Year C, EASTER 6

 

John 14: 23-29                                                (Sermon 1: “Radical Peace”)

Revelation 21: 22-22:5                        (Sermon 2: “Tale of Two Cities”)

Acts  16: 9-15

Psalm 67.

 

PREPARATION

 

Our Host for this service today is Messiah Jesus.

Amen!  He is indeed our Host!

 

Some of us gather here eagerly, others come dutifully, or casually.

Some come focussed on God, others bring many distractions.

 

Some arrive in good spirits and health, others arrive with a new pain or grief.

But the same living Host is here for us all.

Thanks be to God!

 

OR -

 

The grace of the living Lord Jesus be always with you!

And also with you!

 

By the light of God shall the nations walk,

And rulers of the earth shall bring their glory into it.

Let all the peoples praise you, O God!

Let all the peoples praise you!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Dearest Lover of humanity, God most holy, thank you for being so accessible to your adopted children gathered here today. Please encourage us to quietly yet thoroughly bask in your love, delight in your truth, accept your good counsel, and allow our spirits to be garrisoned by your peace. For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Fellow followers of Christ Jesus, our lives become snarled by our ignorance and corrupted by insidious evil within and without. I invite you to confess your errors and seek the mercy and renewal which God is pleased to give to those who sincerely seek it.

 

Let us pray.

 

In our ignorance we have made bad decisions and made life difficult for those around us.

In our wilfulness we have pursued goals that we know are evil and corrupting.

 

In our foolishness we have lost our way and blundered into situations that degrade.

In our selfishness we have withheld compassion from those who most need it.

 

In our pig-headedness we have clung to opinions and deeds that are unworthy.

In our fickleness we have betrayed the deep values of Christ for shallow pleasures.

 

In our inanity we have dallied with temptations which overtax our integrity.

In our sinfulness we have disappointed ourselves, those around us, and your Holy Spirit.

 

Saviour of the world, we open our hearts to your grace, mercy and peace.

Create a clean heart within us, loving God,

And renew a healthy spirit within us.

Through Christ our Redeemer

Amen!

 

ABSOLUTION

Family of God,  Christ has not come to bind our mistakes and sins on us, but to loose the bonds and give us liberty. In his name I declare the forgiveness of sins and the life that is eternal. If Christ sets you free, then you are free indeed.

Thanks be to God.

 Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            When We Worry

 

God our best Friend,

when we worry too much about things,

and make ourselves sick in the tummy,

please come to us on the air we breath

into our lungs,

and spread the peace of Jesus

in our mind and heart.

 

Let us take big breaths of his peace,

and then even bigger and deeper ones,

and become calm and sensible again.

Amen!

 

PSALM 67

 

Loving God, please bless us with your grace,

let the light of your face shine upon us,

so that your methods may be known upon earth,

your liberating strength among the nations.

 

Let earth’s teeming millions praise you, God, 

yes, let all the people cheer for  you.

Let all races be happy and sing in harmony,

for you judge and guide the nations of earth.

Let earth’s teeming millions praise you, O God,

yes, let all the people cheer for you.

 

The earth has produced abundantly,

God, our true God has blessed us.

Yes indeed, God has blessed us;

from pole to pole let all stand in awe!

            ©  B.D. Prewer 1998 and 2012

 

SHALOM

 

My peace I give.

 

Peace of the Creator:

the wide midnight sky,

bright dew on the lawn,

the songbird at dawn,

the child’s lullaby.

 

Peace of the Saviour:

love for the outcaste,

the rest that endures,

sure mercy that cures,

the cross at the last.

 

Peace of the Inspirer:

the breath of the Friend,

life of the new born

hope of the forlorn,

the joy at land’s end

                        ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

Holy Friend, God of loving hearts, help us to practice what we preach. If this should prove

harder than we expect, please invigorate us with your Holy Spirit, that the Counsellor of

truth and peace, may both guide and reinforce us with calm courage.

Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: RADICAL PEACE

 

John 14:27

 

Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give to you; my gift is not like the world gives;

 so do not be distressed, do not be afraid.

 

A dying person may comfort those who must go on living. It happens frequently. The critically ill patient cares for those dear ones gathered around the bed. I even heard of one dying person say with a wry smile to a young, anxious nurse: “Don’t you be distressed dear; let me do the dying.”

 

Jesus was in an equivalent situation at the last supper. His death was near. He knew it. And at long last his stubborn disciples had stopped denying it. They were distressed and in early stages of grief. The doomed man comforted those who must go on living without him: Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give to you; my gift is not like the world gives; so do not be distressed, do not be afraid.

 

This happened at the last meal of a condemned man. He offered them the precious gift of his peace. The peace that was sustaining him as he faced a horrible end.

 

There are two strands to this gift of peace; a gift which Jesus says is not like the peace which the world offers us.

 

STRAND 1: SHALOM

 

As I see it, the first strand is thoroughly Jewish.  Shalom was, and is, a most precious Hebrew word.  It is the complete well being, the health of individual, family, society and nation,  which they believed God wanted for his people. It is the end of war and injustice, the end of hatred and bondage and grinding poverty. Its perfection would come on the victory-day when God would bring in the new, golden age: the day of the Lord’s new world order.. Humanity would be one; one united family. Shalom was an affirmation of faith and hope in the face of all negative and destructive forces..

 

With shalom they greeted each other in the morning. With shalom they went to their rest at night. When some were dragged off as political hostages, shalom was called out as they departed. When the lost returned home they were embraced with shalom. Wherever they laboured as slaves they whispered shalom to each other. In Nazi prison camps they prayed for shalom; they went to gas chambers with shalom on their lips.

 

Jesus the Jew on the night of his betrayal, did a very Jewish thing and offered shalom to his friends. The promise, the hope, when all seemed now hopeless.

 

STRAND 2:  JESUS: “MY PEACE”

 

But there is a second strand in this peace of Christ Jesus.  He calls it “my peace.” It is especially his. It is the peace at the core of his unique being, even when the night seemed intolerably dark.  I believe his peace was the radical trust he had in the loving providence of God. No matter what! His radical closeness to God. (Last week I spoke of his radical love. We should not be surprised if his peace and love are inter-related)

 

I remind you that the word radical has to do with roots (radix = root). The deep down, essence of Christ’s being was rooted in the Spirit of that wonderful God he called Abba- Dad.  He showed an intimacy, a familiarity with God which must have shocked the uptight religionists around him. He trusted Abba radically. No matter what happened to him, all would be well. God was faithful and could be utterly trusted to bring good out of evil, joy out of suffering, life out of death.

 

His peace was a foundational serenity of spirit. He wanted his disciples to share this radical shalom of his; to be able to face the horrors that were to come without dismay and fear. He believed they could to go on and live their lives fruitfully, allowing God to take all the frayed and bloodied ends of life and weave them into something new and wonderful.

 

In his radical shalom, nothing would be wasted, everything would be meaningful.

Peace I  leave with you, my own peace I give to you; my gift is not like the world gives;

so do not be distressed, do not be afraid.

 

NO SUPERFICIAL COMFORT

 

Don’t get this wrong. His peace does not equate with a comfortable existence. I am not saying that in some magic way Jesus was not going to fully experience the awful humiliation and agony of Golgotha.  He was not exempt from fear and trembling. He was not given a supernatural tolerance to pain.

 

Look at him in the Garden of Gethsemene, when his emotional tension and turmoil was such that he sweated drops of blood from small burst capillaries under his skin. Hear his crying: “Abba, if is possible, let this cup pass from me.”

 

See him hanging on the cross, one of the most cruel methods of execution ever conceived by depraved minds. Hear his cry as the darkness gathers: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Yet his peace was deeper than all this. His roots were in the love of God, and at the end the forsaken cry is swallowed up in the deeper peace: “Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

 

We need to hear this. Christ’s peace does not give us exemption from abuse, poverty,  suffering, sorrow, fear, and possibly moments of  painful loneliness. But it does give us deliverance from cynicism and despair.  The gift of Christ, his own peace, undergirds anything that can happen to us.

 

As long as we place our trust in lesser things, the peace will elude us. Career, money, power, fame, beauty, pleasure, will not stand the test. Even our dearest friend or our most precious loved one, cannot save us from despair when things go badly wrong. Everything has a limit, except God.  All other forms of well being can be stripped away, except the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

THE TWO STRANDS BELONG TOGETHER

 

These two strands, the Jewish Shalom and Christ’s own deep core of serenity, must be held together to do justice to that radical peace which Christ offers his followers.  We must not lose the balance and get lopsided.  His peace is never just a private matter between one’s soul and God. Nor is it just a social and political programme for justice and the welfare of all people.  It is always both.

 

This deep, down-in-the-soul security, of Christ’s radical peace, gives us the liberty and courage to work for the welfare of all people; to take the risks which sometimes will bring success and sometimes failure. When we are grounded in Christ’s peace, we can dare to fail magnificently. Even if we fear that we have lost all, we will discover that we have gained all that will ever matter on earth and in heaven.

 

Shalom. Christ’s shalom. His gift to those who trust him.  Listen to words from the Spanish woman of the 16th century, St Teresa of Avilla :

 

Let nothing disturb you,

nothing frighten you,

all things are temporary,

except God who remains.

Know him and know all things,

trust him and want nothing,

He is sufficient

 

 

SERMON 2: A TALE OF TWO CITIES

 

Genesis 4: 16-17 contrasted with Revelation 21:9 to 22: 5

 

Australians are mostly city dwellers.

 

Although our social myths draw heavily on the wide inland areas, from the wheatlands to the cattle stations and the vast sheep runs, we are keen on urban life. Although our geographical myths romanticise the Red Centre, Uluru, Alice Springs and the Birdsville Track, the majority of us cling to the coastlands and mass together in the capital cities of each State and Territory. We eulogise the country but huddle in cities.

 

If cities are (for the majority) our thing, then we should be ready to explore cities mentioned in the Bible. Today I ask you to look briefly at a city near the beginning of the Bible and another city at the end, in the Book of Revelation. One is the city of murderer called Cain, and the other is the city of God, the New Jerusalem.

 

Both cities are metaphors. They are not to be taken in a factual, mundane, ‘hom hum’ way, like me saying, for instance: “Hobart is the capital city of Tasmania, and Darwin is the chief city of the Northern Territory.” The city of Cain and the city of God are far more important, and much more profound, more real, than our cities. They are more true. They are like parables, plumbing the depths of human shame and frustration, and declaring the saving faithfulness of God.

 

THE FIRST CITY.

 

Cain became a restless nomad.

 

After murdering his brother Abel, and rejecting God’s disapproval (Am I my brother’s keeper!) we are told that Cain went off and lived in the land of Nod. Nod in Hebrew language means “wandering.” Cain has lost the ability to stay still and be contented. He is now forever restless. He cannot stay at home because, he is alienated even from the soil: “The voice of your brothers blood cries out to me from the ground.”

 

He is filled with guilt-denial and with anxieties which gnaw away at his being.

Cain travels far away from home, on the move, never settled. He marries and has children, but the restlessness persists. That is what happens when we alienate ourselves from others in the human family. We live in the land of Nod, a meandering life of rootlessness.

 

Cain looks for an alternative.

If he can’t be spiritually close to others, then at least he can be physically close. So he gathers people together and builds a city, which he names after his first child Enoch. He congregates with others, presses close, longing for human warmth to quell the inner cold of his spirit. His city (though much smaller and less ‘sophisticated’ than ours) is a symbol of the cities in which we herd together. Often we settle for physical proximity rather than sustaining personal interaction.

 

Cities appear to be full of life.

