December 30, 2018
Do you ever hang around for the credits? A lot of folks are quick to scoot out as soon as the movie is over. They either have somewhere else to be, or they’re just not interested in seeing the massive underbelly that goes into making a good movie.
Mason and I often hang around through the credits. Sometimes it’s so we can learn the name of the actor who played a certain part. We like to see where they made the film, the locations that were used. Often, we like to stay to take a look at the soundtrack credits. When a movie has a good soundtrack, we’re likely to add it to our music collection.
Sometimes you get to see funny outtakes or interesting behind-the-scenes stuff. And sometimes there’s still a bit of movie left after the credits. And from time to time, you’re even treated to a teaser that reveals what’s next for the hero or villain.
There are a lot of good reasons to hang around after “the end.”
When I was a very young minister in training I spent a lot of time reading about and studying what our church tradition called the end of days.
It sounds pretty fatalistic, and I guess it actually was for those who’d rejected God’s offer of salvation. But for those of us who were “saved,’ it was kind of exciting to know that as long as we held tight to the hand of Jesus, didn’t have a bad thought, do a bad deed or say a bad word, we’d be good to go when the world came to an end.
And to us, that’s what the book of Revelation was… a description of the end… the end of the world as we knew it, the end of governments and society and relationships… even the end of history… because as the scripture says, “the old had passed, the new has come.”
In our tradition, we didn’t see a lot of metaphor or allegory in John’s strange words in the book of Revelation. We took it all literally. We sometimes had to stand on our heads and squint real hard and stretch reasoning as thin as it could go, but we were pretty much able to come up with a way to explain every bizarre thing.
When John said he saw an eagle, a lion, a calf, and even a man, each with six wings and covered with eyes, we believed that’s what he saw. We claimed it to be so and didn’t question a thing.
It kinda makes you wonder if one of John’s revelatory visions was a look ahead to a Harry Potter film. But this is the bible, and we don’t have the luxury of just dismissing the fantasy.
When he said he saw Jesus with eyes of fire and feet of brass and held seven stars in his hand and a sword sticking out of his mouth our church didn’t say, “oh my,” we said “amen!”
When John wrote in Revelation about wars and battles and demons and angels and God’s great final apocalyptic judgement, we stood and cheered that the devil and all the bad people of the world were finally getting what they deserved, and we would finally be rewarded for our faithfulness to God and our abstinence of all things pleasant.
The apocalypse was our way out of this ol’ world even while it pronounced painful final judgement on everyone else. And truth is, we didn’t mind. We kinda hated it for the people who were gonna get it, but we were mostly about saving ourselves.
I had no idea then there were other ways to view this scripture. I thought everyone saw it the way we did… the way I did.
Now I know there was and is a lot of different thinking and different points of view on things like God’s final judgment, Jesus coming back, the rapture, the Millennial Reign, the Tribulation of sinners and whether the “saints” will have to endure it.
The theological term for all of this is eschatology. When you’re talking about the last days or last things, that’s what the theologians and scholars call it.
Me, I call it confusing and confounding. I studied it a lot back then, I took extra interest in my seminary studies, and I can tell you, the more you look into it, the harder it is to make sense of it.
I had a lot of questions back then; and I still have a lot of questions today. Things I thought I’d settled… I’m not so sure anymore.
There really is a lot to consider when it comes to the apocalyptic scriptures. Some of it scared the wits out of me as a youngster. But today I want us to see the hope in these words.
I don’t want us to get bogged down in the imagery or the fascinating descriptions and details of beasts and nations and devils and angels.
Today, I want us to simply pay attention to these first ten words…
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”
If you’ve stayed awake through any of my past sermons, you may have heard me mention a hero preacher of mine, Nadia Bolz Weber.
Nadia is a groundbreaker in many ways. She’s an honest rebel and thoughtful challenger to what we, and by “we” I mean the church… she thoughtfully challenges us to rethink a lot of what we thought we’d already settled, especially when it comes to scripture.
I seek her input and thoughts on a lot of life and spiritual things. I trust her. So when I started preparing for this message today, I wondered where she landed on some of this complex stuff in the book of Revelation.
“The Dominant powers are not the ultimate powers.” How cool is that?? And what a relief!
