St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Advent Photo-a-Day

Here’s a great idea from the United Methodist Church – a photo-a-day for Advent. Each day in December you take a photograph somehow reflecting the different word or idea for the day. That way, every day, you slow down and become attentive to the world around you at least for long enough to look for and photograph your subject.

You might want to post photos in the comments (look for the “choose file” button under the comment box), on Facebook or twitter or elsewhere, or just keep them for yourself 🙂

Fair Trade @ Beecroft Anglican

St. John’s Anglican Church, Beecroft are holding a Fair Trade Market this Saturday (30th) from 9 – 3. Being organised by a certain Philippa Miller, who some of you will know 🙂

Our annual Fair Trade Christmas Markets are back this year with a great range of Fair Trade businesses selling their fabulous wares!
There will also be a BBQ raising money for an anti-trafficking project in Athens, a Fair Trade cafe and an art show by a local artist with proceeds going to a school in Ethopia.

A book…

By popular demand… the twenty sermons that made up the E100 series in 2012 have been collected together into a book. Copies can be purchased from Chris for $20, with all profits going to fund new initiatives at St. John’s!

King

Listen!
Jeremiah 23:1-6 | Colossians 1:11-20
Today we come to the end of the Church year.

Next Sunday, December 1st, is the start of advent, the start of the time of getting ready, as we approach the great mystery of Christmas. This week, the final Sunday of the Church year, we celebrate the festival of Christ the King.

Christ the King is a relatively recent addition to the Church year – it was first declared in 1925. In a Europe that had not long ago been torn apart by the clash of great empires in the First World War, and which, by the mid 1920’s was seeing the rise of the power of facism, with its absolute demand on the loyalty of each citizen to the power of the state, Pope Pius proclaimed the festival of Christ the King as a reminder to believers throughout the world that their ultimate loyalty was owed to another king.

The festival of Christ the King might be new, but in instituting it, and by doing so placing the rule of Christ in opposition to the claims and rule of Mussolini, the Pope was standing in a long tradition of the story of the people of God, in both the Old Testament, and the new. For so much of our story is shaped by the voices of the people of God standing as a challenge, a rebuke, an alternative to the demands of empire.

Jeremiah in his time confronted the great power of his world. In the years before the exile, when Israel was under threat from foreign nations, he dedicated his prophetic voice to a searing critique of the religious leaders of his day; the shepherds who, in the reading we heard today, destroy and scatter God’s sheep. Shepherds – called to be the protectors and guides of the people, following the model of their most famous shepherd, King David – but now doing the complete opposite; misleading, endangering, scattering the people of God.

And Jeremiah declares that these false shepherds stand against the way and truth of God, and that they will fall, they will be replaced.

And when it happens: when the Babylonian empire sacks Jerusalem, destroys the temple, decimates the priesthood; when the people are taken into exile and lay down their harps and stop singing their songs, stop telling their stories: then Jeremiah encourages them to make peace with this foreign empire; to remember who they are as the people of God, and live lives which are a blessing to those in the cities to which they are taken. “For in their welfare,” he tells them “you will find your welfare.”. Better, to Jeremiah’s eyes, a foreign empire in which you rediscover what it means to live as the people of God, than the corrupt religion that had gone before.

But he adds another prophecy: the shepherds that have gone before will be replaced by a true king, a king who will rule wisely and justly, and under whose reign the people will be rescued, and will live in peace.

Words of a king, a king who will set them free, a king who will rule wisely; these set Jeremiah against the injustice and oppression by the new overlords just as his former prophecies had set him against the corrupt religious state. Babylon was not the end of the story; the people of God had something else, something better – a king, a proper, righteous, godly king.

These words, and words like them, words of the king who will come from the line of David, who will rule his people justly and well, who will keep them safe, and rule forever – these words were taken up by the first followers of Jesus as they came to understand what they had experienced in his life and death and resurrection and ascension.

From the very early days of the Church the title began to be used: King Jesus, Jesus King of the Jews, Jesus King of Israel. The King now set not in contrast to the Kings of Babylon, but the King of Rome, the Emporer, Nero, and later Vespasian and his descendants. Just like Jeremiah before them, and like Pope Pius two thousand years later, the title “King Jesus” was a religious, social and political rebuke to the empire; to the corruption of power, and to the abuse of religion in the service of that power.

The festival of Christ the King might be relatively new to our calendar; but it reflects an idea that is as old as the faith: that if God is your king, then no monarch, no state, no system, no empire, can claim your final allegiance. For there is another king, an ultimate king.

