Join Grace for worship
Worship Theme: The Gifted Life Leads to Heaven’s Door
Sermon Theme: Our Names Are Written in Heaven
Life’s road has lots of curves and at times hairpin turns with no guard rail. Has the thought ever crossed your mind, “Will I make it to the end of the month, the end of the week, the end of the day?” Hebrews 12:18-24 has something to say about that: “Our Names Are Written in Heaven.” August 21, 2022.
Some friends told John, “You ought to try a new business!” It meant a career shift from his training and felt like a leap in the dark. How would it go? Uncertainty. Ted and Dora were heart-broken. They so wanted kids of their own, but it was not to be. They focused on the tasks at hand, but as the number of people they worked with grew, their responsibilities grew. Could they handle it all? Uncertainty. Anna told Chuck, “Our hearts still ache from the childhood death of our son eleven years ago, and now during your hospital stay with a fractured skull from that hit-and-run accident, I wondered if you would survive. I’m not pressing you to get back to work, but I don’t think I can earn enough to support our family.” Uncertainty. Bill sensed the coming economic crash, but he never imagined that it would cause the school where he worked to disappear. Uncertainty.
Life’s road has lots of curves and at times hairpin turns with no guard rail. Has the thought ever crossed your mind, “Will I make it to the end of the month, the end of the week, the end of the day,” or “When will the other shoe fall?” Uncertainty. Where do we get confidence and certainty for living in this world? Today’s second reading from Hebrews chapter twelve has something to say about that: “Our Names Are Written in Heaven.”
That means we have come to a better mountain
The banker calls and leaves a message, requesting an in-person meeting. He shows you an official looking piece of paper and says, “I’m presenting you with a contract. It reads: Every beneficiary chosen by the person named below will receive $25,000 a month tax free for life, set to begin in twenty-five years. You look at the document, and, sure enough, there’s your name on the bottom line! Wouldn’t that be something? You gather your family and friends and especially the people you have chosen to get your stuff when you shuffle off this mortal coil (Hamlet 3.1) so they can join you in celebrating this guaranteed contract.
That’s what happened to Abraham. God presented him with a guaranteed contract that had his name on the bottom line. He didn’t promise Abraham $25,000 a month for each descendant but something better. The Savior of the world was going to be born from them. Surely, Abraham gathered his family and friends so they could join him in celebrating this guaranteed contract.
Back to the story about the banker. Let’s say that you died, but the twenty-five years have not passed. So, the people you chose to get your stuff can’t yet collect the $25,000 a month. Now let’s add a little twist to the story. Let’s say that your friends or kids or whomever you had chosen turned out to be lazy. They didn’t want to work, never looked for a job, and just sat around playing video games all day. On top of that, they were mean-spirited and blamed the banker for their troubles. They threw eggs at his bank, soaped the windows of his home, and keyed his car. He hauled your beneficiaries into his office. The room almost shook as he shouted in an angry voice, “You are so immature! You act like you have forgotten the wonderful contract I set up with your benefactor’s name on it. I ought to rip it up and forget about you. But since I’m a nice guy, I will help you remember what was promised. To do that, I have prepared an additional, temporary contract which I want you to sign. You are to live next door to me so I can keep an eye on you. I will provide you with food and shelter, and you are to come to the bank three times a year to celebrate that first contract I presented to your benefactor. This added contract may seem odd or tough for you to live under, but it’s for your own good.”
That’s what happened to Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites. They were mean-spirited and rebelled against the Lord. So, the Lord called them into his office, not a bank but a mountain, Mount Sinai. The whole mountain shook. In a thundering voice, God said, “You Israelites are so immature. You act like you have forgotten my contract, my promise, to Abraham. I ought to rip it up and forget about you. But since I am also compassionate, I have prepared another contract which I want you to sign. You are to live in the land I give you, eat the food I tell you to eat, and come to my worship facility three times a year to celebrate the great promise of the Savior in my original contract with your ancestor, Abraham. The terms may seem odd or tough for you to live under, but it’s for your own good.” The Bible writer described the scary scene at Mount Sinai: You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.
Twenty-five years passed since the banker first presented that original contract. On the day appointed, he went to the home of each of your friends or kids or whomever you had chosen, tore up the additional, disciplinary contract, and presented them with the original contract written in a new format. It not only had your name written on the bottom line. It had their names as well. And he also presented each of the people you had chosen with the first of the $25,000 monthly checks! Wow!
