The whole heaven and the whole earth and all the things beyond the confines of the world are filled with God. How can we be considered poor when we don’t feel anything that we want. Much more should the one be considered poor who craves more and more while they already have so much. If we regarded wealth as useful then we would ask God for it, but as it is everything belongs to God and we despise wealth. What a beautiful sight it is to God when a Christian mocks the clatter of the tools of death and the horror of execution and the Christians upholds and defends liberty in the face of kings and princes obeying God alone to whom the Christian belongs. Among us, little boys and frail women laugh to scorn torture and the cross and all the horrors of execution. – Minucius Felix
And these early Christians were not content to have a form of belief that was simply “Everything will pan out in the end”
They gave us the book of Revelation
And they gave us 1 Corinthians, particularly the 15th chapter.
The early Church, persecuted and harassed,
Still running to the lions,
Had this believe in Revelation that heaven would come down
Remember Revelation, a passage I first heard expounded by David Livingstone at an evening service in Fitzroy
The Christian hope is that the earth, this same old earth will be transformed
As David Livingstone said
“The Grand Canyon will still be there
And Ben Nevis will still be there
And Belfast Lough will stay there
And let us just hope that they will made of diamond and not straw.”
And I found this kind of hard to take
I thought “Nice idea”, but everyone knows that we really “go up there and it will be clouds and a bit dull but hopefully nice”
You can test this.
“Who would like to go to heaven when they die?”
“Who would like to go there now?”
So we need to unlearn some of these songs.
Once In Royal David’s City
Firstly, Jesus leads us on to the place where he is gone
Comes from Jesus in John 14 saying “Where I am going, I prepare a place for you”
But the word for place here, most commonly refers to a temporary dwelling room
It is the word used in the Nativity story “there was no room for them in the guest room”
When Jesus says to the prisoner on the cross
“Today you will be with me in paradise”
The word for paradise is customarily used for the temporary garden of the dead
And the big verse, the verse behind all the left behind
About us being caught up to meet Jesus in the air
The verses in 1 Thessalonians
Seem to me to be the most insurmountable
But there are two things
The first is that Jesus goes comes down, meets us halfway
And then we all carrying on up
When of course we know that Jesus does return to earth
So perhaps he sends us up and he carries out the business of wrapping up the company
Like a receiver
But N.T. Wright suggests that the image is like what would have happened when Caesar visited a colony and rather than waiting for Caesar to arrive
The populace would come out to meet him – exactly what happens in the Palm Sunday Story
And then they would go into the city together.
Now it feels slightly like you are contradicting the Bible if you are going to have a go at Amazing Grace
There are two points of contention with Amazing Grace
Nowhere is the place we go somewhere else
It is rather this creation renewed
It is here, but here transformed, real, vibrant, full of life
As C.S. Lewis said
In heaven we trip over the grass
While we are at, the language in the New Testament is never of us going to heaven
It is always of heaven being near
Or heaven coming down
And the second point of contention with “When we’ve been there”
Is the vision it gives of heaven as being like a very very long choir practice
We we’ve been there 10,000 years we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
And yes, after the resurrection, singing will lose it’s ability to exhaust
It will be fun singing
But there will be other activities on offer
As the golden streets are walked and the different tongues are spoken
And the work of tending the new creation
And of judging angels is given to us.
And I have visions at the BB displays after the resurrection
That Charlie Black will do the high horse.
I Am A New Creation
Now this comes from a verse
“17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Now the problem with this is that it ties down the verse in a way which is limiting
It is like they are part of something which is bigger than them.
and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. In Colossians 1:20
as a plan for(Y) the fullness of time,(Z) to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Thinking About Corinthians
Paul in his letter to the Corinthians,
A sexually promiscuous
Collection of fools and nobodies
Whom Paul called saints despite their use of prostitutes
And the body of Christ, despite the fact that the hand was bringing a court case against the belly button
Ends his painful letter to this Church
As he urges them to live as the body
How does he end
He talks about the end things
He talks about the resurrection
And we in the Church are always directed from inside with our disputes
To the perspective that this world is being remade
And we are called to be, as we always have been
To be the co-workers of God.
And there are a number of hints of this throughout the letter
In 1 Corinthians 3, where the Church is something which is something,
If it has been built properly which will come through the fires of judgement
The properly built Church will last into judgement day
The context here is of a Church as a local congregation
So Fitzroy will exist after judgement
The New Creation will have a Fitzroy Presbyterian Church
Need to believe in this New Creation.
And then the famous chapter in love
Paul’s entire point here is that there are certain things that will not last through the judgement day
Wonderful things like speaking in tongues, and prophecy
But three things will
Faith, hope and love – how does hope last into eternity, is it still hope, or what does it become; can you still hope for things in the new life.
And then the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15
Dense, mind-stretching theology to the bickering and the promiscuous and elitist.
Some may say that the resurrection has already happened.
It has not
Well, yes we say, the resurrection has not happened to us,
But it has happened to Jesus, and to those who have died
No they have not yet been raised
There is not enough time to go into this
They are asleep, in the language of Paul
In the language of Jesus, they are in Paradise
They remain in someway conscious, they cheer us on as they surround us
They are at rest
But they have not yet been raised,
And then he says, we will all be raised,
In the twinkling of an eye.
