Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter
From John to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits in front of his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first to be raised from death and who is also the ruler of the kings of the world.
I am John, your brother, and …. I was put on the island of Patmos because I had proclaimed God's word and the truth that Jesus revealed. On the Lord's day the Spirit took control of me, and I heard a loud voice.
Have you ever contemplated what it would be
like to have the ability to be at two different places at the same time?
I know there are people who think we already have that ability like
kids who want parents to help with their homework and cook dinner at the same time or to be at a sports game and a ballet concert at the same time.
To be here and there simultaneously would be kind of neat.
Those words “here” and “there” indicate different locations. If you are sitting here in church this morning then you can’t be there lying on the beach. It might happen that our bodies are here in church and our minds are there on the beach but it’s impossible for both body and mind to here and there at the same time.
If something comes up that you have go and do, then you have to leave here and go there. We might fantasize what it would be like to suspend the laws of physics, collapse the space between here and there, and be at two places at the same time. That would enable you to do some unpleasant task here and at the same time be there enjoying a walk in a rainforest or having coffee with a friend.
Today I want to explore here and there. I want to explore the possibility of being in two places at the same time, not in bodily sense because that’s not possible in this life but to think about this in the way the Bible does.
I want to first go to the Book of Revelation and note how it opens. John says he is in two different places at the same time. He writes, “I was put on the island of Patmos because I had proclaimed God's word and the truth that Jesus revealed. On the Lord's day the Spirit took control of me, and I heard a loud voice, that sounded like a trumpet”.
Why is John on the island of Patmos? He is suffering persecution by those who want to stamp out Christianity. He is in a difficult place in his life – on a tiny, volcanic, rocky island in the Aegean Sea which in Roman days was a dreaded island prison. It was a terrible place for political troublemakers. When you were sent to Patmos, it was a one way ticket. Most likely it was a place of hard labour. Prisoners never expected to get back to the mainland.
But Patmos was more than an island prison; for John it meant complete separation from his fellow Christians who he knew were also suffering for their faith. How much he must have wanted to be there to encourage them and keep them strong in the face of such fierce opposition. He was trapped on this island feeling helpless.
We could look at the island of Patmos not only as a geographical place but also as any place or time that we might find ourselves trapped and imprisoned. Take the disciples that Sunday evening together behind locked doors. It’s not the locked doors that had them trapped and imprisoned but it was fear, uncertainty, and confusion. John tells us “they were afraid of the Jewish authorities” – would they be next to be hauled before the courts and treated like Jesus; what will happen to them now that Jesus was gone? They were trapped in the room with so much fear and they would have preferred to be anywhere else than here. Perhaps back there fishing again or back there with their families but not here. They were on their own prison island of Patmos where hopelessness seemed to be thought of the day.
It’s possible that there is someone here today who is also on his or her own island of Patmos. Somehow life has given you a one-way ticket that has trapped you on your own Patmos. There is nothing more soul destroying and depressing than to believe that you are alone, that no-one understands you and that you are trapped – caught up in some kind of prison and you can’t see any way out. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a prison of your own making or one that others have put you in, the feelings are the same.
So do we find John who has been banished to this prison island by the emperor, far from home and his loved ones, languishing in hopelessness? Not at all. John states upfront that he is on that horrible island and then declares that “on the Lord's day the Spirit took control of me”. What follows then is what we have in the Book of Revelation.
On the day of worship, John was here on Patmos but also there in the place where time and space and heaven and earth meet. John was on Patmos but at the same time he was able to transcend time and space as the Spirit took control of him and see the glorified King of heaven and hear him say to his imprisoned people, “Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead” (Rev 1:16)
John was on Patmos but at the same time he was able to look into the window of heaven and see the troubled and persecuted gathered around the throne of the Lamb, all dressed in white, praising God for the salvation he has brought to all people and for the protection he offers everyone. They will never fear hunger or thirst or scorching heat or grief or death. The Lamb on the throne, the risen Jesus, will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. Those things that trap and imprison them in this life will never do so again as God's comforting and strengthening hand wipes away the tears from every eye (Revelation 7).
It is possible to be in two places at the one time. John was on Patmos and the Spirit lifted him above all that being a prisoner entailed, to see the greater picture of his place in the arms of the Almighty, the one who declares, “I am the first and the last,” says the Lord God Almighty, “who is, who was, and who is to come”.
The disciples in that room with the locked
doors were filled with fear and when Jesus suddenly appeared and stood in the
middle of them, saying “Peace be with
you”, we are told the disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord.
Did that mean their lives were no longer in danger?
Did it mean that the fear of suffering for standing up for Jesus was completely eliminated?
Of course not. They were like John – in the Spirit. They were there in the locked room where there was fear but in the Spirit they were lifted above that and were at peace in the presence of their living Lord, the Lamb who takes away all fear with his presence. As John hears in his heavenly vision, “He … will protect them with his presence”.
A man suddenly died of a heart attack. It was a shock to everyone in the church where he worshipped and especially to his wife. Here one moment, apparently healthy and normal, and gone in an instant. At the funeral the man’s wife had an unusual air of peace about her. Everyone knew how much she was grieving her loss. Was she in denial? Was she having breakdown?
Later the widow described what was happening to her as the funeral progressed. She put it this way, “I sat there, in my grief, and I thought about the life that we had together, all of the great memories we shared, all the fun times. I remembered the faith we shared that when this life was over we would be taken to heaven where the good things there will surpass all that we have experienced here. I was transported out of despair and hopelessness and felt gratitude and peace instead of overwhelming grief”.
It’s interesting that she used the word ‘transported’. She had been lifted by the Spirit, out of one place into another place. She was here, but also there.
What does this have to say to us in the
circumstances that we find ourselves in?
As I said earlier at some time, if not right now, some of us find
ourselves on our own island of Patmos or in our own locked room.
Some thing or some set of circumstances or some thing that has gone out
of our control has put us in a bad place – a place we don’t want to be; a place
that gets us down.
It worries us, causes us to be anxious and depresses us.
It might be that we feel alone because no-one else feels this as much as we do.
It might be something that has been brought on by our own sinfulness – a temptation that has got out of control, an addiction that we can’t shake, a personal weakness, a sin, that we can’t let go;
or it might be something that has come completely out of the blue and we have no say whether we get involved or not –
whatever it is that traps us and imprisons us the resurrected Jesus has come to free us. He is able to lift us up above all this, transport us in the Spirit (to use John’s words) to see that things aren’t as out of control as we might think they are.
Nothing is out of the control of the One who says, “I am the first and the last,” says the Lord God Almighty, “who is, who was, and who is to come”. Nothing is outside of the control of “the ruler of the kings of the world”, the one who loves us, has died for us and freed us from all that wants to kills us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
John starts his book with a greeting. He is writing to people who are persecuted and hurting for their faith in Jesus. He says, “Grace and peace be yours from God” (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). These are not just pious words and a nice way to start a religious work. He says those words to us today. Grace and peace are yours in the risen Jesus. You are raised above what is happening in the here and now in Jesus’ word of promise, in bread and wine and be reassured that whatever happens, the peace of the Lord, the strength to endure and the courage to face all things will fill your heart.
Grace and peace from
the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold
Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is … the first to rise from
the dead (Rev 1:4-5 CEV).
Pastor Vince Gerhardy
7th April 2013