“Doors Flung Open”
April 24, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: John 13:31-35 Acts 11:1-18 Revelation 21:1-6
If I told you that I was going to attend a holiday celebration that included brass bands, John Phillip Sousa marches, parades, and fireworks, which holiday might you immediately think of?
I’m pretty sure that most of you guessed that was thinking about our nation’s July 4th Independence Day celebration.
If I talked about a day where we celebrated by gathering together, throwing a giant feast, and eating enormous quantities of turkey and ham, you would likely think of Thanksgiving. And if I described a day when we exchanged gifts with our families and filled stockings by the fireplace, we would, of course, think of Christmas.
These days are days of remembrance like the Jewish feast of Passover and Pearl Harbor Day on December 7th. We remember the Alamo on February 23rd, VE Day on May 8th, and VJ Day on September 2nd, and September 11th. These are all days on which we remember specific events. Some of these days we have deliberately set aside on our national calendars for that specific purpose.
We set aside time every year to tell the same old stories and to pass them on to a new generation. We do it every year so that we will not forget and so that our children and grandchildren will commit the stories to memory as well.
We want to remember, and we want future generations to remember, so that as families, as churches, as nations, and as we understand ourselves to belong to particular groups of people, we will never forget the stories that brought us to where we are and the stories that shaped us into becoming who we have become.
Although we do not have a particular date on the calendar to which we can point, our scriptures this morning describe a time that was, for us, just as momentous and just as transformational for us as a people as almost any of these other days.
We begin with the earliest of our scriptures. It is a moment in which Jesus still lives but also one in which Jesus knows that his time is short. In this moment, Jesus gives his disciples one of his final commands. And, in this moment, Jesus intends to shape the character of his people for all time. (John 13:31-35)
31 When he [meaning Judas] was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The one thing by which Jesus wants his followers to be known… is the love that they have for one another.
The hallmark of the Christian experience is supposed to be love. If unbelievers know even one thing about the followers of Jesus, it’s supposed to be how loving we are.
This really is huge and it has incredible implications for all of us. Every decision that we make, both internally and externally, should be measured by asking ourselves, “Is this loving?”
That’s just not how the world works. And so this one thing, if we can do it, sets the followers of Jesus apart from the world, and that is exactly what Jesus intended.
Next, we read this story in Acts 11:1-18 (you might recall that I made reference to this story just last week).
11:1 The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter.14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Peter had preached to people who were not Jews and he had shared meals with, and slept in the home of, Simon the tanner. And then he had done the same thing in the home of Cornelius the centurion, a man who was not even remotely Jewish. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the other believers, most likely including several of the disciples, criticized Peter for stooping so low as to defile himself by associating with “those people.” Everyone knew that God loved the Jews and hated the Gentiles. What was the point of wasting time with them? But Peter tells them his story. Peter tells them how God had spoken to him and sent him there to tell the Gentiles about Jesus. Peter tells the believers in Jerusalem that not only did he preach to the Gentiles, but that the Holy Spirit, in the presence of Peter and six other Jewish witnesses, had come upon the Gentiles and they began to praise God and speak in tongues just as the believers had on the day of Pentecost. And suddenly everyone began to understand that a gigantic, cosmic shift had occurred. Suddenly, they understood that the world had changed, that God was doing something new, and that God really did accept people from every nation if they would follow him and do what was right.
This was a day that changed the world.
And then, finally, in the Revelation of the Apostle, John heard Jesus say that he was making all things new. (Revelation 21:1-6)
21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 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 without cost from the spring of the water of life.
Far too often, people ignore the book of Revelation because they think that everything in it happens in the future and that makes it irrelevant to the people of the present age. But listen carefully to the tense of the verbs in this passage. John says “I saw” past tense, and a voice from the throne said, “God’s dwelling place is now among the people” – present tense, “He will wipe away every tear” – future tense, and finally, “I am making everything new” – which is a little harder, but, this is the Present-Continuous tense, which means that it is now happening, and it continues to happen in the future.
And so, yes, some of what we read in Revelation is prophecy for the future, but much of it is vitally important to us in the here and now. What this short passage tells us is that the future will be vastly different than the present, but also that God is, at this very moment, in the process of transforming the entire world. God no longer lives far away, but even now, makes his home among human beings in the hearts of his followers. It is no accident that these ideas are presented at the same time. The presence of God, in the hearts of the followers of Jesus Christ, is intended to be an engine of transformation. God intends of us to be a part of his plan to dramatically change the world that we live in.
And so, even though you won’t find a day on the calendar for it, these moments are times that we try to regularly remember because these were moments in which the entire world was changed, and these are moments that help us to define who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.
We must always remember that the followers of Jesus Christ, if they are known by anything at all, are to be remembered by how much they love. Every decision that we make, both within the church and outside of it, should be measured by asking ourselves, “Is this loving?”
We must always remember that there was a time when we were the outsiders. We were once the people that everybody hated. We were once the people who everyone was sure would never amount to anything in the eyes of God. All the good church people were absolutely certain that God hated us and that we were eternally unredeemable.
But God invited us in.
God’s plan was to throw open the gates of the city, and to fling open the doors of his temple so that people from every race, every tribe, every nation, and every language would be welcome.
And more than that, we must always remember that changing the world isn’t something that God intends to do some time in the distant future. God is changing the world, one life at a time, at this very moment. God has come down to earth and taken up residence in the hearts of those who love him and God intends for us to be a part of his plan to change to world.
God intends, not only to transform us, but to work through us, so that we become engines of transformation, working together, loving together, to change the world…
…One life at a time.
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