This sermon was preached at a service of Holy Communion at All Saints Church in Necton on Sunday 1st September 2013.
Heavenly Father, We praise you for revealing yourself to us in your son so that we might know you and walk with you out of our sinful pasts and into eternal life as your children. May your Holy Spirit rest upon my lips and guide me as I proclaim the gospel of your Son Jesus, and may those who have an ear, hear what the Spirit has to say to us as a Church, as individuals and as your children. Amen.
Jesus, in this vision to John of Patmos, says ‘These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the Ruler of God’s Creation’. Here we find that the Lord of all of Space and Time, the first man to come back from the Dead for good, identifies himself; he is the Amen.
Now the word Amen is one that we use so often as Christians that it can often seem to have no real meaning, no real value. It’s almost as if it’s just a piece of punctuation we use to put at the end of a prayer in a similar way to how we put a question mark at the end of a question. However, when Jesus says that he is the Amen, as a noun with a capital A and a definite article, he is THE Amen, he doesn’t mean that he’s just a technicality but rather he’s placing himself as the central feature, the keynote speaker, the headline act upon the stage of all reality. You see, the word Amen is an indication of truth; when we declare Amen, we are confirming the reliability of what has been said or done, when we add our Amen to prayers we stand as witnesses declaring ‘We Believe this to be true’ or ‘We have faith that God hears our prayers’. We see something else and affirm its truthfulness.
Yet when Jesus announces that he is the Amen, he isn’t referring to something else but rather he is testifying concerning himself; he is declaring that he himself is Truth, but what is this Truth which Jesus is? If he is Truth then Truth is who he is and we know who Jesus is by what he did. We are blessed today to have a wealth of ancient writings of more than 5000 manuscripts that date from between the 1st and the 4th centuries, which testify to who Jesus was and the things he said and did when he was walking around in Galilee two thousand years ago. These writings quickly became scripture and when we read through these scriptural accounts of Jesus’s life we find a Man who was miraculously born of a virgin and who grew up to become a prolific teacher that performed many signs and wonders that split public opinion, we find that the religious leaders of the day thought he was dangerous from the beginning of his ministry and spent ages trying to find a way to deal with him. Yet when they tried to catch him out in public debates he turned the tables on them and placed them within situations where they couldn’t help but answer in in agreement with him or look as though they didn’t know. We find that this Jesus was special, we read that he had to hide so that people wouldn’t forcibly make him king, we hear eye witness reports that he often didn’t even have time to eat because of the amount of people crowding around him. Then suddenly he’s under arrest during the Passover festival, betrayed by one of his own disciples to the religious leaders and under the permission of Pontius Pilate, even though he could find no fault in him, they had him nailed to a cross; crucified. He was beaten, abused, spat on, and whipped. He held himself up on wrists burning with the agony of Nails pinning him to the rough and blood stained wood of his cross. We read on and find that as he died his prayed to his God one last time and gave out one last cry before breathing his last and hanging upon that cross like a pig’s carcass in a butcher’s shop, on display for all to see. More than this, to check he was really dead we hear that a guard hefted up his spear and thrusts it deep into Jesus’s side, unleashing fountains of blood and water. This is what Jesus did, he died a violent death at the desire of the High Priest even though he hadn’t actually done anything wrong.
Thus far he did what any human does, he lived and then he died, because that’s what people do.
However what he did next has never happened before or since, he came back to life. The empty corpse that had been laid in the grave for three days had the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, fill it once more and bring it back to life. The rotting flesh was restored, his heart started pumping again and his flesh grew and knitted back together, healing the wounds yet leaving him with scars that testify to his death just those few days previously. At least, This is how I imagine it, though there are no descriptions of the resurrection in scripture but the point is a serious one. The Jesus that came back to life and lives is the same Jesus, the historical man that ate and drank and walked around galilee is the same man as the Risen Lord that we worship today! He is no pale spectre or Ghost but a living, breathing human being just like us here today.
The event of the death and resurrection of this man Jesus of Nazareth is what happened, and because of this event Jesus is the Amen, it is to this event that Jesus is the faithful witness and by this event that we see that he is indeed the ruler over all of God’s creation. But as impressive a feat coming back from the dead is, what is the significance of this seemingly impossible event?
