Sea No More: The Muppet Movie and the God-of-all-tenses

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Revelation 21:1-6

My sermon from 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016) on Revelation 21:1-6. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.

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“A frog and a bear seeing America” that’s the lead in a song from one of my favorite movies – The Muppet Movie. If you haven’t seen it, Kermit the Frog takes a road trip from the swamp he grew up into the bright lights of Hollywood. Along the way, he’s pursued by the evil Doc Hopper, a restaurateur with a chain for frog leg restaurants, who is hoping that Kermit will become his spokesfrog. Near the beginning of the film, Kermit runs into Fozzie Bear, a failed stand up comedian, and possibly the only bear in America who’s earned their driver’s license through a correspondence course. The two partner up, with Fozzie driving, Kermit in the passenger seat, and plenty of room in the back of their 1951 Studebaker to carry all the other muppets that they’ll meet. And so, they head off, starting their journey by singing their song: “Movin’ Right Along.”

Now, it’s a great song. Kermit’s playing his banjo, they can’t read a map, and it sounds like there’s a full orchestra just off screen, who happen to be following along. The two claim to know where they’re going – but the song shows otherwise. They somehow end up in Canada, pass by Rhode Island, notice the sun is rising in the west, and run into a snowstorm while suspiciously driving along some roads through what looks like Southern California. Kermit and Fozzie are “footloose and fancy-free” and in a song that lasts less than 3 minutes, they’re also literally all over the map. When we pay attention to the lyrics and what we see on the screen, none of it makes any logical sense. They can’t go to Rhode Island and Western Canada in just one verse. But what we see makes sense emotionally. We get a foretaste of this new and whacky journey that we get to go on with these two muppets who are ready for the big time – and wondering if the big time is ready for them. And that sense – that feeling – is a part of what our reading in Revelation is trying to do today. We hear a vision of heaven, a vision of the future, a vision of what happens when God comes to earth – but this vision, when we look at the verb tenses in this passage, doesn’t create a logical story. Instead we get an image of how we, right now, are caught up in God’s future and God’s future is already just movin’ right along.

Now, if you didn’t know, I received my undergraduate degree in engineering. When I was in high school, I dreamed about building things, writing computer programming code, and solving complex questions with thousands of variables. I didn’t plan on a career where I would be writing a few thousand woirds each week. If I had, I might have taken a few more English classes than I did. So, when I write, for example, articles for our newsletter, and even manuscripts for my sermons – verb tenses still throw me. Even when I’m careful, making sure each verb tense correctly shows when something happened or existed in the present, the future, or the past, I still slip up. I still need an editor to point out where I’ve gone wrong.

So it’s surprising to see, in our scripture reading from Revelation today, these verb tenses that are all over the place. The passage starts with our author, John of Patmos, reporting to us after seeing a vision of God’s future. So this vision happened in the past. But this vision is of God’s future. So that’s..the future. And this text, written as a letter to 7 churches – 7 churches who would read this outloud during their worship services – well – that’s the present. So, in a sense, we’re caught in mixed of tenses. Past-present-and future are all mixed up here. John saw a new heaven, a new earth, and a new holy city descending from heaven and landing smack-dab on the face of the earth. But then a voice declares – that God’s home is – right now – among mortals. This same voice then moves into the future – a future where God will dwell with people, live with them, and where God will wipe away every tear. And then, suddenly, we’re back in the past, with John telling us who he saw on the throne of the universe. And then this one on the throne, who is God, tells John – tells us – that God is making all things new, right now, and that God will, in the future, give water from the spring of life as a gift to all. This is a lot of tenses. This is a lot to see and hear at once. This also gets a little confusing – like reading a map upside down or expecting a sunset and seeing a sunrise instead.

