Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Heaven and New Earth: What was wrong with the old one?

An old friend posted on his facebook profile the other day, "I've seen the new heaven and the new earth and as an Episcopalean I'm wondering, what was wrong with the old heaven??" This made me laugh, in light of my recent sermonizing on Revelation 21:1-6, the passage from which the "new heaven and new earth' line comes from.

In my sermon I stressed that Revelation 21 had the following three things to say to people who were feeling oppressed:

1. God is good.

2. God cares.

3. God is powerful. Powerful enough to beat out whatever evil assails us.

The book of Revelation is nerve-wracking with all the apocalyptic language: crazy beasts, cryptic symbology, messages of doom, a graphic war between good and evil. And chapter 21 declares that all that we know, this old earth AND heaven are going to pass away and be replaced by a new one. Panic sets in as we all dash to rescue the photo album before it goes.

But I believe that Revelation, like all apocalyptic texts in the Bible, points us to something that is already happening, rather than warning us about events that are yet to come. Perhaps the old heaven and old earth come out of the old way that we humans have related to one another and have understood God before the resurrection. This knowledge of life beating death in such a dramatic way is nerve-wracking in its own right. It just isn't natural. It's like the earthquake that shakes everything.

Think about it. We thrive on stories of death and destruction. For example, it is much easier to play the blame game with British Petroleum over the oil spill while driving our SUVs than it is to put our neck out there and make personal changes that free us from our dependence on oil. BP was only giving us what we want, after all. We are arm-chair critics for everything, and we LOVE to hate "those other guys." That is the world where death is the final word.

A world where resurrection is realized is one in which life is celebrated, in which we recognize good in the midst of corporate evil, and where we participate in the creation ourselves by taking responsibility for the Earth--old and new.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, a new world being created out of the old world.

    I expect the congregation was really with you when you preached from Revelation. We spent about three months last year in Bible Study led by Evelyn Hallman, and it opened our eyes to many things.

    Yes, as you say: God is good, God cares, God will overcome evil.

    I have always found Revelation a wonderfully reassuring book. And, in the midst of a world where there is a lot of pain and violence and disappointment, there is not an easy way to portray God's relationship to the world without uses images that reflect that pain, violence, disappointment and deep longing for redemption.

    Revelation does that in a genuine way, in a way that has always "hit home" for me.

    A great question for readers of Revelation is "where do you find yourself in that book?" which is another way of asking: "who do you identify with?" I ask: "Do I identify myself with the martyrs under the altar crying out for vengeance?" No, I don't. "Do I identify myself with the faithful 144,000 who have come through the tribulation?" I don't dare. "Do I identify myself with those who have received the mark of the beast - given in to evil?" No.

    But, there is that one passage where it talks about receiving a name on a white stone that no one knows except God. And, for some reason, that has always touched me deep in most hopeful, joyful part of my soul. I identify with that in this book of Revelation. One day God will reveal to us who we are - that is, who we are and have always been in the heart of God. Human identity is a holy mystery.