Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sunday 29 May 2016 - 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time (also: Te Pouhere Sunday)

TE POUHERE SUNDAY

Sentence: Galatians 3:28

Readings:
Isaiah 42:10-20
2 Corinthians 5:14-19
John 15:9-17
Resources are available to assist preaching on this Sunday by going to the General Synod website www.anglican.org.nz then choosing Lectionary, then Te Pouhere Sunday and downloading a PDF file.

The purpose of this Sunday is to celebrate and to reflect on our life as a Three Tikanga Church.

There are no comments on the readings for Te Pouhere Sunday; there are comments below for this Sunday if treated as 9th Sunday in ordinary time.

9th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Theme                  Jesus draws all to himself            

Sentence             But only speak the word and let my servant be healed (Luke 7:7b)

Collect                  Gracious and eternal God,
                                We thank you for the love of Christ
                                Which draws all people to himself
                                And invites them to have faith in him.
                                May we have the faith of the centurion
                                Who entrusted his servant’s healing
                  Into the care of Jesus. Amen.    

Readings (related):                                             
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 [related]
Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
                         Luke 7:1-10
Comments:

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

God is the God Israel and Israel's God must have a house of worship in Jerusalem. Solomon has built that house and offers a long prayer, of which we read a few verses. Related to our gospel reading, the second part of the reading conveys Solomon's prayer that the God of Israel also be the God of God fearing foreigners. "Answer their prayers too," is the gist of the request Solomon makes.

Psalm 96:1-9

This is a wonderful song of praise. It even envisages 'all the trees of the forest' singing for joy! 

But the particular observation we make in the context of the gospel reading is that the psalm has a world vision. God's glory should be declared 'among the nations ... among all the peoples' (3), 'for all the gods of the peoples are idols' (5), 'Say among the nations, "The LORD is king!' (10). God is God of the whole world and the praises due to God should ring out through all the world. 

A challenge in the psalm, for the world to hear and respond to, is that God will judge the world (10, 13). The judgement will be fair (10) but the standard will be God's 'righteousness' and 'truth' (13).

Galatians 1:1-12

For a few Sundays we follow Galatians as the epistle. Galatians is Paul's theological 'yell' when he cries out 'Stop' to some developments which threatened the very existence of the gospel of Christ. Or, for a different image, it is Paul's line in the sand. Here is The Gospel, across that line is Not The Gospel.

But to make this major point, to a readership tempted to embrace a false gospel, Paul has to lay on every part of his case with a thick trowel. So the first two verses, for instance, consist of Paul telling us of his office (apostle), his commission (by Christ and God) and his backing ('all the members of God's family who are with me').

The greeting in verses 3-5 takes the opportunity to spell out who Jesus Christ is: the one 'who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father'. Paul spells out the core of the true gospel: it is good news about freeing us from our sins. Galatians is Paul's argument that this liberation is the work of Christ and not of us.

The preliminaries of good manners out of the way, Paul launches off with a frank statement of the situation in Galatia. 'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel' (6). Paul has 'called' them to the true gospel. Now they are deserting him for a different gospel.

But there is not 'another gospel' (7). There are perversions of the true gospel and these can be confusing. Paul will clarify for them. But first he spells out how serious the situation is. Twice, verses 8 and 9, Paul says that those responsible for perverting the gospel are 'accursed'.

Paul is not trying to curry favour with his readers (10). His loyalty is to Christ. It is from Christ that he has received the true gospel and it is to Christ that he is accountable for faithfulness both in proclaiming and defending the true gospel (11-12).

Luke 7:1-10

As a whole story, this passage ties in beautifully with the Old Testament readings. Here is someone, a Roman centurion, from the nations beyond Israel who is being drawn into the presence of the God of Israel, including connecting with the people of God and their local place of worship.

From the perspective of the gospel of grace being taught in Galatians, this reading offers an interesting contrast between the view of the Jewish elders sent by the centurion to Jesus and the view of Jesus himself. They think Jesus should heal the centurion's slave because 'He is worthy' (5) where the worthiness is measured in terms of good deeds. Jesus heals the servant in response to the faith of the centurion (9). 

