Reading Ramblings – November 2, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #18— All Saints Day / Homecoming—November 2, 2014

Texts: Ezra 1:1-7; Psalm 147; John 14:1-10

Context:  All Saints Day is the celebration and remembrance of all those who have preceded us in to glory.  It is a day to remember those who are no longer with us, but who are not dead.  They live in Christ, awaiting the Father’s timing for the Son’s return in glory.  While we are rightly grieved at this separation, this should be a day of joy and celebration, for our separation is only temporary.  It is a day to remember the hope which we cling to in the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth—that death no longer has power over us.  In faith, we are promised eternal life in the presence of our God.  This is a homecoming we look forward to eagerly, grateful for those who have passed on to us in word and example the faith that sustains our journey still. 

Ezra 1:1-7 — Ezra is a descendant of a priestly family, and he returns to Jerusalem with the blessing of Cyrus of Persia, who controls what once was the Babylonian Empire.  The Jews are permitted to return to their city, and Ezra concerns himself with the reintroduction of the laws pertaining to the Mosaic covenant, as well as to the rebuilding of the Temple.   All of this likely takes place in the mid to late 5th century.  God’s people have been in exile for a long time.  Their homecoming will be bitter-sweet.  But through it all the power and grace of God sustains his people and draws them into closer relationship with him through his Word.

Psalm 147 — This psalm exhorts us to give praise to God!  Each of the three major sections (vs.1-6, 7-11, 12-20) begins with an exhortation to praise the Lord.  Each section then details reasons why God is worthy of our praise.  Verses 2-3 focus on God’s restorative power with his people, while verses 4-6 emphasize the Lord’s power over all things in nature, and therefore his power on behalf of his people.  Verses 8-9 emphasize his care for his creation, while verses 10-11 distinguish that God is not impressed with the things that impress us—power and strength—because He is unmatched in these qualities, and indeed the source of such qualities throughout creation.  Rather, what the Lord seeks is faithfulness, not arrogance.  Verses 13-14 talk about his care for his city Jerusalem.  Verses 15-20 emphasize the power and efficacy of God’s Word.  When God speaks, reality is created and shaped.  Verses 19-20 conclude with an emphasis on the Word of God in Scripture as a rule and norm for our lives.  Such verses would be highly appropriate to the people of God as they returned from their exile!

John 14:1-10— John begins his account of the Last Supper at 13:1.  Our Gospel for today occurs during the Last Supper.  Having just predicted his betrayal by one of his trusted disciples, and having just told Peter that he will deny his Lord three times that night, Jesus seeks to reassure his disciples.  As such, He shares with them part of what his departure will accomplish on their behalf.

Regardless of the very disturbing events of the coming hours and next few days, the disciples are to remain calm, secure in their faith in God.  Verse 2-3 deal again with the reality of Jesus’ upcoming departure through his execution, but likely also have in mind his extended absence that begins with his ascension.  If we worry about Jesus twiddling his thumbs in heaven, this is not the image He gives us.  He goes with a purpose—to prepare a place for those who follow him in faith.

Thomas in verse 5 is very candid.  He does not understand what Jesus is trying to convey.  Jesus’ answer makes it clear—He is the way.  He is the path to the Father, because He and the Father are one.  Verse 7 stands as a primary imperative for mission, for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world.  Jesus is the way to the Father.  We do not get to choose how we come to the Father.  He must draw us to him, and He does this through the person and work of his Son.

In verse 8, Philip demonstrates ongoing confusion.  Yet there is an easy solution!  If Jesus would grant them a vision of God the Father, then that will help them.  It will be enough—but enough for what?  Likely enough to have peace, as Jesus begins his exhortation.  Or it may be in reference to the journey language that Jesus employs in verses 3-7.  Philip is one of the first disciples Jesus calls (John 1:41-51).

Jesus clarifies—seeing him is seeing the Father.  Not that the Son and the Father are identical in every respect, but rather when seeing Jesus, we see embodied what it is that God the Father wants from us.  We see his heart towards us when we look at Jesus.  We are unable to peer behind the curtain and discern God at work in each day, or each situation in our lives or the world around us.  We might easily panic or despair, had God the Father not given us his Son to keep our eyes on.  Are we unsure of the Father’s love?  Look to Jesus.  Are we unsure of the Father’s power to save and preserve in a dangerous and hostile world?  Look to Jesus.  Jesus acts in unity of purpose with the Father, perfectly and fully obedient to the Father’s direction.  This is who we should strive to be as well—obedient to what our heavenly Father has called us to.

But since we are unable to be perfectly obedient, we must fix our eyes on Christ as the source of our hope and salvation.  As the source of forgiveness when we fail in our obedience.

The texts speak of homecoming, something very appropriate for All Saints Day.  Not that we were somehow pre-existent with God the Father, but rather we are promised unity and fellowship with our God, the unity and fellowship that creation was designed for and with and in.  Those who have died in the faith already await we who will follow.  Whether we join them on the day of Jesus’ return, or before that in death, we look forward first and foremost to being in harmony with our God, and secondarily to a joyful reunion with loved ones now departed.

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