How easy it is to despise the things that God has made?
One of my very best friends in the world has a chequered history. He was always getting into fights at school. He was bullied, horrendously at times. He cursed more freely than anyone I have met before or since. Drugs, alcohol-addiction and homelessness have all played their parts in his story. He raised a few eyebrows, let’s say.
He was a Northern Irish Roman Catholic, while I was a Northern Irish Protestant in a time when that kind of relationship wasn’t ok really. No curse words crossed my lips. I never got drunk, and had absolutely no interest whatsoever in drugs. I have never been in a fight. We were quite a pair:
opposites in many ways, yet best friends. People looked down on my friend, and their condemning gaze fell too upon me.
How easy it is to despise the things that God has made.
”The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
“The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
“Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”Acts 11:1 - 18
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
It’s as if they were saying to Peter: what do you think you’re doing hanging around with them?! You’re dirty now. Don’t you know what they are, those people there? You call yourself a Christian, and you’re hanging around with them?
How easy it is to despise the things that God has made.
And so Peter, starting at the beginning, explained to them. This incredible vision! He has this vision of a giant sheet coming down with a load of unclean animals in it – things that might make you dirty by eating them. And so Peter says, surely not! I don’t go near any of that unclean stuff! I stay away. Surely not that, Lord?
God says: ’Do not call anything impure anything that God has made clean.’ How easy it is to despise the things that God has made.
One of the great movements in the book of Acts is the understanding that God’s love includes those who were thought to be outside the margins. As the community thought about what it meant for Jesus to have been raised from the dead, they realised that His love included things and people they
thought it didn’t. They realised that there is no created thing that is outside of the love of God. There is no thing too dirty for God to love. There is no person too foul-mouthed, there is no person too drunk, there is no person too violent to get away from God’s love. God wants to bring everything into His love, to renew life within them through repentance, as it says in verse 18.
And that word, repentance, is an important one. God’s love isn’t the same thing as just bland acceptance of things that are wrong. When we sin, let’s say in violence, let’s say in destructively attacking a fellow-pupil at school – that’s not ok. That’s rejected by God. Jesus tells us pretty strongly in Matthew’s gospel about anger, that it’s not ok. There are things in my life that are not ok. But to me, God has granted a repentance that leads to new life. There is no thing that has gone so badly wrong that puts it beyond the love of God.
There will be some of us here today who think we’ve gone so badly wrong that God doesn’t love us, or that God is angry with us. I pray that when we come up for Holy Communion today, we will hear God’s ‘Yes’ declared over us in the blood of Jesus Christ, and that he may lead us into that new life described in verse 18.
There will be some of us here today who think that someone else has gone so badly wrong that God doesn’t love them. Or perhaps an entire group of people. In Northern Ireland, it was the Protestant/Catholic thing. I think politics encourages it sometimes. How easy it is to despise the things that God has made. I pray that when we come up for Holy Communion today, we will hear God’s ‘Yes’ is not only for us, but for the whole created order, for He is renewing and remaking all things.
I wanted to push a bit further into that idea, if that’s ok, of what it looks like for God to renew all things. Let’s start with a myth first of all.
I wonder how many of us today think we’re going to heaven? That when we die, and die we will, that we’ll float off to heaven somewhere… floating on the clouds, leaving our bodies behind as some sort of strange disembodied soul lives on in some strange existence that’s completely different to life as we know it now?
Well, that’s not at all like what we read about in Revelation 21, one of the clearest visions given in the Bible of what God making all things new looks like.
In this vision, the prophet sees a new heaven and a new earth. He sees a Holy City, a new Jerusalem, descending from God. And he hears a voice, turn to it in Revelation 21 if you would like:
”Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.Revelation 21:1 - 6
This is the place where God dwells. God makes his home among us, he comes to us to dwell with us. The whole world is now His temple. The Spirit has made the whole world fragrant with Him. Hurled by the Spirit, all things make their way towards Him, people of every tongue and tribe and nation. Christ is the renewal of all things. All things are in Christ, and Christ is in all
things, for He has invited us into His life. The tomb-wrecking glorification of the Son wrecks our tombs as well. The grave is destroyed and forevermore, He is ours. We are His and We are each others. Hallelujah! For ever and ever, every moment is “amen.”
