Easter 6C Sermon (2001)

6th Sunday of Easter
Texts: Rev. 21:10, 21:22-22:5;
John 5:1-9; Acts 16:9-15


I’ve been talking about the Easter celebration during these 50 days of Easter. Just what is it that we celebrate? Just how much does Jesus forgive us? — for example. A whole bunch, we said. Last week we asked, “Just how much does Jesus love us?” Again, a whole bunch. This week we might ask, “Just how much does Jesus heal us?” How much life does our Risen Lord give us and give this world? This just might be the most amazing answer yet.

Jesus’ power of healing is obviously on display in the Gospel Lesson. He heals a man who has been ill for 38 years. But, if we read on in John 5, Jesus tells us that this is the tip of the iceberg. The Jewish leaders are unhappy with Jesus for working on the Sabbath. This is Jesus’ response: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” In other words, Jesus is not only challenging the Sabbath laws against working. He seems to be challenging the theology behind it. “My Father is still working.” That is, God’s work as Creator goes on. Creation is not done yet. What’s more, Jesus joins his Father in that work of creation. His power of healing is simply part of continuing to bring Creation to its finish, to its fulfillment.

Listen to a few words more of what Jesus says:

“Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. (John 5:19-21)

The Son will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. And what does Jesus tell his disciples in John 14? This (14:12): “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Just how much does Jesus heal us? So much so that he shares his power of healing with us. Jesus came to show us how to work with his Father in heaven in bringing Creation to its crowning fulfillment, and Jesus heals us enough so that we can begin to join in. We can begin to be the stewards of Creation that we were created to be. We can do greater works than even Jesus, who begins it all by being the first fruits of eternal life. That’s healing! That’s life!

But there may be something even more amazing yet in our readings from Scripture today. The second lesson tells us that, “The nations will walk by the light of God’s glory, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into the holy city.” And that: “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” This seems innocent enough, even if it’s a spectacular vision of things.

But there’s something we need to know from all that we skipped in our reading of Revelation this Easter. We skipped over all the dark parts about the evil forces which have this world enthralled and the great battle to defeat them. The thing we need to know is that the nations and kings of the earth — who in this morning’s reading walk into the city of God and are healed by the tree of life — these same nations and kings are totally enslaved to the forces of the Satanic beast throughout what precedes this wonderful procession into the city. Listen, for example, to this portion several chapters earlier:

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! It has become a dwelling place of demons… For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury. (Rev. 18:2-3)

How great is the healing powers of the Lamb of God and the glory of his tree of life, the cross? Great enough to eventually bring the final defeat of the powers of Satan and thus healing to all the nations enslaved to the demonic powers.

When does this healing begin? Does it begin now, for us, for our nation? Is our nation in the need of such healing? “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” All the nations. Are we arrogant enough to think that our nation has been exempt from this? Our nation, which in the name of capitalist expansion, for example, carried out a genocide in the 19th century against first African slaves and then the natives to this land? And how about today?

One of the themes that has been most important to me in my time here as your pastor has been that of Affluenza, that even our consumerist affluence might be considered to have grave consequences of unhealth, even deadly consequences. I’ve placed some information sheets about Affluenza in the pews. I’ve already mentioned the deadly consequences for African-Americans and Native Americans. But look at #7 of the quiz. 358 billionaires of the capitalist economics currently hold the same wealth as 2.5 billion people of the world’s poorest nations. The majority of those 2.5 live a daily life and death struggle against the violence of poverty, while only 358 of the world’s richest alone have the wealth to instantly double their livelihood. Has our nation escaped the demonic forces of the Satanic powers?

Just this week, our president spoke about the energy crisis. He basically said that in this country’s tradition of consumption of resources we would not seek to conserve resources but to simply find new sources for our continued consumption. In the global picture of things, considering that we already consume way more than our fair share of the resources, is this a sign of healing for our nation? I’m sorry, but I just can’t see it as such.

Even if we remain blind to the global picture, the effects of Affluence impinge us everyday, don’t they? The first several questions in the quiz reveal that while our consumption and material wealth has gone up considerably over the last forty years, we are indicating that we are less and less happy. Instead, most of us have shouldered ourselves with great burdens of debt, and the stress of our pace of consuming shows itself in both our physical and, perhaps even more, our in mental health. Are we the consumers, or are we slowly, without hardly realizing it, being consumed the same kind of satanic powers that the Book of Revelation is pointing to?

The Good News today, in any case, is that even the nations will walk into the city of God and receive healing from the Lamb’s tree of life. For those of us who choose to follow the Lamb, that healing begins even now. How so? For me, tithing has been part of our healing as a family….

But the healing also comes through this thing that we are about to do once again this morning: consume the bread and wine of our Lord’s body and blood. If there’s once consumption we can make for our healing, it is this one. Our Lord, the Lamb of God, did not come to show us some greater divine power of consumption, but instead let himself be consumed by those power which lifted him on that tree that turns out to be the tree of our life and of our healing. Because in that tree of life, we also come to see ourselves living lives not of consuming others’ livelihoods, but of letting ourselves be consumed only to find God’s never-ending power of life. Like our Lord, we are able to take the blessing of our lives, to let ourselves be broken, to give ourselves away in lives of loving service to others, and to receive that never-ending source of life from God, that same life that our Lord, even now, come to feed us with.

Just how much does Jesus heal us? Once again, a whole bunch. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Zion Lutheran,
Racine, WI, May 19-20, 2001

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