November 4, 2018


God Makes All Things New

Preacher:
Passage: Isaiah 25: 6-9; Revelation 21: 1-6a

Synopsis: On All Saints Day, we especially remember the local, unsung saints who have touched our lives. We also look forward with hope to the eternal city as depicted in the book of Revelation, symbolizing a time when God will make all things new. Accordingly, every ditch dug, every brick laid, and every vote cast that has contributed to the decency and flourishing of human life will be preserved and built into this city.   

 

On this All Saints Day Sunday I remember John Kliewer as someone who cared deeply about creation and the wellbeing of all people. Among other things, he gave many selfless hours doing all kinds of work at our church and at Community Helping Others by providing furniture for needy families. He would be so pleased with the electric solar panels we had installed on our church roof.

 

John gave leadership in creating the nature trail through the woods on our church property. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself and didn’t care who got the credit for things accomplished. He and I met for lunch every Tuesday to go over church matters—he was our church council chair right up to the year when he died—but those lunches were mostly about hanging out and being friends.

 

John empathized with the needs of oppressed and suffering people. His heart went out to poor Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes with the creation of the state of Israel. With concern in his voice, he would ask me, “Earl, what can we do about that?” He would be equally concerned about the plight of refugees from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras who are fleeing the violence and poverty in their homelands and traveling together in caravans to reach the United States with the goal of crossing the border and applying for asylum.

 

When John realized that he was dying from cancer, we talked about his death. As a World War II veteran, he could have been buried at the National Cemetery in Arlington. He said he might do that if he could find a way for it to make a statement about peace and the futility of war. He, instead, decided to have his ashes scattered in our church woods. He didn’t care about having a tombstone marking his life. I wanted some remembrance and came up with planting an oak tree on our church grounds in his memory.

 

All Saints Day is a time for remembering unsung heroes of faith like John Kliewer. It’s also a time for looking forward with hope to a time when, in the words of the book of Revelation, God will make all things new. Eugene Peterson, the beloved pastor to pastors and writer of the popular The Message translation of the Bible recently died so I want to remember him by reading this passage for his translation:

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new.”

 

What does it look like when God moves into our neighborhood? Of course, that’s a metaphor. God is already here and always has been. Maybe saying that God moved into the neighborhood is another way of saying that we finally recognize God’s divine presence in our midst.

 

Let me be blunt! All the present political rhetoric and fear-mongering about those refugee caravans coming to cross our country’s border demonstrates that we do not recognize God’s presence. Furthermore, sending thousands of military troops to intercept them is nothing more than political grandstanding designed to stoke prejudice and fear. Let’s be wise.

 

The link between white nationalism and white Christianity isn’t only a travesty, it’s a denial of the gospel. This link is the strongest among white Evangelicals, but it includes conservative white mainline Protestants and Catholics—especially men. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to so much more. This “more” includes a lively hope for our world. Paul describes this hope in his letter to the Romans (8: 22-25). I love the evocative way Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

 

This creative image of us walking around like pregnant mothers feeling the birth pangs of our world is especially applicable in our time of heightened political division and the recent racially and religiously motivated mass killing at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. We don’t know how much such acts are fueled by divisive and demeaning political rhetoric, but they’re certainly connected. It’s not only in our country. Others are experiencing similar, hate-filled divisions.

 

Some of us may want to become politically involved to make a difference. For example, Jess King, a member of Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster Pennsylvania, is running for Congress because as she says Jesus’ call to “love you’re your neighbor as yourself” motivates her political platform. While she’s running as a Democrat, she says that she doesn’t completely support either political party. She acknowledges that some believe that allegiance to Jesus and nonviolence makes it impossible to serve in government, but she doesn’t think there needs to be a “brick wall” between Mennonites and government.[1]

 

Jess has created quite a stir in the Lancaster area. Some of my friends from there are supporting her on their Facebook pages. Ruth told me one of her friends sent her a picture of an Amish buggy with a Jess King campaign sticker on it. While I would certainly vote for her if I lived there, I’m a little hesitant. Perhaps I’m becoming more cautious as I get older. While we don’t want to create a brick wall between ourselves and government, there are always hard choices that must be made by those of us who seek to follow Jesus’ way of peace. Even so, this is an especially important election cycle in American politics and we should vote our conscience in support of loving our neighbor and the most needy and vulnerable among us. And we will want to vote against bigotry and racism.

 

I also received an email message from Doug Graber Neufeld, the director of the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions at Eastern Mennonite University, encouraging people to vote in support of sustainable climate solutions. Caring for the earth should receive our vote and also our direct action through things like building a nature trail, putting in an electric car charging station, putting solar panels on our roof, and creating a church garden.

 

We see this hope in the image of the new Jerusalem in the book of Revelation. Biblical scholar Eugene Boring says that “the advent of the heavenly city does not abolish all human efforts to build a decent earthly civilization but fulfills them. God does not make ‘all new things’ but ‘all things new’ . . . Every ditch dug, every brick laid, every vote cast, every committee decision that has contributed to the decency of human life is preserved and built into the eternal city.”[2]

 

Furthermore, the new Jerusalem is not a tiny village of the faithful few. It’s a big inclusive city mirroring Isaiah’s image of God’s rich banquet feast for all peoples. There’s no temple in the heavenly city because God is present everywhere. There are no courts separating men from women and Jews from gentiles as in the former temple in Jerusalem.

 

The eternal city has walls with twelve gates that are continually open, symbolizing its radical inclusiveness. All people are there because of the power and the grace of the One who “makes all things new.” Eugene Boring says that the primary meaning of the wall connotes a secure community. “Yet the wall is pierced by gates that are forever open. Both senses are paradoxically present: There are no outsiders; there are outsiders—but the gates are forever open.”[3]

 

This can be an inspiration for us and our church. We’re obviously pregnant, carrying this hope within us. We’re creating a secure community of faith, hope, and love. Sure there are boundaries, but the gates are always open, and all people are welcome.

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[1] https://themennonite.org/daily-news/lancaster-mennonite-runs-congress-pennsylvania/

[2] Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 220-21.

[3] Ibid., 222-23.

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