Rogation Sunday, May 22, 2022

We had 20 in the church and 7 on Zoom. Brad took a fall during the week and could not be here. Denise filled in on piano which provided a different text texture for the service. Denise and Mary teamed up for the offertory on “Simple Gifts”. Larry Saylor provided a guitar prelude

May 22 was Rogation Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Easter as well as continuing the UTO asking.

This Sunday’s readings remind us that God dwells with God’s people. In Acts, Paul’s preaching brings about the conversion of Lydia, who opens her home to Paul and Timothy. John, in his Revelation, imagines life in the new Jerusalem, where the Lord will be our temple, our sun and moon, our life. In the gospel, Jesus promises us the continuing presence of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. 

The sermon mentioned two gifts Jesus provide

Jesus tells them about the two gifts that Jesus plans to give them that will help them to survive the challenges ahead.

“1 First of all, Jesus tells the disciples that his Father will help them by sending the Holy Spirit to be with them. And the Holy Spirit will help them to remember what Jesus has already taught them, as well as to teach them even more about God with them.

“Most of us probably have glue sticks or some sort of glue in our houses. Glue is a binder, holding things together. That’s one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, to bind things together, to help the teachings of Jesus to stick, so that we will remember what Jesus has told us to do as his followers, especially when the challenges come, bringing anxiety and fear. The Holy Spirit also binds us to God, and also to one another in love.

“So I just have this vision of Jesus in this closing conversation with his disciples. Jesus tells them that they are each going to get a glue stick in the form of the Holy Spirit—to help hold them together, binding them to God, him and to his teachings, and to each other.

“2 Jesus also tells the disciples that he plans to give them his peace, his second gift to them. Now this is not just any peace, like the peace we feel when life is running along smoothly and for a time we aren’t worrying over something.
And we can be calm in our hearts if we remember that the Holy Spirit has bound us to God in love and that God is abiding in us and we are abiding in God.

Rogation” means “asking”. In the agrarian culture of yesterday, it was common for the church to gather on the Rogation Days to ask God to bless the crops being sown.

We would have asked Him to send rain and to bless us with a good harvest later in the year. A common feature of Rogation days in former times was the ceremony of beating the bounds, in which a procession of parishioners, led by the minister, churchwarden, and choirboys, would proceed around the boundary of their parish and pray for its protection in the forthcoming year.

“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.”

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver. ” – Martin Luther

This Sunday’s readings remind us that God dwells with God’s people. In Acts, Paul’s preaching brings about the conversion of Lydia, who opens her home to Paul and Timothy. John, in his Revelation, imagines life in the new Jerusalem, where the Lord will be our temple, our sun and moon, our life. In the gospel, Jesus promises us the continuing presence of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. 

Beginnings and endings are the common theme in all our passages. For Paul, it was the new beginning of his second Missionary journey, reaching out into Europe. Paul discovered that God does not use stereotypes, but delights to work in different ways in different places. The great chapters at the end of Revelation complete the biblical story and neatly tie up some of the threads from the opening chapters of Genesis. Here the ending is also a new beginning, with a new heaven and a new earth. The sense of the “best is yet to come” is part of the Christian hope when we are battling along, sometimes seemingly making little progress. At the heart of it is the blessing of God’s presence that the Psalmist describes.

Whether starting off, pressing on, or completing a task, we can be inspired by people like Moses and Paul, recognizing the difference Jesus can make, and rejoicing that history is going somewhere and we are on the road with the One who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. For the disciples in the Upper Room, that evening was to be a terrible ending – but also the most unexpected and wonderful beginning that would change all their lives in ways they could never have expected.

Acts 16:9-15

Waiting is never easy. Paul and his companions had had their plans thwarted, even though to them they had seemed well thought out and sensible. They found themselves, literally, at the end of the road. They had reached the port of Troas and only sea lay ahead. Then God stepped in. Paul had a vision, a person, a place and a plea. Here was God’s green light and, without hesitation, he and his companions set sail.

Unbeknown to any of them, it would be seen, in retrospect, as the coming of the gospel to Europe. They made their way inland and then, once more, they seemed to have come to a halt. Philippi was not a commercial town but a military outpost. Hence there were not even 10 male Jews living there, the minimum requirement for a synagogue. But the planting of the church in Philippi was also about the shaping of Paul’s character. As a Pharisee he would have prayed, “I thank you that you have not made me a slave, a woman or a Gentile”. Yet his first three converts in Europe would be a woman, a slave and a Gentile.

The passage tells of the conversion of the first of these, a rich Asian businesswoman called Lydia, from Thyatira. She was a worshipper of God but had not converted to Judaism and met with other women down by the river in order to pray. Paul shared the gospel and she quietly opened her heart and then her home to the Lord.  

After her conversion, she opens her home as a base for Paul’s ministry and the beginning of the community in Philippi. What did happen was real and lasting, and provided a key foundation stone in the church. Keep trusting God, even when your plans do not seem to be working out.

Psalm 67

This psalm is a thanksgiving for a good harvest. In opposition to the Canaanite fertility religions, the Israelites centered their praise directly upon God and God’s relationship to the peoples of the world rather than upon the processes of nature.

