Sunday, July 18, 2004

Isaiah 66:10-14 - “At This Very Moment in Manitowoc County…Jerusalem is Here”

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Year C - LCMS Readings)
Thursday, July 15, and Sunday, July 18, 2004

We took Susan’s brother to the Milwaukee airport on Tuesday; he was returning home after being here to visit his new nephew. We were driving back, and I saw a couple of those billboards advertising Manitowoc. The slogan is: “At This Very Moment in Manitowoc.” The pictures on the billboards are different—someone biking along the Mariner’s Trail, two people playing golf with the sun setting behind them. At this very moment in Manitowoc, there’s these wonderful things going on, making it a great destination.

Thinking of today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah, I decided that there should be one more of these billboards with an expanded slogan. You’ve got my proposed slogan on the insert in today’s bulletin: “At this very moment in Manitowoc County. . .Jerusalem is here.”

Now looking at the county map, I may not have known that the Francis Creek section is the Kossuth section, but I didn’t actually think that there’s a section of the county or some small village that’s called Jerusalem. But I do think Jerusalem is here in this county.

Flip the insert page over. Looking at the Manitowoc County seal, there’s no symbol for Jerusalem in the seal. There’s a barn, a ship, a submarine, the carferry, a plane, a factory, but no Jerusalem. Despite what the county seal shows, I do think Jerusalem is here in this county.

Check out the logo for Manitowoc County’s PGA promotion. “Come for the golf…stay for the experience!” I believe that Jerusalem is here in this county, and to me it would make sense to for the PGA slogan to be: “Manitowoc County. Come for the golf…stay in Jerusalem!”

How can I talk about Jerusalem—a city in Israel, a city halfway around the world, a city of great importance, a holy city, a city that is so far away from our little corner of Wisconsin—how can I talk about Jerusalem being here in this county in this place?

Because God in Jesus Christ completely changed our idea of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the City of God, the place where His temple was, the place where He dwelt among His people. Now that Jesus has come, God’s presence is wherever Jesus is. And now Jerusalem is no longer one specific location on the map, one specific point in the GPS grid. Jerusalem is wherever Jesus is, wherever God’s people gather around Jesus.

You are God’s people through faith in Him. You are gathered here around Jesus and His Word. Therefore, the words from Hebrews chapter 12 speak about Manitowoc County: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” At this very moment in Manitowoc County, Jerusalem is here. People can come for the golf, come for the PGA Championship, but they can stay in Jerusalem, they can stay to experience God, they can come among us and find the holy city, find God dwelling among us through His Word.

What a great tourism promotion! What a great fact about Manitowoc County! Do you see what I mean about wanting another billboard along I-43? “At this very moment in Manitowoc County,” and instead of biking or golfing, there’s a picture of Jesus walking in downtown Manitowoc or on Washington Avenue in Two Rivers. Jesus is here in Manitowoc County. Jerusalem is here.

Of course, before we get ahead of ourselves in promoting our claim that Jerusalem, the holy city, is in Manitowoc County, let’s remember that Manitowoc County doesn’t have a corner on Jesus. We’re not the only ones who can claim that Jerusalem is in their county; we’re not the only ones who can say that Jesus lives among us. Anywhere God’s Word is heard, Jesus is working in that place. Anywhere where believers gather, Jesus lives there among them. Every county, every state, every country where there are believers in Jesus Christ, well, they can all say, “At this very moment, Jerusalem is here.”

But how, how did this happen that Jerusalem is wherever Jesus is? Why isn’t Jerusalem still just in Jerusalem in Israel? Because when Jerusalem rejected Jesus, when the leaders of the Jews condemned Jesus and sent Him to the cross, they lost the honor and privilege of being the place where God would fulfill His promises. The earthly city of Jerusalem, the specific location on the map, the city led by the Jewish leaders would no longer be the one location where God’s Spirit would dwell.

In the days leading up to the crucifixion, we see Jesus weeping for Jerusalem. On your bulletin insert you have a section from Luke’s Gospel, the 19th chapter, “And when [Jesus] drew near and saw [Jerusalem], he wept over it, [42] saying, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. [43] For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side [44] and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

I recently heard that sense of shock at how Jesus was rejected in a song called “Jerusalem” by a rather obscure folk-rock singer from the 1960s named Simon Finn. With great passion, Finn sings, “And I’m yelling all I can/can’t you see He’s the Christ? Oh, no, no./And they don’t understand a single word I say/But I’m crying just the same/Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, oh, no, no.”

When Jesus says, “I wish you would have known on this day the things that make for peace,” Jesus is amazed at them for their rejection, their lack of faith. When Jerusalem rejected Jesus, they were rejecting God’s true peace. This connects up with the Old Testament reading from Isaiah chapter 66. God had said, “I will extend peace to Jerusalem like a river, and I will give them the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.” God had promised to send peace to His people, but when that peace came, when the people heard Jesus saying that He was the Savior, the One bringing God’s peace, the people rejected that idea.

God talks about His peace being like a river. Rejecting that peace that so clearly came in Jesus, well, that’d be like us denying that there’s rivers in Manitowoc. It would be like saying, “Nope, no rivers in our county,” even though the Manitowoc River and the Twin Rivers flow right through our cities. That’s what amazed Jesus. God was bringing His peace to His people, to Jerusalem, and it was as clear as a river flowing through the city—but they wouldn’t recognize it. So God said that His peace, His salvation would come to the New Jerusalem, the city of believers, wherever people gathered around His Son.

