Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Can You Just Imagine?”
Revelation 21:1-6, April 24th 2016
Can you just imagine? I mean really, don’t you ever let your mind wander and your lively curiosity lets you try to peek into tomorrow? How active is your imagination? Aren’t you a little curious about what tomorrow will be like? Maybe, possibly, hopefully even… tomorrow will be one of those picture perfect days! No problems… no worries, no outlandish calls from one of your family or a distant relative asking for yet another assist in their perceived crises of the Day! Perhaps that plant in your garden – the one that only blooms once a year – will decide to lift up its leaves and display this year’s splendor for you… just as you step off the front steps tomorrow morning; or possibly your neighbor will tell you that they just received wonderful news and they are smiling instead of grumbling tomorrow morning.
One of the things a pastor like me imagines is a day – when everyone greets me with a smile, telling me about everything good that has occurred since the last time we spoke. Or, having the finance manager say: wow, great news, the bank has lowered our interest rate or we just received the bequest from the estate of one of our beloved members! Yet, even more exciting is to dream about when the Christian Education department tells us there are too many volunteers, and we need more chairs in the Sunday school rooms! In a day dream I once imagined the ushers had to set up more chairs in our Sunday worship service, simply because people were curious to see what I was preaching about this week! Sometimes it is so exciting to take a moment to imagine!
In the 20th century Maria Montessori is quoted as saying: “Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.” The greatest inventions, discoveries and new advancements in virtually, every sector, comes when someone takes the initiative, and has the courage to imagine something new; something outside the perceived box we often find ourselves in! Right now, in our society today, the youngest adults of voting age in our country, those under thirty years of age, could be the ones most able to step outside the norm and imagine something shocking, bold, and new: they think there may be a better way, rather than the way it has always been done before! Do we, you and me, especially those of us way past thirty, do we have the courage, and the strength of character to even consider their vision? Just imagine, they want all the things we as a church stand for: equality for everyone, the opportunity to share in the ‘American Dream’ which we spoke so proudly of back in the 1960’s, and access to quality education, and health care for themselves and the children they envision bringing into this world. Imagine that, they sound very much like that Baby Boomers generation who gathered at Woodstock back in the 1960’s, with their idealistic hopes, boldly seeking social harmony through music!
With the visions of things yet to be, we look to our scripture lesson from the book of Revelation. In a sermon written by John Wesley we are told: “What a strange scene is here opened to our view! How remote from all our natural apprehensions!” This last writing in our New Testament is considered apocalyptic literature, in that it talks about the future only! A writing credited to John, which John we do not know; few believe it is the same writer as that of the gospel account attributed to John. The writing styles are radically different. The author of the Gospel according to John is highly skilled and writes smoothly. Whereas in Revelations the author seems erratic and at times unskilled in the rudiments of writing. His visions of what will be for the seven Christian churches in Rome, often take on an outlandish tone causing his enemies, in this case the Romans who were persecuting Christians, to lock him away in prison where his writings flourished and subsequently were published. Apparently, the Romans thought him a harmless lunatic or eccentric and simply locked him away rather than execute him.
What is shocking about the passage that I have chosen for our lesson today, is it does not support a wildly held belief by many sectors of the branches of Christianity that take the Bible literally, word for word. Pastor Barbara Rossing says it this way: “Contrary to popular apocalyptic thinking, there is no ‘rapture’ or a future snatching of Christians up from the earth in Revelation. Instead, it is God who is ‘raptured’ down to earth to take up residence among us.” 1Then 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. /Revelation 21: 1-2/ Did you hear that? A new city coming down out of heaven! God comes down to earth. A new creation story! A new world order here on earth! In his ramblings, our author exhorts: 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. /Revelation 21:3/ This futuristic writing is revolutionizing this whole understanding of the end of time! This gem, hidden in the ramblings of this author, is the key to unlocking what this whole writing is trying to tell us! Seeing things in this new way we can begin to connect this vision with that of the Risen Christ of the gospels and the Living Spirit of the Pentecost event as spoken of in the Acts of the apostles!
