Sunday, May 1, 2016

Phil Kniss: On where to bring your glory

Easter 6: God who radiates light
Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5

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During this Easter season,
    as we dip in and out of the book of Revelation,
    we keep unveiling new works of Divine Art.

This is art with a singular purpose—
    to let a suffering church see God.

I want to begin, again, with this important reminder, and disclaimer.
This letter, called the Revelation of John,
    which is full of imaginative apocalyptic visions,
    was not written by John to give raw material to
        fear-mongering end-times predictors, or
        to Christian fantasy writers and film-makers, or
        to those wishing for a dramatic escape from a violent world.
    Those who use this book for those purposes, are mis-using scripture.

No, this letter was written to give hope—in the here and now—
    to followers of Jesus living out their calling,
        and suffering for it, on the margins of society.
    This letter was written to help early Christians see God more clearly,
        during a time when their vision was being clouded by persecution.

Our preachers these last three Sundays—
    Pastor Barbara, David Boshart, and Moriah Hurst—
        not only gave me a nice little break from preaching,
        but they did, beautifully, what I hoped this series would do.
    They unveiled different pictures of God
        that gave us encouragement,
        that proclaimed Good News for our times.
    Three weeks ago, Barbara reminded us
        that the suffering of Jesus, the lamb of God,
        made it possible to sing a new song that transcends our suffering.
    Then David Boshart unveiled a picture of hope and joy
        because God goes with us across boundaries,
        and because salvation belongs to God.
    Last Sunday, Moriah encouraged us with the image of God
        as one who moves into the neighborhood with us,
        and dwells among us, on our turf.

Today, this metaphor of unveiling a work of art, is especially fitting.
    It works well for today’s visual image of God as light.

So John writes about a vision, in which he is taken to a high mountain,
    and sees the city of God, the new Jerusalem,
    coming down out of heaven, from God,
        which connects to Moriah’s emphasis last Sunday,
            of God bringing heaven to us.

    This vision makes a huge impression on John,
        and we know what specifically grabbed his attention,
        because he repeats it so often, in the retelling.
            He says it at least seven different ways.
        What impressed John was the powerful light
            emanating from the center of that city.
            The kind of light that puts the sun in its place.
    He writes, “The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
        for the glory of God is its light,
            and its lamp is the Lamb.
        The nations will walk by its light,
            and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
        Its gates will never shut, because there will be no night there.
            People will bring into it
                the glory and the honor of the nations.”
    And a few verses later, again,
        “There will be no more night;
            they need no light of lamp or sun,
            for the Lord God will be their light.”

    It’s pretty obvious.
        If we want to understand this passage of scripture,
            we need to explore what this light is all about.
        And the first thing I noticed, when I started studying it,
            is the direct link between light, and glory.

Glory.
    John talks a lot about glory.
        The glory of God.
        And the glory of the kings of the earth.
        And the glory of the nations.
    Glory is a prominent theme in scripture, Old and New Testament.
        Almost every New Testament book refers to glory at some point
            and three books practically dwell on it—
                the Gospel of John, Romans, and Revelation.

    I think we Mennonite-Anabaptists
        could stand to think a little more, and a little deeper, about glory.
    We aren’t naturally drawn toward it.
        With our history of simplicity and humility
            and being “quiet in the land,”
            “glory” seems a bit assertive for our taste.
        It’s a little bit “out there” for us.
        Glory smacks of pride.
        Glory also seems to be related to power and fame
            and ostentatious displays of wealth.
            It might conjure up images of the glorious cathedrals
                that our ancestors protested in the 16th century,
                and that, despite their glorious exterior,
                    were the power center for our oppressors,
                    and were spiritually empty at the core.

    It’s in our Anabaptist spiritual DNA,
        to be wary of glory.
        And that’s not all bad.
        But it doesn’t give us reason to ignore
            such a major biblical theme.
        Rather, we ought to explore the theme more deeply,
            see how to redeem it,
            see what we might be missing.

