May 27, 2001
Ascension Sunday
Seventh Sunday in Easter

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary
for Ascension Sunday

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47 or Psalm 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
 Luke 24:44-53

[ Read Ascension Sunday texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library ]

If Observed as Seventh Sunday in Easter

Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

[ Read Seventh Sunday of Easter  texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library ]

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"After All Is Said and Done"
Revelation 22:12-21

Have you ever been reading a book and someone who notices what you are reading begins to tell you how the story ends? Or maybe as a child you had a friend like my friend Jimmy Turner who loved to go to the movies and see the same film again and again. He was especially fond of going with me and telling me how every twist and turn of the plot was going to turn out.

"Knock it off," I would tell him, "I want to see for myself!"

There are other times, however, when I am anxious to know how something will turn out. It may be a report from my doctor on results of a test or the sound of my daughter's voice when she's late getting home from school. When financially tough times come, I wonder how much month there will be left at the end of my check and in the midst of this past winter, I wondered when warm weather would ever return.

Yes, there are times when we want to know how things are going to turn out.

It remains true (at least for now) that we can not do anything about the weather, but weather forecasting is a multi million dollar industry. Folks who made predictions about the stock market make up another huge industry and those who predict well are wealthy.

Sometimes we imagine that it would be nice to have the ability to know what the future might hold for us. [Bring a group of envelopes with you to the pulpit.] As a matter of fact I have with me today an envelope for each person who has joined us for worship today. My envelope for instance reads, "God's  plan for John Jewell's life - with complete dates from birth to death."

Let me ask you... If you knew that these envelopes truly contained this information for your life... would you want yours?

So -- there are times when we might not want to know what the future holds.

***

Our scripture reading from the Book of Revelation brings us to the very last words of the bible. They are words of strong comfort for Christian people about the outcome of all things. In the time these words were written, many Christians were enduring persecution and facing death for their faith.

How would it all turn out? Would the Roman Emperor succeed in ending devotion to Jesus Christ? Would the might of the Roman legions wind up forcing all people within the Empire to confess the divinity of the Emperor?

But these words of encouragement are not just for those earliest Christian people. They speak very much to the broken world we live in. Will there ever be justice for all people and will there be an end to war? What will it take to end the hatred that turns human beings against each other? Will there ever be a time when right and not might will rule?

When the outcome of our trials is unknown or our future hangs in the balance, we become anxious. Deep within, we are like children who flee to a parent's arms when trouble comes and they are fearful.

There is nothing like a mother's arms and soothing voice saying, "Everything will be okay," to bring a child's anxious heart to rest. These final words given to the Seer of Revelation by Jesus Christ give the sense of the lines from William Williams'  classic hymn, Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah:

"When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside, 
Death of death and hell's destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan's side."

There are three great truths expressed in the last words of holy scripture that can bring peace to troubled hearts.

1. God is in charge

One of the things that can induce anxiety is when we encounter a life situation where is seems as though no one is in charge. Fatalists have a kind of "no one is in charge" attitude toward life. "Whatever will be will be," it is all chance and fate. If life is difficult - it is, "The way the cookie crumbles."

But it is not so with the Christian faith. We know well the words, "In the beginning God..."  However, we need to also be aware that God is not only in the beginning, but in the end too!  God has marked out the beginning of all things and the end of all things. There are no details concerning the course of time and eternity - or even the details of our lives that have escaped God's attention.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," Christ says, "The first and the last, the beginning and the end." In our vernacular it would be, "I cover absolutely everything from A to Z!"

Here at the very end of scripture, it is clear that everything is of God. God is Creator, Redeemer and the One who bring Consummation to all things. God was there when we drew our first breath, will be there when we draw our last and will see us safely through the valley of the shadow of death when we will enter what the Seer of Revelation calls the gates to the city where God dwells and night will never come again.

After all is said and done - what comfort to know that God is in charge!

 

2. Christ has a gift for all who desire it

The message here at the end of scripture is the message that has been a part of God's word throughout the ages. "Come!"  Eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah was crying out, "Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live." [Isa. 55:3] The Jesus gave the invitation, ""Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." [Matt. 11:28]

Now the call comes once again, "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift." [v. 17]

Here is the baffling part to someone who has lived with the grace of God and the faith that brings peace to a troubled life. In spite of this invitation - there are so many who either do not fully understand, or who can not come to grips with the essential need we human beings have to go to the source of life in order to have authentic life. "You refuse to come to me to have life," Jesus said. [John 5:40]

The gift of Christ is life - a quenching of the basic and essential thirst we have for fullness of life.

