The New Heaven and the New Earth
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.”
~ Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)
Today’s scripture reading talked about a new heaven and a new earth, and I think many of us would like to dream especially of the new earth part. Can you imagine? A new way for people to live together without all the fighting and violence, all of the hate and negativity?
After all, it’s because all of those things, fighting and violence, and hate and negativity, that Jesus came to earth more than two thousand years ago to encourage people to love their neighbor, whoever their neighbor might be, to teach people to work for justice and to share kindness, and to bring peace to the world. But friends, the important part for us to remember is that Jesus didn’t finish the job and then leave. No, he merely planted the seeds and stirred the pot, and taught the disciples and us how to do it.
Friends, last week we talked about the UCC motto, “That they may all be one,” and that is just what we are working towards. All of us, as brothers and sisters, not separated by color or race or gender or religion or financial status or political party or anything else we can think of to divide us! But the dream is to be one, to all get along, and even more than that, to actually love and care for one another! Can you imagine? Like the peaceable kingdom that we hear about from the book of Isaiah when: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” Scripture says, “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Friends, as Christians, we believe that that is why Jesus came: to teach us to live that way. But boy, I guess we are slow learners! Did you know that the goal of our Jewish brothers and sisters, though they don’t follow Jesus’ teaching, is to follow the law of the Torah striving to live lives of truth, justice, and peace? The Hebrew word for peace, “Shalom,” describes a sense of completion or perfection, the way that life will someday be when we are all one. In fact, in the Bible, “Shalom” means well-being or prosperity, not just peace.
The dream of the new Jerusalem from today’s scripture is a dream that the world’s hate and struggle and pain is gone. Can you imagine? Some believe that the New Jerusalem is another word for heaven because we always talk about the fact that in heaven, there is no more struggle or pain or hurt. But personally, I think that’s the easy way out. Because I believe the stories in the gospels when Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is not some faraway place, but that the kingdom of God is in our midst. It’s not someday, or far away, friends, it’s here! And it’s now! Didn’t you hear what today’s scripture said? “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.”
Now you can hear those words and think, “Oh heaven will be like that someday.” But friends, it said the home of God is among mortals. What if this scripture wasn’t talking about someday? What if it was talking about today? Because friends, God is here among us. So, what are we waiting for? Why not work for justice and peace today? Why not carry on the work that Jesus and the disciples started? Why not reach out to those in need? Why not work to brighten our corner of the world right now, right here in Oldtown?
Yes, there will still be terrible things that happen in the world. Yes, there will still be hate and injustice. And we’ll see on the news the poor decisions and judgments that other make and unfortunately the pain and suffering that those decisions and judgments cause others. But those are not the examples that Jesus taught us to follow. Friends, in the face of hate and injustice and judgment and dishonor, we are called to love and serve and strive for justice, and mercy, and peace because we are Christians, but also simply because we are decent human beings.
This summer, I bought a new t-shirt, and there has not been a day that I’ve worn it when I haven’t gotten a smile and comment from a stranger saying that how much they love the shirt. It simply says, “Be a nice human.” Be a nice human, folks, it’s that easy. Think about the things that you say and do. How do they affect the people around you? Do you feel the need to speak differently around young kids or around your boss or around your parents? If you do, you might want to think about the things that you are saying.
Friends, today is All Saints Sunday. We have already read the list of names and rung the bell in our steeple as a way of remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have gone before, people who crossed our paths and who, in big or little ways, helped to make us who we are. Our list was filled with people of all ages, who did all kinds of work, and whose time here on earth, no matter how long, was sacred. From little Arai Pignataro who was only five weeks old to Altheir Pino who was one hundred and two, and all ages in-between. Friends, the list of names that we read today was filled with saints, saints who lived their lives serving others the best that they could, saints who used their gifts, and saints who shared a piece of themselves as they brought glimmers of light and hope to the world.
Our list this year includes some pretty important people. It includes Sunday School teachers and church ladies, children and siblings, parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. It includes teachers and coaches and volunteers. It includes people that taught us about life and death and the fact that love never ends. It includes people who taught us to sing and to laugh and to dance and just have fun sometimes. And it includes people who, in our times of darkness, showed us a glimmer of light and filled our lives with hope. And friends, our lives were touched by them and changed by them. And because of the saints that we honor and remember today, our lives will never be the same.
But friends, it’s important for us to remember that a saint is not a perfect person who never makes mistakes, but that a saint is a person that reaches out to help others, a person who teaches future generations, a person who shares joy with the world around them and brings light and hope to others through their actions. Now I know that each and every name that we read today was someone special, but there is one person, in particular, that was a master at reaching out to help others, teaching future generations, sharing joy with the world around them, and bringing light and hope to others through their actions.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a few minutes to remember Betty Grant, who is absolutely one of our Oldtown saints! In many ways, she was the face of not only Oldtown and Dyer-Lake Funeral Home where she worked as a greeter, but I think it could be said that she was the face of hospitality for the world! She always greeted everyone with a smile and tried her best to make everyone feel comfortable and welcomed. Betty’s life was not easy. She had plenty of struggles and hard times, but her faith and her big heart drove her to always think of others first! What a gift she was to us! I constantly hear people say that Betty was the first person to welcome them here at the church, and people still ask for her at Dyer-Lake. She was proud to be a deacon and to serve others. Now, she could be a little long-winded at times, and anyone who ever got a handwritten letter from her or several consecutive voicemails that connected without missing a beat because she kept getting cut off knew just how long-winded she could be. But Betty truly was a saint, and she encouraged many of us to be saints too.
As we discussed in Household Huddle this morning, we can all be saints for one another and for the world when we think not only of ourselves but of others, when we carry out acts of kindness, when we work for justice, and when we do what we can to bring peace to our community. Friends, it’s time to stop dreaming of the New Jerusalem and to start making this world a better place. The New Jerusalem doesn’t need to be a far off place. It can be here and now. After all, that was God’s dream! A place where God can dwell with His people and where there is no more pain, no more tears, no more struggle. But how do we get there? How do we make that happen? Well, friends, we can sit here and dream about it, but I can guarantee you that will not make I happen. We can hope and pray, but unfortunately, even that is not enough. Folks, there is enough negativity in the world. So do what you can to positively affect the world around you.
Today in Household Huddle, we reached out to our feathered friends, making cheerio bird feeders for the birds. But maybe you can make sandwiches to feed the hungry or donate canned goods to the food pantry. Maybe you can be a listening ear for someone who just needs to be heard, or you can give someone doesn’t drive a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Perhaps you can write someone a nice note or call someone that you know is alone. Friends, the list of things that we can do for others is endless!
And as for making changes in our community our state and our nation, turn off your television for a little while today and spend some time in prayer. Pray for our towns and our cities, our states and our country. Pray for our political leaders and all those running for office, both those who you agree with and those who you don’t. Lift to God your celebrations and your concerns, and ask God to guide you. Then on Tuesday, get out and vote! Make your voice heard. Don’t just sit there. Do something! Because friends, the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, is in our midst! It’s here among mortals! But wishing and imagining and dreaming won’t bring it into being. And neither will fighting and complaining and judging and badmouthing each other. In order for it to come to fruition, as scripture told us today, those things must pass away.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember the saints that have gone before. Think about the things that they did to touch your life, and then go out and make a difference yourself. Share hospitality with the world. Shine a little light in a dark corner, and be a saint for someone else.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!