Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Faithful Keeper of Promises

We continue our series on The Nature of God and this week's title is Hope (Promise Keeper) and there were a number of readings to choose from (1 Kings 8:56Jeremiah 31:31-34 Micah 5:2,
Matthew 16:13-18Matthew 26:33-35, Matthew 26:69-75, John 3:16, John 5:14, John 6:35John 14:1-3, John 21:15-17,Acts 2:1-12Acts 2:38-39, Hebrews 11:32-12:1, James 1:16-17, James 4:81, 2 Peter 3:8-13) and a perusal of them touches on some of the promises which God has made and kept in the Scriptures and what one lifts from all of these is that because God is a Promise Keeper, we can have Hope ... but more than that, we can be filled with hope now, a hope that
changes how we face our current situation, be that as individuals, as a church or as a nation. I'm going to focus on how the Promise Keeping God can, and I hope will, fill you with hope today ... whatever you are facing. And I've been here long enough now to know just how much so many of us are in need of hope, or the strength to persist in hope. One of my favourite teachers in ministry loved to remind us of a truth he learnt early on in ministry, namely that every person who comes into a church on a Sunday morning has a bottle of tears with them.

So what are your tears this morning? There is a beautiful Biblical picture of this in Psalm 56:8

and this is based on a Jewish tradition of keeping a tear bottle for each person in every home that we haven't got time to go into ... suffice it to say that the Psalmist believes that God has a tear bottle in which He keeps our tears ... isn't that a beautiful picture.

What are your tears this morning?

I have chosen as a text from all the above John 14:1-4 and in particular I have chosen the KJV.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.

In My Father’s house are many mansions;
This is a verse I have lived with for most of my life. I vividly remember the first time I heard it, in May of 1971 at the graveside of my maternal grandmother and it just struck me and blew my mind: a house ... full of mansions; the newer translations, better in so many ways, just miss it here ... a house ...... full of mansions.

At the time of Jesus when a young man wanted to be married, he and his father would go to the house of the young woman he wanted to marry.  The young man and his father, and the young woman and her father would sit at a table and negotiate. They would settle the bride price. It would be a great deal because she was a valuable possession. When the price was decided, the young man's father would pour a cup of wine and hand it to his son.  The son would take the cup and hold it out to the young girl and say to her: “This cup I offer to you, as a token of my love for you and with it I offer you my life.”  At that moment she had a decision: She could reject the cup or she could drink from the cup.  If she drank from the cup she was saying: “I accept your life and I give you mine.”

If she accepted the cup, he of course would be over the moon with happiness and he would then say to her: "Now I'm going to my father's house. In my father's house are many other houses and I'm going to prepare a place for you." He would say this because of the extended family situation that people lived in in Israel at that time. Sons never left the home, they added on to it when they had found a bride, and the bride left her home (usually in another village) to go and be with the groom. So as the family grew, especially if there were lots of sons, so the house of the father grew, as each son prepared a place (a mansion to him) for his bride.

In My Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 
Once the place was ready, and that could take a few seasons of harvest to accumulate the funds required, the groom would go and fetch his bride. This was normal Jewish life and custom ... but perhaps you are remembering how often Jesus spoke of Himself as the Groom and the church, you and I, as the bride. Perhaps you are remembering the parables Jesus told about weddings and being ready because the groom might arrive in the middle of the night ... and sometimes they did, because once the father said: OK, that extension, your house for your bride is good enough, he left to fetch her, .... so, she always had to be ready.

Chris and I saw these extended family homes in Capernaum in Israel:

In My Father’s house are many mansions.

Now, these words are often understood to refer to our place that Jesus prepares for us in Heaven, and they certainly do ... but remember our faith is not just that we go to heaven when we die, but that heaven comes to us now, before we die. In Jn 10:10 Jesus says I have come so that you can have life, abundant life, life in all its fullness ... and the tense of His words is that this is for now, present tense. And this is something that is a promised reality, here and now ... abundant, cup overflowing life ... now! ... in this life where there are still tears, the tears in your bottle and the tears you might shed in the coming week.

Here is the good news, the gospel, from our reading: Yes, Jesus will return bodily at His Second coming ... but, He is with us now  as well. The Emmanuelle promise in Mt 28: I am with you always. Jesus hasn't left us alone ... In our reading from John if we'd read a few verses further we hear Jesus speaking of the Spirit and saying: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Jesus is with us now, but the promise still holds ... I will prepare a place for you ... Jesus goes before us in every situation, waits to meet us in every situation we are going to encounter this week ... and prepares a place for us, so that where He is already waiting, we might be with Him there. That diagnosis you are waiting for; He is waiting to meet you there. That unexpected chaos that has erupted in your life and which will continue in the week ahead, He will meet you there, even as He walks with you to get there ... this is mystery, but it is the promise of God that He is both with us and waiting for us. You are not alone and oh! how I've prayed that this promise, not of mine, but of God's, will change how you face your current situation. Things take us by surprise, but they don't take God by surprise ... and so in the most unexpected situation, know this, God is there, with the strength, the grace, the daily bread you need.

Back to our reading where the disciples are sharing the Passover meal with Jesus:

At the Passover celebration there are 4 cups of wine. The third cup is given near the end and it is called the cup of salvation. The cup is lifted, thanks are given, and it is given to the people to drink. Jesus came to the third cup, the cup of salvation and when He had given thanks, He said to them:
This cup is a new covenant in my blood, my life for you.”  They would instantly have realised that Jesus was again mixing Passover ideas with marriage traditions and in the context of a Jewish marriage they would have realised that in turning to them He was saying: “I love you, will you marry me? Will you be my spiritual bride?”

He holds the cup up and He says: “Drink from it all of you.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a declaration by God of His love for us. It was God's way of saying: “I love you.”  It was God's way of saying: “I love you enough to suffer for you.”  It was God's way of saying: “I love you enough to grant you the power to overcome even death itself.”

Jesus comes to you and to me today here at Meadow Way through the symbols of what we call sacrament and Jesus says to each one of us:

“I love you.……….I love you……  Will you marry me?”

In a few moments I will lift up the cups and remind you of Jesus’ words: "This is the cup of the new covenant, my blood poured out for you.”

That is an incredibly personal moment. God looks down at that moment at each person being offered the cup and says: “I love you. I want you to be my Spiritual bride.”

When you take the cup you are saying: “I accept the gift of your life given for me, I accept your life.”

Often grooms paid high prices for their brides, but not often did they have to pay with their lives. The price Jesus paid to be your husband spiritually was so high that just a little later he says to God: “Please let this cup pass from me.
That's how high the price was, but He was willing to pay it..

Now he says to you: “I love you…….I want to be your husband.”

As we gather here and receive the bread and the grape juice may each one of us have a deep sense of Jesus saying to us: “I love you and I want to marry you.” And in receiving the cup may each one of us be saying: “I love you Lord, and I give my life to you for service in your Kingdom.”

(I am indebted to Biblical historian Ray Vander Laan and the series 
'That the World May Know' from Focus on the Family for the above insights)

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