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Prayer of Illumination
God of all creation, open our eyes to see what you would have us to see and our ears to hear what you would have us to hear. Send us your spirit as we listen to what you are saying to us today. Help us to see something new in your Word today. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you. Amen.
Introduction to the Scripture:
Our scripture for today comes from Isaiah 43:18-21 and Revelation 21:1-7. We will hear similar language in both texts of making all things new. Each of these texts portrays God’s protection of the people. These texts show us the continuity of creation. In Isaiah, we will hear the text as God was speaking to the Israelites of the new exodus from Babylon with promises to lead Israel home through the wilderness. In Revelation, we hear similar language of restoration and new life. The text is speaking of a new heaven and a new earth to replace their earlier counterparts. This new heaven and new earth is described as a renewal of creation. Listen to where you find yourself in the text.
Listen now for the Word of the Lord first from Isaiah 43:18-21, then from Revelation 21:1-7.
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
20 The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hear now, Revelation 21:1-7
Revelation 21:1-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The New Heaven and the New Earth
21 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. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 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;
4 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.”
5 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.” 6 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. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In the texts from Isaiah and Revelation, we heard about new life springing forth. Behold I am about to do a new thing; see I am making all things new. How appropriate this is for the Sunday after Easter. Last Sunday, we focused entirely on this idea of new life, of resurrected life in Christ. What is most beautiful to me about this idea of new life is that we are invited to be a part of it.
I wonder if any of you have an image that comes to mind when you think of these phrases: “I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? See I am making all things new.” For me, that image is easy. It is one that is striking. In your bulletins today, you will find a picture. This picture is what encapsulates this image for me of these phrases.
Last January I had the privilege of attending Columbia Theological Seminary’s Explorations trip to Central Europe. This trip is designed to take students into an alternative context of ministry that is different from their own. While we were on this trip we had the chance to tour the Great Synagogue in Budapest and the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives. After touring the synagogue, we were taken outside to this garden. It is called the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.
In this garden, there is a mass grave for Hungarian Jews who died during the Holocaust. This particular day was cloudy, dark and rainy. Grief hung in the air for the millions of Jews who were lost in such a horrific event. However, what was most striking to me was what is atop the mass graves; through old, cracked gravestones weathered with age, grew luscious, green, strong trees. Literally new life; a new thing springing forth. Out of the feelings of darkness and despair, I felt hope.
Maybe for you this image is different. Maybe for some of you it is a flower growing in the crack of a sidewalk, or a garden growing atop of the grave of a loss pet. Perhaps it is a plant springing up from dry grounds or water trickling through the desert. Maybe it is a bible that withstood the winds of a tornado, or the one room left standing where family took refuge in a storm.
Regardless, we all have these images of new life springing forth. We can all relate to this idea of new creation; of new things springing forth; of new life out of death. We can relate to these because we are a part of creation. We were created to create and thus we are invited into the process of creation. We relate because we, too, live the resurrection narrative; each day as we witness the continuity of creation; new life being formed, new species being discovered and change through the seasons of the year.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to be invited into the process of creation? To me, that sounds like a big task. How are we, mere humans called to create? I wonder if the Israelites in our text from Isaiah were thinking the same thing. Perhaps, they wondered about this new thing that God was creating and what their part in it was. For our audience in Revelation, I imagine that this language of making all things new baffled them too.
I think many of us often think of creation as this one-time event. Many of us are all familiar with the creation stories of Genesis. We hear of the six days of creation and the Sabbath where the heavens and the earth, light, darkness, separation of waters, separation of light, birds, sea monsters, wild animals of every kind and humans to have dominion over the Earth. Creation however does not stop there. Creation continued and continues even today. Not only are we given dominion over the Earth in scripture, but also we are called to be collaborators in creation. We are called into the process.
There is a type of theology that explains this well called Process Theology. In my Pastoral Care class, we read about this idea of Process Theology from James Poling.
I think he describes this well. He says, “Given this view of God and human nature, process theology understands God and humans as partners in creating value in the progressive flow of life. God and humans are not peers because God acts to preserve goodness within creation and the full knowledge of good and evil, and humans do not. But humans make choices that help determine whether the past is preserved and future dreams come to reality. In the ideal world, God and the world, especially humans, work together for good and the world becomes a more beautiful place for all creatures.”
Listen to that last line again. “In the ideal world, God and the world, especially humans, work together for good and the world becomes a more beautiful place for all creatures.” Wow. I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like a direct call for us to play a part in creation.
It is no secret that the world is changing. Change is normal. Change happens every day. The world today does not look like the world yesterday and the world this year does not look like the world looked twenty years ago. In some ways, changes are good, like the way in which technology has evolved or the new species that are discovered. However just as in some ways changes are good, there are also ways in which changes are bad.
Over the past several years our plastic production has grown. Of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the Ocean, as according to a Greenpeace report. I read this crazy article the other day about micro-plastics falling from the sky in the Pyrenees Mountains in France, which was supposedly pristine. For five months, there were collectors to trap these plastic particles as they fell to Earth. Three hundred and sixty five plastic particles fell on a square collector every day. For five months! These micro-plastics are in the wind and they come from fibers from clothing, bits from plastic bags, plastic film and packaging material. Friends, these are signs of a sick Earth.
We are so accustomed to change that we often tell ourselves that changes with the Earth are inevitable. We convince ourselves that we do not play a part in the changes affecting the Earth, but the truth is that we do. I invite you to use your imagination with me for a moment. If we are called to care for the Earth and to be a part of creation, then we must treat the Earth the same way that we treat our bodies.
Think of the last time you were sick. Typically when we are sick, this is very evident. Perhaps we have a fever, a sore throat, aches and pains. When we are sick, we don’t ignore it. We go to the doctor and we are prescribed some kind of medication that we take to make us better. We rest and take care of ourselves. Scripture tells us that our bodies are temples. Why shouldn’t we treat the Earth with the same care?
When I think of caring for the Earth, one Disney princes does this particularly well: Moana. For those of you have not seen Moana, the movie is about a Polynesian princess who is called by the Ocean to return the Heart of Te Fiti and restore balance to their island. Because of the missing heart, the coconuts are drying up and there are no fish in the sea, thus they have no food. Moana is called by the Ocean to return the Heart of Te Fiti and restore balance to their island and to the entire ocean itself. She sees this issue of the dried up coconuts and missing fish and recognizes there is something wrong with her island and she feels the call to save her island and her people.
If Moana, a Disney character, can see a problem with her creation and take action, shouldn’t we be able to do the same?
Like Moana, we must take time to care for the world around us. We must take the time to see how we can participate in this. Our call to take part in creation is not one that is hard if we only take time to see what we can do to participate. This call can look as simple as reducing, reusing and recycling, the three “R’s.” Reduce our use of plastic, re-use our plastic and recycle our plastic. Say it with me: reduce, re-use, recycle.
“For those who conquer, will inherit these things. And I will be their God, and they will be my children.” Imagine if we understood that last verse as our call to action, as our call to create, as our call to conquer the impact we are making on the Earth around us. We must not take our invitation into creation for granted.
By being invited into the process of creating, we are in turn invited to care for the Earth around us. Not just invited, but expected. Our call to creation is a call to care. We are called to make a difference and to leave the Earth better than we found it. How appropriate this is for the Sunday after Easter when we celebrate new life in Christ. He is risen indeed! We are called to this new life in creation, may we live as Easter people, with a hope for the world and a call to continue to create.