Sermon for Choral Evensong on the Fifth Sunday after Easter, 21st May 2017
Zechariah 8:1-13; Revelation 21:22-22:5 

Have you been reading manifestos this week? If you have, no doubt you’ve found your own pet things to like and dislike in each party’s offering. But you’ll be relieved to know that I don’t want, tonight, to compare the parties’ offers in their manifestos. There are much better people than me able to do that.

What I want to mention is what a manifesto is. What is it, what does it mean, to make something ‘manifest’? It is an uncovering, a making something plain, clear, pulling the wraps off. You could perhaps think of a manifesto as being a sort of revelation.

Another word for ‘revelation’ is ‘apocalypse’. We think of an apocalypse, the apocalypse, these days, as being a name for the end of the world, the final curtain. I suppose that came from the Book of Revelation, the spectacular vision of heaven, of the end time, the day of Judgment. But its name, in Greek αποκαλυψις, apocalypse, originally meant simply ‘making clear,’ ‘revealing’, making manifest – so, a sort of manifesto.

These apocalypses, in the Bible and other contemporary literature, are very like prophecy – and I think that in some places it’s hard to distinguish revelation, apocalypse, from prophecy. Apocalypses can of course be another word for catastrophes. But again, I’m not going down that road tonight, whatever you might think about some of the things which face this country today.

Zechariah, (our first lesson), was a prophet who was active during the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon – Psalm 137, By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept..,’ The captivity was coming to an end because King Darius of Persia had conquered the Babylonians, and the Israelites were looking forward to rebuilding their temple. Zechariah – and scholars think there were two prophets who each wrote part of the book with that name – Zechariah, or first Zech and second Zech – prophesied about that new temple.

Things had not been good, but they would get better. ‘There was no hire for man, nor hire for beast’: there was unemployment. There was civil disorder: ‘for I set all men one against his neighbour’ said God, through the mouth of the prophet Zechariah.

But it is going to be fine. There will be a temple again in Jerusalem, ‘a city of truth’. And in that city there will be people of all ages, including elderly men and women leaning on their walking-sticks, and the happy sight of children playing in the streets. God would save his people and bring them in, into a safe place. ‘… they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.’

Zechariah actually tells us not just about how God will put things right, but he also sets out how the Exile of the Israelites began, in the chapter before our lesson. ‘The word of the LORD came to Zechariah: 9 These are the words of the LORD of Hosts: Administer true justice, show loyalty and compassion to one another, 10 do not oppress the orphan and the widow, the alien and the poor, do not contrive any evil one against another’. (7:8-10)

But they did, they did oppress the orphan and the widow, the alien and the poor – and God turned his back on them.

Well that was the Old Testament manifesto. Keep the Lord’s commandments, ‘Administer true justice, show loyalty and compassion to one another, 10 do not oppress the orphan and the widow, the alien and the poor, do not contrive any evil one against another’. (Zech. 8:13) Then the Lord will let you rebuild the Temple.

And when we get to the beautiful vision of heaven in the Book of Revelation. Actually in the new Jerusalem, the holy city, there is no actual temple. Up till then, the Temple was a building where one encountered God – and only the priests, the Levites, could be in God’s presence without being destroyed by their proximity to the Divine. They mediated between God and humans. Now here is God face to face, God present in the midst, with the Lamb of God, the one who had been sacrificed like a scapegoat. That means, Jesus.

And this is an apocalypse. We usually understand it as the apocalypse, the end of the world. The Book of Revelation could be a prophecy about how our society as a whole might turn out. It could be how individuals will fare. There are the Visions of Jesus’ Messages to the Seven Churches in chapters 2 to 14, visions of heaven, the Seven Seals, the Seven Trumpets, various dreadful battles, such as Michael against a dragon; there is the fall of Babylon. And then the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth.

It could be a vision of how things are going to be for us all, or just for some. It’s not, I think, meant to be taken literally. There aren’t really dragons and monsters: it’s just a picturesque way of portraying something utterly beyond our experience. But the manifesto, the prophecy, the revelation, is clear. If you are one of the chosen, if you are saved, you will be close to God, in paradise: 

‘ … there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever’.

So that’s pretty clear, so far as the visions in the Bible, in Zechariah and in the Revelation of St John, are concerned. If you are worthy, if you are righteous, if you follow God’s commandments, there will be the City of God, Jerusalem, after you come out of exile in Babylon, and the New Jerusalem, at the end of time, at the Day of Judgment.

Does that really make any difference to us? Is it just a series of nice stories? What about the manifestos? The Israelites went into exile because they did not worship the one true God any more, and because they did not obey his commandments, to love and care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger within their gates.

Do we love and care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger within our gates? What about single parents and broken families? Over a million people got food from a food bank in the last twelve months in the UK as a whole: and here in Cobham, Oxshott and Stoke, we gave out over 44 tonnes of food to local people in need. And what about those 3,000 refugee children on their own in Calais that the government said we were going to take? It didn’t happen – and even worse, somehow it seems that, what with the influence of UKIP and the vote to leave the EU, it’s suddenly become acceptable, all right, to be prejudiced against poor refugees. They are called ‘economic migrants’ as distinct from a very small category of so-called ‘genuine’ refugees.

I suggest that that is a false distinction. It’s just an accident that we were born here, and have plenty, and they were born in a poor country, and are fleeing war, or starvation. Why is it acceptable for such people to be kept out? What do all the manifestos say? And do any of those manifestos lead to anything even vaguely heavenly? I would suggest that we should be asking that question above all others.

It’s great that we can show our love of God and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ in this beautiful church, and in the harmony of our wonderful musicians. We thank God for blessing us in it. But we do need to turn outwards as well, in the power of the Spirit. So we’re developing a St Mary’s vision, things we can do to follow Jesus’ commandments to love and serve. I hope it makes good sense with you. These are some of the things we’re thinking of doing. This is our manifesto. You can read it on our church website. It’s shown as the sermon for today at http://stmarysstokedabernon.co.uk/index.php/sermons.

We are looking to start actively to look out for and befriend elderly people who are our neighbours. Are they actually hungry, but too proud to admit it? Are they lonely? Afternoon TV isn’t as good as a nice cup of tea with a friend. 

We’re going to do more with our families and young people. Sunday School may sound a bit formal these days, but Messy Church or sports teatime might be more like it. 
We need to reach out more to involve our church in the local community. You’d be pleased to know how many people from St Mary’s are involved in volunteering for our Foodbank, and who drive people to hospital appointments through Cobham Care. 

But there’s more we can do. For instance, there are still only a couple of refugee families from Syria in the whole of Elmbridge. But there are literally millions in refugee camps. There are actually still quite a lot of refugees in the Calais area. 

In the next few weeks, we’ll put up some display boards showing the various ideas which came up in the vision day which we held a couple of Saturdays ago, and there will be sign-up sheets for you to add ideas and to volunteer to ‘do stuff’. I do hope you’ll go for it.

I know it’s vital that we all choose carefully between those manifestos, and cast our votes on June 8th: but I think that Jesus’ manifesto is going to last a lot longer; and that’s the one which we should really commit to. Vote early – and vote often – as my Irish friends say.

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