Hope

Hope

In our Bible reading (Rev 21 :1-7), a prophet who lived in violent times dreamt of peace, for the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy.  It may come across as violent, but that’s because it comes from a turbulent time.

When it was written, Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and Rome had unleashed extreme violence on them.  The writer fears that there is more to come.  So in writing of dragons, plagues, wars, horse riders going into battle he was reflecting violent times.

The purpose of this book was not to frighten Christians but to reassure them. For in these visions, there is one thing which is always true – the enemies of Christ never win, for we read Christ will be victorious – for Jesus Christ is Lord!

So the book of Revelation is an extraordinary, imaginative portrayal of the spiritual realities underlying our world.  At its heart is the understanding that the world is a spiritual battleground, in which the forces of evil far too often seem victorious.  Nevertheless, Revelation 21 gives us a vision of hope.  As we reflect on the end of World War One, here’s what I believe these verses say to us today.

FIRSTLY the world cannot save itself.  World War One was the first in which killing took place on an industrial scale.  The poet Wilfred Owen spoke of those ‘who die as cattle’.

No doubt many feel conflicted about the war today and so hesitant about just celebrating it as a victory.  One reason for this is that we are painfully aware of its cost.  Another is that we know it was not, as HG Wells said, “the war to end war.”  As Christians, war is not the answer, because it never achieves a good end by itself.

SECONDLY we are promised a better future.  One of the great gifts that God gives us is hope.  We want to look for something better, beyond the trials of this life. Striving for this looks different in peacetime, and in some ways it’s harder – people are more selfish and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal.  So in peacetime our enemies include poverty, selfishness, greed, ignorance and injustice.  However, what Jesus calls us to do is to believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

So hope is the divine gift of discontent with how the world is, and… the desire to change it.

THRIDLY in the end, all our hope is in God!  The Bible is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and Revelation 21 is about the end.

The story begins in a garden in which God walked with Adam and Eve, and ends with a city in which He walks with a multitude of His people. This city is perfect, because it comes down ‘out of heaven’.  God comes to us to dwell with us forever, and every tear will be wiped away, and everything will be made new.

When the Great War ended in 1918, many people hoped the world would be a better place. But Revelation tells us that we cannot build a perfect world without God.  The proverb says that ‘God writes straight with crooked lines’ – In other words He brings good out of our mistakes and failures. But without God, all we’re left with are our failures!

We don’t know how or when God will bring His new creation to completion, but when we are with God, with our sins forgiven and our future secure, we will be like Christ!  We will truly be made perfect in Him.

This is because the Trinity will finish off the work of salvation which God started when He created everything in the first instance, which Jesus continued with His redemptive work on the cross and which will be completed when the redeemed are invited into God’s new creation.

May we be willing to catch this vision of God’s future.  If we do this we will begin to see the world change, for this vision is an assurance that things will not go on for ever, that the suffering of today will finally give way to the hope of heaven, where God will dwell with us.

I believe that God wants us to know that nothing can take that away from us, for God will be faithful and deliever us from all evil.  Then there “will be no more death or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21.4 NIV).

Our future joy and life lie with the risen Christ!

Remembrance Sunday 11/11/18.  Based on Revelation 21: 1-7, and on notes by Mark Woods.

https://www.christiantoday.com/reporter/mark-woods

No one’s perfect

No one’s perfect

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that all who follow Him are known as Easter people.  What do I mean by this? Well, followers of Jesus believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to be Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  Wrapped up in this is God’s promise to us that all the followers of Jesus will be gathered up and so be granted a share in God’s amazing eternal kingdom.

The wonderful, heart-warming themes of resurrection, joy, eternal peace and a love stronger than death are woven through our Christian belief.   But, there are other themes.  In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul writes along these lines:

God has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ.

He goes on to say:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay …

You see, in this life we face vulnerability; we too can be cracked or broken like a cracked vase. This brokenness can leave us with jagged edges and so even greater vulnerability. Such brokenness can leave us with sorrow, guilt, regret and grief.  This is all quite natural when we are dealing with, and living through bereavement.

So it is right that we ask God to bring pardon and peace to the broken in heart; (Church Liturgy for confession on special occasions), to make us whole again when we feel torn and divided by our grief.

As we commemorate those who have departed this life we can have hope that they are now at rest.  Meditate on these words from Revelation:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev 21:4).

And with these words we hear God’s loving responses in the words of Jesus when He was teaching His disciples about what was to happen next on the night He was arrested and crucified:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you ….  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.  (John 14:27).

It’s so easy to forget these words of Jesus.  When we do we allow things to trouble our hearts, especially when we remember someone we love and still miss.

Perhaps we remember things we did or said that we now deeply regret but can’t say sorry.  There might be things left unsaid because we didn’t know we would have so little time to say them.  We might be hanging on to feelings of anger or bitterness towards one who wronged us or hurt us badly.

Only we know what’s in our hearts – or rather only we and God.  And God, knows what we need better than we know ourselves.