Paul's plea to the Galatians will be that they do not return to the attempt to impress God with their deeds. Rather they should have faith in God who through Christ has done all work needed for their salvation. The centurion does not yet know about this work - Christ has not died on the cross - but he recognises that Christ has extraordinary power to do good. As a man used to the 'chain of authority' he instinctively recognises that Christ has power from God which can command illness to leave the sick person: 'only speak the word, and let my servant be healed' (7). The centurion at this point relies not on his own worthiness (as estimated by human assessors) but on Christ. He has faith that is not found 'even in Israel' (9).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday 22 May 2016 - Trinity Sunday

Theme                  God is Three and God is One     

Sentence             You O Lord reign for ever; your throne endures from generation to generation.. (Lamentations 5:19) [NZPB, p. 606].

Collect                  God of unchangeable power,
                                You have revealed yourself,
                                To us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit;.
                                Keep us firm in this faith
                                May we know his strength
                                That we may praise and bless your holy name;
                                For you are one God now and for ever. Amen. [NZPB, 606].
                                               
Readings            Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
                         Psalm 8
                         Romans 5:1-5
                         John 16:12-15

Comments

Introduction

Many years ago I was told of a clergy colleague whose sermon for Trinity Sunday consisted of just six words. I have no idea whether this was just an idea or an actual preached sermon. The six words were:

"Brothers and sisters, it's a mystery."

God as Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life or Three Persons in One Being is indeed 'a mystery.'

But the mystery of the Triune God of Christian belief and worship should not be the mystery of mathematics (how can God be three yet one?) nor of illustrations (is a triangle a good image for explaining the Trinity?). It should be the mystery of love. God is love, we are told, twice in 1 John 4. 

What does this mean? The answer, the creeds and the doctrines of faith tell us, is not that God is the concept of love but that God is the dynamic of love, Three Persons in One Being, a community of love in which the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Father (etc) and in that love there is no division of will nor of status. United in love, Father Son and Spirit work as One to create, redeem and sustain life. 

Determined by love to love what that Unity has created, Father Son and Spirit take up three distinct roles so that creation, redemption and sustenance of life take place. In this understanding creation is itself a fruit of the love which is God for that Love seeks to love more rather than less: Father Son and Spirit create a world to love (John 3:16) and in that love draw all people to God that fellowship between Father Son and Spirit might be enlarged to include creatures. specifically being drawn into the fellowship of the Three in One through identity in Christ the Son as the body of Christ. (Key biblical passages on this understanding are John 13-17, 1 John 1-4, Revelation 1-22).

As Trinitarian Christians we are called to bear witness to the Love which is God and to the God who is love.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

From a Trinitarian perspective, this passage from the Old Testament is important because it presents the wisdom of God as a personification that is, wisdom is presented in these verses in a personal way, as an agent or assistant of God in the acts of creation. In doing this a seed is planted in ancient theological thinking which grew to include the possibility that not only the 'wisdom' of God, but also 'the word' of God could be personified. When that conceptualization was bound together with reflection on the role of angels, as personal messengers of God sent by God into the world to converse with people, sometimes in a form of such impressiveness that recipients of angelic visitations believed they were in the presence of God, the foundation was laid for a new development. That new development was the recognition by the first Christian theologians (especially John the Evangelist) that the wisdom/word of God was not only able to be written about in terms of personification, the wisdom/word of God had come into the world in a human person, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
                         
Psalm 8

This psalm can be read in various ways (e.g. as a pearl of praise of great price, one which has justly received the attention of very fine composers) but here we read it in Trinitarian perspective as an address to God about the ordering of the world and the place of humanity in it. Above all is God, within the glory of God we find ourselves inhabiting a marvellous world in which it is amazing that God has remembered us, ordered as we are to a rank below the angels (8:5). Yet God has not just remembered us, God has crowned us with glory and honour and given us dominion over creation (8:5-6). 

Thus when we consider God as Trinity we are considering God as God, utterly distinct in rank, status and glory from his creation and from us as his creatures yet also as God who in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God has bridged the distinction, becoming one with us.
                         
