I must confess that I often read a book’s last chapter first, and when it comes to the Bible, that’s what we are doing today as we open one of the sixty-six books in a library we gather under the name “Holy Bible.”
Today’s first lesson has us turning to the end of the Book of Isaiah where we read God’s pledge:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
Turn to the last book at the end of the Bible, where an echo of that pledge made by God is picked up in a letter to Christians in seven first-century communities: (Revelation 21: 1-3)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;…coming down out of heaven from God, …
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;’
On this after-Tuesday-Sunday, this annual time called “Bible Sunday,” it’s also good to turn to the last chapter in four other little books called “God’s Good News in Jesus Christ” – the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and read the last chapter in each one.
It’s good to read those last chapters which vividly describe that Good Friday when darkness came over a trembling earth as God-in-Christ descended into the pit of death, only to break loose in the dawning light of the Easter day, spotlighting Jesus’ empty tomb that echoes with the word:
“Jesus is not dead; Jesus is on the loose!”
When we feel the world is in a mess, when masses of people are frustrated to the point of anger-fired protest, when our own life may be a cauldron of anxiety, when we don’t see any evidences for hope, when our heart is breaking over a loved one’s misdirected choices, or weaning health and pending death, that’s when it’s good to read the last chapter first,” - in the end of the Book of Isaiah and the end of the last book in the Bible that pick up the prophet’s word of God’s pledge: to create new heavens and a new earth,
and it’s especially good to read the last chapters in the Bible’s library called the Gospels.
In those pages the pledge of God to create new heavens and a new earth is brought forward for Jesus’ closest friends to see on that first Easter morning and relive every Sunday – which we do as we call this day: “a little Easter.” Every Sunday – a “little Easter” that casts the dawning light of God’s pledge to create new heavens and a new earth, awakening us
to be “in but not of the world;”
to begin each day reciting God’s intention to bring the last chapter’s pledge in Isaiah forward, as we say:(2 Corinthians 5:17)
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”
and begin each day remembering Jesus said,
“The Kingdom of God is within you.”
especially after last Tuesday!
And so, the charge:
Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
so that, as Jesus said,
“By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Work at letting the light of God’s promised future shine through all we do;
work at being a reflection of Christ’s justice, compassion, and accepting welcome - the qualities that are signs of the spark of God’s life within us,
the marks of having “gained a soul.”
Work at bringing God’s pledge read in the end of the Book of Isaiah forward for others to read on the pages of our life;
work at being a readable copy of the Bible we read,
work at being our own version of the stories that others have to tell, with a sampling provided through the Bible Society of the
United Kingdom to be shared on Bible Sunday.
Salma* and her husband had a comfortable life in Syria with their seven children. When fighting broke out in their town, they left for Jordan. The border was only an hour away. Their intention was to wait until the skirmish died down, and return home. That was three years ago. Their home is now rubble, and they have lost everything. They are still in Jordan where Christian workers are bringing the Bible to life by demonstrating God’s love – helping Salma find a flat and providing her with food, and inviting her to attend a women’s group.
Salma said, “We studied the Bible and shared our worries. It was at this group that I really met Jesus – and I received a Bible,’
After a year of love, prayer and support from the team of Christians, Salma became a Christian, and said,
‘The belief in Jesus makes life worth living, even though I own nothing. The Bible is everything in my life. I’ve changed. I believe God brought me here from Syria, to go from dark to light.’ (* changed to protect her identity)
God’s last chapter pledge brought forward for Salma.
In a village in northern Rwanda, Chantel and Petronille who are sisters-in-law now share a hug and giggle, but for 18 years they refused to speak to each other. The fall-out goes back to the chaotic aftermath of the 100-day genocide that saw 800,000 people slaughtered in Rwanda. The pair don’t spell out what triggered a great depth of bitterness and hatred. Chantel and her husband Bernard cut ties with his brother and his wife Petronille. Bernard’s brother took that feud to his grave, and even after his death the family was divided,
until the Bible brought reconciliation and healing; they explain,
‘We read that no person may judge others and that we must first remove the log in our own eye. Now we have taken the time to understand one another and forgive each other. We have reconciled our differences and today we are living in peace and share everything. We are here together, and testify to the work God has done in our lives.’
God’s last chapter pledge brought forward for Chantel
In China, fourteen years ago a husband ripped a Bible from his wife’s hand, because he didn’t like her going to church. It was her only copy, destroyed and unreadable. But she heard a team was handing out copies near her village. She walked for two hours to get one and says,
‘I have God in my heart all the time, but I haven’t had a Bible for 14 years. Today I’m so happy to get one!’
She is just one member of China’s rapidly-growing Church where it is estimated the number could double within the next decade –
and five million Bibles a year will be needed for every new believer to have one…
so each will be able to read God’s last chapter pledge.
When writing an article for Bible Sunday, John Pritchard, a British author and former Bishop in the Church of England, reminders his readers that the French philosopher Voltaire once said,
‘A hundred years from my death the Bible will be a museum piece.’ A hundred years after his death the French Bible Society set up its headquarters in Voltaire’s old home in Paris.
In the West the Bible may go un-read, in our own homes a copy may be collecting dust, but through a sampling of stories made available on the internet for this Bible Sunday we meet people
in a refugee camp, in a Rwandan village, in a Chinese
where the abandoned and the persecuted are not growing weary in doing what is right because they are sustained by God’s pledge:
to create new heavens and a new earth,
which when reading the last chapters in the Gospels,
rejoice to see God’s future is already happening in the lives
of all who welcome the Easter Christ; then
“there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”
The word on this Bible Sunday is: It is a library of books that when some of the last chapters are read first,
we will find a new life is dawning for us;
the only place where change can begin and must begin.
But first we need to open a Bible – held in hand or opened through the internet - and read it. AMEN.