Tonight I want to follow on from Clive’s excellent Easter sermon.
If you recall 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 we are a part, made on the same day as all the other animals but created in the image of God. Animals but set apart in a special way and for a special task, as we shall see.
Clive referred to the fact that the 22nd April, has been known since 1970 as Earth Day. Earth Day was started in protest at the damage done to the environment and humans by industrial pollution.
He urged us to think about Earth Day through the lens of the Cross. And reminded us that one day Jesus Christ will come again and usher in a new heaven and a renewed earth. There will be no more ‘thorns’ either for us or for creation. It is not just us being transformed, it is the world we live in. He invited us to live our lives today to reflect the new earth and heavens – our choices, words, actions – everything about us should be shaped by that vision.
And that is quite a task!
You will recall the fickleness of the crowds. On Palm Sunday they shouted Hosanna, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Just a few days later, Good Friday, they shouted ‘Crucify him!”.
But before we pass judgement on them, just stop for a second and think, what would I have done? It’s easy for us, sitting here tonight to say we wouldn’t have joined in the chorus ‘Crucify him!’ But how quickly do we sometimes jump on the bandwagon of popular opinion……without thinking. Social media nowadays doesn’t help. Only yesterday I heard a discussion about banning LIKES for kids. It is so easy just to press like and affirm or dismiss something.
Paul talks a lot about what he calls ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling!
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we work for our redemption – that has 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 2:12/13 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’s 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 and 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.’
The phrase ‘working out our salvation’ does not 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, game or musical instrument. Great but of no use if just leave it in the cupboard. We need to read the instructions and use the new thing maybe even take lessons. Just like the gifts 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 that it says ‘work it out with fear and trembling’. Many ethical issues today really do need to be well figured out with God’s help!
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 have to really force yourself to be angry, resentful, envious, sarcastic etc.!
We have been ‘born again’ and we now need to ‘grow up’ and work on learning the new habits.
Paul talks a lot about growing in ‘love’ – this in Hebrew is not an emotion but a ‘thought out habit of the heart.’ It is about re-teaching the heart/mind to KNOW WHY it approves of something and why it disapproves of what it disapproves –
Individuals but also Crowds like the ones we have mentioned on Palm Sunday and Good Friday often just follow others without thinking through with the Spirit’s help what is really right or wrong. But Every choice we make makes a difference – let’s make sure it’ 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 are very special in God’s eyes, I love the way in the Shack, ‘God’ says, ‘I am especially fond of you’ – but says it of every 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!
How often do the songs we sing suggest that the goal of Christianity is to leave earth behind when we die and go to ‘heaven’. The early Christians had a completely different priority. For them Jesus’ 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 re-new heavens and earth.
The resurrection of Jesus is also the affirmation of the goodness of creation, and it is the means by which we are re-claimed, redeemed, reconciled to God. AND the gift of the Spirit has been given to help us to become the true human beings we were supposed to be. WHY? So that we can at last begin to fulfil the mandate given us at the beginning – to look after the garden.
In Genesis 1.27 we read that God made HUMANS (male and female) in his image, to rule over the earth. In ancient days, kings and rulers would erect statues of themselves everywhere they ruled to remind people who the boss was! 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 reign over God’s creation, to be God’s representatives on earth! If we represent a loving God and are made in his image then our calling is to show love and wisdom toward the rest of creation of which we, too, are a part – albeit with a special responsibility. A responsibility that we will only fully be able to fulfil when we rise again with new bodies after death.
But a responsibility that we are 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 the early Christians vision of the ultimate goal of all things would be In Revelation 21:2 there we read of ‘new heavens and new earth, the RE-newal of all things, the new Jerusalem ‘coming down from heaven to earth’ A world flooded with the joy and 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 so. No, we won’t be going to heaven to sit on a cloud and play harps! In the renewed heavens and earth there will be new vocations and jobs – the ultimate fulfilment of those given to HUMANS in the first place.
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 fulfil 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 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 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 commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt. 22.36-40)
This doesn’t happen overnight and 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.
We all know about the Fruit of the Spirit and the 3 virtues of Faith Hope and Love. But these don’t grow automatically – they have to be learned, cultivated through hard persistent work. That is the meaning of ‘denying ourself and taking up our cross.’
Rom. 12 and Phil. 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.
We won’t be fully human if we leave our thinking and reasoning behind.
In the words of St Paul, let us pray:
‘This is OUR prayer: that our love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we can figure out properly things that differ from one another, so that we may be blameless and innocent
for the day of the Messiah, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus the Messiah to the glory and praise of God. Phil. 1:9-11