Friday, May 25, 2007

C, Pentecost Sunday - Acts 2:1-4,14,36b-41 "True Unity"

Pentecost is all about life. Growing things and Pentecost go hand in hand. This is not immediately obvious to us in the Southern Hemisphere as the days get shorter and colder and life seems to slow for winter at about the time we celebrate Pentecost. However, in the north, Pentecost colour and life match a verdant spring after the dormant cold of winter.

Similarly the disciples’ action slowed in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven, and after he subsequently asked them to stop and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. They believed the Lord and so they faithfully rested in his word for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit came, the dormant disciples sprang to life and through them the Holy Spirit grew the church to three thousand in a day.

Hearing about the tremendous growth that first Pentecost makes us wonder what we might do to have growth like that in the church today. After all it’s natural for you and me to look to our own achievements in getting things done. So how might we turn the tide of a church that seems to be dormant, or even dying, and grow the numbers of newcomers and graft others back into the life of the post Pentecost church?

There is no doubt when humanity puts their heads together, great things can be done.

Some of the greatest welfare efforts on earth come as a result of people being united as one to help those in trouble, to overcome opposition, to move the seemingly impossible, to feed and clothe those afflicted by famine, natural disaster, or war. Humanity stands together as united nations so many hands makes light work!

Then the world also stops as one for events like the Olympics. People are united by sport. Peace and good will are promoted at these events. Struggles and fighting between individuals and countries is overlooked as people come together, celebrating the triumphs of the human spirit. Nothing moves a crowd like an underdog battling the odds and winning out over exhaustion, physical limits, and revelling in the dream of success. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me!

The power of human unity and achievement can also be seen all over the world in the massive structures created by human ingenuity. Think of the collective power as people come together to build the great structures of the earth; the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, man-made dams, and taller and taller buildings in our cities. In fact, in cities like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, they pride themselves of building not only the biggest most luxurious buildings, but they also create islands on which to build these towers. Through the power of people superhuman things are done.

It seems while humanity is united, as we join to build bigger and bigger flying machines and space stations, and blast them further and further into space, nothing is going to stop us now! We are the champions; we are the champions of the world!

Much is done in the name of unity. Perhaps the world might be saved from environmental disaster through the unity of the human spirit, it’s believed. Bigger and bigger seems better. Or that’s what we’re led to believe anyway! God help those, who question or stand in the way of unity, who stand in the way of great gatherings of those who believe the same thing. In the name of unity — for the sake of unity!

It was this pack mentality which led a group of unified people to suggest, “Let us make bricks, and let us bake them thoroughly”. Then once that was done, “Let us build a city”. And after that, “Let us build a tower that reaches the heavens”. Little by little they did what they wanted; little by little their unity led them further and further into disobedience. Little by little in the name of unity, they disunited themselves from God and his command, to fill all the earth. Little by little they turned from he who gives humanity their identity and unity, and instead sought to make a name for themselves, there at Babel.

God’s image which actually gives humanity its identity and unity, through sin, turns his very image, our unity and who we are, into a god that humanity collectively worships in place of the One True God. Community, unity, or human oneness can be humanity’s greatest god today. And when these become god, they also cause most of the gravest human sins too.

In a church, which many outside the church see as obsolete, and many inside see as dormant or dying, the temptation to build up our identity and make a name for ourselves is real. In fact it’s happening today. Little by little the temptation to say “Let us… Let us do this, or let us do that”, in the name of unity, in the name of humanity, in the name of numbers, in the name of fun, in the name of common faith or belief, is tricking us to worship the sin tainted image of God in ourselves rather than God himself.

The danger of this deception is this: it uses all the same “churchy” language. Faith, fellowship, trust, unity of the spirit, love, Christianity, believer, belief, and even the name of God is invoked, and God’s word, is used to justify the collective belief in the power of humanity. Jesus’ name is used to justify the unity that ultimately divides us from the true unity that God wants for us in Christ Jesus.

Ironically, once the superficial covering is taken away from this oneness and unity mantra, individualism always comes to the fore.

The truth about us today is this: we think of ourselves a long time before we even begin to consider the welfare of others. Our love for God is driven by our desire to get what we want, over against loving God for the sake of just loving God.

Faith and trust in our God, who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, is overlooked in favour of a “personal faith”, which is trust in one’s self! Therefore, when unity is paraded over against Jesus Christ as a god it brings disunity, dysfunction, and destruction, between all of us and God, as we step out from under the umbrella of God’s grace, faith, and peace.

