I laughed out loud over one of the comments on my last post. After reading about how I had struggled for days and hours to come up with a sermon I still wasn’t satisfied with JP commented: “Is this an introduction for your class called ‘Anyone Can Preach’ beginning this Wednesday?”
Good one, JP. Please notice the class is not called “Anyone Can Preach Well.”
Anyway, I was looking over what I didn’t preach last Sunday, the pages and paragraphs I cut from the sermon. I had been thinking I might re-tell the entire biblical story in just a few minutes—gallop from Genesis to the last few pages of Revelation and then slow the tempo down so we could appreciate together how God brings his story to an end. I wanted to set it up as if the congregation were sitting in a theatre, watching all this happen on the stage in front of them. I wrote a couple of pages along those lines but they just didn’t seem to “fit” into the sermon I was trying to preach. So, rather than relegate them to the “sermon notes” file, where they will never see the light of day, I thought I would share them here.
God’s Story: the Broadway Version
Aristotle once said that every good story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Well, Revelation is the end of God’s story. It began with creation, as the curtain opened on total darkness and the voice of God commanded, “Let there be light!” Suddenly the lights blazed and there was God himself, calling all things into being: moving his finger in a sweeping arc across the sky to create the firmament; piling up heaps of earth and letting the waters run between them; calling forth vegetation until the earth was covered in green; putting the sun, moon, and stars in their proper places; conjuring up fish and fowl of every kind so that dolphins leaped from the waters and osprey swooped low; and then calling forth living creatures of every kind, cattle and sheep and creeping things; and finally making humankind in his own image and giving them dominion over all the earth.
Which may have been a mistake.
Because, in the middle of the story, humans have their way. Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit; Cain kills his brother Abel; people become increasingly wicked; God decides to destroy them. He sends a flood to wipe out all life on earth with the exception of righteous Noah. God starts over again with Noah’s family but it isn’t long before the earth is as corrupt as before, with people trying to build towers to heaven and knock God off his throne. So, instead of thinking everyone will love him and serve him God chooses one man: Abraham. Maybe his family among all the families of the earth will be faithful. But you know how it goes: there’s Abraham, Isaac, and rascally Jacob; there’s Joseph down in Egypt and Moses setting the people free; there’s wandering in the wilderness and promises to obey, but in the end God’s people go chasing after every other god in the land and God has no choice but to send them into exile. They stay in Babylon for a long time and when they come back to Israel they are humbled. They hardly dare to lift their voice to God and God doesn’t lift his voice to them. For four hundred years there is silence in the land, and then the voice of a prophet—John the Baptist—crying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!”
And so it had.
Jesus, the son of God, came walking the earth like an ordinary human being. He healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, raised the dead, and cast out demons. He promised eternal life to anyone who would believe in him, and for all his troubles they nailed him to a cross. He died and was buried, but God raised him from the dead, set him on a throne in heaven, and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But that’s not how it went. Some people confessed Christ as Lord; most people did not. Through the years his church has struggled to survive and when it has succeeded things have usually gotten worse rather than better. Church fights, church splits, protestant reformations and countless denominations, and now here we are, at the beginning of the 21st century when it seems that Christianity is in decline and most people don’t come to church anymore. Good Lord, what’s going to become of us? Is this the end of the story?
Well, no, probably not.
Aristotle said that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. God’s story had a definite beginning but the middle isn’t so definite. We don’t know if we are near the beginning of the middle, or in the middle of the middle, or near the end of the middle. For all we know we might be seconds away from the end, and maybe we are. Someone may be standing at the side of the stage even now, getting ready to pull the rope that closes the curtain. People sometimes ask me if I think we are living in the last days and when I ask them why they say, “Because things can’t get much worse than they are, can they?” I don’t know. It seems that in every age people have thought things were as bad as they could get. Those Christians the book of Revelation was written for didn’t know how it could get any worse. They were shaking in their shoes, grieving the loss of those who had been killed, and terrified that they might be next. Out of that chaos and horror these words come sounding forth:
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” (Revelation 21:1-4, NRSV).
Now that’s good news, no matter how the sermon turns out.