Faith United Methodist Church

April 24, 2016

5th Sunday of Easter

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: John 13:31-35, Revelation 21:1-6

Prayer of Illumination:

We praise you, O God, for the gift of creation and the surprise of re-creation. Open our eyes to see new things. Open our minds to think fresh thoughts. Open our spirits to follow your Spirit. Amen.

Sermon:  Just Like New

When I was a little girl I had an enormous imagination. I was an only child, so I pretty much had to entertain myself. The run-off from rainstorms became mighty rivers for my toy boats. My four-room dollhouse became a mansion for a royal family. A thicket of trees became a magic forest full of enchanted creatures. I had a whole circle of imaginary friends I could call up at a moment’s notice. I loved to play make-believe. My parents appreciated it too, since my imagination often kept me out of their hair. That is until I tried to bring my imaginary friends out to dinner with us one night.

Somewhere along the line, though, it became un-cool to have imaginary friends or play make-believe. Somewhere in the journey from childhood to adulthood real-life begins to take precedence. There are summer jobs to worry about and colleges to get into and boys (or girls) to think about. Then there are careers and mortgages and children of our own. Somewhere along the way, in the words of the Apostle Paul, we “…put away childish things.”

But is it necessary to lose our imaginations? A little imagination would probably help us when it comes to understanding the Book of Revelation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, at the sea was no more.” In our routine world, it is kind of hard to imagine what that would look like, what that would be like. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Everything will be just like new.

The Book of Revelation is an eschatological text, which is a fancy way of saying that it points to the future and speaks of a time beyond our time. It is an apocalyptic book. It is hard to grasp, as our mid-week Bible Study folks can attest. It unveils something previously hidden, something beyond our understanding. As Mainline Protestants, we don’t spend a lot of time with Revelation. We prefer to think about the here and now. And because of that, Revelation has been hijacked, to some degree, by the ‘end of the world’ folks.   Yet, as one preacher (Wes Howard-Brook) explains, “[Revelation] is explicitly not a fantasy for the future, but a revealed picture of what life as a church is intended by God to be…”

In our Gospel lesson Jesus gives the disciples ~ and all of his future followers ~ a new commandment. To love one another. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” It’s a nice ideal, but I’m sure the disciples had some questions about its practical application. I can just imagine the disciples pulling Jesus aside later, bubbling with questions. That new commandment sure sounds good, Jesus, but you don’t mean we are supposed to love our enemies too, right? I get that whole love-thing, Lord, but I’m sure you weren’t talking about the woman who cheated me at the market, or the banker who stole all my money, or the guy who cut me off in the square…… not to mention the Judases of the world.

Yet, it seems to me that there is a connection between this commandment and the future that God envisions for us. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Perhaps this new commandment is the beacon of the new heaven and the new earth. Perhaps to be followers of Christ’s way is to be the New Jerusalem in the world.

In her Lectionary Reflections, Kate Huey challenges us to, “Imagine what it might look like for our cities to be places where we live not in competition and anxiety but in graceful community, welcoming people home and inviting them in.” If Revelation is a picture of what life as a church is intended to be, are there ways we can live into God’s vision for us today? Can we imagine a world where we truly love one another as God loves us?   Can we shift our perspective to envision our eternal life not as a future experience that begins when we get to heaven, but starting right now?

Indeed, that might be stretching the limits of all our imaginations. Looking around our world, it is often easier to see hate and destruction than it is to see real love. It is easy to point out the ways we mistreat each other in our communities, workplaces, and families. It is easy to see the mourning, the crying and the pain. But even so, Catholic writer Dianne Bergant encourages us saying, “It is within our power…to fashion a world, a country, a neighborhood, a family, where there is genuine love for one another and sincere concern for the well being of all.” We, ourselves, can begin to make the new heaven and the new earth.

Agape love, which is the kind of love Jesus was talking about, is a self-giving love. It is a love that requires total commitment and trust in God. It is an unconditional love. It isn’t a love we can master overnight, but if we are open to it, it is a love we can practice along the way. When we seek to live this kind of love we embody the power of the Holy Sprit and we live into God’s future blessings.

Earlier in our service you heard a little bit about how we touch the lives of people beyond our walls, particularly through our connectional apportioned mission-share giving. Approximately 15 cents of every dollar we receive….dollars that you give, dollars donated by our building users, dollars given to our silent auction and dinner….go directly toward ministry around the world. For example, we help support Africa University, a United Methodist school that educates students on the continent of Africa.   We support missionaries around the world who provide educational and medical assistance to those in need. We resource camping ministries for youth in our own conference ~ an experience that has brought many young people, including me, closer to Christ. We advocate for more just systems of government in our own country and around the globe.

The other 85 cents of our dollars stay here so we can have a place to worship, offer FLOCK and adult studies, pay our staff to enhance our ministry, make our building available for AA, Alanon and other groups, hold confirmation, and reach out to our neighbors in our local community.   These are things that we do ~ globally and locally ~ to bring about that new heaven and new earth.

When I was a little girl and I skinned by knee or bumped my head my mother would clean me up and give me a kiss saying, “Just like new.” Just like new. We have a unique opportunity to use our resources to ‘love one another.’   The love that Jesus commanded us to is an unconditional kind of love ~ love we can share with those sitting next to us, with those in our neighborhoods and with those around the world. We don’t have to wait until we die to begin experiencing our eternal life. We can partner with God right now to live the life to which God has called us. In our small way we can begin to recreate this world God gave us, making it ‘just like new.’ Perhaps we can reflect on this in the coming week as we prayerfully consider our pledge commitments for the next giving year. You will be receiving pledge cards in the mail this week, or you can pick one up next Sunday morning when we will dedicate them during our worship service.

I don’t bring my imaginary friends out to dinner anymore. If I did Gary would surely stop taking me out to dinner. But I hope we all can tap into our imaginations as a source of creativity and vision and hope.   Can we imagine what a life lived for God would look like? Would feel like? Can we imagine what would happen if we gave more of our resources ~ more of our money, more of our time, more of our energy, more of our creativity ~ to do God’s work in the world? What would happen if we let our imaginations run wild? How might we love differently? How might we live differently? How might we give differently? Praise be to God who has given us a sneak-peak into the future blessings that are in store; blessings that we can begin to live today, and blessings that we cannot even begin to imagine. Amen!