Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Sermon November 22, 2015; The Reign of Christ

Seven Sign of the Kingdom
What do you think of when you hear the word “sign”?  It indicates something which should have a clear meaning.   Some sign are more important than others.  There are all sorts of signs.  If you remember when you took the test for you driving licence there were signs that you had to recognize as they were important.  If you didn’t know what they meant you would probably not get your licence.  When you did begin to drive they were very important to proper driving.  Some road signs are recommendations like suggested speeds and some are cautionary like slow moving vehicle signs.  Others are requirements like speed limits which people more or less observe—rather honoured in the breech—like speed limits which you can usually fudge a bit without getting into trouble.  I usually drive 10 km over the speed limit when road and traffic and weather conditions allow and am pretty sure I won’t get a ticket.  Some are ones you should always obey like traffic lights—red means stop and a stop sign means stop. 

There are some signs which are not as clear in their meaning.  You have some figures of people which represent which is the washroom for men and which are for women.  They are useful and fairly important to recognize.  It has the potential to be embarrassing if you get them wrong.  Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between them and I find myself stopping and comparing the two figures to make sure I get the right one.  So some signs are mandatory and some are optional and some are inconvenient and some can lead to consequences that could be embarrassing but not serious.  However, there are many signs in this world and the world would be a very different place without them.

Today’s Gospel reading is from John.  Now John’s Gospel is very different from the other three.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are sometimes called the Synoptic Gospels as they are very similar and seem to be drawing water from the same well.    Indeed Mark is thought to be the earliest and Matthew and Luke drew extensively from Mark as well as other sources.  However, John’s Gospel is a different kettle of fish.  It is thought to be the latest – probably written about 90 CE.  There, I have just given you the first lesson in the introduction to the New Testament Bible study.  Don’t worry there won’t be a test at the end.
There are many significant differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels.  One of the major differences is that John speaks of signs.  These are in some cases things Jesus does that are usually considered to me miracles.  There are seven important signs that John identifies:
  1. Water to wine (2:1-12)
  2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54)
  3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (6:16-24)
  6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)
N.T. Wright describes the meaning of Signs in the gospel of John like this,
The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality. – N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.
N. T. Wright is the retired Bishop of Durham England and a world famous theologian. He will be delivering the R. T. Orr lecture at Huron College this Wednesday.  However, I don’t completely agree with him on this. 

I believe that the signs which John records are pointing to a different reality on earth and not just away from earth to a heavenly reality.  A few weeks ago I spoke about biblical miracles and noted that how to understand biblical miracles is a challenge for many modern Christians and it is a challenge that I have struggled with for many years as part of my faith journey.  My approach at this point in my journey is not to be concerned about the literal facts.  What is important for me is the truth that is contained in the event and not the truth of the events.  How are we to understand the truth of the message that is contained in the scripture passage? 
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  This world that Jesus speaks of is the way this world understand a kingdom.  This world’s kings and Emperors were absolute and used ther power to control and conquer people by means of force.  Jesus’ kingdom is ruled by love.

The seven signs of John’s Gospel point to that kingdom.  The first sign is a celebration of a marriage which has run out of wine which was central to that celebration.  The marriage is a sign of the union of two people which enables them or at least helps them to live out God’s intended purpose.  It is a beginning of what is possible in the kingdom.  The next two signs are healing; one of a man’s son and the other of a paralytic.  The man’s son was restored to life pointing to the life that is possible even though it may seem like our lives are dead and meaningless.  The paralytic man was brought out of a life in which he was not able to engage with life.  The next sign is the feeding of the five thousand.  Through Jesus we will be fed with the spiritual food that feeds our spirits and our souls.  In the next sign Jesus walks on water.  This is a somewhat different account than in the Synoptic accounts.  Here the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus approaching but when he engaged them they were no longer afraid and were willing to take him into their boat.  We need to be able to put aside all our reservations and welcome Jesus into our lives fully.  The next sign is the healing of the man born blind.  Jesus will enable us to see the truth of the kingdom which is based on love.  Love is more powerful than hate and will enable us to overcome the fear that we have and our need for absolute security.  The final sign is the raising of Lazarus.  As I noted in my sermon on this sign the key for me is the last statement of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  This is exactly what Jesus is saying to each of us.  We are to unbind ourselves from the things which bind us hand and foot and prevent us from living the full life that Jesus calls us to. 

John has given us hints of what the kingdom of God can be like.  It can point to a kingdom which is ruled by love and not power.  It point to a kingdom in which we love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and our neighbours and ourselves.  Thanks be to God.  

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