Ten days the disciples remained in Jerusalem, commanded to wait for the promise of the Lord. Although they seemed dormant, they remained at the temple worshipping and praising God. Jesus ascended from their sight and ten days later the Holy Spirit was sent to replace that sight with faith. This is the promise God made to the disciples, it is also the promise for those who wait on the ways of the Lord given to his holy church on earth.

We hear from Acts chapter two… 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.

36b …God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:1-4, 14, 36b-41)

The disunity that humanity finds as it looks for unity in itself has been put right by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his promise of the Holy Spirit, sent to give us sight of Jesus through the gift of faith. It is God who creates and sustains the church. It’s the Holy Spirit who grows the church. It’s not the power of collective humanity but rather it’s the power of the Holy Spirit that saves us and gives us unity!

In fact, Luther says it well in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctities the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

I believe that I cannot… believe in Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit gives me faith, when I hear God’s word of Jesus’ death and resurrection for me! Therefore, I must not hinder the work of the Spirit, who leads me back to the very thing that is saving me, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and my baptism into it.

Jesus’ will for you is to rest in the promise of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctities the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

So what must we do? Let us, little by little, day by day, repent and return to our baptism to ponder anew, what the Almighty can do, who with his love, does befriend us! Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2007

C, Easter 7 - Acts 16:16-34 & Revelation 22:10-14 "Actions of Being"

 
A common misnomer in our thoughts these days is this: If it gets the job done then it’ll do. This seems to be the bottom line in doing what one must do to survive. Unfortunately this type of rationale pays little to no respect for right and wrong. In fact one might be tempted to believe, if it gets the job done then it’s justifiable, no matter what the means are of getting there.
As Paul and Silas walked through Philippi on their way to a place of prayer each day, a slave girl possessed by a spirit, repeatedly but rightly points to these men as “servant of the Most High God!” She was not wrong in what she said even though she was a noisy nuisance and others were making money out of her prophesies. Surely this might be used as a means of doing God’s work; after all she was proclaiming the Most High God?
Surprisingly though, Paul tired and troubled by her daily ranting, turned and said to the spirit in her, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)
After Paul took this action, he and Silas were seized, flogged, and thrown into jail. One would imagine they would have been sorry and sore. But instead, they sat up singing hymns and praying past midnight. Suddenly and unexpectedly an earthquake shook the prison, the doors flew open and the chains came loose.
To the horror of the jailer, he awoke at the commotion, thinking his worst nightmare had come true. Believing the prisoners had escaped he reached for his sword to end his life, but Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:28)
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family. (Acts 16:29-34)
What must I do to be saved? The question “what one must do?” is perhaps a very natural response for humanity. The jailer faced death, because the prison had become unsecured under his watch. He was frightened, humiliated, and his immediate response, before Paul stoped him, was to take his life.
In this account from Acts, we’ve just heard of two responses to two situations. They seem to be knee jerk sudden responses, with little thought to what one must do. The response of Paul and the jail keeper were natural responses according to who they were. They were immediate responses from their beings, they didn’t have to stop and think what to do!
In the core of Paul’s being he was troubled by the spirit filled girl and in an instant he turned and cast out the spirit. The Jailer was troubled in spirit too, and in an instant he turned to take his life. Both men acted according to his being, they acted as according to whom they were called to be. The difference between them is this: Paul’s being was led by something or someone external, whereas the jailer’s being was led by his internal being or will. And this was leading him to death.
The difference between the prisoners and the jailer doesn’t end there either. In fact, ironically, the prisoners act as free men, singing hymns and praying, way after midnight; whereas the jailer acts as a prisoner, and Paul needs to stops him from killing himself. Then in desperation the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?”
As Christians we often place ourselves back under bondage, as did the jailer. Instead of our freedom in Christ allowing us to be who we are called to be, we get caught up worrying what we and others must do to be Christian – what we must do to be saved and save others. However, “being a Christian” is exactly that, “being” rather than “doing”. When one faces the question of doing — failure, depression, and death follow hot on the heels of our defective human deeds. It’s not so much a question of “what I must do to be?” but rather, “my being in Christ allows me to do what he wills for me.”
From Revelation Jesus says to us, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. 11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:10-11)
Here we are told not to bind up the words of Revelation because the time is near. In fact Jesus is near; the Kingdom of God is near. When Jesus returns to usher in his Kingdom, those who have appeared to be in bondage will be shown to be free while those who seem free, and bind others with their human judgements, will be bound in eternity. Those whose being is dependant on what they do will reap their wage; their means for getting the job done despite God’s way, will be paid for in full. Whereas, those who allow God’s means to make them holy, so that their being is holy, will also get their reward.
Jesus continues, “12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:12-14)
We all must ask ourselves, “What have I done? Am I doing what God wants me to do, or am I doing something else? What must I do to be saved? How do I wash my robes that I might have the right to the tree of life?”
It’s at this point we must turn away from the deathly deeds of our own rationale and understanding, and be continually drawn back into God’s word. In fact, just like the jailer which Paul saved from death, we must be led away from meditating and trusting in our deeds, and our desire to try and put things right by our own action, lest we too die from our futile and failing deeds.
Paul and Silas acted according to their being. They were not focused on what they must do. If they had they might have moaned and agonised over the actions causing their arrest. They may have grizzled like victims, “what have we done to deserve this?” But instead they worshiped God with joy knowing their fate and suffering, was about who they were called to be in Christ, rather than what they had done.
Likewise, Paul and Silas acted according to their being, when the jailer pleaded, “What must I do to be saved”? They pointed the man to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking God’s Word of truth and grace, so the Spirit could implant faith in his heart too. So in hearing this word, our crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus was planted in the jailer by the power of the Holy Spirit, as he and his family were baptised. He no longer had to do anything to believe, belief and being were given as a gift, and the work of being a Christian, moved him to immediately cleanse the wounds of Paul and Silas, take them into his home and feed them, and live in joy that he had come to believe in Jesus Christ.
We like the jailer have been captured in baptism, so we might remain in Jesus Christ, receiving all the gifts of his deeds, living as free holy beings of God, who have a right to the tree of life.
The grace of the Lord Jesus is with us, because God’s people have received the being of Jesus, through his gracious means of the cross and baptism. And therefore, the last word in Revelation, the last word of the bible for us — is this: The grace of the Lord Jesus “be” with God’s people. Amen.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

