Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; John 14:23-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-22:5

Sixth Sunday of Easter 9 May 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Easter 6C 2010 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

What motivates us in terms of our “Divine Mission”? Why have we engaged in the Christian enterprise? What is it that makes us the church? And what do we seek to make of the church? Tricky, isn’t it? Again we might look to the East End and ask of ourselves what are we becoming, what are we creating, and what is being created of us? Because there’s something visible to be seen, and yet there is also a sense that there is something to be discovered. The quest and the journey of life is a movement toward wholeness and oneness. As Ireneaus said ‘Man Fully Alive is the Glory of God’. He was writing in his time; if he was writing today he’d say, ‘Humanity fully alive is the Glory of God’. So how do we engage this movement toward the Glory of God, toward our fullness of life and into being fully alive?

Today we read of Paul setting out on his second great missionary journey. And the beginning, Paul’s engagement, the catalyst for this mission, is given in the opening line of the reading: ‘During the night Paul had a vision’. There are many occasions recounted in the Bible whereby the movement into new life begins in the contemplative space of “vision”, in the mysticism of prayer and in the contemplation of mystical encounters (sometimes called dreams). As we contemplate in that place of vision it is possible to see a new tomorrow and new ways of being and new ways of behaving. Eve encounters a serpent, Abraham is encountered by three Angels, Jacob dreams dreams, Moses sees holiness in a burning bush, Jesus’ encounters transfiguration, the disciples experience the presence of resurrection, Paul falls off his horse in the blinding light on the Damascus road.

The place of vision is not a boardroom planning exercise, rather it is another way of seeing, one that does not use the eyes to engage the world and look for tomorrow, but rather looks within to see with Divine sight into a realm of new possibilities. It is easy to appreciate that things look different depending on where you stand, and our lives do look different when we stand outside of the day-to-day. Think of when you’ve been on holiday - not only does the world around you look different, but we see ourselves differently and we see our world at home differently - albeit from a distance - we get another perspective on the life we live.

Today Paul sets out on a new journey, a new path, a new direction that is birthed in a vision. He didn’t start out with a plan or purpose; there is no goal, no desired outcomes, but there is a “vision”, a mystical seeing, and that has brought about change: his tomorrow is quite different from his today and yesterday.

Paul sets out for Macedonia (vv. 9, 10), which was a Roman province in northern Greece, so this is a story of Paul going to Europe for the first time. Here we might pause and bring the narrative into the present. It is a good time to be going to Europe, with the Euro falling against the dollar, probably also against the denarius. .But why Greece? It is bankrupt and on the point of economic collapse. Most likely for Australians there will be a travel warning issued telling us not to go there. But Paul goes to Greece. It is amazing that as we bring the ancient narratives in the present moment, it is there that we find the truth, the wisdom; they’re not in the past.

We see maybe a true sense of purpose in Paul’s movement; we see a future perspective unfolding. In the Divine image, in living life that is ‘seen’ in the divine vision, we actually walk a journey that will overcome collapsing bankruptcy, walk a journey that is quite different from the circumstances of the world unfolding around us, because we walk with the possibility of ‘I am creating all things new’. Through worldly eyes the view of tomorrow is becoming more and more clouded in uncertainties; the old order is clearly passing away. The UK has voted, and it’s a very worthwhile election to look at because basically the vote of the British people is a vote of no confidence in any form of political leadership, Our government in Australia is so busy back-flipping, there is absolutely no sense of a movement to a new tomorrow.

When Paul had seen his vision, he ‘immediately set out’ on a new journey, a movement that is filled with confidence, with direction, with orientation, with hope.

If we consider the “dream”, the vision of ourselves as a Church community, if we ponder the orientation that our faith gives to our life, if we ponder the voice of prayer that was birthed and still disturbs us because the mystery of Easter will not go away, if we pause and bring the Easter narrative into the present moment of our lives, do we glimpse an immediacy of direction towards another tomorrow? Can you just feel it, nagging, murmuring, itching scratching? Or are we just left with tomorrow as a continuation of yesterday that happened to become today and will soon become tomorrow? Somewhere there’s a dream that disturbs that joining the dots of time.

A mystical vision, a revelation, has given Paul direction and movement. As a Church this is the encounter we should seek to engage, finding through looking within ourselves a truth and an energy, a Spirit that will move us in a direction toward a tomorrow that realises a fullness of Life as revealed in Christ. Seeking and finding the Christ within becomes our beginning; it becomes the place from which we can set out on a new journey with confidence, with direction, with faith, with hope.

The second reading from the book of Revelation - it’s a stunning book, but it really does push the scope of vision beyond the individual stories of other biblical narratives. Here we’re almost confronted with a paradigm, a worldview, that is beyond belief. How can we make sense of the ramblings in the book of Revelation and the picture that’s painted, and yet aren’t we now becoming accustomed to ‘beyond Belief’ experiences? Don’t we already see them headlined everyday? Read the headlines and read how easy it is to change one “world first” - ‘Australia on Tuesday shelved plans for a carbon trading scheme’ - with another: ‘Australia to Ban Cigarette Package Advertising in World First’.

We live in a world that constantly gives us ‘Beyond belief’ experiences. Think of a million dollar Lotto win – it’s a lovely ‘beyond belief’ to contemplate, and then try and conceive of $27billion wiped off the value of mining companies in fourteen days – it’s beyond belief. We move beyond a comprehension, we live in a world of shifting paradigms and so we should not be too confronted by the visions that create questions for us in the Book of Revelation........

And while we have numbers on our minds, the number twelve comes up in today’s Revelation reading over and over – seven times. It serves a valuable purpose: it links the vision, or the narrative of vision, with the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles, telling us this is not some future, or other worldly vision, rather it is a perspective that holds the Divine story in the same way that the Old Testament holds the story and the New Testament holds the story. It gives us another entry point for contemplation, another point to discover the Christ within:
‘I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb’.
In our conversations about the East End we’ve talked about building “Beyond the Church”; what does this mean? Well, it is somehow manifested in the new shape of the church, and that in turn is saying something to us. There is a new vision before our eyes. It speaks of a dream, a burning bush, a transfiguration, a vision. Like Paul we now have to translate that into a movement, into a journey that takes us into tomorrow. “No temple in the city” - maybe we’re more in tune with the book of Revelation that we know. “No temple in the city”: this is a vision beyond the temple, beyond the Church.

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. Again, we have a vision, and that surely reaffirms our baptismal calling to “Shine as light in the world to the Glory of God”. As Ireneaus said, ‘Humanity fully alive is the Glory of God’.

Where is our movement into fullness of life to be made real? When we look at the place of this community in the world – St Paul’s in the world, when we look at the place of this community in our world, in my world, each and every tomorrow, we discover, is held in the hands of the common. We are, all of us, each and every one, mothers bringing tomorrow to birth. As we look towards tomorrow, think of it as a precious child that has been gifted into our hands, to nurture, to hold, to teach, to bring to life.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris