The New Heaven and the New EarthRevelation 21:1-5 (NRSV)
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.”
I wonder, have you ever gotten a new car? I mean a brand new car, with only a few miles on it, and that amazing new car smell? How exciting is that? It feels like a fresh clean start, doesn’t it? And you take extra good care of it, don’t you? You would never think of climbing into it with muddy feet, or throwing trash on the floor, or letting your dog sit in the passenger seat to shed all over the place and wipe his wet nose on the windows. No, it’s new and crisp and fresh and clean, and sometimes you even make a pact with yourself. You promise to never eat in the car, to take it to the car wash every week and you even vacuum it! There is something about a fresh start that feels good, doesn’t it? And if your friends want to go out, you’re the first one to offer to drive because you want to show off your new beauty! Sometimes you even just sit in your car and take deep breaths, treasuring the new car smell because you know it won’t last forever. You feel happy, and fed, and filled with hope and promise for the future.
Now I know that Jesus said that one’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions and that “things” aren’t supposed to make us that happy. But I think that we can all agree that new beginnings and fresh clean starts can because they free us from the burdens that we usually carry and help us to better see good in the world around us.
But rather than a brand-new car, you might have had an old comfy car–one that is like a member of the family. Maybe you even named it “Old Blue,” because it’s been with you through thick and thin. You know, you have your own groove in the driver’s seat, and each one of the stains in the back seat has its own story. Like when you took the kids for ice cream one summer and the ice cream melted faster than they could eat it, and when you looked back there was melted ice cream was everywhere. Or the time you took the dog on your camping trip and he jumped into the car after rolling in mud. The floor mats in Old Blue, if you could see them, are covered with sand from your trip to the Cape last year, but now they are blanketed with empty Dunkin Donuts cups, water bottles, and McDonald’s and Taco Bell wrappers. Though you love Old Blue, and you wouldn’t trade it in for anything, you never offer to drive when you’re going out with your friends, because you know that the back seat is full of stuff. And though you don’t take Old Blue to the carwash anymore, or vacuum the floor mats, you do occasionally just sit in Old Blue, reminiscing about old times and breathing in the smell of the three pine air fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror.
I wonder, have you ever had an Old Blue? A car like that can be really heartwarming and comfortable, can’t it? But have you ever ridden in someone else’s Old Blue? If you have, then you might better understand that what is really comfortable and heartwarming to one person can be quite uncomfortable to another.
In someone else’s Old Blue, you might quickly roll down the windows because the pine scent of the air fresheners is overwhelming, but it is also mixed with another scent that you can’t really identify. You might have to push a few things aside to get in, especially kicking a few empty water bottles and wrappers on the floor to clear a space for your feet. And those stains that hold stories for the owner just look like dirty old stains to you.
Friends, in the book of Revelation, we hear of God making all things new, which assures us that there’s even hope for Old Blue. Scripture says “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.'”
Friends, can you imagine what it would be like to have all things made new? We just heard that in the New Jerusalem, or when God comes to be with the people, God is planning a little clean-up. As Scripture says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” It sounds like the plan is to clean up the things that weigh heavy on the people in order to bring wholeness and healing. I guess it might be like taking Old Blue to the car wash, cleaning out the trash and the clutter, vacuuming the sand out of the rugs, maybe replacing a floor mat or two, and treating those stains on the upholstery. But don’t worry folks. Old Blue will still be Old Blue. Old Blue will just be cleaned up and made new. Then everyone will be able to appreciate and find a warm welcome in Old Blue’s seats.
Friends, in seven weeks, our church building will be opening up again, not only for us to worship, but for us to show hospitality as we welcome new individuals and families to join us. Sure, we have vacuuming and dusting and cleaning to do. After all, the building has been closed for a year and a half now. But just like with Old Blue, there is even more that needs to be done. Because I’m not just talking about the last year and a half, but over the last ten, twenty, even thirty years, we have collected a lot of clutter, and we have filled our spaces with lots of things that we do not need. Now some of those things, like the stains in Old Blue, might make us comfortable because we remember their stories. But to be honest, to newcomers, those things might just look like dirty old stains and trash.
Now please listen carefully: we are in no way forgetting who we are as a church or where we have come from. Our history is an important part of our story, but our clutter is not. In Oldtown, we tend to be collectors of what people no longer want in their homes, and our closets and meeting spaces are getting overrun with stuff that we don’t need. In order to get ready to open our doors in August, we are planning to do a thorough cleaning of stuff. We will also be replacing the floor in Maxcy Hall, in the children’s chapel, and in the ramp entryway and bathrooms, as after thirty years the floors are stained, and buckled, and wrinkling up. We are SO looking forward to opening our doors on August 15th to offer a fresh, clean, clutter-free, safe, and welcoming space for all. Just as the new Old Blue was the same as old Old Blue, only clutter-free and clean, our new Oldtown will be just like the old Oldtown, just free from some of the clutter that weighs us down and that stops us from offering a warm welcome and true hospitality.
How exciting is that? A fresh clean start! And something deep inside tells me that when we see the new Oldtown, we won’t want to come in with muddy feet, or throw trash on the floor, or collect more clutter. Because we will have a fresh clean start and an amazing place not only to call home but to invite our family and friends to call home too, as we work together for healing and wholeness, and as we faithfully strive to make all things new.