A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016
(Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14 & 21:22-22:5;
Our readings encourage us to prepare for Pentecost. Even in this Easter season – as we ask about the implications of Jesus’ universe-shaking action in the open and empty tomb – we also find ourselves pondering the ever-present Spirit of God.
And indeed, this is exactly what Jesus asked of his disciples as he prepared them for his coming death and resurrection. Our Gospel passage continues the conversation begun with Peter’s perplexed question: “Lord, where are you going?” (13:36).
‘Judas (not Iscariot)’ finds Jesus’ explanation for his coming departure raising more questions than it clarifies. Jesus promises a ‘Helper’ the ‘Spirit of Truth’ who will never depart. The world will not see this one, yet the Spirit will ‘dwell with’ and ‘be in’ the disciples (14:17).
Our reading is Jesus answer to Judas’ question: “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (14:22).
Jesus’ answer is gracious enough to put what has already been said into new words: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Each of us, as we live out the love-call of Jesus, becomes a God-home. Jesus, even as he leaves, is coming closer.
From within the obedient heart, Jesus’ Holy Spirit teaches and reminds us of the Christ-call. The Spirit of Jesus eases troubled hearts with a peace the world cannot fathom.
Each of us can become a temple in which the Spirit of God dwells.
This miracle of God’s indwelling will take place sometime after Jesus’ departure. The ordeal of death – and the exuberant discovery of resurrection – precede. There is however, a promise: “I will come to you”. Jesus predicts that these bewildered disciples, full of this reminding Spirit, will look back to this conversation and ‘believe’.
And from the day of Pentecost those who ‘believe’ are also a Spirit-led.
Our Acts reading is proceeded by the Holy Spirit’s blocking of Paul and his new companion, Silas. The ‘Spirit of Jesus’ prevents them sharing the Good News in Asia and the neighbouring regions of Mysia and Bithynia. They enter Asia from the south and exit from the north. They enter and exit Bithynia only to travel the entire length of Mysia – from east to west.
And only then does Paul see the night-vision we have just read: A man of Macedonia standing and urging them to come. They conclude that God is calling them to preach in this region and make their plans.
Philippi, we are told, was a major city of Macedonia and a Roman colony. Geographically, we are further from the birth of this Jesus-movement than ever before.
Yet, even here God’s Spirit is at work. The Sabbath comes and the travellers go out of the city. They move beyond ‘the gate’ – an indicator that they are an acceptable distance from the city for any non-Roman religions to be practiced.
And there they find a place of prayer. We are told only of women who have made this journey to worship. Our story focuses on one of these – Lydia – a ‘worshipper of God’. Both her heart and household are open – to Paul, his companions, and to his message.
What intrigues me most about Lydia is that she is from Thyatira. This city is in the middle of – of all places – Asia. Not only this, but Lydia still has contacts there. As a ‘seller of purple goods’ she daily deals in the produce and export of her city of origin. Lydia is well connected to Asia.
Paul and his companions passed silently through the heart of this region – and its nearest neighbours – only to discover an open and connected Thyatairan praying on the outskirts of Philippi!
Perhaps the Spirit’s guidance does not amount to neglect of Asia and its surrounding regions after all!
Our Revelation reading is, essentially, a description of the community of God, the church. The verse immediately prior to our passage makes this clear: ‘…one of the seven angels spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the lamb.” This Bride of Christ, throughout scripture, is the church.
This spirit-carried vision of the perfected and holy city describes you – the faithful, spirit-anointed, people of God.
As we heard last week, this city is vast and perfectly symmetrical – as high as it is wide and long. The twelve gates are named after the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve foundations after the twelve apostles.
This is a community rising out of God’s saving action.
John goes on to note all that is not found in this earth-bound celestial city. There is no temple, sun, moon, night. This New Jerusalem, this Bride of Christ, the church universal – is a place whose light – we are repeatedly told – is the ‘glory of God’ (21:11, 23).
And through its open gates of pearl flock representatives of all the nations and regions of the world – and their glory. Picture it – Israel, Asia, Mysia, Bythinia, Macedonia, Australia, and in the light of our church international connections – Indonesia, Japan, Canada, South Sudan. From each nation come people whose names are written in the ‘Lamb’s book of life’.
After all, this is the city of ‘life’. From the very throne of God flows ‘the river of the water of life’. It feeds the ‘tree of life’ with its monthly harvest (another 12) and abundant leaves for healing.
Here one can live and worship forever!
Perhaps today’s psalm is more pertinent that you first thought – drawing together many of the themes found in this Spirit-inspired vision of the church:
May God be gracious to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the people praise you, O God,
let all the people’s praise you. (Psalm 67:1-3).