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. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 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.” 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.” 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.
My sermon from 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016) on Revelation 21:1-6. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
“A frog and a bear seeing America” that’s the lead in a song from one of my favorite movies – The Muppet Movie. If you haven’t seen it, Kermit the Frog takes a road trip from the swamp he grew up into the bright lights of Hollywood. Along the way, he’s pursued by the evil Doc Hopper, a restaurateur with a chain for frog leg restaurants, who is hoping that Kermit will become his spokesfrog. Near the beginning of the film, Kermit runs into Fozzie Bear, a failed stand up comedian, and possibly the only bear in America who’s earned their driver’s license through a correspondence course. The two partner up, with Fozzie driving, Kermit in the passenger seat, and plenty of room in the back of their 1951 Studebaker to carry all the other muppets that they’ll meet. And so, they head off, starting their journey by singing their song: “Movin’ Right Along.”
Now, it’s a great song. Kermit’s playing his banjo, they can’t read a map, and it sounds like there’s a full orchestra just off screen, who happen to be following along. The two claim to know where they’re going – but the song shows otherwise. They somehow end up in Canada, pass by Rhode Island, notice the sun is rising in the west, and run into a snowstorm while suspiciously driving along some roads through what looks like Southern California. Kermit and Fozzie are “footloose and fancy-free” and in a song that lasts less than 3 minutes, they’re also literally all over the map. When we pay attention to the lyrics and what we see on the screen, none of it makes any logical sense. They can’t go to Rhode Island and Western Canada in just one verse. But what we see makes sense emotionally. We get a foretaste of this new and whacky journey that we get to go on with these two muppets who are ready for the big time – and wondering if the big time is ready for them. And that sense – that feeling – is a part of what our reading in Revelation is trying to do today. We hear a vision of heaven, a vision of the future, a vision of what happens when God comes to earth – but this vision, when we look at the verb tenses in this passage, doesn’t create a logical story. Instead we get an image of how we, right now, are caught up in God’s future and God’s future is already just movin’ right along.
Now, if you didn’t know, I received my undergraduate degree in engineering. When I was in high school, I dreamed about building things, writing computer programming code, and solving complex questions with thousands of variables. I didn’t plan on a career where I would be writing a few thousand woirds each week. If I had, I might have taken a few more English classes than I did. So, when I write, for example, articles for our newsletter, and even manuscripts for my sermons – verb tenses still throw me. Even when I’m careful, making sure each verb tense correctly shows when something happened or existed in the present, the future, or the past, I still slip up. I still need an editor to point out where I’ve gone wrong.
So it’s surprising to see, in our scripture reading from Revelation today, these verb tenses that are all over the place. The passage starts with our author, John of Patmos, reporting to us after seeing a vision of God’s future. So this vision happened in the past. But this vision is of God’s future. So that’s..the future. And this text, written as a letter to 7 churches – 7 churches who would read this outloud during their worship services – well – that’s the present. So, in a sense, we’re caught in mixed of tenses. Past-present-and future are all mixed up here. John saw a new heaven, a new earth, and a new holy city descending from heaven and landing smack-dab on the face of the earth. But then a voice declares – that God’s home is – right now – among mortals. This same voice then moves into the future – a future where God will dwell with people, live with them, and where God will wipe away every tear. And then, suddenly, we’re back in the past, with John telling us who he saw on the throne of the universe. And then this one on the throne, who is God, tells John – tells us – that God is making all things new, right now, and that God will, in the future, give water from the spring of life as a gift to all. This is a lot of tenses. This is a lot to see and hear at once. This also gets a little confusing – like reading a map upside down or expecting a sunset and seeing a sunrise instead.
But a God of all tenses – a God where the past-the present-and the future are all wrapped into one – that’s John’s God. That’s the image that John is painting for us. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is far-off, like some distant star, who cares little about the details of our daily lives. A God of all-tenses isn’t a God who is hidden, waiting for a series of pre-determined events to just…happen…in an almost myth like way before God, finally, shows up. A God of all-tenses isn’t only a God of the past, a God for yesterday’s people but who has nothing to say today. A God-of-all-tenses is a God who cares about our past, who loves us in our present, and who leads us into God’s future. This is a God who is active. This is a God who, even when we can’t see it, is breaking into our reality. A God of all tenses isn’t going to rapture people up to heaven but is, instead, going to step off the throne and come-on-down. A theology that claims that God is waiting to take the right kind of people up to heaven ignores this God of all tenses because a God-of-all-tenses cares about us in all of our tenses- our past, present, and our future – too.
Now, we all have our pasts. We all have our own roadtrip that we call life. We have our stories, experiences, and those times when we’ve forgotten God or when God is just not on our radar. We’ve all built our own walls, forcing our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, and even strangers to pay for them in a multitude of ways. We’ve made choices. We’ve done wonderful things. We’ve even loved others too. But we’ve hurt others – and others have hurt us. Our past is ours – and that matters to a God-of-all-tenses. A God of all tenses doesn’t ignore our past – but instead, our God doesn’t let us stay there. God sees our junk – sees the junk we’ve experienced, created, or that junk that’s just been thrown at us. God sees all of it – and doesn’t let it be our final world, our future tense. Because God is in the business of dwelling with us today and living in the world right now. God is busy breaking in – like a new city, coming down from heaven, and making all things new. That newness includes us. That newness includes those we’ve hurt. And that newness includes those who’ve hurt us too.
When Kermit and Fozzie sing this song – they’re near the start of their adventure. They still have people to see, muppets to run into, and they’re heading to an epic showdown with Doc Hopper, a gang of hired goons, and the biggest Animal we’ve ever seen. Their story is just beginning. And our story, whether we’re 2 or 92, is just beginning too. The God that dwells with us, the Jesus that grabs us in our baptism and doesn’t let go, that’s our Fozzie, that’s our Kermit, in the Studebaker that is our lives. And whatever comes at us – whatever ordeal we face – none of that can undo that we are loved by a God who is in all our tenses – in our past, in our present, and in our future. At the end of “Movin’ Right Along,” Fozzie and Kermit wonder if the big time – if Hollywood and all its fame and fortune are ready for them. John of Patmos, in these last chapters of Revelation, shares that our future, our past, and our present are wrapped in God’s future; a future where the tears we shed are wiped away by the One who created us, redeemed us, and lives with us, right now, even in our broken lives and in our broken world. Our roadtrip is God’s and God’s roadtrip is our roadtrip too. So when we head out, facing our days, facing our world, and facing our lives – we can go footloose and fancy free, knowing that no matter what comes along, the God of our past, the God of our present, and the God of our future is with us – so that we can keep movin’ right along.