This sermon was preached at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. The texts are John 13: 31-35 and Revelation 21:1-6.
Children’s time: Gather the children and show them the playdough. Have enough of the mini-containers for each child if possible. Say, “I have some brand-new playdough that I bought. I love playdough. When you first take it out of the container all you see is a blob. But then you look at closely and realize it can be a fun shape. Look, I’ve made a heart! When I made a new shape, did what the playdough is made out of change? No, that’s not what’s new, what’s new is the shape-still the same playdough. I was able to see something really wonderful about it and make it happen. What would you make with your playdough? Yep, you all had an idea of what your playdough could be! Still playdough, but it’s been transformed into something else. And it can be something new all the time!
Well our bible stories today are a bit like that. In Revelation, we hear that God is making all things new! Now we tend to think that it means that all the “old” everything we know will go away, never to be seen again. But that’s not what God means. God means that God will take what is already here, you, me, all people, the earth, trees, land, plants, animals and transform us into how God sees us! God sees all people and all the earth as joy, togetherness, where no one is alone, people and the earth are loved and cared for and no one is harmed. Jesus talks to his disciples about a new commandment-that as Jesus has loved us, we love one another. Now Jesus telling us to love one another isn’t new, what’s new is to love one another how Jesus loves us-to see every person with God’s vision of how we should all be. To see the love in everyone. What’s new about this loving one another is that Jesus wants us to love even when it’s hard. Judas had just left to betray Jesus and Peter was about to tell people that he didn’t know Jesus, and Jesus still loved them. Jesus knows that loving even when it’s hard and people don’t love us, is what shows people God’s love. It’s what reshapes people. God’s love doesn’t leave us alone-just like you all can’t leave your playdough alone, you’re constantly making a new shape out of it, God’s love constantly makes us into new people, not different looking people, but people who’s hearts, and lives are molded, like this playdough by what God sees. God each day reshapes us to be the love that God sees in the world. Let’s pray:
So do you remember being a little kid or youth and being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? How did you see yourself in the future? Or how did you see yourself then? I saw myself as a famous singer as I love to sing. When I got older and picked up the violin, I envisioned being a professional violinist playing in the NY Philharmonic or some other elite orchestra. And then, for me and for us all, reality sets in and we see ourselves differently. Turns out I’m an ok violinist and singer, but not that caliber. That was a bit painful to discover. How we see ourselves and others changes sometimes as well, such as when you realize that this wonderful person that you have married is…..umm flawed. Or when you realize that your best friend has not kept confidences or when you realize that you won’t be the CEO of your company, or whatever dream/vision you might have had for yourself isn’t coming to fruition. We have this idea or vision of what life should be like and when that vision has to change, it’s unsettling and can be painful.
There are some commonalities of our visions of ourselves in our 21st century culture, I think, if you’ll allow me. We see ourselves with financial security, good health, strong relationships with our families/friends, meaningful and fulfilling careers, not just a J-O-B. We see life as something that should be easy and comfortable. Oh doesn’t that sound glorious! We’ll be the envy of everyone. I’m reminded of the tagline from Garrison Keillor from his News From Lake Wobegone-and yes that is a play on words Woe-be-gone. “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all of the children are above average.” You know, an idyllic place where everything is as it should be…
But then we wake up to a roof leaking, a teenager yelling at us, a failed marriage, iffy health, a sudden tax bill, and nothing is what we envisioned for ourselves. And beyond our own day to day lives, are the larger systems in which we participate and place our trust but end up letting us down. Health care, education, government and yes even Church. All of this can swirl around us and all we can see is chaos and uncertainty, like choppy, stormy seas. The jarring tension between what we envisioned and what is reality, can break our hearts. Life, it turns out, isn’t easy, smooth or what we expect. And it certainly doesn’t always look loving. We can lose vision for anything beyond just getting through today, we can become jaded or cynical that there is nothing beyond this reality.
Relying on our own vision nearly always comes with suffering. God understands this and over and over again offers us what God sees. These passages from John and Revelation give us some insights into God’s vision for creation and humanity. At face value, these passages may not seem helpful as at first blush they are unrealistic at best. This is where we need to take a step back and reinsert these texts into their greater context. In John 13, these five verses on glory and love are sandwiched between Judas leaving into the night to go and betray Jesus and Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial of knowing him. Those are some pretty tough realities. And in Revelation, our passage comes towards the end of the book after some chapters of fairly scary imagery of sea monsters, destruction and chaos. We need to remember that the entire book of Revelation is not to be read literally but as allegory. It’s theological imagination for the suffering and reality of life apart from God and what life with God could be.
Jesus’ commandment about love is all about what God sees, as well. God saying to love one another isn’t new, it’s part of the OT. What’s new is that Jesus has shown us in the flesh, God’s vision of loving us and for us to truly love each other. A love that lives in the midst of chaos, betrayal, denial, suffering and death. A love that doesn’t back down, doesn’t cower in fear, doesn’t respond quid pro quo. It’s a love that is open to being changed by one another. It’s a love that flows from God and is about God’s vision of who we are and how we live. It’s not that God has a specific plan for your life such as what you do on any given day-it’s not predestination. But it is a holistic vision of love that redefines what we do in our lives. This love changes everything. It’s a vision of us that is robust, lived into fully despite risk, and demands action from us–despite the reality of a broken heart, and a broken body. It’s a love that takes the world’s definition of glory-personal honor and status-and transforms it. God’s glory is taking seriously the reality of suffering, chaos and uncertainty in our lives and says that God’s vision for the world is more than these things, God’s vision for us is love that sticks around when life gets hard, love that removes separation from God or one another. God will dwell with us, be right beside us, and be at home with us. In God’s vision of making all things new, God sees us and creation for who we really are and can be.
This vision of God of making all things new, means that God doesn’t leave us alone but is constantly transforming us for a new future, rooted in our true identity of love. And as God’s people, we are to embody and live out that vision to a suffering world looking for wholeness. It’s not easy.
God calls us to see beyond our own vision which tends to focus on ourselves and broadens our vision to see and participate in something greater. It requires us to do some hard work. Living into God’s vision certainly isn’t passive. It’s not being done to us but through us and with us. It’s the hard work of self-examination as individuals and as a church community in order to be the love our neighbor needs, not what we think they need, or what we need. Jesus’ commandment means going out into the world around us with concrete actions. We envision and create a world based on this active love. What we see, we can be. We create a world where families aren’t separated by gun point by Immigration authorities or anyone, we create a world where black and brown lives matter, we create a world where women and girls are valued, we create a world where children aren’t afraid to go to school, we create a world where people are housed, feed and can see a doctor, we create a world where love wins. We go out, as Jesus’ love, to those who have never seen it. It’s the reality that God is indeed in the transformation and creation business and we will not and cannot stay the same.
God casts a vision in Revelation 21, that is all encompassing: all people living in a city together in a diverse, caring authentic community, creation and people enmeshed in sacred harmony, death and sorrow abolished because of God’s glory revealed for us, living waters that renew, refresh and offer life in the love of God that encompasses all things and people. God’s vision beckons us to put love into action here and now. God’s vision calls us to see with new eyes how God’s future reshapes us each day in love. God sees us as just as we are and who we will be. Thank be to God.