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Changes in our lives are frequently imperceptible. We know they are taking place because of hindsight. Looking back over time, we recognize the changes. But at any given moment, we may not see much happening.
One of the problems with scripture, or with any literary undertaking, is that writers are selective in their creativity; and sometimes they speed things along for dramatic effect. We have reports of some of Jesus teachings and some of Jesus healings, and it all seemed so easy for him. But there may have gone unreported many instances when Jesus spent hours and even days trying to teach some things to his disciples.
He may have needed to repeat himself endlessly in order to be understood.
The book of Revelation is dramatic. But I would invite you to look beyond the drama to that which is less spectacular. Try to see in your own lives what Revelation is attempting to teach us.
The passage on which I will be preaching this morning is one that I sometimes use for funeral services. And it is indeed most appropriate for such services, because it is a message of the promise of eternal life.
Yet, within that passage are other messages, messages which I believe also address life in the here and now, life on this earth. Not only do we need hope in the promise of eternal life, but we also need hope as we make our way through THIS life.
And yet, there is a small problem with handling this passage. As we read through it, as we approach the end of it in the fifth verse, we discover the key to it all, we discover words that frame the whole passage, that cause our eyes to move back to the first verse and start all over. Those words are these: "See, I am making all things new." And I hear re-birth, re-creation, re-newal. All things new.
But look to that first verse that opens the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation to John.
"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."
And we are reminded of the words of God to Isaiah in the seventeenth verse of the sixty-fifth chapter: "For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind."
And again, in the twenty-second verse of the sixty-sixth and final chapter, "For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, says the Lord; so shall your descendants and your name remain."
Now, we need to understand that for the early Jews the sea was a scary place, a threatening place. It was a source of mystery, of the unknown. It was to be endured, or conquered. It had been the object of judgment, and it was a place to be exploited by the mariners.
The knowable was heaven and earth. Folks could see the earth and the sky. And, in fact, what is key here is that word "saw." The writer is experiencing second sight, a new vision.
But I believe that new vision is available to Christians in the here and now. And indeed, in our lives, it is not the heaven and the earth that change for us, but our VISION of it that can change.
And isn't that what a true conversion experience entails? When one's first heaven and earth pass away to be replaced by the vision of a NEW heaven and earth.
When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was blinded. He in fact lost all vision, physical and spiritual. But by the time he regained his sight, his spiritual vision was completely different. His world, his heaven and earth, were completely changed.
Paulís experience was dramatic and abrupt; but should not the same thing likewise be possible for all of us, even if not on the same scale?
John continues, "And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
Now, this may sound poetic and pretty, and we may understand the historic precedents for it, but we need to do MORE than that. We need to get inside the emotional response to this passage.
First of all, for the Jews, Jerusalem was everything. It was not just another city. It symbolized their nation. They were a theocracy, and where their temple was located was the center of their religion and their culture.
To speak of Jerusalem as a holy city is almost redundant. For the Jews, holiness was implicit within the concept of the temple. So if God is to make all things new for the Jews, Jerusalem must be recreated. And it is not simply rebuilt.
The city and the temple had been completely destroyed by the Romans about twenty-five years before John wrote this. It is not rebuilt, but it is replaced. And the source of that replacement is "out of heaven from God."
But second, consider how the new Jerusalem is to be perceived: "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Weíre talking about peak performance. Isnít it true that all brides are beautiful? Donít we always speak of brides being radiant?
And Iím sure that all bridegrooms definitely believe this. Or, we might even say something like, "as clean as a house prepared for company."
I once had a parishioner who said that when his wife cleaned house to prepare for company, he was afraid to touch anything. He felt that the bathrooms were almost too clean to use.
So we can sense what a marvelous re-creation this is when we learn that it is like "a bride adorned for her husband."
"And 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."
What a marvelous statement of God's presence! God is not lost in the cosmos, but God is at home among us. God lives with us, because we are God's people.
I know it's old-fashioned, but I never tire of the first line of the classic benediction: "God be with you 'til we meet again." We may separate from one another, but God never separates from us.
And if that is true, God always carries the possibilities of making all things new for us, of changing our lives, because God is always right here.
Once upon a time, the phone company carried the slogan, "Reach out and touch someone." Well, nowadays, if you try to reach out and touch the phone company, you will get a recording.
If you are fortunate enough to get a real live person, you will have no idea where that person is, because he or she will have the area code of 800 or 888, which, given my mood, frequently makes me think might as well be 666.
But I repeat: God is always RIGHT HERE. If we sincerely go looking for God, we will find God. And we donít need to give God our name, phone number, mailing address, and social security number, because God already knows all that. God already knows all about us.
Theologians debate over whether God is transcendant or immanent, without or within. Maybe it doesn't make any difference. Maybe God is both. Maybe it is enough to believe that God is simply WITH us.
And we Christians can take this a step further. Because Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed, the Son of God, has lived with us. Our spiritual ancestors experienced his presence, recorded his acts and his teachings.
We have an understanding of his full divinity and his full humanity. God has, in the colloquial idiom, "been there and done that."
"He 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."
And indeed this IS a statement of eternal life. The "first things" of this mortal life will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain and tears just seem to be something that we have to put up with in this mortal life.
And yet, even though that is true, God's presence, God's spirit, can bring comfort in our mortal struggles.
An angel told Joseph that Mary would bear a son, and that he should be named "Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." And throughout Jesus's teaching and healing he sought to bring comfort, physical and spiritual, to those who mourned, those who cried, those in pain, and those in tears.
But as youíve heard me say before, I believe Jesus came to be an example to us. We cannot eliminate death, but we can seek to wipe the tears from the eyes of others, we can seek to bring comfort in the midst of mourning and crying and pain. We cannot make these things go away, but we can help others to deal with them.
Even though we live within the finite limits of mortality, God continually strives to bring us comfort.
But there is another dimension here that I donít think we should overlook. The simplistic interpretation of all this is that in Godís eternal life, we will no longer feel bad, but we will always feel good.
And the problem with that is that it leaves us stuck in our physical understanding of life. When we are told that death will be no more, I believe that we are being told that we are moving to a DIFFERENT life, a spiritual life. And in the life of the spirit, physical concerns are not an issue. Indeed, even now, the spiritual lives we lead on this earth transcend our physical concerns.
"And 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."
So, how do I know that those words are trustworthy and true? How do I know that God makes all things new?
Well, all I have to do is walk outdoors and look at the trees and the bushes and flowers that were dormant through the winter that now seem to have taken on new life. God constantly REMINDS us that God can make all things new.
Today is Mother's Day. And anyone who IS a mother knows of God's creative power. When my father was alive, this is the one day of the year that he never answered the phone, because there would always be at least five phone calls that he KNEW were not for him.
And even sixty years after my mother gave birth to the oldest of her five children, she is still in awe of that experience.
"I am making all things new. These words are trustworthy and true."
We too often fear the new. We fear the different. We fear change. But if we look carefully at the histories of our lives, we will discover that God is constantly renewing us, constantly making us different, constantly changing us.
When God speaks of making all things new, this is not a prediction; it is a report. It is a description of what has been happening since the beginning of time. And Godís renewal is not to be feared, but to be celebrated.
"Then 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."
The God of yesterday, today, and forever is ready to fulfill our every need. God is available to meet our earthly needs and our eternal needs. God has made Godís home among us, and is just waiting for us to seek Godís help.
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