Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Behold, I Am Alive Forever!”

A Sermon Based Upon Revelation 1: 9-19
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
April 16th, 2017,  Easter Series, 1/9: ‘Jesus Christ Revealed Today’

Happy Easter everyone!    As we all know, Easter is the church’s celebration of the risen Christ.  It is also the celebration to remind us that ‘death’ is not the end and only in Jesus Christ do we have hope of eternal life.   Easter celebration of worship that, if we take it seriously, should change our perspective on everything that has or will happen to us in life or death.

Now, that’s quite a revelation, isn’t it?   To have your complete understanding of everything turned upside down!  But isn’t that what happened to the disciples when they first encountered the risen Christ?  Seeing Jesus alive after his crucifixion changed their view of everyone and everything.   That’s exactly what I still hope Easter does for you.  I hope this annual reminder of the true meaning of Easter is the lens through which you view your whole life and also your coming struggle with death.  

Until you face this struggle yourself, as you will, unless you are taken out suddenly, it will be hard for you to imagine just how dark the world was, and how hard life was before the disciples encountered the empty tomb and heard the angels says: “He is not, but he is risen!”   This was the beginning of a brand new ‘revelation’ of the greatest magnitude.  

But we’ve not seen that empty tomb, nor have we heard angels.  How do we share in that wonderful Easter vision of hope?  One book of the Bible is completely written to do just that. This is the last of book of the Bible called “The Book of Revelation”.    Now, many still read this book as a book that might give us a ‘road map’ to the end of the world.  But this book would us rather call it, what it calls itself, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’   This ‘revelation’ does give us a vision of the end, but even this is not the ‘end’, but a new beginning.   But revelation also gives us a vision for life right now  if we will ‘envision’ in our hearts this one who was raised from the dead.  Whenever the risen Christ is rightly understood and worshipped,  our vision of him can change how we view the world, the end, and it should also change how we live each day too.

This astounding Revelation of Jesus was given to John in a vision that took place on the island of Patmos.   I've been there.   It's a very small island about 8 nautical miles from Ephesus, where tradition says John had been the elder pastor.   John was not there on Patmos for a vacation, nor was he touring on a romantic Greek isle.  John was a there as a ‘prisoner of Jesus Christ.’   He was put there to die for his ‘testimony’ to Jesus as his Lord. 

It’s not hard to envision what John was going through.  There is no water on that island.  Prisoners only stayed alive as long as the Roman government wanted them to.   John was probably living in a cave.  This is where it is believed he had the revelation.  It’s a place to hide from the hot, summer sun.   Today, many Greeks still worship in dark, cave like sanctuaries.   But the cave John was in was also cold and damp in the winter.  John would not live long under these conditions.  His days were numbered.  This may be why he saw Jesus.  Did I say he was a prisoner?  He was a prisoner, not only of Rome, but of Jesus Christ.  Strangely, it was his imprisonment to Jesus that gave him a vision of hope for all the rest of us.

In our free America, we take for granted our freedom to believe in Jesus in Christ.   It’s hard for us to imagine anyone being imprisoned for speaking the truth, or giving testimony of the saving power of Jesus Christ.   But that world is out there.  Our vision of Easter hope and Easter truth is constantly under threat.

Back in the late 80s, my wife and I began praying about the world.  We ended up going as missionaries to eastern Germany where communism said no to God.  It was a challenge to work where God had been considered enemy number one.   Even after Communism fell apart, people were still hesitant and resistant.   For me, the darkness of that world surfaced in a young boy needlessly thrown by bullies in a trash can.  This is what happens to people’s lives when a culture says no to God.   It happened during Nazism.  It happened under communism.  It is still happening in our own secular and capitalistic minded society.  When God doesn't matter, finally people don't matter.   When the world says no to God, the moral center will not hold very long.

Do we see loss of our moral center in our own culture?  One of the proofs of the loss of a moral center in Nazi Germany was the loss of individual responsibility, as I once heard explained on a tour of the Nazi concentration camp in Buchenwald.    For you see, many ‘good’ Germans took part of the culture of death, but no one took full responsibility.   When they marched a person into a room in Buchenwald to exectute them, one person brought the victim into the room,  another performed a physical examination,  another stood behind a hole in the wall to pull the trigger without seeing their victim, another came in an removed the body,  and finally another cleaned the room of human blood.  They all had a part, but no one saw themselves as morally responsible.  They were all just cogs in a killing machine.    Today, I see resemblances of such an impersonal machine when I call my insurance, my banker, or even my doctor’s office and no one knows what's happening, or has time to care more about me than the ‘system’ they are being paid to uphold.   It's scary to think where this is leading, even in the churches.

