Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 22 May 2022.
• First Reading: Acts 16: 9-15 (Paul’s vision of man from Macedonia)
• Psalm 67
• Epistle: Revelation 21: 10, 22-22.5 (Vision of the new Jerusalem)
• Gospel: John 14: 23-29 (Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My peace I give you – not as the world gives)
Politicians produce their manifestoes; planners have their policies, proposals and recommendations; advertisers launch their promotional campaigns, and property developers display visual impressions of their developments.
This sense of vision is a strong feature of our time – even and possibly especially when those visions are opposed to one another and sometimes the scope for a dialogue using civil language is rather restricted.
Yet all these offerings are about what we hope or fear will come about – how to achieve or avoid them, how much effort should be put into doing so.
But then there are the lessons for today and in their way, all are about vision for the Christian community.
They range from the promise of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation and are an answer to the other visions of judgment of the church and the world.
But they also become real and personal as when Paul found himself being called away from Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) to minister in Macedonia. This vision was direct, personal and demanded a personal response.
And then there is the vision of the life of the church in which the Holy Spirit calls it back again and again to the words and actions of Jesus.
First, the vision of the new Jerusalem. It centres on the primacy and undoubted rule and authority of God.
It is not just the glory and splendour of the thing that God has already prepared for His people, and there is never the sense in which it is for humanity to design, build and operate a New Jerusalem.
It is all about the provision of God – His delight in doing it and the way in which He pours Himself into the task.
If in Jesus God poured Himself out for humanity and yet saw Him being crucified, then how much more will be the exuberance and exultation with which He is preparing a place for those who put their trust in Jesus and in what God has done for His people in and through Him.
This is the bridegroom preparing a home for the bride, the shipbuilder putting the final touches to the ship and the builder making sure that every detail of the building project is completed properly.
There is an excitement and an expectancy in the whole project and perhaps a sense of deep pride and satisfaction with which it is shown to John.
But then in the story of Paul there is a different kind of vision. This time it is personal and direct.
Paul had been in Troas, not far from the southern entrance to the Dardanelles. He had planned to go towards Bithynia, in northern Turkey, but this was prevented. And so in a time of looking for a new direction he received one.
It was not what he had in mind but it was authentic, and I would expect that having shared it with his companions they agreed.
All he had was a call for help – the rest he would find out as he went out in the strength of that vision. It was to be a matter of faith and commitment and as he stepped out then so things would fall into place.
Yet there was also a confirmation that this was the right thing to do as he encountered Lydia and shared the gospel message with her. It was a fruitful encounter leading both to her personal faith and baptism and then her offer of hospitality to the whole party. This was a validation indeed of that original vision.
But then there is Jesus’ instruction to His disciples. He would not be with them directly and personally but His presence would be there permanently.
This is what the release of the Holy Spirit was going to be about. He would be there in the person of Jesus in every time and place and situation.
He would bring all matters back to Jesus: who and what He was and certainly to what He had said and done. There would be nothing in the person or work of the Holy Spirit which was apart from Jesus.
There would be no concessions to the spirit of the age that Jesus Himself had not made personally. Even when technology had expanded the scope and scale of the human endeavour, it would never replace or supplant the moral and spiritual dimensions of what Jesus Himself had said or done.
This also forms part of the vision of the church. It remains faithful to Jesus and applies His truth in the situations of the time.
It is a vision for the present of the church – a day-to-day reality when all around is confused and possibly chaotic.
Most of all it is there when the people of God are united in their faith and commitment and are earnestly listening and waiting for that authentic guidance of the Holy Spirit – and He will never lead us into places apart from the person and presence of Jesus Himself.