This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on October 14, 2018. The following is a transcript of the scripture lessons and sermon.
New Testament Lesson
Revelation 21:1-14, 22-27
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, the 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,
“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;
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.”
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.” 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. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Then 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 in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. It has a great, high wall with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
In theatre, we have these things called ‘acts.’ you’ll notice in your bulletin we use this same language. That’s because one of the ways we live our lives is that we think ourselves in terms of being plays. Shakespeare wrote that all the world’s a stage and all the people are merely players. Here’s the thing about plays: plays have sets. Sets look good if they’re done well. But they are not the real thing. They can get knocked over.
I was the lead in a performance at a high school production of Stranger With Flowers. I was the main character, somewhat of a fiendish character. I had to shove someone out onto the stage. I had to have a suitcase in one hand, a gun in the other, and a trench coat draped over my hand. So I shoved this person out on the stage, and as I walked in I brushed against part of the set with my coat. And as I walked out, unbeknownst to me a window began tipping down and it fell on me. It was about seven or eight feet tall, and the corner dropped on my head. And I had that moment where I had to contemplate that A), ow, and B), what in the world am I going to do next?
I am going to submit to you that we live in a world which is basically just a set. We are players in a world and we live in a place and a time where it is so easy to knock things down and destroy them. And we do it to ourselves. We do it in our personal lives, in our church lives, we do it in our work lives, we do it in our social lives, we do it in our public and civic life. Sometimes it’s unintentional. Sometimes we have the best of intentions in fulfilling our role, but sometimes we just swing in doing what we think we’re supposed to do and we crash and burn everything. It happens.
Today we read from the book of Revelation. The way Revelation describes the new Heaven and new Earth, it seems like the final screen of a play that is coming down. When the final screen comes down, it’s typically the final act of the play, and that’s what’s happening in Revelation. Revelation is showing us who is really in charge. It’s actually the truth being revealed by the set being taken away.
From beginning to end, Revelation often uses very scary imagery, often times uses imagery that we get very uncomfortable with. How many of you enjoy reading the bit about people being thrown into fire and sulfur? We are not comfortable with that. Most of us know that at least one of the persons in there is that the liars get thrown in there. And we have all lied. What this is talking about, and what the focus of this is, is this idea that there is something better that is on its way. We’ve spoken over the last few weeks about God doing new things. We need to remember that God is not done with us yet.
You have not been abandoned. You have not broken anything so badly that God will not or does not want to fix. The mercy and grace of God shows us the way forward. The passage that describes this new heaven and new earth says “the sea was no more.” The reason why that is an important image is that in the ancient world, the sea was a symbol of chaos. It was a symbol of destruction. We see the destruction that comes from the sea. And for the people of the ancient world, they knew that very well. So God is talking here about taking away that brokenness and the way in which chaos can subvert our world. Fundamentally, our job and goal as Christians is to remember that the world around us is a set. It’s not that it isn’t important. What we are called to be shaped by is not the set but the end of the play.
Too often in our world, we allow the mistakes and the brokenness and the chaos of the past to shape who we are going to be in the future. And when we do that we simply get caught back in the old ways of being. We get caught back in the ways that trap us into our sinful ways and not be shaped by the future and the hope of the new city. The new city which is shaped not by our brokenness, not by the sets that fall on our head, not by any of those other things that divide us. We are called to be shaped by this image of God coming and being with us. Of God coming and walking among us. If we have been hurt by the sets falling on our head, God is there to wipe away our tears.
Now we live in a world in which the sets will crash and the audience will laugh at us. It was hard not to laugh when that set fell on my head. But here’s what I did. I stepped forward, it fell down behind me, and I just went on. I continued to do what I was supposed to do. Ultimately, we know that there will be tragedies and hurricanes and heartbreak in our lives and in our world. But that cannot shape who we are called to be because we are called to be shaped by the one who came to be among us, who came to live with us, who came to show us what love is. That is who we follow, and that is the gospel of Love. Do not take your eyes off that prize. Live into it, and in so doing, be God’s faithful people. That is the Good News. Amen.