The truth is, in loving us beyond our understanding, God holds out his hands so that we can place into them the person we are remembering, and our relationship with that person.

Placing someone into God’s hands may not be easy.  We might only be able to do it gradually over a period of time or we might only be able to say, “I want to forgive but can’t yet”.

You see, our relationship with someone doesn’t end when they die.  It would be denying we have emotions, any conscience, if this were so.  Therefore, we continue to carry such relationships with us after they have died, but with and through God’s grace and mercy these relationships can change, grow and heal.

If, after someone we love dies we have no regrets at all about our relationship with them, except that it has been cut short, we can count ourselves greatly blessed.  But I suspect that for most of us we wish this to be so!  Nevertheless, in our grieving for their loss we can still feel a deep gratitude that our lives have been enriched because we were part of theirs.

Despite the death of a loved one let’s remember that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  And that this cracked vase can still hold flowers of great beauty.

Amen.

Based on a sermon for All Souls Day, Sunday 4th November 2018

Readings: Philippians 1:1-11 & John 5:24-29

Wisdom

Wisdom

Apparently there are six leadership capabilities, which collectively form the acronym W.I.S.D.O.M.

W – Work and acting with authenticity and appropriateness

I – Insightful and flexible fortitude

S – Shift your perspective towards a noble purpose

D – Decision logic with discernment and intuition

O – Openness to lead from any position

M – Motivated by enlightened self-interest

I think we would all agree that wise leaders are a very rare breed.

We’ve been following the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land.  When Joshua died, there was a vacuum of power.  The people, losing their spiritual commitment and motivation, abandoned God and worshipped idols.  This period of rapid decline was due to sin, individual and corporate, with everyone doing “as he saw fit”, resulting in the Israelites becoming captives.  Out of their desperation they begged God to rescue them.  In faithfulness to His promises and out of His loving-kindness, God raised up a judge to deliver His people and, for a time there was peace. Then complacency and disobedience would set in, and the cycle began again.  Over a period of 325 years there were six successive periods of oppression and deliverance, and there were 12 men and women who delivered Israel from her oppressors.

These judges were not perfect; in fact, they included

  • an assassin,
  • a sexually promiscuous man,
  • and a person who broke all the laws of hospitality.

However, they were submissive to God, and God used them as wise leaders.

Deborah fitted the description of wise leader perfectly. She had the right skill set, and she had a remarkable relationship with God.  The insight and confidence God gave this woman placed her in a unique position in the Old Testament. Her story shows that God can accomplish great things through people who are willing to be led by Him.

The Israelites once again faced a powerful army, but this army had chariots.  Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world.  Made of iron or wood, they were pulled by one or two horses and were the most feared and powerful weapons of the day.  To be faced with 900 chariots would have put great fear into Israel.  There was no way they could match this. Therefore, King Jabin, and Sisera, the Commander of his army, had no trouble oppressing the people, which they did for 20 years – until a faithful woman named Deborah called upon God.

Was Barak, Israel’s army commander, cowardly or just in need of support when he told Deborah she had to go with him into battle?  This was despite Deborah telling Barak that God would be with him all the way.  That appeared not to be enough for Barak.

His request shows that at heart he trusted human strength more than God’s promises. He lacked the faith to step out in God’s command.  He was a reflection of Israel’s lack of faith in God.

On the other hand, Deborah’s life challenges us in several ways.

  • She reminds us of the need to be available both to God and to others.
  • She encourages us to spend our efforts on what we can do rather than on worrying about what we can’t do.
  • She challenges us to be wise leaders.
  • She demonstrates what a person can accomplish when they allow God to be in control.
  • She was dependent on God and obedient to his commands.

As Israel was in a repeated downward spiral into sin, they refused to learn from history, living only for the moment, which took them further into sin.

Judges is also a book about sin and its consequences. Like a minor cut or abrasion that becomes infected when left untreated, sin grows and soon poisons the whole body.  Our sins harm both ourselves and others, but all sin is ultimately against God because it disregards his commands and his authority over us.

Recognising the seriousness of sin is the first step towards removing it from our lives, for sin leads us into living in a mess; struggles and dilemmas easily get out of control.  When we’ve messed up God should be the first person we turn to.  Instead we try to control our own lives without God’s help.  All this does is to lead us into further struggle and confusion.  In contrast, when we stay connected to the Lord by consecrating ourselves daily, we are less likely to create painful circumstances.

This is a lesson the Israelites never fully learned.  When struggles come our way, God wants us to come to him first, seeking his strength and guidance, thus seeking His Kingdom.  Jesus encourages us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”.  Too often we push God to the back of the queue.  In other words, we are to turn to God first for help.  Then we are to fill our thoughts with His desires, to take His character as our pattern in life, thus serving and obeying Him in absolutely everything we do.

That’s when we grow in God’s love and blessings!

Judges 4:4-10 & 13-15; Matthew 6:25-34