Sermon text: Revelation 21: 1-6
This spring I’ve paid closer attention to the beauty and budding of the season, more so than I ever have before. Some of you know that my fiancée, Kelsey, owns a flower farm in Roaring Spring. A flower farm is exactly what it sounds like, she grows flowers that are then harvested to be sold to florists for their arrangements. Most of her growing takes place in the summer and early autumn, but this spring she broke into the world of commercial tulip growing.
Tulips are my favorite flower, or at the very least they are the one flower that I’ve always been able to identify. Last autumn we planted 5000 of them—dozens of varieties in an array of colors and styles. For nearly a month now they’ve been budding and we’ve been harvesting. A few dozen were left in the beds, blooming in all their glory. This weekend we picked the last of them, a specialized variety called Ice Cream Tulips that are purple on the outside with a white risen center that looks like a scoop of ice cream.
Over the past few months, as these plants have sprouted and grown and bloomed during the course of our Lent and Easter seasons, nature’s spring awakening has been a beautiful reminder of how all God’s world can experience new creation and resurrection. From the seemingly dead and dormant comes new life, with all the delicate intricacies of flower pedals and the incomplete melodies of young songbirds celebrating God the creator. The new life that surrounds us in spring is an abundant sign of how God makes all things new. This Easter season, that is the central promise we live into: God is making all things new. Death has been defeated and renewed with God’s promises of the resurrection and everlasting life.
Today we read a passage from the Book of Revelation, and it is a passage that fascinates me with its overwhelming promises. Personally, I believe that Revelation offers some words to us that are as comforting as they are bizarre. Today we hear how God desires to dwell with us, to be with his peoples, to wipe every tear from our eyes. John of Patmos gives this extraordinary vision of what resurrected life will look like in the presence of God.
Unfortunately, the Book of Revelation often gets a bad rap. I believe the book has received this reputation because it is misunderstood and exploited by writers and Christian churches who promote a gospel of fear rather than a gospel of peace and promise.
How many of you remember the Left Behind series? The Left Behind series started in 1995 and went through 2007, producing 16 books that loosely interpreted the apocalyptic literature found in the Bible. The central theme of the books was that the “true believers in Christ were raptured, or taken instantly to heaven, only to leave the world shattered and chaotic.” But now, 15 years after these books were published, I think we some of the depictions of the Rapture is just a normal day in the year 2022.
The Rapture has also been used by doomsday prophets. Anyone remember Harold Camping? Eleven years ago Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011. He said that at Christ’s return the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day until the world was destroyed on October 21, 2011. Lots of people were enthralled by this. But then, nothing happened. And then he predicted another end of the world and again, nothing happened.
This notion of rapture perplexes me. I’ve never been able to understand it, especially because it creates such a violent us versus them understanding of who we are as people of faith. But what really perplexes me is that a doctrine of rapture is not found in the Bible. The whole idea is built on the filmsy interpretation of a couple of Bible verses.
Contrary to popular apocalyptic thinking, there is no rapture or a future snatching of Christian from the earth in the Book of Revelation. Instead, it is God who is “raptured” down to earth. God comes to earth to take up residence among us. I can say that Revelation is profoundly ecological because it declares God’s commitment to the earth as the location of salvation. The new Jerusalem comes down from heaven. God renews creation with a new heaven and a new earth.
It is in light of these wonderful promises, these promises of comfort and hope, these promises of joy and abiding with God, that I think about our ministry. In Christ, in the resurrection, and in the new creation God is making all things new. In Christ all things will be transformed, and we will all be like the springtime that is bursting around us.
So I ask: In the midst of this action, in the midst of God making all things new, as we ourselves live in the Easter time with resurrected lives—what pieces of our ministry do you want to make new? God is working through us, refreshing us, restoring us. With this new life in Christ, how can we, as people of God, also work to renew the weary world that surrounds us?
I’m excited, because this is where ministry happens. When our new lives in Christ connect with the needs of this world, extraordinary things will happen. As God’s agents, as God’s ministers in the world, we have been empowered to make things new.
So ask yourselves, where can we make a difference? What part of this community and world needs the light of Christ that we can boldly bear? Where can we help make all things new? God says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” Who out there is thirsty?
Tell me, because I want to know. Tell each other, because it is a conversation worth having. We have the skills, we have the gifts, we even have the money to help make some things, if not all things new for God’s sake. Where will we start?
God desires to be with the God’s people. Let’s make it our mission to fulfill that desire, make connections, and share the promises of new life given to us by God. AMEN