Talk by Elizabeth Bussmann given at St. Peter’s on 28 April 2019
Tonight though, I want to actually follow on from Clive’s excellent Easter sermon. Who wasn’t here? I was going to say if you recall, but you won’t. So I’ll tell you a little bit. He talked about how Jesus came to Earth, died and rose again to save not just men and women but also the whole of creation of which all of us are a part, made on the same day as all the other animals, but created in the image of God. Animals, whether you like it or not, but set apart in a very special way and for a very special task as we shall see. Now, I would recommend if you haven’t heard his sermon, that you look up on Facebook and hear it again even twice. That will be good. It was very good.
He referred to the fact like I, cause he asks people what’s tomorrow? Cause it was Monday. But he asked people what is tomorrow? And it was the 22nd of April and 22nd of April has been known since 1970. as Earth Day, I told somebody that in England and she thought I was changing Easter Monday to Earth Day and was shocked. But I explained to her Earth Day was started in a protest at the damage done to the environment and humans by industrial pollution. And you can go and look it up on the website. It’s a very interesting website and Clive urged us to think about Earth Day through the lens of the Cross. And he reminded us that one day Jesus Christ will come again. And usher in, a new heaven and a renewed earth. I liked the way he talked about there’ll be no more thorns for us or for creation.
It’s not just about us being transformed. It’s the whole world that we live in. And Clive invited us to live our lives today, to reflect the new earth and heavens, our choices, our words, our actions, everything about us should be shaped by that division. And that’s quite a task if you sit down and think about it, because you will recall the fickleness of the crowds on palm Sunday. They shouted Hosanna as Jesus rode into Jerusalem and just a few days later on, Good Friday, they shouted, crucify him. And before we pass judgment on them, just stop for a second and think, what would I have done? Because it’s easy for us, sitting here tonight, to say we wouldn’t have joined the chorus, crucify him, but how quickly do we actually jump on the bandwagon of popular opinion without thinking? Social media nowadays doesn’t help.
And only yesterday I heard a discussion about banning likes. You all know what likes for kids, because it’s so easy for them just to press like or not like and affirm or dismiss something just out of hand. Paul talks a lot about what he calls working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Now that doesn’t sound easy and don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we’re working for our redemption. That’s already been done for us by Jesus, but we do need to work on the transformation of our minds as Paul puts it. In Philippians Chapter Two verses 12 and 13 Paul writes, and this is a translation by NT Right? My dear people – he took it upon himself to write to, translate the Hebrew and the Greek into the kind of English we talk and speak nowadays.
He writes, Paul writes, my dear people, your task is to work at bringing about your own salvation and naturally you’ll be taking this with utter seriousness. After all, God himself is the one who is at work among you who provides both the will and the energy to enable you to do what pleases him. There must be no grumbling or disputing in anything you do. That way nobody will be able to fault you and you’ll be pure and spotless children of God in the middle of a twisted and depraved generation. You are to shine among them like lights in the world, clinging to the word of life.
That phrase, working out our salvation. As I say, it doesn’t refer to working to receive God’s gift of salvation. It means as NT Wright writes, figuring out with our minds what this business of being saved means in practice. Someone once suggested it was like getting a new tool, a game or a musical instrument. Great, but of no use. If we just leave it in the cupboard, we need to read the instructions and use the new thing and maybe even take lessons and just like the gifts that God has given us, we receive them free, but some of them take work and wrestling to work out how they benefit our lives. Not really surprising then it that it says, work it out with fear and trembling and many ethical issues today really do need to be well figured out with God’s help. Now our wonderful brains, minds seem to be, or have become, automatically wired to respond to things in the wrong way. Wrong habits. Or do you really have to force yourself to be angry, resentful, grumpy, envious, sarcastic.
We’ve been born again, but we now need to grow up and work on learning the new habits. And Paul talks a lot about growing in love and in Hebrew, this is not an emotion but a thought-out habit of the heart. For in the Hebrew language, heart was the place where we have our mind, but don’t worry about that. It’s about reteaching the heart, the mind to know why it disapproves of something and why it approves of something. Individuals and crowds like the ones we mentioned on palm Sunday and on Good Friday, often just follow others without really thinking through with the spirit’s help. What is really right and wrong, but every choice that we make makes a difference. So let’s make sure it’s a positive difference, a kingdom difference. As Clive said, we need to let our choices be shaped by that vision of the fully restored kingdom that our lives today reflect the coming new heavens and renewed earth.
