Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 16, 2010 - A Double-portion of God's Spirit

A Double-portion of the Spirit
2 Kings 2.1-15

Have you ever come to the end of a long day of travel or work, and thought (or even said to yourself), "How I wish we could just snap my fingers and be home again"? Of course, all we want to do is get home as quickly as possible. We are not trying to demonstrate some sort of magic; we simply dread the long trip.

In Harry Potter, the magic was *Floo Powder*, a magic we encountered first in The Chamber of Secrets. *Floo Powder* was a glittering powder used by wizards to travel and communicate using fireplaces. It can be used with any fireplace connected to the Floo Network. To transport from one to another, the fire at the point of departure must first be lit. The traveler throws a handful of Floo powder into the flames, turning them emerald green, then steps into the fireplace and states the intended destination in a clear and purposeful voice.

In **The Chamber of Secrets**, the Weasleys traveled by *Floo Powder* to *Diagon Alley* to get school supplies. Unfortunately, Harry did not say "Diagon Alley" clearly, instead saying "diagonally", so he was sent to *Borgin and Burkes*, a more sinister section of *Diagon Alley*. Thus, began a whole series of adventures that only ended when Hagrid found him and brought him back to meet the others. Clearly, a magical power is at work in the adventures of Harry Potter.

In the Bible, almost every trip was made on foot. Riding a donkey or a cart might be a bit easier, but it was not much faster. They had no motor cars, no airplanes, and no trains. Throughout the O.T., the Hebrews had little use for boats. In the N.T., it was not until Paul that Biblical characters made use of the ocean for travel. Travel, when it did happen, was difficult, slow, and mostly on foot.
So, it is not surprising that the Bible is fascinated with people who can move miraculously (or even move quickly) from one place to another. High on the list was the ability to move from heaven to earth and back again. Ordinary people could not do it; anyone who could do this held enormous power.

This is Ascension Sunday, when we remember that the risen Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Fifty days have passed since Easter and the resurrection. The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples many times. He has taught them, reassured them, explained the scriptures that point to him, and answered their questions. But, now he must ascend to the Father. The closest the O.T. can come to such a feat was when Elijah was translated from earth to heaven at the end of his long life. I want us to look at the O.T. story of Elijah this morning. Perhaps we can learn something about Jesus' Ascension by looking at Elijah's. Perhaps we can learn about our response to Jesus' Ascension from those who responded when Elijah ascended.

[I.] It was time for Elijah's long life and ministry to come to an end. He is an old man; he has fought his battles. It is time for Elijah to rest. So, he turns to his disciple, Elisha, and says to him with no explanation, "You wait here. I have to make a journey." But, even though Elisha does not know the purpose of this journey, he refuses to leave his master's side: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
[APPLIC] Think about this response. If we were disciples following Jesus, would we show as much commitment?
"It does not matter the purpose of your trip, Jesus, I will go with you."
"It does not matter that you do not need me to come along; I need to come along. I will go with you, Jesus."

What kind of commitment do we make to Jesus? Is it limited by our comforts? Is it limited by our other obligations? Or is it *unlimited*, rising out of our convictions and our need to be with Jesus?

Remember in John 6, where Jesus is preparing the disciples for the Last Supper? He tells them that they must eat his flesh. They, of course, have no idea that his telling them about a symbolic act; they think he means it literally. Many turn away from him.
67 So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"
68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life."

Is our need to be with Jesus that strong? I hope it is. Let him be for you the one who has the words of eternal life.

[II.] The scripture goes on:
So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

What does this mean? "**Today the LORD will take your master away from you**." At one level, they are telling Elisha that his old master, Elijah, is going to die this day.
The clue to the second level of meaning is in the title the *Company of the Prophets* give the old Elijah: "Your master." A disciple was not a slave, but he made a slave's commitment to this master. The disciple was this master's learner, his companion, his servant, his beast of burden, and more. This commitment was only released when the master died. What the *Company of the Prophets* are telling Elisha is that the old prophet is about to die, and, when he does, Elisha will be free of his commitment.

But, Elisha does not rise to their suggestion that his freedom is close at hand. He does not rise to the suggestion that his freedom might be the treasure Elisha wants most. So, he said, "I know; keep silent." You see, unlike the company of the prophets, Elisha believes that there is something more at work here. We might respond to the promise of freedom; he knew that there was something more if he continued as servant for a little longer.