Again, this is not just a world problem, it is also a church problem.  It doesn’t take long for a church that must exist in the world to start to reflect the culture of the world.   This has happened before.     Did you realize why we have Baptists and other Protestant denominations?  It was the Baptist vision to challenge the world's no which was infiltrating the church at the end of the Middle ages.  It was the Baptist vision to bring reform and renewal to the established church that has lost it shining light.   But now you and I are part of the established church.  How quickly are our churches also losing those their calling, their testimony, or their leaders who will actually lead and assume true responsibility for the witness of the church in the world?   As I saw when attending a large, mega church near Mooresville; masses still go to church, but fewer and fewer assume responsible roles.  Many love to be entertained, but fewer and fewer care to take up the towel, wash each others feet, to the work to serve in their community and be the church who are Christ’s body in the world.  It’s the way it has been many times before:  “Many are called, few are chosen.” 

Yes, there are always, have always been, and will always be a world who says no's to God call, God’s love, and to the work of sharing God’s grace.   That’s the kind of bad news, we still encounter as we see true revelation of Jesus in the world.   We will always have to be an “Easter” congregation, sharing and living the message of risen Christ in a “Good Friday” world!

But it was also in a world of constant and continual ‘noes’ that John had this powerful vision of Jesus.    In a world that was still saying ‘no’,  John very distinctly heard and clearly envisioned God's yes in Jesus.     What John saw in the risen Jesus, even on that dark, deserted island,  coincides with exactly what the apostle Paul, who founded the church in Ephesus, once wrote to the Corinthians:   "...but in Him it is always “Yes.”   For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.”  For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God.”  (2 Cor. 1:19-21).

John's own vision of God's yes in Jesus Christ is John’s “Amen to the glory of God”, even in a no saying world.    The vision is given to us in most graphic detail.    There’s a lot to consider in this picture of Jesus with ‘fiery eyes’, but don't over think or interpret it.  This is a theological picture of the risen Christ, the living Christ, the Easter Jesus and it’s also a vision of the up and coming Christ.   This graphic picture of Jesus with blazing eyes, bronzed feet, and a mouth spitting sword are visuals of God's vindication of everything Jesus was and still is.  God raised Jesus to give his “yes” to his Son.   And God also raised Jesus to give his “Yes” to us so that we can still find ‘life’  in the Son.  Let me explain:

In Jesus God gives his yes to all Jesus taught and saidThat's the sword--the word of truth coming from Jesus' lips.  Jesus told the truth about who Israel was and wasn't.   He told us the truth about God, and his love.  Think of the Sermon on the Mount--- blessed are the peacemakers, love your enemy, and forgive as you are forgiven.  Jesus resurrection says these strange words are still true.  If you live what Jesus said, you for more than yourself, more than for what is, but you live toward God's kingdom that is still coming.  What broke into the world as a vision then, is still a viable picture of what can be and is still coming.  If we will follow what Jesus taught, and what he lived, a new world is coming, and is already here, in us.

Also, this means that by raising Jesus Christ, God gives us his Yes to how we should live, now. 'Seek first God and his kingdom and all these things will be added.'   In other words, make you priority God's priority, and the rest will take care of itself.  Leave God's priority out, nothing works out in the end.  You know what Jesus taught and what Jesus did.  He preached good news to the poor.  He touched the outcast.  He challenged the established elite who could care less.  Jesus even challenged the religious traditions that protected the elite status quo who had no real concern for the needy.  Jesus was hated for this, and was crucified too, but still God raised him up.  God raised Jesus to provide us an example of how to live too.  God still keep raising up the truth about life.   If we neglect the truth of what matters most, we will bring an end to ourselves, but the kingdom is still coming.

Most of all, God raised Jesus to be the living Christ of the church.  Do you see that this resurrected Jesus is one who lives among the lampstands?   The lampstands are the churches who are trying to shine and show the light of Jesus in the world, then, and now.  When we do what Jesus said, live with Jesus as our example, and when we 'let our light shine before others, ' we also experience a God's yes in our own midst.   How have you experienced God's yes through Jesus?  How are you experiencing this yes through the living Christ who still walks among his people we call Church?  God's yes still comes.  God still validates Jesus.  The only difference is that now he raises us when we live Christ in the world through the call and work of the church.

Can I give you an example of Christ, God's yes, still walking, shining, and living among the church, today?   You are the examples.   “Christ in you is the hope of glory!”  When you care, love, pray, go, and tell, Christ is walking among the lampstands.  What examples do you see?  If you don’t see them, know them,  and experience them, it’s because either you are looking in a mirror and seeing Christ, or you aren’t living as Christ came to live through us?   Recall that illustration our Revival speaker at Flat Rock, Shane Nixon gave, of being new and misbehaving in elementary school and having his teacher, Mrs. Wall, send him walking up and down the hall and saying to him, “Yes, I see you walking just like your grandfather.  Shane could not stop walking like this grandfather, because his grandfather’s DNA was in him.   That was an image I will not soon forget.

We live in a secular society.  What this means is that our world thinks it is fact based, rather than faith based.  So, it thinks living faith is myth.  People still put their faith in something, but today it's more about stuff than people, more about material rather than spiritual, and more about self, than others.  People are more excited about finding life on another planet, than find life on this planet.  People are more excited about photographing themselves doing something, than actually doing something that ought to be photographed.  So, to share with people like this, who we believe is the very source of life, we must show them, more than tell them.  People will not be convinced by words.  People will only be convinced with the words come alive through us.