The Hebrew words that get translated as “glory” in the Old Testament
    imply “weight” or “heaviness.”
        Weight, as in . . . importance . . . honor . . . majesty.
The Greek word used in the New Testament, is doxa.
    This also carries with it the sense of honor,
        or more specifically, “good reputation.”
    When we give glory, we show high esteem, we give praise.

So with that in mind,
    let’s look again at this Revelation text,
    and let’s picture in our minds what is going on here
        in the city of God.
    The “glory of God” is the light for the city.
    It is overwhelming, to say the least,
        this glorious light of God.
    This light is so compelling,
        it magnetically draws into its orbit,
        every other lesser light, sun and moon included.
    Its glory puts into perspective all lesser glories,
        including the glory of the kings of the earth,
        and of all the nations.
    These kings and nations “bring their glory” into the city of God,
        where they get outshone by the glory of God.

    Now chew on that for a minute.
        What’s more important for the “kings of the earth,”
            what’s more essential for political power structures,
                than glory?
        Rulers cannot rule, at least not for long,
            without their power being held in high respect,
            without being granted “glory” by their subjects.
        Ideally, respect is born out of positive esteem and affection.
            But it can also be born out of fear.
            In either case, the power of the ruler is respected.
            Their subjects are fully aware of the good, or the evil,
                they can accomplish by their power.

    Now think about this.
        Think about the audience John was writing to—
            persecuted Christians,
            who were marginalized, oppressed, imprisoned, exiled,
                and in the most extreme cases,
                thrown to the lions for public entertainment.
        Their persecutors are these,
            whom John pictures as “bringing their glory into”
                the city of God,
                and having their glory overwhelmed
                    by the glory of God and of the Lamb.

    This picture of God in Revelation 21 and 22
        is not a picture of God having pity on the oppressed
            by whisking them away to safety in heaven.
        This is a picture of the powers being put in their place,
            of kings being toppled,
            and their victims being emancipated.
        This is a picture of a revolution on earth,
            being initiated by God in heaven.
            Things are going to be set right by God.
    I don’t know of any other honest way to read these words:
        “The nations will walk by its light,
            and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it . . .
            Nothing accursed will be found there any more.”
        And then there’s this beautiful tree image thrown in there—
            the tree of life growing by the river, with
            “the leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations.”

    This is the art being unveiled—
        the light and glory of God
            as THE orienting light and glory of the nations.
        Every other expression of light and glory
            is subordinate to it.
        God says, through John,
            that every king, every nation,
                is one day going to answer
                to the glory that overshadows them all.
        The kings are going to bring in their puny pretense of glory,
            and that glory will evaporate in the blinding glory of God.

    This work of divine art was created to inspire those being crushed
        by the kings of the earth, and by the nations.
    John the Revelator says to them,
        Your God, the Sovereign God who rules earth and heaven,
            is going to hold all kings and nations accountable
        “People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

And of course we also have to admit,
    that goes for any personal claims of glory we might cling to.
    Our glory also finds its proper place, it proper orientation,
        when we bring it into the city of God, so to speak,
        when we allow the light we carry
            to be subsumed into the light of God.
        I think that’s what this text calls us to do.
            It doesn’t put out our light.
            It doesn’t diminish the worth of our own light and glory,
                which is a good gift of God.
                We are created in God’s image, after all.
                    God’s glory is reflected in all of us.

    But what this text calls us to do
        is to bring our glory into the city of God.
        Our light and glory finds its fullness, its beauty,
            when it is brought into, included into, subsumed into,
            the light and glory of God.
        When our purposes line up with God’s purposes,
            when our posture toward the world looks like God’s posture,
            when our identity is formed by the identity God gave us,
            when our loves are shaped by what God loves,
            then we can say that we have
                brought our glory into the city of God.
_____________________

Now, I don’t want this to be lost in pious generalities.
    This text was written to real followers of Jesus in a real world.
        They were in a complex web of beauty and brokenness
            that comprised their lives on the margins of the empire.

