New Heaven, New Earth
May 19, 2019 (Heritage Sunday – COL)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”
God has now made his home among the morals. The separation is over. The hurt is over. God will be here with us, wiping away every tear, overcoming death. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
Generations ago, as the nations of Israel and Judea turned their back on God and faced defeat from their enemies, the prophet Isaiah prayed:
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”
“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.
I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people. No more shall the sound of weeping be heard, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be an infant living but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”
A new heaven. A new earth. In his vision, John the Elder sees God’s promise made real before his eyes. For this moment all creation waits. For this moment all creation yearns. As heaven comes down to earth all creation, from lichen to majestic oaks, from earthworms to people, obtains the freedom of the glory of children of God. Before John the Elders’ eyes, the old passes away. Before John the Elder’s eyes everything becomes new. After millennia of struggle. After generations of hurt, pain, violence, abuse, victimization, injustice, death the lamb on the throne has won, reconciling all things to him.
Every day, as the sun rises, we see glimpses of God’s promised newness. We glimpse it in the ancient covenantal promise of loyalty between God and humanity. We see it in the person and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We feel it as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. We see it, feel it, even experience it – much like a woman experiences her child in the womb even though its not yet born. So we wait – like a woman in labor. A very , very, very, very long and painful labor filled with a hope and an expectation seemingly impossible to realize.
For some the promise has been so delayed, the waiting so painful, they’ve given up. Some of these have stopped believing at all. Nothing exists other than what we experience around us. There is no promise. No new heaven or new earth. Just more of the same hurt, pain, violence, abuse, victimization, injustice and death.
Others hold onto the promise but believe the hurt, pain, violence, abuse, victimization, injustice, death to be so pervasive God’s newness can only happen elsewhere. Heaven doesn’t come down to earth. Those who are acceptable gain access to a new creation in heaven.
And then there is us.
I once heard someone joke Presbyterians pray like humanity has no hope and work like we can build heaven with our own hands. Praying and working – its not a bad way to wait.
Earlier this week Sue Stoy and I sat in my office discussing a vision for older adult ministries. Columbiana is aging demographically. More and more of our neighbors are aging at home, alone. As we talked, the Spirit moved, and I realized it was time to get serious – so I grabbed a marker and went over to the white boards.
If you haven’t been in my office, its dominated by two large whiteboards. Over the whiteboards there should be a sign: Making Heaven Visible While We Wait. The process we went through three years ago now to change the direction of this congregation: birthed on those whiteboards. Pathways to Independence, the new program at the Way Station to bring women and their children out of poverty – birthed on those whiteboards. The HUB – birthed on those whiteboards.
Currently on the whiteboard:
– A new plan to provide mid-week space for prayer and meditation.
– A partnership between the church and the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Board to develop programs linking mental health and spirtuality.
– And, as of Wednesday, a commitment to creating welcoming, hospitable, healing space for our neighbors aging alone. Space for a meal together. Space for activities such as art, music, prayer, bible study, wellness. Space for us, as the community of Christ, to give of our selves. To wipe away tears. To comfort those in mourning. To make visible the incredible grace and goodness, healing and completeness of our God.
Our ancestors built this church with prayer and with perseverance. We continue to pray and work, seeking to build a new community, one allowing us, and our neighbors, to glimpse, to taste, to touch even briefly, God’s vision of newness for his creation.
In less than two weeks – a week from Friday to be exact – eight members of this congregation – Mary Ann & Tom, Geraldine, Barb, Josh, Sue, Niki and I – are traveling to Canton for an overnight retreat with representatives of six other Presbyterian churches in Northeast Ohio. All seven of us have committed towards a journey of vitality. Our goal during this journey: to celebrate our past, examine our reality, and discern God’s Spirit toward a vibrant and Spirit filled future. Together, over the next couple of years, we’re going to strive to grow. To grow in faith. To grow in community impact. Possibly to grow in numbers. Together we’re going to pray as if we’re totally reliant upon God’s grace and work so that we, and our neighbors, might possibly catch a glimpse of heaven.
Not that we don’t already pray. Not that we don’t already work. Not that heaven isn’t already visible. Heaven is visible in the community meals and the kingdom closet. Heaven is visible in the incredible gardens around out building. Heaven is visible here in worship.
The other day I was bragging on this congregation and how inclusive and welcoming we are. My friend Tammy Blackburn, who runs the Way Station’s Pathways to Independence program, shared with me how hard it is to connect the single moms in the program with congregations. Their kids don’t behave perfectly, she explained. They don’t always dress right. They don’t always understand the unwritten rules. Send them to us, I told her. They’d fit right in.
Creating a little bit of heaven. It’s what we do. Wiping away tears. Comforting those who mourn. Praying through the pain. Working while we wait to make the kingdom of God visible in a world defined by hurt, pain, violence, abuse, victimization, injustice and death.