[APPLIC] Many of us have enjoyed the company and the guidance of mentors. Hopefully, that guidance has not come at the price of our enslavement to the boss or the company. Instead, we hope to see a payoff for faithful service:
+O.T.J. training,
+introductions to the people who will make your next promotion,
+going beyond the job description to learning the soul of a particular profession.
In every case, the payoff only comes to those who can put off immediate satisfactions to gain the more distant ones. Maintaining a good relationship with mentors is good business and, hopefully, it is personally satisfying, too.
Elisha heard the suggestion that he was about to be free of his master's rule over him, but he saw something more. So, he said: "I know; keep silent."

[III.] So, at the edge of the Jordan River, Elijah tried to leave his disciple, Elisha, behind one more time. When Elisha refused to leave his master, they went across the Jordan together. There the old prophet asked his disciple: "What can I do for you before I am taken away?" Finally, Elijah confirms what the company of prophets have been saying. Now, Elisha is clear about what he wants: "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.

[ANNUAL CONFERENCE] In one of the beloved traditions of Annual Conference, the retiring pastors and the newly ordained pastors are brought to the stage together. A representative of each group will be brought to kneel one across from the other. Then, the older will take the mantle from around his/her shoulders and place it on the shoulders of the young preacher, confirming on the young pastor the spirit of the older.

As you might know, in Biblical culture the double portion was always given to the first-born son – the one who was expected to take care of the farm and the family, to carry the family spirit and name. So, what Elisha asked was that he be counted as the primary heir of the old prophet. Elijah cautioned him that this might be difficult. Then, he told Elisha that if he saw him as he was taken up, he would indeed inherit the double portion of his spirit. In other words, he would inherit if he stayed with the old prophet to the very end.
In the Ascension story, the disciples go with Jesus to the place where he is to be taken up to heaven. Like Elisha, the disciples of Jesus watch him as he is taken up – just as Elisha watched Elijah. There was power for the disciples in being present at Jesus' Ascension just as there was for Elisha when Elijah was translated to heaven.

[APPLIC] Consider what Elisha has asked: a double-portion of the master's spirit. The scripture suggests that this double-portion is what the disciples received as they stood watching on the day of Jesus' ascension. That double-portion provides both *treasure* and *responsibility*.

In our thinking about Christian faith and salvation, we primarily think about what we are going to *receive* from Christ. I call this the treasure of the faith: peace, joy, hope, confidence, and more. But, there is also responsibility when we inherit. As the inheriting children of a great person who dies, we now bear the burden of leading the family, perhaps the business, and often a community. In the patriarchal, Biblical times, when the head-man of a village died, his eldest son took up the responsibility for leading the village in his father's place. He set the direction for village businesses, he guided the marketplace, he settled disputes and honored those who served well. The fabric of the Biblical village depended on the eldest son stepping forward and accepting that burden. The double-portion was both treasure and responsibility.

Are the disciples at Jesus' Ascension ready for a double portion of the spirit of Jesus? Are they ready to accept the responsibility and carry on the work and the family of Jesus?
Or more to the point, are we? Some of you know what it is to work in the family business until it becomes yours. When that happens, it is your responsibility to take care of the business. You have employees who depend on you for a paycheck. You have loyal customers who depend on the service your business provides. It is your responsibility to treat the business *NOT* like a museum but to take the business into the changing and unknowable future. It is your responsibility to take the family business into economic situations that the previous generation never encountered. In the same way,
+it is our responsibility in this generation to be the greatest generation of Christians this nation and this world has ever seen.
+it is our responsibility in this generation to take the church and the work of Jesus Christ into situations that no previous generation ever encountered.
Our mission at Church Street is: To be the vibrant Body of Christ at the center of this city and our larger community.
We will carry out this vision by:
+ Living as a witness and servant community of Jesus Christ.
+ Inviting people to become disciples of Jesus Christ in every activity of this church.
+ Expressing our faith through rich, traditional worship and great, traditional music.
+ Expecting that Christ will lead us into new ministries and forms of ministry.
+Building this community upon the foundation of Scripture.

Elijah was taken up in the same way that Jesus would be centuries later. And Elijah's disciple Elisha watched him going, riding the whirlwind to heaven just as the disciples of Jesus watched him rise up to heaven and out of sight. Consider: what do we now inherit as spiritual heirs of those disciples who themselves inherited this treasure and this responsibility from Jesus Christ?

[IV.] 13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14a He took the mantel of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, but nothing happened. Then he said: "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Elisha, now bearing the spirit of his master, returns Israel, crossing over the Jordan just as Joshua had done after the death of Moses. Like his master, he rolls up the mantle and strikes the water. At first, nothing happened. Elisha could not assume that the spirit and power of his master was his. He had to step forward, to claim it, to allow the mantle to be placed on his shoulders.
When he did, the water parted so that he could now walk across on dry ground.

