What the Spirit Says: Thyatira

Sunday, October 10, 2001

Location - Bath
Attribute - Christian Character/Fruits
Bible Verses - Hosea 4
Revelation 4:18-29


Bath 10-21-01

Isaiah 43:1-13 Hymns: 312

Luke 24:36-52 *34

Responsive Reading #25. pp. 153f. 316

True Christianity 3

I came out from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the

world and going back to the Father.

John 16:28

This is the fourth in the series of efforts to put the basic tenets of our

faith into brief and simple statements, and each such effort will begin

with a list of the previous statements, on the time-tested theory that

repetition can be an aid to learning. The first three statements, then,

were "There is no wrath of God," "The Lord is good to all," and "The Lord

our God is one." This morning we focus again on the Lord with the

statement, "We worship the risen Lord."

In Convention's 1950 Book of Worship, the statement of faith in the First

Order of Service is entitled, "The Adoramus: Our Faith in the Glorified

Lord." "Adoramus" is Latin for the opening words of the statement, "We

worship," and the words "glorified Lord" are intended to rule out two

common misconceptions. First of all, the word "glorified" is reminding us

that we do not worship Jesus of Nazareth. The word "Lord" reminds us that

we do not worship an infinite and unknowable "Father," either. This

morning, I should like," and then look at what these two "exclusions" imply

for our understanding of ourselves, our relationship to the Lord, and our

relationships to each other.

It may help to begin with some church history. Our own churches have never

made much use of the cross as a symbol of our faith. In this respect, we

are in a sense returning to the practice of the apostolic church. As I have

mentioned several times before, there is evidence in the Book of Acts that

the apostles did not go forth with the message that Jesus had died for our

sins, which is often the message of the cross, but with the message that

Jesus had risen from the dead. They saw themselves called to be witnesses

to the resurrection (see Acts 1:22). A brief description of the early

church is offered in Acts 4:32f.:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and

no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they

owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their

testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon

them all.

Paul put more emphasis on the crucifixion, but primarily as a model for the

Christian: "We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the

body of sin might be destroyed and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

For whoever has died is freed from sin" (Romans 6:6f.). But Paul goes on

even here to point beyond the crucifixion: "But if we have died with

Christ, we believe that we will also live with him" (Romans 6:8). In other

words, far from saying that Christ has died for our sins, Paul is saying

that we ourselves must die for them.

The cross moved to the center of Christian symbolism with the reign of

Constantine in the fourth century, and this was part of an immense change

in the nature and activity of the church. It was with Constantine that

Christianity suddenly ceased to be an outlaw religion, subject to

unpredictable spasms of persecution, and became the official religion of

the Roman empire; and the symbol of the cross is very much involved in this

change. The fourth-century historian Eusebius (who was particularly

concerned to present Constantine in the most favorable light possible)

described a vision that Constantine had seen on the evening of a battle:

"He saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens,

above the sun, and bearing the inscription, `CONQUER BY THIS.'" The symbol

of his army? "A long spear overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the

cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it" (James Carroll,

Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews [Boston: Houghton Mifflin,

2001]. p. 175).

Small wonder that the symbol of the cross was dreaded by the enemies of the

Roman empire and especially by Jews, who found themselves increasingly

persecuted because of their supposed role in the crucifixion. By the

eleventh century, the cross became the symbol of the Crusader-the word

"crusade" is derived from the word for "cross"-and led the Christian armies

in their bloody wars against the Muslims who lived in the Holy Land. Small

wonder that President Bush's use of the word "crusade" roused violent


Much of that history has been forgotten by us and by many Christians, of

course. The cross can be found in some of our own most traditional

churches, primarily to convey the message that we are indeed a Christian

church. It is sad indeed that even this title, even the name "Christian,"

is so commonly associated with an insistence that only Christians are

saved, and all too often with outright bigotry; but in a way, the seeds of

that distortion were planted back in the fourth century, with the adoption

of the cross as a symbol of military conquest.

The return to a focus on the resurrection is significant. It does not mean

a denial of the crucifixion, since the disaster of the crucifixion was the

necessary prelude to the triumph of the resurrection. It may be then

appropriate to have the empty cross as a symbol, the cross reminding us of

the death and the emptiness testifying to the victory of life. Still, it

seems clear that the most appropriate symbol of our faith, if we can call

it that, is the figure of the Lord as risen and glorified. This is why two

of our orders of service begin with that image, one from the story of the

transfiguration and one from the vision of John that introduces the Book of


The resurrection, I would suggest, is what makes sense out of everything

else. The figure of Jesus of Nazareth is enigmatic-sometimes radiant,

transfigured, and sometimes bereft, feeling himself forsaken by his God. We

can identify with this figure to some extent because of our own highs and

lows, but what is worthy of our worship is the source of the highs. It is

important to remember that we do not worship the human Jesus of Nazareth,

but equally important to see in that human figure the workings of divinity.

It is the Father within who is doing the works, the Father who is beyond

our sight, beyond our comprehension. Things are not completely sorted out

until the resurrection. Then the inner nature has, so to speak, filled

every least crevice of the outer. Then all the weakness has been filled

with strength and all the doubt with certainty. This is not infinite Deity,

but it is the face of infinite Deity, "for in him the whole fullness of

deity dwells embodied" (Colossians 2:9).

There is a most marvelous paradox here. Nothing is more mysterious, more

impossible to comprehend, than the intersection of the infinite and the

finite, of divinity and humanity, and yet nothing, nothing whatever, is

more common. At this moment and at every moment of our lives, we live

because the Lord's life is flowing into us. We feel because of the inflow

of the Lord's love, we think and perceive because of the inflow of the

Lord's wisdom, we act because of the inflow of the Lord's strength. The

very experience we have of being independent creatures is a gift, something

we are granted from moment to moment.

One of the Lord's parables points to that presence with particular clarity.

It is the parable of the sheep and the goats in the twenty-fifth chapter of

Matthew, and the particular statements that carry this message are "Just as

you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you

did it to me," and "Just as you did not do it on one of the least of these,

you did not do it to me." We are dealing with the Lord in everyone we meet

because everyone we meet is being sustained in life by the same love and

wisdom that are flowing into us. Everyone else embodies this same paradox,

the same intersection between humanity and divinity, that is infinitely

present in the incarnation and that is resolved in the resurrection.

Making the resurrection central, then, focusing our worship on the risen

Lord, is focusing our attention on the promise of life and not simply on

its difficulties and dangers. It is reminding us that the Lord has designed

each one of us for angelhood, for a brilliance and beauty that we can

scarcely comprehend. This is true of men and women, rich and poor, literate

and illiterate, Christians and Muslims-there are no exceptions. The

apparent exceptions, the people who are deliberately malevolent or cruel or

licentious or grasping, are not exceptions but tragedies.

Once we focus on the resurrection for which we have been created, even the

crucifixion fits the picture. Quite literally, we have caught a glimpse

"something to die for." This is what the Lord's parables of the pearl of

great price and the treasure hidden in the field are trying to tell us; and

the Lord's life among us shows us what is involved in this dying. It is not

just enduring through one last moment of agony. It is the daily laying down

of our lives for those around us. Day after day he gave his attention to

the people he had come to save, and without that foundation of self-giving,

the self-giving on the cross would never have happened.

To love each other as he has loved us, then, means finding daily

self-forgetfulness in words and deeds of caring. It means noticing our

tendencies to self-importance whenever they surface and turning away from

them. It means spending less time imagining what other people could or

should do to make our lives more comfortable and more time trying to

discover what we can do, less time wishing they would change and more time

wishing we would change.

We can hardly expect ourselves to do this if all we can see is the

sacrifice involved, if we cannot see beyond the cross. That is the culture

in which martyr complexes are bred, the fertile ground of self-pity.

Wherever the spirit shines through the letter of Scripture we are called to

"choose life" rather than death. We are called, that is, to be witnesses to

the resurrection not simply by talking about it but by living it. We are

called to a joy that comes only when divinity and humanity meet, to a

community filled with the presence of the glorified Lord.



True Christianity 3

In its specific form, the faith of the new heaven and the new church is as

follows. Jehovah God is love itself and wisdom itself, or the good itself

and the true itself. He came down as divine truth, which is the Word and

was "God with God", and took on our human nature with a view to bringing

everything in heaven, everything in hell, and everything in the church back

into its intended design. He did this because at that time the power of

hell was stronger than the power of heaven, and on earth the power of evil

stronger than the power of good, so that utter damnation was standing at

the gates and threatening us. Jehovah God lifted this impending damnation

by means of his human nature, which was divine truth, and by doing so

redeemed both angels and humans. Then he united divine truth with divine

good in his human nature and thereby returned to the divine nature he had

had from eternity, together with and within his glorified human nature.


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