Sunday, April 3, 2016

A New World

A New World
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 3, 2016
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Revelation 1:4-8

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives
For your eyes show the way
Your mind knows the truth
Your being is the life.

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

We continue with Easter this week. The Lilies are gone, though their scent remains. I don’t see the bonnets that I saw last week. We already sent the children out to pick up all the eggs, though there may be one or two eggs hidden so well the kids missed them, but we probably won’t find them until next year. Most folks are back to work. Our boys at Blue Ridge had one day off and now they are back to school. The Easter aisle at Walmart has already turned to their back to school theme or something like that. . . all the clearance sales are over, so  you can’t find bunny print placemats anymore or Star Wars and Frozen themed baskets. All of the celebrations of Easter are behind us. The old world has already forgotten, but here for us Easter is more than one day of celebration, instead we commemorate it as a season. It is not just one Sunday, but many, actually all of them. Though the old world turns its eyes to the next thing. . . the new world, this Easter world, lives on eternally, as Christ does. We celebrate not simply that Christ has risen, but instead that Christ is Risen, and as such the world is made new.
I didn’t realize, nor plan it, I hadn’t looked ahead from week to week, but have instead been reacting week to week to the lectionary passages, and I didn’t do it on purpose, but 3 of the last 5 sermon titles I’ve selected have all included the idea of newness. Last communion Sunday was a “New Perspective” last week’s was “A New Creation” and this week’s is “A New World.” I came up with this title because I was reading the selection from Revelation, and I thought to myself this is how you should address a letter to churches in the light of Easter. This John, who is of Patmos, the writer of the Book of Revelation, addresses his work, sending a copy to 7 different churches on Asia Minor, what was then part of the Roman Empire, and now Turkey. It was an area where the primary language was Greek, where the primary demographics making up the early churches were Gentile, rather than Jew, though you had some mixed together, where the culture of the towns, the business models, the customs and practices were more Roman than middle eastern, but to be Christian there at that time was dangerous. Persecution was a part of their Christian Life. I believe that his book of Revelation has a real important historical contextual meaning about this persecution, and its chief theme, or message, is to convince and support, and encourage the Christians that make up these 7 churches to Testify, to witness, openly, to the World that was made new by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, even though to do so would cost them greatly in respect to the Old World. To openly witness meant trouble to your business, to  your livelihood, to your family, even in many cases to your very life, but John believes that the New World very much transcends the sacrifices made as the Old World passes away.
Look at what he claims in his greeting, which I said is the way that we should address letters that we write in and about this New World.
He writes:
4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace

By way of introduction he sends them grace, he sends them peace. . . grace the embodiment of life changing forgiveness. . . the kind of forgiveness that wipes the record clean, and offers a fresh start, rendered righteousness, that one can put on, like new and gleaming white clothing. . . the kind of forgiveness that offers a second chance, even a 70X70 chance, but would never lower the standards, not even one iota. . .  and peace, peace which passes all understanding, peace which transcends the forced peace of the Pax Romana held together by oppression and an iron fist, centurions and legions, fear and domination, replaced with real, whole, and holy peace, found when people follow the covenant that is written on their hearts and made known to them in and through their savior, Jesus Christ

from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,

Here John appeals to God, the God present in the moment, the God embodying the is, the eternal present, as has always been, is and will always be. . . encapsulated here is the Name of God, I am that I am, I will be what I will be. . . Yahweh, Jehovah, THE LORD. . . the kind of eternal that cannot be extinguished by the highest pinnacle of cruelty and evil, the symbol of domination, and torture, even the nails of the cross. . . and by seven spirits, I think he means the fullness, he is perfect, complete, total, like the perfection of a week, on which the seventh day is for rest. . . . . and the throne is there because this is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. . . he is sovereign, and he rules.