    So this text also needs to speak to us, today,
        in the complex and beautiful and broken realities we live in.
    And it needs to speak in terms
        just as life-giving and encouraging to us,
        as it would have been to them.

This perspective on God’s glory and ours,
    needs to speak to our posture and behavior as followers of Jesus,
    when circumstances in the world around us
        feed our fears,
        or stoke our righteous anger.

It needs to speak to what we say and how we act,
    when the Middle East teeters on the edge of collapse,
        and even more human beings suffer,
    when the presidential campaign gets more insane by the day,
        playing on our insecurity and prejudice,
    when climate change predictions get even more worrisome,
    when a third conference votes to leave Mennonite Church USA,
    when the reality of sexual abuse is named by our denomination
        as a cancer in the church,
        and the ripple effect of abuse shakes our own churches,
            and families, and people we love.

This call to bring our light and glory
    into and under the light and glory of God,
    also needs to speak to how we live in hope and joy
        in a world that holds such brokenness and such beauty
            at one and the same time.

The beauty I refer to is often right there in the middle of the brokenness,
    precisely because someone chose to lean in toward the light of God
        instead of giving in to hopelessness.
_____________________

You know, there are sincere Christians who hesitate,
    when we lift up these pictures of a future
    where God will one day make all things right again.

Some worry it might lead to inaction, or escapism.
    That if God is going to fix everything in God’s way and God’s time,
        then what is there for us to do,
            except be patient,
            and wait for the day God will come to take us away?
    To think that way misunderstands God and scripture and history.

    Revelation was written to generate hope
        in the lives of suffering Christians.
    And I believe we need to read it in precisely the same way.
        We should be able read these texts about the Lamb’s triumph,
            and be more hopeful,
            than before we read them.
        In Christian faith,
            hope is never an excuse for inaction or passivity.
        Hope is what we need to start living into
            the very future that God envisions for us.

Scott Hoezee, a Christian Reformed pastor, preacher, and author,
    wrote about the relationship between hope and action.
This is what he wrote, and I paraphrase it slightly . . .

Hope is what got Mother Theresa to bathe the putrid flesh of lepers in Calcutta. Hope is what made Martin Luther King and others walk across the bridge in Selma. Hope is what let Nelson Mandela get out of his prison bed every morning. Hope is what moves every volunteer in a soup kitchen to ladle out bowls of chicken and rice . . . It is not the hopeless who establish hospices and Ebola clinics in Africa, or stand in the breach when rival drug gangs threaten to shoot up neighborhoods, or boldly stand up to power. It is the hope-FULL who do all that, precisely because even now they serve a risen Savior, who even now has all the power to accomplish what will fully come, when the vision of Revelation 21-22 becomes every creature’s everyday reality.
That is the impact of Easter on us followers of Jesus.
That is the impact of our light being overwhelmed by the Light of God.
    It gives us hope.
    It moves us toward a world that needs this hope.
    It puts us exactly where God wants us.

—Phil Kniss, May 1, 2016

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Moriah Hurst: God being home with us

Easter 5: God who brings us heaven
Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

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Moriah Hurst, anticipated new Associate Pastor for Children, Youth, and Families at Park View Mennonite, gave this morning's sermon in our series based on the book of Revelation. From the text of Revelation 21:1-6, she expounded on the good news that we are not awaiting being whisked away to a far-away heaven, but God is bringing heaven to us. God promises to "move into the neighborhood" with us, and live in our territory, and "dwell among us."

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

David Boshart: Boundary Crossings

Easter 4: God who saves
Acts 9:32-43; Revelation 7:9-12

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Today’s guest preacher, David Boshart, is Conference Minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference, and the Moderator-Elect of Mennonite Church USA. David brought a challenging and hopeful message of holding on to joy in the midst of crossing difficult boundaries, by remembering the good news that "salvation belongs to our God."

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Barbara Moyer Lehman: What new song are we singing?

