Sermon No 75
Space: ‘A Light on the Horizon’
6th Sunday of Easter
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 26th May 2019 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent.(Based on Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10, 22-22.5 and John 14;23-28)
May I speak, and may you hear in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This last week, for those spacemen and women amongst you, you will know that we have been lucky enough to observe the International Space Station as it flew over our skies here in the UK. A feat of engineering and scientific expertise that is beyond my comprehension.
The Space Station is to all intent and purpose a city in the sky that flies constantly above our heads at a height of 250 miles, orbiting the planet every 90 minutes at a speed of over 17,000 mph.
And so just as the space experts had predicted, at a specific time I stood there with my colleagues in central London and looked into the cloudless night sky observing this breath-taking sight for the first time in my life.
We watched, as the bright light of the space station came over the horizon and proceeded to travel slowly over our heads until it had reached the opposite horizon and sank out of view to continue its journey around the earth. An awesome sight indeed.
As you might know I am fascinated by space and all that entails, which probably stemmed from watching programmes as a young boy such as Star Trek, Dr Who and other such 70’s classics.
Unfortunately, however, I am only able to admire the skills and intelligence of others who are in this field of space exploration from afar. For I do not have the intelligence, or the capacity to understand even half the physics that stand behind what is happening out there in space, but nevertheless I find the whole concept of space and time utterly mesmerising.
And in similar sort of way, the concepts and doctrines of the Christian faith that we follow I also find fascinating, but just as in the case of space, I sometimes find I understand very little when it comes to theology. With so many interpretations and understandings, where do we begin to seek the truth?
Infact, if I’m honest, I find the more I study the Christian faith and other world religions, the more questions it generally raises, and sometimes it becomes difficult to believe at all. Now this might seem a little strange for someone who is stood here proclaiming divine insight into the mind of God, but that is where we sometimes find ourselves through life, when world catastrophes and difficulties arise. We begin to ask questions, not only to find the answers for ourselves, but for others that will inevitably want answers too.
And I guess that is why I get a little jealous of people who appear content with a rather simplistic faith, where searching questions never seem to raise their ugly head! But for me it is in that searching and exploration that I discover new truths that were not apparent before, and over time these truths embed themselves into my psyche.
Today we heard in our readings things that are hard to believe. Our first reading from The Book of Acts records an account of how Paul received a vision from a man from Macedonia pleading with him to go there to help.
Sensing this was a call from God to go, Paul immediately left with his friends for Macedonia where on arrival in a place called Phillipi he did what Jesus had commanded him to do and he proclaimed the ‘good news’ to all that were prepared to listen?
Of course, as we know God would not send anyone without good reason and there was someone there to listen, for God had placed a woman called Lydia in the vicinity of where Paul preached. And through his preaching and the intervention of the Holy Spirit her heart and soul were opened to Jesus. Lydia went onto be baptised, and later offering her home to Paul and his companions.
Paul received a cry of help and responded, not when it was convenient to him in perhaps a few days’ time, but immediately. Paul sensed his vision was a call from God and he responded accordingly.
This reading highlights in my mind 3 things: –
Firstly, the ability to listen and hear God’s small voice wherever we might be
Secondly, a sense of urgency, God calls us to respond immediately when He calls. It is no good leaving it and thinking we shall do His will in our time. That is not how it works.
And thirdly, to action God’s call, to do what He commands us to do.
In our reading from the Book of Revelation, written by John the Apostle, we hear something similar in the sense that John also received a form of vision, where he was actually taken physically away by an angel to witness a truly supernatural occurrence.
We heard John was taken to a mountain top and saw with his own eyes the holy City of Jerusalem coming down from heaven, at the centre of which was a temple, not in the sense of a physical structure, but the Lord God Almighty Himself together with the Lamb, whose radiance was so bright that it excluded all darkness with its marvellous Light.
And as I read that passage, I was struck by the magnitude of the impossible, in our own understanding at least, and it threw my mind back to seeing that Space Station flying across the skies, almost a city in the sky above my own head, which then poised the question
Was this the way that we would witness the return of Jesus, a situation where all would see Him return? For in the gospel of Matthew it states, ‘Then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, then all the tribes of the earth will mourn and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24: 30)
Both these things in our limited human capacity seem impossible, the wonder of the solar system and God, the fantastical mystical space being who we have never seemingly met, yet we read that He does exist and loves us and knows each of us by name?
The prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart’ (Jeremiah 1:5)
Comforting words to those of us who seek to do Go’s will, but how do we explain to our families and friends these stories that talk of visions. Of being transported to mountain tops by angels, and seeing cities descending from the stars. And trusting that they are true
I am becoming more aware to talk of such things outside Church building parameters is becoming less plausible for some to believe, with some critics quick to accuse those that follow such a faith as insane and probably suitable for psychiatric assistance!
Yet, here we are, reading this stuff, and believing it as the truth, and further to that we are told to tell others that it is true likewise!
On the 20th July this year we will celebrate 50 years since the Apollo 11 lunar mission took off from earth which saw man setting foot on the moon for the very first time. What an achievement, the bravery of those astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, not knowing whether they would ever return to see earth alive again? What did they think about such matters of faith?
Well the astronaut James Irwin, a contemporary of Armstrong and Aldrin once said, ‘As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God’
Our gospel reading continues the theme of the things that defy all apparent reason as we eaves drops into a conversation between Jesus and His disciples. And it is important for us, as here it explains how these things that we see as impossible can suddenly become possible.
Jesus is telling them about the imminent arrival of the Holy Spirit who He describes as the ‘Helper’ (v7). Jesus says that the ‘Helper’ will teach us all things. And He tells the disciples about the Holy Spirit at this point, because he knows that His time on earth is about to come to a close. And so, Jesus wants to equip His disciples to understand that what He had said, was true, to be believed, no matter how impossible they might have seen at the time.
Even in this passage we read something that would have appeared impossible to the disciples. Jesus says, ‘You have heard Me say to you, I am going away and coming back to you’ (John 14:29)
How can you go away yet be coming back? Jesus was of course referring to His death, after-which event the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Trinity, would come to peel back the layers of truth that had to that point been hidden from them.
Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ (John 14:23NIV) Jesus links love directly with obedience to Himself.
Therefore, to reject Jesus, or to not love our neighbour, is to reject the Father, and conversely to have Jesus and love our neighbour no matter who they are, is to have the Father.
So, friends it starts and ends with Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega; we must confess our faith to Him. For it is only through Jesus that we can possibly come to have the knowledge of truth.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy we read, ‘For there is one God, there is one Mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, himself human who gave Himself a ransom for all,’ (1 Timothy 2: 3-5 NRSV).
And when we begin to trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, as promised will come to our aid and walk with us on our journey through life. And it is then that anything becomes possible.
The Holy Spirit gives that divine inspiration and enlightenment. And Lord knows I need it when I am asked to preach!
Friends, we are living through difficult and dark times when hate, anger and violence seem to have sunk to new depths, to which no one appears able to find a solution. A world where our political and financial institutions seem to be on a precipice of collapse at any point. As David Bowie sang in his song ‘space oddity’ we are ‘floating in a most peculiar way, and the stars do look very different today’ Yet, take heart friends, for with our focus on Jesus, all those troubles will pale into insignificance. I pray that our hearts may be kept open to the Divine truth of God. For only through Jesus will we find true peace. For the truth of our time is Jesus, just as it has been since the beginning of time, and that ‘truth’ will make the impossible just seem possible.