Monday, November 21, 2016

The Story 31. The End of Time

Readings:  Psalm 37:1-13, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Acts 1:1-7, Revelation 21: 1-4
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 20th, 2016

Are any of you here fans of the TV program “Extreme Makeover – Home Edition?” If you have never seen it, the premise is simple. A family in need is chosen and a group of generous folk go into their house and totally renew it, while the family are sent on a vacation. When the family return a bus is parked in front of their new home, blocking the view. The highlight of the program is when the crowd begin chanting “Move that bus, Move that bus!”  When the bus is moved, the new home, usually with tears of joy and excitement, is revealed.

We have reached the end of our journey through 'The Story” and arrived at chapter 31, a summary of the Book of Revelation, titled “The End of Time.” In the liturgical calendar it is also Christ the King Sunday, a day when the church celebrates that at the end of all things, Christ will be enthroned as Lord. Revelation pictures the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, where all is well. Revelation could be described as “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”

Revelation is a vision attributed to John on the island of Patmos, given to him during a time when the early church was undergoing great persecution. It begins with seven letters to seven churches. Each church is evaluated for its weaknesses and strengths and given instruction as to how it should move forward. Following this there is much talk of angels and horsemen and seals being broken. There is judgment and and the casting out of evil.

It's like a 4D movie invading the senses. All the things that make the world such a terrible place; war and famine and plague and disaster come to an end. All the forces of empire and violence and persecution are silenced. And at the center of all things is God... and the Jesus the lamb of God... and endless waves of praise and wonder that emanate from the Holy Spirit.

I've printed in the bulletin some of the final words in all scripture, and invite you to say these words with me, as they give a wonderful taste of what the future holds for the people of God. Join me in reading Revelation 21: 1-4;

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, 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, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with all people. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

The whole Bible leads us to this picture in Revelation. The seed that was planted in Genesis reaches full bloom. What is promised in the first pages of the first book of the Bible is accomplished in the last pages of the last book of the Bible.

  • Genesis tells us God created the heavens and the earth - Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth.
  • In Chapter 1 of Genesis, God makes  the sun and the stars. In the last chapter of Revelation, the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it because the glory of God gives light and God's presence is its lamp.
  • The lost paradise of Genesis - is the found paradise of Revelation.
  • Satan appears in the first garden as a treacherous snake but in this eternal garden, evil is banished.
  • The tree that couldn’t be touched in the Garden of Eden becomes one we are  invited to eat from in the garden of heaven.
  • In Genesis, humanity hides from God, but in Revelation, God dwells with people.
Right from the start of “The Story” we saw how God’s desire is to be with us. The story of Adam and Eve pictures for us how each of us rejects that idea, preferring to go our own way and vainly presuming we know better than God.

Yet God had a plan from the very beginning to get us back. As we have been journeying through “The Story” at times it it has looked bleak in the “Lower Story,” but God has never taken God's eyes off that “Upper Story” plan.

In the Old Testament God established a brand new nation called Israel. What begins as a an act of faithfulness on the part of Abraham and Sarah, grows and moves forward so that eventually the Hebrews become a nation whose whole purpose is to demonstrate what living as God's people could look like.

But people, even God's people, are fickle and wayward, and the ability to turn away from God, never leaves. Through laws, through prophets, through Judges, through Kings, through times of blessing and times of judgment, through times of great expansion, and through times of exile and abandonment, the message is proclaimed, “Come Home. Trust Me. Serve me and I will bless you.”

All of this is a preparation for an awesome moment when, in Christ, God steps into the world of time. Jesus came to us. His life is a demonstration of awe inspiring love. He heals, He delivers. He teaches lessons we still struggle to get our minds around. 

And on that day, when He hung on the cross, the claim was made that He was taking our sins upon Himself, that we may live free and forgiven. In case we doubted God could do such a thing, on the third day He was raised, demonstrating the absolute victory of life over death, of hope over despair and of love over hate.

