Sunday, September 19, 2021

Presence and Promise: The End of the World

 Six weeks ago, as we began this series in the book of Revelation, the first image of God we were introduced to was that of Creator. Remember that scene in the throne room with the four creatures as they, along with the twenty-four elders, bowed down to worship, saying “You are worthy, our Lord and God...for you created all things.”

Today, we conclude our readings in Revelation with that same image of God as Creator, whose final great act consists of a new creation. The first part of our reading is from Revelation, chapter 21.

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 I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as 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;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
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 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.” 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. 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. --Revelation 21:1-6, 22:1-5 (NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from the One who is and was and is coming and from Jesus Christ, faithful witness, firstborn from among the dead, ruler of the kings of earth. Amen.

Just a few short weeks ago, I asked this question, “Is this the end of the world?” 

I was talking to Pastor Elisa of New Goshen Presbyterian. In addition to her work there as interim pastor, she also works for Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light. If you’re not familiar with it, you might think it’s a power company. Well, it is a power company of sorts, I guess. It’s a community of congregations, faith-based organizations and other people of faith who have chosen to respond to climate change as an ethical and moral issue. And that, through education, advocacy and action, mobilizes a religious response to climate change and the social injustice it creates. 

As part of her work, she is privy to studies and other information that you and I probably don’t come across in our normal days’ activities. So, our conversation that day was about a study that she had just seen. That, as she put it, “if you knew what I knew, you would be overwhelmed.” She was referring to a recent report published by a large group of scientists that said that climate change is not some far away thing. That we don’t have 10-20 years, even 5-10 years. That it’s now. 

Given all that we’ve been witness to this past summer - the wildfires, the hurricanes, the record rain and flooding, the drought and so many other weather events - the idea that climate change has come is probably no surprise.

But, when you add this to all of the other crises that we have been witness to in the past year or so, including the collapse of the Afghan government, the political turmoil in Haiti, Myanmar, Hong Kong and so many other places in our world, and all those that have past and that I’ve already forgotten because they just seem to happen week after week after week. And, did I mention COVID? It was all of this that, in my conversation with Pr. Elisa, led me to blurt out, “Is this the end of the world?”

Maybe you’ve been wondering this a little, too.

So, perhaps, it has been a good thing for us to sit in Revelation for a few weeks. Because, like us, the early churches to whom this letter was addressed knew chaos and crisis. They knew massive upheaval and change. They knew and experienced hard and horrible things. It’s why the author shared his vision. To help them understand. And to help them prepare. To help us understand. And to prepare.

Their preparation - and ours - isn’t like preparing a “go bag” - one of those bags you keep handy in the event of a major disaster. Something filled with important papers and things you might need in an emergency. It’s not like preparing an “earthquake box” or a “hurricane tub” that you might pack to sustain you and your loved ones for a few weeks until help can arrive.

No, their preparation - and ours - happens by doing those things that keep us connected to God. Spiritual practices - like worship and prayer, and reading our Bible, and loving our neighbor - those things that form and shape us to be God’s people. It is these practices that guide our experiences and decisions and that give us that faithful endurance for those harder things. Because, through them, we learn that we have a God upon whom we can rely. Whether it’s through the small stuff, or the major crises and times of chaos. We have a God who loves us, who has offered up his Son for us and who promises us a new creation. 

The defeat of the forces of evil doesn’t result in the destruction or annihilation of the earth. Rather, it leads to God saying “I will make all things new.” It includes the resurrection of all the dead, but doesn’t stop there. When death is conquered, creation itself is made new. It’s a future - God’s future - that is pictured as a city with a garden at its center. Where both the human and the natural world are reconciled. With gates that stand open all the time to invite us and all people into the presence of God. With rivers and streams that offer life. And a tree that offers abundant fruit. Sweet, juicy, abundant fruit.

This is the future that God calls and invites us into. And all people everywhere. This is the end of the world that we are promised. May we live in anticipation of this world - this new Jerusalem - by claiming its way of life and by bearing witness to God, whose work of creation and new creation brings only life.


Preached Sunday, September 5, 2021, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, and Third, Louisville.
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Revelation 21:1-6, 22:1-5; John 16:20-21.

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