Some time ago I was watching a news report.  Today most news shows end with feel good stories.  This particular story was about a wealthy woman who had retired to Florida.  But instead of relaxing in retirement, she was organizing activities and often using her on wealth to help seniors in need.  Why aren't you spending your retirement on yourself?  They asked.  "I am spending it on myself.  I couldn't exist without working for others.  I'm not helping them, but they are really helping me!

Folks, this is how God still gives us His ‘yes’ in Jesus, and this is how Christ still works and walks on earth through us.   For you see, there is no other way to know Jesus, than through working, caring, loving,  helping and ministering ‘to the least of these.’   There is no other way, Scripture says for people to know God than to see us feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, showing hospitality to the stranger, putting clothes on the naked,  and visiting the sick and imprisoned.    There is no other way to get close to Jesus than by getting close to someone who needs someone.  This is what troubled Jesus about the Judaism in his own day.  It had all kinds of politic, all kinds of religion, all kinds of activity, but it also had very little life, light, and almost no love.

Several years ago, I got to know Chris Fuller, who was a campus minister.  He is the son of Millard Fuller who gave away millions and started Habitat for Humanity.  One day the father, Millard was working on a house for a poor family.  One of the young Hispanic children in that family came and asked to help.  "Stay back, kid, you might get hurt."  But the kid kept coming back, again and again until finally Fuller gave up.  "Ok kid, I find you something to do.  But first you must tell me your name.  What's you name?  He said that his name was "Jesus".  That was a hispanic name that reminded him of who this boy really was.  He was ‘one of the least of these’ that showed up and became ‘Jesus’ alive and walking among the lampstands.  
For you see, Jesus is not simply a person who once lived in history, but Jesus is The Spirit that still haunts us with the truth about life and the truth about us.   Jesus confronts us with the ‘truth’ that really matters about them, and the truth that really matters about you, and me. It is through loving, and living the being the truth of Jesus, that Jesus still shines his light of hope through his church, and gives the world God’s ‘yes’. 

The only question left is about us, here and now.   This is Easter.  It’s Spring.  It’s a Season of Hope?  It’s putting on new clothes?   Everyone likes ‘new clothes’ except the one who can’t afford them.    Can we afford to put something ‘new’ from Jesus in our lives?   There are many, many ways that Jesus offers to be or do something ‘new’ in our lives, but will we put on God’s ‘yes’ into our life right now?   Can we see the “no” that confronts us, and the “yes” that Jesus’ love and truth calls us to answer in our own life? 

This is the question Easter brings us year after year:  How will we live God’s ‘yes’ in this year of our life that us just ahead?   For John on Patmos, to ‘see’ and to ‘live’ God’s ‘yes’, was to spiritually look into Jesus eyes and see hope, not despair.  For us, the need is similar.  We need to more than just how things are, but we also need to see see things as they should be.  But isn’t this what we are in danger of losing, in our own time?   Aren’t we always in danger of seeing something we want to see, but losing sight of what really matters? 

Coming back from Charlotte, after a post-surgical visit back in 2009, Teresa and I stopped to eat at a popular restaurant.   While waiting on our meal, we and observed parents with their two children sitting at next table who had just ordered.  One child, a boy looked to be 10 or so.  The other child, a girl was a teenager.  As they were also waiting on their meal, both children starred into space, while both parents were busy on their own cell phones.   Who knows what was really going on?   Maybe I was being judgmental.   I wasn’t trying too.  But honestly, I thought to myself; How could these parents miss this very important time with their own children?   What if they could see what I was seeing? 

It is said that the most important spiritual resource that ancient people had over us is ‘time’.   The time they had, which we don’t have, and must make, gave them an ability to see God’s light more clearly.   But to see God was not some strange ability to look up and see a ‘man upstairs’ , but to see God was cultivating the ability to see, to really see, the person who was standing right in front of you. 

Isn’t this still the greatest spiritual gift--- the ability to see.  Isn't this how we discover God's yes in our own lives?  Like John, we need to see the risen Christ walking among the lampstands---in our churches.  We need to see a vision of how things are---and how we need to respond.   We need to see Jesus, but we need to see him in someone around us, who needs us.  We need not to be deceived by what we want to see, but to really see what we need to see.  Then we need to act and to follow by ministering to 'the least of these' as we become the body of the risen Christ, who is walking and working among the churches, being the church in this world.

Isn't this how Christ is revealed in our world---through us, and our faithfulness?  Isn't this how hope comes in times like these?   We are God's “yes” of hope in this world.   But how can we be that yes if we keep saying ‘no’.   A religion of “No” will never hope to the world.  As the great founder of the Methodists, John Wesley said:  "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can.  In all the places you can.  At all the times you can. To all the people you can.  As long as ever you can.”   If you live like that, you will see Christ walking ‘among’ the church again and again and then, every day, will be Easter.  He is Risen! Amen

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