Coming and Going
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 16:23–16:33
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 4-5, 2013
“Coming and Going”
One of the joys of the Sunday newspaper is the Travel section. I don’t always get to this, but I try. Even if you can’t travel yourself you can be an armchair traveler through interesting articles about interesting places in the world, locally and around the world. There is a column that appears in the Travel section called “CoGo,” short for “coming and going.” People feed their questions, frustrations, experiences, and problems solved in traveling by sharing all of these things, and there are always great insights and learnings. From the files of CoGo, here is an example: “Singapore’s busy Changi Airport recently offered a fascinating peek at its Land of Lost and Found. In 2010, the airport logged 2,603 lost items (defined as objects reported missing) and 14,613 found items… Predictably, the most common lost items are of the digital or electronic variety, such as mobile phones, cameras, iPods and iPads. Also on the list: reading glasses, passports, outerwear, wallets, books and luggage. The airport has also come across some truly befuddling objects, such as car batteries, washing machines and dentures. About 55 percent of the items are claimed within a month. The airport holds unclaimed items for 60 days before disposing of them” (source: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-10-28/lifestyle/35277127_1_unclaimed-items-starwood-hotels-travel-site). And from another CoGo file: “Based on a poll of amusement park enthusiasts, the trade newspaper Amusement Today recently announced its Golden Ticket awards. The best-amusement-park nod went to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. The best waterpark was Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels, Texas. Best children's park was Legoland California, in Carlsbad, California” (source: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2008-10-19/news/36877752_1_id-cards-travel-insurance-student-universe).
There is a whole lot of coming and going in today’s Scripture lessons, and that is the theme for the message this day: “Coming and Going.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
The first coming and going we find in today’s First Reading (Acts 16:9-15), Paul is on his second missionary journey with Silas and Timothy. A few verses before today’s reading, Paul’s plans to carry the Gospel into the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia (in what is today Turkey) were changed. Being forbidden by the Spirit to enter either of these regions, Paul was instead given a vision of a man from Macedonia (in what is today Greece), calling out to him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Paul’s coming and going were immediately changed by this, and he followed where Christ was leading to the city of Philippi, where the first church on European soil was planted in the home of Lydia, a business woman. Paul could have fretted and fumed about how his plans and purposes, all of his strategies and agendas, were now out the window, but he did not. Rather, he was obedient to that vision sent to him from the Lord, and altered everything accordingly. There is wisdom in this for us. Like Paul, we also have our plans and purposes, our strategies and agendas – where we want to go and what we want to do. Sometimes these fall apart, and everything comes crashing down. When that happens, it may well be that the Lord God is telling us (as He did Paul) that He has something else in mind for our coming and going – something even grander and more beautiful than what we had envisioned for ourselves. Trusting that God’s purposes for us are always for good, in faith we say, even as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal: “… not what I will, but your will be done” (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).
Today’s Epistle reading (Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27) is a continuation of readings from this final book of Scripture during the Easter season. John describes the new and heavenly Jerusalem, and focuses especially on gates – certainly a sign of coming and going. Gates serve primarily as a protection, and only secondarily for decoration. These gates, we are told, will never be shut by day, and there is no night there. There is no sun or moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). All of our comings and goings, all of our frantic hurrying and scurrying about, all of our mad rushing to and fro, is finally stilled as we pass through those gates. As the Epistle lesson ends: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). How will we who are unclean enter that blessed place? What about all the detestable and false things we have done? How will we know if our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life? Though our sins do indeed bear witness against us and vehemently accuse us before God, our trust is in something even stronger: “… the blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7b). This is our only hope and confidence to gain access to the gates of heaven: that our sins which are like scarlet shall be as white as snow. Our sins which are red like crimson shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18), all through the cleansing blood of Jesus.
Finally in the Gospel lesson (John 16:23-33), Jesus who has come speaks of his going: “I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16:28). Jesus’ disciples are really confused by all this. He is preparing them for his imminent departure, which we will celebrate on Ascension Day. Forty days after He rose from the dead, Jesus ascended to the Father where He now sits at the Father’s right hand and from which He will come again to judge the living and the dead. In the midst of all our coming and going, it’s important to keep this before our eyes and never lose sight of what Jesus has done for us and his promised coming again. As our Confirmands reaffirm their Baptismal vows this Sunday and make public profession of their faith, my encouragement to each of them - and to all of us - are those closing words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In all of our coming and going, hold onto this saving truth: the victory has already been won – not by Ironman, Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, or any other super hero. The One who has overcome the world, the One who has opened for us the way of everlasting life, is the real Hero, our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.