Revelation 21: 1-6 |:| Covenant of Newness
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; April 24, 2016
A text that is quite robust in a mere six verses is our lesson for today. Revelation 21 is often read at funerals and it makes sense; it is a message of hope during great times of despair. So why is it part of the lectionary texts on the fifth Sunday of Eastertide? It appears this text captures what was started with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as it is connected to the new heaven and new earth.
We learn God is the beginning and the end in Revelation 21. The text also nods to the fact that God is present for all in between. As God’s creation we are not left without the presence of God. It is not as though God created the world and is waiting to engage it when the final times are upon creation.
If we only look at this text as a proclamation of eschatological theology – that is a church nerd word for the end of times – we lose the ability to see what God is doing with and through us today. Knowing this book is the written account of the revelation given to John, we can open ourselves to glean wisdom on how this text meets us today and what revelation it offers us.
In moving to see this text beyond an end times view we can see how the new heaven and new earth were inaugurated with Christ’s resurrection. Prior to Revelation the creation of heaven and earth are noted in the first book of the Bible – but Shalom was broken and humanity and God were in a journey of connecting once again in wholeness.
With Revelation we are returned to the creation story but with a difference of Christ. With the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we are given a new example to follow – humanity no longer has to refer back to Adam for an example of how God creates and how humanity is connected to God.
With Christ we see how creation has been radically renewed. God is the beginning and the end and present for everything in between. With Christ we are invited to see the new heaven in glimpses around us. When we see heaven as the space where humanity is with God and united with God, we join Christ and the disciples before us in continuing to usher in the new heaven a bit more.
The baptisms today are examples of the creation made new. We witnessed a piece of the newness of heaven with the four baptisms today as they were buried with Christ through water and raised to walk in newness of life. Baptisms are not the magic moment where all is made right but rather it is when we witness a piece of heaven’s wholeness here in our presence. These pieces of heaven moments are invitations for us to recall our creativity and go forth from the walls of the church and bring newness to other areas of our lives.
In Baptisms and communion God meets us in the parousia – meaning God meets us in the here and the not yet. In addition to Baptism and communion the Spirit of God brings newness to us in those moments of life when our soul ignites with the Spirit of God.
Those times when a child is blissfully happy and their happiness captures your full attention and draws you in so much that you find yourself with a cheeky grin and have lost view of your surroundings. Those times when the time and place align for us to live out our passions; in those unexpected ways when our passions come to life and its excitement ground you in who you are and who you have been created to be. Those times in life when our pain and sorrows begin to heal; when our mind/body/soul find peace and move us to a space of healing so we can breathe a bit deeper and laugh a bit longer.
In these moments we are witness to glimpses of new heaven as our souls thrive in unison with God’s Spirit. God is the beginning and the end, and present for everything in between.
On Sundays we find ourselves reminded of the thin spaces in life – the thin spaces between heaven and earth of Genesis and the new heaven and earth that have begun in the Revelation to John. The thin space where our voices join the communion of saints who have gone before us. The thin spaces where we gather to worship God; a space where hope lives a little stronger.
Sundays aren’t the only time and place for us to experience the thin spaces we live; Sundays can be where we acknowledge it through the shared worship experience. These thin spaces where the new heaven isn’t at the end of times but practically here – practically touchable.
What if we lived into the creative spirit of God and lived into the newness that has been started with the resurrection of Christ?
Living into these thin spaces where we are invited to create with God. Risking to believe that we are not meant to wait until the apocalypse to witness and experience glimpses of this new heaven and earth.
Believing that we can create with God to transform the world around us is scary because what if it takes longer than we think or looks different than we were expecting. What if we create and it calls us to a new way of living? Being transformed by God and working with God’s Spirit to change the world is scary.
Not to mention, life is already exhausting and hard to get through – some days all we can manage is to make it through; so where are we to get the energy to live into the newness brought forth by the Alpha and Omega?