C, Ascension of our Lord - Luke 24:50-51 & Acts 1:10-11 "Where and What is Heaven?"

Texts

Luke 24:50-51 When Jesus had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.

Acts 1:10-11 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

Sermon

Where is heaven? One would assume heaven is up there! But is it up there? We might picture heaven as a place where angels strum harps lying in white puffy clouds. But every time I’ve been in a jet flying through the clouds, I’ve never seen an angel! In fact to my recollection I’ve never heard of any tragedy where an angel, with its fairy wings, has been sucked through the jet engines of a jumbo doing seven-hundred kilometres per hour.

But the language of the bible speaks of heaven as a place to which a person has to travel upward to enter. Jesus was taken up; so was Elijah. In the creed we say, Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. Where did Jesus go? Where did the chariot drop off Elijah? When they ascended at what place did they stop?

In the New Testament the word used for heaven is the root Greek word meaning mountain. To go to the top of a mountain you have to go up; and entry into heaven is seen in the same sense – up is the way to heaven.

Mountains are important places in the ancient and biblical worlds. Think of the times when heavenly experiences happened on mountains. Moses on Mt Sinai in the cloud with God; pagan shrines built to gods on mountains, and the Israelites copying them when they worshipped Baal against the will of God. People even tried to build a mountain at Babel. Jesus, too, utilised mountains. He prayed up mountains, taught from mountains; he spent a significant period of his time on mountains during his earthly ministry. In ancient times mountains were where earth met heaven. Mountains were seen as the pillars which held up the sky and stopped it from crashing to the ground.

We can climb to the top of a mountain and have a mountain top experience—a heavenly experience—but is heaven there? We can fly in aircraft in the clouds but is heaven seen their either? In our technological age we send astronauts higher than the clouds and still no heavenly realm is to be seen there either; even further out into space unmanned ships are sent in search of signs of life, have they found the Son of God at the right hand of the Father? Maybe they haven’t travelled out far enough! But even at the ends of infinite space would they find heaven? The answer is no!

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that heaven doesn’t exist because we can’t find or see it. And so if it doesn’t exist because we can’t see it, then some conclude Jesus Christ the Son of God never really rose from the dead nor did he ascend into heaven.

In our age this hopeless notion is common. So if God or heaven doesn’t seem to exist, in hopelessness we seek heaven as a concept of perception; heaven becomes a state of mind. The ‘where is heaven?’ question now is replaced by, ‘what is heaven?’

