From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
Notice in the first picture of an ancient city that the city was the centre of religion. It has been said that if you look at the biggest structures in the center of a city, you will see what the city worships. Here in this picture is an altar on which sacrifices were made, gods were worshiped and often those gods, in ancient cultures were also the political leaders. Notice that the city had walls of defence. The promise of the city was that it would be a defence against the enemies that lurked in the darkness of the countryside.
The next picture is that of a medieval city, where the rich and the powerful made agreements with those who lived in their countryside to protect on the condition that they paid their taxes in food and supplies. The city became the consumer of good and services. It was still a centre for religion as depicted by the church in the background, but because it also represented rulership over territory, the city became a focal point of war. Those who remember the 2nd world war will remember that the cities were the worst place to be. At the same time, after the war, they were the places that were the first to be rebuilt. The city promised security and refuge.
We come to the third painting - of a modern city and we see once again the centre of religion, except this time it is the religion of economics as represented by the sky scrapers in the background. It becomes a place where the wealth and power is in the hands of a few. Ghettos develop, injustice abounds and law enforcement is needed to ensure control. This is the modern city of much of the world today.
So we see in these cities reoccurring themes.
Each is a centre of religion - of
cult, and so cities are places where culture is developed.
Cities are also a place of fellowship for it is in the city that many people, often different people, with different nationalities, different values, live and work together. But the flip side of that is that when fellowship gets distorted by sin, it becomes characterized by injustice and division as represented by the ghetto and the sky scrapers.
In this art is an interesting theme - the next picture we see is that of a women looking back toward the city that is, and forward to the city that will be - the city built on the precious stones of the apostle’s and the prophets, actually scripture tells us that we each are living stones being built into the temple of the living God. And so the last picture is of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, that comes from heaven to earth and we will have plenty of time to look at that in our upcoming services.
This morning we are at Pentecost. It is interesting that Jesus instructed his disciples to wait in the city until they received power from on high. And as they were all in one place, the power of the Spirit fell upon them. On that day when God birthed the church in the earthly city of Jerusalem, God was giving them a foretaste of the new City of Jerusalem. This morning, let me very quickly highlight some of those themes for you.
First, Pentecost became the focus of a new culture - where Jesus was the center of their message, his ministry of truth, his death, his resurrection became the focus of their faith, and the power of his Spirit became the experience that verified the truth of everything that happened to Jesus. The consequence was cultural. Citizens of this new Pentecostal city were devoted (they persisted in) to the apostle's teaching, to fellowship (Koinonia), to breaking of the bread (The Eucharist) and to prayer. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, their faith became reliable and consistent. Even their attendance to the building of community became very reliable. The focus of this "taste of the new city" is that God and the truths of his kingdom along with his people came before everything else. "Seek first the kingdom..." This was the culture of the new city.
Secondly, notice that the citizens of the city of Pentecost became remarkably generous and just.. They were willing to sell their possession in order to share with those in need, regarding themselves as stewards of what God had given them. In contrast to our cities were we have ghettos and sky scrapers, in the city of God, there was sharing. Instead of our individualism, materialism and loneliness, the taste of the new city culture in Pentecost is a radical contrast from what we experience today.
Third, this taste of the city of God was a place of connectedness. They met with each other daily. In contrast to the cities where neighbours don’t even know each other’s name, this was a city experience where everyone knew each other well. Their connection even went to the point of common meals (BBQs) and feasted together (or at least a "love feast - which according to Krieder, were feasts where the rich waited for the poor to eat first, where they shared their wealth with the needy and the least became first) in their homes. The infrastructure of this city was relational. The security that its citizens had was knowing the Lord and knowing each other well, the kind of infrastructure that could not be destroyed with swords or bombs. The culture we live in and the culture we look forward to in the new City are dramatically different.
Fourth, - they celebrated! They were marked as a people who continuously praised God. Cities are places of celebration and in our cities, we work hard to find things to celebrate about. Parades and parties are fun. Revelation clearly pictures throngs joined in worship and celebration. This is a culture of happiness for tears and sorrows will be wiped away. Joy never ending! Wow! How different from our cities where a lack of generosity and a pervasive individualism results in homelessness, poverty, brokenness, secrecy, pain etc. etc.
Finally, this was a growing city. This culture was magnetic! For those who hunger something more than the cities of this world had to offer - the city of Pentecost was the ideal. People from many different races, colours of skin, languages came to this city, and they found in the city of Pentecost, the city of God a common language, a common worship, a common security, justice for all. This city was the ideal. And so every day, people were being added to their number.
Today, we represent that new City, for the church, with all its failings is a picture of the city that will come. We the church are a place and a people where the Lord is worshiped, where generosity and justice is practiced, where our infrastructure is not the organizational hierarchy of the church, rather it is our relationships with one another, our connectedness. We celebrate, and we have big celebrations because God has done great things for us. And when people hunger for something more than our earthly city can offer, they discover here some of the answers to their hunger.
To conclude this morning - I am
inviting you to do some brainstorming. Most of us live in the Langley
area. How can we bring some of the characteristics of the City
experienced at Pentecost to our city? How can we increase our
connectedness with our neighbours. (Recommend "The
Connecting Church" by Randy Frazee). How can we
work in our city to express the generosity that God has created in our
hearts? How might we seek justice, in our work, in our lives, even with
our church and its building? Do we in our lives clearly celebrate what
God has done for us in Christ. Are we known for praising God within
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.