Preached May 12, 2013
Text: Revelation 21:1-7, 22-27; 22:1-5
The Story, Ch. 31
Ah, the strange and curious book of Revelation! We end our 9-month journey through Scripture with the other-worldly symbols and images of John’s vision.
My husband, Rob, and I draw the line between “fun” and “frightening” in different places. I love a good roller coaster, for example. Rob, on the other hand, wants his feet planted firmly on the ground. He will happily sit on a bench munching on a funnel cake while I ride my coasters, but he’s not going to strap himself into that seat with me.
But take those twists and turns of the roller coaster and put them up on the big screen – now he’s on board. He loves a good action flick. And I have nightmares after just walking through the room when a scary movie is playing. I close my eyes when the tension mounts. As suspense builds, I take a deep breath and repeat to myself, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie”.
If I know the main character survives until the end of the movie, though, then it is easier to get through the scary parts. I know, then, that in the end it’s going to be okay. However hopeless the situation seems, there must be an escape clause; after all, they won’t kill off the star of the show. I can peek at the screen again. I can handle the suspense for awhile, knowing that the movie won’t end there.
The book of Revelation tells us the end of the story. It reassures us that whatever else goes on – however alarming the news headlines become or overwhelming our lives feel – whatever else goes on in this world, the story ends well. It ends with all things made new, sparkling in the light of God’s presence. The story ends with the passing away of death and tears and pain.
That’s the end of the story. We will be with God! All things will be made new. What joy! What reason to celebrate!
But today, I feel a bit like I’m in still stuck in the suspense-filled middle of the story. We hear alarming stories about bombs exploding in the middle of our cities and CO2 levels rising to unprecedented levels in our atmosphere. While we wait for the earth to be made new, there are kidnappings and cancer and killings.
If we only pay attention to the nightly news, it is easy to feel as if the economy, the environment and the everyday lives of people all around the globe are spiraling out of control. In the middle of the story, sin and anger and greed rule the day – and if we are honest, they rule our hearts. In the middle of the story, the tension can feel almost too much to bear. We want to close our eyes and imagine it away.
John, the author of Revelations, would understand that sentiment. He writes from the middle of the story, while he is imprisoned on the island of Patmos. He describes “the persecution…and the patience endurance…” he feels (Rev 1:9).
But John also lives in anticipation and joy, even in the middle of the story. He doesn’t seek to escape, but to keep moving, to live each new day in hope of the last day when God’s presence will shine brighter and stronger than any memory of pain along the way.
In the book of Revelation, John allows the Spirit of God to capture his imagination and show him the end of the story. The images are foreign to us, but the message of hope and promise comes through.
The end of the story, as John sees it, is not an escape – it isn’t as if we just squeeze our eyes closed and banish all the bad things from life. The story doesn’t end with God whisking us away – but with God coming to us, right here in this world, and making all things new.
The story ends with a transformation of what is, a renewal and restoration of the very best for us and our world. God doesn’t start over with a brand new story, with a new cast and crew. God heals the brokenness, brings light to all the dark places, and makes all things new again! In Revelation, our lives and this earth are the locus of salvation.
That is good news, because it means that however much we may mess up our lives and our world, we are not discarded and replaced. God loves us enough to write us back into the story even when we try to write ourselves out!
Knowing the end of the story transforms how we live in the middle of the story. In the imagery of Revelation, John describes churches as the lampstands, Jesus as the lamp, and God as the light that shines from that lamp (Rev 1:20, 21:23). In other words, “church people” are to be the ones who lift up Jesus (the lamp) so that the light of God’s love might shine through him and us into the darkness of the world around us.
So while we yearn for the end of the story, we also have work to do in the middle of the story. We have a story to lift up – a story of a Jesus who lived simply and served others, who ate with sinners and welcomed the vulnerable and unclean, who died and who rose again. We have a Savior to follow in loving, welcoming and serving others.
As the lampstand, we lift Jesus up so that others might see the light that shines from him. We build relationships with the people in our community, so that others might begin to see God through us. We live in ways that bring healing and wholeness, so that people might be ready to hear God when God speaks.
It isn’t our job to save the world, this neighborhood or even this church. It is our job to prepare the way for others to encounter Jesus.
Three years ago, on July 4, 2010 – my first Sunday preaching to this congregation – I preached on this same text from Revelation. I reread the sermon this week while I was preparing for today. I could not have known three years ago how true these words would be for us as a congregation! I end with the same words today:
Fulfilling our mission as light-bearers for God will take courage. The next chapter of the story may not include all the comforts we’ve become accustomed to. Some of the familiar faces who have journeyed with us to this point won’t be with us, or at least not physically present. We may have to rely more on the hospitality of others than we would like. We will probably feel vulnerable, unprepared, uncertain.
But we know enough of the end of the story to give us courage. So I hope you will step out in courage with me. I hope we will have courage to meet the unknown head-on, trusting God’s Spirit to guide us on our way.
There are many things that I hope and pray for as we write the next chapter of Coraopolis United Methodist Church. Among them:
- I hope we will have courage to love one another even when loving means risking the pain of saying good-bye yet again.
- I hope we will have the courage to forgive one another, even if it means risking being hurt again.
- I hope we will be honest and authentic with one another, even when that requires an uncomfortable vulnerability.
- I hope we will have the courage to stay by one another’s side through failing health, even when it would be easier not to watch.
- I hope we will have the courage to go out into a changing neighborhood, even when it feels foreign and unfamiliar, and the courage to reach out to new neighbors when we’d rather stay in the relative comfort of home.
- I hope we will have the courage to give generously, and to dream big even when we’re not sure where the resources to fulfill those dreams will come from.
There are a lot of things that I hope and pray for. And I look forward to the end of the story, when we will recall with joy the things that God has done in and among and through us.