Sermon VI Easter 26 May 2019
O MOST loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou hast manifested unto us in thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I want to start this morning by asking you all to think of something you know how to do. Think of something you’ve known how to do for a long time. Maybe it’s something simple; making a sandwich or putting on your shoes or something. Now, consider that thing you’re doing and how it has been improved by someone helping you do it better, opening you up new horizons of club, chicken salad, or peanut butter and banana sandwiches; different and more impressive ways to tie your shoes. There’s a lot of stuff that we can do without too much guidance, but it’s fairly obvious that there’s a whole lot more that we can do with a bit of help. My peanut butter and banana sandwiches were always pretty good, but then my friend showed me that toasting the bread and adding some honey would take that thing to the next level.
God, thankfully, does not leave this job to each other. There are, in fact, a great many ways in which God directly intervenes, by His grace, to make us better, or perhaps to lead us on the path towards greater union with Jesus. Did you notice something like that today in our lessons? It’s a subtle but it’s an important detail in the Acts of the Apostles this morning that got my attention as I was getting ready for this morning.
Notice that a certain Lydia, a merchant of fine clothing from a Greek-speaking area, was praying by a river close to city of Philippi. It’s an interesting detail that she was there already worshipping God; interesting because she was almost certainly a Gentile. And yet, Luke records that she was a God-worshipper, the language indicating that she worshipped the One God. And yet, the same God opened her heart to the message of Paul which was adding to her worship the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus. Paul may have been the one to faithfully preach Christ’s Gospel, and Lydia might have at least an open ear, but it was God who was recorded as the active agent in her move from worship at a river to her whole household’s baptism by water.
For her, the message of God’s own Christ and his rising to New Life, was a means by which her worship was perfected and her faithfulness to this message was represented to Paul and subsequent generations by her gracious hospitality. What clarity of heart and mind must have granted her by the expert preaching of Paul and the direct move of God in their midst! Extrapolating a bit from my own experience, I wonder if she felt the pull of God’s amazing power over possibilities welling up inside her. In my own life, God’s grace has allowed me to appreciate more deeply the teachings of Jesus, witness of Scripture, and the testimony of the Church throughout the ages. And through that work of increasing my faith in terms of belief, so has God worked to open my heart towards hospitality, charity, and kindness. In this way, God set before me a greater life than I would have imagined for myself, and I have to think that this is at least a little bit like what Lydia experienced at that Philippian creek all those years ago.
Is it any wonder that the vision granted to John would show some of the greatest sets of possibilities to his grace-enabled mind? The Spirit of God showed John this amazing place to come: a place without a temple. Such a building will be obsolete because the throne of God’s presence won’t need a place for sacrifices-only places for people to dwell in God’s holiness. He was shown a place that would never be dark, where even the sun and moon would be unnecessary because God’s own light would illumine anything we would need to see. No doors would be barred because nobody would want to do anything bad. Pure, refreshing water would flow from the throne of the Lamb and there would be no one left thirsty. Luxurious fruit would grow endlessly on the banks nourishing the world while the leaves of the trees work as a balm to the nations.
The world to come, the world guaranteed to John, to Paul, to Lydia, to you and to me is a world of light, goodness, joy, healing, and peace in the presence of Almighty God. For now, we can only work with this limited set of images to consider such an amazing world. But our imaginations might be truly emboldened by God’s work in us as we continue to worship.
My own imagination runs wild when I think of the possibility of the hearts and minds of God’s people empowered by his work in them, in us. Though today we hear about a time back when a merchant was baptised and a time to come that seems pretty sweet even if it is pretty mysterious, we do await the working of a God who works in the here and now for the benefit and edification of his people. Today is yet another day to ask God, “what amazing things can He show me? What incredible things can He do with me were I to put my trust in him to open my heart?” Our dear sister showed us a pretty easy method for us to begin or even continue this process which is showing up to pray. I actually do think it can be that simple: if we want to know what God has in store for us, or even perhaps that He loves us, we need only have hearts ready for him to open. And since the possession of a human heart is pretty much a requisite for human life, I think that means most of what we need to do is show up ready for God to do something amazing, to show us and lead us into the life he meant for us all along.
I pray that this long weekend would be restful for you, that in some downtime, you would ask God to continue to do that profound spiritual work of re-creation. That when we are filled with his grace we will be ready to come back to the grind of our lives ready to witness by word and deed the greatness of our God in Christ. All the while praying that
…God [would] be merciful to us and bless us, *
showing us the light of his countenance and coming to us.
Let [His] ways be known upon earth, *
and [His] saving health revealed among all nations.
To the Risen Christ be all Glory. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The Very Reverend David Bumsted