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11th September 2022

Party’s Over-or is it?

Passage: Revelation 21;1-7,22-26


For St John, the party was, quite definitely, over. His years of following Jesus around had not always been easy but were filled with exciting comradeship and a sense of celebration that God was right here, right now. Then there was the founding of the first Christian church, with its own party atmosphere as hundreds of people joined, cultures inter-mingled, gifts and opportunities un-dreamed of came their way. It was in this spirit of celebration that John had helped to set up new churches all around the Mediterranean
But now the party was over. The Roman Empire, suspicious of this new faith, sent John to a prison island, where, isolated from his Christian comrades, over-worked and under-fed, John experienced a dream or a series of dreams that were a vision of life to come. These now make up the book of Revelation.

The book is not easy reading but, like many of our dreams, it partly reflects John’s own experiences. There are seven churches mentioned, probably those he had set up. An angel delivers a verdict on each one: good, bad, under threat and one described as “lukewarm”. In other words, people could take it or leave it. Bit like a lot of churches today if we are honest….
Then there is great deal of high drama, with battles and monsters and angels and demons- like something out of Lord of the Rings. You see, John as a boy would have been brought up on what is called Jewish apocalyptic- stories and visions from a time when Jews were living under the totalitarian Persian regime, in which you did not dare speak out openly, but you did express your feelings in stories and dramas. So, you had the battles, the monsters, the goodies and baddies, the endlessly burning fires- the kind of stuff a young lad living in a difficult time would have loved. Now it was all coming out as he wrote of a great serpent a fire-breathing dragon and the whore of Babylon. It is powerful stuff written from a dark place. But, as the book ends, John has hope that the party will, after all, go on.

His final vision is of a new heaven and a new earth; an empire of justice and peace; a place where there is no pain, no grief, no drought, no evil; a place where all the nations-instead of fighting one another- can bring everything good and lovely to share in a holy city, which will be open to everyone. The light of God will fill this place. Faith will be a thing of beauty and harmony instead of fear and hatred.

If you have enjoyed working through our PARTY BOOKLET, you will have recognised the sharing of food, the mingling of cultures, the welcoming of friends, the telling of stories, the showing off your party piece, the looking good and feeling good- all reflected in this final vision of St John’s.

And it is great. It looks like the most wonderful party ever. The only problem is that St John is apparently talking about something which will happen after death. It is not about this world or this life. And cynics would call it “Pie in the sky when you die.” What is the point of looking forward to a party you can only attend when you are dead? And how can we be 100% sure it is going to happen anyway?

But St John felt strongly that he should write this vision down, that it needed to be shared. Because it would give people hope and hope not only counteracts despair but generates action. Hope will inspire the way we live NOW.
If we have a hope and vision for a world which is fair and just, filled with love and light, cleansed from evil and destruction, that hope will make a huge difference to the way we think and speak; dream and behave right now. John’s vision of this great party, seen and then written down by him under the most appalling circumstances, would actually come to inspire and empower millions to live for making this world and this life a whole lot better. Because, you see, by living in hope, John and so many others found it possible to generate a party atmosphere even in the darkest and dreariest of places.

Was not this what people had found when they encountered Jesus Christ? Like everyone else he was living under harsh, oppressive government; he was poor, sometimes hungry, had no place to call home. He was to suffer pain, injustice, hatred, betrayal and yet, wherever he went, he managed to generate a party spirit of joy and hope; delight and reconciliation amongst the people he mixed with. I am come that they might have life, he said, and have it more abundantly. He brought the reality of God’s presence into human lives, giving people reason to believe that they were loved, that they were precious, that they had power, that they could be forgiven, renewed, and healed when life had gone wrong. He taught them that the crucial aspects of God’s kingdom were in them and not dependent on political or material status. No matter what was going on around them, they could still act justly, love with mercy and walk humbly with God.

Today, as we think with deep and loving respect of our late Queen; and reflect on what has been said about her, you might say that she too managed to generate a party atmosphere wherever she went. It was nothing to do with food or dressing up or decorations or protocol. It was her dedication to duty with a smile rather than with a sigh; her respect for those from different cultural and religious backgrounds; her belief in reconciliation even with those who had once been our enemies; her warm appreciation of all who gave service to the country in whatever form; her belief in us. It was Boris Johnson who said, “she always made you feel better about yourself.” Her reign has taken this country through very some hard times, but she consistently hoped and did her best to work for better times. Over and over again, she attributed her strength and inspiration to faith in Jesus Christ.

For, in Jesus Christ we may hold our trust that God himself remains with us. And so, you can still create a party atmosphere even when the party itself appears to be over. And by doing so, you are ensuring, by the grace of God, that the party will happen again.

Which brings us, finally, to today’s special party: the baptism of Erin Huggett. The baptism of a child is a celebration of their birth, of their family, of the community into which they are born and of God’s love for that child. All of which sounds like a reason for a great party.

Our job now-every single one of us- is to keep on creating that party atmosphere in Erin’s life. Like every other human being she will experience bad times as well as good and, like every single one of us, she will be in danger of sinking into despair, of giving up on herself, on life and on God. But the party can and will go on for her. Her parents and godparents have promised to pray for her and with her; to teach her God’s love and God’s ongoing presence in her life. They have promised to bring her into this community of faith, where she can be encouraged to keep believing. We have promised to create that atmosphere of welcome, love, joy, community, celebration, and service so that Erin can keep faith, hold hope, and grow in love.

And, in keeping our promise, we shall ensure that the party does go on; that the party affirming life and love and God will never end; that the party creating justice, peace and the integrity of creation will keep growing and keep creating a better world right here, right now.

Yes, I believe in the great party after death, in God’s eternity. But I also believe in the ongoing party right here, right now. Because this party is generated by faith in Jesus Christ who came to bring us life abundant and who continues to keep his promise.