Sunday, 12 May 2013

Acts 1 - A Fragmented World Restored - Christian Aid Week

Picture if you can a castle.

It was the invitation Mike gave to us in the Ascension Day service at St Luke’s on  Thursday evening.

Fortified, you cannot get in.

And at the front is the most enormous of doors.

It is hardly ever open.

But at the bottom a tiny door, a small door.

The Gospel story invites us to think big.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

And so it is this Word made Flesh in Jesus lives a life of love, teaches a way of love and in love brings healing into a hurting world.  And he comes face to face with the powers of darkness.  They unleash their worst.  And he is crucified, dead and buried.

But the powers of darkness do not have the last word.

On the third day he rose again from the dead.

Many saw and believed and received great blessing.  How much more blessed were those who did not see and yet came to believe.

He met with the women, with Peter and the disciples, with those two on the Road to Emmaus, with 500.

How they would have loved to have kept this risen Christ to themselves for ever afterwards.

But there came the moment when those followers of Jesus had to let him go.

He left them a promise … and a command.

They would not be alone.

They would have another comforter, an unseen strerngth from God always to be alongside them.  And in that strength they were to go into all the world.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will  be my witnesss in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him … and this Jesus was taken up into heaven.

To sit at the right hand of God in glory.

It rounds off the mission of Christ.

Think of heaven for a moment, Mike invited us, as a citadel that mighty castle.  And Jesus has gone in through that small door.

But, suggested Mike, the message of Ascension is that Jesus enters into heaven through that small door and then opens up the large doors so that all the love, all the light, all the blessings of God’s heaven can pour out on to the earth.

For 10 days from that day the disciples met in prayer in that upper room in Jerusalem.

And then came the moment.

It was one of the first harvests – the feast of Pentecost.  As Sue, Sue and Joan and Ron are going to  be travelling over to the Holy Land one of the things they will notice is that it’s time for the first of the harvests – the barley harvest.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

There’s then a wonderful image.

From that closed room they rush down the stairs and there are all manner of people come to the festival, from so many different language groups –

It seemed as if they were from every nation under heaven. 

And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’

The wonder here is that out of the chaos of a multiplicity of languages harmony comes.  And it is a wonderful harmony.

The tower of Babel is an ancient story.  And it is a tragic story.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’

The tragedy of the Tower of Babel is the tragedy of every generation.  Of every land.  Of every nation..

Build up into heaven ourselves.

To make a name for ourselves.

We have to protect ourselves.

And God laughs at the audacity of those who seek to be like him.

he Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Through the Old Testament is a strand that runs from the promise to Abraham all the way through Isaiah to the coming of Jesus – that God’s love will come to his people and through them for the good of all people.

It’s as if Jesus has gone into the citadel of heaven opened the great doors and all the love, all the light, all the blessings of God flow down – and they bind people together so that the babel of those different languages is no longer the division it once was.

And now 2000 years later between Ascension and Pentecost – how easy it is for us in every generation to set about building the tower.  We think it will be for our protection.  But actually it brings discord and destroys the harmony.

The message of Christ, the message we prepare to celebrate at Pentecost is that Christ brings love into a world to bind up the divisions and bring that oneness that amounts to a wonderful harmony.

As people understand.

Not inappropriate that in this week leading up to Pentecost we should be marking Christian Aid week and seeking to collect for Christian Aid.  A coming together of churches and a seeking to share resources in a world of need.

That is the task to be not part of the Babel but part of the Pentecost people who seek to b ring the world together so that those rich blessings, that light, that love can stream from heaven and touch peoples the world over.

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