When the Church Converts the Nations, Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th, 2013
Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th 2013
Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Revelations 21:10, 22-22:5 John 14: 23-29
When the Church Converts the Nations
I’ll again use the prayer of the day to organize my sermon:
Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from the tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made.
What does the prayer say? You gather the nations of the world into your kingdom. The food from the tree of life that you promise us is grace filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You nourish us with your word in order to awaken the life of our minds, so that we receive the mind of Jesus and become filled with your love.
We are sent to gather the people of this world back into the realm of the love and light of God. Whenever the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples, it was for the sake of sending them: for Mary Magdalene: to tell the other disciples that he was ascending to his Father and our Father; to the women who had come to his tomb, to tell them and Peter to meet him in Galilee; to all the disciples at the end of Matthew: go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; to go to Damascus and await instructions there, that in the case of Paul, who would become the missionary to the Gentiles, the one sent to gather the Gentiles into the realm of God’s love and light.
“Mission” merely means “sending,” and missio Dei means the mission of God. Think of the word “missile.” When I was a student teacher, kids would shoot missiles, that is, spitballs up at me in front of the class, and I was so uptight, I couldn’t even see them. Seriously, we send missiles with nuclear warheads or scud missiles, in the case of the Palestinians that now can be shot down. We have to be missiles that God send to others with heads filled with the Word of God and hearts full of love for one another and for this world that God has made. Perhaps a better comparative word would have been a “missal” as used in the Catholic Church containing their liturgy and prayers for their mass. The other missile is fired between the nations of this world to threaten each other with death, while the missiles that God sends are people with hearts full of love and who with the Holy Spirit spread the abundant life that God intended for us. How do we convince people to follow Christ, who invites us into God’s wonderful realm, not with threats of death but with promises of abundant life? The church stands on these promises of God and is based on spreading life, love, and hope as opposed to the nations that seem to be causing more and more death. To convert the nations is the Church’s mission and if only they would diminish and the church could go into high gear and spread the realm of God and continue to invite more and more people into it!
With the Holy Spirit our mission could bring about the peace that Jesus tells his disciples about. It is not the peace that the world gives, “Let not your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid.” Jesus is speaking in the time of the Pax Romana, which means, the peace that Rome brought to the world. In the words of Tacitus, “They create a wasteland; they make a desolation of a place, and call it peace.”
St. Paul was on that mission, which is still ours today, if only our Church would become revived and awaken to its mission today. In Paul’s dream he saw a Macedonian, up there in northern Greece, where Alexander the Great came from, calling for the missionaries to come and help them. Their itinerary is then described as they immediately go there to proclaim the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who reigns by ushering in the real peace of God, as opposed to someone like Alexander who killed, plundered, and conquered countries and called that an empire. Meanwhile, St. Paul, Silas and Timothy went to Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia, like sheep in the midst of wolves to gather and win people for Christ. They carried no sword, had no armor, no chariots, and armies, but the Word of the Lord, the Good News of Jesus, the lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit that let them point to the tree of life, the nourishment of the word, and the love of one another and of God’s world that Christ brings.
They were people of the way, the way of life that Jesus taught. Jesus’ followers were not yet called Christians. And they went to a place outside the gate of the city by the river, where they supposed it to be a place of prayer and sat down and talked to the women gathered there. (What prevents you and me from doing the same thing? Perhaps in a Laundromat or on a playground with other mothers; there we could also invite people into God’s realm of peace and love.) It was in that place where Lydia listened to them. The name Lydia means the noble, beautiful one. She is described as a worshiper of God, meaning that she believed in one God like the Jews, but she did not follow all the Jewish laws, because she was Greek. She not only worshiped one God, but she was also a business woman, a dealer in purple cloth. Purple is the favorite color for the royal robes of the nobility in the West, while the Arabs prefer white. Nobles and aristocrats may have been her customers. It says that “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” And she and her household were baptized making her the first convert to Christ in Europe. After their baptism she urged Paul, Timothy, and Silas to come and stay at her home. “And she prevailed upon us.” They report.
