Now and for the future
Christ is risen and ascended! He is risen and ascended! Indeed!
And in that interplay – especially since you built on the traditional words of the Easter greeting and added to them – acknowledging Jesus’ ascension celebrated last Thursday – we have engaged in the very action of the book of Revelation – hearing words, seeing through faith – yes, John saw with his eyes, and whether in the same building or joining online or watching this sermon later – we are engaging in the mystery of Christian worship and encountering the risen Lord Jesus who calls his people to himself and is with them. Now our senses don’t tell us this because we don’t see or hear Jesus and we are in the same place we’re in most Sundays and for us in the UK we are not persecuted but back at the time John was on the island of Patmos at the end of the first century it was different and many of the churches were doing it tough with attacks and troubles piling up on them – so they not only did not have Jesus in front of their eyes but they also had troubles because they were his followers – and so Jesus gave John a revelation which was to be read to seven churches. And then the Church kept reading it because of the promise of blessings given in it and because there was a dialogue emerging which John wrote down – what Jesus said and showed him and what John saw and heard and said himself.
And that’s what Christian worship traditionally has been about – an interaction with the Lord of the Church and the people of God and the pastor – not an angel! 😉 but the Greek word here means messenger – turns to and fro towards the people and God and therefore represents God and the people and the dialogue, the encounter through words continues. God is speaking with his people and his people are with him!
Throughout this Easter we have been listening to Jesus’ revelation to John and yes, there is a future focus – eternal worship and praise of the all-powerful, almighty God with our eyes drawn to the throne and the Lamb who has taken the scroll and opened it, who was slain but lives, standing and so his people are standing – no matter how often or hard they are knocked down – white robed, washed in the blood, sheltered and shepherded by God – no disciple is left out and not included and there is a new heaven and a new earth, a new heavenly Jerusalem, life with God in this glorious city where there is no need of temple, sun, or moon because God is light and life for all.
And today we heard the final details of this heavenly city – the water of life running down the main street, the tree of life with its abundant fruit with so much life that there is life each month not once per season and nothing accursed or evil is there – the Devil wants to destroy with water, the Devil wants to imprison with the false claim of freedom – and all those sealed by God – names on foreheads and seeing God’s face – will now not be destroyed.
And this is a secure hope for the future and a secure declaration of the present. In the future we will see and live this reality through our senses and experiences and in the present we see and live this reality through faith. Paul reminded the Corinthians that we live by faith and not by sight here and now (2 Corinthians 5:7) and since faith comes through words so we heard the wonderful conclusion to Jesus’ revelation because we are brought back to Earth, as it were, in the dialogue.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:16,17 ESV)
At times we’re not sure who is speaking in Revelation but if this is the sermon in the church which is when it would have been read so the context of hearing it all would be the worship of the early Christians. The resurrection of Jesus, itself, is about our future but also about our present, our today. The ascension of Jesus, itself, is about our future but also about our present, our today. This book of blessing, Revelation, is about our future but also about our present, our today.
Jesus sends his messengers to testify about things for the churches and to get out of the way of the message because the focus must always be Jesus who is both before and after David – a comfort for Jews who hoped for the Messiah and never dreamed he would be God among them – and a light coming out of every darkness – a comfort no doubt for Gentiles – but also for all who go through dark times.
And who hasn’t called out to Jesus to ‘Come’ – come now, come quickly, and come and help? We can call out the word in hope but also the word can be an invitation to come and see the one who has come. It can be a declaration that God has come and if Jesus comes close to us what would he say? Surely he would say to his people, ‘Come’! Or perhaps other words …
28 “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
Or perhaps one of Jesus’ messengers might say …
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love
for David. (Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV)
That was Isaiah.
And so the followers of Jesus are always in two worlds, so to speak, citizens of this world and particularly the country listed on their passport, and citizens of the heavenly city by virtue of their name written indelibly in water, sealed by God, marked on the forehead and functioning as a chosen race (not your nationality), a royal priesthood (you are the King’s ambassadors between him and the people of this world who not disciples of Jesus), and God’s own possession – treasured sons and daughters of God, not pets or playthings for the Divine – so that you might live, now and always, a life with this God who shows grace and mercy to people through his Son. God keeps coming to them and they can keep coming back to him.
