5 May 2013
Sixth Sunday of Easter
10.00 am St Mary’s
Readings Rev. 21.10,22-22:5 & John 14:23-29
Heavenly Father, as we come to look at your written word this morning may the indwelling Holy Spirit open the eyes of our hearts to meet with your living Word, who is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke briefly about St Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus and how God acted powerfully and suddenly to stop this man in his tracks, to halt his planned destruction of the Church and to turn him around 180 degrees and make him into one of the most powerful evangelists and church planters of all time. You may recall me saying that as important as this story of conversion is, and how, yes, many people are still converted dramatically from lives of dissolution to holiness as the shelves of most Christian bookshops will attest, we should never feel ashamed, or be made to feel ashamed, if God has brought us to where we are through rather less dramatic means. Or, indeed, if we still feel like a ‘work in progress’ which, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us probably do.
My own story of conversion probably took 15 years and my call to the priesthood longer still. In conversation many people seem to assume that Vicars must come from highly religious families and were always bound to take Holy Orders, or else they seem to think that Priests arrive from the sky fully formed. I can assure you that neither is the case with me. My parents were that interested in religion and I think that my dad would still call himself an atheist. However I do remember that we all went to church one Sunday when I was about nine. I don’t know what prompted this in my parents but we trotted off to St Andrews in Hatfield Peverel for Parish Communion. I can’t remember a thing about this service, and I am sure that it was nothing exciting or at all child friendly, but I do remember coming home with a distinct feeling of having encountered something Holy. At the risk of sounding like a Wesleyian my heart was warmed and I felt different.
But, as important as communion is in the ‘here and now” we are reminded today that neither the church nor communion exist for their own sake – they are but part of the ongoing story of God’s reconciliation with his creation and that when that reconciliation is complete they will pass away and our relationship with God will be direct, visible and personal.
In today’s gospel Jesus is preparing his disciples for the fact that he will not always be with them in person but he is telling them that when he goes that is not the end of the story. Far from it. Jesus says:
“Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
“We will come and make our home with them” Jesus is promising that those who love Jesus and keep his word will find themselves living in the presence of God. But this is not about pie in the sky when you die – Jesus is not saying that those who love God will come up to heaven to live as disembodied spirits. Jesus says that we will come and make our home with them – ie it is God who moves to earth to live with those who love him. How can this be? Surely God doesn’t come to earth, surely he sits up in heaven invisibly watching us and waiting for us to go and join him?
Not at all – at the beginning of all things and before sin and death entered the world God strolled in the Garden of Eden and there was no distance between creator and creation. But humanity’s disobedience brought about the Great Divorce. But, the good news is and the reason we are here today, is that there was no Decree Absolute granted and the Old Testament is not actually a book of rules but, rather, it is the story of God reaching out to his people bring us home. That story of reconciliation culminated in the New Testament and in the mission of Jesus – God come down to earth, once again to walk among us, for our salvation. But God’s presence on earth was not to end even when Jesus was killed by human sin. Jesus promised that when he left the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to earth – in today’s gospel he says:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
And we know that Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost, which we celebrate in only a few weeks. At Pentecost we remember and celebrate the Holy Spirit descending on the first disciples in tongues of fire and empowering the early church to travel far and wide preaching the good news of the living God. And the Holy Spirit continues to fill and give life to the church and to dwell amongst and within each of us. But even the presence of the Holy Spirit is not the end of the story. Jesus said that “we will come and make our home with them.”
The Book of Revelation contains many symbols and images that are both challenging and difficult to interpret and if anyone tells you that they have all the answers to all the questions posed by this book then you should probably make your excuses and leave. But today’s reading from chapter 21 contains some wonderful images that speak directly to Jesus’ promise that God will once again dwell amongst his people. In John’s vision a new city of Jerusalem comes down to earth. At the time Revelation was written the real city of Jerusalem had quite recently been destroyed and the Temple at the heart of the city had been mostly razed to the ground, leaving only the wailing wall that we know now. But in John’s vision the Temple is not restored to its former glory – on the contrary there is no temple at all. And of course the reason for that is that the whole city had become the dwelling place for God – God himself was the temple of the city and he is also the light that shines constantly on the city. It is a strong city with walls and with gates but those gates are never shut because it never gets dark there. God has come to earth at the end of all things and the light of his presence will never go out. But God is not merely a disembodied light who shines on this heavenly city that has come to earth – we are told that those who dwell there will see his face.
What we do in the here and now is but a poor reflection of the encounter with God and the worship that will come – indeed in Hebrews 8 it says that our tabernacles and temples are only a copy and a shadow of what is to come – and – in Hebrews 13 – for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. But although our worship and our communion now is but a shadow of the worship and communion that we will share in the city that is to come when God makes his home amongst us once again we know that it is our calling, our preparation for what lies ahead and part of God’s gift to us.
So Jesus calls us to love him and follow his word and then we will experience true worship and true communion with God and one another. But to follow Jesus’ word does not simply to turn Jesus into a rule book either – to follow Jesus’ word means first and foremost to follow him and his example, most especially the way in which he modelled sacrificial love and service for all those around him. That is achieved not through the application of rules but through the experience of deep indwelling love.
Sisters and Brothers in Christ. We are not here to follow rules but to follow Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, as he leads us home to the Father.