What a different picture to the thought that we will leave all of this behind. That we’ll die and be released from these bodies, to float off into the sky and beyond.
I was speaking to a group of students at the other church I’m part of, St Thomas’ in Lancaster, about this and one of the most perceptive young women I know asked: “Why? If you’re right, why do we think the opposite?”
And I think it’s because the church is not immune to absorbing unhelpful ideas from culture and thinking that they are Biblical. The idea about leaving our bodies behind is actually a Greek idea, coming from a guy called Plato. He thought that matter was essentially bad, while spirit was good. So to attain perfection, we had to leave all this bad matter stuff behind, and become spirit – to float off to heaven.
How easy it is to despise the things that God has made.
God has not made matter and called it bad. That is not part of the first chapter of the Bible: God looks at what he makes, and calls it good, and he calls the collection of the things he has made together ‘very good’. Matter is not bad, even after the fall. This world is not bad. It is not something that we should look forward to escaping from, to leave it behind and to go to heaven. No, it is something that we should look forward to God remaking and renewing, and we should work hard here, now, today to create little outposts of God’s kingdom, especially in the dark, forgotten places.
For: We… will be his people, and God himself will be with us and be our God. ‘He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He is making all things new. Hallelujah!
I was out driving the other day. Coming back home from a bit of a journey, with Elise and Emma with me. But I didn’t want to have to think too much or pay attention to where I was going, so I turned on the sat nav, you know? Punched in Lancaster… cruised on home… not thinking about the journey I was on, the places I passed, the cars I passed, or the people. Just cruising.
There are two mistakes we can make quite easily when we think about heaven: to pay too much attention to the sat nav, and to pay no attention to what’s going on here and now in this world, and not to turn the sat nav on at all, and to pay no attention to what’s coming and potentially even get lost.
This vision of the new heaven and the new earth has to inform what we do here and now. We can’t just ignore where we are, like a sat nav driver on auto-pilot, ignoring the problems of the world as we wait to get home. It just doesn’t work like that. God cares far too much for this place to do that. We cannot despise the things that God has made. The church is there to testify to the world what it was, is, and will become.
But we can’t just ignore what’s coming either, lest we become a people without hope, without a goal. If we don’t know where we are going, we’ll only really be driving randomly. We’ll have no idea of the rich blessings that will come when God comes to make His home among us and call us into our home with Him that He has graciously prepared for us. If we ignore what is coming, then when we encounter darkness, and we shall encounter
darkness, we will allow ourselves to be swallowed by it because we don’t know what’s coming. And I say “what’s coming” rather than “where we’re going” on purpose there.
I was thinking this weekend about being in the Holy Land again. I was thinking of the streets in which Jesus was mocked and beaten by the centurions. I was thinking about him walking to his death, of his walking into the darkest moments of his life. And I was thinking about His words in the Last Supper, which Craig, our priest, shall remind us of in the Holy Communion liturgy in a moment. Taking bread, he gave you thanks, and broke it, saying “This is my body, given for you.”
Jesus gives thanks even in the darkest place. Here is a man, and he was a man (he was God too, but he was fully man) Here is a man, whom darkness tries its very best to swallow, but fails. Here is a man who walks towards His death, giving thanks as He goes, for He knows that the dark place that he treads is not the end. For our wonderful Saviour rose again to new life, to offer us and all creation that new life that we will taste when we come to His table in just a moment. It is for that reason that I offer myself to His church to be His servant from now until the end of my days. “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.”
Friends, pray for me, that I might sing well. For Jesus wants our company. That is what he is telling us as he invites us to the Communion table. There is none too dirty to come to him – do not despise the things that God has made – he calls us to be present. He identifies himself with the material reality in the bread and wine. He speaks healing into the very darkest place of our lives. He is making all things new. Hallelujah.
And take heart! This is not a guess. Jesus Christ is the foundation for all reality. He will never fail, even when our words fail. There is no place in Scripture where God says: “Let…” and does not make it happen. In the Scriptures, darkness – wins – never. The new creation is better by far than we can imagine. Jesus wins. Jesus does not lose to His creation. He is never overpowered by darkness.
So wait patiently in him this day. As we say “Come, Lord Jesus, and renew this land and your church. Amen, we say! Come Lord Jesus.”
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