But a God of all tenses – a God where the past-the present-and the future are all wrapped into one – that’s John’s God. That’s the image that John is painting for us. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is far-off, like some distant star, who cares little about the details of our daily lives. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is hidden, waiting for a series of pre-determined events to just…happen…in an almost myth like way before God, finally, shows up. A God of all-tenses isn’t only a God of the past, a God for yesterday’s people but who has nothing to say today. A God-of-all-tenses is a God who cares about our past, who loves us in our present, and who leads us into God’s future. This is a God who is active. This is a God who, even when we can’t see it, is breaking into our reality. A God of all tenses isn’t going to rapture people up to heaven but is, instead, going to step off the throne and come-on-down. A theology that claims that God is waiting to take the right kind of people up to heaven ignores this God of all tenses because a God-of-all-tenses cares about us in all of our tenses- our past, present, and our future – too.
Now, we all have our pasts. We all have our own roadtrip that we call life. We have our stories, experiences, and those times when we’ve forgotten God or when God is just not on our radar. We’ve all built our own walls, forcing our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers to pay for them in a multitude of ways. We’ve made choices. We’ve done wonderful things. We’ve even loved others too. But we’ve hurt others – and others have hurt us. Our past is ours – and that matters to a God-of-all-tenses. A God of all tenses doesn’t ignore our past – but instead, our God doesn’t let us stay there. God sees our junk – sees the junk we’ve experienced, created, or that junk that’s just been thrown at us. God sees all of it – and doesn’t let it be our final world, our future tense. Because God is in the business of dwelling with us today and living in the world right now. God is busy breaking in – like a new city, coming down from heaven, and making all things new. That newness includes us. That newness includes those we’ve hurt. And that newness includes those who’ve hurt us too.

When Kermit and Fozzie sing this song – they’re near the start of their adventure. They still have people to see, muppets to run into, and they’re heading to an epic showdown with Doc Hopper, a gang of hired goons, and the biggest Animal we’ve ever seen. Their story is just beginning. And our story, whether we’re 2 or 92, is just beginning too. The God that dwells with us, the Jesus that grabs us in our baptism and doesn’t let go, that’s our Fozzie, that’s our Kermit, in the Studebaker that is our lives. And whatever comes at us – whatever ordeal we face – none of that can undo that we are loved by a God who is in all our tenses – in our past, in our present, and in our future. At the end of “Movin’ Right Along,” Fozzie and Kermit wonder if the big time – if Hollywood and all its fame and fortune are ready for them. John of Patmos, in these last chapters of Revelation, shares that our future, our past, and our present are wrapped in God’s future; a future where the tears we shed are wiped away by the One who created us, redeemed us, and lives with us, right now, even in our broken lives and in our broken world. Our roadtrip is God’s and God’s roadtrip is our roadtrip too. So when we head out, facing our days, facing our world, and facing our lives – we can go footloose and fancy free, knowing that no matter what comes along, the God of our past, the God of our present, and the God of our future is with us – so that we can keep movin’ right along.

Amen.

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White Rapids: a sermon on sermon titles, Jesus, lost stories, and new life.

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9

My sermon from the Third Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2016) on Luke 13:1-9.

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Sight: a midweek Lenten sermon on seeing Jesus in a blurry world.

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Mark 8:22-25

My sermon from a mid-week Lenten series on the 5 senses (February 24, 2016) on Mark 8:22-25.

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Touch: a midweek Lenten reflection on Touch, Jesus, and giving life

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

Luke 7:11-15

My sermon from a mid-week Lenten series on the 5 senses (February 17, 2016) on Luke 7:11-15.

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Candy Hearts: a sermon on the wilderness, who we are, Peter Venkman, and Numbers.

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house. These are the names of the men who shall assist you: From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab. From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar. From Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon. From the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni. From Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. From Asher, Pagiel son of Ochran. From Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel. From Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan. These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the leaders of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the divisions of Israel.

These are those who were enrolled, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled with the help of the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each representing his ancestral house. So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war in Israel— their whole number was six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty.

Numbers 1:1-16,44-46

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Luke 4:1-13

My sermon from the First Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016) on Numbers 1 and Luke 4.

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Visible: Ash Wednesday, God’s Fire, and Making Ashes

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

My sermon from Ash Wednesday (February 10, 2016) on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

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I Am: a sermon on Jesus, mountaintops, and God’s cloud.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Luke 9:28-36

My sermon from the Transfiguration (February 7, 2016) on Luke 9:28-36.

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Compare and Contrast: a sermon on Jesus, Ridiculous arguments, and fantasy football.

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:30-37

My sermon from the 20 Sunday After Pentecost (September 20, 2015) on Mark 9:30-37.

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Turning Points: a sermon on Jesus, Rome, Peter, and place.

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

My sermon from the 19th Sunday After Pentecost (September 13, 2015) on Mark 8:27-38.

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