This world transformed
To be something like the way we were in creation
But somehow more.
And we do not go to heaven
You see in chapter 15, Paul has been talking about all these things
And you might expect him to say
Now, everything is going to be sorted, everything that you are a part of is going to be fixed, and redeemed and rescued, by Jesus when he comes
It’s like you are painting the house – just leave it, Jesus will do a better job when he comes
If you are building a community – just leave it – Jesus will do a better job when he comes
You are preaching a sermon – leave it, Jesus will preach a better one when he arrives
You are attempting to steward creation – just leave it, Jesus is going to give us a better one when he arrives.
Why plant roses in a garden that is going to be soon abandoned
Why try to repair a car which is heading off a cliff.
In fact, Paul takes the though in completely the opposite direction.
Look at 1 Corinthians 15:58
50I tell you this, brothers:(BK) flesh and blood(BL) cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold! I tell you a mystery.(BM)We shall not all sleep,(BN) but we shall all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For(BO) the trumpet will sound, and(BP) the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and(BQ) this mortal body must put on immortality. 54When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
(BR) “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55(BS) “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56The sting of death is sin, and(BT) the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God,(BU) who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58(BV) Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in(BW) the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord(BX) your labor is not in vain.
Thinking As A Church
The Redemption Of Past And Future
There is an interesting thing about this continuity with heaven.
Because it says that every good thing will be preserved
And that every good thing still requires redemption.
This says something about the journey that we take as people
It says that best of the past will somehow be kept
And that the best of the past will somehow be redeemed.
There is a story that Spike Milligan tells of a place that he and his friends went to when they were on leave from fighting from the Second World War
It was a cottage in the English countryside
And for a weekend, away from the guns, away from the training.
They would play each other records all day
And then they would return to the monotony of training, or the horror of war.
And Milligan comments that whenever he visited that cottage in later years
He could not speak to anyone for hours.
I think that has something to do with the pain and estrangement that we have from the best we have in the past.
The pain of the past is that we can never go back
For those of you that enjoyed school, you can never go back
For those of you from another country, you can never go back
For those of you who in your early twenties, or as a student experience the possibility of everything
You can never go back
To your first girlfriend, you first boyfriend, you first kiss, your first dance
And yet all that was good in the past
Because in Romans 8, Paul includes the “past” in all things.
All that is past is kept
But never let us pretend that it is perfect
All that is in the past, also needs redeemed.
It is not yet perfect, so let us not pretend that this is the best
I don’t know how many of you have send the Angelina Jolie movie, Changeling
I watched it recently on DVD and I was nervous about watching it,
Because it was about the abduction of a child, and I knew (from cheating on Wikipedia) that the child was never found.
And I knew that there were other positives about the movie.
The story is about Christine Collins, whose son Walter is abducted,
She asks the police for help, and despite the fact that they won’t respond to requests to find children for more than 24 hours, they try to find her.
At this time the police department, the LAPD is under pressure because of the campaigning of one Rev. Briegleb who has a weekly radio broadcast which documents the abuses and corruption of the LAPD.
In this climate of pressure the LAPD find “Walter Collins” and have a high profile reunion with mother and son at the Los Angeles railway station, the only thing is that Christine Collins says “This is not my son”
The police, force her to take the boy, and despite the fact that he is three inches shorter than Walter Collins, despite the fact that claims to be Walter but has no memory of school, the police do not believe Christine and eventually have her committed to a psychiatric ward.
At this point Rev. Briegleb launches a huge campaign to have Christine Collins released, and eventually to have the law changed so that code 12 psychiatric patients cannot simply be thrown into a psychiatric ward when they complain to the police.
At the same time as this, police discover the ranch of a Gordon Northcott and an accomplice, and the accomplice admits that Northcott murdered up to 20 boys including Walter Collins.
Whatsmore, the police chief and superintendant both loses their job and a corrupt mayor declines to stand for re-election.
Northcott is tried and executed.
But Christine Collins never finds Walter.
Five years later, a boy turns up who had imprisoned by Gordon NOrthcott, and he says that it was Walter who enabled him to escape. So there is kind of a sense of redemption that Walter had allowed another boy to live.
But I was very reticent to watch the film
Because all the changes of penal code and the all the disciplining of corrupt police officers
And even the escape of one boy
Could not undo, could not redeem the loss of this one innocent, helpless 10 year old boy, Walter Collins
And I did not want the film to even attempt to give me a happy ending.
But the story of resurrection of all things
Of the past
Of the relationships of the past
And the goodness of the past
Suggests that we can somehow find a way to light in thickest darkness
Because it says not only that removal of code 12
And the downfall of the corrupt
And the bravery of Walter Collins is good work that makes it past the resurrection
And is redeemed
But also that Walter and Christine will one day, as Rev. Briegleb says to Christine in the film, will one day be together.
It is this faith that allows us to keep hope
When all is lost.