Romans 5:1-5

Writing these five verses, Paul has not set out to tell us about God as Trinity but, on this Sunday, he does handily write about God's work in salvation including the roles of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God has sent the Lord Jesus Christ to 'justify' us (through his sacrificial death on the cross, as elucidated in Romans 1-4). As justified sinners we have access to the grace of God (5:2); the grace of God is God's love 'poured into our hearts' (5:5). How does this love reach us as an experience of life rather than a concept in our minds? It is 'through the Holy Spirit' (5:5). Thus the dynamic action of God Father Son and Holy Spirit as the God of our salvation is expressed in this passage, a dynamic action which is 'for us' (further on 'us', 'for us, 'for our sakes' see, among many Pauline texts, Romans 4:23-25).

The giving of the Holy Spirit to us (5:5) means that God's love does more than flow into us (say, like water from a lake, through a pipe, into a bucket). God himself comes to live in us and bind our lives to the life of God itself (so, in an important way, in the image above, we are like the bucket receiving water from a pipe and we are like a bucket dipped into the lake itself). Thus Paul can write in 5:2 of 'our hope of sharing the glory of God.' As members of the body of Christ we share in God's life in Christ.

[Much much more can be said about preaching from this passage, especially from 5:1. These thoughts are specifically geared for Trinity Sunday].
                         
John 16:12-15

In some ways this is a frustratingly short passage from John when the fullness of revelation about the Holy Spirit is given across several Johannine passages (including John 14:25-31; 15:26-27; 16:4b-11).

Nevertheless a vital truth is taught. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. In one way, of course this is true: we would not expect God's Spirit to lie to us. In another way, this is unexpected in the sense that the Spirit of truth 'will guide you [Jesus' disciples] into all the truth' (16:13). Jesus has many things to say but they cannot be said now (16:12). Not to worry because the Spirit of Truth (also known in this gospel as the Advocate / Counsellor / Helper / Paraclete) will guide us to what we need to know from Jesus.

In this sense, as we find sometimes elsewhere in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is trustworthy as faithful servant of Jesus and his mission. Through the Holy Spirit we meet the risen Lord Jesus and from the Holy Spirit we learn what Jesus wishes to teach us.

Does this mean that the Holy Spirit will teach us new information or new insight into what we already know from Jesus?

Some scholarly debate occurs about this. John's Gospel itself may provide a clue and the epistles another clue. In the former we find new insight into what we already know about Jesus from the earlier gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the latter we find the meaning of the events of Jesus' life being drawn out for us: Christ died on the cross for our salvation. Christ rose from the dead in order that we too may rise with Christ to glory.

We see that the passage rounds off, in 16:15 with talk of God the Father. Jesus has, says, and does nothing except what belongs to, comes from and is directed by the Father. By implication the Spirit of Truth declares only what God the Father has revealed to God the Son. In this way the unity of God is expressed. The diversity of the Godhead is experienced as we meet God in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John, writing these words down, may not have had the advantage we have of knowing how to talk about God as 'Three in One' but he knew that God was One yet experienced as Three Persons working in profound unity.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Sunday 15 May 2016 Pentecost

Theme             Come, Holy Spirit!            


Sentence         The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5) [NZPB, p. 604]

Collect            Come, Holy Spirit, our souls inspire,
and lighten with celestial fire.
Your blessed anointing from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Overcome with eternal light
the dullness of our blinded sight. Amen [Adapted].         

Readings                                              
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17
                      John 14: 8-17, 25-27

The most important point to any sermon on Pentecost Sunday is to draw out the meaning of Pentecost which is that God is present and active in the world today through the Holy Spirit.

As an event in history Pentecost is important, e.g. the birthday of the church, but Pentecost is a celebration of the present work of God not of the past.

Acts 2:1-21

Luke tells the story of the day in which Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit coming with power was fulfilled. In turn this coming fulfilled an ancient prophecy in Joel. 

The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone (not just the apostles, both women and men). They speak in other tongues, in languages which the multitude of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from around the world could understand: 'our own native language' (2:8).  The import of this language fluency is that the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus to give power to his followers to they could be 'my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth' (1:8). Jesus makes good that promise: his followers will be able to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth because through supernatural gift they have the ability to testify to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit both comes  on the gathered disciples (2:3) and fills them (2:4) meaning that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers is overwhelming and complete: no aspect of life is untouched when God's Spirit comes into our lives.