One only has to turn on the radio or television to see how heaven is portrayed in music and the media. What is heaven? Heaven is a divine type of ice-cream, maybe a McCain Pizza, or maybe ‘heaven is in your eyes, or in your heart’ as music artists sing. In fact modern music hopes in a heaven, but sadly this heaven has more to do with the gratification of one’s sexual desires. Heaven for many is an individualistic concept understood and bound in the realm of sensory experiences.

So what is heaven and where is it? In the church we struggle with these questions too. The way heaven is understood and perceived goes along way in explaining the differences between denominations within Christendom.

Many other churches go to great lengths to make their teachings logical and rational, defining heaven as a spatial location. So they claim Jesus is in that spatial heavenly place, and therefore, he cannot be in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, making the sacrament only a remembrance feast. That sounds logical. For them heaven is a precise location where Jesus is with the Father. Jesus and the Father are there and not here with us.

However, their logic is thrown into confusion with texts such as Matthew 1: 23 and 28:20 where Jesus is named Immanuel meaning “God with us”, and where he says “I will be with you to the very end of the age”. At this point one has to make a decision between ‘logic and rationality’ or ‘the Word of God’. If Jesus is at the right hand of God in heaven then what does Jesus mean when he says, ‘this is my body and this is my blood, given and shed for you’. As you can see there is a problem. Is Jesus with us or is he up there with the Father in heaven?

Jesus is with us, we know this is true because he said so. If he is with us and he is in heaven, then heaven must be with us. Perhaps the Kingdom of Heaven is nearer than most realise? So what is heaven? Is it just a concept; are we already living in heaven? After all God is everywhere!

The problems with these questions are the questions themselves. The ‘what is’ and ‘where is’ questions are questions of rational and logical minds. Heaven as a place or a location lasting for an eternity is a concept that opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions. In fact heaven as a location in space is something that will never be proved by science or any other rational logical faculty.

However, when the questions are asked from the point of view of faith, then they take on a whole different perspective. You and I believe in heaven, not a heavenly meal or a heavenly interlude with the opposite member of sex. No! The heaven in which we believe is not born of the fruits of the flesh. Our belief in heaven is given to us in faith by the one who rules there. Heaven is where God is, it’s a realm outside logic; it can’t be found with the naked eye or reason. For the time being heaven and the King of Heaven are seen only through faith.

In the Nicene Creed we confess heaven and earth as places made by God; we also confess that he made all things visible and invisible. Heaven is invisible to our eye. It is not a place in the spatial sense. Nor is it revealed to us through our own efforts, understanding or senses. Jesus has ascended into heaven and he is hidden from our sight. Heaven too is hidden from our sight but only for now. In his word he gives us a picture of what heaven, the New Jerusalem, is like. It is no coincidence that in the last couple of weeks, in the season of Easter, we have heard readings from Revelation.

Jesus has ascended from our sight into the glorious reality around us, which our sinful eyes will not ever see. But right now we are called to see — through the eyes given by the Holy Spirit, the eyes of faith — ourselves made holy by the blood of Jesus, dressed in glorious royal white robes in the eternal presence of God.

Amen

Thursday, May 10, 2007

C, Easter 6 - John 14:27 "Worried or Worrying?"

Text: John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

1. What do you worry about? Are you troubled? Are you a worrier? I expect everyone here has had troubles of some sort in the last week. Are you worried about your family—your relationship with them—or about their faith, future, or maybe their wellbeing? What about your farm, your home, or your finances? Does the state of your health concern you? Does your standing before God make you frightened; does judgement day trouble you? There are many things in this life that trouble us! What is it that frightens you; that makes you cower in yourself; that raise your blood pressure to a dangerous high?

Trouble manifests itself in our lives in so many different ways! It climbs into our deepest being and stirs us up, oppresses us, or gives us a faint feeling, limp legs, and a nervous sweat. Like a towering tornado trouble brews and spins our perspectives out of control making us fret, become frightened, and worry.

2. What is worrying? But what is worrying? We all know the feelings it can produce? But what does it do to us? What does it tell us; about ourselves and about what we should do?

When trouble surrounds it totally consumes our every thought and emotion. Notice how worrying gives us the impression everything is lost; even the things in our lives not connected with the dilemma. Our worries are the greatest; no one has ever had a problem like this. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders.

But isn’t worrying a demonstration in the lack of trust? Are we not saying there is no one who can fix this trouble? It’s a call for help from those who call themselves helpless! It’s like a boast but only in the negative. We wallow away saying to ourselves, ‘Look at me no one has ever had it as bad as me. All is lost! I don’t believe it‘ll ever be the same again!’ When our hearts become troubled and we become anxious, it’s difficult for us to be positive and outward looking. In fact we totally turn in on ourselves; we like to hide in our shells from everything else.