5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness,

This remember is a call to witness and Jesus Christ has led us in that witnessing. . . we follow
him when we witness to him. . . even unto the cross, but he says that Christ is also, not just a witness, but also he is:

the firstborn of the dead,

He has beaten death, of what should fear, he has conqured death, of what shall we be afraid, this is a new world remember, and in this new world Christ is:
and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

For what power can they have over him if there violence fall flat, if their cross has no power to kill, if their tyranny can be transcended, the no stone can seal the tomb? The king’s of the Earth have no power. . . it’s like that movie Labyrinth with David Bowie, where the girl wishes that he brother will be taken away, and then when he is she has to battle her way through the great maze, only to get to the center, but have it be too late, but that entire world, the power of the so called goblin king, every lie he has told her, every fear he implanted in her falls apart when she says, “You have no power over me.” Christ does the same to the powers of this world. It is:

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,

Sacrifice matters, it means something, it marks love, it fills love, it is love. . .willing sacrifice, giving up of your very life for your friend, love has no great mark than this. . . and Christ not only says it, he does it. He shows us again the way. . .

6and made us to be a kingdom,

Subjects, servants, inhabitants, protected by the king, it is a covenant relationship for sure, but we are more than mere peasants, mindless followers, no we are:

priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

This new world is not just for now, but forever, and ever amen. Our greeting, this greeting is a prayer, but wait there is more for:
Look! He is coming with the clouds;

Yes we are to witness, but he will witness also for himself, for he comes again, making himself known to the world
every eye will see him,

Every one, every eye, the entire world, this new world he has built, he rules, he will also make completely known, and not just for the innocent,but for all, even for the sinners, the deniers, the betrayers, the parts of us in all all of us that has the capacity to deny and betray even now:

even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.

Everyone, no one is to be left out. . . but all will wail. . . is that wailing of pain, is that wailing of the old passing away, is that wailing of sacrifice, is that wailing joy, complete, total, utter joy, filling us, changing us, and rising up in us like uncontrollable, undeniable, emotion. . . so it is to be, so it will be, again Amen.

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The beginning, the end, and everything in between. . . God, the Lord God, is, was, will be, eternal, and Almighty. . . no end, and no end to power. . . to this we witness. To this John of Patmos witnesses in his letter to the churches. You see he makes the witness, he makes the claims, he tells the whole story, he describes in detail the new world, and then he makes the claim, the call, the desperate plea for all who have ears to hear, in these seven churches to listen. In this greeting is a description of this New Easter World that we now get to live in, even with the old seeming to still be lingering. . .
Looking ahead, this Easter season encaptures why it is good to preach from the lectionary. Doing so takes you through parts of the Bible you sometimes would otherwise avoid, or never get around to. - But let me digress because this week I went to my great Uncle Bill’s funeral, and as those family gatherings tend to do,when they get together more distant relations, the ones you seem to only see at funerals, though there were times in the past where there more. . . when these things happen, stories get told and remembered. . . . I was reminded of my Grandfather, who used to like to play clever jokes, especially with the family of his generation, he would exchange gag gifts at Christmas with one of my other uncles, and they would try to out do each other with cleverness. . . so he wanted to give the greatest gift ever. . . he said it was something that every one must want, because every one always said they wanted to get it. . . he cut a circle of wood, and wrote the letters, “T” “O” and then a big Dash, and then “I” and “T” spelling out TO - IT. . . he had made a “Round To It” saying it must have been really valuable because everyone always was trying to get a “round to it.” Ha ha clever huh-- but yeah we often never get around to preaching books like Revelation. . . and I looked ahead, and all of the weeks of Easter have readings from Revelation. . . so we we’ll take a look. . . We’ll take a look at the new world Easter has created, we’ll take a look at this John of Patmos, we’ll take a look at what it meant to witness that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that the world is very New, then. . . and it may give us a glimpse of what it should look like now. If our brief intro to Revelation that we did in Sunday School before Christmas was any indicator, it should be quite a journey. I look forward to taking it together. Amen.