Almost Home

given on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011
This concluded the study series “Walk a Mile in His Shoes” that reviewed the 3.5 year ministry of Jesus.

Almost Home

Our Lenten journey is over.  We have traveled many miles, figuratively, from our homes here in the center of our country, state, and counties.  Maybe we are energized; maybe we are tired because traveling does take effort—even if it is a travel through the pages of history and the paths along a map.  Still the study has given us an opportunity to look at Jesus’ ministry more closely, to understand the historical setting, and to grow our own faith a little bit more.

This Easter morning dawns bright—hopefully without clouds and thunderstorms.  We can answer that we were there.  We were right there in Jerusalem, walking the path Jesus did as he labored to carry his very on cross.  We walked and talked along the route and stood looking at the Hill of Skulls, also known as Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.  From there we followed the same path that Nicodemus and Joseph did as they carried Jesus’ human body from the cross to the tomb.

Our journey along that path was filled with chatter, with the sounds of cars and planes and 21st century life.  Yet there is somberness as we stop, look, and pray.  The reality of Jesus’ death takes on a different perspective when we place ourselves in his shoes.

Leaving is difficult.  There is so much more to learn, to understand, and to discuss.  Returning to our homes and routines may seem so petty, but they are not.  Jesus has given us the challenge, even after his resurrection:

18-20Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  [Matthew 28:18-20, the Message]

The eleven disciples were together, they had found the tomb empty, but following Jesus’ instructions the met together and found Jesus, once again on a mountain, and were commissioned.  Now, 2,000 years later, we are also commissioned.

Are we ready to accept that commission?  Many have responded that they do not feel adequate enough to accept it, but Jesus did not choose people who were already leaders, who were of the Pharisees, he chose hard-working people.  He chose those who represent all walks of life.  The real question is have we chosen Christ?

Once we become members in Christ’s fellowship, we are commissioned.  We agree to come to church and worship each Sunday.  We commit ourselves to studying the Bible and to learn how to live a Christian life despite all the challenges of today’s world.  We give—not only our financial support, but ourselves to others in need, to our families, to our jobs, to our church.

Accepting that challenge places us in a new world, so to speak.  Our worries are lifted up to God in prayer.  We see joy in the earth’s beauty.  We acknowledge the evil and fight against it.  And we anticipate eternal life.

Eternal life—the unknown.  Easter is the one time a year that we experience just a hint of what it is.  Attending a funeral causes all those questions about heaven and hell to surface.  Eternal life is an unknown and even though we anticipate it, we also admit to being afraid.

John Wesley has defined eternal life using the verse Jude 20-21 as his foundation:

20-21But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! [The Message]

The verses read a bit like a riddle, but turning to the study notes, Wesley’s core term of eternal life adds deeper understanding:

What is Wesley’s distinctive interpretation of eternal life . . ?  It is not simply “going to heaven . . . a blessing which lies on the other side of death.”  No, eternal life begins in this life.  “It is a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of”.  . . . Knowing and experiencing the love of God we already begin to share in the quality of eternal life.  The kingdom of God begins in this life, “set up in the believer’s heart”.  Thus eternal life begins when we just become conscious of the mercy and love of God, but it extends “to the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory.’  [pg. 1525, The Wesley Study Bible]

As I prepared for the funeral celebration yesterday, I looked for understanding about eternal life.  I struggle with helping family and friends understand the sense of hope Easter Sunday provides us.  How can we assure one another about eternal life when we do not experience it?  As I searched for a way to explain it, I was lead to Wesley’s interpretation.

We have already learned that using parables was a teaching method Jesus used to explain God’s grace, his love, and his mercy.  We know that hearing those stories in the context they were given, the story made sense.  The agrarian culture of Jesus’ lifetime is similar to that of today’s.  The stories tell the same message of kingdom on earth.  Easter Sunday, the symbols of the sunrise, the lilies, the butterflies, the rainbows, and the eggs all are metaphors for the promise of eternal life, unending life, and God’s glory.

Easter morning, Jesus is almost home.  Easter morning, we are home.  The story continues as Jesus visits with his disciples and commissions them.  We know the events after his resurrection continue on for a few more days or weeks because the Bible tells us so.

The horrible crucifixion does not end the story.  Eternal life, which begins here on earth, is much, much more.  Eternal life is God’s love in God’s presence.  The apostle John leaves us with the mental picture of God in his letter to the seven churches, Revelation 1:12-16:

. . . I turned and saw the voice.

I saw a gold menorah
with seven branches,
And in the center, the Son of Man,
in a robe and gold breastplate,
hair a blizzard of white,
Eyes pouring fire-blaze,
both feet furnace-fired bronze,
His voice a cataract,
right hand holding the Seven Stars,
His mouth a sharp-biting sword,
his face a perigee sun.  [The Message]

As John continues to write to the seven churches, he continues with a description of God’s place in Revelation 4:2-6:

2-6I was caught up at once in deep worship and, oh!—a Throne set in Heaven with One Seated on the Throne, suffused in gem hues of amber and flame with a nimbus of emerald. Twenty-four thrones circled the Throne, with Twenty-four Elders seated, white-robed, gold-crowned. Lightning flash and thunder crash pulsed from the Throne. Seven fire-blazing torches fronted the Throne (these are the Sevenfold Spirit of God). Before the Throne it was like a clear crystal sea.  [The Message]

Today, revel in the beauty of our kingdom here on earth.  Open your eyes to God’s glorious world in front of you.  The gems are there in the blossoms of the flowers.  The white light of sun and moon are around us.  The thunderstorms charge us up.  And with God as our captain, our lives sail on the crystal sea.  Just imagine if life on earth is heaven, what glories await us?

Dear Loving, Gracious Father,

We, your children, thank you for the glory before us.

Our journey on your earth does challenge us,

But we continue to grow in understanding.

Thank you for the opportunities you provide us

To learn, to serve, to give, and to share your grace.

May our lives reflect Jesus’ life

So others may know of your love.            –Amen

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