Easter 3: God who suffered
Revelation 5:11-13; Psalm 30

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            Word has it that by the year 2020, the Mennonite Church will have a new hymnal in some shape or form.  Steps are being taken to secure a few key persons to give leadership to this endeavor called, “Project 606”.  That’s exciting!  What new songs/hymns/choruses will be chosen and included?  What old, familiar, beloved songs will not make it into this new collection?
            Some of us are old enough to remember when this one came out, if you were in the ‘Mennonite Church’.  1969!  John and I were serving with MCC in Kenya, East Africa, from ’70-’73, and received a brand new copy from an aunt of his, who sent it to us as a gift.  It took 3 months by boat mail. We learned new songs together and treasured it for those years.  It came home with us in our trunk in 1973.  This is it!
            In 1992 when our blue Hymnal Worship Book came out, we were living in Orrville, OH and served as co-pastors of Orrville Mennonite.  I remember the excitement and curiosity when we purchased them for that congregation, wondering if our favorites were still in it and what new songs we would learn to enjoy.  What a rich resource it has become to us and many other congregations.  The very well worn hymnals in these pews attest to the heavy use by this congregation!
            What new songs will we be singing in the next several decades?  What will be the themes, the styles, the genres of music?

            Please take out your blue hymnal, HWB, and note the symbol on the front lower right hand corner…..a lamb, a traditional Anabaptist symbol.  The note on the inside states, “The lamb in the midst of the briars illustrates the Suffering Lamb of God, who calls the faithful to obedient service.  Since in the past it has been used to represent unity among believers, it is an appropriate symbol for this cooperatively produced hymnal.”

            The suffering Lamb of God is a central part of the theme for today.  The God who suffered!  (Turn in the back of HWB to 689..part of the scripture text for today from Rev. 5:11-13.  I will ask you to read that in a few minutes.)
            Last Sunday Phil began the new sermon series that dips into the book of Revelation, with all of its rich symbols, imagery and different levels of meaning.  We move back and forth from earthly settings to heavenly settings throughout the book.
            In chapter 5, John the Revelator, is standing in the throne room.  He sees in the hand of God a scroll with 7 seals!  It contains top secret information!  God’s plan for the culmination of history.  What will be the future?  A mighty angel asks who can break the seals and open the scroll?  No one in heaven, on earth or under the earth was worthy to open it or even look inside.  John wept and wept.  If no one can open the scroll, the destiny, the future of the world will remain a mystery.
            Then an elder speaks up.  One is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.  It is the Lion of Judah, the root of David.  The weeping prophet raises his eyes to see the Lion of Judah, but all he sees is……is a Lamb, looking as if it were slain, slaughtered!  This was not what John was expecting.  The Lamb that is worthy to reveal God’s future for the world is himself a victim of violence.  Nelson Kraybill writes in his book, “God’s fullest self revelation has not come with brawn and bluster to match the muscle of Rome, but with the seeming weakness and vulnerability of a Lamb.”
            Yes, the Lamb is the one worthy.  And the creatures and the elders bow down in worship, and they sang a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation.”

            (HWB 689 read dark print, me light print)
            Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice.
            Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth, wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing!”
            Then I heard every creature in heaven on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
            To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

(And the 4 living creatures said, AMEN or YES, the elders fall down and worshipped. V. 14)

            The angels break forth in joy singing a new song.  It is a song of jubilation and a newfound certainty.  They are aware that the struggles are not over but they believe that God has the last and final word and as such worship belongs to Him alone!
            The Lamb of God served, suffered, died.  What emerges out of suffering?  What new song emerges out of the deep valley of pain and struggle?  What song transcends the present pain and reaches into the divine future?...where God is in control.
We are going to reflect on a few questions together as we look at and sing one of the hymns.  Turn in HWB to 405, “Where cross the crowded ways of life”. (We will sing this one instead of the one listed in the bulletin following the sermon.)

               This is a hymn that helps us reflect on what was or is and then we ask, and where should it be taking us?  What is the new song, the new creation, the new reality?