Soo… if heaven comes to earth… Perhaps we need to take care of our planet. This past Friday was ‘Earth Day’ a day set aside each year on April 22nd, set aside to remind us of the importance of caring for Mother Earth; thereby demonstrating support for environmental protection. If the end of time is meant to signal a renewal and reorganization of the earth, making room for a new centralized location for God to reside with us, then surely we need to start being more deliberate about how we care for the natural resources that are here for our futuristic uses as well as current needs. If there are any here today that are looking for a ‘new project’ or ‘outreach’ perhaps you may want to consider ‘how’ we might take an ‘active role’ in protecting and nurturing the natural order of things – right here where we live and now reside.
One theologian, William Loader, believes that “This passage is a tapestry of Old Testament images of hope.” Why do we need a vision you ask? The answer is quite clear: people need hope! Yes! Hope is the fuel that keeps people moving forward; hope energizes the very society we live in. Hope stimulates creativity and builds upon itself all day long! Without hope, people stop being energized to try new things. They lose interest in caring about the things that are going on around them! It is believed these writings were written while the author was locked away, isolated from society. Perhaps his ramblings were truly meant to look eccentric – as a way of protecting himself from his enemies. But ultimately our author was trying to help us visualize what the future might hold. He suggests that times might get rough but in the end God would win and those that are following the teachings of the Son of God would have the opportunity to live side by side with the Living God in a new city where God would take up residence!
This passage is a continuation of the incarnation story where God comes to live with us. “While the story of the Bible begins with a garden, it ends in a city,” writes Michael Pasquarello III. And Dana Ferguson develops this further: “Why a city? Because cities are places where people live together in dependence upon one another. A city works when everyone in it does something to contribute to its welfare. It is the welcome place where people arrive home at the end of a long and confusing journey. It is where God lives.” The Rev. Kathryn Matthews, who now serves as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio, seems very excited in her thoughts about this passage. “What an intriguing way to spur our religious imaginations about our own cities and communities (no matter how large or small), as places “where God lives.” Rev Matthews continues on saying: “That’s why readers of Revelation, at the end of our Christian Bible, see it as a bookend to Genesis: Creation and New Creation. That’s the point of it all: God in charge from beginning to end (alpha and omega), and God with us, in our midst, in our “neighborhood.”
This vision gives us meaning for the future. Vance Havner puts this point across: “If you are a Christian, you are not a citizen of this world trying to get to heaven; you are a citizen of heaven making your way through this world.” In the first creation story we are told that we were created in God’s image. When we are baptized we are taught that we die into the Spirit of Christ. As we mature we learn how to more fully live into the teachings and examples of Christ, thereby developing our faith. What happens; what does this actually mean? Hopefully, we are learning how to live into the example of Jesus, the man from Nazareth. Hopefully, we exemplify the love of God show to us in writings about the incarnate God’s love for us shown in the teachings and life of Jesus, the Son of God.
One of the soul searching questions I have been taught along the way, as a form of self-discipline, causes me to examine my own role in this journey through life. Perhaps it will help us as a community as well. Have our journeys encouraged us to take and thus become a greater part of the solution to the problems facing humankind? Or are you and I, are we still stuck in our humanness and thus we are still simply part of the problem? Can we allow ourselves to envision a time when we and all of our neighbors might embrace such soul searching? Will we dare to allow ourselves to hope for such a time?
Can you just imagine, how different things might be, if we believed that God is, and will be, living with us! Social equality for all! Our younger generations that are following us, and beginning to make an impact on our societies, they would begin to have optimism for the future; believing that the world indeed can be a safe place for their families and the yet to come generations as well. Can you just imagine, a hope filled future for the generations yet to come? Can you dare to imagine and even embrace the image, of God living in our own cities, communities and even our homes? Wow! What a vision to embrace!
“Hear now these words as contained in Revelation, chapter 21 verses 1 thru 6; let us hear these words and allow them to resonate with our imaginations for at least a moment.”
1Then 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.
“Let us allow the words of these vision to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities of things yet to come.”