The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 28, 2013 – 10:30 AM
Imagine with me for a moment: it is three days before Christmas, December 22nd. And by virtue of your laziness or procrastination or a simple aversion to spending money, you haven’t bought any Christmas gifts. You look at your list of things to buy for your family: a ukulele for your daughter, a kayak for your son, and a turkey fryer for your husband. Oh dear, you’re in trouble. And you only have three days.
When faced with such adversity, you could do the dumb thing. You could get yourself dressed, drive out in the cold weather, and go straight into the belly of the beast – Wal-Mart, three days before Christmas. You could chose to fight with all the other last-minute shoppers and depend on the tired and cranky Wal-Marts employees. You could search high and low for a ukulele, you could try to strap a kayak on top of your car, you could wrestle a turkey fryer out to the parking lot. All just three days before Christmas.
Or, or, you could do the smart thing. Pull out your laptop, your iPad, or your phone, and go to Amazon.com. I’m convinced that Amazon.com is one of the greatest inventions during the whole course of human history. So you pull out whatever electronic device you choose, go to Amazon.com, order a ukulele, a kayak, and a turkey fryer. Then comes the best part. The ukulele, the kayak, and the turkey fryer show up on your front door the next morning. It’s like magic, but better. And you didn’t even have to leave your house – it all comes straight to you.
Just like heaven.
For too long Christians have been fixated on how to get to heaven. We’ve sung songs like “I’ll Fly Away” and talked about what heaven will be like when we go there. Christians have conjured up a Wal-Mart vision of heaven. A place where you have to go. Even though Amazon is so much better, because they send it to you.
The passage from Revelation this morning gives us an Amazon.com vision of heaven. It says, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Yes, you heard it right, the holy city, our heavenly hope, is coming to us. This biblical vision is not about souls leaving the earth and going off to heaven, it’s about heaven coming down from God to this earth. That’s right – heaven on your front doorstep.
The ancient Christian hope is not that we all float off to heaven to play harps and hang out with pudgy little angel babies. The ancient Christian hope is that heaven comes to earth, and that the Kingdom of God embraces and gives new life to this world, this world. Think about it – Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We don’t pray, “To thy kingdom we go.” We pray that our Lord Jesus comes to us, to this world.
Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, “Well I’ve never heard this before! This young priest is coming up with some new-fangled theology. I’ve always thought we go to heaven and that’s it.” You can think that, but what I’m describing this morning is the traditional and ancient hope of the Church. It’s the vision of Jesus when he taught his disciples to pray. It’s the vision of Christians two thousand years ago. It’s the vision and hope given to us in Revelation. And it is a magnificent hope. That God loves the world, the whole world, so much that Jesus will return and bring heaven with him.
Revelation continues, “Behold, 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 then God makes the most audacious promise of all the ages – “Behold! I make all things new!”
Behold. God makes all things new. Too often we think about God ending this world in a cataclysm of violence and catastrophe. We think about God smiting sinners and taking the saints into heaven. Like a kid kicking over a sandcastle. That’s a tragic vision, and it’s not the Christian hope.
God is not out to destroy the world. God is out to remake the world in his loving image. Behold! God makes all things new! And when Jesus does indeed return graciously and lovingly, every tear in every eye will be wiped away. Death and crying and pain and mourning will be no more.
But, of course, this hasn’t happened yet. The holy city, the new Jerusalem has not yet fully descended from heaven. The ukulele, the kayak, and the turkey fryer are still on their way from Amazon. The things you ordered for Christmas are still on the UPS truck. So in the meantime, while you’re waiting, you could do the dumb thing. You could sit around and twiddle your thumbs, waiting for the UPS truck to stop at your house. Or you could do the smart thing. You can find a private ukulele teacher for your daughter. You can scout out the best places for your son to use his new kayak. You can find some good recipes for that new turkey fryer, and maybe some safety tips so he doesn’t burn down your house. Even while you’re waiting for everything to be delivered, you can start working on how to use those Christmas gifts.
It’s the same with the Church. We are waiting, still waiting for that the holy city, the new Jerusalem to come down out of heaven and be delivered to our front doorstep. But that doesn’t mean that we should just wait around, twiddling our thumbs. No! We can start preparing for heaven’s arrival.
That’s where the Church finds its meaning. See, the Church is not in the business of sending souls to heaven. The Church is in the business of getting ready for heaven’s arrival on earth. That is our job, that is our mission. That’s what we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Our purpose, as the Church, is to begin the work of heaven on earth. When we serve the poor and the homeless and the addicted here on earth, we are showing the world what heaven is like. Where tears are wiped away. We are showing the world what it will mean when the holy city, the new Jerusalem does finally indeed descend out of heaven. We are giving the world the first taste of the heavenly kingdom, where there is no crying or mourning or pain or death.
The Church stands alongside ministries like the Palmer Drug Abuse Program, and in their work of laying heaven’s groundwork here on earth. The Church helps to mold new lives out of those torn by addiction and abuse so that God’s people can live with freedom and peace. The Church wipes tears from eyes, comforts the mourning, and helps those in pain. We won’t be perfect at it. We’ll mess up along the way, and we won’t be able to do everything. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do. We don’t do these things because they are easy. We do these things because we want to do what God does.
It’s a beautiful thing, that heaven is coming to earth. But it means that we have work to do to get ready. We need to sweep off the front doorstep. We have to make sure the doorbell is working. We must make sure the UPS delivery guy can see our address. We must help the homeless. Heal the abused. Wipe tears from eyes. Support ministries like PDAP. We need to get ready.
Behold! God is making all things new. And it’s time that we join in the project. Don’t twiddle your thumbs, waiting for your departure. Get to work, and prepare for heaven’s arrival.