[APPLIC] Where are we striking the water so that we can be encouraged at its parting? Where are we going forward in the Spirit of Jesus, convinced that we are the change-agents and the healing-agents that this world cries out to see? By faith we stand with the disciples on the mountain, watching Jesus as he Ascends into the heavens. There he will sit at the right-hand of God the Father Almighty. We have not come *to see the show*. We have come to ask, as disciples have done across the ages, "Please, let me inherit a double-portion of your Spirit." Let me hold the treasure; it is life to me. Place upon my shoulders the responsibility of your heir; I will carry so that the world might be healed in Jesus' name."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 9, 2010 Got Spirit?

Got Spirit?
John 14.21-31

[GREEN BAY] Several years ago, a commercial ran on TV. It showed a family in a great American neighborhood getting ready to move away and leave their dearest friends in the world. The Mom, the Dad, a couple of kids stand by the car as neighbors gather around them tearfully. "Goodbye" is heard. You see the adults hug one another. The children from the neighborhood and the children about to get into the car look like they will cry. It is a moment that tugs at the heart strings of every American who has moved or watched good friends move away to some new opportunity.
Finally, the moving van pulls away from the house; the family climbs reluctantly into the car and follows the van on their way to a new home. Watching the commercial, I'm expecting tears as soon as the car pulls out of sight. Instead, the neighbors let out a whoop and then run. The next scene shows the crowd of friends running down the road for the box office. As it turns out, this is Green Bay, Wisconsin, and these neighbors are running to be first in line to get their hands on the season tickets to the Packers football games.

What do you say when it is time to go? What do you say when you have to leave good friends that you will probably never see again? When it is Jesus, who has to leave, you know the conversation is going to be richly loving. We are in the time between the end of the Last Supper and Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked the Father if the cup might be taken from him. He had only a little time and so much to say. What will happen to the disciples when he is no longer with them as he was when he taught and healed and walked with them in Galilee and Jerusalem? Will they continue? Will they fall apart? Will they forget all that he has taught them?

In *John 13*, Jesus shares the Last Supper with his disciples. Judas leaves to betray him. Then, Jesus begins to teach them many things that he wants them to know. He prays for them. He promises to give them the Holy Spirit. Already, we are close to the moment when Jesus will be betrayed by Judas and arrested by the High Priest's guards. He has to prepare them.

A. In John 14.21, Jesus makes an interesting promise: 21 They who
[1.] have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;
[2.] and those who love me will be loved by my Father,
[3.] and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

This is a very tight statement. The ones who *love* Jesus are those who have and keep his commandments. Oddly, loving Jesus is not about our *feelings* for him. Loving Jesus is not a matter of having warm, cozy *thoughts* toward him. When someone sings a song about loving Jesus, they always try to tug at our heartstrings. But, Jesus is not interested in any of that; he is interested in those who *have and keep* his commandments.
Those who have and keep his commandments are those who therefore love him and therefore love the Father. The *promised result* is that he will reveal himself to them: to be seen plainly, to be available. But, remember that Jesus is preparing to for his arrest and the cross; he will not be physically with them much longer. How can he keep this promise?

B. Now, a bit of background. John wrote this Gospel around 45 - 55 years after the first Easter and resurrection. It appears that he wrote for the young churches meeting in houses that have been established in Ephesus, an ancient city in what is now modern Turkey. Over the years, the young Christian churches have gotten more established;
1. they are becoming a threat to Judaism;
2. AND they are raising the suspicion of the Roman authorities.

As a result, they are being thrown out of the Jewish synagogues. For those who have grown up Jewish, this is a terrible blow; Judaism has been their spiritual home. At the same time, the Roman authorities are beginning to persecute them. These Christians are different, and their loyalty to Rome is being questioned. While persecution was not yet widespread, it was a nagging problem for the young Christians.

All of this low-level persecution raises some very modern questions.
1. If Jesus is *life and salvation* for those inside the church, why isn't Jesus also *life and salvation* for the Jews and the Romans who refuse to believe?
2. If they are overjoyed to be followers of Jesus, why isn't everyone?

Thus, it was important for them to remember that Judas once asked Jesus a similar question: "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?" Or, as I would put it:
1. "Why do some people believe while others do not or will not?"
2. Why do some people at my school go to church while others do not?
As often happens in John's Gospel, Jesus does not directly answer the question posed by Judas. What he answers is *what it really means for believers to see him*. His concern is about those who are listening to him – not those who will not listen.