Sing together HWB 405 (one verse at a time with some space between)
Vs. 1 “Where cross the crowded ways of life, where sound the cries of race and clan, above the noise of selfish strife, we hear your voice, O Son of Man!”
            Our lives are full, busy, crowded, noisy.  It’s the nature of our world and society. We seldom experience silence, solitude.  How can we hear your voice in the midst of selfish pursuits and pursuing our dreams?  What is the new way of being you are calling us to?  What new song can we sing?

Vs. 2 “In haunts of wretchedness and need, on shadowed thresholds dark with fear, from paths where hide the lure of greed, we catch the vision of your tears.”
            We are needy, all of us, sinful, yes, that too.  Fears plague us, anxieties about everything and anything weigh us down, and greed, temptations lurk around every corner.  When we take the time to actually glimpse your way, Lord, do we see the vision of your tears?  Are you weeping with us because you know our struggles, pain, fears, sin?  Are you weeping for us, wondering how we lost our way?  What new song will bring us back to you?

Vs. 3 “From tender childhood’s helplessness, from woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil, from famished souls, from sorrow’s stress, your heart has never known recoil.”
            You have never abandoned us, Lord.  From childhood through our adult struggles, in times of anguish and spiritual dryness when our souls are starving for you, you have never pulled away.  What new songs can keep us close, nourish our souls?  What new way of being and new way of living will restore us again?

Vs. 4 “The cup of water giv’n for you still holds the freshness of your grace.  Yet long these multitudes to view the sweet compassion of your face.”
            We are pretty good at service, Lord.  We give the cup of water.  We offer grace, but many still long for more…to see the face of Jesus and feel the compassionate arms embracing them.  What new song, new deed, new action will help to bring hope into their world again?
            In Revelation many things are new….. the new heaven and the new earth, the new universe, Christ’s redemption which brings about a new covenant and a new era.  The new song is sung because of the new deliverance brought about through Jesus’ suffering and death.  Worthy is the lamb that was slain!  The whole universe and the people of God celebrate Christ’s redemption with a new song.
 (Let these last two verses be our prayer.)

Vs. 5 & 6 “O Master, from the mountainside, make haste to heal these hearts of pain.  Among these restless throngs abide..O tread the city’s streets again, for all the world shall learn your love, and follow where your feet have trod, till glorious from your heav’n above shall come the city of our God.”

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Phil Kniss: The arc of resurrection in the age of death

Easter 2: God who comes
Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

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I’m so glad we heard the whole Easter story again this Sunday.
    Once wasn’t enough.
    Not nearly.
Given our state of being—
    in all its beauty and brokenness
    in all its wholeness and contradiction
    in all its joy and suffering
        we need to keep hearing this story.
        In some way, every time we gather to worship.

I’ve made the statement on Easters past,
    and I made it again in a devotional Wednesday,
        at the Park Village coffee hour,
    that conquering death by way of resurrection
        was not some brand new idea that God got into his head,
        after Jesus got himself into a fix and got crucified.

God had been on a resurrection trajectory, a resurrection arc,
    ever since Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden.
    Resurrection was what God was aiming for,
        ever since God started moving in human history.
    The resurrection of Jesus just put a grand exclamation mark
        on everything God had already said . . . and done
            up to that point.
    If you read the Old Testament in light of Easter,
        you see resurrection all over the place.

God’s actions to bring life from death fill the pages of scriptures.
    In Isaiah 25, the prophet speaks,
    “On this mountain of Lord—where everything is now in ruins—
        the Lord of hosts will make a feast.
        He will destroy on this mountain
            the death shroud that is cast over all peoples,
            the sheet that is spread over all nations;
            he will swallow up death forever . . .”

        He will destroy the death shroud.
        In other words, God will rip into shreds
            the cosmic body bag this world has been put into,
            and say, enough of this! death is done!

    We looked at some other Old Testament resurrection texts
        in the weeks leading up to Easter.
    Isaiah is full of them.
        Chapter 43: “I will give waters in the wilderness
            and rivers in the desert.”
        Chapter 41: “I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
            I will turn the desert into pools of water,
                and the parched ground into springs.”
        Chapter 11: “The wolf will live with the lamb,
            the leopard will lie down with the goat.”

