Sunday, November 26th's special message “The End of Time: Paradise, Something Good and Right” by Rev. Toni Carmer concluding week 31 of a 31 week study of “The Story – The Bible as One Continuous Story of God and His People.”
The End of Time: Paradise: Something Good and Right
First United Methodist Church, November 26, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
A group of us were talking a couple of weeks ago about what heaven looks like: Where it is, how big it is, about the streets made of gold…. We thought about how we can finally ask Jesus all our questions (or maybe we'll just know without asking, since we're in heaven). We wondered not only what heaven itself will look like, but what we'll look like, how we might recognize each other, if our loved ones will be at the gate to greet us.
All kinds of questions, with no real answers, of course, because heaven is one of those mysteries in life. But it's a good mystery, we know, it's a good ending…a gift yet to come, well beyond our ability to understand. We know it's good because in the end, as the book of Revelation tells us, and our faith affirms: God wins. Jesus is victorious, he is triumphant, ruler of all…
Our reading today comes from the last chapter of The Story, chapter 31, entitled The End of Time. The scripture reading in this last chapter is from the Revelation to John, or what we commonly call simply Revelation.
During these past 31 weeks we have been reading and talking about the continuing story of scripture that takes us from Genesis to Revelation. It is one story, about God's interaction with God's people that can probably be over-simplified by describing it as a drama divided into five acts, with God being the author, producer, director, and main character.
The first act is the Creation story of Genesis, where we see that God created all that is, including us: we who are formed in God's image. However, given the gift of free will, we sin.
The second act is Covenant from Exodus through the prophets, as we have seen how God created a people, Israel, to be his agents and witnesses and bearers of the promise that God would bring salvation in spite of (our) humanity's sinfulness.
The third act of the drama is Jesus, the Christ: In the Gospels we learn of God's coming into the world in human form, to bring reconciliation, to bring salvation. He is the long awaited and promised Messiah.
The fourth act is the Church and its mission, which includes the books of Acts through Jude: we learn of a community created from all nations whose purpose is to be witnesses and agents that continue to share what God has done for us in Christ.
The final act is the Consummation or the Fulfillment of the story, when God brings history to a triumphant conclusion; when what we pray in the Lord's Prayer is fulfilled: when God's kingdom has come and God's will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. We might call that heaven…or paradise.
As we focus on this final chapter, which is not the end of the story, we find that it includes messages to 7 churches, scattered throughout Asia Minor. Numbers are significant in Revelation and the number 7 symbolized "wholeness" or "completeness" and so the message offered to each of the churches would be expected to represent the entire church, and would be heard throughout the church, and not localized to only a small group. It is written to people who are being persecuted: during Nero’s reign Christians were brutally persecuted, and then after a brief respite, things worsened with Domitian. The dragon of Rome seems to be spewing fire and the beast that comes out of the abyss seems to be victorious.
In Revelation, John writes to these Christians, offering a word of hope, a word of encouragement: Things are not as they seem. God is still in charge.
So who is John? Traditionally he is the first cousin to Jesus, the son of Salome who is sister to Mary, the mother of Jesus. He is the one who is often called the beloved disciple, he is the one who was with Jesus and James and Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was in the upper room, and at the crucifixion. He is the one who stood alongside Mary, the mother of Jesus, and heard Jesus say to her before dying on the cross, "Woman, here is your son," and then to him, "Here is your mother." After Jesus dies, John takes Mary into his home and cares for her, as a son would care for his widowed mother.
John was a leader in the church at Ephesus, and he was later exiled to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. It is here where Jesus appears to him, and where John writes to the various churches.
In each of his letters, John addresses the angel of the church, perhaps a heavenly guardian angel…or perhaps, angel, meaning messenger, could mean a human messenger, a leader who would receive the letter and share its content with others.
The letters each begin with a word of encouragement: Jesus states what is good: this is what I see. For example, to Ephesus, he writes, "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…that you have not grown weary." To Smyrna, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer…be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life!" And then to Thyatira: "I know your works—your love, your faith, your service, your faithful endurance…"
Then, Jesus points out each of the church's challenges/where they need to grow: "This is what I hold against you," Jesus says to them through John: To the church of Sardis: "You have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up and strengthen what remains!" To the church of Laodicea, "I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot, but since you are neither, I'm about to spit you out of my mouth."
Only the small church of Philadelphia receives a message that doesn't include a challenge. It sounds as though they are small and facing such intense persecution that they're doing their best to remain faithful. Their letter urges them to hold on. Through John, Jesus says to them, "I am coming soon, hold fast to what you have…"
They're letters of encouragement. Letters of conviction. Letters that each of the churches can read and respond to, and become better…more in tune with God's vision for them.
