With the eyes of your heart enlightened, may you know what is the hope to which God has called you in Christ: You are the body of Christ
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, May 16th 2021.
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus these impassioned words. Though these were words for another church, in another place and in another time, I wonder whether we can hear them as word for us, for this church, for this place, for this time.
He prays that we would know something. To know this “something,” he says we would need to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. We can only know him through a spirit of wisdom and through revelation from the Father of glory rather than through our intelligence and sheer determination. Yes, to know this “something,” we need not merely our physical eyes but eyes of our hearts illuminated; you won’t be able to see this new thing otherwise. And what is this something? That we have been called to hope, that the riches of inheritance of holy life are waiting us, that the power work in us and for us is a power of immeasurable greatness.
These sound grand, don’t they? Yet they are not something we can point to. It could be anything. These words must point to something to have meaning and beauty. These grands words need context. Words can be grand yet without flesh and bone, without a body, they are merely ineffective words. So, what’s the context? Where is the flesh and bone that would make these words meaningful and beautiful? Where is this “something” that Paul points for us?
Listen, listen with your ears of the heart, amplified by the spirit of wisdom and revelation otherwise you won’t hear this new story. In raising Jesus Christ from the dead, God subverted all power structures of this world. God has dethroned all kings, queens, all dictators, all political regimes of humanity that defined our history broken and hurting. Risen Christ is now the kaumatua of humanity, toppling all structures of superiority and inferiority in creation, and leading humanity and all creation to a new world in the way of the one whose feet walked the way of the cross. So where should we look with the eyes of our hearts illuminated by wisdom and revelation? Where is the body of truth? Where is the body of Christ?
I invite you now to a time of prayerful reflection.
Reflection Song: Hands and Feet | The Brilliance
Christi Himmelfahrt by Fresken von Gebhard Fugel
With the eyes of your heart enlightened,
may you know what is the hope to which God has called you in Christ:
You are the body of Christ
Song: ‘Wonderful Grace’
Welcome and Notices:
Praying the Psalm:
We will pray a section from psalm 80 together. Before we do, let me give an explanation. This psalm is a lament. It is a prayer of deep grief. Poetically, the psalm decries the neglect and abuse the people have become subjected to. It reminisces how there was once hope and promise. There was once growth and even flourishing. God had laboured and toiled tending to it with care and love. Yet now it lays ravaged and wasted. Why is this the case?
Where do you see neglect and abuse in our community, in our nation, in our world, where there once was filled with hope and promise? Are there relationships that grieves you? Are there buildings neglected and run down that grieves you that symbolizes a cause, purpose, once thrived? Where do you see God’s garden neglected? Let us pray this psalm together to seek God with our grief and implore God to restore us again. For it is God’s garden, and only God can restore it.
Please respond with the words in bold.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
Turn again, O God;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the vine your hands have planted.
Prayer for Others:
Song: Lord’s Prayer [The offering will be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]
Song: ‘God Whose Almighty Word’
Scripture Readings: Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Choir: ‘Be Still For The Presence Of The Lord’ by David Evans
Sermon Reflection: As Jesus is taken into heaven, the disciples are transfixed. We don’t know what causes them to just stand there and gaze into the air. Perhaps it’s because they have witnessed something incredible and they don’t know what to think of it. Sometimes our actions show us what’s going on with us. So, when do you find yourself just standing and looking into the air? Sure it may be because of astonishment, but I wonder whether it is also the same action of those who has heard life changing news and don’t know what to do with it. What does this mean for my life now? Bewildered and uncertain, anxious and nervous, even in grief over what once was and no longer will be.
I was at a Presbytery Retreat where elders and ministers of Presbyterian churches in the upper South Island took a time out to prayerfully reflect together on the life of the church. This retreat’s theme was lament. A dictionary definition of lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” We feel grief or sorrow when something has happened to change our circumstances in the way that is contrary to what we had hoped for. So, lamenting is not so much about wallowing in our sorrows. Rather, it is surprisingly, an act that is realistic of the circumstance we are in. We lament because we know and can name the change. We lament because we know the actual significance and consequence of what has changed and how it impacts us. I want to distinguish this to the change we grumble and feel annoyed about. I think you may agree with me, when we find ourselves grumbling and annoyed, it really is over trivial things. More often than not, they are sort of things that inconvenience us or it don’t suit our taste or meet our standard of style. Lament is for things that are essential, things that hope is made of.
Today we prayed a psalm of lament together. In the lament, there is an element of hope. The hope is placed on God. That God can do something about the loss. There is also the hope that perhaps whatever that has been taken away, whatever that has been neglected, whatever that has been abused, can be restored. So when we hear the disciples asking the Risen Jesus “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” what we need to hear is their lament, their lament for their hope lost, that though they see Jesus raised to life from death, yet they see their land, their people, their hopes broken, chained, and dashed. What is your lament, lament for hope lost?