"Let anyone who wishes take..." 

After all is said and done - Christ has a gift for those who desire it and who will humble themselves to reach out and receive it.

 

3. It won't be long

When I was a young lad, my father did a lot of traveling. I didn't like it when he was gone and every single time he left, I would ask, "How long will you be gone?"

And he would hug me and assure me, "Not long."

Now... sometimes his trips would last three or four days and at other times he would be gone almost a month. But he always said, "Not long." Strangely - I would feel this sense of peace and it was as though my dad was never really far away.

It is somewhat like that with the promise of Christ. "Surely, I am coming soon..." he said to John of Revelation. Somehow that has given a sense of peace to all the saints of all the ages. It is not so much the linear, chronological time that is so important as it is the sense that he is never far away.

Time is a funny thing in the bible. There is Alpha and Omega - beginning and end - and then there is May and June and July. There is 2001 and 2010 and this week and next year. Time can move ever so slowly and at other times it moves so very fast.

Ask one of our teenagers who is one year away from a driver's license how the days are moving along and she will tell you it is agonizingly slow. Yet, if you talk with one of our "Baby Boomers" who is shocked when a "Golden Oldie" comes on the radio and he thought it was a hit song from two or three years ago!

The promise of Christ almost two thousand years ago was that he would come soon. It was true then and it is true now. Christ is coming soon. He is never far away. Soon is not a matter of chronological time, but of "nearness" time. It was an eternity in terms of mortal time from the promise of the prophets that a Savior would come until Jesus was born. But it was a blink of the eye in spiritual time until Christ was born of a woman, as Paul said, "In the fullness of time.." [Gal. 4:4]

There is a sense of the ever present promise of God in one of the sermons of Martin Luther King Jr. In March of 1965 a group had marched from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery. Many within the civil rights movement had grown weary of waiting for justice. Some called for stronger measures and questioned the non-violent strategy of Dr. King. "How long must we wait," many asked. King's response is a classic statement of faith. As the crowd responded with vigor, King spoke:

I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" Somebody’s asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody’s asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody’s asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified,  and truth bear it?" 

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment,  however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because "truth crushed to earth will rise again."

How long? Not long, because "no lie can live forever."

How long? Not long, because "you shall reap what you sow." 

How long? Not long: ¹

 So also the people of God wonder how long it will be until right and not might makes right. When will Christ come to claim us as his own and bring all things together in himself.

And the answer is, "Not long!"

"Surely I am coming quickly," he assures us.

And all God's people respond, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"

Say it with me: "Amen! Come Lord Jesus!"

After all is said and done, it won't be long!


¹ See the complete sermon of the Martin Luther King Jr. speech,  here >>"Our God Is Marching On" <<


Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

[Seventh Sunday of Easter Texts]
[For Discussion of Ascension Sunday Texts go to:  Luke 24:44-53 ]

Connections in the Text

To be with Christ where he is and to see him as he really is (to behold his glory) is the essential joy of the believer. The passage from John describes the unity and joy that binds the believing community and the Godhead. Acts speaks to the "entrance" into the believing community (believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved), while Revelation points to the consummation and sure destiny of the faithful.

While there is not a common theme that joins the texts together - there is a homiletical possibility of weaving the point of each text into an overall theme, "Glimpses of Reality."  In a world that struggles for meaning and purpose - the reality of the Christian is brought together, by belief, unity and love in the community of the faithful, and the sure promise of redemption.

John 17:20-26

The heart of Jesus' "high Priestly" prayer in this text is his concern for the unity of the disciples. He prays that his followers might have the same unity that the Father and the Son have. The unity of the believing community is a sign of authenticity to the world. Mark it down:  Discord in the church is a devastating negative witness!

History is "witness" to this. When the Body of Christ functions in unity and mutual love, the gospel is proclaimed by the lifestyle of the church. When the words of the church and the lifestyle of the church are congruent - the message rings true. Conversely, when the words of the church are in essential conflict with the lifestyle of the church - the message rings false.