We get it from each other. I was reminded of this repeatedly this week as I saw people quoting the brilliant words of Prince – “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”
That is what we do; we get through this thing called life together. The choice of how we get through it is up to us. We can get through this thing called life by coexisting with each other and waiting for the end times to bring something new. We can also get through it by caring for each other as we remind one another that God brings newness to us daily.
So we either drudge our way to get through this thing called life or we live transformed and get through this thing called life by creating newness with God. In pondering the newness of God’s creating I have had to ask myself, where is God inviting me to create newness in the world around me?
I’m a pastor in a time when people question the future of the church. This could stifle me or hinder me from believing in the future of what the church will be. It doesn’t though. It actually excites me for thinking creatively around what missions and ministries can become as we find new or renewed ways of living out the Gospel message.
Think about, the church gets to face the reality of neighbors who are spiritual but not religious, who are of no religion, who aren’t sure what the church can mean for them in a high stressed, fast paced world.
How can we learn their stories, learn who they are? How can we share our story as a church and the story of Christ with them in a way that is conversational and inviting? There is no rule book or instruction manual for how the church will be in the years to come and that is mighty exciting, because it requires me to lean in to the Spirit and say lets live this covenant of newness to unknown boundaries.
Internally God is creating newness of replanting roots in a city I thought I had already completed all chapters with. In moving back to Denver after 15 years away I have found that God is creating a new desire to learn this city, its people, and develop relationships where I am known in return.
Allowing that spirit for roots to be deep and strong requires me to invest in the pains and joys of this city and my neighbors. God is calling me to know their names and know how we live together and care for each other. The newness of not knowing how long I will be in this city and thankful the end isn’t what I am meant to think about; rather to sink deep into the soil of the city where I was born and have been drawn back to. A newness of claiming a city as my home and it claiming me as one of its own. God is the beginning and the end, and present for everything in between.
As you think about your life where have you been hesitant or afraid to allow the newness of God’s Spirit take hold? Accepting that a chapter in life closing, following through on a new job or degree opportunity, saying no to people so you can care for yourself, allowing those around you to help you out, minimizing the busyness of life to allow time for family and community, joining family and friends to broaden your comfort zone and use creativity to bring justice to this city.
The new heaven and new earth are brought about with the transformative life of God incarnate. And God could continue to create without us, ushering in these new realms of wholeness – of shalom – but as God came to earth to engage humanity anew God stirs within us a creativity that allows us to bring newness to the world and lives around us.
This is a remarkable truth about the God we serve. A scary truth because it means we serve a God who wants an intimate relationship with us. God seeks a partnership with us – blemishes, doubt, fears and all. Just as God did not wait to begin creating the new heaven and new earth, God does not wait for you to be perfect to create newness in the world with us.
As a church, as disciples are do we believe that we have the power to create new beauty, hope, and love in a world that often tells a different story? Do we actually believe this story enough to live it with our lives?
Revelation 21 is an Easter proclamation that names that with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth were ushered in. It is a proclamation for us today because we serve a creative God and through the creativity God brings newness to us and in all we do are called to bring newness around us.
Claim the thin spaces you live in. Rejoice in Revelation 21 as it tells of when the seas that keep heaven and earth apart will be no more and the thin spaces of God’s promised newness will bring forth the culmination of a new heaven and new earth.
We are strengthened by the teachings and life of Christ, reminded by baptism of being made new, and get through this thing called life by risking to believe in a hope that tells us we create newness – a newness that casts sorrow, pain, injustice to where they have no voice, no power in the here and now as we await the fullness of the not yet.
We are Easter people and as such we covenant with God to bring heaven and earth closer together.
What newness is God stirring within you to create and make a reality in the world around you? The new heaven and earth have been ushered in – are you willing to live in the thin spaces and meet God’s creative spirit to continue the work?
The risk of responding to the newness God is creating is a risk worth taking. God is the beginning and the end, and present for the newness you will create in the in between.