THE LORD OF TIME - REVEALED
Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, the 14th January 2018 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregations of St. Alban's and St. Mary's Church of England, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20 Revelation 5: 1-10 S. John 1:43-51
John 1: 51 “And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Our Scripture readings today are, as so often, the recourse we have to keep us in mind that there is a reality that goes beyond the calculus of our own plans. We all know what it is to be held up in our plans by unforeseen events of one kind or another, ranging from some minor sickness to some more significant disaster such as an earthquake. Some plans of ours too may be advanced in a way we had not envisaged by factors over which we have no personal control. A letter or email may arrive which one was not expecting that has the potential to change the course of one’s life. Perceptive visions of the bad and of the good that are tagged with a particular date, like George Orwell’s “1984" may possess considerable insight but are not really found, when the chosen date passes, to have related to it more than to any other date. Another one, like Cayman’s “Vision 2008" may not have been fulfilled in 2008, yet find itself used in the 2008 draft of the proposed new Cayman Islands constitution. Whatever my work here in Cayman has become has gone in extent and direction much different from what I envisaged for it when my wife and I took the decision to come here, and any significance of it to the future will rest largely in other hands and on factors over which I will have no control. The Scriptures point us to a Providential God working out things according to His timing rather than ours, even working into His good purpose the minor and major hold-ups and dislocations that we experience and that discountenance us from time to time. It is for us to work within the things that He provides for us and permits to us, and to be liberal in our exercise of faith and prayer over those things that might be desirable but not currently available.
In the Old Testament reading the young Samuel is called in the temple, the shrine at Shiloh, by the Lord, and according to the account the scroll of the future, so to speak, was unfurled to the boy, at least sufficiently for him to convey a warning to his mentor Eli. First, the Lord gets the boy’s attention. We notice that on this occasion it is not the experienced man of God that the Lord is calling, even though the message is going to be for him. Sometimes God has special reasons for using the inexperienced, or the young, or the new people among us. We understand from the account that there were things that were not right or pleasing about the priestly ministry of Eli and his family. On this occasion, God conveyed his message to one whose heart was not soiled in the way that Eli was compromised. Also, the account shows one of the many occasions in Scripture in which God requires the source of His revelations to be recognised. It follows that when in the church’s life or in an individual's life something goes particularly well, we should not congratulate ourselves on our own good judgment or ascribe it merely to good luck. We should give space to divine input. It was when the boy responded to the divine voice to him, and under instruction recognised it as the Lord’s, that the prophetic message was conveyed. So Samuel was granted insight into the future in a way that went beyond the normal requirements of experience and savvy. First, his heart was not compromised as Eli’s is recorded to have been, and secondly, he gave recognition (by Eli’s instruction) to the divine source of his insight.
The New Testament takes us further, however: it is suggested in the Revelation to St. John the Divine that to be able truly to look into the future one must be worthy. So in Chapter 5 in our second lesson only one was found worthy to break the seals and unfurl the scroll of the future, the Lamb that was slain and yet stood, with seven horns and with seven eyes. In this figure we see Jesus, who fulfilled the calling of the suffering Servant for us, the horns being the symbol of royal status and authority. It is interesting that before the Lamb is seen by John the Seer, He is described to John by one of the heavenly elders as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, who has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.
The Old Testament is ambivalent in describing Israel’s formation of a system of royalty. The mature prophet Samuel believed that in choosing to have a king as the surrounding nations did, Israel was being unfaithful in its allegiance to its only King, the Lord. Nevertheless, the Lord permits it and weaves the notion of earthly kingship with all its faults into His purpose. For in the royal Messiah, Jesus, we see into the true heart of a king. We see what true royalty is all about. Here we have a king who relates to his people with the heart not of an earthly dictator, but with the heart of one that was slain and by his blood did ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth, in the words of our second lesson today. This is the King that died so that others - so that we - can reign. Turning on its head our earthly notion of royalty, when the true King dies, His royal credentials are declared and the royal line of those who are made kings by His death is established. The seven eyes of the slain but standing Lamb are explained in the biblical text as the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. His sacrificial royalty is everywhere communicated. If we by His sacrifice are made kings, the nature of His kingship is also communicated to us and by us. We were not made kings to have hearts of earthly dictators, but to sacrifice ourselves as He did for others, that the royal line be extended. We are to fit into the great divine purpose, and not work against it.
In the Gospel Jesus' insight first identifies the guileless character of a new disciple, Nathanael, who is widely believed to be the apostle Bartholomew, in a passage that is a little reminiscent of the Lord’s dealings with Samuel in the Old Testament lesson. Jesus first reveals Himself to Nathanael before that disciple understands who He is, but the recognition accomplished, Jesus reveals to him the purpose of God, that finally, heaven and earth, eternity and time, will be connected in Himself the Son of man. He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” The reality of life that goes beyond all our calculations: the truth that God sees that we hide from, by the fragile masks that we wear: the working out of all God’s purpose even through set-backs and tragedies: these are all known, understood and borne by the Royal one, the Sacrificial Lamb, the Son of God, the Son of man, the royal Lord of the scroll of time, who communicates to this age His insight, His purpose and His bearing of our sins and sicknesses as surely as the seven spirits of God are sent out from Him into all the earth.
Let us then resolve rightly to interpret all our experience in time by the timeless reality of this revelation through the pages of Scripture, this epiphany of the Son of God, at once the Lamb of God slain for us, and the royal Lion.