Embraced in the Heart of the World: "In Him the Universe Holds Together"

Colossians 1:12-20

Letter to a New Church: Who are We, You and I? 
Paul is pacing up and down in prison (with Aristarchus, probably in Ephesus). He’s writing to believers he’s never met, a church taught by his co-worker Epaphras in the city of Colossae east of Ephesus, close to other cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea. Paul has been dealing with crises in Ephesus (2Cor 2:8-10) and in Corinth and Galatia. He is sending this letter to a Gentile community, by Tychicus (“Lucky”) and Onesimus (“Useful”), an escaped slave, now a believer, returning to Philemon, who is part of the community. A lot at stake. 
Paul could write some simple encouragements and instructions as an apostle. He does encourage and instruct, but there’s nothing superficial about Colossians.

New Jerusalem – Open for Life

Revelation 19:11-22:21

Visions moving toward Consummation 
John writes to Christians in small communities under pressure of persecution and compromise, living within the all-encompassing culture of Roman imperial culture and claims of greatness. 
John saw vivid visions of evil, corruption, and powers of Death in the Serpent-dragon/Accuser, Wild beast, False prophet, Great Harlot. Not people but embodiments of Death, deception, violence, empire, wealth, etc. He saw the fall of the Harlot, Rome’s empire, now powerful. 
His final visions show him the outcome. The Harlot, one empire. The Beast, all empires. The Dragon, all forces of deception and Death. The last enemy Death itself. Opposite God’s Life.

Destroying the Destroyers of the Earth

Revelation 15:5 - 19:10

The Passion and the Wrath of God
John’s visions lead us through cycles of 7 looking at the world in different ways, unfolding images of its deceptive appearance and deep, corrupt reality. Seeing the Gospel as Counter-Reality. 
We see a door to God’s throne, the slain Lamb. Seals reveal human destructive forces, earth’s response and what it means. Trumpets show the failure of a destructive vengeance and the pattern of following the Lamb. What does God want? His passion is to save his creation from destruction, to give life! The other side of that is to stop/destroy the destroyers of the earth. 
John sees this in the vision of the Serpent-Dragon/Satan, the Wild Beast, the Second Beast (false prophet). The dragon defeated from heaven, rages on earth. The Beast, forces of empire. The Second Beast deceives the world: Power, wealth, violence are the only reality. The mark. 
Babylon – Imperial City, Great Harlot, Riding the Beast 

A Woman, a Dragon, & a Beast from the Sea

Revelation 12:1-15:4

Woman Bringing Life, Dragon Inflicting Death – Two Kinds of Struggle
John has led us through a Vision of Jesus; Letters to 7 strong/weak, struggling, persecuted churches; Vision of door opening on God’s throne, creatures, elders, scroll, hero/slain lamb; Seals: human evils, earth’s response, cowering power, great multitude; Trumpets: failure of avenging, path of faithful witness, death, resurrection like Jesus, triumph of God’s kingdom.
Now the most vivid vision runs through second half of Rev. Conflict between God, creator of physical world and life, and all forces of death, deception, “destroyers of the earth” (11:18).

Seals & Trumpets: Tribulations & Triumph

Revelation 6-11

The Power of Visions – Sevens and Cycles

John is given visions to recount. We hear and see through his words. His visions stress Sevens: churches, seals, trumpets, visions of conflict, bowls. Are the 7s a sequence predictions– our past or our future? Deciphering a code. Neither would mean much in Ephesus, even today. Revelation isn’t a divination book to foretell events. It is vision to see again things we know.

The Seals & Trumpets suggest that the 7-visions are different ways of looking at the same great story. The Gospel is already there in the Throne vision in the Lion-hero who is a slain Lamb. The Seals & Trumpets build expectations, but the interludes redirect our understanding.

One power of extended visions is to look at the drama of God’s story from different points ofview and to play out differing possibilities. The visions challenge what John’s readers want and expect – including us. They push us to see the Gospel’s distinct truth amidst conflict.

Visiting the Throne of God

Revelation 4-5

Stepping into the Realm of God – The Ancient Story
John began with a vision of Jesus glorified (ch 1). Then Jesus’ letters to Seven Churches (ch 2-3). Amazing promise to struggling believers: “Those who conquer, I will grant them to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat with my Father on his throne.”(3:21) John is invited to begin to learn what this means. A door opens, Jesus invites, John steps through.
A vision experience of God’s throne like Ezek 1 or Isa 6, but distinct. God is “One seated on the throne” described like gems, rainbow, lightning. Torches of fire – Spirits of God. Crystal Sea.
Vision widens. Twenty-four elders: humans, gold crowns like high priest. 12+12, people of God. Four “living creatures” (animals), eyes all over: like Isaiah’s seraphs, 6 wings; like Ezekiel’s cherubim: lion, ox, human, eagle (later 4 Gospels.) Their worship identifies God’s nature.

Dawning Light from Resurrection to Pentecost

Acts 2:1-4; 32-33; Luke 24:1-10

Celebrating Pentecost
One day of the year that Paul especially honored was Pentecost, the 50th day after Passover, the Feast of Weeks. Something happened that changed the world. 
The result and power of all that had happened in Jesus began to be poured out for humans in everyday life: God fulfilled his promises from creation and throughout Israel’s long history and opened that history wide for all the rest of the world to participate. 
In the incarnation in Jesus, God united God and human. God’s self-giving love embodied in creation and covenant he gave in new form by taking to himself human suffering, brokenness, sin and death. He defeated death by the creation of new life in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. On Pentecost all of this was poured out for all people, beginning with the Jews. God and human were united in a new way by the gift of God’s own self, God’s life, God’s power in the Holy Spirit given to those who trusted in all that Jesus had done. God filled broken human life with love, joy, and hope by beginning the process that will finally defeat death and unite all reality in resurrection, new creation.