God does not deal with us as he dealt with the Israelites at fiery Mount Sinai. He does not treat us as immature children. He has torn up that temporary, additional, disciplinary contract he had with the Israelites. We know that because the temple curtain ripped in two when Jesus died on the cross. God now presents us with that original contract which he made with Abraham but in a new format. It is a heavenly contract, and it has our names written on it. The Bible writer says, “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” God has placed us into his family of believers, the holy Christian church, where we inherit something far better than $25,000 a month. Do you understand the significance of what the Bible writer is saying to you? Lots of people would like job security, but who knows whether there will be downsizing or cutbacks? Uncertainty. Lots of people would like to hear from the doctor that the annual checkup shows continued good health, but who knows if arteries are clogging or cancer cells are swimming around in places they should not be? Uncertainty. Lots of people would like their families to stay in tact, but who knows who is going to move out or when death comes calling? Uncertainty. But here is something that brings ultimate certainty. Not even death can change our status with God. Our names are written in heaven!
That means we have come to a better mountain through Jesus
Your banker was able to give $25,000 a month to all your friends or kids or whomever you had chosen because an anonymous donor died and willed billions to the bank to fund the project.
The payment sin needs to be funded. Put even one little untruth, one hurtful comment, one arrogant thought that I am better than someone else in a sin-scale, and robbery or murder are worse, right? But the payment for each and every sin, whether it seems big or little, is the same. Do you think you could pay God enough for a get-out-of-hell-free card? It’s not $25,000 a month. The blood of bulls and goats wasn’t good enough. Animal sacrifices only reminded the Israelites that a higher price had to be paid. The payment for each and every sin is hell. But the blood of Jesus, God’s Son purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
Yet, how easy it is to slip into, “Jesus paid for my sins? I’ve heard that before. That’s not a game-changer for my life right now because I’ve got such a busy schedule and plenty on my plate to deal with, especially everything that causes me uncertainty in life.” Maybe a time machine would be best, to whisk us back for a finger touch of flaming Mount Sinai. If you and I were there to watch fire consume rebels and heard the thundering voice of God, I know I for one would be shaking in my sandals, worried because God really ought to torch me for what passed through my mind and for what came out of my lips this past week. But that would also help me appreciate all the more that God has already done that, and he’s done with it. Way back after the Garden of Eden, Cain murdered his brother Abel, and Abel’s spilled blood called for vengeance from God. Jesus’ spilled blood calls for something else. God put his own Son on two hunks of crossed lumber and torched him with the fire of hell in our place so that we won’t be torched. We have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Because Jesus made the payment, our names are written in heaven.
In our story about the banker and contract your friends or kids or whomever you had chosen get $25,000 a month no strings attached with no obligation to pay it back. Wouldn’t you be thinking, “I hope they at least say, ‘Thank you’”?
Jesus funded the contract with our names written on it. So, what’s next? How do we respond? How else but “let us be thankful.” That means missing worship, letting a marriage relationship deteriorate, holding back offerings because something or someone ticked us off, pooh-poohing Bible study are not options. My friends, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
The people I talked about at the beginning are not make-believe. They are our spiritual ancestors at Grace Church. John is Johannes Muehlaeuser, who started this congregation when friends suggested a career change. Ted and Dora are Pastor Theodor Jaekel, the second pastor here, and his wife, who were childless and had to handle the burden of a burgeoning congregation. Chuck and Anna are Pastor Carl Gausewitz and his wife. Their son died at a young age, and he nearly died from a hit and run accident just up the hill. Bill is Pastor William Sauer, who had to deal with the ravaging effects of the Great Depression. Very likely, each had moments of uncertainty as they lived their lives for the Lord. What gave them certainty as they walked the winding paths of life and the streets of Milwaukee? God put his promise of forgiveness and love in writing right here in Holy Scripture and wrote their names on the bottom line. Like our spiritual ancestors, our names are written in heaven, and that is most certainly true! Amen.
Be sure to subscribe so as to not miss future worship services, and please consider sending financial gifts to support the ministry of Grace Lutheran Church:
Online Giving: http://www.gracedowntown.org/giving/
Giving By Mail: Make checks out to "Grace Lutheran Church," and send to:
Grace Lutheran Church
1209 N. Broadway
Milwaukee, WI 53202