Revelation 21:1-6, 22:1-5
(sermon note: 09-05 sermon note)
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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 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.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.’
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a zoo. Not a particularly special zoo with any special animals but, if someone visited the zoo, it was definitely to see their gorilla. One morning, the workers came in early to open the zoo like normal and found, to their great sadness, that their famous gorilla had died of old age. The zoo staff was incredibly distressed by this development because they loved that gorilla–it was a really great gorilla–and also because they probably wouldn’t have a job in a month after the zoo shut down due to bankruptcy. But the zoo’s owner, well, he got an idea. He called the gorilla’s primary zookeeper into his office and said, “Hey, so I could fire you right now since we don’t have a gorilla anymore, but I’m not going to. Instead, I want you to dress up in this highly realistic gorilla suit and pretend to be our beloved gorilla–just until we purchase another one, I promise.” And so the zookeeper said, “Alright, I’ll pretend to be a gorilla. After all, no one who works at this zoo knows as much about gorilla behavior as me.” And so he put on the suit and started doing his monkey thing. This dude became a sensation overnight. People were absolutely amazed by the humanlike gorilla that this obscure zoo had acquired. Numbers were great, and for the first time in years the zoo was turning a sizable profit. Now a couple months went by, and the newness was starting to wear off. The zoo was still making plenty of money, but not as much as when the whole monkey thing started. And the zoo owner had gotten a little bit greedy. He called the monkey man into his office and said, “Hey dude, numbers are going down, I need you to get them back up again or you’ll be out of a job.” The zookeeper was hugely frustrated by this unreasonable demand. He thought, “I’m already being a monkey, what the heck else do you want me to do?!” But instead of venting his anger on his supervisor, he took a deep breath and said, “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” That night, the monkey man broke out of the gorilla enclosure, snuck into the tiger enclosure, and waited for the zoo to open. As people streamed by the next morning, he began his new act: swinging around on the roof of the tiger enclosure, always just a few inches out of reach of the furious feline’s teeth This most definitely caught people’s attention, and almost seemed like a good idea…all the way up until the moment his hand slipped and he fell down into the tiger’s territory. The tiger started prowling toward him– splayed helplessly on the ground, breath knocked from his lungs–and so the zookeeper-turned-monkey started doing what any reasonable person would do. He started yelling, “Help! Help!” at the top of his lungs. The tiger heard its prey’s desperate screams, and growled. It leapt, pinned him down, and whispered in his ear, “You need to shut up, you’re gonna get us both fired!”
Probably not the most sustainable solution to generating interest in a rather unspectacular zoo, making the employees wear costumes and behave like animals! I mean, you’ll only get so many employees to go along with the scheme until you have no more willing employees. People aren’t animals, at least the kind you put in enclosures! Your management failure does NOT equate to loss of human dignity! That said, the situation speaks volumes about our society’s fascination and fixation on anything new. So many of us are running after the newest products or developments in our economy. We want the newest phone or the newest car or the newest home or the newest fashion or the newest idea…or the newest attraction at the zoo. And it often seems like it’s a race to get it first. If not first then at least before it runs out and is no longer available. Of course, everything new turns old eventually. Nothing new stays new for very long so it’s ultimately a self-perpetuating race. Once we obtain the newest, something newer is right around the corner to keep us in that race. We need to learn to be more content with what we have and be okay with not perpetually chasing after everything new. And not all that’s new is necessarily better…
Unless it’s a new heaven and a new earth as we heard about in today’s reading. Clearly a new heaven and a new earth are better than the current heaven and earth. I suppose I can’t really speak for the current heaven since I have no idea how it currently exists but I sure can attest to the brokenness of the current earth. The world is not working very cooperatively and efficiently. The world is being overrun by people and the sins of people. Resources are dwindling, tensions are rising, anxiety is mounting. I like to believe people are getting wiser and stronger and more capable but just not quick enough. And people just aren’t working together as much as they need to be. Probably has to do with the dwindling resources and rising tensions but we’ve done a whole together with a whole lot less under much more dire circumstances. We’ve come a long way together and we can’t forget that. That and the fact that we’ll only go a long way together. Until we realize this, we’ll just make our individual lives more and more miserable.
So yes, we need a new earth or at least a new way of existing on this earth. John offers us a new way of existing in his vision. God will be very apparent among us, all will know God. And God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, no more mourning and crying and pain.” Friends, John was talking about here in this world, not in heaven! Imagine our world without death and pain and crying and mourning! Well, it’s hard to imagine because we hold to such maxims as, “there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.” I don’t know how such a world could exist but I do know one thing for certain: such a world exists only in and through Christ. There is no death and pain and sorrow in Christ. There is only LIFE in Christ, new life! So then it stands to reason that Christ is the key to this new world of which John speaks. Christ needs to become a reality in this world. Christ needs to be apparent in this world. Christ needs to be known by all. Christ is the key! Recall the words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, “so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (15:17) Christ is the key and solution to what breaks this world: pain, sorrow, and death.
John’s revelation, though frightening at times, amazing at others, ultimately reveals this simple truth. We need Christ to save us from this world. Christ will heal this world of its sickness and brokenness. What he brings to the world is totally new, totally fresh, totally radical! Recall the words of God spoke through the prophet, Isaiah: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs father, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (43:19) Christ IS the new thing! And he’s far more sustainable than employees in animal costumes! Let us allow Christ to do his work in this world. Let us help Christ become a reality in this world. Let us give thanks for Christ and all his newness in this world. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.