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Wiping Away The Tears

Sermons on the Second Readings
Series III, Cycle B
It is one line. A few words cast upon a sea of words. One line that sums up all that this day is about and what it represents. One line upon which every human hope finds its fulfillment. One line in which we place our trust. One line that every man, woman, and child turns to when the losses of this life are more than they can bear. One line when the woman stands sobbing quietly beside the hospital bed of the man she has loved for more than sixty years. One line when the child, her face twisted in grief, stands at the graveside of her father killed in Iraq. One line as the mother listens to the whimpering of her hungry babies, bellies empty, with no home to go to, and no hope left. One line when the cell door has been slammed shut, the isolation begins, and the darkness descends. One line when the doors swing open to the operating room and the fearful words are spoken: "He didn't make it." One line when you have screwed up so your life so badly that now there's no one left to call for help. One line when you tried to do the right thing but it all went wrong and someone got hurt anyway.

It is one line -- and it comes from a man who was granted a vision as he lived in exile on a rocky outcrop of an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea -- one line. A few words cast into a sea of words but a line that we simply could not live without. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (v. 4a). Isaiah had spoken similar words much earlier to a people and nation living in the despair of exile. Feeling abandoned by their God, the people of Israel grieved the loss of their land, their home, their temple, and their hope. In pain and grief they cried out to God to save them. Isaiah was sent to bring a word of hope and promise, a redemption to come, a time when "the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8).

John speaks a similar word of hope to a people living under the persecution of a brutal man who says that he is not only emperor of the world but also a god. And not only a god but the Lord God, demanding that all bow before him upon pain of death. The Christians living in those early days of the church raise another cry, "Jesus is Lord." If Jesus is Lord, then Domitian is not and so the persecution begins. Men, women, and children are all arrested. Torture and public executions are common. The cries of pain and grief of his people are once more raised to God. In a vision, John is told to write, "and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes."

This world pours its worst upon us. Our nation is at war and families on both sides grieve the loss of those they loved. Senseless violence wracks our nation when death descends upon the innocent children in our schools. Poverty, often accompanied by its close kin, domestic violence, is rampant in our society. Over 40,000 children die of malnutrition in our world every day. Good men die in a fire set by an arsonist, and cancer touches so many of those we know and love. Despite the worst that any Roman emperor could do, despite the pain that is endemic among them, despite the grief that surrounds them, engulfs them, and even threatens at times to overwhelm them, John on the island of Patmos comes to speak the word that has been spoken to him, "God will wipe away every tear from your eyes."

It is fair to ask, sometimes, how people can believe such a promise in the face of almost overwhelming odds. It is fair to ask how they can believe that which they have not seen, when they almost cannot believe that which they do see before their own eyes as the one they love wastes away with his sickness and the senseless violence goes on all around us. It is fair to ask how I can believe such a thing as a baby being given new life at the font by the simple act of pouring water over its head. It is fair to ask how I can believe this or any other promise, when I live in the midst a world filled with broken promises. It is fair to ask such things so long as we recognize that we cannot believe such promises, at least not on our own.

As Martin Luther reminds us in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, by ourselves we can do nothing, not even come to know Jesus Christ our Lord. But we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and it is this Spirit who sustains us in the faith, a faith which tells us that the promises of God are true, a faith which believes even in the midst of doubt and despair, a faith which cannot be defeated even in the face of trial, tribulation, sword, or peril. For we have this promise which we cling to in faith, that God our God, the one who is Lord of lords, the one who is seated on the throne, the one who has promised to set the banquet feast for the hungry and give flowing water for the thirsty, this God has promised to come to us in a new heaven and new earth, to live with us, and wipe every tear from our eyes.

On All Saints, we hear again this promise from God and we hear the call for us to be a sign of that promise to all generations. Although the world may offer its worst to us in this life, God will be with us and will wipe away every tear from our eyes. On this day of promise, we will remember all those saints whom we have loved and who have now gone before us. The names of our loved ones will be spoken, the bell will toll, and we will remember them with both thankfulness and tears. For God created them in his own image and likeness, claimed them as his own in the same waters of baptism and in time brought them to rest with him until the day of resurrection. In that promise of a new heaven and earth, we therefore place our hope on this day of promise, the promise that in time, our God will come to us and wipe away every tear from our eyes.

All Saints is a day of promise because it is a part of the great pattern of God's design for his creation. From the beginning, God has always come to his people in the time of their distress, reaching out his hand to wipe away their tears. Isaiah proclaimed it to the people of old. John proclaimed it from his exile on Patmos to the early church. And we proclaim it to the ends of the earth on this day of promise.

Do not despair; do not grieve; do not loose hope, we proclaim, for God will come to be with you and he will wipe away your tears. Grieve those who are gone but also rejoice. Live in hope of that which will come, a new heaven and new earth, for God's promises are true beyond any truth of this world. There will be a time when death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for these first things have passed away and our God comes now to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen.
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