Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Rev. 21:10-14,22-23; Psalm 67; John 14:23-29
In our lessons this morning we have two different versions of the city of Jerusalem. The first, from the Acts of the Apostles, is the historical, first century city in Judea. More specifically we hear about the first century Church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas met together with the Apostles and Elders of that Church to deal with the problem of the Judaizers who were teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. This is known as the Council of Jerusalem and is the model for all subsequent Church councils. The most important thing about this is not the decision that was made, but how it was made – “Therefore we have unanimously resolved” and “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours, too” are the key phrases here. In the Gospel lesson from St. John Our Lord says, “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you.” In the Council of Jerusalem we see this in action, the leaders of the Church gather in prayer and discussion and come to a unanimous decision guided by the Holy Spirit. Whether, as in this case, certain aspects of the decision lapse over time is not relevant. The Holy Spirit guides the Church for today as well as for eternity. And the prevalence of blood sausages and the strangling of chickens in Christian cultures shows that not all conciliar decisions are good for all time.
The second version of the city of Jerusalem is the “Holy city seen of John”, the heavenly Jerusalem as a symbol of the fulfilled Kingdom of God. Whether, when we get there, it will sparkle like a diamond or, as related elsewhere, have golden streets and gates of pearl, I don’t know. St. John was trying to describe heavenly things with earthly language, what he had seen no tongue, or pen, could say, but he tried anyway. We don’t have to take these passages literally in order to believe that they are true. We do believe that the fully realized Kingdom of God is a wondrous place, where God gives light and its lamp is the Lamb. Where there is no mourning, or crying or pain, where we shall see God face to face and reign with Christ.
This heavenly Jerusalem will be our eternal home, so how do we get there? In our Gospel lesson Jesus says to the disciples, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Eternity starts now, if we want to be with God forever, then we have to choose to be with him today. How do we love God and be true to Christ’s word? To answer that, first we have to know, What is love? We teach about this all of the time, and have for thirty years, because it is vitally important to our Christian vocation. Love is not what or how we feel, but what we do and how we act. We love God by loving those for whom Christ died, which is everybody. We love others by choosing to act, sometimes to our own detriment, in ways that lead them toward salvation. Jesus also said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but from the Father who sent me.” These words support St. Paul’s assertion that, “…without love I am a clanging bell, a clashing cymbal.” Sound and fury signifying nothing. We can talk a good line, know the Bible, know our faith, quote the Fathers, but if we do not act in love toward others and cherish them as they are cherished by God, then we are not Christ’s, and we have rejected the life and love of the Trinity.
Jesus goes on to say, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” In a homily several weeks ago, I spoke about the peace of Christ, and said then, and I repeat now, that the presence of the peace of Christ is the Kingdom of God. When we can live our life in Christ, with all that that means, and not let our hearts be troubled, and not be afraid. Then we are living in the Kingdom, we are living in God and God is living in us and we are loving as Christ loves.
For most of us, and that includes myself, this is a daily, hourly, struggle. We must choose and choose and choose again and again. But that is what we do, that is our Christian life; in every choice, decision, event, action, reaction we choose Christ, and we keep choosing until that day comes when we are chosen to go home with the Lord. And when we get there, we will realize that in our choosing we have been home with the Lord all along.
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