The issue of mutual love is a priority in the Upper Room Discourse. Mutual love is Jesus' "New Commandment," the disciples must obey if they are to be true followers. The First Letter of John is almost a treatise on the subject of mutual love in the family of faith.  It does not press the truth too far to say that the fellowship of Christ on earth (the church) is to reflect the unity of the Trinity in heaven.

More in the full text sermon on John 17:20-26 with additional notes
here >>>
John 17:20-26

Acts 16:16-34

There are two stories here. The preface to the conversion of the Philippian jailer is a story of how the Apostle Paul wrecked the local economy by driving a spirit from a young woman who was driving him nuts. The spirit of divination within her was pointing to the mission of Paul and his following in bringing the message of salvation.

No one had much of a problem with Paul until he drove the spirit from the woman and her masters lost their income. A riot ensues. The lesson is that it is okay to say anything and believe what you want until you begin to meddle with economics. When the income of the woman's masters evaporated, they suddenly had great conscience about the "laws and customs" Paul and his followers were breaking.

The result of this episode however, leads to the more striking event. As Peter was freed from Jail in Jerusalem as the gospel was being spread - so there is another jail break and the Philippian jailer is about to take his life for fear that his escaped prisoners will lead to his own death.

Confronted with the power of God and the Apostle's witness, the jailer and his household are saved. There is evidence here of Paul's, "All things work together for good..." [Rom.8:28] When we trust God and obey the leading of the Spirit of God, the results will be of God.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

This concluding text of Revelation and close of the canonical scriptures roots the redemptive work of Christ in creation, the Old Testament covenant with David and the incarnation.

As God call out, "Where art thou," to Adam - so now the Spirit and the bride call out, "Come...  let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift."  The whole of scripture is God's call for reconciliation with we who are lost children of the divine.

***

This passage is one of the key examples of how the lectionary was fashioned with a view to avoiding those verses that grate on the contemporary ear. The final words of the canonical scriptures offer a powerful invitation to life and an affirmation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In the midst of this invitation and affirmation are some warnings - left out by the lectionary, but necessary to examine if the integrity of the pericope is to be maintained.

The coming of Christ for restoration of all things is certain - but the warning that are a part of the flow of this text point to the reality of judgment. 

A popular view of the authorship of the book of Revelation is that it was composed by a writer, John who is exiled on the island of Patmos for his faith. The book is composed during the time of the Emperor Domitian under whom the church endured a second great persecution.  See more on Domitian >>> here

 


 Worship Helps

Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 97)

Leader:  You, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
People: You are exalted far above all gods.
Leader:  Light dawns for the righteous,
People:
and joy for the upright in heart.
Leader:  Rejoice in the Lord all you who are righteous by faith,
People: And give thanks to his holy name!

Prayer of Confession

Almighty and most merciful God, we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep, we have followed our own desires and have offended against your holy ways. We have left undone those things we ought to have done and have done those things we ought not to have done. But you, O Lord are merciful and do grant forgiveness of sins to those who confess their sins and turn to you for strength to follow your ways. Grant that we might receive forgiveness of sin and newness of life even today. Amen [Adapted from the BCP]

Assurance of Pardon

Friends, receive the good news that the Almighty and merciful Lord will grant to us forgiveness of sin, true repentance and the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Our hearts are filled with gratitude as we come to worship you today O Lord of Life. Your goodness and grace and the hope of our hearts and the joy of our living. All things are in your hands and there is nothing that escapes the boundaries of your care.

Even in the midst of our darkest times, you are the light that breaks through to give us hope for the future. You are the beginning and end of all things and we trust the words of holy scripture that you will shortly bring all things together according to your purposes. All things work together for good for those who love and trust you and we live in joyous expectation of the coming of your Son Jesus Christ.

Open our hearts to fully receive the water of life that flows from your presence and our spirits to receive the light of your eternal kingdom.

All glory, honor and praise are yours O Lord and our songs shall be of your love toward us and all the saints for all time. Unite our hearts with the heavenly chorus of praise that belongs to You and your Son Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

 Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication

Everlasting God of power and might, you are the one who gives us strength to labor and you bless us with every good gift.  May we be cheerful givers of that which was first given to us, so that the name of Christ might be glorified in the life and ministry of this congregation.  Amen.