Well, after 31 weeks, today we come to the end of our walk through the Bible. Since September, we’ve gone all the way from Genesis now to wrap things up in Revelation.
I won’t speak for everyone, but I know many of us have found this not just ‘worthwhile’, but completely eye-opening. I’ve been reading and studying the Bible a long time, but I wish someone had given me a gift like this years ago – the gift of not getting lost in the weeds, but zooming out to see the big picture; the perspective-changing, mind-blowing gift of seeing how Adam, Eve, and the serpent connect to Moses lifting up the snake on the pole, and Jesus being lifted up on the cross; the gift of seeing how creation, the flood, Moses floating down the river in a basket, and the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan all relate to your own baptism; the gift of seeing why it was necessary for God to give the Law even though He knew we couldn’t keep it, and how the whole point of the new covenant is that God says “I will do it for you, you just need to trust me”; the life-changing, overarching gift of coming to see that, no, bad things don’t “happen for a reason”, but God can and will use the bad things of a broken world to bring about incredible good; the gift of learning that God does keep his promises, He does finish what He starts, whether that’s with us or in spite of us, and the quicker that we admit that He’s God, the quicker He can heal us, open our eyes to see ourselves as the beloved children that He wants us to be, and then offer ourselves to bring that good news to a hurting world.
What a gift.
And it’s one of those things you won’t unlearn. Once you’ve seen how the story fits together, how each character in the Bible has a part to play in God’s big plan, I think you can’t go back – and that’s a good thing. It’s not a book of superheroes, but it’s also not a dry instruction manual: it’s a story; it’s a story of great love, of betrayal, of broken trust, but also of healing, and restoration, and victory over darkness. And it’s eternal – it’s God inviting ordinary, broken, hurting people like you and me to trust Him, to learn to be apprentices of his son, to let the Holy Spirit move in and fix in us what we could never fix ourselves, and then to find ourselves doing things we wouldn’t ever dream of.
And the best part is that the story isn’t over.
There’s an incredible gap between chapter 30 and chapter 31, and it’s important we don’t miss it. We’re living in that gap – the same Spirit who led the apostles to shake the world upside down, the same power that rose Jesus from the dead, the same Almighty God who can turn shipwrecks and imprisonments into victories, is at work in you and me, inviting us, in the same way that He invited Abraham and Moses and Ruth and Esther and the rest, to have our names written into the story.
Think about that: the only thing that separates you from any one of these characters is time and place. They’re ordinary men and women, caught up in the pain and circumstances of a broken world, facing doubts, carrying burdens, working through struggles and feelings of inadequacy, many with a past that haunts them, or with a point in their lives that made them want to give up. Everyone in the story shares that struggle – even Jesus, because that’s what we mean when we say “he was made man”.
But God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His plan to break the curse, to restore humanity, to let us dwell in his presence and share in his glorious life is just as true for you today as it was for anyone we read in these pages.
And the invitation is just as real, too.
And have you noticed… the people around you are saying yes!
Look at our little church. Look at the work we’ve done, not in our strength, but in our weakness! You’d never imagine that this little group of people – less than 2% of our town – would be able to touch so many lives in so many ways. We’ve got people who have never led a program before, and wouldn’t have ever dreamed of it, saying yes to God – “with God’s help”, I can lead GriefShare. Listen to that: with God’s help, I can offer healing to those who are hurting!
With God’s help, I can be a lay leader, I can tell my story and help to lead my congregation. We’ve got not one but two lay leaders who never dreamt of doing what they’re doing, but who said “ok… with God’s help, I can do it!”.
Over this summer you’re going to launch an ad campaign for Alpha; you’re going to run Alpha during a season without a Rector, and it’s going to be great! And you’re not going to do it for yourselves – you already know the story. You’re going to do it for your friends and neighbours and the strangers down the street, and you’re going to go beyond your comfort zone and you’re going to invite them in… why? Because you’ve learned that it’s not about your strength or your words; it’s about trusting God through your weakness, and learning to simply say “ok… with God’s help, I can”.
I mean, seriously: a few of us were talking one day last fall about how to welcome seniors in, since the senior’s room in the rec centre is closed… and then what happened? God said “here you go, do you trust me?” as the federal government handed over $23,000 to do a monthly seniors’ program. Absolutely crazy, never in our wildest dreams. But God invites us, and all we have to say is “ok… with God’s help, we can”.
We’ve learned – and are learning – to trust. We’re not rich, but when’s the last time somebody stood at this lectern to worry about money. No – we’re learning that God provides even more than we need, as long as we trust him to do it. It’s like the manna in the wilderness, if we trust God to provide what we need for the moment, He will, but if we try to hoard it so we don’t need to trust anymore, it dries up.
We’re learning to trust. Going without a rector is hard, and we’re certainly sad to go, but we’re not going to worry about it – there’s no point! We know God’s going to finish what He starts, so God will raise up people and equip them with the gifts we need. We’re trusting, not worrying: and God provides. Just this week, we got confirmation that we have a theological student coming as our full-time intern for July and August, and though I can’t share any details yet, there’s already a good application from an experienced priest who feels called to serve here.
You see, there’s a big gap between chapter 30 – the end of Paul’s life, and chapter 31. And we’re living in that gap.
Each and every day God calls you individually and together as a church to be part of this incredible story that is still being written.
We know how the story ends. It hasn’t happened yet, but the same God who kept His word and who empowered ordinary people to do the impossible has said it’s His plan. We know God’s plan to dwell in paradise with redeemed humanity will be accomplished.
And, not to be harsh, but we should realize at this point that God’s plan doesn’t depend on me or you. It doesn’t depend on St. John’s. God will finish what He started with or without us. But, He invites us to be part of it. He says “do you trust me? …Let’s do this! Come, be part of my story.”
So the only question is whether we say “Lord, that’s crazy, I’m not qualified, I don’t have the answers… but, “I will, with God’s help”.
Or whether we say “no thanks”, and become one of those who stand in the way; whether God accomplishes his plan in spite of us.
My friends, the serpent’s head is crushed. Death and the grave will be thrown away. The curse will be ended, and humanity will finally be set free to reflect God’s glory instead of being bent inward on ourselves. We will, one day, maybe soon, maybe long after we rest with our ancestors, be gathered before God to hear those wonderful words “well done, my good and faithful servant”, and welcomed into the land of love, peace, joy, and light that God had planned from the beginning. You and I, if we’re willing, will live with all the redeemed in the light of God’s presence, with access to the tree of life itself.
But for now, we’re living in the gap in the Story. And the characters, unlikely as it may seem, are me and you.
Will we be part of God’s story? Let’s say yes. Let’s continue to trust, more than we’ve ever trusted before. Because you never know – it could be that, a couple generations from now, the story of this little church in this little town is the story that other Christians read for inspiration. We know God uses the littlest and the least… but first, we have to say “yes”.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen.