Revelations 21: 1-4; 22-27 Listening for the Flutter May 22, 2016
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[a] of God is among mortals.
He will dwell[b] with them; they will be his peoples,[c]
and God himself will be with them;[d]
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.”
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 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. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 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.
It used to be there were explorers who read the book of Genesis and actually believed that Eden was an actual place and with enough time they could locate the Garden. Not so with the book of Revelation. We seem to know that the new heaven and the new earth John talks about is not on this side of heaven. No reason to send out explorers to find it. This is one place we won’t find on a map.
However, there is a problem with this interpretation. Jesus said on more than one occasion that the Kingdom of God is at hand – not another time but some place near. Jesus was almost pointing – as if to say, “Right over there.” The Kingdom of God – the Kingdom John saw – was more than a mirage - not just other worldly. God is seeping into this world. If we listen very carefully, we will hear the flutter of voices.
Years ago I served as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery. The Stated Clerk is the person responsible for interpreting the Book of Order and the Rules of Discipline.
One of the things I did as Stated Clerk was listen to seminary students, who want to be ministers someday, preach a sermon.
I recall a time a one of our seminary students came to preach. As we were getting ready to listen to his sermon, he said, “I hate to do this, but I want you to know that if my phone rings while I am preaching I’ll want to answer it. I am expecting a call from my wife.”
Now, I have to admit, that my first thought was not kindly. I was thinking, “Boy, things sure have changed since I was in seminary!” I couldn’t imagine telling the senior members of my presbytery that I might have to stop my sermon to take a phone call!
BUT, he went onto explain; he said, “My wife is pregnant and she is going to get her ultrasound today. We are hoping that maybe she can put the phone close to the monitor so I can hear the flutter of the baby’s heart over the phone.”
I know that is sweet, but honestly I still didn’t get it. It was only after we sat down in the sanctuary to prepare ourselves for worship that I began to think about it. I realized just how right it was that we should stop what we were doing to hear that baby’s heart beat. I mean out of all the things we would have done that day, including maybe even listening to this fellow’s sermon, I suspect listening to the flutter of that heart beat may have been the most important thing we did that day.
This passage from Revelation is a reminder, I think, of how there truly are some things more important than others. In the midst of trials and tribulations, quandrys and conflicts, mole hills can become mountains. A subtle difference of opinion can erupt into a genuine disagreement and we lose our sense of peace.
It can be easy to forget about John’s Revelation. However, even at this moments, and maybe especially at these moments, it would be better for us to stop what we are doing and, if not prepare for it, at least stop and listen for the flutter of the new heaven and the new earth.
Our Director of Christian Education, Sabrina, told me about a story I want to share with you. It talks about the flutter of the new kingdom. The story comes out of Texas. As many of you know, Texas is a big football state. High school football seems as big a deal as the Dallas Cowboys. In 2007, one of the award-winning team, the Faith Christian High School Lions was scheduled to play the Gainsville State Tornados. Faith High School had a 7 – 2 season. The school is about 90% White, 70 players and 11 coaches. The median income for the residents is $90,000, so this is a well-to-do community. Gainsville State had a record of 0 – 8 and had only scored 2 touch downs the whole year. Gainsville is actually a prison school for teenagers who have been sentenced to serve time because of bad behavior. Most of the kids have be written off by their own families as lost causes. The team has 14 players,1 coach, seven-year old uniforms and are escorted by a dozen security guards who lead them on and off the bus. Most schools are not all that happy to play them.
On this particular night, the head coach of the Faith team had an idea. He wanted to do something to practice his faith. So, for just one night, he asked his players and the fans to show the kids from Gainsville that they are as important as anyone on planet earth.
When the Gainsville team took the field they invited to run past a banner which said, “Go Tornadoes!” The banner was held by the Faith school JV cheerleaders. As they entered the field, they found that half of the Faith fans were sitting on their side of the field. Many of the Gainsville players actually thought they were either at the wrong stadium or the fans had made a mistake and were sitting on the wrong side of the field! When they finally realized it was what it seemed it was still confusing. After the game, one of the Gainsville players said, “I couldn’t understand why they were cheering for us to tackle their own kids!”
At the end of the game, Faith won by a score of 33 – 14. The Gainsville players marched off the field cheering. Each Gainsville player was given a meal to eat on the bus. The captain of the Gainsville team was escorted to the center of the field where he asked to pray; he said, “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never knew there were so many people in the world that cared about us.”
As the Gainsville players got on the bus waving at all the Faith School players and fans, you could almost hear the flutter of God’s kingdom beating to life.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples.”
