Death Shall Be No More May 15th, 2022
Every once in a while something happens that totally shifts the landscape of our perceptions. Every once in a while something profound takes place that makes all our old discussions and ways of understanding move to a new location. Examples abound in history.
Take, for instance, the invention of the steam engine. Life after Mr. Watt’s steam engine was different forever. The invention of the assembly line catapulted us into an economic world that, for good and ill, shapes our lives even in this moment. Even in the polarized climate of the world today, we can look with pride at the consistency of public policy in many areas that were formerly confused by poor communication technology; ignorance and intolerance of our indigenous neighbours and the subjugation of women in every area of our lives.
I am sure all of us can point to other historic shifts. The arrival of the automobile, the computer, fast food, driverless cars; the list is long. Even in the circle of Christian belief it can be said that the arrival of John Wesley and his Methodists was a moment like that. Wesley, with his potent blend of deep piety and an unwavering commitment to social justice left an indelible mark on the world stage, from schools, universities, and hospitals to literally millions of people whose hearts were “strangely warmed” by a gospel that was freed from the straight jacket of rigid doctrine and made accessible by itinerant preachers moving from camps and rural tents to towns and villages bringing the Gospel to a new land.
Today, because of these early Christian activists, child labour laws and universal health care came to Canada - and the abolition of slavery and the end of McCarthyism came to the United States. For Christians of that day and this, the call to all Christians was and still is to stand on new ground, preaching and living the gospel.
“See,” wrote John of Patmos in Revelation, “I am making all things new.”
Speaking of Revelation, have you ever spent part of an afternoon reading any part of it? This book right at the end of the New Testament contains a picture of the end of the world as we know it. And its apocalyptic warnings and visions can be pretty scary things to read about. Preachers, theologians – pretty much everybody - try to ease the pinch of Revelation by saying that “we all have apocalypses in our lives.” We try to scale it down to something we can understand while we comfortably ignore the words in their context.
In our reading today from Revelation, the writer is speaking on a grand and universal scale. But he’s not talking about any single invention or of one group of people changing things. Rather, he writes of a time of change that was beyond anyone’s imagining. He wrote in the context of Roman occupation and rebellion; a time of epic and destructive change when the hope of every human was that all things could be made new: a new Jerusalem would appear in the midst of joy and wonder; when every tear would be wiped from their eyes and death would be no more.
So, let us make all things new and set aside the mystery of Revelation for another day. Instead, let’s imagine the scripture for ourselves as we let go of former impressions and prayerfully consider a world where all things might indeed become new. Let’s see if we can imagine a world where death really is no more; a reality where God’s home is not in the clouds but here among us!
Do you remember what Jesus said in the gospel of John? I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love another. By this everyone will know that you are disciples if you have love for one another.
I know that this doesn’t sound particularly apocalyptic does it?
In fact, we know this routine. We know the drill. Sure, Jesus said we are to love one another. He wants us, in other words, to play nice. But down deep we know it’s more than good manners on the playground; it’s more than a formula for getting through our lives in relative comfort. Jesus wants love to be the core of our identity. This is how people will know we are disciples; by the way we love. Not by our jobs or status or economic location; not our accomplishments or even by our carefully rehearsed piety, but by our love.
Here in the Gospel of John and throughout our Christian scriptures I believe we are being called to a kind of love that places us on new ground. This is a love that is bigger than a steam engine, bigger than the assembly line or any human invention. It’s larger than computers and fast food, even larger than our wildest imagination. Folks, all of the things – icons, accomplishments and victories already won over evil are the former things that will pass away in the tidal wave of love that we are called to in Christ Jesus.
This is a world-changing love. It is the kind of love that seizes us and jolts us out of our comfort zones, placing us on the street with a God who wants us to love so powerfully and fully that this love will become our identity. It will be the way in which we are known.
Friends, I hate to break it to you, but right now – today – we Christians are not known by our love.
If you ask people about Christians, if you ask the world out there how we are known, some not very flattering answers will come your way. Christians in the so-called “popular” culture are known, not for love but for rigidity. Christians are known, not for love, but for judgment and exclusivity. In our own Presbyterian identity, we are known for our historical standing as a “Mainline” denomination that was founded in the Reformation over 500 years ago, and has not changed very much since then. We are known less by our love and more by the ways in which we have ordained women, welcomed organ music into our sanctuaries and taken on the values of this world.
But friends, in Christ Jesus we are called to put on a new ID Badge. In God’s love we are called to move out from the haze of the “former things,” and to make all things new with the lived love of God in our lives, our church, our community and our world.
You see, this love, if we will fully give ourselves to it, will indeed end the world as we know it. This love, if we live it fully and uncompromisingly, will indeed wipe away ever tear. This love, if we embrace it and move in its power, will not end death itself, for that is the marvelous way of creation.
Love, you see, is the apocalyptic button we need to push. When we push it, heaven and earth become the place where people meet one another without suspicion or anger; where competition and hard-hearted individualism gives way to a community of compassion and justice. It becomes a new Jerusalem.
In the end, the invitation of God is for us to live together in a kind of love that will become our identity. We are asked to step into the world-changing role of a people who love radically, a people who give, not just generously, but fully and completely of ourselves. So let us stand above the ashes of the way things used to be and build a new world where we are defined, not by conflict or possessions, not by ideology or political leanings or even historical remembrance, but by the full and courageous living out of the love we have received from God in Jesus Christ – for eternity.
That, my friends, will truly be the end God intends for us – when death shall be no more. AMEN
Rev. Greg Dickson