My sermon from January 1st, 2012 based on Revelation 21:1-6.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I must admit that I was relieved to wake up this morning and see that the world hadn’t ended! At one point last fall I watched the 2009 film, 2012, the one where John Cusack is a limo driver racing against time to save his kids and ex-wife as the world comes to an end in the year 2012. As I watched the film I contemplated a fun little sermon series to kick-off this New Year looking at apocalyptic predictions and end times and stuff. But to be honest, I found myself tiring a bit of all of that conversation last year.
Do you remember the conversation last May about the supposed end of times judgment happening on May 21st? This Christian radio host and author was getting a fair amount of media play regarding his prediction that the world would end on May 21st. When May 21st came and went he amended his prediction to say that the final day of earth, and of the universe really, would be October 21st. In a statement that received very little media hype on October 16th he admitted that he really didn’t know when the world was going to end. Shocking, I know, this coming from a guy who first made a prediction that the world would end in 1994…
And so while I thought about a fun little Apocalypse 2012 sermon series to kick of the year, I decided against it. I also considered a message that looked at the idea of making New Year’s resolutions and talking about them a bit from our Christian perspective. There was something about that idea that just seemed a bit tired and overplayed as well.
As I have thought about this morning over the last couple of months I have wondered a bit what kind of a crowd we’d have and what type of a person would be here for worship on New Year’s morning. Though I could never decide how big of a crowd might show up to worship on the first day of 2012 I was sure of one thing, that those of you who would be here would be folks seriously engaged in your faith and hopeful for the role that God would play in your life in the coming new year.
The book of Revelation is one of the most unique books in all of scripture. Over the last century or so scholars have done a great deal of work in parsing out answers regarding who wrote what books of the bible, when they were written, and even the intended audience for the books. While scholars have established a fair amount of consensus around many of the books of the Bible, the book of Revelation is not one of those books!
On one end of the spectrum there are some who read the text as a literal prediction of the end times when Jesus will come back and the world as we know it today will end. On the other end of the spectrum are those who look at the various symbols and characters in the story and understand it to be a dramatic predicting and telling of the overthrow of the Roman Empire that was hoped for by those living in the period of it’s writing. An entire sermon series or bible study could be dedicated to parsing out each of these possibilities as well as countless others that exist between them, but I want not to take us down too many rabbit trails this morning.
I do, however, want to share one understanding of the book of Revelation that I find to be particularly helpful. I believe an exploration of these ideas might be helpful as we springboard into 2012. The particular understanding of Revelation that I want to explore this morning comes from Rob Bell in his short film titled Trees. He talks about the biblical narrative as a story that starts in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and ends in a new creation that is discussed in the Book of Revelation.
He explains that the scriptures tell a story about our human relationships with God that begin in the Garden where we are created. Shortly after being placed in the garden, however, we disobey. And as our story unfolds we experience separation, God reaches out to us, we reunite with God, we wander again, we reconnect with God again and we wander yet again. This cycle continues until such a time as God intervenes by sending his son into the world. In response to the gift of God’s son we then react to the message of Jesus by alternately being drawn to him and pushing him away.
Bell supposes, though, that life is not just a random journey through and toward nothingness, but that we are on a journey that does have an eventual end. As individuals and as creation there will be a time when God recreates, as it is referred to in Revelation, a new heaven and a new earth. Bell explains that there was a garden in the beginning of our story as Christians and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth in the future. We are living, Bell supposes, between these two times.
Chapter 21 of Revelation provides the dramatic climax to the telling of this story. The author writes…
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
In his commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Christopher Rowland, puts forth the premise that the most significant symbolism in this passage is that God is again intervening and coming into contact with humans. Any separation that existed between God and humanity is being dismantled and that there is or there will be again a closeness between humanity and God that has not existed since the Garden.
I believe that God desires for us to experience closeness with God and that God works at making that possibility a reality. God is making all things new. The question that then poses for me is this. Are we also working to make all things new?
Over the past couple of years I believe that God as well as each of you who are a part of this faith community have been doing incredible work for the renewal of this congregation. The numbers that mark worship attendance and giving provide insight into this. I also see it in ways beyond anything that we can measure with numbers. There is playfulness that I see as people of different generations laugh with one another and share life with one another.
Near the end of 2009, some 13 or 14 months ago, Susan Geiger worked to put together a video with the Vision Team. The video served as the state of the church report for Charge Conference that year and I found it online shortly thereafter when the conversation was first beginning about the possibility that I might be appointed here to serve as your pastor. I want you to have the opportunity to see that video today on this first day of 2012.
I wanted to share that video with you this morning for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to share it as a way to celebrate the incredible things that have happened and that are happening here. As a community of faith we can celebrate that God is working to make all things new. I celebrate that so many of you have been a part of that work, working to make all things new. I have only come in on the tail end of the work that has been done, but from what I can tell great strides have been made in the transition from being passive to dynamic and from being fearful to faithful. God is making all things new and we can celebrate that reality as we look at our church! Thank you to the visioning team and to all who have played such a significant part in the work of the church over the last couple of years.
I also wanted to show this video today because the last line of text projected really strikes me. Anyone remember what it said? “We hope to transform lives.” While I believe it is important for us to celebrate where we have come as a church in the last couple of years, I also want to provide a little nudge this morning to each of you. If we believe that God is working to make all things new, do we believe that WE are a part of that all things? Do we believe that God is working to make our broken relationships new? Do we believe that God is working to make us new in those places where we experience hurt and brokenness? Do YOU believe that God is working to make you new?
Friends, we all have baggage. We have all done things that we aren’t proud of. We have all done things that fell short of what God would have hoped for us in those particular situations, but the good news is that God loves us and is seeking to make all things new. No matter who we are or how badly we have messed up in the past. You have heard me say it countless times, but it bears repeating here – God loves you exactly the way you are, but doesn’t want you to stay that way…
As a church we believe that our purpose is to be “a community of faith inviting all people to know God, connecting with each other, growing in our faith, and serving our community and the world.” As we seek to live out this purpose as a community I invite you to reflect on what it would look like to focus on making these themes – inviting, connecting, growing, and serving a priority for you and for your discipleship. I invite you to live into the reality that God is working to make all things new – yes, even you. And I invite you to partner with God in that work in 2012 and until the end of the world.