    All of these point to God’s overarching strategy, God’s mission.
        To overcome death with life.
_____________________

If we accept that as God’s primary strategy in the world,
    then we have a problem.
    It’s called . . . reality.
    It’s that death still has a grip on us, and on this world.
        Need I even point it out?
        Death is ubiquitous.
        Death is relentless.
        And, to underscore what we’re probably all thinking right now,
            in light of the death of Anna Kathryn Eby,
            death can be unfair, and untimely, and heart-breakingly sad.

    In times like these that we live in—
        no matter what form of death
            is knocking on your door right now,
        be it the literal death of a loved one,
            or the loss of a dream, of a relationship, of a job,
            or whatever your grief—
        in times like these we often go looking for God.

    When things in life just aren’t lining up
        in the way God intends them to line up,
        when nations are pitted against nation,
            and religion against religion,
        when politics is going off the rails,
        when tragedy is piling on tragedy,
            then . . . many people go searching
            trying to discover where God is in all of this.

    There is no doubt
        that many diligent, and faithful, and persistent seekers of God,
            have come up short.
        If not empty,
            at least not fully satisfied.
    Some of the most saintly men and women in church history
        give witness to this unfulfilled longing—
        St. John of the Cross, St. Therese de Lisieux,
            Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and more.

Even the prophet Isaiah,
    the one who spoke so eloquently and optimistically
        that God is about to do a new thing
            and make water spring out of the desert,
            and destroy the death shroud,
    this Isaiah also cried out in utter desperation
        when God seemed silent and inactive
        in the face of the desperate suffering of God’s people.

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,”
    Isaiah cried out in chapter 64.
    Isaiah longed for a God that acted decisively.
    A God that intervened in the world,
        did something about the mess they were in.
        A God that spoke with the sound of thunder.
            . . . . . .
        But all he got was silence.
    A deafening silence in the face of unspeakable evil.

    Isaiah wondered, if God is who God claims to be . . . why . . .
        “Why, after all we’ve been through?”
    And I quote, from Isaiah 64:12—
        “After all this, will you restrain yourself, O Lord?
            Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?”

Isaiah’s questions are no easier to answer today.
    But in a strange way, it is comforting to hear
        in these ancient pages, such cries of lament from God’s people.
    For one thing, we’re obviously not the first of God’s people
        to struggle with persistent evil and pervasive death.
    But I am also comforted by the vibrancy of their faith,
        that they could lay out their complaints against God
            as honestly as they did.
        Because they had that level of relational stability and trust.
        Generally, you don’t talk like that to people,
            unless you actually trust in their ability to hear and respond.
_____________________

I am also comforted by today’s reading from Revelation.

    And just to let you know,
        throughout this season of Easter to Pentecost,
        we will be dipping into Revelation every Sunday,
            exploring the vibrant and expressive images of God there.
        The whole purpose behind the book of Revelation
            was to reveal the just and compassionate nature of God
            to an early church that was in agony from its suffering,
                being persecuted to the extreme,
                and were certainly experiencing God’s silence.

        Each Sunday we’ll see visually striking images of a God
            who loves God’s people,
            who acts for justice and righteousness in a world of evil,
            and before whom all the nations and powers of this world,
                will not be able to stand,
                and not be able to triumph.

        As these images of God are revealed each week,
            it’s as though another attribute of this holy and just God
                will be unveiled, like a work of art.
        That was the idea behind the title I gave this worship series:
            “The Great Unveiling:
                the art of heaven in the book of Revelation.”
        The picture of God we see this week,
            is the God who comes.
            In future weeks it will be the
                God who suffered,
                God who saves,
                God who brings us heaven,
                God who radiates light,
                God who invites all to life, and
                God who sends the Spirit.