Sometimes we feel pretty powerless. Sometimes it seems that all the powers and people in power and sadly, all of the church is lined up against us and succeeding at snatching away our humanity, our existence.
Sometimes the powers that be don’t agree with our theology, our relationships, our great interest in serving others, our focus on the marginalized.
It seems crazy that there are churches and “Christians” that will only minister to those who agree to live and believe as that particular church demands.
It seems wrong that there are ministries that will only help those who are “legitimately” in need… and by that they mean someone who finds themselves in need by no fault of their own. If you got yourself in trouble, find your own way out.
Jesus never asked anyone he ministered to how they got where they are. He was generous in his healing, his care and compassion, his love.
I’ve been, and some of you have been the target of those on social media who want to challenge your faith because you take Jesus at his word when he tells us to feed the hungry, give warm clothes and blankets to the exposed, and receive the refugee.
Not too long ago I posted on my own social media a quote by Gandhi. It was a hopeful positive message that reminded us that we are to see the lonely, the broken, the marginalized and the oppressed as God sees them, and love them as God loves them. Some good Christian folks didn’t hesitate to let me know that Gandhi was not a qualified person to speak on behalf of God. They reminded me that he was not a Christian, but a heathen, so they could care less what he had to say. Then I told them that I was quoting Gandhi quoting Jesus… word for word.
Whether Gandhi was using his own words or someone else’s, the truth is the truth regardless of the mouthpiece.
I loved it when Nadia said that the meaning and intent of apocalyptic verses like we read today is to show that
· there are limits to the world’s power,
· that power often corrupts and leads to chaos,
· but God wins in the end,
· and this is how the weak and marginalized end up reigning with God, not through insurrection or defeating their enemies by violence; but by hope, joy, love and peace… all of the things we have celebrated this Advent season.
For the last several weeks we have celebrated the baby in the manger, the child in the schoolyard, the teenager in the carpenter’s shop, the man on the mission and the Christ on the cross.
His brief life was the example of succeeding at compassion, and as Nadia said earlier was, “a hope-filled idea that dominant powers are not ultimate powers. Empires fall, tyrants fade, systems die, but God is still around.”
Through us, you and me and probably even some folks that we don’t want to acknowledge. But God is still around. God will always be around.
So then, how can it be the end?
I couldn’t tell you. Remember, I told you earlier that there is a lot I don’t know.
What I do know is John tells us in today’s scripture that the old heaven and the old earth have passed away. They’re done. They’ve ended.
But only to be replaced and outdone by something new, something better, something hopeful and promising.
We all know how it goes. The cycle of our humanity is a series of saying hello and goodbye and hello again… and sometimes goodbye again. At some point, and we often don’t know when that’s going to be, we say goodbye to someone or something for the very last time.
For some it is an addiction. For some it’s a job or a place they’ve called home. For some it’s a relationship.
But when that thing has ended, there is room for something else to start. Hopefully the addiction is replaced by healthier habits. The next job or home is better than the last, the new relationship is “the one.”
It’s exciting to think about new things. Heck, when I was a kid, I got excited about new pencils, erasers and notebooks every fall. There was something about starting with new things, fresh opportunities, blank pages…
This past year has been wonderful for some and really difficult for others. I know some of you are looking forward to the fresh start that comes on January 1st. I know I always try to make it my own time to begin new things.
But this is also the occasion to look back and remember honestly where we’ve been these last several months… the occasions, the laughs, the tears, the moments and memories.
There is an old Scottish song that people around the world, especially in English speaking countries will be hearing and singing this Monday night. It’s a song about looking back. It evokes a sense of belonging and fellowship, and for some, some nostalgia.
The verse we all know starts with a question. “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?”
Auld lang syne means “times gone by.”
===> [AULD LANG SYNE]
Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my friends, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for days of auld lang syne.
Jesus came to make things new. But he knew that in order for that to happen something had to pass away. When he offered us new life, he knew that he had to give his own life.
That wasn’t easy. It’s not like he hated this place. He made it clear that even with its bad parts, he loved what had been made here, and especially the people who made it.
Revelation 21: 1-3, 6 CEB
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a [betrothed] beautifully dressed for [their beloved]. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. [God]will dwell with them, and they will be [God’s] peoples… Then [God] said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.