It is lost to this life
But not to God.
There is a beautiful line uttered by King David in 1 Kings
It is a line of scripture that should be better known
Uttered by a man in the collapse of all that is good
He has lost a child, the child that he had illegitimately with another man’s wife
And David says
2 Samuel 12:23
“Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
The Glass Half Full/ Half Empty
This notion that all that is good should be good news to both personality types who are here
The glass half fulls
And the glass half empty
The glass half full people
The visionary kind of people
Can press on and not fear
Because what is good, will become part of the fabric of life after the resurrection
Therefore be courageous,
Because anything that is of God will somehow be kept
** Yes We Can ***
And those who are half empty
They spot the imperfection
Will know that what is imperfect will still be redeemed
Nothing is perfect.
Redemption happens to the imperfect.
The past and future of a Church
I think this says something to the past and future of Fitzroy
The past which was characterised by reconciliation
By multi-faceted youth work
BY worship which blended the traditional with the charismatic
That is not lost
It is kept for eternity
It does not have to be artificially preserved if parts of that are not for the future
Just because it is not preserved does not mean it is lost.
And the future,
We do not have to aim for perfection
There is a danger that when people describe the Church of the future
They always describe a Church with vast youth work
And beautiful worship space
And social engagement that would make Mother Teresa feel intimidated by its scale.
This can only create disappointment
Because the Church of the future will remain an imperfect Church and in need of redemption.
What you dream of is a Church which can be offered to God
Which can do things which will be kind of work that is steadfast, and immovable
And good, so that it might be used by God for the work of New Creation.
And what we dream of for ourselves
Is not a perfect life, with a perfect house and perfect children and perfect career
Because the future will still need redeemed as much as the past and the present
But what we aim towards is what kind of life
We can offer to God that it too might be part of the New Creation
And it to in need of redemption.
Gives it a new story
It is interesting that Paul gives the great resurrection Chapter to the Church in Corinth
And not to the star pupils at Philippi
Or to those who are receptive to lengthy theological treatises
Like the Church in Rome.
Why to Corinth.
I think it is that Corinth needs a different role to be part of.
It cannot be the Church which succumbs to the cultural messed-up-ness
The pettiness, the power struggles, the sexual immorality, the class-snobberty
Of the elitist, unforgiving, pleasure-driven society around it.
It needs another story.
Donald Miller tells the story of a friend of us who was suffering in a failing, embittered marriage, and with a daughter who was in e destructive relationship with her boyfriend.
As things are desperate, the husband decides on radical action
He hears that it is possible to build an orphanage in Mexico for $45,000
And decides that what he wants to do
Is for his family to build one of these orphanages
So a few days later he sits the family down – the wife and the daughter
And says “This is what we are going to do, we are going to build an orphanage in Mexico.”
For two days there is shock
The wife and daughter say nothing to crazy Dad
But on the third day something strange happens
The wife kisses the husband, for the first time in months
The marriage becomes increasingly affectionate.
And the daughter, begins to raise funds for this orphanage on facebook.
And shortly after she dumps the unsuitable boyfriend
And Miller comments that this is because she has been given a new story
And in this story she is the heroine
And heroines don’t go our with losers.
And what Paul does for the Church in Corinth is that he gives them a different story
They resurrection of all things
The resurrection that includes you story
That resurrection that means every good thing must be redeemed
But that every good thing will be redeemed
And be part of the life to come.
Each of us have a leaf here
And what this is an allusion to the second tree that is in this room
We live this life between two trees
And the first tree represents the trees of the garden of first creation
Trees whose fruit we are to enjoy.
And the second tree, represents the tree of life which appears in the new creation
And it has twelve kinds of fruit – a magic tree this, but many different things to be enjoyed
And the leaves were for the healing of the nations.
And I guess that we write down here,
That which we wished to be healed in the New Creation.
Invest our hope
That which is broken and imperfect might yet be redeemed.
I love the word “All things”
It includes no only mountains and loughs
It also includes jokes and melodies
It includes dances and spices
It includes youth clubs and group dynamics
It includes elbows and toenails and smiles and glances
Every blessed thing
In the direction of new creation
All projects and youth clubs and worship events
And battle of the bands
And American Mini-Series featuring Jed Bartlet
All caught up in the gorgeous elasticity of this word “all”
What is to come
Let it be dear God
Let It be in the time to come
When the people gather from north and south and east and west
Let it be when the feast is served
Let it be when we walk the golden streets and gather and pearl marked gates
Let it be when we march round the jewel encrusted walls
Let it be that hope will have been met
And pain will have been transformed
And what is good will be kept
And those whom we miss from this life
Will be our companions once again.
In the hope of that great day
In the hope of Jesus.
So point your endeavours in the direction of love
And point them in the direction of Jesus
And point them in the direction of hope
And point them in the direction of faith
And you point them in the same direction as the universe
And that labour is not in vain,
It lasts into new Creation.
And Jesus will come on clouds
And we will gather with him on his journey into the new creation
And what we have nurtured will be there
And what we have hoped for will be there
And what we have loved will be there
And he will say
Well done good and faithful servant