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Staying Open To The Impossible

FIRST READING ISAIAH 25:6-9

SECOND READINGS:  REVELATION 21:1-6A / GOSPEL JOHN 11:32-44

I am always amazed at how the Holy Word of God speaks into our life in the most timely of ways. Not that you can’t take just about any “wise saying” (a fortune cookie for that matter) and if you bend and twist it around enough you can probably make it fit into some application to your life or someone else who happens to be standing nearby.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. Because the Word of God has a way of speaking into the divine “being” and “mystery” of our lives – and it penetrates far, far deeper than a simple surface connection. As one of our recent readings from Hebrews said: “The word of God is alive and powerful – sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow – a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Well, today’s Word from the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday, November 1, 2015, (All Saints’ Day by the way) brings us a Word that speaks directly into the heart of where we are as a church and what we will deliberate and vote on this afternoon after a yearlong process of intentional and prayerful discernment.

Indeed, every reading for today is at least in some way about new beginnings and staying open to what God might chose to do in our lives, as individuals, and in our life together as a church – as the body of Christ – commanded by our Lord to be his hands, feet and voice in the world – until he comes again.

Our first reading from Isaiah 25 starts us off by using an image of a banquet being held on a mountaintop for “all peoples” – one where “rich foods and well-aged wines” are being prepared and served. Isaiah then further describes the “rich foods” as being “filled with marrow” (the most nutrient rich and fortified part of the “meat”) and the “well-aged wines” being strained clear” as in made pure and perfect in both their substance and presentation

The imagery seems clear enough – God is going to take the very best of what He has that is already “rich and well-aged” and He is going to fortify and purify it and offer it to ALL people – a “Feast,” as it is referred to, for everyone to partake of in HIS presence. And in the process of doing this he will “destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples and spread over all nations” (i.e. SIN) – the result of which will be that he “will swallow up death forever.”

And “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth . . .”

Does anyone find it difficult to see what the Prophet Isaiah was truly pointing to some 800 years before Jesus Christ was born into the world?

Our Second Reading comes to us from the wild and mysterious Book of Revelation Verses 21:1-6A. Here now the Word of the Lord.

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

This second scripture reading is somewhat different from our passage from Isaiah in that the vision that the writer is describing is not a mountaintop necessarily but is, nevertheless described as being from “on high,”– descending “out of heaven from God.” And from here on, from a content perspective, it reads like an exact paraphrase of our Isaiah passage.

For we are once again promised that God will live with us – that “the home of God is among mortals” and that he “will dwell with them as their God,” that very specifically they will “be his people” and that, “God HIMSELF will be with them.”

Then in the exact same sequence as Isaiah presents it, we are told that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes” and that “Death” and “mourning and crying and pain – will be no more.”

And just as Isaiah said that God will, “take away the disgrace of his people from all the earth,” revelation also promises of a whole new beginning –“For the first things have passed away . . .  See, I am making all things new.”

And then finally, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

Is there any doubt likewise here what the writer of Revelation is pointing towards? Water as gift (Grace!) . . . from the spring itself (God!) . . .  of the water of life (Jesus!). And just like Isaiah and the writer of Revelation – we have no idea when he is going to come. God’s great and wondrous New Beginning in Christ – offered for each one of us individually and for the entire world – the entire creation redeemed in him.

And of course he’s likely to come just as he first did – in the most unusual and unexpected way. If truth really is stranger than fiction (and if you think about – it almost always is) then shouldn’t the Greatest Truth be wilder and stranger and more unimaginable than anything else – God coming into the creation as a child to show us his unimaginable love, only to be ultimately ridiculed and then slaughtered by being hung on a tree to die? And then resurrected – reborn himself – back into the both the world and eternity as not just a sign of our redemption but as redemption itself!

And then leaving with the promise that he will come again?

It’s the most unbelievable and far-fetched of ALL stories! I mean who would make such a thing up? And equally, if not more perplexing, who would actually do so expecting anyone to believe it? And when you combine that fact with the reality that the truth of not only Jesus’ horrific death is told, but also those of the Disciple’s and Apostle’s (ALL of whom were slaughtered and killed in equally horrific ways) you have to wonder who would have ever included such details? Why would ANYONE ever want to follow someone else into that?

