Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
(All Saints)

Text: Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished.  And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband.  I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.  He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared."  Then the one who sits on the throne said, "And now I make all things new!"

Hope beyond all other hope

Isnít it great to get something new? Perhaps itís something that you had saved for. You could hardly wait for it to be delivered.
Maybe it was a new car, a new fridge, a new computer, or some new furniture.

Itís really beaut driving around in a new car Ė no rattles or squeaks, smooth running motor, and no saggy seats.
That new lounge suite looks really great. You canít wait to invite someone over for afternoon tea to show it off.
The new computer is the latest and fastest one on the market Ė it really flies.

But as we know, things are only new for such a short time. Everything gets old.
The new car gets those annoying rattles, and no soon is it out of warranty than major repairs need to be done.
The new lounge suite looks the worse for wear Ė children and grandchildren have dribbled ice cream and someone spilt coffee on one of the arms.
That new computer for some unknown reason crashes.

Everything ages. That's the way of things. Things that are new and fresh become old and stale unless we deliberately invest our time and energy repairing and updating them. Some people like to buy old houses Ė run down, falling apart, very sad looking. Itís their passion to restore this old thing to its former glory. They invest a lot of money, time and energy to making the old new again.

That goes for things, as well as relationships. A marriage becomes stale and no longer has the excitement and enthusiasm that was experienced in the early days unless the couple really work hard at keeping things fresh. Ask any couple who have been together for many years and they will tell you that it requires a lot of hard work to keep their commitment to each other fresh and alive.

There is nothing on this earth that escapes the aging process. We can all testify from experience how our bodies join in this march towards old age, demanding attention, and needing repair. A congregation had a club for elderly members. It met every fortnight and everyone had a great time of fellowship and encouraging one another. It was called the Four-B Club. A newcomer to the group asked why it was called the Four-B Club. The answer was simple: The four Bs stand for Baldness, Bifocals, Bunions, and Bulge (we could add a fifth Bad memory) Ė the members of the Four-B Club were well aware how their bodies have changed with the passing of time.

At a nursing home a group of seniors were sitting around talking about all their ailments. "My arms have gotten so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee," said one.
"Yes, I know," said another. "My cataracts are so bad I can't even see my coffee."
"I couldn't even mark an 'X' at election time, my hands are so crippled," volunteered a third.
"What? Speak up! What? I can't hear you!" said a fourth.
"I can't turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck," said a fifth, to which several nodded weakly in agreement.
"My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy I can hardly walk!" exclaimed another.
"I forget where I am, and where I'm going," said an elderly gent.
"I guess that's the price we pay for getting old," winced an old man as he slowly shook his head. The others nodded in agreement.
"Well, count your blessings," said one woman cheerfully, "thankfully, we can all still drive."

While talking about aging, letís not forget that everyone is caught up in this aging process. From the moment we are conceived we become the victims of the passing of time and effect that this has on our bodies.

There are various points in our lives when the fact that we are aging becomes really obvious. For instance, when we realise that a certain part of our life is gone, never to be recaptured or relived.
This may be the day you completed your schooling. On the one hand, you rejoiced that school was over for you, but on the other, it marked the end of a part of your life that will never be repeated.
It was exciting to get your first job, but on the other it marked the end of a carefree life. Now you are tied down at work 5 days a week from 8:30-5 with only four weeks holidays.
What about the day your last child, your baby, left home and you wondered where all the years had gone? Time moves on and we all get older. With the passing of time, we come another day, hour, minute, closer to that moment when our earthly lives will come to an end.

All this talk of getting older can be very gloomy for some people.
Younger people may think that this is very irrelevant to them because they have years ahead before they need to worry about aching joints, poor eyesight, and weak knees. That may be so, but who knows what may be just around the corner of life. I have stood at the graves of babies and teenagers whose lives for one reason or other had come abruptly to an end.