As with all good stories we have to return back to the beginning.
We have to remember that when God created Adam, Adam gains his life from the breath of God entering the dust and he is born into a life where to truly be alive and have life to the full he is to live in communion with God and with other people, such as Eve, and yet he fails in this fellowship through Sin and disobedience. When Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit they didn’t just ‘do a bad thing’, they rejected the relationship they had with God, that relationship that was itself the source of life.
And so, Adams’ rejection of this communion relationship initiated by God severs his connection with the source of life; and if a healthy relationship with God is life then a broken and dysfunctional one is death. His offspring, the product of this broken relational state, are born into this dysfunctional relationship with God that isn’t as it should be and as such through Adam, all men are born into a relational death, they do not know God, and the eventual result of this relational death is physical death.
Now, by damaging their relationship with God they damaged what they were. They were no longer good, but sinful, and having damaged what they were they were unable to do anything that was actually good unless they lived in a healthy relationship with God. This relationship became mediated by covenants, a series of promises and agreements where the responsibilities that people had to God and the responsibilities that God had to his people were laid out. Now God knew that his people, now being Sinful, would be unable to always freely do good and live righteously according to the demands of the covenant, and so he set in place the sacrificial system so that people could make a blood offering of a pure animal to ‘atone’ for their sins. The cost of sin is death, and in Leviticus 16 we can read the details as to how the sacrifice was to happen, how the price of death could be paid. The problem is that the sacrifices were temporal and as such needed to be done again and again and again because even though the people may well be truly sorry and do all the sacrifices required, they would still commit sin again.
And so out of the abundant love God has for his people, and out of his desire that people should live in a healthy relationship with him; God reveals himself by sending his own son to become flesh, to become fully human whilst still being fully God, and to live a pure and sinless life so that he might voluntarily offer himself up as THE sacrifice, one last sacrifice that would stand for all eternity. As I said earlier, the relational divide between humanity and God results in both relational and physical death. Now, physical death can only occur to one whom is subjected to the relational death. When Jesus, who was without sin, and therefore who was not experiencing relational death, was subjected to physical death upon the cross something wholly unnatural occurred. In order for the physical death to claim him, relational death had to be enforced upon him. The relationship between the Father and the Son, the whole love of the Holy Spirit, had to be overcome. In that moment on the Cross, all the Sin that has ever damaged the relationship between God and Man, all the sin that had, that does and that will ever occur, tried to wrestle the Son from the Father. Yet still physical death could not claim him. Death came only because Jesus ‘did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death’ and in order to destroy sin he breathed his last and gave up his Spirit to the Father.
In the words of the Creed, ‘He suffered death and was buried.’ Yet the act of love expressed by Jesus on the Cross for both the people he was sacrificing himself for and for the love he has for his heavenly Father, was orders of magnitude greater than the all the collective hatred and powers of death and sin that had gathered from all four corners of the world and from every day to ever exist in all of history, past present and future. It is this act of love from Jesus on the Cross that vanquished Death and shrugged off its grasping hand and ‘On the third day he rose again’. The fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead means that the union and communion between man and God established in the incarnate life of the Son, are finally actualised and remain valid beyond death, as eternally prevailing reality for humanity as well as for God. That is, the resurrected one, Jesus, is the Amen, the faithful and true witness to God’s victory over sin, a witness to the possibility of humanity once again living healthily in relationship to God the Father through the death of his Son and by the Power of his Holy Spirit.
The Truth of Jesus is that Sin has died, that the break down in our relationship with God has been healed, that humanity is known and loved by God and can know and love God once again and this time nothing can break it. As our other passage from Romans says; Christ Jesus, who died- more than that, who was raised to life- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or Sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is this man who speaks to Laodicea, our saviour who has enabled us to enter into fellowship with God so that we might live life to the full. And he says:
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm I am preparing to spit you out of my mouth. You say ‘I am Rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing’. But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
This message would have been fiercely counter-cultural to the Church of Laodicea because Laodicea was one of the biggest commercial centres of the day; they were incredibly wealthy, famous for their manufacture of clothing from their black wool and their impressive medical school. This statement takes what they thought were their strengths and turns them into weaknesses, because they think they’ve got it all sorted they’re missing the point and worse than this, they simply don’t care. It would be better for them to be opposed to the Gospel and engaging with it so that they might encounter God and have their eyes opened than to be apathetic and inert.