The whole thing is a complete disaster from a WORLDLY perspective.

But therein lies the power of the GREATEST truth . . . IT STANDS ON IT’S OWN by the indwelling presence of God to speak through it – even through all of the crazy and questionable and difficult details that are so glaringly present all around it.

The Greatest Truth really is perfected in weakness and is, in the end, the great irony of all ironies – that honors every other extraordinarily unexpected one that permeates the whole of the Bible: Torah – Prophets – Law – Gospels – Letters – Epistles – Eschatology – EVERYTHING supports this consistently purported truth that things are never quite as they seem!

And maybe that’s the point huh? That to come to GOD – we must drop every worldly human preconception and expectation we ever had! And in utter and complete humility (a FULL surrender!) open our minds to who HE really is – and what He might choose to do through us.

And let me tell you folks – it is rarely if ever – IF EVER – going to be what we expected.

So buckle up your seat belt and grab on to the rails if you’re serious about inviting God into your life. Because the Holy Spirit? – He doesn’t mess around. And Jesus? – He can make ANYTHING happen! Which brings us to our last reading from the GOSPEL of JOHN 11:32-44

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is the Word of the Lord

Do you believe this story? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you don’t know what to believe. After all, it’s a really old book with some really wild claims. I mean how are we to really KNOW?

Well, let’s just assume for a moment that it’s true – and that it happened EXACTLY like the story reads. That old Lazarus really had been dead for four days and the stench of the body from the onset of decay was overbearing. And everyone standing there thought that Jesus had finally pushed this whole thing way too far. Raising the dead back to life? Could he really call upon and  compel God to do such a thing?

And of course – it was imperative that he did. Because THIS – after all – was why he came.

To show us – with absolutely no room for misunderstanding what we were seeing – in him and through him – the very GLORY of God!  That he could and WOULD raise men from the dead! That new beginnings – even the wildest and most unexpected – the seemingly impossible ones – were not only probable but possible and almost always (if we are paying attention at all) predictably unpredictable!

So STAY OPEN to what he might do! And if His Holy Word doesn’t convince you of the need to do that, just look at the past “however many years” you have to look back on! Did ANYTHING turn out much like you expected?! OK. Maybe something sort of, kind of did – but that’s RARELY our experience if we’re honest about it.

So TRUST His Word – and YOUR experience AND the sweet small Whispers he brings into the everyday of your life. Because He’s there alright. The only question is, are we listening for Him? Are we really paying attention to our lives – at all?

After our service today we will vote on whether to explore a possible merger with another church or to remain here seeking to grow our congregation as we have in the past so that we can meet all our obligations for this property (and associated expenses) with the goal of continuing to be the body of Christ in this time and place.

I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer – but you likely already know my leanings – that we HAVE tried to prosper and sustain growth here for many years under a variety of leadership and for whatever reason (and there are likely many) that has not come to pass as we had hoped.

But does that mean it is time to give up? Not necessarily. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be open to entirely new possibilities either – as part of that “not giving up.”

So I’m not here to tell you what to do – or that I have any corner on God’s most perfect will. Often right about the time I think I might be on to it, He seems to jog off in a whole new direction. And all I (or anyone else) can do is to TRUST that new journey wherever it may take us – with all that we are.

But I will say this: God truly IS a God of New Beginnings – that are undeniably creative in their meshing together of circumstances that no one could have ever imagined. His truth for our lives (and the greatest Truth, that is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we will celebrate and take into our bodies as the great feast before us – and that we are promised we will one day receive fully on the Mountaintop, in the New Jerusalem) is the ONLY Truth that matters.

So come, let us prayerfully seek Him first and then His will together – knowing that he is present not only in the blessing of the elements – but in the elements themselves – and that He will lead us into HIS blessed future – whatever that might be.

All it would require of us, it would seem, is the courage AND the humility to surrender Everything to Him.

May His Most Perfect Will be joined and made manifest in ours this day – and always.

Stuart Revercomb

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