I confess, I’m the one who reads the last half of the last chapter of a book first. Well, not first, exactly, but about 20% of the way through, after I get to know and love the characters, I have to be sure the ending is something like “happily ever after.” I also like to know the ending of a movie … I know, I know, it drives my husband and daughter crazy when I continually ask for spoilers about the Game of Thrones (they’ve read the books). But, to be fair, killing off beloved characters in the first season is a bit difficult. I want assurance that it all comes out ok in the end.
This chapter is about the end, the last page of the story. And, yes, it’s ultimately a happy ending. Unlike the fear filled stories we read in stories like the Left Behind series and other end times novels or movies … The Christ Story is one of redemption, resurrection, and renewal. It is a vision … and like most visions (and some dreams), it is both vivid and surreal. There is a non-realistic, yet somewhat symbolic (or just plain weird) truth in the vision.
I’m struck by the repeated use of “in the beginning, is now, and always will be” phrasing, the referral to Christ as the beginning AND the end, the alpha and the omega. There is a nonlinear aspect of dreams and visions that I find fascinating … In this case, it is both a promise of what is to come and an assurance that it’s already done. Sure, there’s a hope for the world to come, but there’s also a recognition that the new kingdom is already here. Jesus is already at the door … Knocking. We only need to open the door.
I’m not one who is especially motivated by promises of heaven, but I am passionate about the new creation that was, is now, and ever shall be. The vision of a reality filled with love and goodness and justice and joy … No tears, no sorrow as those things are over, done … Those chapters are closed, and the sequel? It’s okay, more than okay, praise God.
I used to have a magnet on my refrigerator that said, “In the end everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” But it’s not something we passively wait for … No, it’s and ending we get to participate in. Jesus is at the door knocking … Inviting us to be a part of the story.
So, what’s the next chapter in your life?
This week we’ll be reading the story of the end times. That’s Chapter 31: The End of Time. For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: Revelation 1-5; 19-22. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning. In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here. Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Extremely powerful words, both to the church in Ephesus and to us. Even from the depravity of prison, Paul calls us to live a life worthy of the call God has put upon us. This passage is a common charge and benediction at the end of a worship service. The words are familiar, eloquent, and inspiring. There is a part of me that reads these words and waits for the inner choral response … “A-men, a-men, a-a-a-a-men.” The danger of using great passages of scripture as liturgy is that the meaning becomes more about the ritual of saying or hearing the words than in the words themselves. These words, for instance, are often heard as a dismissal, but they’re not just nice words to finish the service. They are spoken from a deep passion and urgency … They are a vision, a hope, and a caution. Don’t let the fight, the hard work, the mission of the Church lead you to be less than you had hoped you would be or less than Christ deserves.
As the “called out” body of Christ we are to be humble and gentle, patient and loving. When faced with persecution and harassment like the early church experienced … it’s easy to fight among ourselves over who’s more “right” and who knows better. It’s hard to be patient when we’re tired and scared, and our colleagues are on death row. It’s hard to be loving when our own people turn against us.
I see that. Our church members aren’t faced with imprisonment or martyrdom, but many Presbyterians are still scared and impatient. I know I am. Congregations are facing huge challenges for survival, and when we struggle to survive we don’t always “play nice.” Churches experiencing financial, leadership and membership challenges may find they also experience more conflict and crisis.
Some of us are heading to our national General Assembly in a few weeks, and our commissioners are already being lobbied to vote “in favor of …” or “against … ” Some are afraid of the most “controversial” issues: gay marriage and our policies on the Middle East. Others try to please everyone with compromises. We label each other as “liberal” or “conservative” or “evangelical” or “progressive.” We make friends with those who think as we do and put down those who see things differently. We argue, “it’s a justice issue” “it’s about love” “it’s what the Bible says” “it’s unnatural” “It kills people” “we need to send a clear message” “it’ll harm our relationship with …” “it won’t change anything” or “it’ll change everything.”
Paul tells us when it comes to the mission of Christ we are to keep up the race, to persevere, to keep on … but to do so in love. Always in love. It’s not just about getting the job done, it’s about living a life worthy of our call. Integrity, humility, kindness, compassion … this speaks louder than any fancy politicking. Remember it’s Christ we’re serving … the same Christ … there is unity of Spirit in Christ.
Our church and our world are polarized into us and them, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, the smart and the dumb, the educated and the ignorant, the reasonable and the unreasonable … but there is a common source of life and hope in Jesus Christ. So remain humble and patient, be gentle and focus on peace. In the end it’s about the quality of our lives, not the results of our voting. There is love which binds us together. That love is over all and through all and in all.
The Allentown Church is focusing another week on Chapter 29 … So no new posts this week. If you have any comments, thoughts or questions about chapter 29, post hem here … Let’s talk among ourselves.