With all the scandals in the church these days why are you still coming to church?
With all the negative press about Christians these days why are you still a Christian?
With all the other things you could be doing with your time and money why do you come to church?
With all the scientific arguments working overtime to disprove the virgin birth, the miracles of Jesus and the resurrection and everything to do with the Christian faith, why do you still believe in Jesus?
For me, and I believe for you and others, it’s because of today’s text from the Book of Revelation:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Regardless of what society deems the church to be and what today’s world can offer with all its glitz and glamour, technology advances, health and medical advances – it cannot provide what the Christian faith offers:
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
There might be a variety of reasons why you could easily turn your back on the church and God but what are you giving up if you do?
It’s like the situation when Jesus is teaching his followers about who he is and they find it really difficult to accept.
And John says: From this time many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Jesus asked the Twelve. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
And that’s the crux of the issue.
The church is not perfect.
Christians aren’t perfect.
But the Christian faith offers what no one else can offer – eternal life in heaven with no more suffering or death.
And that’s where things WILL be perfect.
There is no doubt that the world around us has changed and sometimes it’s really hard to accept the changes around us.
And it’s the changes in the world that has caused the world to move away from the church.
But despite the changes we know that even though the world may move away from God, God never moves away from the world.
And his Holy Spirit is working hard to reconcile the world with God as God is reconciling the world through Christ.
He can’t walk away from the world – he loves the world so much that he gave his one and only Son as a sacrifice to ensure we would be with him forever.
Over the generations there has been pressure for the church to change and it has been it ever so slowly that the church has responded.
The music has changed.
The seating has changed.
Confirmation of our children has changed.
The style of worship has changed.
But the central message of the church must NEVER change no matter how unpopular or out of touch it may seem – that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
The word “sin” is so foreign to our world today but we need it because Jesus died for our sins – that’s the Gospel message.
That is non-negotiable – in fact Paul says that if anyone comes with a different Gospel they are to be condemned.
But Peter, in our first reading today, shows how radical the parameters of the message can be challenged – not the message but how it is delivered.
Peter was challenged by the Holy Spirit to go to Joppa to meet with a Gentile by the name of Cornelius.
While he is there the Holy Spirit is received by Cornelius and his household.
Peter is scolded by the other disciples because this is deemed as against the rules of purity.
But Peter explains to them his vision where he sees all kinds of unclean animals that were previously forbidden as food and he is told to eat them.
Peter objects to which God responds: What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.
And so Peter says: If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?
That must have been very challenging to Peter and the disciples who were so devoted to their laws of purity that were given through Moses.
And no doubt this would have caused great division between them and the devout Jews who could not accept a change to the ways they were always done.
Sometimes in our attempts to protect the way we have always done things we can lose what is at the heart of the Gospel.
That God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
And that’s what John is describing in his Revelation – eternal life where death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Jesus made a clear distinction between what was sacred to the Gospel and broke down many barriers that were holding the gospel away from people – eating with sinners – touching and restoring the leper – freeing the woman caught in adultery – the man with the withered hand – the bent over woman were healed on the Sabbath.
And he enshrined those actions within the new commandment – love one another as I have loved you.
It’s hard and it’s challenging when things around us change but we must identify those things that are peripheral to the Gospel and those that are central.
And what is central – and has been and will remain to Lutheran teaching – is Word and Sacrament.
The Word of God cannot be compromised as even Pilate said when the Jews wanted him to change the sign above Jesus’ head – this is the King of the Jews – what is written is written.
And the sacraments – Baptism and Holy Communion.
These are the means of Grace by which God assures us that we shall not perish but receive eternal life where death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
They are not symbolic and neither do they represent God’s grace and love.
They ARE God’s grace and love where water and word combine – where bread and wine have Jesus’ Body and Blood – in with and under.
They are the Gospel in action – they are God’s love which we are to example to one another.
Sadly defending the way we have always done things has often gotten in the way of the Gospel.
Traditions are important but once they hinder the Gospel and our love for one another then they are no longer serving the spread of the Gospel.
“Who are we to hinder the work of God”
But we must distinguish between tradition and doctrine.
Bread and wine is not tradition but the teaching of our Lord.
The King James Version of the bible served a good purpose in the church but once the old English no longer served our changing language other translations better served the church.
Infant baptism is not a tradition but a teaching of the church.
Pipe organ serves a good purpose in the church but so does contemporary music.
St Paul says to watch your doctrine closely not your tradition.
And so for Peter, even though the laws of purity had served Israel for many centuries now came the time to spread the Gospel further which meant God gave permission to extend his Holy Spirit into previously unclean situations.
Maybe God has challenged you with some of the changes that the church has undertaken for the sake of the Gospel.
We have not always made decisions that have pleased everyone and that’s really difficult but we need to be aware that this is where Satan can enter.
How easy would it have been for Satan to side the other disciples against Peter.
That happened in Galatian when Peter was criticised for that which is what Paul called “another Gospel” and condemned those who persuaded Peter to now think differently about Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit.
Our church has recently made decisions that have hurt people.
Our church has done things in the past that has hurt people which is coming out in the Royal Commissions.
Not only do these actions hinder the gospel but how we respond also hinders the gospel.
And that’s when we need to remember Jesus’ final command before he died to love one another as I have loved you – and by this all people will know that you’re my disciples.
And the opposite is true too – when we don’t love as Christ loves – forgiving one another – then we hinder the gospel and stop being witnesses as his disciples.
It’s hard – just as it was hard for the disciples to accept what Peter had done that went against centuries of teachings from Moses.
They wouldn’t have understood why God would do it – just as we don’t always understand why God does some things – but they were prepared to trust for the sake of the Gospel and not hinder God.
God’s will is for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth – a will so important to God that he allowed his own Son to be sacrificed.
Let us also trust God and allow his will to be done which is not always OUR will.