Friday, 23 November 2012

on Grace and Peace (after the vote on women bishops)

Revelation 1:4-8


'Grace and peace to you'.

I guess it is what we need in the Church in abundance after the events of this week.

Some of us will be very disappointed and wonder what the Church is playing at.
Others among us will be delighted that there is still a place for us, with our understanding about what the bible teaches about male headship, within the Church of England.

And we need grace because it will be just too easy in the next few months for positions to harden and for people to say foolish things.

I personally pray that we will very soon have women bishops but that there will still be a place in the church for those who hold to a more traditional understanding.

But I am grateful that today is the Sunday when we remember that Jesus Christ is the ruler of 'the kings of the earth', because it puts things in some sort of perspective.

And our first reading today begins with those words, 'Grace and peace to you'.

There are echoes here of the message of the angels at Jesus' birth: 'Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among human beings' (Luke 2:14).

And in our passage, God gives to us grace and peace (vv4-5), and we respond by giving him praise and glory (v6).

Because it really does all begin with the grace and the peace that is given to us by God.

Creation Grace 
He has given us so much. At a general level he has given us life, love, friendship, light, our senses, our desires, beauty, music, this universe and our planet, food and drink and the many 'things' which fill our lives.

We did nothing to deserve any of those things - they are all a gift of God's grace.

God lavishes his grace on us. It is like custard on a jam roly-poly pudding. God gives us the pudding, and then he pours the custard on top of it. But he doesn't just give us a little bit of custard, a taste of custard. He pours it all over. He submerges it in custard.
Now you may not like jam roly-poly pudding. You may not like runny custard. But I trust you get the point. God is generous; he is gratuitously generous. We've done nothing to deserve it. It is sheer gift.


And the grace of God does not stop there.

Despite his astonishing generosity, we rejected God, we rebelled against him - and that is sin. 

Sin is when we delight in the things that God has given us, but forget God.

We are like the beloved who has been given a precious ring by our lover. We adore it. we treasure it. It is beautiful and incredibly valuable. We show others the ring. But in our obsession with the ring we forget the one who gave us the ring. We think how wonderful, how special, how beautiful we are because we are wearing the ring. And when others reminded us that the ring is a gift from our lover, we told them to be silent; and when the lover himself came to us - we crucified him.

We have crucified the Son of God, the one who was there in the beginning with the Father, the one through whom all things were created, the one who is the rightful ruler of all human authorities. I know we weren't personally there when he was crucified - but every time we take his gift and forget him or turn our back on him, every time we stop our ears to his voice, every time we try to live our life without reference to him or in dependence on him - we are joining with those who did crucify him.

And so we miss out on the most astonishing gift that God wishes to give us - not the ring, but his love and his friendship.

That is why when Jesus returns there will be mourning. It is a quote from Zechariah 12:10, and it speaks of the time when people will look on the one they have pierced and realise what they have done. On that day, we will understand what we have done, and we will weep.

Saving grace
But God could not leave it at that.

He loves us. That is why he died for us. He has freed us from our sins 'by his blood'.

Brennen Manning, the author and writer, tells of how he came by the name Brennen. As a young man he served in the war with a friend called Ray Brennen. On one occasion they were sitting together sharing chocolate, when a grenade was thrown into their trench. Ray turned to his friend, smiled and threw himself on the grenade. As a result Brennen survived. Later when he became a priest he had to choose the name of a saint to be his name, and because of his friend he chose the name Brennen. Many years later he was speaking to Ray's mother and asked her, 'Do you think Ray really loved me?' She got up, jabbed him with her finger and shouted, 'Of course he loved you. What more do you think he could have done for you?' Brennen said that moment was like an epiphany. He imagined him asking God, 'Did Jesus really love me?' And God stands up, jabs him with his finger and shouts, 'Of course he did. What more do you think he could have done for you?'

  • Because of Jesus' death for us we can be set free from sin - so that the controlling part of our brain which was God-dead, God-blind and God-deaf becomes God-alive.
  • Because of Jesus' death for us, we can live for him, we can begin to respond to his love. Of course we will stumble and let him down; but because of Jesus death there is forgiveness and we can always again turn to him.
  • And because of Jesus' death for us, he has given us a glorious destiny and purpose.

He has, we are told, made us a kingdom. I love that: he hasn't given us a kingdom - this is not talking about territory - but he has made all who trust him into a kingdom. 
Don't look for Jesus' kingdom in this town or in that country. 
Don't look for it in this or that church institution. 
Look for it in the hearts of men and women who have turned to Jesus, who seek to love him and serve him, and who seek to show his love first to their brothers and sisters in Christ, and then to the wider world.

And more than that: he has made us priests - all of us, men and women. You don't need one of these collars to be a priest in this sense. We each can stand in the presence of God; we each can speak to others in the name of Christ.
Luther said, "Not only are we the freest of kings, we are also priests forever, which is far more excellent than being kings, for as priests we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things."

And because of Jesus we are persuaded that death is not the end. Jesus not only died for us, but he was raised from the dead. He is the firstborn of the dead.

And there is another astonishing gift of God's grace that we are shown here.

Sovereign grace 
We struggle to understand what is going on. Our world, our church and our lives are messed up. Things do not make sense. 

I wonder if you can read this:
"The hmuan mnid is a wndoreullfy cpoemlx oargn. You see? It deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aeappr, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the human mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig isn't it?"

But when we know the beginning and the end, then we begin to realise that it can make sense.

Revelation 1:4-8 speak of God the Father as the beginning and the end. It speaks of him as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is the one who was before all things, who created all things, and who will bring them all to the remarkable conclusion that he has for this world. 

And the book of Revelation also speaks of Jesus Christ as the beginning and the end, as the Alpha and the Omega. 

And so even though our world can be a dark and confusing place, and even though we have no idea what is going on, we do know the one who is the beginning and the end. And He is in control. 

So do not despair. 
Do not despair of yourself - if you have come to Jesus, he will sort you out. 
Do not despair for the Church of God - it really is his church: and individual churches will grow and decline, and denominations will come and go - but the Church, the people of Jesus Christ will grow.
Do not despair for this world - because Jesus Christ is the one who is ultimately in control, and it is his purposes which will ultimately triumph.  


It is when we understand the astonishing grace of God that we can live at peace with each other, even if we disagree on something as significant as what the bible teaches about the role of men and women. 

We realise that we have so much more in common: 
- the abundant goodness of God in creation; 
- his astonishing love for us shown in the death of Jesus
- his setting us free from sin
- his destiny for us as a kingdom and priests to serve him
- his raising of Jesus from the dead, as the firstborn of the dead
- his anointing of Jesus as the ruler of the kings of the earth
God, with his Son, is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end.

And so we can afford to be generous to those who disagree with us.
As believers in our Lord Jesus Christ we recognise that we are all forgiven sinners; that none of us has got it sussed; and that in the end the purposes of God will triumph.

It may not be obvious, at least here and now; but it will be obvious in the future: He will return, and every eye will see him. 

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