All humans, each one of us here tonight are very special in God’s eyes and I love the way in the shack God says, I’m especially fond of you Mac. But he says it of every single human being. But I also believe that God didn’t create us just to sing his praises, but also to work with him in the creating business. Now, I wonder how many, how often or how many songs we know that we sing here that suggests that the goal of Christianity is to leave earth behind when we die and go to heaven. Somewhere out there, the early Christians had a completely different priority. For them. Jesus, his death and resurrection was truly the launch moment of something new. The launching here on earth of God’s new creation, the start of the fulfilment of what Jesus had taught them to pray, that God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead is important because it affirms our physical bodies.
Jesus died to restore our true full humanness, which had been lost by Adam and Eve’s disobedience and resulted in the very earth being cursed by their actions. We are now living in kingdom time, which will be fully established when Jesus returns to claim his kingdom and renew heavens and earth. The resurrection of Jesus is also the affirmation of the goodness of creation and it’s the means by which we are reclaimed, redeemed and the gift of the spirit has been given to help us to become the true human beings we were supposed to be. But why? So that we can at last begin to fulfill the mandate given us at the beginning to look after the garden. In Genesis Chapter One verse 27 we read that God made humans male and female in his image to rule over the earth. Now, in ancient days, kings and rulers would erect statues of themselves everywhere they ruled to remind people who the boss was and in a similar way that was what humans were to incorporate as well. Signposts to God’s ownership and bringing glory to him. That probably reminds you that all through the Bible we read how God’s people were called again and again to be rulers and priests.
The wise rule of humans over God’s world is in fact what being in God’s image is partly about. Humans were appointed by God to rein over God’s creation and to be God’s representatives on earth. Now, if we represent a loving God and are made in his image, and surely our calling is to show love and wisdom towards the rest of creation of which we too are a part all be it with a special responsibility. A responsibility that we will only fully be able to fulfil when we rise again with new bodies after death. What a responsibility that we’re called to start living now. As our collect today put it, grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth. We find the early Christians vision of the ultimate goal of all things in Revelation 21 verse two and there we read of new heavens and new earth.
The renewal of all things, the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to Earth, a world flooded with joy, the joy and the justice of the Creator God. A world truly transformed. The Bible opens with God assigning a particular vocation to humans that they should look after God’s creation and make it fruitful and abundant. And the Bible closes with a scene in which this has come about only far more. No we won’t be going to heaven to sit on a cloud and play a harp. In the renewed heavens and earth there will be new vocations, new jobs, the ultimate fulfilment of those given to humans in the first place. Now I know that we often have difficulty reading the book of Revelation and yet it shows us a vision not only of all creation renewed and rejoicing but of human beings within it able at last to bring the praise which all creation offers to its maker and at last to fulfill that dominion, that wise stewardship over all the world that God intended right from the beginning.
The point is that on that first Easter morning when the very earth quaked as Jesus rose from the dead, the age of the Kingdom dawned and is here, even if when we look around at the state our poor, world is in and wonder. God has indeed through his son reclaimed us and given us back our original status as image bearers of true humanness through His grace. And as Paul in his letters is constantly urging us that means action here and now. We must live our lives now based on that future vision. Paul talks about anticipating the new life now in the present. The earthing of heaven has begun and we as born again, Christians are called to learn to live as we will eventually live, not by obeying lots of rules and regulations. Jesus, told us quite plainly what to do. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest command and the second is like it. Love your neighbour as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. But this doesn’t happen overnight. And it only happens when we are prepared to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. That is what Paul is so passionate about helping us to do. I think we all know about the fruit of the spirit and the three virtues of faith, hope and love. But these don’t grow automatically. They have to be learned, cultivated through hard persistent work. And that’s the meaning of denying ourself and taking up our cross.
Both Romans 12 and Philippians 1 tell us quite plainly, that the more spiritual we are, the more clearly and accurately and carefully we will think our actions through particularly about what the completed goal of our Christian journey will be and hence what steps we should be taking. What habits we should be acquiring as part of the journey toward that goal right now. And we will never be fully human if we leave our thinking and our reasoning behind. So in the words of Saint Paul, let us pray. This is our prayer, that our love will flourish and that we will not only love much, but well. That we learned to love appropriately. We need to use our head and test our feelings so that our love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Help us to live a lover’s life circumspect and exemplary a life Jesus will be proud of bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all and getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.