In his letter to the Church as Collossae, Paul places this title, that of the ultimate king, clearly on the shoulders of Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God (a claim made by, or on behalf of, several of the Caesers), he is the firstborn of creation. All the powers that exist in creation, all the kings and nations and powers and rulers: all exist through him and for him; and he is the head of them all, before them all, in him they all hold together.
In him, the very fulness of God was pleased to dwell.

To the Church at Collossae, and to us, Paul writes – if there is anything that claims a higher calling on your life than Jesus, then that claim is false. That claim has to be subjected to our first loyalty, our first calling, the calling we aknowledge in baptism and live out in the life of faith; the calling to be the people of God.

Which is all very well: but what does it mean? What does it actually mean for us?

To say that God has a higher claim, that Jesus has a higher claim on our lives than any other power or ruler or kingdom; might be something to aknowledge as a theological concept, but what does it mean?

To answer that is more than the task of a single reflection; it’s the task of a lifetime lived seeking to serve the work of the Kingdom of God, while seeking, at the same time, as Jeremiah told the people, the welfare of the city in which we find ourselves living. Learning how it is that by serving the Kingdom of God we find ourselves at the same time serving the world around us, changing it, making it a better place to live, a more just, more generous, more safe, more beautiful, more fun world. That is the work of a lifetime.

For now, I just want to notice Paul’s final words in our reading: in him, in Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile all things. Whatever else the Kingdom of God looks like, whatever else the true service to Christ the King involves, it will always reflect the fundamental work of God in reconciliation.

God’s work, God’s kingdom, Christ’s kingship, is characterised by reconciliation. Reconciliation of individuals with each other, with creation, and with God; reconciliation of races, nations, faiths, cultures and subcultures.

Of anything we are called upon to do, to say, to believe, or to give our support to, we can ask this question: is this a work of reconciliation, of bridging our differences, of finding ways we can live and work and be together, or does it divide to conquer, use our differences to create divisions, set the ‘us’ against the ‘them’.

Whether the kingdom that calls for our allegiance is our society, our government or our Church, this is one question we can always ask. So that we can place our final allegiance where it truly belongs, in the service of Christ the King, in whom God is reconciling all things to Godself.

Amen

Give Hope Rally

More than 200 squares of calico painted with messages of hope calling for the end of child immigration detention in Australia were joined together and put on display at Circular Quay today. Here’s ours, sewn together with some of its many friends…

Christmas Pageant Service

Back by popular demand, on the Sunday morning before Christmas we’ll be holding our annual Christmas Pageant service. Kids can come along in costume of any of the characters in the Christmas story, or dress up in one of our costumes at the door, and we’ll do an unrehearsed telling of the story.

Growing Place Christmas Party

The Growing Place are going to finish the year with a party/BBQ/carol sing at Dayan and Duncan’s place on Sunday December 15th, from 4pm. Everyone welcome, BYO drinks and meat for the BBQ, swimmers for the kids to go on the slip-and-slide (weather permitting!); salad, nibbles and desert will be provided.

An RSVP would help for catering – talk to Dayan or Chris!

The Temple that Endures

Listen!
Isaiah 12 | Luke 21:5-19
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

The Temple was an astonishing work of architecture in the middle of Jerusalem. Though there were other structures in the ancient world which were bigger, more ornate, more magnificent, for the people of Israel those buildings were distant rumours at most – nothing compared to the literally awe-inspiring size and beauty of the Temple.

And of course it was more than just a big building: it was the very heart of the city. If you came, as a Jew, to Jerusalem, it was to come to the Temple. This was where you brought your offerings – your offerings of thanks, for health or harvest, your offerings for guilt and forgiveness, your tithes given out of duty or out of the generosity of your spirit, for the welfare of the people.
And at the heart of the Temple, lay the heart of the Jewish faith, the Holy of Holies, the very residence, in some sense, of God.

This was a Temple built in honour of God, decorated to the glory of God, a place for the worship of God.

And though the first Temple had been destroyed by Babylon, that was, as the history was told, a time in which the people were in open rebellion against God. For the Temple to be destroyed was the clearest possible sign that God, at least for a season, had abandoned God’s people.

You may recall that Jesus’ words here, that the Temple will be destroyed, were word thrown at him in accusation at his trial. For to claim that the Temple would be thrown down was as good as to say that God was no longer with the people; that they had become once more an anathema to God.

In truth, the Temple would be destroyed less than forty years later, in the violent supression of the Jewish rebellion, starting in Jerusalem in 66AD and ending five years later at Masada.