Yet not all observers experience the same phenomenon as those receiving the Holy Spirit: 'others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine".' (2:12).

This accusation prompts an apologetic response at the beginning of Peter's sermon (2:14-16). No one is drunk, it is only 9 am in the morning, and let me remind you what the prophet Joel said! This is that, Peter argues.

This bold, courageous preaching Peter is a severe contrast to the Peter who denied his master three times. The most important outcome of the Holy Spirit working powerfully in our lives is that we are empowered to witness boldly for Jesus Christ.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Just one note here, pertaining to Pentecost. In verse 30 we read, 'When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.'

In the original creation the Spirit of God hovered over the deep. Here the psalmist acknowledges the continuing role of God through the Spirit in sustaining and caring for life.

Romans 8:14-17

Apart from empowering us to be witnesses for Jesus to all the world, and sustaining the life of creation, what does the Spirit do? What are other dimensions of 'the work of the Holy Spirit'?

Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit coming upon believers in order to 'lead' their lives makes us 'children of God' who are free from the 'fear' of those who are slaves (to sin and its power).

As children we may call on God as 'Father' indeed as the intimate and affectionate father presumed in the use of the Aramaic 'Abba'. Wonderfully the work of the Holy Spirit is intimate and detailed within our lives: we are not merely made children of God by the Spirit, the Spirit works within us inspiring us to cry out in prayer to our Abba God.

But what are children in normal life but potential heirs to the benefactions of their parents. So in the divine life, Paul reminds his readers that as children of God we are 'heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ'. What that heirloom consists of is the theme of 8:18-23: the glory about to be revealed to us, the redemption of our bodies, in sum, the fulfillment of creation. 

Back to the last verse of our passage today: we are heirs, Paul says, 'if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may be glorified with him.' The Holy Spirit within our lives is not a 'Get Out of Jail" card which instantly releases us from all trials and troubles, let alone some kind of shield which prevents trauma coming our way. In this life we can expect trouble but the Holy Spirit at work in us will lead us through them to a better place, the life of glory shared with Christ himself in the fullness of God's presence.

John 14:8-17, 25-27

Focusing on the Holy Spirit in these speeches of Jesus, we learn important facts about the Holy Spirit, here called the (depending on translation) Advocate/Comforter/Paraclete/Helper/Counsellor. Paraclete is a transliteration of the original Greek and literally is 'the one called alongside'. In one sense, Advocate or Comforter or Helper or Counsellor do not do justice to Paraclete. It could be helpful to think of the Holy Spirit as the one who comes alongside us to help, to counsel, to advocate, to comfort (both to encourage, support and give strength to).

What are these facts from Jesus himself about the Holy Spirit as Paraclete?

14:16 with us 'forever'
14:17 the Spirit is the 'Spirit of truth' (this relates to our task as witnesses)
14:17 rejected by the world
14:17 we know the Holy Spirit because we experience the Holy Spirit 'abiding' with us and in us
14:26 the Holy Spirit will teach us 'everything and remind [us] of all that [Jesus has] said to [us]'
14:27 through the Holy Spirit comes the peace of Christ.

In other words, the Holy Spirit is the means by which Jesus remains in the world, abiding in the lives of his followers, continually bringing to their minds what he has taught, thus enabling and empowering us to be the kinds of followers he asks us to be.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sunday 8 May 2016 - Ascension Day [transferred?]/Sunday after Ascension

First I give the readings for Ascension Day, with Comments
Then I give the readings etc for the Sunday after Ascension also know as the 7th Sunday after Easter.
This post takes no view on whether Ascension Day should be celebrated on Ascension Day.

ASCENSION DAY
Theme                  Christ risen, ascended and glorified        

Sentence             Lift up your heads you gates! Lift yourselves up you everlasting doors! That the king of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7) [NZPB, p. 601]

Collect                  Eternal God,
                                By raising Jesus from the dead
                                You proclaimed his victory,
                                And by his ascension
                                You declared him king.
                                Lift up your hearts to heaven
                                That we may live and reign with him. Amen [NZPB, p. 601]          

Readings         Acts 1:1-11
                      Psalm 47                                     
Ephesians 1:15-23
                             Luke 24:44-53

Comments:

Acts 1:1-11 and Luke 24:44-53

I do not think this need be brought into a sermon, but it is fascinating to see how Luke deals with the last event in Jesus' physical presence on earth in his two texts, the ending of the gospel and the beginning of Acts. There are similarities and there are differences.