Jesus does for us what we can never do for ourselves. He reconciles us to God. He opens the doorway into God's nearer presence. Following numerous resurrection appearances, Jesus promises, following His ascension, that the Holy Spirit will come to those who trust in Him and empower them for service, in such a way that His work will continue and the message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in Jerusalem, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

On the day of Pentecost, amid flames and rushing wind and a mingling of tongues, the church is born. God takes those first disciples, a random group of fishermen and  everyday people, and they become the vanguards of a movement that will change the world. He takes a character called Saul, and so turns his life around that he becomes this new movements great spokesperson, the apostle Paul, uniquely positioned through his background and circumstances to share the message with Jew and Gentile alike.

Despite incredible opposition and persecution the church grows, the message is proclaimed and over the centuries thousands upon thousands upon thousands bear witness to the saving power of Christ's death and the empowering resurrection presence of the Holy Spirit that enables them to achieve things they had never dreamed of.

And part of the churches vision, part of the message of the 66 books of the Bible is that “We ain't seen nothing yet.” That life on earth is but a prelude. That, though it be a slow train coming, there will come a time when all is well, when Christ will take His rightful place as ruler and Lord and King over all.

The Book of Revelation offers this amazing perspective of “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”  A new city, a new garden where fellowship with God will be complete and the vision of the “Upper Story” will be fulfilled.

Church... thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel through “The Story” with you. I know that not everybody has been engaged, not everybody has been as excited about it as I've been. As with any attempt to offer a summary, there have been moments when I've thought, “Well, why miss out that story” and times when I've not really identified with the authors theological perspectives.
But overall, for me it's been so worth it. If I take nothing else away, then I will at least recall that there are two stories that flow through our lives. The “Upper Story” of God's purpose and the “Lower story” of the way we perceive things. 

Discipleship happens when our story becomes part of that “Upper Story,” when our life becomes connected and empowered by the vision that this life is not all there is, that through Christ, and in the power of His Spirit, we have an opportunity to live faithfully, purposefully and meaningfully. 

When John was on the island of Patmos and it seemed like all he had hoped for was coming to an end, God gave him this mind boggling vision that he passes on to us in the Book of Revelation.  Many years from now, I'm pretty sure that scholars will still be trying to figure it all out, people will be predicting that the end of the world is near and claiming to know all the intricacies and ins and outs of the end times.

I say “Good luck to them!” So far everybody who has gone down that path has been united by one result. They've all got it wrong. Jesus tells us in the Book of Acts, 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”

The book of Revelation was never intended as a pre-emptive calendar to chart the end of the world. What it is... is a gift of grace. What it is... is an amazing picture of hope that tells us that at the end of all things, love wins.  What it is.... is a document that encourages us to believe that, in God's time, in God's way, even though it it may not look like that right now, all things will be made beautiful.

To John it was an assurance that Rome did not have the final say in the world in which he lived. To us it can remind us that wherever we perceive power to be invested, be it Washington, or Moscow or London, or Wall Street, or the media or the big corporations, they will never have the last word.
Justice will come. Peace will come. God's Kingdom will come. Christ's love will reign. And it is for us to embrace that message and do everything in our power to hasten that day by involving ourselves in actions that proclaim the reign of God is alive in our hearts and lives, through acts of compassion and care and deliverance that reflect the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. 

Our calling is not to stand back and chant “Move that bus. Move that bus.” Our task is to get busy on the next restoration project God places before us. And to do so with overflowing hope and expectancy and passion, because we know that “The Story” is a story of amazing grace that neither began with us, nor will end with us. 

Again, I thank you for the opportunity of exploring the great sweep of the Bibles 66 books with you over an extended period, and I pray that as we look to the future we have a greater grasp on who we are called to be and what we are called to do... all to the glory of God, in whom it all began and with whom our destiny lies.  To God be all praise, for the wonder of the Word, for the testimony of the 66 books of the Bible. 

Maybe you remember what the very first words in the first book of the bible are? Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But do you know what the final words of the final book of the Bible are? Revelation 22:21... and I'll read them as they are in the King James version...  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” 

In that grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our forgiveness, our hope, our purpose and our mission. We were created by grace, for grace, in order that we may share that grace with God, with each other and all creation. 

It is through grace that we live into the promise that there will come a day when “God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
And with that thought in mind I have only one more thing to say... the bibles final word... Amen!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

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