For the reality of life is this: Temples fall.

Those things which seem so strong, so permanent, so much part of the fabric of life that we cannot imagine them being gone – they collapse.

For most of us, those Temples are not buildings. Perhaps, most commonly of all, they are people. The people who are always there, and suddenly are not – grandparents, and then, more shockingly still, parents – people who were always there, always at the end of the phone line, solid as a rock, a tower of strength, we even say, so real, so essential to the way the world is that we can’t even imagine a life without them until it happens.

Grandparents, parents. Siblings, spouses. Children.

The day will come when not one stone stands on another.

Of course, it’s not just death that throws down our temples. The loss of a job, through redundancy or retirement; the loss of mobility or sight or hearing; the loss of a relationship; the children moving out of home.

It’s not that we don’t know these things will happen. We know. Of course we know. If you asked, we’d say it clearly, nothing lasts forever. We know, but not really. We know, but we don’t really believe it, can’t really imagine it. We know, but only in our heads.
Just as knowing that the bush we live so close to can turn from a place of peace and recreation to a raging, devastating fire; or that the sea which provides life and food and livelihood can be whipped up by typhoon into an unimaginable fury of devastation.
Or perhaps we might find more immediate parallels in the trust we place in the expressions of our faith, the things we have, over the generations, built for the glory of God. Our buildings, our institutions, our theological systems.

The Temple was a constant. Its massive solidity, its role in society, its status as the place of God made its absence, its destruction, unimaginable. And then came the wars and insurrections, the Jewish rebellion against Rome. And in the rebellion, there were many voices claiming to be the one, the one to follow, the one who would save the people. For a few years it might even have seemed as if they were right – four years of freedom from Rome, while the empire itself shuddered with the madness of the last years of Nero.

But the people of Jesus had these words: ‘when they say “I am the one, the time has come”, do not follow them’.
And when the empire settled to the new dynasty of Vespasian, the nation of Israel was shattered by the legions, sent into exile throughout the world, with all who resisted slaughtered by Rome, or at their own hand. It was not the end of the Jewish faith. But it was the end of the Jewish nation, at least until the twentieth century. How could they continue, when their heart had been so torn from them.

But the people of Jesus, the people who had heard these words, told a different story. For they had the promise of Jesus – these things will happen, but they are not the end. Terrible things will happen – terrible things on a national scale – war, insurrection, famine and plague – and terrible things on the personal scale – arrest, persecution, hatred; but you will persevere. You will endure.

Temples will fall; that which seems so secure will be shaken down; that which seems eternal will prove transient. Jesus’ council in the face of this inevitable reality of life is three-fold:

Do not be lead astray. There will be those who will seek to take advantage of your fear, to manipulate you into following. Don’t be taken in. Don’t trust the false promises of easy solutions; or of solutions bought through the suffering of others.

Do not be afraid. You will endure. Indeed, by your endurance you will gain the most precious thing of all – your soul, your very self.

And strangest of all – don’t try too hard to be prepared. Because you can’t be. If there is one thing I’ve learnt in sitting with families before and after the death of a loved one it is this: the fact that you know something is going to happen takes nothing from the shock when it actually does. You cannot prepare for the fall of your Temple, whatever that might be.

Except for the preparation which is the life of faith, the life of discipleship, the life given in service of the kingdom.
We have the inestimable gift of the one thing, the one temple, that will not fall; we have the story that goes on – and more than have it, we are part of it. As, and to the extent that, we choose to live as part of it, to give our lives in free obedience to the good news of the Kingdom, we have the chance to build lives which are secured not on temples which will fall, but, switching parables, on the rock which will endure the storm.

“heaven and earth will pass away”, Jesus told them, “but my words will never pass away”.

Amen

Mt Wilga Circuit Bushwalk, Saturday, 16th November, 2013

Sue & Annie at the flooded Fishponds crossing

Sue & Annie at the flooded Fishponds crossing

You rarely get to use the words fun and frustrating in the same sentence, but they best sum up the walk on 16th November.  Seven of us: Mary, Annie, Paul, David, James, Sue & Kit, set off to do one of our old favourite walks that has become an annual event for the Cartophiles bushwalking club.   The route drops from Manor Road, Hornsby, to the Benowie Walking Track in Old Mans Valley, then crosses Berowra Creek via the stepping stones at Fishponds. Alas, with all the rain we’ve had the stepping stones were underwater, so we decided to head upstream and follow the Blue Gum Track onto the Great North Walk.