So what is Jesus’s advice?
He says ‘I counsel you’, he’s saying ‘look, as the Amen and Faithful witness who happens to be the Lord of all of Space and Time and who loves you more than anything, this is what I would recommend you do, so Listen up!’
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear so that can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes so that you can see.
Jesus here takes what they thought they were good at and demonstrates that they’re missing the point, he challenges their perceptions of wealth and inverts their black woollen clothing industry and uses a medical metaphor so that they might understand that we cannot depend upon our own efforts to find true life with an eternal wealth, clothes of righteousness and clarity of understanding, we must depend upon Jesus.
Those Whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
When we are loved, there are certain things that the person who loves us tells us not to do. One particularly vivid example that springs to mind is of the first time my family went up Mount Snowden and we were coming back down the Miners path and it was dusk and we’d lost the path. Dad, ever the Indiana Jones figure, scouted a head to try and find the path so he could guide us down safely. Whilst he was Gone, Jonny, decided it would be a good idea to walk up to the edge of the little ledge we were on and lean right over! Now I have never seen Mum move faster! In one super human move she pulled him back from the edge and swung him round behind her and lean back, pinning him to the wall and making sure he understood that it was not safe to lean over the edge of a mountain in case he fell. Jonny was rebuked and disciplined. He wasn’t punished, he was instructed and now he demonstrates a much healthier respect for the edge of high up places.
Now we may not be literally pinned to a wall by the Holy Spirit until we agree to stop something, but each of us has those things that do that we ought not to do. Here Jesus says, be earnest and repent! Be earnest, don’t be lukewarm with your repentance but actively mean it and throw yourself into it.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with Him, and he with me.
To be righteous, to be saved, and to live life to the full there is nothing that we can do of ourselves. We don’t have to try and figure out the great existential and moral dilemmas of life on our own in order to track down Jesus’s address and find him. We are just getting on with our lives in our homes and it is here that Jesus comes. He died for all humanity, and yet he knocks on our doors individually. He comes for each of us so that when we hear his voice and the knocking we will open it and find ourselves face to face with God. Perhaps in our very English fashion, Jesus shall stand there with a Hand extended, ready to shake hands and get to know us.
If we hear his call, if we answer that knocking we don’t have a mere introduction to an eschatological insurance salesman, we enter into fellowship with the Lord of everything, the Amen, the faithful and true witness and we will eat with him.
In a short while we shall be having communion and as I speak it is my hope and prayer that you hear what the Spirit wishes to say to us as a Church, I hope that you have heard the gospel proclaimed and that it’s either ‘clicking’ and making sense for the first time or that it’s renewing and encouraging you once again as we walk with God through life. Now as we take communion let us remember Jesus, let us believe that the Spirit is present and that through him we are feeding upon Christ in our hearts. What is communion? It is fellowship, with both God and each other. We are one body because we eat of one bread, when we eat that Bread we are joined into who Jesus is, we are identifying ourselves with him and with every other Christian that is taking communion today. As we head up to the rail I ask that you will remember the people either side of you, in Christ this is your family, our brothers and sisters. As much as we may have different views on certain topics or ways things should be done, we are not competing strangers but brothers and sisters because when we eat the bread together, we are joined with Christ together. And as we are joined with Christ we then drink the wine and remember his blood that was shed for us for the forgiveness of Sins. Today is a day of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of relationships repaired and friendships restored; both with ourselves and God, and with one another here today. It is precisely this that Jesus wanted for the Church of Laodicea and it’s this that he desires of us today.
Lastly Jesus says ‘To Him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.’ We cannot overcome by ourselves but through the love of Jesus who died and rose again, that love of Jesus that is so dependable that nothing can separate us from him and having overcome through him we are finally free to step out of our sinful pasts into eternal life with him.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.