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Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 19, 2019 –Fifth Sunday of Easter
It was predicted in the 1990s that the 21st Century church would soon look more like the 1st Century church than the 20th Century church.
Now we are reading an explosion of books by postmodern spiritual writers who have rediscovered the underlying themes of the First Century spiritual classics in the new reality that was unfolding before us.
We were just beginning to see at the turn of the 21st Century the disintegration of staid institutional forms and hierarchical structures that could last for decades and generations unchanged.
Globalization and the Internet were just beginning to take root in every city, village and town to free us from the drudgery of mindless repetitive tasks.
There was a man who had to have extensive work done on his car at the Addy Motor Company in Shelby in the late 1960s. He told the shop foreman that he worked in a factory and his job was to turn a nut on a bolt to just the right tightness hundreds of times a day, thousands of times a week and who knows how many times a year.
His right arm was much larger than his left arm because of this. He was not married and he had a month’s worth of vacation saved up to permit him to drive from Detroit to the Pacific Ocean and back.
While he was having work done on his car, he could think of nothing better to do than to sit in the shop and talk to the man who was fixing his car.
To him, the world had always been made of factories and always would be made of factories and they would always need someone to turn that nut on that bolt to just the right tightness.
Back then, high school graduates in the Motor City thought that a job would always be waiting for them at Ford or General Motors or Chrysler Corporation that would give them an enviable standard of living that would support them and their spouse and their 2 ½ children.
The world was cast in cold hard steel made in Pennsylvania and it would always be so. One function on the assembly line was all they would have to do for their whole career.
But it was not to be. The place that man saw as his gold mine would become the Rust Belt.
The people of Israel thought that, too, back in the glory days. They had a promise from God that a descendant of the great King David would always sit upon the throne. God’s favor that had given them predominance in the Middle East …the heart of world civilization… would last forever.
But then the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C., the Babylonians who would defeat the armies of the Southern Kingdom 150 years later, and the Persians would overthrow the Babylonians 75 years after that.
It was about then when Isaiah…not John of the Revelations…first coined the phrase A New Heaven and a New Earth. He was speaking to a civilization that had been shaken to its foundations, trying to reassure them that there still was a God in heaven who loved them, but was going to love them in a new way.
“The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,” he wrote at the end of his work. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”
Our world has changed radically in the last 50 years….since the day that factory worker had been stranded in a little town just east of Glacier Park…just as it had in Isaiah’s time…just as it had in the days John of Patmos wrote to the followers of The Way…and to us…today,
“I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.’” Isaiah and John offered their people words of comfort.
Now the pace of change has accelerated so greatly…even without a war…that I have seen more change since my grandmothers died…deep in their 90s…20 years ago…than they had seen in a lifetime.
We are thrilled by the changes. We are terrified by the changes. We have been changed by the changes. We, too, have seen A New Heaven and a New Earth.
A robot who does 20 times the work he did in a day, at 1/20th of the cost, never makes a mistake, never takes a vacation and never calls in sick has replaced that man who turned one bolt for an entire career back in the last half of the 20th.
Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that unsettling? We want things to get better but we want them to stay the same. It’s like the kid who finally saves up enough to buy a motorcycle and goes out to run it on the highway to see how fast it would go. But he passes a billboard that had a highway patrolman behind it.
The officer catches him and stops him, then deliberately takes his time to get out of car, teaching the young man a bit of patience. He tells the kid, “I’ve been waiting for you all day.” The kid replies, “I got here as soon as I could.”
As the French say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” We want order to be created out of the chaos. We want night to be followed by an everlasting day. We want a savior who will be with us to the ends of the earth.
But order turns back into chaos. Night follows the day. And we have become so consumed by hand-held technology that we think it is our savior…and we misplace our spiritual center somewhere inside our cell phones and laptops or they are ripped away from us by someone on Facebook.
Do not despair. We still have a savior. We have always had one. We will always have one. It was in a xi gong class I was taking in Billings that the instructor pointed out that much of what she was teaching us was from ancient Christian spiritual practices.
For instance, when you press your hands together in front of you, as in prayer, if you press just a little bit you can feel yourself exercising your core muscles.
The mind-body connection is at the heart of Christian belief. The way we relate to the world and live out our lives has to keep pace with the changes in our world.
It’s the way we choose to deliver it that has changed …in catacombs …in Cathedrals…in Revival meeting tents…in meeting houses …on television…and in darkened and converted movie theaters.
The danger is that Twitter can make us all twits.
So today we have a new generation of spiritual writers talking to us of mindfulness while Jesus talked of not being one of the bridesmaids who fell asleep.
Authors today make a career by telling us how foolish it is to fill our closets with clothes we will never be able to wear out…while Jesus told us to behold the lilies of the field. They toil nor spin and yet they are arrayed more magnificently than King Solomon in all his glory.
Jesus asks us which servant was more obedient: the one who said yes to the master but did not do it, or the one who said no then never did a thing.
Eckhart Tolle, in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,says it another way: “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but our thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.”
So it really does seem that the more things change the more they remain the same. We need to be mindful… to understand who we are and whose we are and what there is that we can do to make the world a better place.
So Jesus tells the disciples and us something today that is true, always has been true and always be true. He is speaking to them for the last time and he describes the bridge that God has planted deep inside us to get us over any troubled water.
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”
With that one word of advice…with that one golden key…he unlocks the door that will sustain us from age to age, on this continent or somewhere in China.
This one insight is useful and true, no matter whether you are returning from the Diaspora to rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble, are sitting in exile on Patmos Island or are trying, like Peter, to explain to the Jerusalem Council why you went to see a pagan household and converted them all to Christianity without requiring them to become Jewish first.
He simply saw…was mindful enough to see…what was there before him, and he remembered Jesus’s words: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So, he reasoned, “If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? Could I stand in God’s way?”
We are from different places and we have different understandings. We are different from each other. There is only one thing that all of us have in common, and that is Jesus Christ. He has brought us together in this one place and one time with one truth that stitches the old heaven and earth together with the new heaven and the new earth.
He was talking about the startling new insight we see sweeping through our spiritual writing today that we call mindfulness. He was and is and ever shall be. The wisdom of the ages still calls out to us from the words he spoke so long ago.
We are not lost. We are his. For all those people who tell me that they have gotten ‘woke’…another new buzzword that has fallen from many lips just this year because they are not religious but spiritual, I say there is someone you need to read about who was just like that…and did a world-beating job of it.
So come home to Jesus this day, for the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. He is the same yesterday and today and forever.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do through us…through me… yesterday…and…today…and forever? Amen.