What kills hope is death. Death always causes us to lament. Lament for the hope that is lost. In Christianity, death is taken seriously. Death that ends the beauty that God created is therefore often called the enemy of God because God’s word for the world is life. Therefore, as Christians we look to the Resurrection of Jesus as our hope that death will not prevail. Resurrection is the hope we have, that though death abounds, God has the final word, and that word is life. Resurrection is perhaps the cosmic answer to the laments of our history and humanity. So the Resurrection of Jesus is the pattern that gives us a glimpse of what God is doing in the world.
So what is the Resurrection pattern? The story goes that after Jesus was resurrected, he appeared to the disciples for 40 days. What’s significant is that the Risen Jesus was often unrecognized for who he was by those who had known him, initially. They do recognize him later. What’s pertinent is how they came to recognize him. There are two things that stand out. The first is that they recognize the Risen Jesus in him showing them the marks of his sufferings on the cross. Secondly, it is when Risen Jesus shared a meal with them, in his way of table communion with others.
In other words, they did not recognize the Risen Christ through what they could see in front of them. Rather, it had to be revealed to them and it was revealed to them through the particularity of Jesus’ way. First, the marks of suffering on the cross symbolize the way of his love, a way of suffering, willingly taken up for our sake. Second, the table communion of Jesus was radical and unconditional – open to those whom society considered down and out, who religious piety considered unacceptable, and culture deemed substandard. In his final day, Jesus welcomed to his table even the one who was plotting to betray him for a financial reward. Rather than through a particular form that they were used to seeing, Jesus was recognized through his way, the Christ way. They didn’t need the eyes between their ears to recognize Jesus – by looking at his out side looks. Rather it was through the eyes of their heart, illuminated by the spirit of wisdom and revelation, focusing on the pattern of Christ’s way.
So the Resurrection pattern we see in the Risen Jesus is both old and new. We can’t say that the Risen Jesus had a new body. Jesus carries the wound of love poured out for the world on the cross. And again, we can’t say that the Risen Jesus has a body restored. Remember, he was unrecognizable to those who had known him. In other words, the body of Risen Jesus was neither an old body restored nor a new body created. Rather it is the case of a body old and new. New in that no eye has seen it before and old in that there is a resemblance.
So what does it mean that we are a Resurrection people, people patterned after the Resurrection of Jesus? I would like to suggest that, first, we are people who lament. We are people who know the beauty with which God has created the world and the glimpses of beauty we see today pales into insignificance to the beauty God intends and leads us to in the Risen Christ. Therefore, we are painfully aware of the reality of our paradise lost. What’s more our lament is not without hope. We direct our lament to the one in whom our hope shall be realised who carries the wounds of our hopes crushed.
So the more I hear our prayers of others, I hear not merely our request to God to do something for those people over there. I hear our lament, our impassioned expression of grief and sorrow for our community, our neighbourhood, our society, our nation, our earth. In other words, our prayers of others, is not a prayer for those who haven’t got it all together, prayed by those who have got it all together. It is our lament. This I think is what Jesus means when we are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. It actually impacts us, it actually becomes our sorrow and our joy because we belong together.
Second, we are people who always look for God in the ways of recreation. As the people of lament for the paradise lost, we are realistic. We know when something is lost. We do not pretend that something is alive when it is dead. Just as our Lord did, in fact, die human death, resurrection is not a restoration. Another way to put this is that God is not in the business of restoring the former glory. So as the people of God of Resurrection, we are not in the business of restoring what it used to be. Also we are not in the business of replacing, replacing the old with the new. Rather we look for God bringing about new life with what has been. God takes our hopes crushed and lost, and brings to life a new hope that we had not expected.
If what we are looking for is our former glory we will miss what God is resurrecting. If we are looking to see how we can replace the old with new, fill the gap, we will find ourselves at cross-purposes with what God is resurrecting. We will miss it if we try to look for ways how things were and done. As the people of lament, we know when something has ended. We lament because we know the grief and sorrow of the paradise lost; it won’t be the same. As the people patterned after the Resurrection of Jesus, we need to look with the eyes of our heart illuminated by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to recognize God at work recreating our world. And that is to know Jesus Christ. We will recognize God at work where we see the mark of suffering love, the way of Christ’s love, and where there is radical openness and belonging with those whom our world shuns – yet God welcomes – in Christ.
Here is a story of a church in Whakatu who had to wrestle hard with what it means to be the people of God patterned after Resurrection of Jesus.
The Whakatu Way
Song: ‘The Church’s One Foundation’
Go now in the joy of knowing that you have been included. Included at the table.
Included at God’s table.
Included in our common life.
Included in the Life of God;
In the Life shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Go in the joy of knowing that you have been included in the inner life of the God Who is love.
Go, find joy in telling others that they too are included!
Go, find joy in bringing all to God’s table!
Do not be afraid…
for God has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.
You are included!
Passing of the Peace of Christ: “In Christ, You are included!”
Song: ‘O For A Closer Walk With God’
The Grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with us all now and for evermore. Amen.