Earlier Jesus gave several features of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Spirt of Jesus in the lives of disciples:
1. Loving Jesus and keeping his word;
2. That the Father and Jesus will come to the disciple;
3. The indwelling of the Father and Jesus within the disciple.

In other words, in the absence of a physically present Christ, our actions and daily practice as Christians and as a Christian community make real the living presence and love of God. The first step in answering why some believe is not theory but *practice*, not argument but passionate love. For us, love in the action of Christians is the evidence of God among us.

II. Then, Jesus promised them an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Imagine the Holy Spirit as an *Advocate*? John offers the Holy Spirit in a very particular role – not as broad as the role which Paul or the *Book of Acts* would portray for the Spirit. In John, the Holy Spirit comes as our Advocate.

[Whispers] When my daughter was in the 3rd grade, her class did a school play. As it turned out, the children were very nervous on the night of the big production. They could not remember any of the lines they had been repeating for weeks. So, the teacher stood behind the curtain and quietly spoke the lines for each child until the cast settled down. Maybe the audience seated in the back did not hear, but sitting near the front I was constantly aware of her prompting.

In the same way, Jesus tells his followers that the role of the Holy Spirit is to whisper the words of the drama in the ears of the faithful. When Jesus was present, he was the one who coached them through the proper verses AND taught them his commandments. But now that Jesus approaches his death, now that he draws near to his time of departure, now that the disciples will be on their own without him, that task is to be handed over to the Holy Spirit:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,
to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth ..."

The primary task, according to John, of the Holy Spirit is
+reminding the faithful of the truth,
+jogging the memories of the followers of Jesus about all of his commandments,
+urging them to keep them in love,
+whispering the lyrics of the never-ending hymn of faithful obedience in their ears.

It may surprise you to think of the Holy Spirit in this way, as a quiet, whispering teacher of the commandments and teachings of Jesus. Often, the Spirit is advertised in flashier terms. In Paul's writings and in the other gospels,
1. the Spirit gives ecstasy;
2. the Spirit evokes speaking in unknown tongues;
3. the Spirit prompts dramatic and miraculous healings.

Indeed, the Holy Spirit of God does perform such deeds, but these are all derivative of the one, primary activity of the Spirit -- reminding the children of God about everything that Jesus taught and commanded, whispering the words of the drama into the ears of the faithful.

III. Then, Jesus says to them:
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

"Peace I leave with you" This is a new promise. This is the first occurrence of the word "peace" in John's gospel. In departing, Jesus says "Shalom" to his disciples; but his "Shalom" is not the exuberant salutation of people shouting "Goodbye" as they drive away. This *peace* is the gift of salvation. The peace which Jesus offers is not the world's peace – neither the false promise of security nor the end of conflict. The peace that Jesus gives is his peace, a peace that drives for the heart of Jesus' life. The peace of Jesus is his love, his joy. The gift of peace rests at the center of Israel's eschatological hopes, and it is now available in Jesus.

And there is more: Jesus' peace is not an opportunity for complacency. This is not an assurance that disciples have no worries, but a call for the disciples to find strength to face the new circumstances in which Jesus' departure places them.
Thomas a Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, advises that the Christian should make a priority to put themselves at peace, so that they may better help others to be at peace. He notes that only when the Christian experiences peace can they be of real help and service to others. "A peaceful and patient man is of more profit to himself and to others, too, than a learned man who has no peace."

Peace is not an exemption from pain or suffering -- instead it is an attitude which enables which characterizes the life of one who fully trusts in God to take care of them, no matter how distressing the apparent circumstances.

Peace is not an exemption from stressful situations, nor a release from responsibilities
– instead it is an attitude which we assume when we decide that God is in charge and we're not! (2)

Consider the risk we take when we join Christ in the Church. There are those among us who assume that faith is intensely personal – even private.
"Like it or not, when you joined the church you exposed yourself to the likelihood that the risen Lord will deliver his message to you. When you joined the church, you took the risk of caring for people you would otherwise pass by without notice. You never know when Jesus Christ will intrude on us with a word of assurance and peace.

The Lord Jesus was about leave his friends and followers. He had so much to tell them. He wanted them to carry on the work that he had started. He wanted them to continue the message of hope that he had given. So, when the Last Supper was finished, but before he went out to the Garden where he knew he would be arrested, he taught them. Thank God, they heard him and followed Jesus even after he was taken from them. I know they did hear him, because you and I have heard the Good News of God's love. I know they did hear him, because we too have come to believe. And now, the message of God's love and peace is ours to share.

