Sunday, May 14, 2017

Building the New Jerusalem

Isaiah 26.1-9
Revelation 21.1-4
This is a picture of what God’s perfect world order would be like. Of course, for the Prophet, it would be centered on Jerusalem. For Christians it would be centered on the New Jerusalem, which could be anywhere. When I was at college in Manchester there was a giant tapestry on the wall. It depicted the New Jerusalem, but if you looked closely many of its buildings were actually famous local landmarks. The artist was saying that Manchester could be the New Jerusalem if its people obeyed God’s will.
And that message comes straight out of Isaiah’s prophecy. The gates of the New Jerusalem will be opened to welcome in those who keep faith with God, who are unwaivering in their pursuit of peace.
The Prophet sets up a stark contrast with another mountain city, which thought it was better than Jerusalem, which has been brought low because of its disobedience. ‘The poor and the needy, or the abused, stomp all over that city!’ he says.
But although Jerusalem is on a mountain it’s not clear where this rival city was, nor even if it’s meant to be an actual place, because in any case the Prophet says that God will makes the path straight or smooth for those who trust him to bring about justice, who are earnestly seeking to know his will and are ready to obey him.
Verse 9 might mean that God ‘wants to teach everyone on this earth how to live right,’ and - in order to bring that about - we just need to make people more aware of God’s way. Or it might mean that when God’s judgements or decisions start to be enacted on the earth then its inhabitants will learn the right way to live.
I think it’s this latter meaning which is more appropriate to Christian Aid Week. There’s a place within Christian Aid, and similar organisations with the same charitable purposes, for education, for telling people how we can  all have better lives, and how the way can be made smoother for those facing the greatest challenges, if everyone just learns to live right. This is one approach to ‘making the ask’, challenging people to donate to the cause.
But in the end our primary purpose has to be enacting God’s decisions, smoothing the way ourselves, so that the earth’s inhabitants will learn the right way to live not by what we say but by seeing our example. That’s the other way of ‘making the ask’, inspiring people by showing them what the New Jerusalem could be like if we all started keeping faith with God’s will.

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