Sunday Morning Message by Rev. Heather Weaver-Orosz Trinity United Church, Beamsville
Sunday, November 4th, 2018 All Saints Sunday
” The creation God loves is sick unto death, and needs caretakers, lovers, gardeners, companions and partners who will work to preserve life rather than death, collective security rather than national security, rice in the mouth and a roof over the head rather than military and nuclear hardware. ” (Lois Wilson, Turning the World Upside Down, 252)
Scripture Revelation 21: 1-6 (NRSV)
21 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. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 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; 4 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.” 5 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.” 6 Then 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 as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Before I pray, I just want to confirm that the passage Rosemary read for us before the anthem was not, in fact, a mistake. Also yes, I’ve had some time to think about whether I really wanted to use this text today. As we’ve discovered a few times now this fall already, sometimes there are suggested texts in the Lectionary listing that could be easily bypassed – and more times than not, we can do ourselves a disservice in choosing to bypass. Ignoring does not make for disappearing. That said, I do just want to make one note about this text as it’s found in the paraphrased version called The Message. Where the New Revised and many other versions translate 21:3 as “the home of God is among mortals; [God] will dwell with them…” (the Inclusive Bible says “God will be fully present among humankind”), The Message proclaims that “God has moved into the neighbourhood”. May that be the comforting lens through which we see God’s presence in our lives, and in this text. Will you pray with me?
God of great and abiding Love, I thank you for your constant invitation to live in your mercy; to stay firm in hope. May we rest freely in your Word and your promise to stay with us as we listen for truth. This I pray in the Way of Jesus. Amen.
I can only think of one occasion before this that I have shared with you (or any congregation, for that matter) something of an overnight dream. In part, because I rarely remember my dreams; and also, in part, because I can rarely make sense of what I do remember. That was not the case yesterday morning. I woke up with a distinct memory of dreaming that Michael and I were walking north on Appleby Line toward the QEW overpass (which we never do, because it’s dangerous, but there we were), and I was saying to him that I didn’t think I would preach today. In fact, I would just take a last minute Sunday of vacation.
Not a sick day, but vacation. Even though I had the sermon completely ready, I would just leave it for someone else to deliver. End of dream, or at least end of memory of dream.
I do not do dream analysis, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how much I really did have some trepidation about diving into a message on Revelation 21. As my colleagues will attest, and as anyone might surmise, any text from Revelation is a bit daunting – which is likely why this may only be the 4th sermon I’ve ever offered from this somewhat infamous book of Christian Scripture. One was an assignment in seminary. One was at a pulpit supply gig with a congregation that liked to live on the edge. One was part of a course for graduate work. Today, you will be witness to the 4th. May God help
us to learn where it lands. At the opening of his commentary work on Revelation, theologian and
pastor N.T. Wright says this:
“Many people today regard Revelation as the hardest book in the New Testament. …It is full of strange, lurid, and sometimes bizarre and violent imagery. You might have thought that in a world of clever movies and DVDs, stuffed full of complex imaginative imagery, we would take to Revelation like ducks to water; but it doesn’t always seem to work that way. As a result, many people who are quite at home in the gospels, Acts and Paul find themselves tiptoeing around Revelation with a sense that they don’t really belong there. But they do! This book in fact offers one of the clearest and sharpest visions of God’s ultimate purpose for the whole creation, and of the way in which the powerful forces of evil, at work in a thousand ways but not least in idolatrous and tyrannous political systems, can be and are being overthrown through the victory of Jesus the Messiah and the consequent costly victory of his followers. The world we live in today is no less complex and dangerous than the world of the late first century when this book was written, and we owe it to ourselves to get our heads and our hearts around John’s glorious pictures as we attempt to be faithful witnesses to God’s love in a world of violence, hatred and suspicion.” (Revelation for Everyone, x-xi)
That quote takes up half a page of my text. That quote is not liked by my version of Microsoft Word, as it put all sorts of blue underline through it to indicate a run-on sentence. No wonder. It is a big and long idea. But I believe it is right. I believe N.T. Wright is right/correct. A great portion of the global Christian body has, for centuries before our own, self-censored ourselves out of Revelation as though it is beyond our understanding and therefore beyond our conversation. It does not speak to us in easy ways. Some might say it doesn’t speak to us at all. Yet, to quote our Joan Smith, from this past week’s Wednesday @ 1 conversation, this text of Revelation 21 (and I would say the book as a whole) invites us to expand our ‘imaginative landscape’. It is an eye opening exercise that can, in the end, prove to be i-opening (in an imaginative way) and I-opening (in a spiritually transformative way).