It opens with echoes of the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-25) we often use at a baptism. Yet God’s blessings begin in the Garden of Eden (Gen 1:28), continue with Abraham (Gen 12:3) and, from then on, are repeated throughout the bible. Here that blessing is turned into a prayer. The God who blesses is the God who rules wisely, judges fairly and guides appropriately. We seek God’s blessing on our lives, not to indulge ourselves, but to demonstrate the reality of God’s transforming grace to others. When you discover God’s love and mercy, God’s acceptance and forgiveness, you instinctively want to share such good news with others.

The Psalmist’s longing is that the reality of his experience of God would be known by others. For when it is known, then many will join in praising God. God’s people long for the nations to come to know God’s ways and to experience God’s salvation. Indeed this is their calling as a nation, for God chose the Jews, not as a pet but as a pattern, so that, through them, God might save and bless all the nations. This is their mission and ours. Notice how frequently the words “nations” and “peoples” appear in this psalm. They reveal God’s heart for the whole world. This is why mission is still valid today, as we seek to share God’s good news with the whole world. More than that, the world church enriches our worship, our vision and our praise as we in turn learn from them.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

The Bible begins with the story of a couple in Genesis 2, and concludes with a vision of a community in Revelation 21.  The new Jerusalem coming down from heaven is the reverse of humanity’s attempt to build a city and the tower of Babel to rise to God (Genesis 11:1-9). The narrative moves us from a garden to a city and from innocence to holiness. What is lost in Genesis 3 is restored in Revelation 21-22. The curse is lifted, sin and death and evil are defeated. Here is a vison of the New Jerusalem, central to which is the presence of God. As at the beginning, there are now no barriers to break down, no bridges to build, no intermediaries required, no ritual demanded. The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb dwell in their city and there are no shadows or darkness.

Unlike our cities there are no run-down areas, “no go” sections, or “them and us”. Our cities have their secrets and their shame, but not this one. Its inhabitants are there by grace, which not only accepts them but transforms them. There is nothing cheap or tawdry here, nothing to cause shame or embarrassment, no dark places. There is no Temple, since God’s presence fills the city, no sun or moon, since God’s glory is its light. There is no night, so the gates are never shut – there is constant access and there is nothing impure.

Here is a community where there is reunion and recognition, where there is creativity and culture, where there is human fulfillment and joy. This is all because the Lamb is at its heart. Inside the city we find a crystal clear, sparkling river of life, where there is the tree of life – Eden restored – a garden city to be enjoyed. The river of life flows from the throne, providing refreshment for the thirsty and the dry.  The river and the tree of life, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, bring healing. God’s servants shall worship as they attain to the crowning joy of heaven, the sight of God’s face.

Trees line both riverbanks, providing ripe fruit from their branches. The leaves are for healing of the nations and there is no longer any curse (Gen 3). This is Paradise regained; the fall has been reversed. From trees and river to the throne, God is to be worshiped. There we will see God face to face; we will serve God gladly and with joy. What is there not to like

John 14:23-29

The setting is the Upper Room on the night Jesus is betrayed and arrested. In these few precious hours together, Jesus is seeking to prepare the disciples both for what immediately lies ahead and for their longer-term future.  

Jesus’ answers Judas’s question about how Jesus will manifest himself to the disciples but not to the world? The question echoes the hope for an unmistakable external occurrence to convince the world. The disciples hoped for the coming of the Messiah to do this; the early Church counted on Jesus’ second coming.

Jesus promises an indwelling presence of both himself and the Father to those who keep his commands. His abiding presence with the disciples after his return to the Father is accomplished in and through the Advocate, as John calls the Holy Spirit.  The  Holy Spirit takes over the role of teacher. So although they will shortly part, they are not being abandoned 

Jesus gives the gift of peace, not the superficial greeting and farewell of the world nor the mere cessation of warfare, but the peace of God promised as part of God’s reign. This will help them face what is coming up in the days ahead.  Just now Jesus wants to alert them to the immediate future. So although at the time they will be thrown by events over the next twenty-four hours, they will look back and remember while though they were wrongfooted, Jesus was not – and never is!

John 5:1-9

The author of John has Jesus going several times to Jerusalem for a festival, which often brings his healing actions and teachings into direct conflict with the religious authorities. Today’s alternate gospel reading is a perfect example of this pattern, with the added sense that the lame man in the story may have been taking advantage of his physical malady — perhaps by asking for money. To be healed is to give up his only means of survival.

Jesus’ pointed question — “Do you want to be made well?” — may also be intended for us to engage the challenge that all of us can more easily hold on to our dis-ease, both physical and spiritual, as a piece of our identity, rather than surrender our lives fully to the healing grace of God. 

Jesus knew healing would raise new issues, as the man would have to begin to take on responsibilities he had never had to shoulder before. No wonder the man simply made excuses. But now the invitation came as a command, a call to action. The paralyzed man was to get up on his own two feet. To prevent a relapse, he was also to pick up his mat. And the man did just that. Without fanfare or dramatics he simply stood, was cured and began to walk

In the verses immediately following this reading, John sharpens the point when the man, now healed, reports Jesus’ activities to the authorities (v. 15), who will already be alarmed that Jesus has taken action forbidden on a sabbath (v. 9).