2. DeBisschop, Dorothy A. "Peace dwells within the soul (when ...)"
3. William G. Carter, Water Won't Quench the Fire, CSS Publishing Company.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 2, 2010 - Seeing What God Sees

Seeing What God Sees
Rev. 21.1-8

[Tis Good to be Here]
In the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins and his troop are traveling through a dark, dangerous forest which is infested with gigantic, poisonous spiders. Just being in that kind of place was a frightening experience. And each member of the group, especially Bilbo, wanted to get out of that dreadful forest of darkness. As they traveled on, hoping that the edge of the dangerous forest was near, one of the leaders orders Bilbo to climb the tallest tree he can find in order to have a look around and to see where the dark forest ends.

Reluctantly, Bilbo climbs the tree, with limbs, branches and leaves scratching at him all the way. Several times he nearly falls. Having pushed his way through the forest canopy, he is nearly blinded by the sudden and intense sunlight. It takes some time for his eyes to get used to the light, but once they do, Bilbo finds the view was beautiful up there. Now, the canopy above him is the most beautiful blue sky, and around him is an ocean of green tree tops. After being in the darkness below, he enjoys the sunshine and is able to soak it into his weary, tired and aching bones. The fresh air blows softly in his face and invigorates his lungs and cleared his mind. What a wonderful place to be! And no doubt, if we could have asked Bilbo, he would have said, "Yes, 'tis good to be here" (1).

That story reminds us of a time when John was in exile on Patmos. There in exile, under the control of a hostile ruler, with the world assuming he was done for, God gave him a vision of the future that God holds in promise. He understood that the vision was God's promise to those who believed and a warning for tyrants and hostile crowds wherever they might be. That vision was John's hope because it assured him that Christ, the Lamb of God, was his hope. If you want to imagine something, imagine John at the end of the Revelation saying to everyone who read with him: "Yes, 'tis good to be here – to see the Revelation of God."

Did you follow the news this week?

According to the news announcer, on Tuesday, the Republicans and the Democrats found something to agree on. Sitting as a Senate Committee, they joined in grilling executives from Goldman-Sachs for eleven hours. The questions were tough; the reporting on the answers was critical. As someone put it: the four executives who testified first have become the face of the villains in the economic meltdown that has paralyzed the world for the past two years.

This economic meltdown has become the modern version of the Great Tribulation which John saw and reported in the book we call “The Revelation.” Think about the impact of the economic meltdown:
+some of us lost jobs – good jobs;
+most of those who lost jobs found other jobs but often not as good as the ones they lost;
+the value of our houses, which represent a significant part of our family wealth, as been eroded;
+and now the economic troubles of smaller countries like Greece and Spain sound a warning that reeling in the debt generated by the economic rescue measures will continue the pain;
+as a result people have lost confidence in our national and world leaders. It is a thankless time to be a President or a member of the Congress.
And even though the economy and the stock market are picking up, the reality is that the unwinding of the measures taken to save the nation from economic collapse will take many years. Worse, there are still many places to make a mis-step in this economic recovery. That the situation is getting “Better” is not the same as declaring it “fixed.”

Most of us think of the Book of Revelation as painting a picture of warring spiritual forces attacking each other on the battlefield of human experience. We have God and the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse on one side and Satan, the Dragon, and the Beast on the other. They might be interesting, but they have little to say about our practical lives. But, look at the Revelation a different way: think of this book as a commentary on the human condition – written with bold strokes and vivid images. Think of this book as the Bible's effort to point out what human beings do to other human beings. From this perspective, Revelation becomes very, very practical indeed.

II. The message of John’s Revelation is that there is no easy recovery from the dire situation in which human beings have put ourselves. He believed that neither human will or market forces could be counted on. The evils of this world must work their way out, taking lives, fortunes and hopes down with them. John sees a world so broken that no human effort can repair it.

There are still some who have experienced no economic recovery yet. For these John provides the words to describe their worst fears coming to pass. For all of us, John gives us the words to describe the impact of two years of economic decline.

For John, the only hope for humanity and for earth itself is the action of God. Now, after 20 chapters, in which John details all manner of calamities and evils, he is finally ready to share his vision of the future which God alone brings.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Even if you are, like me, optimistic that this nation will eventually find a way to recovery, John’s Revelation offers us a tantalizing vision. It is a vision that answers the gut question:
+Where is God when we struggle against the odds to make a living?
+Where is God when government stumbles in its efforts to lead the nation through an economic meltdown?
+What is God’s place in our daily and economic life?