Age of Enlightenment

Ephesians 5:6-17

Light of the World in Our Modern Age
We live in a world that has a powerful vision/myth/story of its development. Humans were long in the darkness of superstition and religion, believing things without reason, constrained by threatening myths of judgment, reaching its depths in the “dark ages” and “middle ages,” the age of faith. But then the “Renaissance” brought the rebirth of classical pagan thought and the “Enlightenment” ushered in the “Age of Reason.” Humans attained maturity and autonomy. We realized that there is no God to judge or constrain us, that we are tiny in a vast, mindless universe. We are radically free to choose anything or nothing. We create ourselves. We die, and that’s the end! 
The development of this “back-story” of the modern world grew from reaction to the misuse and abuse of “Christendom” to which the Reformation also reacted – both Protestant and Catholic. But this “Enlightenment” has become the foundation of our secular world and has itself come under deep challenge in post-modern “criticism.” 
It began in a period when Christian scholars such as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, et al. were using new instruments, new mathematics, and laying the foundations of the development of the modern scientific method. The Enlightenment story claimed science as a quest for deliverance from darkness, and some Christians reacted by rejecting science. Secular orthodoxy and religious fundamentalism battle to this day. 
The Latest Technology and the Depths of Existence 

This Little Light of Mine

Matthew 5:13-16

What is Jesus Saying?
In talking about resurrection through the phrase, “Light of the World,” we have talked about Jesus. He says, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12). He illumines ever person. God shines in our hearts to show his glory in the face of Jesus in his amazing self-giving love in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We are changed by the encounter.
Jesus brings that change to a sharp point in the Sermon on the Mount: Galilee crowds, sick and suffering, Jesus’ new disciples. He begins with Beatitudes: “Blessed are they...,” but at the end turns it to “Blessed are you...,” insulted, persecuted, slandered. What?
It’s then that he says “You are the salt...the light of the world!” Who me? I’m just one more burdened disciple, needing healing, scared of insults. But Jesus states it as fact. True?
Think of Jesus’ options for the Kingdom of God: Miraculous intervention; political takeover as messiah king, “mass communication” (J.C.Superstar) many others. Why is he on a hillside with crowds seeking help? Challenging these poor folks with the “Sermon.”

Resurrection and the Life of the Church

Ephesians 1:13-23

This sermon explores the concept of power set forth in Ephesians.
According to Ephesians God's power--true power!--is working in the world and in our lives.  It is this power that was 'put to work' at the resurrection of the Messiah.  And it is this power that is now at work in the life of the church, which is the Messiah's body.  Paul, himself in chains for preaching the gospel, is able to trust that this revelatory power tells the truth about the world, even in difficult circumstances.  Can we see the world Paul sees? The world revealed by the 'gospel of our salvation'?  Can we trust this power, over against all the little powers that compete for our allegiance?  Ephesians exhorts us to embrace this calling.

Light that Carries a Shadow

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2 Corinthians 4:1-15

The Light and Darkness of Resurrection Life
We’re focusing on the light of Resurrection life. John tells of the Logos, creator of life, light shining in darkness, showing God’s glory, full of grace and truth. It all sounds very good, but he leads us through all that Jesus endured into crucifixion and then resurrection.
Resurrection is a challenge to believe as an event – like Thomas. But that’s just the start. Once I know it’s real, then comes the challenge of seeing everything through its lens. Resurrection life is new, in Jesus: the union of human physical life with God’s life. But it is life on the other side of death, incorporating death, conquering death. But God brings it into our world, our history in Jesus so that it shapes our life, values, and purposes, now.
In incarnation, Jesus brings God’s life into ours, takes our limitations – humble, suffering, all the signs of mortality we experience – dies with us. In resurrection, he takes our life into God’s life, shows how great God’s love is, builds hope and meaning into our life. Our lives now are shaped by the love embodied in his cross and the vibrant hope of his Life.

Light of the World

John 1:1-4

Jesus told his disciples and crowds, “You are the light of the world!” Amazing! How? Shine the light in beautiful/excellent works that show God’s glory: live the Sermon on the Mount. 
John sets that process within the great event that God has accomplished in Jesus. Last week we looked at the Foolish Cross/Resurrection as God’s Wisdom/Power that unites physical and spiritual, heaven and earth. Human life and work matters (‘not vain’) toward new creation. 
John’s intro overviews the grand event all the way back to the Beginning (Gen 1). The Logos (Word, Reason, Wisdom), the depth of God: “with God” relationship, “was God” identity. From “being” to “becoming.” Creation through Logos. “In him,” life comes to be as the place where Logos is shared. For humans that life becomes illumination, Light : a physical image for a life of purpose, relationship, meaning. That’s the event: Light is shining... bringing the “being” of God/Logos into the “becoming” created world. Not stopped. 

The Joy of a King without an Army

Matthew 21:1-14

A Week of Joy and awful Foolishness
Palm Sunday leads to Easter – two celebrations bracketing startling, awful events: conflict, betrayal, abandonment, injustice, torture, crucifixion. This year Easter is April 1 –April Fool’s. It’s there from the start: It’s a fool’s tale: “The word of the cross is foolishness...” (1Cor 1:18). 
And for many of the wise of our day it still is. Actually, for everyone! The foolishness is built in. In this series of events God intends to challenge all our assumptions of how things are: What it means to be strong, to make a real difference, to show glory and power, even God’s. We all, even much of the church, think we know better what’s smart, powerful, glorious, wise. 
And then there’s that young man! Astride a little donkey, riding down the hill toward the brilliant marble and gold of Herod’s vast temple, with the fortress of Rome’s soldiers, toward death.