That involves crossing Berowra Creek at a waterfall about a kilometre upstream from Fishponds.  Sure enough, this too was well under water and too dangerous to cross.  Undaunted we went back through Old Mans Valley and down to Rosemead Rd Park and climbed to Quarry Road via the Hornsby Heritage Steps, built in the 1930s to create employment.  We then made our way back to Manor Road via Roper Lane and Silvia Street.

We managed a challenging and interesting two hours walking but didn’t come close to our original route.  Fun, but frustrating.  Afterwards we went to Hornsby for yum cha.

Our next walk is an overnight trek along the Coast Track in the Royal National Park on the last weekend of November.  Our final walk for the year is the iconic Spit Bridge to Manly walk along the Manly Scenic Walkway on 7th December.

Budawangs Wilderness, Morton National Park, 7th–11th October, 2013

selfyAlone again, naturally — a 5 day solo trek through the Budawangs Wilderness Area

Morton National Park is one of the largest parks in NSW protecting a large area of the ranges inland from Nowra. It is a treasure for bushwalkers with deep valleys and gorges, high sandstone escarpments, and magnificent views from rugged peaks.  The last time I walked there was with my Rover Scout Crew in 1975.

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Blue Christmas

While Christmas is, for most of us, a joyful time, it can also be a difficult time of year, especially for those who have lost loved ones and are especially aware of their absence at times of celebration. We mark this time of year at St. John’s with our Blue Christmas service – a service of Remembrance and Hope.

This year Blue Christmas will be at 7pm on Sunday December 15th.

Cancelled: The Coast Track, Weekend 30th November/1st December, 2013

Sadly, there’s no room at the inn campground, so the walk will be rescheduled to next year.  Instead we’ll walk on the the Dubbo Gully Loop Trail on the Old Great North Road.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service says, “The renowned Coast track simply must be walked at least once in a lifetime.”  This is your chance.

The third and last overnight walk of the year takes us to the Coast Track in the Royal National Park.  The 26km track include cliffs, beaches,  escarpments, magnificent ocean views and the rugged beauty of Royal National Park’s coastline.  If you have never done an overnight hike before, this is the one to try. The walk is rated moderate difficulty.

For more information see 2013 Overnight Walk 3 (The Coast Track) flyer

You must register for this walk by Monday 18th November.  For more information contact Kit Craig on 0411 507 422 or email cartophiles@stjohnswahroonga.org

The Manly Scenic Walkway, Saturday 7th December, 2013

The last walk for 2013 for the Cartophiles bushwalking club is another that has become a regular part of our annual program: the iconic Spit Bridge to Manly walk, one of Australia’s top ten day walks.  This beautiful and varied 9km walk follows the Manly Scenic Walkway.  It is rated as moderate and we have previously walked it with children.

For more information see 2013 Walk 11 (Spit to Manly) flyer

To register for the walk, or to get more information, contact Kit Craig at cartophiles@stjohnswahroonga.org
or on 0411 507 422.

To Seek and Save

Listen!
Psalm 119:137-144 | Luke 19:1-10
I doubt that there has ever been a society in which being a tax collector was a profession which would make you automatically popular amongst your peers. Even in a stable democracy like Australia, in which we have a say in the government that spends our tax dollars, and in which, for all the genuine disagreements in our political system, there is actually broad agreement on the vast majority of our spending, most people still resent paying tax, and would choose to pay less if they had that choice.

So if even we hold a grudge towards the ATO – even if we might admit that it is not a rational one – how much more so in Israel at the time of Jesus; when taxes were collected not for the local civic authorities (of course, the Temple did have its own tax, used for local welfare purposes – but that’s not the sort of tax collector Zacchaeus was), but on behalf of the occupying Roman Empire. These taxes either disappeared to a distant Rome, or paid the wages of the ever present and ever resented Roman legions.

And the tax collectors? They were, for the most part, locals. People of Israel. Jews. Taking money on behalf of, and with the military support of, the Emperor. And, of course, lining their own pockets on the way. To be a tax collector was to have betrayed your people; to have chosen to be on the other side. To have chosen the coin of the Emperor over solidarity and fellowship with the people of God.

And Zaccheaus? He wasn’t just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. Meaning that he ran the show. He recruited others to do the tax collecting for him. He had not just changed sides himself, chosen the Empire over the people, but he was actively working to bring others across as well. Recruiting traitors.