This may well have become the house-church to which Paul sent his letter to the Philippians. It took Lydia, a woman, who had become a business woman, a dealer in purple cloth, in a very patriarchal Roman colony, to understand and take full commitment to becoming a follower of Jesus on the way to peace.
When we keep God’s Word in our heads and in our hearts, then the Father and the Son will also make their home with us. How about that for a promise! St. Paul’s missionary entourage entered the home of Lydia, but with them went the Holy Spirit to remind them all of everything Jesus had taught them. The Holy Spirit helps us keep God’s Word.
How can our mission make the church overtake the nation in significance and lead the nations on the way of peace once again? Whenever religions start conflict and make war, whether Christian, Moslem, Hindu, whatever, it is usually because they want the kind of political power to “Lord it over others” in the way of the nations. That kind of power gives us the edge to gain the upper hand and attain wealth, where following the lamb, we lose it. We can love our country, but we need to see that our country also has to become converted to the Lord Christ.
We really don’t know how that will come about yet. The Church has failed miserably in leading the nations on the way to peace. My father was attending seminary in Germany when he was drafted into World War I and he became head of a machine gun company of eleven men. Machine guns were large and heavy in those days and had to be dismantled and reassembled in a new position in battle by a company of men. They were all indoctrinated to say how honored they’d be to give up their lives for the Kaiser and their fatherland. My father told his soldiers, it would be much more honorable to make it off these battle fields and out of the war alive. Soldiers died like flies in the carnage of World War I. It was the industrialization of death. The Germans called the British troops the Tommy. He would be firing his machine gun and the Tommy would be lying out on the battle field wounded and he heard them scream out the name, Jesus, as they lay dying. My father said, “I am a follower of Jesus and so is the Tommy and here I am killing fellow Christians just because I am German and they are British!”
What is wrong with this picture? Our Christianity takes a completely second place to our nationality? The mission of Jesus’ love and peace needs to turn that around, even if we do not yet know how.
Then the vision in the Book of Revelation will come true! Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God. Brian Stoffregen in his online commentary asks people to substitute their own city for Jerusalem: South San Francisco will come down out of heaven from God. Berkeley will come down out of heaven from God. (You can name your city.) Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God and the glory of the Lord will be its light and the Lamb of God will be the lamp shining to give it light. Nations will walk in the light of the Lamb and the kings of the world will bring their glory into the realm of God, the realm of peace, into which Christ gathers us.
And there will be a river flowing through the midst of that city, whose waters make glad the city of God, because in it will flow the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. And the tree of life will stand on either side of the river, producing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree will heal the nations from the way of death, conflict, violence, and war to the peace that comes from God that will not in any way trouble us, the way what the world calls peace does.
In our Sierra Pacific synod assembly yesterday, Pr. Susan Briehl, who led our bible study, interpreted this 21st chapter of the Revelation of John. The tree of life stands here at the very end of the bible the way it stands at the very beginning as well, along with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It stood in the midst of the Garden of Eden and in the holy city of Jerusalem. She went from one tree to another in the stories of the bible, the trees becoming the forest of the scripture. Not only, however, did a tree stand in the very beginning and at the very end, but also in the middle of scripture: the tree of the cross upon which our Savior died for us. So the tree of life stands in the very center of scripture as well: Jesus himself is our tree of life. And through Jesus we too become trees of righteousness “planted by the rivers of water whose leaves do not wither and who bring forth our fruit in due season.” Would that this holy forest might spread through our world!
And God will provide us with light, the light in which we see light, because when we don’t know the way of peace, the sun, moon, and stars may shine but we still walk in darkness. We may have eyes with 20/20 vision, but we are still blind. We still remain the takers of life, rather than givers, those that bring the life of Christ and him crucified, whose life is stronger than death, and who provides us with the love for each other and the love of the world that God made which will transfigure this world and the people and nations in it into the Kingdom of God, the beloved community, in which the light of Christ will shine brighter than the sun. Amen.