Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sermon 28 April: Being Reconciled (Part One)

Revelation 21: 1-6; John 13: 31-35
“Write this down, because these words are true and can be trusted”.

Last week, whilst on retreat, I was privileged to join in debate, to listen to some excellent lectures, and most of all, to sit in quiet and solitude and contemplate exactly what it means for us as the church today to be reconciled with God. The Fellowship of which I am a member meets annually to reflect on particular topics, to stretch the mind and understanding and to engage with topics that are relevant and important for all God’s people as we try to live out our faithful lives.

This week as we return to the lectionary, we are greeted by John’s vision, from God, of the world as it will be when Jesus returns in glory. And we are reminded of Jesus’ simple yet profound final instruction: “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples”

 Profound indeed!!
If we love each other – people will know we follow Jesus
All we have to do is love one another...

Aye... there’s the rub!

Jesus didn’t say, love the people you like; or love those who think like you; he didn’t say choose who to like; choose who to show love to.

He told us to love one another.... without restriction, without holding back
Simply: love one another as I have loved you

So the next question is how did Jesus love them?

Jesus loved
Jesus also chastised, and warned, and encouraged, and forgave and restored, and renewed and healed as he loved.

His was not a passive, distant, uninvolved love.
For that really isn’t love

Jesus simply met people were they were, how they were, and if he thought they needed to change he told them so.
But still he loved them.
He loved them to death – literally.
Dying for those he loved.
Dying for all of humanity.

Dying, so as to open up heaven, and bring about the possibility of the New Heaven, the New Earth – that which God intends for us. In that place “God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared”

And then, there is another question that comes to my mind: why did Jesus love them?

Jesus loved them, us, humanity because he created us; he brought us to life; he came to earth so that we may be reconciled to him, to God.
He loved, so that our relationship could be restored.

In the same way that a parent cannot help but love their child, so Jesus, God the Son, could not help but love his wayward people, who needed him; who needed direction; who needed to understand what God really had planned for them.

And thus he came; and thus he gave his final, profound, beautiful command: love one another as I have loved you
Love one another wholeheartedly
Love one another unconditionally

And after he had gone, and returned, and then finally departed for good, he left us his promise and he left us the vision which came through John

This awesome vision from Revelation: the new heaven, the Holy City, New Jerusalem... in that place God himself will be
In that place He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.
In that place there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.
In that place the old things will have disappeared...

When John was given this vision of what was to come he was told: write this down for these words are true. These words can be trusted.
This vision is not some airy fairy notion
Some silly, unrealistic, unattainable utopia
This is heaven!
This is the promise of our life to come

Now I know there are those who struggle with trying to imagine heaven; let’s face it, there are those who struggle with day to day stuff, without trying to imagine what life after this life will be like!!

I believe this is why John was blessed with the vision, and received the comfort of that explanation, the instruction & the promise: these words are true and can be trusted. 

We don’t need to try to invent it, or imagine it: it is right here in these words:
No more pain
No more tears
God right there with us
All the old difficulties gone – all is new and shining, and bright, and golden

Jesus- the Lamb of God, God the Son – he is the first, the last, he is everything – all we will need to know comes from the Son
And his instructions, his guidance is profound, and simple
Love one another as I have loved you. This is how people will know you are my disciples if you love one another.

And if we truly love each other
Then we will learn how to accept the differences of opinion
We will learn to respect lives that are different to ours, but no less faithful, no less loving, no less worthy of the name, child of God.

One of our speakers last week really challenged me: he was talking about the history of division and restoration in the church. And the dark days we have in our history. Days when the church broke apart, divided, bickered and more than bickered – turned to hating each other – not loving.

The challenge came to me when it was suggested to us that we consider that such division, such schism, has no place in the life of the church. Schism is wrong, sinful, and to be avoided at all costs.

I found this particularly challenging in the light of the current debate in our church. For sadly I believe that the church will split in some form or other in the months ahead.
I found myself asking why I think this, and in that light, what should be MY goal as we move forward.

I asked myself these things:
Can reconciliation happen within a fractured and broken body?
How can we be reconciled to those who themselves do not seek reconciliation?

I am still working through the conclusions!!
And I will develop the theme a little more next week too.

Revelation tells us a lot about how to be the church, and how not to be the church. It contains warning and signs; it tells of churches full of faith, and churches who are lost, it speaks of churches full of enthusiasm and churches stuck in the quagmire of delusion and despair.

As a church, the Church of Scotland has always celebrated the fact that it is broad in its theology and practise; it celebrates that it has much diversity and variety.
As members of that church we are individual people and congregations, but we are also corporate, part of the greater body – if we can accept that we are part of a larger body, with as many differences as there are similarities, perhaps this is the way forward?
We celebrate our diversity, our difference our individuality and at the same time we embrace the unity that draws us together in Christ and restores and reconciles us to God.

Think on the old children’s hymn:

Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light
Like a little candle burning in the night
In this world of darkness so let us shine
You in your small corner, and I in mine


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