Hope of New Creation 1 – A new heaven and a new earth

above-the-cloudWith Revelation 21 being the second reading for the next two weeks moving into Ascension and Pentecost, it seemed like the appropriate time to begin a new teaching series on the Hope of New Creation. So over the next four weeks, we will explore the nature of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Resurrection and the Last Things. As usual, copies of the screen presentations will also be made available in addition to the audio of the talks.

The first step is to set the scene. The vision that is clearly presented in Revelation 21:1-5 is not of naked souls escaping from the earth to be with God in some far-away heaven, but of the heavenly city (and the church) descending (some might say crashing) to the earth. If you think about it, this vision is necessary for death to finally be defeated. If after death our bodies are left to rot away in graves, then redemption is only offering a new description of death – not the defeat of death. It is only if we believe in the resurrection of our bodies that Easter offers us a true and lasting hope.

Recorded at St Paul’s, AP, 9.30am (19 mins)
Easter 5, Year C.

Shepherd as radical disciple

The image of the shepherd as a symbol for God’s leadership and pastoral care of his people occurs at various places across the Hebrew scriptures, most famously in the Shepherd Psalm, number 23. It has also taken a significant hold on the Christian imagination. Some of the most popular pictures of Jesus are those that depict him as a shepherd, leading a flock of sheep, or bringing the lost sheep home on his shoulders.

This picture of Jesus has influenced the church’s images of its leaders, so that in many traditions the ordained minister is called the “pastor,” and ministerial care of the community is called “pastoral care.” Behind both of these understandings of ministerial vocation is the sense that the minister is called to lead in the image of Jesus’ leadership, to be the shepherd as Jesus is shepherd.

Jesus’ shepherd-discourse takes place during the feast of Hanukkah, or the feast of the Dedication, which commemorated the victory of Judas Maccabeus some two hundred years earlier.

Every time the Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah, they certainly thought about God and liberation. They also thanked God for having the Temple back again. But they also thought about kings, and how they became kings.

Here we see Jesus, walking in the Temple during this festival, talking about the good shepherd, the real shepherd, the king who would come and show all the others up as a bunch of thieves and brigands. Never let it be thought that Jesus’ message was anything other than controversial—and dangerous. Never forget that this famous ‘good shepherd’ chapter of John 10, ends with people trying to stone Jesus to death.

Jesus’ ‘sheep’ are therefore those who hear and receive his message of a different kingdom. His life has climaxed in the revelation of God being at work in and through him. While many have accepted his redefinition of kingship many others do not, because they are determined to follow a vision of the ‘age to come’ which will be attained through the establishment of a worldly kingdom.

Jesus promises that he will give us eternal life – but we should not be too quick to translate this phrase ‘eternal life’ into something that is less Jewish, and more Platonic, suggesting simply an endless state of disembodied post-mortem bliss. In the first-century Jewish world, the phrase meant primarily ‘the life of the age to come’, that new age where heaven and earth have crashed together, in which wrongs would be righted, sins forgiven and God would be all in all. That is precisely what Jesus was claiming to offer. And he was claiming that, despite the pressure among his contemporaries to seek a Maccabean-style solution to their present plight, that God had ensured that some at least would follow him and find thereby the narrow way that would lead to life. In this, as in all things, Jesus and the Father were always one.

Grace and peace.

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Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday); John 10:27-30

Radio reflection also available. Video reflection: Dan Stevers, Shepherd

Mercy and Mission

The gospel that we have today is taken from the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John. It is another resurrection appearance, but this time, it is not in Jerusalem, but up in the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples, led by the apostle Peter, decide to go fishing. While seven are described, only three are named: Peter the denier; Thomas the doubter, and Nathaniel the skeptic. When Peter says he is going fishing, it could be simply because he needs time out for himself, to get away from all the crazy events that have been happening in Jerusalem. So they get into the boat, cast their nets, and spend all night in the effort, but catch nothing. As dawn breaks, they see this stranger on the shore. He calls out to them: ‘my friends, have you caught anything?’ When they answer, ‘no’, he invites them to put out their nets on the other side of the boat, and you will find something. So they drop their nets, and sure enough, they catch this extraordinary number of fish – which they later count as 153 large fish – so many that all seven of them can barely haul the net back into the boat.

That’s enough for the beloved disciple, the disciple that Jesus loves – and he tells Peter, “It is the Lord” – and with these words, Peter, who has stripped himself for the work, wraps himself in a cloak and jumps into the water to swim across the remaining hundred metres or so to the shore. There he finds Jesus, standing next to a charcoal fire, cooking some fish. It is very likely that the fire would have immediately evoked that night before Jesus died, when Peter had been warming himself next to a charcoal fire, besides which Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus on three separate occasions.

Jesus then invites the disciples to bring their fish to add to the already abundant supplies of bread and fish cooking for breakfast. After the meal, Jesus takes Simon Peter aside and asks him a most personal and no doubt painful question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” Simon answers, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Three times the question is placed before Peter, and three times he answers and receives a commission from the Lord to care for the sheep and lambs of the Lord. Peter needs to know that even in that darkest of nights, when he claimed so much bravado, but acted with such timidity and fear – even that act of denying Jesus is not beyond the mercy of the Lord. Three times Peter hears the work of redemption being spoken into his life. Three times he receives mercy that is transformed into mission. This gospel helps us during these Easter days to know that there is no sin, no shame – that is beyond the mercy of the Lord. All that we need to know is that the Lord will continue to call us to follow him – and his love and mercy will always be enough for us.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am. (8 mins)
Third Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 21:1-19

Journey Radio program also available.(text above)
Video Reflection: Igniter Media, Consuming Fire

My Lord and My God

Nail-Scarred HandsAlthough each of the Gospels is carefully crafted, the Gospel of John provides an extra layer of rich reflection which reveal the degree to which the beloved disciple as author has pondered deeply his own experience of the life and sayings of Jesus in the light of the experience of the early church and the vast richness of the Hebrew scriptures. The passage that we have today from the original ending of the Gospel very clearly points to this extraordinary richness.

The author – which tradition has unanimously called John – wants us to know that in this resurrection appearance – on the first day of the week – brings to a climax the whole of his gospel account and launches the whole merciful mission of the church throughout history. The doubting and questioning of Thomas provides the framework for the highest declaration of faith that you find in any of the Gospels and places on the lips of Thomas the imperial declaration, but now declared in worship before the wounded healer – ‘my Lord and my God.’ John clearly wants every reader to go on the same journey of faith and discovery, to ponder carefully and deeply the seven signs that he gave us in the first half of his gospel account in the light of the eighth and greatest sign – the empty tomb and the new creation Lord who returns as a bringer of peace and breather of new creation and new life and new possibilities.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (12mins)
Sunday of Divine Mercy; Second Sunday in Easter, Year C. John 20:19-31