All of the promises about Jerusalem are true for Manitowoc County. Everything God says will come to Jerusalem, all of the blessings, are now blessings for Manitowoc County, for any county, state, country, or remote island, anyplace where believers live.

Besides peace like a river, what are the other blessings that God spells out in Isaiah chapter 66, the blessings that come to us through Jesus? Verse 11 uses the image of a nursing baby being fed by his mother. God is saying that through Jerusalem, through His holy city, through the gathering of believers gathered around His Word, we will be fed spiritually, nourished and filled, given what we need to continue and grow in the faith.

Verse 13 talks about being comforted by your mother, and here the reference is to when you are older. Even when we become adults, many of us still find comfort from our mothers when we are stressed or worried or going through difficulties. That kind of comfort is the comfort that we find in God. God invites us to come to Jerusalem, and He will offer us His comfort. He will listen to our prayers and give us hope when the days look dark.

In fact, in looking at the blessings that come to us as believers in Christ, the common theme is hope. Verse 10 is about hope when it says, “Rejoice with Jerusalem in joy, all you who mourn over her.” God invites His people to rejoice for Jerusalem, even though many of them have been mourning, have been crying and saddened by all of idolatry and false worship and the ways the people had deserted their faith in God. Yet, God invites them to rejoice, to celebrate Jerusalem, a city that looks like it is completely abandoning the faith. God is inviting the people to have hope.

It’s like Pastor Miller said in last week’s sermon about Elijah: Elijah who felt like he was the only faithful one left, and then God said that there were 7000 other believers still left. Here God is saying the same thing: rejoice, even though you are mourning for the unbelievers around you, rejoice, because I am still going to bring peace and comfort and salvation. God is asking them to hope—in other words, believe in something that you cannot see, that you are not experiencing, something that is still to come in the future.

In his poem “Love, Hope, Desire, and Fear,” the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “Then Hope approached, she who can borrow/For poor to-day, from rich tomorrow.” Borrow from tomorrow’s riches for today’s poverty. That’s exactly what hope is—borrowing from the riches of tomorrow, the grand peace and salvation to come in the future, hope borrows from that to give something to today’s poverty, borrows light for the darkness of today’s world. In other words, God says that one day His Son will return to bring us all to live forever in the New Jerusalem where there is no more pain or fear or death. Hope takes out a mortgage on that future, takes out a loan on the future, giving us just a little taste right now of what we will own someday.

Right now, we just have a mortgage on the blessings that God speaks about in Isaiah chapter 66. He has told us that we are Jerusalem, that we have His comfort and peace, that we have salvation, but really, we only have a small portion of that comfort, peace, and salvation. We don’t own the house yet; we haven’t truly arrived in the New Jerusalem yet. When we gather together as believers, when we declare that we are in Jerusalem because Jesus is here, we are looking forward in hope to when all of these blessings will fully be ours.

In Isaiah’s day, God’s faithful followers needed to have hope, a hope for the future, because they mourned as they saw how faithless the people were, how they had forgotten their God. Many of us may feel that same way when we look at the Church today. This week has been the convention of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and people have been talking about wanting there to be an end to fighting and divisions in our denomination. While I think that many of those disagreements have to happen in order for people to truly come to an agreement about what teach and believe, I too mourn when our denomination and when our congregation is fighting and divided. Like Jerusalem rejecting Jesus, we too are always in the danger of rejecting the Word of Christ, in danger of ignoring the peace that flows like a river through the county.

When we mourn for the Church’s errors, that’s when we need the hope of blessings to come. Yet, that fighting, that rejection of God, the errors we make in the Church, those are our errors, our sins. They do not change God, who He is, or the truth of His promises. Jerusalem is here in Manitowoc County, not because Redeemer Lutheran Church is without sin; Jerusalem is here because Jesus is here.

When people tell me that they are angry with the church, I mourn with them for the sins that we have committed. However, I mourn all the more when the sins of the congregation have caused people to even wonder if God is real, if salvation is true. The Jerusalem we have today, the gathering of believers we have in this place, the Church of God on earth will never be without sin, without error, without mistakes, without our own stupid ideas. Yet, that doesn’t change anything about God. God is still the One who will bring peace, comfort, love, and salvation.

We come together in Jesus to rejoice now for the joy that we will have in eternal life. I hope we have never said that all of the joy, all of the peace, all of the comfort, all of the holiness is here in the Church today. No, we’ve just got a loan on those future blessings. Of course, you’re going to come to church and still find things in disrepair, still find things are a mess. This ain’t the new house yet. We haven’t moved yet. Christ hasn’t come back yet.

We come together to see the picture of the house that we will have; we come together to see a glimpse of our spiritual future, our future in Christ. At this very moment, Jerusalem is here—partially. We are citizens of God’s holy city—but we haven’t moved there yet. Through faith in Christ, you’re already a citizen of Jerusalem, but we’re still waiting to move to the New Jerusalem.

So like a home mortgage where you begin to own a portion of the house right now, but it is years before you fully own the house, so too with our salvation in Christ. The promises have been made, the deal has been signed, but we can’t move in yet. We are waiting for Christ to return, waiting for Him to pull up with moving van so that we can move to His Father’s house, to the New Jerusalem, to the heavenly city. For now, we wait in hope, we wait knowing all of this will be ours, we borrow from the future to have a taste of God’s blessings today.