They may not bestow meaningful community but they do provide plenty of coming and going, and a plethora of diversions. Busy shopping malls, discos and casinos, crowded train stations, large sporting events and musical spectaculars, packed trams and busses, ample choice in dining and wining, a frenetic round of parties with loud music, a wide variety of sexual partners (for sexual promiscuity is a powerful diversion for lonely and lost souls) and a host of drinking mates.

 

Cities thrive in the land of Nod.

They crop up everywhere for restless wanderers. They promise much but deliver very little to the person who is at odds with themselves and with God. Cities can be the loneliest place on the planet.

 

THE FINAL CITY

 

Please so not misunderstand me, my friends. I am not anti-city.

There are many wonderful opportunities in cities for those who want to grow in grace, wisdom and love. It is not insignificant that the Bible ends with the vision of a city where people live together at close quarters in peace and love and profound joy.

 

In John’s vision, there is the city of God, the New Jerusalem.

It comes down from heaven to earth like a bride adorned for marriage. This is God’s ultimate bonus. Here is God’s redeemed community, the final fulfilment of the long and painful human story. It is sheer gift. Grace.

 

The city of God is a centre of light. 

Its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.” It is a place of gold and jewels, symbols of rare and valuable beauty. There is nothing ugly or obscene in this community.

 

There is perfect symmetry in the dimensions of this city.

It is a place that is in harmony. “The city lies foursquare, its length and breadth and height are equal” Here everything has been planned to have its perfect place, and everything is in that right place. A community where all is in divine balance.

 

This city of God has twelve gates.

It welcomes people from every conceivable direction. These gates are never shut, for its free citizens do not ever need to be shut in, nor are there enemies to be shut out. This is truly a community of shalom, a city of peace. There is no hunger and thirst, no suffering, no separation, no loss and grief. All those agonies are gone forever when God’s purposes are fulfilled.

 

Most remarkable of all, there is no temple.

No church building, no cathedral, no chapel. You see, all our temples, no matter how beautiful, are secondary. Such sanctuaries are a witness not only to our hunger for a God who often seems to be absent, but also to our kinship with wandering Cain.

 

But in the new Jerusalem God is never felt to be absent.

The kin of  Cain have come home forgiven and restored. The secondary temples have been made obsolete by the presence and availability of God.

 

The light of God illumines everything in the holy city.

Here are no more misconceptions, no more doubts, no more prejudice and error, no more need for doctrines and creeds, no more need to cry “Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.” God enlightens everything and everybody. “The city has no need for the sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light and the Lamb is its lamp.”

 

As I said earlier, this “New Jerusalem” is a metaphor: one majestic metaphor!

 

In the beginning there is the city of Cain.

There people jostle together for warmth, and try to hide from the chill of alienated existence, but without much love and community.

 

At the end there is the city of God;

Where all is light, warmth and joyful community.

 

BUT FOR NOW?

 

Where does that leave us? Where are we now?

 

We are the in-between-people.

We are the church; this flawed yet hope-filled community. In spite of noble literature that has likened the church to the city of God, we are far from that light and beauty and love.

 

Please don’t expect too much of the church.

It is not, and should not ever presume to be, the final Holy City. Don’t become disappointed, don’t get bitter and cynical when things go wrong. The church community is made up of people like you and me. And unless I am gravely mistaken, the mark of Cain still shows on all of us. Please don’t expect too much.

 

Yet also, please don’t expect too little of the church.

Don’t settle for less than is achievable. Please don’t become apathetic. With Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, change and growth are always possible.

 

We who are in the church, this in-between-city, the flawed community of faith, are on the way to something far better. By the inexorable grace of God, I stand with John and promise you that the new community, which lies behind John’s vision of the holy city, will truly come to be.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and anew earth........ and I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.

 

And the city has no need for sun or moon to shine upon it, for God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut.

 

WE BELIEVE

 

We believe in God the Creator

whose providence ingrains all things since the first explosive moment of time and space ¾

            in the purpose which veins this planet earth and its array of living plants and creatures,

            in farmers who love the earth too much to exploit and exhaust it,

            in city people who respect water too much to waste it,

            in old folk who still exclaim at rainbows and children who dance in sun-showers.

