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Worship Theme: The Lord’s forgiving love heals.

Sermon Theme: Healing Happens in the Lord’s Kingdom of Love

The walls seemed to close in on her. Sure! The hospital had upgraded the cabinetry, equipment, and window shades, but it all seemed so sterile, so confining, especially since she was hooked up to that IV tree and had to call the nurse for assistance every time she needed to use the restroom. With her husband in heaven, her kids moved away, and lousy phone reception the loneliness meter matched the frustration scale, inching up like a spider on the wall with every passing day. Would healing come? The doctors couldn’t give her a guarantee. But even if she got released to go home, would her empty heart heal?

“I told you so! I told you that Jeremiah was right! He had been roaming the streets of Jerusalem for forty years and warning us about God’s anger and judgment. He warned us that the Babylonians were coming to wipe us out. He warned us that we were cruisin’ for a divine bruisin.’ Did we listen? No! We laughed, ‘Babylon is too far away. They’re no threat to us.’ But Jeremiah was right. Now what’s left of our kingdom? Nothing! The temple is gone. Our homes are gone. The kingdom and the power and the glory are gone!” Those words spilled from the lips of one of the citizens of Judah around 550 B.C. But that person was not singing a lament after scanning the horizon of his homeland but moaning while a long way from home. You see, the citizens of Judah no longer lived in Judah but in Babylon, having been deported and scattered like dust in the wind because of their wickedness and rebellion against God, and they were hurting. Would there be, could there be healing for their broken hearts?

As they were being dragged off to Babylon, some had the good sense to lug along the scroll written by Jeremiah, read it, and realized, “Jeremiah was right! He unloaded a ton of threats and warnings from the holy God.” But they needed to unroll the scroll a bit further to what we call chapter thirty-one and discover good news about a new kingdom, a kingdom with beauty and abundance, a kingdom with bubbling streams and trees bearing luscious fruit. Yet when some of them returned to Palestine after seventy years in Babylon, they found thorns and thistles, briars and burrs, dust and dirt, dilapidated buildings and deteriorated city walls. We wouldn’t blame them for saying, “Jeremiah is a liar!” But Jeremiah was not lying. He was describing a kingdom bigger and better than a tiny strip of real estate pinched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Desert, a kingdom where they and we find healing: healing happens in the Lord’s kingdom of love.

 The entrance requirements

Some private golf courses don’t list membership fees because membership is by invitation only. Guess-timates are in the quarter to half a million-dollar range annually. That’s more than likely a bit steep for you and for me.

The people of Israel were blood members of that ancient nation by birth, but God wanted them to have membership in his spiritual kingdom of love. His membership requirements in that spiritual kingdom were clear. “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 8:1). Yet time and again the people of that nation behaved like wayward children. No way did they, or for that matter could they, match up to God’s membership requirements for entrance into his spiritual kingdom.

There once was a man, shaking in fear, ready to take his own life, who pleaded with the apostle Paul, “What do I have to do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). In other words, “What are the membership requirements for me to get into God’s kingdom of love, where I can be immersed in his love and filled up on the inside by the assurance of his loving presence no matter how lonely and hurting I am?” Surely the apostle made it clear to him that the membership requirements in God’s spiritual kingdom are so high that even on tip-toes, even with a telescope, you can’t the top. For even that little lie we told a couple days ago, for that flare of anger we took out on a friend, for that dram of envy that curdled in our brain when we saw that “thing” someone had that we didn’t, God has a perfect right to disown us. But here’s the shocking news the apostle told the man shaking in fear, which is the same as the announcement Jeremiah brought to hurting people like the people of Judah in Babylon and to hurting people like me and like you. God himself satisfied the membership requirements and paid entrance fee. He said, “I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). So, what does it cost for you to get relief from the loneliness and hurt in your life? Zero, nada, nothing because it cost God the holy, innocent blood of his own Son. Thanks to Jesus we have a lifetime pass for membership in God’s kingdom of love where healing happens.

The membership roster

It warrants a forehead slap when we witness the bickering among the people of that ancient nation of Israel who heard about God’s love in paying their entrance fee but then bickered about who’s on the membership roster of God’s spiritual kingdom. That nation had been split by civil war. The people of the north said, “We don’t want to go to Jerusalem for worship.” In the meantime, the people of the south looked down their noses at their cousins to the north, “We have a corner on the God-market. We have the temple. We have the priests who do sacrifices. We have our names on God’s roster of special people and one foot in heaven, and you don’t!”

Jeremiah countered that bigoted thinking, “You Israelites can wallow in your clan-ishness and clique-ishness if you want, but you will be well served to check out what God has to say about the roster of his kingdom.” “See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.” God’s kingdom of love is not limited by geography or nationality or physical condition or age. His forgiveness is broad enough to include all, regardless of race, language, or economic status.

Feeling a bit disconnected once in a while? Feeling lonely or left out? Look around. This very day in this very worship service, as you pray, you are praying for the people around you, and they are praying for you. As you sing the hymns and liturgy, you are communicating God’s forgiving, heart-healing love to the people around you, and they are communicating it to you. As you participate in the Lord’s Supper, you are linking yourself by faith to the people around you, and they are linking themselves to you. You are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and you are that to each other. I’m so glad that we have the technology to stream and YouTube worship services for those times when the pandemic prevented in-person worship. But my heart breaks for those who have to endure the on-going loneliness of digital disconnect and can’t, for whatever reason, experience the shared admission of brokenness and flaws, the shared tears of joy in the realization that Jesus did what he did “for me,” the some-times-off-key-but-that’s-OK burst of song together, the touching scene of parents courageously modeling calm while their little ones fidget because we gather in this place to offer each other the gift of our presence and our touch, while Jesus touches us in this family meal. The roster of God’s kingdom of love isn’t an inert list of names. It’s alive and full of real living people, members together in God’s kingdom of love where healing happens.

The privileges

Of course, if you don’t believe that God paid your entrance fees into his spiritual kingdom, you won’t enjoy the privileges of having your name on the roster. What privileges? Listen. “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost [that’s the Chief, the Messiah, Jesus] of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’” Condemned people struggle in chains and mumble sad songs. It’s tough to leap and dance for joy when chained. It’s difficult to lift the voice in joy when choking back sobs of sorrow. But captives who are set free crank back their heads and geyser praises. That’s one of the privileges of membership in God’s kingdom of love, joy so full and deep that we can even rejoice when we are having a crummy day, when we’re stuck in a hospital room for weeks, when hair falls out, when muscles and joints ache, when kids are disobedient, when our selfishness turns people off and pushes them away, when our hidden fears keep us from being real. Jeremiah proclaims, “It’s OK to smile amid suffering, to laugh in the face of loneliness, to hum a hymn when you’re hurting because our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).” Because of what our Savior God did to give us his forgiving love, tears of sorrow over our failures and failings are turned to tears of joy. “They will come back with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back.”

He sat poolside there near Jerusalem’s temple. Legend had it that the occasional bubbling from the fresh spring underneath was curative and brought healing. Paralyzed legs meant he couldn’t get there and had to wait and wait and wait for someone to help. But even if lifted by some kind soul to the water, would healing occur? He had to wonder. Oh, how his heart was hurting! So, there he sat day by day, frustrated, ignored, helpless, alone amid a crowd. But healing happened in a snap when Jesus said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8).

Hurting? Alone? At the end of your rope? “I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble.” When the legs of our souls feel paralyzed with hurt and loneliness, Jesus peers into your eyes and mine and says, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk! Enjoy to the healing pool of my blood shed for you on the cross!” Healing happens in the LORD’s kingdom of love! Amen.

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Milwaukee, WI 53202