Every since seeing the movie, Titanic, this scripture brings to mind the scene as the ship is sinking. I can’t help myself. If you have seen the movie, you know which scene I am talking about. The ship is going down fast, Leonardo DeCaprio and Kate Winslet are fighting their way to the bow of the ship. The further they go, the more the ship is sinking. It gets the point in which the deck is almost vertical. People are sliding down the deck past them as they try to get to the highest part of the ship.
As they climb up, they pass a priest. Several people are holding onto him. His one hand is clasping a railing and onto his other hand several people are holding tightly. As Leonardo and Kate climb toward the bow, they pass a priest.
The scene is taken from historical accounts of a real priest who was on the Titantic. According to eye witnesses, the priest’s name was Father Thomas Byles. Father Byles was on his way to the Brooklyn where he was going to officiate at the wedding of his brother, William. The ship hit the ice berg late on Sunday evening, April 12. Ironically, that very morning Father Byles had preached a sermon on the importance of having a life boat of faith in the midst of the changing waters of life. Little did he know how much people would desperately need life rafts, real or otherwise, just a few hours after his sermon.
Soon after the iceberg hit the Titanic panic settled in, especially on the lower decks. Father Byles went down to the lower decks to try and calm the 3rd class passengers – many of whom were immigrants. Eventually, he helped them to make their way up to the deck of the ship. When on the deck he lead them to life boats, lowering women and children into the boats. Twice he was offered a seat on a life boat and twice he refused. He said as long as there were souls on board the ship, his place was to stay with them and bring them faith.
So, as the ship was going down, it is true that Father Byles was surrounded by people who were holding onto him for comfort. But, many of them were not Catholic. There were Protestants and Jews who stayed by his side as he lead them in prayers and finally this reading from John’s Revelation.
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 God will be with them; and God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” 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. 24Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there, for God is with them.
It is a sobering scene, but also a scene of hope, that even in the worst possible circumstance, people can have comfort and faith, which is not only a promise for the next life – a life in which we will be with other people we love and the love of God will be so present that there will be no need of light. We believe that even now, at presbytery gatherings, listening to seminarians preach, in church meetings, on football fields and in the face of death itself, we will hear the fluttering of angel wings and the sounds of the Kingdom of God.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY. FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN.
“A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH”
The Presbyterian Church was an unexpected offspring of a religious movement called “The Reformation.” Two of the leading Reformers of the time, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564), had no intention of forming a new church, at least not initially. Their desire was to reform the present day Catholic Church, to purge the Church of corruptions and set it more in line with the traditions and theology of Scripture and of the early church. The Reformers became known as “Protestants” because their requests for change sounded more and more like protests.
The Presbyterian Church is one of several churches that can trace their origins to the Reformation. Presbyterians get their name from the Greek word “presbuteros” which means “elder.” The term refers to the system, in apostolic times, of choosing leaders from among the wisest members of the church. A prominent doctrine of the Reformation was “the priesthood of all believers.” Reformed churches designed themselves in ways that gave more power to the congregation. The Presbyterians established a representative system where elders, presbyters and commissioners were elected.
The French organized the first congregation in 1555 and the French Huguenots were one of the first Presbyterians to reach America, followed closely by the English, Dutch, German, Irish and Scottish. In 1706 the first American presbytery was formed in Philadelphia and soon after the Synod of Philadelphia in 1716. 1789 marked the First General Assembly in Philadelphia.
The Church grew and diversified as it headed westward. By 1800 there were 20,000 members. In another thirty-seven years, there were 220,000. With the growth in numbers came an increase of conflict, separation and sometimes reunion. “Old School” and “New School” divisions plagued Presbyterians for years. The most infamous of issues was slavery. The Civil War severely divided the Church.
The next 120 years saw movements toward reunification. In 1958 the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) and the United Presbyterian Church of North America merged to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of American (UPCUSA). In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian Churches united at the Atlanta General Assembly (G.A.): the southern-based Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and the northern-based (UPCUSA). In 1985 the G.A. approved a seal for the new Church. There are some powerful images in the symbol which reveal what is important to us as Presbyterians. Today there are about 2,000,000 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the largest of the mainline Presbyterian denominations.
“Unexpected” may seem like a good way to describe the beginnings of the Presbyterian Church. But for Presbyterians it has always been the “providence of God.”
Together in Christ,
Save the Date!
Vacation Bible School July 11 - July 15, 2016 (Monday through Friday) 5:30 pm to 8 pm. Registration is now taking place. Please contact the church office for details.