Today the Bible readings remind us that the Christian faith offers something that is unique and special - hope. In fact, no-one can give a person hope like faith in Jesus does.

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (remember he had already started to decay) he demonstrated beyond a doubt that there is a power stronger that death itself. Jesus has authority over death. It does not have the last say. Without any mumbo jumbo and hocus pocus Jesus simply calls out, "Lazarus, come out!" and the man came out alive and well.

In the face of the sadness and grief that death brings there is hope Ė Jesus gives life. When it comes to our day of dying, Jesus gives us the certain hope that beyond the sleep of death there is a glorious new life waiting for us in heaven. Jesusí own words give us this hope, "I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die" (John 11:25 CEV).

What a comfort this has been to the dying and the grieving Ė Jesus has died on the cross for us. His death has made us clean and new. He has made it possible for us to enter eternal life.

In the book of Revelation the curtain is raised in heaven itself (4:1) and we get a glimpse of what heaven is like. First we see the heavenly throne. And what special effects! There are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder. These announce that God himself is now on stage - heaven and earth quiver and shake before God. We are told about the crowd that was too large to be counted gathered around the throne of God, praising the Lamb who sits on the throne. Next we hear about the new heaven, the new earth and the new Jerusalem made of pure gold and its foundation stone made of precious gems. What a picture!

The vision, the revelation, expands, sweeps through time into one great crescendo of praise, praise which is today's lesson from Revelation 21. Nothing less than a totally new earth, and an utterly new heaven in which everything that is wrong in our world at this time will be made right in Godís new creation. This will be a world in which "God is home with his people" (21:3). God is with us, next to us, wiping away every tear from every eye.

Words cannot express what is indescribable. We can only gain an impression. God is with his people and all the things that have upset us and hurt us in this life will no longer exist in heaven. There will be no more death. What a fantastic future!

Let me read to you again those amazing words!
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband.  I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.  He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.

This gives hope in the face of the worst tragedies that fill our lives, including our own death. Remember these visions were given via St John to a church that was facing uncertainty and harassment. Families were being torn apart, lives were lost often horribly and cruelly Ė it was a dangerous time to be a Christian. These visions were given to help the people realise that even if they should lose their life in this world there was a grander and much more pleasant life in the world to come. Jesus has seen to that.

There is no real need to worry. No real need to fear. Jesus is the lord of history; he is in control of all things. He has even defeated that last enemy death and given us a glorious eternity with God.

He has promised that he has gone to prepare a place for every believer in the heavenly home. This gives us a hope that is beyond all other hope.
To the person who is battling cancer,
to the parents grieving the loss of their child,
to families grieving the loss of a parent, grandparent, son or daughter;
to the person breathing their last breathes on this earth,
Jesus gives hope.
Sure we will still suffer the human feelings of fear and grief, but these are balanced with a inner confidence that Jesus is Lord and that he is ready to take the hand of our loved one or even our hand as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He will lead us to the glorious place where there is "no more death, no more grief or crying or pain" Ė the place where God dwells in the midst of his people.

The hope of eternal life has helped many people in difficult times. It has given people a reason to live as well as confidence for what lies beyond the grave. Paul had this same feeling. Listen to him: "We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. Things that are seen don't last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That's why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen.  [2 Cor 4:8,9,17,18 CEV]. It is the vision of heaven that kept Paul's troubles in perspective. His troubles were only passing events, but the joy of heaven is forever. With that in mind he could endure anything even though there were still many mysteries that he didnít understand.

With faith in Christ we can be confident about our future. We may not know any of the details about our future. We don't know what life holds for us in the years ahead. Neither do we know what troubles and joys lie ahead. The details of our future in this world are all uncertain and unknown, but there is one thing that we can be certain about and that is - we have a Saviour who loves us and who holds our lives in his hands and deals with us lovingly and in the most caring way possible. And in this love we trust. Therein lies our hope.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
2nd November, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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