In 'big picture' (or 'big theme') terms, each passage conveys two messages: the gospel mission of Jesus must now spread throughout the world, but first new empowerment through the Holy Spirit must come upon the disciples.

The 'event' in each passage is the departure, depicted physically as an 'ascent', of Jesus from the disciples. Never again, save in episodic visionary experiences will they see their Lord again.

Where does Jesus go to? Both texts answer "heaven". Later, Peter, in his Pentecost Day sermon will add "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33). Obviously the physical talk of upwards travel to a place beyond the observable world of earth-and-space both assumes and contributes to an understanding that "heaven" is above us. It also offers a physical image to match the increase in glory and honour implicit in the idea that Jesus is now 'exalted' to the right hand of God (i.e. seated on a throne on the right side of the divine throne).

Ascension then is a celebration of both departure and exaltation, of the physical loss of Jesus to his followers and of the triumphant gain of Jesus exalted to glory in the realm of heaven. With exaltation the victory won in the resurrection, the defeat of the power of death as the last enemy against humanity is completed. With departure the door is open to a new history of God being present among God's people, God the Holy Spirit will dwell among them.

Yet this event is also about us. The departure of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit to come in power is integrated with the great commission. We misunderstand Ascension and its importance if we think of it as (say) a postscript to the life of Jesus, or a snapshot of the glory of the exalted Jesus. Ascension is also the beginning of a new era in our history, the time when we are responsible for the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ. Luke in both texts is keenly alert to this point. If (as some scholars of Luke's writings have supposed) Jesus has come in the middle of history, then we are now in its last period. That this is so, according to Luke, is underlined in Acts 1:11. Jesus has departed, but he will return.

Psalm 47

This is a fitting song of praise to God on this festive occasion.

Ephesians 1:15-23

Obviously verse 20 in this passage links the text to the theme of 'exaltation' which is an important aspect of the theology of Ascension.

The passage is part of a long introduction to the epistle in which Paul sets out a profound set of insights into salvation, Christ, Christ's relationship to those who believe in him, and the great purpose of God being worked out through history - all given in the context of prayer and thanksgiving for his readers.

There is a sermon in every verse of this passage! 

Further theological reflection on Ascension and its significance may be found at Psephizo.

Sunday After Ascension = 7th Sunday of Easter

Theme(s): God's power at work / Church in mission / Unity for sake of the gospel

Sentence: "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

Collect: Easter 5:1

Holy God, you feed us
with earthly and with spiritual food.
Deathless, unalterable, you have chosen us,
sinful as we are,
to hear your word and to proclaim your truth.
Alleluia! Make us salt of the earth;
make us yeast in the loaf. Amen.

Readings:

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26 

Comments:

Acts 16:16-34

We continue reading through Acts (though, bear in mind, next Sunday is Pentecost, and we will switch back to Acts 2 and the coming of the Spirit who drives the apostolic mission forward through Acts 16).

Here Paul and is band, including the narrating author Luke, continue their work in Philippi and run into trouble. Casting out a demon from a fortune-telling slave-girl is one thing, facing her profit driven owners is another and Paul and Silas find themselves in the presence of a lynch mob. Flogged and thrown into jail they do the only thing they can do while constrained by stocks: sing hymns to God.

Such singing: the earth shakes, chains are broken, the jailer wakes to a reality which is a nightmare and thinks killing himself is the simplest way to escape impending doom. But peace rules: no prisoner has actually escaped and the nightmare turns to vision for the jailer. He has been saved from death, can he be saved by God?

Paul assures him he can. To the jailer's brilliant question, "What must I do to be saved?" Paule replies with words echoing down the centuries of gospel ministry, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, you will be saved, you and your household."

