“A Grand Vision”                                                                                   April 28, 2013

Psalm 148 & Revelation 21:1-6                                                          Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.              The late Jim Croce wrote a hit song that begins “Well the south side of Chicago in the baddest part of town…” and while in that part of town “bad, bad Leroy Brown” makes the mistake of pulling on Superman’s cape and he pays the price.

A.   When I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Akron, Ohio, the baddest kid in my class (think motorcycle gang leader and you made sure you didn’t accidently bump him in the hallway while changing classes) there was a guy who lived out that song because one night he decided to venture into one of the baddest sections of Akron to pick a fight.

1.    It was the middle of the next week before he was able to return to school and took him a month to fully heal.

2.    All of us in the back of our minds filed, “You don’t go into that part of Akron. It’s dangerous.”

II.            The Bible often agrees with that sort of caution with regards to cities.

A.   Most of the Bible expresses a preference for the rural areas and for an agrarian society.

1.    While I was in my early teens our family lived in Miami, Oklahoma, before B.F. Goodrich transferred us back to Ohio.

2.    During recess at the Elementary School while I was in 6th Grade the boys would play softball and of course, we were very competitive with one another.

3.    Eventually a problem arose because in establishing teams it had been decided to pit the town boys against the farm boys.

4.    During one particularly heated game a free for all fight broke out and the principal hauled us all into the office where she informed us that no longer could we divide up the teams that way.

5.    She also threatened to expel every boy in the sixth grade and call our parents so we saw the wisdom of her decision.

B.   As I reflected on that experience and later got up the courage to talk with some of the farm boys I learned at the old age of 11 that some of the reasons the farm boys didn’t like the city boys was because:

1.    The city kids didn’t have to come home after school and slop the hogs and spread the manure.

2.    The city kids didn’t have a 45 minute bus ride – one way.

3.    City kids generally had fancier clothes and lived closer to the shopping areas and the movie theater.

4.    City kids had more parties.

C.    So there was a coolness factor but there was also a danger factor.

1.    The city kids seemed to get away with more and not be found out or caught.

2.    They were more likely to try dangerous things, forbidden things like alcohol and later drugs.

3.    The city was a place of temptation and the parents of the farm kids taught their offspring that cities stood for bad stuff.

4.    Many writers, especially of the Old Testament, provided similar teachings in their day to anyone who would listen.

D.   Now as the Rev. Ryan Dueck has written in an article entitled “A Tale of Two Cities” cities are really pretty ordinary places with ordinary people doing ordinary things but as I’ve been saying, they can have their dark side.

1.    Dueck quotes Biblical scholar Darrell Johnson who writes, “In the Bible, cities are places of arrogance and violence. Cain kills Abel and runs off to hide from God in a city. Humanity seeks to live independently from God and builds the tower of Babel. And, in…Revelation… ‘the city of man’ finally expresses itself in Babylon, ‘The Harlot,’ the embodiment of rebellion and immorality.”

2.    Dueck then adds in cities like Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh, Rome, Corinth and the list goes on from there.

3.    Unfortunately the Bible tells stories about cities being places where God’s authority over every living thing is challenged or disregarded.

III.          But there is another city described in the Bible and we read about it in our passage from Revelation 21.

A.   Now remember that the book of Revelation was never intended to be a diary of future events.

1.    To read it that way will increase the probability that we will get the future wrong and we will miss the point of the book.

2.    Revelation is a letter written in a code to the people of that day and age to help them keep the faith during a time of persecution by the Roman Empire.

3.    It is vitally important to notice that it was written to churches.

4.    Quote: “To the seven churches in the province of Asia;”

5.    Specific churches with specific people facing specific problems.

6.    John the writer has been exiled for his faith to the island of Patmos (it is somewhere between Greece and Turkey) and the Roman Emperor Domitian is making life difficult for them.

7.    Domitian was a deeply insecure despot (the guy needed therapy) who demanded that everyone who lived in the Roman Empire call him Lord.

8.    I don’t know if everyone calling him Lord made him feel better about himself or if he stopped sucking his thumb (I made that up) but this was a problem for the Christians because for them only Jesus was Lord.