Where does God fit into the scheme of things when you worry? Is he at the centre of your life when you worry? Actually, the very nature of worrying, puts fears, calamities, and troubles at the centre. We curl up and bow down to the great god ‘worry’. Our God, the Triune God, is pushed out in favour of our worry and fear gods. Hear what the Heavenly Father says to you about these gods, ‘I am the Lord your God you shall have no other gods’ (Ex 20:1-3, Deut 5:6-7).

3. Did Jesus worry? But while we worry about worry being our god, Jesus says to us, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid… Trust in God, trust also in me’ (Jn 14:27&1). What does Jesus know about trouble; what does he know about my worries? With what authority can he tell me not to worry and not to be afraid; afraid meaning not to cower and be timid?

Just like us, Jesus was troubled in his public ministry on earth. But he stood apart from the disciples who were worriers of the highest order. They were troubled when he appeared walking on the stormy waters of Lake Galilee; when he appeared after the resurrection; and also at the news he was going to disappear from their presence. They worried more about themselves, even when Jesus told them about his own troubles – his impending death. And he stands apart from us too, when we worry.

Jesus was troubled. When the devil troubled him he was tempted to put his faith in things other than God as he struggled for forty days in the wilderness. Jesus was troubled by Lazarus’ death; disturbed so deeply he even wept. He was distressed in heart when the hour of his death approached, and he was troubled when Judas was about to betray him. However, unlike the disciples, and us, he always trusted his Father, doing his will right to his death.

While being tempted he resisted Satan and even pointed him to the One True God in the word. Even though Lazarus was dead he focused the crowd on his Father, raising Lazarus to life so the crowd would believe. And at the hour of his own death, he followed his Father’s will in order to bring glory to his name, calling Judas to do whatever he was going to do, to do it quickly. Troubles repeatedly smashed into Jesus’ path, but every time he never let them, or his troubled heart, push his Father from centre stage. Worry never once took the place of God the Father, even under the shadow of a deathly cross.

4. Our helper in times of trouble In John 5 Jesus encounters a despised crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda. This man like us faced the troubles of life in a very real way. His trouble was he couldn’t reach the waters of the pool to be healed. He needed help but was helpless. Jesus came along and took his attention from both his illness, and the worry of getting to the pool, by putting his word centre most into his life and healing him. Likewise in his word, Jesus calls us not to be troubled nor be afraid. In fact he has sent a counsellor to help us keep our eyes focused on him, just as he kept his eyes on God throughout the duration of his walk to the cross. The Holy Spirit gives us, God’s helpless, the assistance we so desperately need to take our eyes from our troubled lives to the healing presence of him who loves us and was crucified on the cross for us.

This Holy Counsellor gives us faith when we hear the word Jesus speaks to us and when we receive the sacraments he instituted for us. Through these holy things we have confidence in the presence of Jesus in our lives. By upholding these things as holy— receiving them, and protecting them in the church—worry looses its foothold as the destructive god that leads us away from God the Son and God the Father.

5. The gift of peace When we worry we take what the world always tries to give us. It shoves on us a superficial peace, which is not peace at all. The world operates in the realm of fear. Every day the world tells us what we’ve got to do to appease the fear gods and the worry gods – eat right, exercise right, wear this, don’t use that, get it before it’s too late, protect yourself, stop them before they get you.

But the Holy Spirit is a very special gift that Christ gives to us. In this gift he gives us faith and peace. The result of his gift of peace allows us to be bold in the face of trouble because the Holy Spirit always brings us to Jesus; he gives us faith so we can see Jesus walking with us through the very trouble that tempts us to worry. And when we do slip and fall into worry, the Holy Spirit is there to pick us up and point us back to the our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we struggle in this life hear the words of St Peter in his first epistle: ‘even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they [in the world] fear; do not be frightened’ (1 Peter 3:14).

And finally hear what St Paul has to say about our God over against trouble that comes our way: 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8) Amen.

And the peace that only Christ gives through the Holy Spirit, keep your hearts and minds free of all anxiety, fears, and worries, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour, Amen.

Friday, May 04, 2007

C, 5th Sunday of Easter - Revelation 21:1-7 "The Water of Life"

In these Easter days we look forward with hope and joy at the anticipated return of our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. And we do this, celebrating the first coming of God’s one and only Son who has secured the end of all sin, suffering, chaos, and death.

