First Congregational Church
May 28, 2017
7th Sunday after Easter, Memorial Weekend
Psalm 146, Revelation 21
“The Abundance of Hope”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I wonder if one of the reasons that so many Americans love Memorial Day is that - rightly or wrongly - it reminds us of a time when life seemed simpler - of Memorial Day parades and flags flying on the porch when it was called Decoration Day, and Victorian ladies, gentlemen and children on vintage postcards that generally included a waving US flag. As is so often the case, that is only the surface of this day, and when you dig a little deeper, there are layers to the holiday that can make the head spin - sort of like this very day.
Today, our worship includes the celebration of Education Sunday - a day we express our gratitude for the education that takes place in the lives of our young people - both secular and sacred - that will become part of the fabric of the future.
In addition to that, today we wind up a four-week sermon series on the Abundance of God. We started with the Abundance of God in Creation, went on to the Abundance of Grace, then the Stewardship of Abundance and today we, of course, wind up with the Abundance of Hope.
Regardless of the radio, tv or other media news stations you frequent, if ever there was a time to latch on to the idea of an abundance of hope, this would be it. The ironic thing is that I think that sentiment is true for almost every era in the history of this world. Our own human near-sightedness often succumbs to the weight of this ball (head) attached to our necks, and we can forget that the neck was created to move this same ball up and down and to the right and to the left. The beauty of this morning’s passages are perfect for exercising our neck muscles, so that we don’t become stiff-necked or sore-necked.
The passage from the Psalms is fairly straight-forward, but the passage from Revelation needs some ‘splaning before we get to it. There will be a word “stadia.” It is a unit of measurement roughly an eighth of a mile. The number of stadia in the Revelation to John - as the book is more properly called - is 12,000, which translates to 1,500 miles. In this Revelation - or prophetic vision - recorded as a letter to the “Seven Churches of Asia,” the writer describes a new world with a new, holy city, in the shape of a cube. In the Jewish tradition, one of the most holy shapes was that of a cube, and it was the shape - not only Ezekiel’s visions of a New Jerusalem and a new temple, but it was the actual shape of the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, built in 587 B.C. The perfect shape of a cube would be the perfect abode for the dwelling place of God. And the walls described in cubits is 65 feet.
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
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 without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Thank you, Reagan and Peyton. Although there are some people who believe that this very description will be the actual New Heaven and Earth, I would guess that most folks understand the passage as a symbolic representation of a point in the future. Whether real or symbolic, there is a hope that can be gleaned from a place so spectacular that darkness would no longer cause fear and precious gems are as plentiful as concrete, so opulent that giant pearls represent gates and gold is used as asphalt.
That’s pretty heady stuff, and it can seem limiting. Except in Jewish thought, this description of the new heaven and earth is not limiting, but perfection. It is a place where there will no longer be need for war or remembering those who have died, because God will have this place of perfection waiting for us.
It is easy to think, that if God has all this waiting for us, then we should be able to skate along until that time comes. Except that there are people here who need to hear such promise of hope, people who have no hope. We often think that those who are in need of such hope live in the deep, dark jungles or remote arid places of the world. But it may well be the person right next to you, the person who lives next door, or someone in your phone’s contact list, that needs the light of Christ shone on God’s abundance of hope. As Erica Schemper, creator of this idea of an abundance sermon series says, “Our call is to work alongside God and to allow God to work through us. We don’t get to rest on our laurels, waiting for Jesus to return. Each and everyone one of us has work to do.
The same God that created such an intricate, vast, mind-boggling world such as ours would, of course, have an amazing place waiting for us - whether made of gems and precious stones or something far beyond our ken. By and large, hope is not going to be found in a piece of paper with a scripture and message - what was known as a gospel tract. People aren’t really going to care if we give them a Bible or even invite them to church - although I hope you all are doing that any time the subject comes up. What will draw folks to look further at an abundance of hope is how we live our lives - what we do - with God - that will help them understand how differently life is when transformed by the message of hope, grace, abundance and the creation we now have - but made new.
As much as we look back, to remember and pay tribute to those who have served us in history, we do well to look forward to the time when the prophecies of peace and perfection and abundance and wholeness will be complete. For this moment, however, we have the honor of being in God’s presence, being one with and in communication with the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. So let us pray.
Great God, we are grateful for those individuals who have gone before us - all those who served you and us in all the many and varied ways this world offers. In our humanity, we sometimes forget to be grateful, so we ask for and thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you, most especially this day, for the amazing abundance with which you bless us - in mercy, blessings, hope, church family, our own families and every other profusion of goodness with which you shower us - even when our lives feel far from good or blessed. Thank you, too, for giving us examples and reasons to put our hope in you - as promise keeper and vision giver. For all the blessings with which you hallow us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.