The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r163.htm
s163e98, Somerton Park 10/5/98 Fifth Sunday of Easter
"The one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Rev 21:5
I must admit I've always had some considerable hesitation using the words of the blessing for the Easter Season: "The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you what is pleasing in his sight; ..." This is a quotation from Hebrews chapter 13:20,21, or at least I thought it was. My difficulty comes because I don't personally see Jesus overly concerned with moral perfection. Indeed much of his ministry seemed to run into strife with the scribes and the pharisees because he "welcomes sinners and eats with them".
I have never much aspired to moral perfection, and Catherine will be happy to testify that I am not likely to achieve even a modicum of it anyway.
Jesus says, in Matthew 5:48: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" but this is squarely in the context of loving more than just those who love you and greeting not only your brothers and sisters. Luke may have shared some of my sentiments, for he recalls Jesus saying rather: "Be merciful!"
When I actually looked up the NRSV version of this passage in Hebrews I was surprised to find that the word "perfect" had been replaced by the word "complete". My curiosity was aroused. The word in Greek is the same one as is used for the disciples "mending their nets". So it has overtones, not of moral perfection, but of healing and wholeness. I am much more comfortable that this squares with Jesus own mission and ministry - and I intend to use this word "complete" in the Easter blessing from now on. I doubt that I am alone in feeling very uncomfortable with "perfection".
I often point out to my confirmation candidates that there is a vast difference between "being perfect" and "being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect". A perfect father would be kind and loving, protective and providing - not morally right all the time. As a father, I try to be kind and loving, protecting and providing. Our boys will also testify that being morally perfect is not one of my attributes.
The one who is seated on the throne who says: "See, I am making all things new" is of course God himself. Piety, in those days demanded that the actual word for God was not actually said. This has lead to some curiosities. Some of you may be aware that the Hebrew text of the Bible does not have vowels - a e i o and u. Therefore the pronunciation of Hebrew words is actually a matter of some considerable conjecture. When it came to the word for God - the Hebrew letters were YHWH. At a later age "the Greek word for Lord "Adonai" was used as a euphemism for the ineffable name Yahweh. It was the mixture of the sacred consonants YHWH with the vowels of Adonai in the mediaeval manuscripts which lead to the mistaken reading "Jehovah"." (I1vC Laymon p1154a) So we have Alleluia = "Praise the Lord"; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah - all end in the syllable yah - God.
As an aside, it is important to see that the Bible here, as in other places, goes to some lengths to avoid describing what God looks like. We too ought to be similarly restrained, before we start pinning a particular form of genitalia on Him or Her.
The occasion of God saying "Behold I am making all things new", is virtually at the end of the book the Revelation, right at the end of the Bible. Of course this was hardly the first time God has spoken. At the other end of the Bible, in the beginning, God spoke - and it was. "Let there be ..." and there was. Light - sky - water and dry land - the sun, moon and stars - fish and birds - the animal creation - and finally as the pinnacle of his creation - humanity. There was no argument. God didn't need to shout or cajole. God spoke and it was.
So when we hear that God said, "See, I am making all things new" we can be certain that the words are no less effective now. We can know that - all things are being made new - is in fact precisely what is happening. But do we really believe it to be so? Are we not weighed down by the frustrations and sadness of our existence? Do we not read, hear and see so much bad news around us?
I am reminded of the passage from Numbers: the lovely story of Balaam and his donkey. Balaam is bought by King Balak to curse the invading Israelite tribes as they passed through his territory on their way to the promised land. Balaam travels to Balak on his donkey, but God appears to the donkey, sword in hand as an adversary ready to kill Balaam. Firstly the donkey avoids God by going of the road and into the field. Balaam, who couldn't see God, beats the donkey a first time. Next God blocks the way between two vineyards and the donkey tries to avoid God and scrapes against the wall. Of course Balaam's leg gets squashed, and the donkey gets another beating. Finally God stands in a narrow way where there is no way to avoid him. The sword is drawn, the donkey is trapped with no other choice but to lay down. It gets its third beating.
God then opens the mouth of the donkey who naturally protests its innocence. Then the Lord opens the eyes of Balaam so that he now can see him.
God opens people's eyes (if we but want to see). This is a great truth. We can't open our own eyes, nor can we open someone else's eyes. That we can see, even if only dimly, it is testament to God's continuing presence in this world.
CS Lewis in his book "The Last Battle" the last in his "Chronicles of Narnia" gives another insight into seeing. In the chapter 13 entitled "How the dwarves refuse to be taken in" the dwarves who find themselves on the inside of the stable door cannot see the light. The dwarves who were "for the dwarves" can't see the flowers and the trees or the people - no matter how hard Eustice, Tirian and Lucy try. Even Aslan himself cannot make them see. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out."
For our part, we can but want to see more. No amount of arguing, shouting or cajoling on my part or anyone else's part will make the slightest bit of difference.
I return to my thoughts on perfection where I started this sermon. I do not wish, by my dismissing the use of the word "perfect" to excuse the times when I or others fail to live up to our own (as much as anyone else's) standards of behaviour. But I do wish to take away what I have often felt as an enormous burden to never do anything wrong. For it is so often the pressure of feeling we must not do anything wrong that inhibits us doing anything at all.
Perfection is in fact an easy thing for a Christian to achieve, not a hard thing at all. It only takes us to try to love those who do not yet love us and to greet not just our brothers and sisters. To do unto others as we would have them do unto us - taking the initiative to do this. These are the eternal truths that shine so clearly in the life and message of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is a characteristic of many mothers that they can overlook their child's mischievousness and see the good in them, rather more than their fathers' - and is the reason I am concerned we don't make "God our Father" too set in concrete.
As we reach out in love towards those Jesus commanded us to love, we will glimpse our God who is making all things new - complete - even perfect.
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