The book of Revelation, reveals to us, the unseen reality happening around us right now, and has been happening every day since Christ declared in agony, “It is finished!” At the cross he bowed his head and gave up his life, and finished the work of redeeming creation from sin, suffering, chaos, and death.

Just as God rested after creating the heavens and the earth in the beginning; Jesus Christ, God the Son was taken from the cross to the grave and rested on the Sabbath. But unlike God the Father, the Son of the Father rested in death, he took the sin of humanity, the suffering of humanity, and the chaos these cause on creation and wore the full gamut of God’s judgement and wrath.

So Jesus bore the sin of humanity, the corruption of creation, and all the suffering on himself. He brought an end to the power of sin and death — over us and creation — then rose in victory at Easter, raising to life a new creation eternally gathered around him. We are a part of that hidden but very real creation now!

But here we are today, some two thousand years after the fact, it seems sin has not only survived, but thrives, even more so than in previous times. Problems still persist in our community and in our world’s communities. This seen creation still groans at the hands of humanity’s sin.

Right now the chaotic powers of water can be seen wreaking havoc on humanity. In some places — there is not enough water — communities stand on the brink of dehydration and desolation. In other places — there is too much water — taking the lives of many, causing chaos in epic proportions through floods and tsunamis.

There is truth in saying, “It’s hard in this creation to see the new heavens and the new earth born for us by Christ at the Easter resurrection — born in us at baptism”.

However, we as God’s children are called to see the hidden reality in which we now live. In fact, we are called to live by faith, to live by the saving gifts given by God alone; trusting in him and his word, over against the short-sighted faculties of yours and my easily misled human understanding, desires, or feelings.

As much as we hear Jesus’ words, “It is finished”, we must also hear in these very words that it’s all begun — for us, and in us. God’s intended resurrection for us has also begun, now that in victory Christ has finished the power of sin, death, and the devil.

What God revealed to John, and John wrote down, God is also revealing to you yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He says… “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:5-7)

God calls you to trust these words as true, “He is making all things new”. You and I are a work in progress, we are being made new. He says that those who overcome will inherit all that he is making new. So what is it we overcome? And how do we overcome it?

We are called to trust God’s action over against our own. He is making all things new! We make nothing new! The new creation, the New Jerusalem, comes down from God. We are called to believe it and receive it. He comes down to us, continually; we cannot climb up to God. In fact, we are to let God prepare us as a bride, to trust that he will dress us for Christ, who is the husband coming down to sweep us up in his arms. We are called to wear the clothes he has prepared for us; to make us fit to be in his presence, to make us a holy bride.

On the other hand, we’re told in Isaiah, our clothes are but filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6) Therefore, we’re called to believe God is dressing us for eternity. And in believing, God overcomes disbelief and mistrust in him, and overcomes the faith we place in ourselves.

As we suffer in this life, it’s very tempting for us to think we can dress ourselves for success. But no matter how much we clothe ourselves for success, this success is never the holiness which God desires of us. We so often turn to the old creation for all the garb of success; we turn to the very things that are passing away. We turn to the things which lead us straight back into sin, suffering, and chaos. We make nothing new, only God makes all things new!

One thing quite relevant to us in these days is our ever-increasing suffering from drought. Yet here in Revelation, John writes down that when the old heavens and earth pass away there will no longer be any sea. It seems today the sea may as well not even be where it is. Evaporation from the ocean is meant to rise into clouds and bring refreshing rain to our land, yet where is the water, where is the rain? Chaos still seems to reign in this creation.

However, when the old is finally gone forever and there is no more sea, we will be called to know, all which is done has been done by the hand of God, that he is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. We will live by him who is now hidden. For God himself says, to him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

Perhaps we, who have been covered by the waters of life in baptism, should hear God’s word, and be strengthened by the truth of this word. Perhaps God is calling us to believe in him who comes down to us, who is hidden behind the veil of faith, who is hidden in his word, who is hidden in the waters of baptism, and in the bread and wine of his body and blood. In fact, he is hidden in you too — hidden behind the veil of yours and my sinful humanity.

We do well to see the new creation Christ has made us to be. Despite whether our eyes are scorched by the reality of a parched dusty land or the waters of chaos threatening to cover our eyes in death. We live with the hidden reality of Jesus Christ, God the Son, who says, whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

So with John, who recorded in Revelation what God allowed him to see, let us continually remember this reality for Jesus’ sake and our sake too… 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)