9.    John writes this letter as a way of saying “Stay strong. Don’t give in. Keep the faith.”

10. So the message of this letter is “Granted, things look bad, but there is a truer reality – the reality of Jesus the Lamb of God and His Kingdom.”

B.   So listen again to Revelation 21:1-6.

1.    Ours is a God of surprises and after all the negative things written in the Bible about cities we learn that in the great and glorious future that our God has prepared for us that we will get to live in of all things – a city.

2.    Can you see it?

3.    And what do you not see?

4.    One thing that you do not see in this scripture is Christians floating up into the sky to take a seat on a cloud to play a harp.

5.    According to John it is Jesus himself who describes the city and it is a new city.

6.    It is not a city like you and I have ever seen or experienced and all those negative things I described earlier about cities do not exist.

7.    Now it is still a city but what is wonderful is it is a city where God fully and totally lives with His people and people FINALLY live lives of faithfulness as we are suppose to live.

8.    The old will have passed away and the new will have come.

C.    Some things that I have always loved about this vision and this vision has helped me following the events of Boston and West, Texas, and all the other bad stuff that has happened are:

1.    First, when God says that He will make all things new that means that he will not do away with old things.

2.    He doesn’t discard but instead He changes them.

3.    The stuff we have made bad – our homes, our cities, our families, our work places, our lives – He renews them – He transforms them into something new and beautiful.

4.    Second, He is making all things new right now.

5.    God isn’t waiting.

6.    God is making all things new right now.

D.   Do you believe that?

1.    Do you believe that God is, at this very moment, making all things new, right now here in Stephens City, VA?

2.    You may say to me that Stephens City and Winchester and Strausburg and Front Royal look pretty much like they did last week and that people are pretty much acting the same.

3.    If so then that is because of us.

4.    If our area is to be made new and transformed then it will come from us modeling for others the new community and reality that we read about in Revelation.

5.    We are to be the leaven as the Gospels put it for a new age.

6.    Our allegiance to Jesus as Lord is suppose to be leading us to exemplify for others a community where people work out their differences, talk directly to one another and not behind one another’s backs, don’t manipulate, don’t lie or cheat, but instead live lives of righteousness and sacrifice.

7.    If we are not seeing a change in others maybe that’s because they haven’t seen a change in us.

8.    Maybe they think we’re just like them and if we are just like them then why should they be part of this church because what difference does it make?

9.    The early Christians converted people not so much through their preaching but through the way they lived.

10. The Christians cared for the sick and the destitute.

11. They didn’t just talk about faith, they lived it and others observed and decided that they wanted to join and to live that way – the way that is in keeping with those who live in the City of God.

E.    So which city is truer and more real for you?

1.    The one you can see with your physical eyes or the one you can see with the eyes of faith as did the people of John’s day?

2.    Are you willing to work for the New Jerusalem?

3.    Helping with the Food Pantry, tutoring a student, being part of the Prayer Chain?

4.    You’ll have to discern this but what are you called to do to help bring about the New Jerusalem?

5.    As Rev. Dueck wrote, the fact is that people who believe in John’s vision will inevitably work to make their cities a better place.

F.    Now to take the pressure off – it is not all on you.

1.    In Revelation 21:2 the city of God is described as “coming down out of heaven from God.”

2.    We do not create the city of God - The city of God is a gift from God to us.

3.    That’s because He does what we can’t do – make a place where there are no more tears, no more walls, no more death.

4.    It will be unlike anything we have ever experienced or at this point even imagine – but it is the deepest thing we have ever longed for.

5.    The musical group U2 has a song where the lyrics proclaim; “The sweetest melody is one we haven’t heard.” (Dueck, “A Tale of Two Cities,” November 1, 2009).

6.    The city described in Revelation 21 is a melody that none of our cities have ever heard. (Dueck, “A Tale of Two Cities,” November 1, 2009)

7.    God asked John to help the people of his day to see and to hear; now He is asking us to do that here for today and for the future.