    So today we find this picture in Revelation 1,
        as John addressed the seven churches in Asia,
            where the suffering was intense.
        The picture is the throne of God,
            with the seven spirits surrounding the throne.
        Who these “spirits” refer to isn’t entirely clear,
            maybe it’s angelic beings assigned to the churches,
            perhaps it’s a reference to the multifaceted Holy Spirit.
        In either case, the point is that the suffering church
            is not alone in its suffering.
        They have representation, and advocacy,
            before the very throne of God.

    And Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church,
        is pictured as ruler over the kings of the earth.
        In other words, Jesus-followers are encouraged by this word
            that the ones causing the suffering of the church,
            will need to answer to the Lord of the Church.
        This suffering will not be without end,
            or without redemption.
        Because this God is not a God who stays far back,
            removed and aloof.
        This is a God who comes.
            A God who will take the initiative
                to come to where God’s people are,
                and set things right in the world.
            V. 7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds;
                every eye will see him,
                even those who pierced him.”
            And the God who sits in heaven now,
                while the world is in turmoil,
                is the same God who acted in the past,
                    is acting now,
                    and will act in the future.
            God who was, and is, and is to come.
            The Alpha and Omega.

This is the nature and character of God being unveiled in Revelation,
    a God who initiates,
    a God who comes to where we are,
    a God like the one described by the poet Francis Thompson,
        who wrote of God as “the Hound of Heaven.”
        Who lovingly, and persistently, pursues us.

This is also the nature of God unveiled in the life of Jesus
    as we see it in the Gospels.
    Today’s reading from John 20 is one of the most potent examples.
        When the disciples were at their lowest point,
            their most distressed,
            their most confused,
            their most fearful—
                it was then that Jesus came to where they were.

And please remember, this story in John 20
    is not primarily about a certain doubting disciple.
    It’s about a God who comes to us where we are.

    All the disciples, all of them,
        first heard the words of an eye-witness,
            “We have seen the Lord,”
            and remained fearful and skeptical.
    And then all the disciples, all of them,
        were later blessed with an appearance by Jesus,
        who showed them his wounded hands and side,
        and were invited to believe.
    Jesus’ appearance to the 11,
        and later to Thomas,
        are nearly identical in nature.
        The only difference was the timing.

    So let’s not make this story about condemning doubt,
        or looking down on people
            who ask questions and seek answers.
        No, this story is about a God who comes to us on our turf,
            who enters our space, and our time,
                and says, here I am, to be with you.
        This is a story about the pursuing God.

        This story is about God’s action through the Risen Christ,
            to move in, with love and grace, taking initiative
                to restore and reconcile all Jesus’ followers,
                all of whom need to be forgiven, and healed,
                and loved back into a covenant relationship with him.

        This was good news for the first disciples of Jesus.
        This was good news for the early, suffering church.
        And this is good news for us today,
            in an age where death is still very much with us.

Contrary to what we think sometimes,
    God isn’t trying to make it difficult for us to have faith.
    God isn’t playing a cruel game of hide and seek.
        If some of us have a hard time finding faith,
            we may be looking in the wrong places.
    God is generous and gracious.
    God is ready to provide whatever we need for faith.

    Some of us are like Thomas, God bless us.
        We are persistent seekers.
        We are stubborn pursuers of truth.
        We’re not satisfied with easy or stock answers.
    The message of today’s Gospel story is that God honors that.
        And in due time, God will provide what we need for faith.

    Some of us may be more like Peter,
        the passionate disciple,
            who lived more by the heart than the head.
    God honors that, too.
    God will provide what we need for faith.

But the faith God is most pleased with,
    is the faith that says,
    even with our unanswered questions,
        we trust you enough to keep asking,
            and keep seeking,
        until we encounter the God who was seeking us all along.

Or, as an anonymous hymn writer put it,

    I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
        he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
        it was not I that found, O Savior true;
        no, I was found of thee.

    Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
        I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea;
        'twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
        as thou, dear Lord, on me.

    I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole of love
        is but my answer, Lord, to thee;
        for thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
        always thou lovedst me.


—Phil Kniss, April 3, 2016

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