Sunday, 5 May 2013

Sermon 5th May: Being Reconciled (Part Two)

John 14: 23-29 & Rev 21:22 – 22:5
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.

Part Two.... hmmm!
Last week, as many of you will know I began to explore some of the things I had learned while on retreat. And I promised that I’d continue on the theme this week too.
Now, some of you may well think that because this is part two that must make it easier!!
Personally, as I was preparing this, and deciding how to follow, I was quietly annoyed with myself – stand alone is easy, you don’t have to link it to anything. And continuing a theme means you have to keep checking back on the things you said before so as not to repeat, and not to exclude. So, actually, in a busy week, I gave myself a mammoth task! Way to go!
Each of our readings is an extension from last week too: in the Gospel, further thoughts from Jesus’ farewell discourse with his closest friends; and in Revelation further descriptions of John’s vision of heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Holy City.
Last week, we heard Jesus giving his disciples his last command: love one another. This week we are reminded of his gift to them, and to us: my peace I give you, do not worry, do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid: Jesus used this phrase so often. And so often he needed to use it. For his way, his teaching was so different and unfamiliar that it was no surprise that the disciples were fearful
Change is scary
Change is difficult
Change is unsettling
So like those disciples, long ago, we too need to hear Jesus speak words of encouragement: do not be afraid.
Do not worry.
My peace I give you, my peace is not like the world’s view; my peace is bigger and better than that.
In Revelation the vision of the Holy City continues. It is descriptive and vivid, painting an image of a rich and beautiful landscape, and promising a place where there is nothing evil, nothing shameful, no lies or deceit. And the trees bear fruit, and the leaves bring about the healing of nations.
Wow!! The healing of nations: imagine what our world would be like if all the nations were healed. No one to disagree; no one to fight or argue or compete, no one to seek power over another.
That is what Jesus’ peace is like!
The Holy City is the place of the Lamb: the Lamb is Jesus- and in his place is true lasting holy peace.
If all the nations, and all the churches of the nations, and all the people of the churches were healed by the trees of the River of Life – we wouldn’t be needing reconciliation anymore.
The vision of the Holy City shows us possibilities: heaven in all its glory and abundance and life!
Life after life here: the afterlife, is teeming with life
So, how does this knowledge, this vision inform our current situation? How might it help us to move forwards?
Last week I talked about how broad the Church of Scotland is; how this is paradoxically both its strength and its weakness. It means we have different outlooks, different interpretations, different priorities, all under the unity of Christ, and somehow, through all of this, we need to steer a way forward, where we can stay together, and work together, celebrating our variety.
The current big issue that is exercising the church – and especially colouring the media view of the church is relatively inconsequential, when compared to the real issues in the world: poverty, injustice, inequality, enough food, clean water,  healthcare and education – these are far more important than gender or sexuality concerns.
The sad truth is, that although all of these other issues really are more important for us to get involved in, until this particular issue is sorted we are effectively prevented from doing anything else.
And, the other sad truth is, that it will not all be over after the report and debate on Monday 20th May. Whichever way the decision goes, the final decision will not happen on that day.
Any fundamental change must be approved by the whole church – it is our constitution. It is what makes us distinctively Presbyterian. So, if a fundamental change is accepted, it will be sent down, under the barrier act, for local presbyteries to debate; and be brought to the following Assembly for the final decision. At each stage it will be debated again – if the Presbyteries decline to approve, a following Assembly may overturn that decision; and vice versa.
If however, this year’s assembly decides to depart from the current trajectory, there will be a right of appeal. And the subject will be revisited again in years to come. For this is our age, and this will not go away.
In the Times Weekend Magazine which comes with the Saturday edition there is a regular columnist Caitlin Moran: yesterday she wrote about a Hollywood magazine which published its annual Top 20 Most Hated list – she had looked at the list to analyze why these particular people were so elected. She discovered that the majority of those on the list were there, not because they behaved terribly badly, but because they simply get on with their lives, their work, and they avoid publicity, they avoid gossip.
These are the hard working actors who refuse to buy into the Hollywood machine. The magazine editors choose to hate them, because they don’t feed the hunger for scandal and over-exposure.
If the church was getting really steamed up about poverty and injustice – there’d be no publicity.
And here’s the sad thing: the church IS getting steamed up about poverty and injustice – it’s just that the world is not prepared to listen.
Jesus told us: love one another as I have loved you. My peace I give you, do not be afraid.
Jesus died, and rose again, and opened up heaven: the gates of the Holy City stand open all day, the River of the Water of Life runs through it and the Lamb is there, waiting for us, as he promised he would
Can we as his church here on earth catch that vision and move forward, celebrating the things which unite us and putting away the things which divide – for His sake?
It’s up to us to choose – to move forward and share the Gospel, to fight for those who suffer huge injustice and inequality, or to get hung up on the media frenzy and scandal of gender and sexuality.

It is time to choose – the choice is not easy, but for the sake of the whole church we need to find the better quieter kinder way.

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