Wouldn't it be interesting, wouldn't you like to know what Jesus would have to say to the church today, if he sent an angel to speak to us about how we're doing; what we're doing well and what we need to do to improve? What would Jesus have John say today to the church of Asia Minor, to the church of Europe, to the church of the U.S.? What would Jesus say to our angel? To the angel of First United Methodist Church in Plymouth? What would Jesus say that we do well, and what improvements do you think he would tell us to make?
I wonder. What do you think? (Congregational participation)
Might he affirm our efforts to reach out to the poor? I would think so, but then I wonder if he'd challenge us to go deeper—to perhaps address the root causes of poverty. That's a little tougher for me, something that I'm not really sure how to do…it would be a challenge. A definite growth area.
Would Jesus affirm our efforts to make disciples? I would think he would be delighted at our love for children and our desire for them to grow in the faith. But might he challenge us to reach further? Is there something that about us that would cause God to observe that we're a bit lukewarm—neither hot nor cold?
What do you think Jesus would affirm? What do you think he would challenge us to do?
It seems to me, that just as warnings were important to the early church, they are important to us in today's church, as well. Too often, we get distracted, focused on things that have limited significance, but God calls us to activities of eternal significance…that will truly make a difference in people's lives…that contribute to the building of God's kingdom, to bringing earth and heaven together.
This morning, as tempting as it may be, we're not going to get caught up in the apocalyptic portion of Revelation. (I had to say that word because it's one of the big words I learned in seminary and I don't get to use it very often.) Apocalyptic means end-times; the final battle between good and evil. There are so many images and metaphors in Revelation that it will take more time than what we have to talk about this morning, so we're not going to go through those. And honestly, there's so much that I don't understand, and that so many others who know so much more than I do don't understand, either. People get into trouble sometimes when they try to dissect the details. I like what Max Lucado had to say at some point: "We're not going to miss the rainbow by trying to count the raindrops." We'll just suffice to say that in the end, again—God wins. God is in charge. That's the most important take-home for the people of John's day, and I think that it's the most important take home for us today, as well. God wins. No matter how crazy the world seems to be. No matter what might be happening in Washington, or North Korea or Zimbabwe or Hollywood or Alabama or wherever…ultimately, God is in charge, God's will will be done. Our stance, our challenge, our task as followers of Jesus Christ is to trust that, and to be a part of what God is doing: to be a part of bringing in God's kingdom in our little corner of the world, in our circles of influence, in our community.
How do we do that?
We begin as we WORSHIP together. In Chapter 1 of Revelation we read where John falls at the feet of Jesus when he sees him, as though he is a dead man. What if we allow God's power and glory to reach us, into our very hearts and minds…listening intently for what God has to say to us through scripture, through music, through the message, through the fellowship and community and study? Rather than responding defensively because at some level we recognize how far we fall short—what if allow the grace of our Lord to cover our short-comings, surround us and know that that grace will redeem us. What if we go from this place realizing that the Holy Spirit has been given to us, following the bidding of that Spirit, and doing what that little twinge inside of us says we can do, but that the beasts of our day says "no way?"
Let us allow our WORSHIP to inspire us to listen and to respond to whatever it is that God is calling you and us to do!!
A second thing (and don't worry I'm not going to do a whole long grocery list of to-do's. I want you to keep thinking about what God is calling YOU to do)…the second thing for us to do is to CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER AND FOR CREATION. We are so blessed to have each other. You are great people. I love you and you love one another. That love is a gift from God, and it motivates us to care for each other. And there are others out there in our community who need to experience the kind of love that you and I have come to know. Pray that God will show you that person…that it will hit you when that individual steps in your path, or when you hear about what's going in that person's life…CARE for someone who you wouldn't normally step out of your comfort zone to care for…you'll be bringing a little bit of heaven on earth. You'll bring it a little closer.
And let's care for all Creation. Let's care about the chemicals that are dumped into people's bodies, into the earth and into the air. Let's listen and not just let that be somebody else's problem. Let's care for the little bit of earth that we have some responsibility for…plant a garden or some flowers, join in God's re-creation, making something new.
God's not going to destroy us or our world, God has in mind a re-creation, making all things new. I don't know exactly what that means. I don't know what heaven looks like or what I'll look like or if my dog Bailey who was a part of the Carmer household for almost 14 years will be there. But I know it'll be good, and I know we're all invited.
God wants to be with us…we can see that from the garden of Genesis to the garden of Revelation. We have seen what great lengths God will go to, to reach out to us, to pull us back. God gave us Jesus, who came to us once, and who will come once again, to defeat the evils of the world.
The Story continues and we're a part of it. It's a good ending. The best is yet to come.