The following verses tell us of remarkable transformation as the jailer hears the gospel ("the word of the Lord"), responds with ministry to their needs ("washed their wounds"), and is baptized with his household. The pattern here has been followed through the centuries: response to the gospel proclaimed, teaching in the faith, baptism.

Psalm 97

In these verses we have the earth responding to the Lord (cf. the earthquake in the Acts reading), the bowing down of the gods before the Lord (cf. the pagan jailer seeking salvation in the Acts reading) and the Lord guarding the lives of his faithful and rescuing them from the hand of the wicked (cf. the release of Paul and Silas from the jail in the Acts reading).

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

It is a pity that verses are missed out in this reading. The discomfort those verses provide are part of the reading as it was written and we damage the integrity of the reading, if not the integrity of ourselves as readers by omitting these challenging, confrontational verses.

But the verses we are prescribed to read speak of our Lord who is Lord of time and Lord through time. The Lord Jesus is beginning and end and will come again. What occurs in time, our lives and thus the flow of history through time, is under his Lordship and to Jesus as Lord we are all accountable: "my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work" (12).

Yet the Lord is gracious: the one who is coming in judgment also says to those who will be judged, "Come". The elapse of time between the beginning and the end is time for responding to that invitation, "Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift" (17).

John 17:20-26

We could read this passage simply as a lesson in ecumenicity in the body of Christ ("that they may become completely one", v. 23) but it is worth asking first, Why this reading on this Sunday after Ascension and before Pentecost? To what "ascension" and "Pentecostal" themes does the reading speak?

Putting the question like that, I do not see an easy answer! But here goes:

First, as Jesus ascends to the Father and as the Spirit is about to descend to birth the church, the vision and plan is for one united church. There is only one ascended Lord of the church and only one indwelling Spirit of God. The Johannine Jesus prays for the unity of the church not that disparate fragments of a divided church might be somehow moulded into one body but because the church is intended to be one, to remain one and to be renewed as one body of Christ.

Secondly, the ascended Jesus departs from his disciples and thus to the disciples Jesus hands over his mission (that for which God "sent" him, with "sent"/"send" being a fundamental conception of God's work through Christ in John's Gospel). Jesus prays for unity not for its own sake but "so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (v. 23, see also v. 21).

In other words, between Ascension Day and Pentecost we are invited via this reading to reflect on who we are as church and what our task is the continuing mission of Christ. To get a bit technical, ecclesiology meets missiology on this Sunday and via this reading.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sunday 1 May 2016 - Sixth Sunday Of Easter

Theme                  The radiant glory of God              

Sentence             Speak out with a voice of joy; let it be heard to the ends of the earth: The Lord has set his people free, alleluia.

Collect                  Ever-living God,
                                Help us to celebrate our joy
                                In the resurrection of the Lord
                                And to express in our lives
                                the love of God. Amen.               

Readings              Acts 16:9-15                       
     Psalm 67
     Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
                           John 14:23-29

Comments

Acts 16:9-15 continues the story of the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ, from Jerusalem to Rome, today reaching Philippi. Note the strong role of God in directing the movement (verse 6, forbidden to go to Asia; verse 9 a visionary lead to Macedonia), down to the personal detail of "The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly" (verse 14).

Yet Lydia makes a response by being baptized (and in keeping with her culture, insists her whole household is baptised with her). Of course she was in a position to have her heart opened by the Lord by being already a worshipper of God (verse 14).

Note also that the direction Paul and his companions receive is not all "spiritual" (i.e. visions and such). They stay in Philippi for a period through the simple pressure from Lydia to stay.

We never meet Lydia again (and she is not mentioned in the letter of Paul to the Philippians) but she stands as an impressive example of a woman in leadership in the fledgling church of God. Perhaps she herself moved on geographically, for instance back to Thyatira from whence she came (verse 14).

Psalm 67 is a fitting accompaniment to the story of Lydia and the reception of the gospel in Philippi. Beginning in prayer for God's merciful grace, the psalmist asks that God's "way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations" (verse 2; also 3-5). Three requests (actually two since the first one is repeated after the second) follow: that the peoples of the earth praise God (verses 3-5).

Why? "The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us."

