A sermon preached at Southminster
May 9, 2010
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.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”
Direct your children onto the right path,
and when they are older, they will not leave it.
The National Day of Prayer was this past Thursday. And it was a day with some controversy. A court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government to declare a national day of prayer. But President Obama called for it anyway.
Here are my problems with a national day of prayer. We need a lot more than one day a year.
We should be praying, each and every day, for the well being of our nation, for wisdom for her leaders, and for the health and success of all members of our society, among other things. So, on one level, I don’t think one day is enough.
But on another level, I don’t think the government should be the ones reminding us to pray.
No matter what you think of our government, I hope you’ll agree with me that elected officials are not the best qualified people to guide us in the ways of faith.
That’s what we should be about. We should be the ones teaching our children about faith. Not the government.
Today we are recognizing those people who teach our faith to kids, youth, and adults. When we call their names a little later in the service, I hope that you will join with me in thanking them for the time, creativity, and love they give each and every week to the education of this congregation.
But the other reality is that even if our kids were here each and every week, that is still less than 40 hours of faith instruction a year in Sunday School.
Which is why we will also be giving our 3rd graders bibles. So they can learn to read the Bible at home with their families. Teach your children well, as the prophets Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young said. I won’t sing the lyrics, but here they are:
“Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.”
And whether or not you have children in your home, that’s what we’ve been called to do as the church. To teach what we believe and make a world that we can live in, to children, to adults, and to the wider world.
Now, I’ve already told you I don’t think our government, as great as it may be, is the best place to look to teach our children well about our faith.
And, with all respect to the public school teachers in this room, I don’t think the public schools are the best place to teach our faith either.
I think our public schools are the best place to prepare kids to use their minds, to acquire skills and abilities that will help them in the world and work place, to learn what it means to be a member of the broader society.
And yet, today is Grace Jordan day here at Southminster.
I, who argue for the separation of church and state, am asking that you respond to the Mission Committee’s request to focus our mission efforts on Grace Jordan Elementary.
But we aren’t asking you to it so that you can make those kids all Presbyterian.
We’re doing it because they are our neighbors, and they need our help.
As you’ve heard from Principal Tim Lowe this morning, the realities facing many of these kids are very different from when many of us were in school. And some of these kids need someone to spend time with them. Eat lunch, play board games, just listen.
Some of these kids need more food in their homes, and so we ask that your support the pantry as we collect food that they can take home from school. The city and state are cutting school budgets due to this economy, and so we’ll be paying for buses, helping each class go on a field trip this year, and we’ll be helping teachers keep their classrooms supplied with Kleenex and paper towels.
Some of you are wondering if I’m going to get around to the Revelation text. Some of you are hoping I forgot all about that book! But here it is. The book of Revelation gives us images to remind us of WHY we take time to help out our neighbors. Because, really. It would be a lot easier to not get involved. Surely would require less from us. We could just leave everyone to pull themselves up by their own proverbial bootstraps and go on our merry way.
But we have this image in Revelation. Of God’s New Heaven and New Earth. Of the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And it is this kingdom toward which the church is working. Where God will live with mortals. Where nobody will cry anymore. Or be hungry. Where children won’t have to flee their homes and come to a new country as refugees to escape war, starvation, and famine. Where families will be whole and healthy.
The author of Revelation tells us that these words are trustworthy and true. And so we keep going back to these beautiful images from the end of Revelation—where we won’t need light because God will be our light. Where we won’t need water, because God will provide the living water. Where the streets of the city will be safe for all, where the leaves of the tree of life will provide healing for the nations.
This is the vision of Revelation, a vision of hope for people who need it.
And so, we look around our community and our town, we look at the world we live in, and we figure out what we can do to be a part of God’s vision for the world.
But we don’t bring about God’s vision for the world merely through charity. Charity, or the voluntary giving of aid, is important. But we need to be about more than charity, which just addresses the symptoms of a broken world. We need to be about justice, which addresses the causes of our broken world.
So how can our new partnership with Grace Jordan be about justice? Well, for one thing, it makes a claim about the importance of a publicly funded education system to support our society. Additionally, it will help us better connect to our neighborhood, helping us to know the needs and issues that are facing the families who live around the church but may not be members of the church.
I hope this program will be helpful for Grace Jordan. But I also hope it will call us to be active in the community to seek systemic changes that will give all of God’s children the resources they need to succeed in this world. When Boise schools opened this new elementary school almost two years ago to replace McKinley, Franklin, and Jackson schools, they named it after former Idaho First Lady Grace Jordan, and we are happy to have some of her family here today. Grace Jordan was a mother, a teacher, an author. Her daughter is quoted as saying, “She encouraged us, and people around her, to always look for the best in everyone your life touches. She wanted everyone to live a life that may be a light unto the world around them and to encourage others to do likewise.”
That is what we are about here too. Helping children to succeed in their education is one way to shine a light for them, so that they may see more clearly the benefits of education, and in turn, let their lights shine for others.
This vision in Revelation is of a world that we can’t quite see yet. It seems to be just around the corner, just beyond our horizon. And still, we follow Jesus, the lamb, who calls us to hope, to have faith, to make a difference, and to believe that the work we do in his name will share God’s love with the world. Amen.