The followers of Jesus then live who they are – every person does, by the way, and a lot of psychology is about working out identities – and for Christians their identity is one that has fundamentally been given to them by God who has made and saved them and has called them to him through Jesus – given them family and a city as their birthright – a new birthright – and constantly refreshes and helps them live their lives as themselves – precious in God’s sight because you are the only you there is – you are the one for whom Jesus died and rose again and ascended – and you are called now into this moment around Jesus where he refreshes with living water, the Holy Spirit, and himself in Holy Communion.
Many of the situations you left at the door to come here, many of the problems in your diary for next week, your health, the people around you don’t magically change but we are strengthened, we are cleaned up, forgiven, we are guided and fed, we are listened to as we pour out our hearts, and we are blessed to go back into the world as heavenly citizens brimming with life and hope and joy – even as pain and problems, bombs and bullying may continue – it will not always continue – because Jesus will bring good out of it for us and for the world. Evil is evil and it cannot really be explained – it horrifies us and torments us but it will be defeated and sorrow will turn to joy – in big and little ways this week and one day for us to see in the heavenly Jerusalem. We are never abandoned.
Christ is risen and ascended! He is risen and ascended indeed! Hallelujah!
And because Jesus has risen and ascended you can be sure that Christ is present for you – now and in the future – and is with you always engaging with you in your life!
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
29th May 2022
It’s been a while since I posted a quote … but I did read something recently and thought ‘very good’ and wanted to share so here goes …
Luther’s view of truth is inseparable from his doctrine of the Word of God. Without entering into the various interpretations of this doctrine that have been advanced in recent years, it seems clear that his understanding of the Word which God directs to [us] in Christ Jesus contains just this element of involvement. Nineteenth-century liberals who sought “freiere Stellung” [more liberal position] in Luther’s attitude toward the Biblical canon misinterpreted his thought precisely because they overlooked this fact. The famous words in Luther’s prefaces about the Christocentricity of the New Testament are to be understood in the light of the fact that the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ addresses his Word to [us] through the Holy Scriptures, not to provide [us] with information about Himself or [ourselves] but to give Himself to [us]. “Einen Gott haben” [to have a God] is Luther’s favourite phrase of [humanity’s] religious disposition, an indication of the intensely personal character of faith.
The Word by which God creates that faith is intensely personal, too. When the enthusiasts wanted to use the Old Testament as a basis for civil law, Luther vehemently declared: “It is all the Word of God, to be sure. But Word of God or not, I must know and make certain to whom that Word of God is addressed … It must strike me” before God’s Word find its mark. That the Bible is God’s Word even before I receive it Luther stoutly maintained; I do not make it God’s Word by believing it. But in the relationship which God creates by His Word I am called into fellowship with Him, I am personally, yes, existentially involved. – Jaroslav Pelikan, From Luther to Kierkegaard: A Study in the History of Theology (Concordia Publishing House, 1950), p.17,18 cited in Forum Letter Vol. 51, No 3, March 2022.
The Bible conveys Jesus to us which is why we believe the Holy Spirit guided the building of the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ as the cornerstone. This understanding is critical for us who live nearly 2,000 years later, who read Scripture because it conveys Christ who speaks to us and into our time and place. We do not follow a rule book but enter into a relationship with Jesus who lives now and is with us (courtesy of Jesus’ ascension). And yet the Bible sets the parameters which shape our belief and behaviour because it would also be easy for us to say that my view of Jesus means I can say or do x or y – even if x or y are not spoken about as God pleasing in the Bible. We should not be the final authority of our interpretation. Rather we should interpret the Bible through Jesus, through his death for us, through the saving act we summarise as ‘justification’, and through the presence of a holy God among sinners in this world now. The Bible is God’s Word and each day when we engage with it, the question we should ask is ‘How is this God’s Word for me today?’.
The answers involve us not just ‘being told’ something – what to believe or what to do or not do – but recognising who we are in the moment – child, parent, spouse, employee, employer, citizen, ruler, congregational member, pastor or other church worker – and engaging with the Word of God with that role (or vocation) in focus. When Jesus speaks to us, he isn’t speaking abstractly but to us in a moment of time, in a situation, in a relationship or many relationship. Recognising who we are in that moment helps us listen and follow Jesus on the day and plan for the future. Living with Jesus is dynamic!
- Revelation 22:16 - 17