Here’s what I mean:
As a genre, the Book of Revelation is identified as everything from prophetic to allegory, but most commonly is associated as apocalyptic. The Greek translation of the very word ‘revelation’ leans heavily there. It speaks into and about a foreseen time in which a new age will come to be. Some of its images are rather stark and difficult, but some are ethereal, and paint a portrait
– which I read as metaphorical – of a time to come in which God’s people are released from all that is now and released into a tear-free eternity. You can see why it draws some favour for reading on a day like All Saints Sunday. Here we honour those who have faithfully led us to this life. Here we might dream of the day of reuniting.
The challenge with an apocalyptic or eschatological text like this is that we can spend so much time dissecting what we think it says to us of the future that we launch over what it names about the present. You might think of it in terms of the use of literary works identified as dystopian – works that herald an uncomfortable future, and in the course of their narrative, they fundamentally challenge and probably disturb our imaginative landscape. In the most basic descript, they paint a picture of what might be, and what ought not to be. Margaret Atwood is the first name that may come to mind in crafting this genre.
Some will say she perfected it.
Margaret Atwood and I are not friends but we share friends, and we call ourselves enough of an acquaintance with some of her immediate family that we stand in her presence at least once a year, when said family call her Peggy and she is more interested in counting birds than national interviews. You don’t need to be closely associated with Peggy/Margaret even that much to know that she is an ardent voice for the stewardship of Creation; and while she might not capitalize the words Creation or God (I don’t know, but she probably doesn’t), she absolutely capitalizes on every opportunity to name the need for planetary
care; for human care; for responsible creature care. It is no wonder then that Margaret Atwood is booked to spend a fundraising evening later this month with a Hamilton group called A Rocha. They are (capitalized) Eco-Christians. Their
mission is to ‘transform people and places by showing God’s love for all creation’.
I know we live in a world that constantly calls us to join more, do more, be more. However, I am genuinely intrigued by A Rocha’s mandate, enough that I would like to learn about my place with them (in spare time I don’t think I have).
I am moved by Margaret Atwood’s simple endorsement that says “If more Christians were like those at A Rocha, ours would be a radically different world.”
To say there is anything close to a singular Christian vision of anything, let alone the future, is naïve. We are complex and varied, like creation itself. There is beauty in that. There is also challenge in the notion that, even in that diversity, we are united in God’s call upon our lives to make choices that reflect God’s vision; that are true to the Way and the Wisdom of Jesus. We are not asked to be saints in the Hollywood sense – with perfection and heavenly arias emanating from each breath. Instead, we are invited by God and we are equipped by God to be everyday people who dream of and believe in the possibility of a different world – and then choose simple but steady ways that we can individually and collectively bring it to life. There are simple but steady ways that you and I can make a stronger church family; a better neighbourhood; a safer community; a society and a world of justice and peace and shared resources. In all these places, God dwells already… but our sainthood may come
in the courage to speak that truth, and make it real for everyone to see for certain. For a sermon that is somehow grounded in a text that points to a place beyond our seeing, it can be hard to know where to end, but end it must that we might get on with the present, so let me close with the text from the end of another text that stays close at hand on my shelf. It’s taken from one of our
past Moderators of The United Church of Canada, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Lois M. Wilson – who happens to also be one of my named saints; one of our truth-tellers. In her autobiography, which ironically says much more about God’s beloved world
than it does about her (which in and of itself says a great deal about her), she closes the text with these words:
” The creation God loves is sick unto death, and needs caretakers, lovers, gardeners, companions and partners who will work to preserve life rather than death, collective security rather than national security, rice in the mouth and a roof over the head rather than military and nuclear hardware. The kind of love that is needed to make the vision a reality has tough sinews. It roots up and pulls down, builds and plants. It is full of tenderness. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It wipes away tears from all eyes. ” (Lois Wilson, Turning the World Upside Down, 252)
That love, that capital L-Love is already in you. It is what God draws forth
from you, all over again. Like a boy on a basketball court*, this is your moment,
again and again and again.
In all that you choose to do with it, to God alone be the glory! Amen.