So it’s hardly suprising that he isn’t able to approach Jesus in the crowd. His choice of sides may have made him wealthy, but it came at a great cost. He was not welcome. In the throng of people surrounding Jesus, he was not welcome. He couldn’t join the crowd, the buzz of the community. He’d sold that right.

And perhaps he had a sense that the price he’d paid was too high. For though there was nothing in the ministry of Jesus that would suggest for a moment that he would be a sympathiser with Rome, still, Zaccheaus wanted to see him. Wanted to know what it was all about. Wanted to understand.

Perhaps – perhaps even wanted to know whether it was too late to change his mind. To unburn his bridges. To walk back those choices he had made, years ago, little by little, the choices that had led him to both wealth and isolation, to worldly success and separation from his people, from the people of God.

Perhaps he had heard that Jesus welcomed sinners. Perhaps he hoped that might even include him. And so he takes a tentative step to find out more. He won’t – or can’t – confront the crowd thronging around Jesus, but he climbs a tree, to look on from a distance. The outsider, unwelcome.

And Jesus stops, and sees him there, and invites himself home for dinner.

I’ve talked before about the role of meals in the first century Jewish culture. To go to someone’s home, to eat with them, was to share both their honour and their shame, to identify with them in the structure of society. Zaccheaus did not break bread with the people any more – his meals would be taken with other tax collectors, with the Roman authorities, or alone. He would surely not have dared to invite Jesus to dine with him, knowing that would just lead to painful and humiliating rejection. Again.

But Jesus stops, and invites himself.

Of course, the crowd didn’t like it. “He’s a sinner, a traitor” they complain. Words Zaccheaus has no doubt heard many times in his life. But Zaccheaus doesn’t reply to the crowd – he just speaks to Jesus. “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” As if he’s realised it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It doesn’t matter what the crowd are saying about him – in that moment all that matters to Zaccheaus is that Jesus understands that he, Zaccheaus, means business. That he wants things to be different. That he is willing to pay the price, to do what is necessary. To exchange the wealth that he has gained for the life that he has lost.
And Jesus tells him “Today, salvation has come to this house”. Salvation has come to this house. When we use that word, salvation, in the Church, the emphasis often seems to be on something in the future, salvation of our eternal souls after our death. But Jesus uses the word in the present tense – ‘today, salvation’. Today, Zaccheaus’ life has been saved. Today he has found that he can be acccepted by those he has betrayed and cheated – for Jesus has accepted him. Today he found he could begin the long (and, for him, expensive!) journey back to being one of the people of God. That it was possible to make right the wrong choices he had taken.

That the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.

I guess one of the reasons this encounter sticks in the mind, in the imagination, is that we can all put ourselves into Zaccheaus shoes. We all know what it’s like to be an outsider, looking in on a crowd that seems to be having so much more life, wishing we could be part of it. And we all know thre regret of having made bad choices – decisions that seemed attractive at the time but that we would love to untake, words that we wish we could unsay. We’ve all been stuck up our own trees, wishing we could come down.

And Jesus comes and offers that chance, that choice, to Zaccheaus. He doesn’t fix things for him. He doesn’t take Zaccheaus back in some sort of spiritual tardis and allow him to change his past.

Jesus doesn’t fix things, he doesn’t even tell Zaccheaus what he need to do – but he makes it possible for him to make the choices, the changes, that he already knows he needs to make. When Jesus stopped by the tree and called up to Zaccheaus he said to him “whatever has happened, whatever you have done, whoever you have hurt or has hurt you, I’m still interested in you. I still love you. You still have a place at the dinner table with me”. And doing so he made him the offer: “take the step of faith. Do what you can do to put right what is wrong, what separates you from you community and your God. Repent, because I have come to save you”.

Those are the words of Jesus to us, calling up our trees – come down! You are welcome by my side, amongst my people. Sure, there are things you need to put right, but you know that, and trust me, you can do it. Because you too are a child of Abraham, a child of our God.

I wonder if we have the grace to hear those words, to come down, to make the changes we know we need to make – to offer the apology, to make right the harm, to take the step towards reconciliation. To accept Jesus’ invitation to eat with him, to be part of his people, his movement, his Kingdom.

And I wonder too, if we have the grace to extend that invitation to those who we know are still on the outside. To go to those who are being excluded – or who are excluding themselves – and offer them the hospitality of Christ; offer them the words and actions that say “you are valuable. you are welcome. you can be saved”

Words we need to hear. Words we need to share.

Amen.

