May 11, 2022

Sunday Worship Service for 15th May 2022

Passage: Revelation 21.1-6

A prayer of praise and thanksgiving
For being with us at our beginning,
for being with us at our journey’s end,
for being with us today, here and now,
we say a heartfelt:
Thank you, Lord.

For relationships,
for family and friends,
for you making your home among us,
we say a heartfelt:
Thank you, Lord.

For your sharing our tears,
for your words trustworthy and true,
for your promises that give us hope,
we say a heartfelt:
Thank you, Lord.

For the journey we are on today;
like excited youngsters asking ’Are we there yet?’
our cry is, ’What next, Lord? What next?’
For your ever-loving presence
and the joyful expectation of what is to come,
we say a heartfelt:
Thank you, Lord.
A prayer of confession
Lord, you gave a commandment to love one another.
You loved your disciples of old; you love us today.
You will continue to love into eternity.
Help us each day to give life to your words
by sharing and showing your love to one another.
It’s not always easy and often we slip up.
Sometimes what we say can be hurtful.
Sometimes what we do can cause pain.

We are sorry, Lord, for saying or doing what we shouldn’t.
Forgive us, and help us to live out your words in our lives today.
Help us to speak and show your love to one another
and sow it forward into the future.
Assurance of forgiveness
Jesus knows our flaws, yet loves us unconditionally.
Be assured of his forgiveness.
He has wiped our slate clean.
New beginnings beckon.
Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Read Revelation 21.1-6

Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
It is very rare that I preach from the book of Revelation. The final book of the Bible contains mystifying and often bizarre imagery that is often difficult to interpret and has often been appropriated to justify extreme theological positions. It is not for nothing that there is a book called “The book of Revelation for Dummies” which is in the same vein as “Windows 11 for Dummies”. It is actually a very useful book which was recommended to me by a colleague. He too had a copy and so was not implying that I was a dummy!
The part that appears in the lectionary for this Sunday is one that sometimes appears in funerals. It provides a vision of hope for the future – one that is very much God centred.
For most of the history of God’s people, the city of Jerusalem had been at the centre of worship. It was there that the Temple had been built as a place where the God was encountered. For the people hearing or reading this message in the churches to whom John was writing, the idea of a renewal of Jerusalem would have a particular resonance as it had recently been destroyed. But was it just a restoration of the past, or was it promising something more? The passage is a timely reminder that God has always been present, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”. In the beginning, before the creation, God was all there was. Now we are told, God does not create the end but is the end. There is not a temple in the city to which people would go to encounter God but instead God’s presence is universal. God himself is the temple as he is present with his people.
But there are one or two other references that would seem to be puzzling. Verse 1 tells us, “and there was no longer any sea”. With living in Southport, the sea often seems remote anyway, although the beach isn’t. There are a couple of reasons why John thought that this was important. The first was that John was in exile on the island of Patmos, separated from the churches to whom he was writing. The sea was a barrier that stopped him from speaking to them in person, instead being reliant on letters such as the one that we call Revelation. That great barrier which stopped John from being with the sufferer of persecution would no longer be there. But also the sea is perceived as an agent of chaos – something that is pre-creation. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, God’s spirit hovers over the surface of the waters. God set the boundaries of the sea and controlled its chaos. In the new creation therefore, unpredictable forces that disrupted the order of God’s reign would be banished.
Furthermore there would be no death or mourning, or crying or pain. Philosophers would argue that such things are character building. Indeed the resurrected Jesus showed his wounds, these were part of his being. But here John is telling us of a new order- these characterised the “former things” – the sum of the miseries that afflicted humanity through the ages. These have now passed away because God is “making all things new”. God has promised that all the things that afflict the world and empty it of joy will have gone.
The idea of a new heaven and a new earth – the final renewal of God’s creation finds its focal point in the New Jerusalem. This idea of the new Jerusalem – something that was picked up by William Blake as he wrote the famous poem and hymn “Jerusalem” is something that gives us a clue to the message that John is delivering. This idea of a holy city which descends to earth on the last day is one that occurs frequently elsewhere in the Bible and many of the details are drawn from elsewhere. This idea of an ideal city was not confined to Biblical traditions though. Rome claimed to be the eternal city for example and Babylon claimed to be an ideal. But whereas these were examples of human hubris, the New Jerusalem was to be something else entirely. This new Jerusalem would be the creation of God. Indeed this city would be God dwelling with humanity. The vast cities that had risen and fallen before would be as nothing compared with the new Jerusalem. It’s worth pointing out a couple of characteristics of cities that are important to John’s vision.
Cities are full of interdependence. In order to live in a city, you have to rely on others, whether it is a shopkeeper or café owner. Maybe it will be care workers that you need at that moment. And, in turn those people will also rely on others. There is very much an emphasis on community. So God envisages a community with him at the centre. The other thing is that cities often have great buildings – some will have been planned in their entirety. For instance the modern Paris was designed by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, at the behest of the emperor Napoleon III and the city very much reflects his vision with the way it is laid out and the public works, although it is claimed that the Champs Elysees was modelled on our very own Lord Street, here in Southport. So the Holy City, the New Jerusalem reflects the character and vision of God. A vision of the City is also a vision of God and his creation.
But the final thing that I want to say is embedded in the wording. God says, “I am making everything new”. It is a process – something that is going on in the present and this is where we come in. Remember that God is the alpha and the Omega – but also all that is in-between. God uses us in the process of bringing a new heaven and a new earth. The new Jerusalem is something that God guides us to work on. It’s not about architecture though, but a city built on community with each other and with God. Ultimately it will be the place where all is renewed in the image of God. In the meantime it is something that we work towards in the name of God. And finally, at the end of time we will be there- a New Jerusalem where barriers between people and between humanity and God are taken away – a place where God dwells amongst us.
Prayers of intercession
We pray, dear God,
for places where there is division and for countries in the grip
of civil war...may your Holy Spirit bring peace;
for countries where there is religious persecution…
may your Holy Spirit bring unity;
for towns and cities where gang warfare brings fear…
may your Holy Spirit bring hope;
for communities where there is inequality…
may your Holy Spirit bring dignity;
for workplaces where there is insecurity…
may your Holy Spirit bring confidence;
for homes where there is brokenness…
may your Holy Spirit bring healing;
for churches where there is dilemma…
may your holy Spirit bring life:
to your glory.
Prayers are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2022. Reproduced with permission.

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