Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 May 2019.
One of the joys of going on holiday is that the time is your own and so long as you keep to your budget and times of arrival and departure, you can do what you like (within the law of the land), go where you like (the same applies) and eat and drink what you like – within the limits of personal capacity and indeed sleep as much as you like. You take your own reading material and you set your own routine and timetable.
So there is room for spontaneity, the things that were not planned and the pleasant surprises around each corner. You really can explore the road less travelled and probe the sights unseen by most people.
But it is when you are back in your own home and routine that things like commitments and budgets and timescales then take control.
For us in the church we also have our own liturgical year and the liturgies of worship. In order to sing together we have to know where to find the words, and then there are things like meetings and accounts and the demands of 101 legal systems. Spontaneity seems to be a long way away.
This is part of the tension of life anywhere and especially of seeking to follow the life of Jesus Christ. We are told that this is the life of the resurrection and it is empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit but it still looks very predictable.
Our lessons however have 2 very different images. First, from the Book of Revelation there is the picture of heaven and the holy city. It is a place where sun and moon are redundant for the glory of God provides all the illumination that anyone could need, and as there is no night then the city gates do not need to close. They are surplus to need as well.
There is nothing unclean or compromised there and all things are perfectly ordered. The things that God abominates find no place there and this purity of life is the air that people breathe and it is their total environment.
If ever there is a place to aim for then this is it – and it is entered at God’s invitation and by His wholly underserved blessing.
But then there is Paul’s vision as he was working in Asia Minor, having met up with Luke, the blessed physician. Here he found new inspiration to set out for new horizons, and in this case it was the people of Macedonia. And so they set forth for a new adventure.
They had little planning and they travelled light – living as spontaneously as they could. Paul would have the tools to make tents and Luke would have his instruments and list of herbal cures and remedies.
Yet in travelling they came to Philippi to find new disciples as they met Lydia worshipping out of town, by the riverside. Again a new acquaintance and a new opportunity. Nothing planned and nothing that could be predicted.
And yet they found the leading of God in their very lack of structures and planning. This was the space which they offered to Him to use as He would – and He did.
It brings us back to Jesus’ words to the disciples as He prepared them for life without Him – at least without His physical presence.
First, they would know those who loved Jesus by noting how they kept His commandments and how they followed Him in believing and trusting in Him above all.
The person who claims to love Jesus but is determined to set his or her priorities in all things must be taken with some care.
But then there is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent by God to draw the disciples of all lands and times back to the words of Jesus. He would give the disciples all that they needed to continue in Jesus’ teaching in all aspects of life.
Some things they would recognize immediately and others would fall into place as they were tested by times and circumstances and by the discernment of others.
But then Jesus was going to give them a peace – a special kind of peace that only comes from Him. This is that inner peace of a quiet heart and the shared peace of a community of believers finding that together there is a new and deeper peace that is not there in other gatherings or institutions.
Whatever the world throws at them they will find that this kind of peace is there and that it abides. When opposed and abused or ridiculed, when excluded and even persecuted then this peace is of a kind that does not go away. It is as eternal as Jesus Himself.
It is an inner confirmation that Jesus remains Lord even, and perhaps particularly, when His word and His people are rejected. These are the times when that community of faith makes sense and when absurdity and confusion seem to reign unchecked elsewhere.
But then Jesus did say ‘Fear not, I have overcome the world.’