Saints

Listen!
Psalm 149 | Ephesians 1:11-23
This week we saw marked one of the major, but widely unrecognised festivals of the Church. You could of course be forgiven for thinking that the major festival this last week was Halloween – although if you think that Halloween has got out of control over here in Australia, share a thought for my friend Steve in Scotland who posted on Facebook that he “had an email from Debenhams online decorated with pumpkins and skulls and offering 20% off all lingerie”. But although Halloween owes its origins to the Christian practice of working to clean and tidy graveyards on the last day of October, I’m obviously talking about the day for which Halloween is the ‘een’, the ‘eve’ – All Hallows, or, as we would more normally name it, All Saints Day.

All Saints Day is a tradition that the Church has, for the most part, allowed to fade away, and it is greatly to our loss. For this is the day of the year when we take the opportunity to remember and acknowledge the saints who have gone before us, those who have guided and shaped and supported and encouraged and challenged us in the faith, but who are no longer with us.

Now an obvious text for such a service would be the great cloud of witnesses, from Hebrews chapter 12: we are surrounded by those who have gone before us. And I love that passage – the encouragement it gives us, to think of those we have loved and lost like spectators in the stands, cheering us on as we run the race of faith.

But in the end, it’s still a text about us, those of us left behind. And today I wanted instead to talk about something which is shared by all the saints – the ones here in this room today, the ones gathered in similar or very different places around the world, and the ones who have gone before us.
Something that Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians, calls our inheritance.

Now it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has heard me preach more than a couple of times that I’m not big on the whole “saved for heaven hereafter” sort of theme of the Christian faith. An emphasis on the Christian faith as a “get into heaven ticket” leads all sorts of abuses which seem an anathema to the gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus actually preached – because if the gospel is all about heaven hereafter, then there is no need to care about the needs of people in the current life – except perhaps as a means to the end of evangelism – no need to care about justice, or poverty, or the environment.
And yet those themes are far more prevalent in the Biblical narrative than themes of heaven or the hereafter, and anything that takes us away from them takes us away from the call of God to be people of the Kingdom.

But the fact that an overemphasis of a truth or doctrine can be unhealthy is not a reason to silence that truth. To treat it with care, yes. But not to forget it entirely.

And so it is with the inheritance that Paul proclaims to the saints at Ephesus – the redemption of God’s own people. This idea, this word, redemption, is a an important theme in the Bible. In Old Testament culture redemption was a legal process – the claiming of a possession – land, or, given the culture of the day, often a wife – that had been made ownerless by the death of the landowner (or husband). In the Old Testament law the nearest surviving relative had the right to claim both land and relationships of the deceased: they would redeem – take, or take back – ownership: they would claim the inheritance.

And the New Testament authors find in this Mosaic law an image for what God has done for us: that we have been redeemed, claimed by God; that we who lived outside the family of God have been taken into it, claimed as God’s as God’s inheritance.

And this is Paul’s prayer for the followers of Jesus in Ephesus – that they may know the riches of God’s glorious inheritance amongst the saints. A glorious inheritance that Paul can only make sense of by speaking of the resurrection.

For he goes on: “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead”.

For this is the power of redemption, the power of God’s inheritance, the power at work in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the first among many, the first fruits, the firstborn of the whole family of God. It is the power of resurrection, the power that says that death is not only not the end, but that it marks the beginning of something far more glorious than that which has gone before. For our inheritance lies with Christ, as his people, his brothers and sisters, and he is the one who, Paul continues, is seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come”.

This is the inheritance that we share with all of God’s saints, an inheritance that is found in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus; an inheritance marked in us with seal of the Holy Spirit; an inheritance secure in the power of God; an inheritance which is our redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of God’s glory.

For us, this is words. Powerful words, hopeful words, perhaps inspiring words. But in the end, words.

But for those who we have loved and lost, those who have gone before us, this is the present reality. Their inheritance, their redemption, with Christ, the head of all things.

This is the great cloud of witnesses; the saints who went before our, whose memory inspires us, whose example challenges us. The ones who watch us as we wrestle with the ups and downs of life, with moral dilemmas and human temptations and spiritual confusions of the human condition. The ones who know what it is like, for they have lived it too, just as their king and ours has lived it, just as we live it.

The ones who watch us, and cheers us on – but not like spectators in the stands so much as like victors at the post race party, cheering as we make our way along our unique paths towards the same destination, the same inheritance, the same redemption as God’s own people.

For they, in their time lived lives as if life mattered, and now celebrate as we do the same, knowing that we are already with them, and one day will rejoin them.

Amen.