 

We believe in God the Saviour

who in Jesus has inside knowledge of the glory and shame of the human race ¾

            in the Wounded Healer who shared both the pain and the wonder of Easter love,

            in the young who give their hearts to him as the way, the truth and the light,

            in busy who make time for Christ in the hungry and thirsty, the prisoner and the sick,

            in ordinary followers who dare go the second mile and forgive their enemies,

 

We believe in God the Holy Counsellor

who comes from the Creator and Saviour to be our Friend and Helper for all time ¾

            in the Friend who gives us the strength which unfolds in human weakness,

            in people who understand that love is by far the Spirit’s choicest gift,

            in those who have found riches available within the poverty of the church,

            in all who rejoice in the spring of joy which bubbles up into eternal life.

 

We believe at least this much, and sometimes much more, because God

the Creator, Saviour, Counsellor,

            has embraced and baptised us with a new name which is forever,

            called us to be good stewards of our unique planet-home,

            and sends us out to become agents of reconciliation among all people.

Amen!

 

THANKSGIVING

 

We thank you, Source and Goal of the universe, for all that you have done, and continue to do, for us and all people.

 

Thanks for planet earth, our home, faithfully spinning in its orbit. For sunset and sunrise, rain and sunshine, winter and summer, the winds and the oceans, the streams and the  rugged mountains.

 

Thanks for this continent which we call home. For the familiar beauties of the landscape that comfort us, and for the places of rugged grandeur that make us hold our breath in awe and fumble for words of praise.

 

Thanks for the minerals we mine and the soil we till, for fruits and corn that grow in due season, for animals that delight us, the fish of the sea and the  mighty whales, the soaring and singing birds of the air, for towering trees and abundant wildflowers.

 

Thanks for the rich variety of races that have made this continent their home, for many cultures and ways of praying, for the ancient people who first came here, for our friends and families, and for each baby recently born..

 

Thanks for the Gospel that has taken hold our lives, for the variety of churches and the common faith, for pastors and congregations, welfare and mission ministries, and for all those ordinary believers who honour Christ in adverse circumstances.

 

Wonderful are you, Joy of all creation, out of your full store you have heaped gift upon gift. Our cup overflows. Blessed is you name for ever and ever.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

There are many needy souls, but few of us who take time to really pray for them.

There are many suffering bodies, yet too few helpers to minister to them

 

In our prayers of intercession, let us pledge ourselves to  both  loving  prayer and loving deed.

 

Let us pray.

 

Reconciling God, we pray for the peace of the world. Please continue your divine patience with us, and help us move closer to the destiny you promise.

 

For the end of all suspicion or rivalry among the many branches of your church.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Please come and heal your people.

 

For the exposure of all injustices, and for a new courage from all nations to outlaw them.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Please come and heal your people.

 

For a fairer sharing of the earth’s resources and the feeding of the malnourished.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Please come and heal your people.

 

For the resettlement of refugees and the uplifting of the down trodden.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Come and heal your people.

 

For an end of terrorism and war, and for international commitment for just arbitration.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Please come and heal your people.

 

For the maimed and abused, diseased and the dying, the frightened and sorrowful.

Come with your peace, Lord Jesus;

Please come and heal your people.

 

Reconciling God, help us to allow the peace of Christ, which this world’s sophistication cannot match, to keep us sure footed, even handed, and open armed; ready to assist those hurting folk whom you may send our way this week. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go out into the world in good cheer.

You will never be able to serve God as such a Holy One deserves; 

       but you are not asked to.

You are simply asked to offer all that you know of yourself to all that you know of Christ,

       and do the best you can.

Do that and you will know the peace of Christ at all times and in all places. 

And in the end, you will be more than victorious.

Thanks be to God.

 

Grace, mercy and peace, from Father, Son and Holy Spirit, will certainly be with you this day and always.

Amen!