John’s answer is a vision that begins with all of this old and broken and troubled world being swept away. Then, a new heaven and a new earth come down from heaven where God has held it in preparation. Imagine!
+a new earth where the farmer’s work always bears fruit,
+a new earth where children walk to school without fear,
+a new earth where death and mourning and crying and pain are a thing of the past;
+a new earth where traffic light cameras stay turned OFF;
+a new earth where every wage is a “living wage,”
+and Fred really can quit smoking.

To those who wonder where God is when the world is hard place to make a living, John says:
+Just see what God is preparing.”
+Just see how God wants the earth to work.
+Just see what God sees.

IV. Now, with that new heaven and new earth, God is bringing the New Jerusalem. Think about it: at the beginning of the Bible, God created a garden, the Garden of Eden. Here at the end of the Bible, God creates again in a sense but, this time, *a city*. Is anything important about this difference?

The difference is that
1. GARDENS are created by God, but cities are uniquely human creations. Gardens are plants and water and rocks arranged to be fruitful or pleasing to the eye. You and I might move a few items, but all the elements are God's doing.

2. CITIES, on the other hand, are the work of humankind. We build buildings, houses, palaces, hospitals, schools. We build roads and utilities and infrastructure. Cities are human creations. And cities are beset by human problems: homelessness, poverty, crime, political strife, and, my personal favorite, *ROAD CONSTRUCTION*. (Orange barrels are the sign of the beast.)

By bringing the new Earth in the form of the New Jerusalem, God is affirming and redeeming the cities where human beings have found our highest expression. And God is stating love for the city where we make our homes and where we make our living. God loves:
–this city from boundary to boundary,
–out *west* with all those shopping centers,
–the University area along with the Cumberland Avenue strip;
–Old North Knoxville, Fountain City, and all the way to Halls;
–South Knox and everything on the other side of the river;
–Magnolia Avenue and all the neighborhoods along its length to Asheville highway;
–the Old City and the Market Square district.
God is working to redeem the city where we make our homes. The next time you are in a part of the city that worries you, remember this scripture from Revelation-21:
2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

God loves and redeems the cities which human beings have made.

V. We have to deal with the last part of this passage; it is the darker portion.

7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."

What should we make of these words? Just this: God is gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God is like the faithful Father who waits, watching the road for the Prodigal Child to come home. God is like widow who pestered the judge with her claim until he did the right thing. *But*, we are finally held accountable. John sees in the *Revelation* that there will come an end to God's patience when those who are faithful and courageous will be separated from those who are not.

So, John is warning us – even in this passage filled with hope and grace – that we must respond to the invitation of the Gospel. We must respond with lives shaped by the Gospel. We must respond by turning away from all that destroys human life and human community.

William Sloane Coffin said:
"I'm driving at what I think is the central problem of the Christian church in America today: Most of us fear the cure more than the illness. Most of us prefer the plausible lie that we can't be cured to the fantastic truth that we can be. And there's a reason: If it's hell to be guilty, it's certainly scarier to be responsible - response-able, able to respond to God's visionary and creative love. No longer paralyzed, our arms would be free to embrace the outcast and the enemy, the most confirmed addict, . . . No longer paralyzed, our feet would be free to walk out of any job that is harmful to others and meaningless to us, free even to walk that lonesome valley without fear of evil. Everything is possible to those whose eyes, no longer fixed on some status symbol or other, are held instead by the gaze of him who can dispense freedom and life in measures unheard of" (2).

We are finally, accountable before God for our lives, our words, our deeds, the faith by which we live.

X. Well, I don't want to leave you with the idea that this vision is just for the distant future – or in "the sweet by and by" as they say.

If this is our hope, what do we do in the MEANTIME PRESENT? If this is our hope, how shall we live today? The answer comes from the Gospel reading recommended for today. It comes from the Gospel according to John, the 13th chapter. The *last supper* is finished; Judas as gone out to find the *High Priest's* soldiers so they can arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now, Jesus turns to the remaining disciples and makes the most tender statement:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." [Jn 13:34f]

This is Jesus' teaching on what we should do in the present meantime. This is heroic; this is what we have always been learning from Jesus; this is out of the very D.N.A. of the Christian faith. If you would follow Jesus until he comes, do this: "Love one another."

1. Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit
2. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., "The Courage to Be Well"