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Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Easter (2019)

    May 19, 2019

    Passage: Revelation 21:1-6

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

    Category: Easter


    Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (2019)
    May 19th, 2019
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)

    Acts 11:-1-18 Revelation 21: 1-6 John 13: 31-35


    There’s a detail in this morning’s reading from the Revelation to John that I think some of us here might have found a little strange. Before we take a look at this detail, I want to say a few words about the book of Revelation because it’s probably the single most misunderstood and misapplied  book in the Bible. As I am sure most of us here are aware, there are plenty of people who read the book of Revelation as a sort of checklist of signs that can be applied to modern events that indicate the end of the world and the impending return of Jesus. 

    This way of reading the book of Revelation is not new; in fact, in practically every generation since this book was accorded the status of sacred scripture, commentators have used it to interpret current events; claiming, among other things, that the appearance of comets, or the eruption of volcanoes, or the rise of communism, or the election of JFK, or the war in Iraq were the fulfillment of prophecies in the book of Revelation. Scores of books have been written which argue that if one can interpret the book of Revelation properly, then one will be able to know - in some cases quite specifically - when Jesus will return. To date, by the way, all of the predictions about Jesus’ apocalyptic return that come out of peoples’ interpretation of the book of Revelation have been wrong. I don’t say that to mock; only to point out that taking scripture out of context in order to make specific predictions about the future typically results in disappointment. 


    In any case, when taken in context, the book of Revelation is incredibly valuable. It’s valuable because it gives us insight into how early Christians made use of standard Jewish imagery and symbolism to make sense of the world as they understood it. And it allows us to see how those looking expectantly for the return of Jesus could cling to a cosmic vision of hope and renewal even in the face of persecution and expected disaster.  


    With all that said, I want to go back to that strange detail I mentioned at the beginning. If you recall, the reading from Revelation that we have this morning begins with the line, “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.” For those of us who live along the coast and rather enjoy going to the beach and taking in the beauty of the ocean, the idea that there will be no more sea in the new heaven and the new earth might sound like a let-down. To this day, one of my favorite things to do is walk along the seashore, so I know that I’d be a little disappointed if in the new heaven and new earth, that wasn’t an option. 


    But there’s at least one easily understandable reason why the sea is gone in this vision. At the very beginning of the book of Revelation, the author - who identifies himself as John - tells us that he is in exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a small island in the Aegean sea just off the coast of modern-day Turkey. And in the first century, if you wanted to send someone into exile, Patmos was a good place to send them. So for John, who was in exile, the sea represented not beauty or grandeur, but separation and punishment. So it only makes sense that, in his vision of a new heaven and a new earth, there would be no more sea. In John’s vision of the new creation, there is nothing that can separate him from his true homeland.   


    Now, I know that most of us here aren’t from here. But I know that for a good many of you, this area has become your home. And if you leave for any length of time and come back, my guess is that there’s a point in your return journey when you feel like you’ve made it home - even if you haven’t crossed the threshold of your actual house. I’ll give you an example: every time I make the return trip from Charleston, it feels like I’m still “away” until I pass Bucksport on 707 or turn onto 544. As soon as I get to one of those points, I feel like I’m back home even though the journey is not quite finished. Or, for those of you who fly, whenever you’re on a return flight and you land at the airport, I’d guess there’s a sense of being back home even though the airport itself isn’t your final destination and you’re still technically on your way home.  


    I bring all of this up because I think there’s an important lesson for us from the book of Revelation about how our lives as people of faith are lived in this paradoxical state of being at home with God, but not yet being at home with God. In the book of Revelation, John hears a voice saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” And we believe that is true. For Christians, that’s the message of Christmas - that God has become one of us and has removed the barrier of separation between God and humanity. So we are at home with God in the here and now.

    We celebrate this reality every single Sunday when we gather for the Eucharist.

    But in the book of Revelation, John also hears the voice say, “God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.” And we believe that too. We recognize that even though God is present with us in the here and now, there are still things in this life that bring us to tears; and that pain and suffering are real. But we believe that in the fulness of time, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and that all things will be made new.   

    That’s our belief in the life of the world to come. 


    So, as I said, we live in this strange reality of being already at home; but not yet at home. 


    The good news is that our true home is with God - both in the here and now AND in the life to come. Our aim as people of faith is to remove those things in our lives which separate us and others from being at home with God. That’s why the work of the church is to help the weak, strengthen the fainthearted, welcome the stranger, strive for justice and peace, and proclaim the message of God’s love for the world; even while knowing that this work will never be at an end and that we often fall short of perfecting it. Our aim is to be at home with God even in this life. And our hope as people of faith is that in the fulness of time, our journey home will be brought to perfection.


    So I offer this word of encouragement: if you have come here this morning feeling like you are in exile and that there is something separating you from your true home, then I hope that by coming through the doors of this chapel, you got the sense of coming home. And I hope that you will continue on the way that will bring us all, at last, to our journey’s true end.   








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