As it began, so the psalm ends, with a further prayer, in a kind of summary of what has gone before, asking for God to continue to bless us and for "all the ends of the earth" to revere him (verse 7).

This psalm is an intriguing model of a prayer which calls for praise of God in a manner which makes us think as we say the words that we are praising God!

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5 What is heaven like? 

It is simply impossible after reading these verse to sustain notions of heaven as consisting of wafting clouds, harps, and a strange assortment of characters who walk out of comedians' jokes, past Peter standing guard at the pearly gates! Two simple points are made about 'heaven' (strictly, going back to last week's readings, "a new heaven and a new earth", 21:1): it is full of the radiant glory of God (especially 21:22-27) and peopled with healed, restored, whole servants of God devoted to worshipping God. 

There will be "strange characters" there (actually, you and me!) but not in all our imperfections, faults and failings. "Nothing unclean" will be there; nor anything "accursed" (22:27; 22:3 respectively). Only those made whole by the healing and cleansing blood of the Lamb will be in heaven (from Revelation itself we might pay attention to 1:5b-6; 5:9-10; 7:14). All this comes from the gracious initiative of God, the source of life and of the healing water of life (22:1).

When we reflect on the radiant glory of God, the light of light which makes all thoughts of either sun or lamp redundant, we understand why nothing imperfect could be in heaven: the intensity of God's radiant glory would burn up all dark spots and shadows! Thanks be to God that his promise is to make us fit to be in his presence for eternity.

John 14:23-29 brings us back to earth! Jesus speaks to his disciples (and therefore to us, for we also are his disciples) of the time between his departure from this world and the end of all things.

(1) During this time we are to "keep" Christ's word (i.e. his new commandment). This will result in
(2) Father and Son making their "home" with us. That is, we will not be alone as we now begin to enjoy experience of fellowship with God which never ends.
(3) Although Jesus will physically leave his disciples, through the Holy Spirit (the Advocate/Paraclete/Helper/Counsellor/One who walks with us) Jesus' work continues (here, emphasis falls on Jesus' teaching). 
Thus,
(4) Jesus leaves his blessing of "Peace" on the disciples, a peace not as this world would give (i.e. attempt to give) but a peace based on the promise of God's dwelling with them, continuing presence with them through the Holy Spirit, and promise already made (14:1-6) that all will be well.
(5) Far from despairing at the loss of Jesus, the disciples should be rejoicing "because the Father is greater than I". At this point we may be wise to acknowledge some limitation in our understanding of this enigmatic phrase. We might be more helped if Jesus had said "because the Father has everything under control" or "the Father is able to continue working in the world as if I were still with you." Jesus doesn't say that, though something of those two sentiments may be bound into the meaning of "the Father is greater than I."

(With respect to the following verses, though not part of our passage today, verses 30-31:

Then Jesus in the last few verses of the chapter faces (in the enigmatic manner of the Jesus presented to us in this gospel) the immediate future: "for the ruler of this world is coming". 

When Jesus says that "He [= ruler of this world] has no power over me" he must be talking about ultimate power, for within a few hours the ruler of the world, also known as the prince of darkness, will have drawn Jesus to his execution on the cross. But, as we readers know (but the disciples present on that occasion did not), it is not death which is the end of Jesus on earth but resurrection. So the ruler of the world is undone and the gospel spreads throughout that world. However John does not put it like that (which a gospel writer like Mark might have done, see Mark 14:9). John actually writes in v. 31,

"but I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father."

What does Jesus mean? Why is it important that the world knows that Jesus loves the Father (= does as the Father commanded him)? The sense here seems to be that only through obedience to the Father (i.e following the path leading him to the finished work of salvation on the cross as the final and complete Passover Lamb) is salvation possible. If Jesus were to stumble at the end, to disobey the Father, then he would not love the Father and we would know that what God wanted had not, in the end, been fulfilled. Conversely, when we ask with Johannine thinking, what our salvation consists of, it consists of us responding to Jesus with a similar love, a love which means we "keep" his words (14:24).

In relation to life in heaven, John 14:23-29 sets us on the way to growth in Christian maturity, built on confidence in God's promises to us in Christ and on the gift of the Holy Spirit to us.