maybe the grave is the end of it.  And if it is, we might as well face it bravely, or at least doing what we think is best.


Well, perhaps we can gain perspective on the stage to come by thinking about the stage behind, that nine-month existence before we were born. None of us today would regard that nine-month period as the whole meaning of life beyond which there is nothing more. But let us say, by way of illustration, that during our pre-natal life we had the capacity to think, to hope, to dream. And let us add that while in our mother’s womb we got word that another life lay before us, a life that might last the incredibly long time of eighty or ninety years. A life beyond our imagination or comprehension. The new world we would someday enter would contain light in which we could see things and vast reaches of space in which we could move around. It would contain towering skyscrapers, majestic mountains, odd looking quadrupeds called animals, large plants called trees, four-wheeled vehicles traveling at shocking speeds. Someday, we were assured, we would be able to do such impossible things as walk and talk.


What’s more, we wouldn’t be alone in this world; there would be millions of other creatures similar to our self, and where could there possibly be room for them all?  Yet strangest of all would be the mode of entering this new world, a rather perilous process called birth, involving pain, danger, doctors, and hospitals, leaving the comfort of the known for the unknown in a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as we live at present.


Now what reaction might that unborn child have toward this talk of another and more abundant life, assuming that an unborn child can have reactions? In spite of the fact that she couldn’t possibly understand what earthly life would be like, she could still believe in it and look forward to it. Doing so could make her nine-month existence much more pleasant, trusting that the next stage is true and real. Or, she could be a realist and assume that the darkness and cramped quarters she lives in are the whole meaning of life and that beyond that dreaded process called birth there is no more.  Then comes the day—the day of birth. It turns out to be gloriously true, all of it!  There is another life. A life in which you can live eighty or ninety years. There are such things as light and space and skyscrapers and mountains and animals and plants and fast-moving vehicles. You can walk and talk. And this dreaded process called birth, in spite of appearances, turns out, after all, to be the gateway to this new and wonderful world.


I’m sure you begin to see what we’re after today. Our present life is not the climax of life; it is but a stage in our journey. In relation to the heavenly life, we might call it a pre-natal stage. It may be filled with pain and problems, pandemic and partisan politics but we have it on good word—God’s word— that there is another life, another world, ahead of us called heaven. In it we shall live unbelievably long, in fact, forever! It is a world without space or time.  In it there is a room prepared just for us. In that place we shall behold the face of God. We shall see Him as He is. In fact, we shall be like Him. All the ills and inconveniences of this present life, chief of which is sin, will have vanished. And He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  Strangest of all, the mode of entering this world is a dreaded and painful process called death, a process involving undertakers, caskets, tombstones, and bodily decay, a process we would never guess could thrust us into such a beautiful life as the one found in heaven.

Obviously, we can’t conceive of this life, no more than an unborn child can imagine life on earth. But we can believe in it and hope for it. We can join the Apostle John in saying, “Dear friends, now we are God’s children. What we will be isn’t completely clear yet.  We do know that when Christ appears we will be like him because we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3: 2)


The striking truth of this All Saints Day is not how the church remembers the saints who have gone before us; even though we rightly chime the bells and speak the names of those who have gone before.


The real joy of this day is found in the knowledge that this stage is not the end.  Our trajectory is heaven.  Mission Control cares and connects us to life giving words. And when, by your own actions you try to scrub the mission, it is Jesus Himself who comes to be the mission.  His life, death and resurrection provide more than course correction but by His death we all achieve second stage separation and on account of Christ all your doubts and sins are forgiven and you will be welcomed into the next stage by the nail scarred hands of the Savior who knit you together in the womb, who carried your sins to the tomb and who rose again to knit you together with that great multitude that no one can count who have had their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. What a sight it will be to behold.  Until that day we remember that we are called God’s dear children here and now for that is what we are, our trajectory is heaven and that stage will be beyond imagination.

                    - Pr. Seth Moorman


 Worship Resources for Sunday, November 8th will be up on Bethany’s website by midday Saturday, November 7th.


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