The book of Revelation was written by John when he was a prisoner on the Island of Patmos. The vision he experienced was on Sunday, and much of its source can be found in the book of Daniel. John as a leader in the early church began his vision with an evaluation of the Christian congregations in the region. Then his vision turned to an apocalyptic vision of a cosmic battle between good and evil. John’s vision then jumped between Heaven and earth.
In our passage for today the earth with all its corruption, sin, and misusing the poor and disenfranchised is destroyed and Almighty God is sending a new heaven and a new earth where justice, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation reign, and death and sin are no more.
The Jewish people saw the sea as a dangerous place where scary creatures dwell and chaos reigns. So, in John’s vision the sea, the place of chaos is no more. And a new city comes out of heaven called the New Jerusalem. Many Lutherans have called their congregations New Jerusalem, praying that God’s kingdom, even now might reign within the church’s walls.
The hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” is also based on this vision. Listen carefully to some of its lyrics.
The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.
She is his new creation, by water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride,
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.
This new reality will contain people of every nation and every ethnic group. God will live among these people and will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Having conducted two funerals this year and participating in the funeral of Pastor Brady Faggart yesterday at First Lutheran in Greensboro, I for one will welcome this new reality.
And Christ, seated on the throne of God, declares; “Behold, I make all things new.”
This is a glimpse of heaven John of Patmos gives us to boost our hope when we are going through a difficult season.
Let’s now look at another glimpse of Heaven. When we gather for worship, we trust that the experience might be a moment when heaven and earth meet. It might happen during a hymn, the reading of scripture, a prayer. It does happen when we baptize someone. We believe when we baptize someone God reaches out and adopts that person and brings them into an eternal relationship with him.
When we prepare for, receive the Holy Meal of Communion, and express our gratitude for Christ’s gifts of life, forgiveness, and salvation, God has touched everyone who has come to this communion table, and heaven and earth meet.
Whenever we feed a meal to the hungry, either through a church offering, or an institution like Open Door, or give to a beggar on the road we have a glimpse of Heaven meeting earth.
I have seen it in the sick room when the fever breaks and a person begins to get well, or when the Lord calls them home from a situation, or disease that knows no healing this side of eternity.
There is another glimpse of heaven when two people who have not talked together in years reach out to each other and say they are sorry and their relationship with God and each other is healed.
Yes, heaven is a vision of what has yet to come, and a vision of what is already here when we gather for worship, baptize, and receive Holy Communion. Heaven and earth meet when we truly confess our sin to Almighty God and receive the gift of forgiveness.
I have experienced a glimpse of heaven many times in my ministry. Let me just share one with you. I was chaplain at a hospital. A nurse on duty told me I needed to visit a man whose heart was out of rhythm. He was scheduled for a procedure in the morning to attempt to bring it back to rhythm. He also seemed weighed down with some personal problems.
I went into his room. His chest had all sorts of wires to measure his heart’s action. After we got to know each other, he told me he was an immigrant from Germany. As a child he almost starved for the lack of food. So, when he got to America, he worked very hard to earn the money in the hopes he would never be hungry again. As time went on, he fell in love, got married, and they had three children. Concerned that his family would never want for anything he became a work alcoholic. But in the process, he missed all the important moments in his children’s lives. He never saw them play sports. He even missed their graduation from school.
Now they are grown up and they are strangers, and he has come to realize in personal relationships with his children he has been a total failure. He could feel the weight of sin and now he is in the hospital because his heart is out of rhythm.
I asked him if the gulf between them was too great to cross. He said, “No, but I am afraid they will reject me.”
I asked him if he was sorry for his personal failure to his children. He said he was.
I asked him if he believed God could forgive him of his sin. He was certain that was possible.
I asked him if he was a Christian. He shared he was a Christian and a member of the Lutheran Church,
I looked him in the eye and offered to pray to God for forgiveness. We prayed earnestly, and then I looked him again in the eye. “As a minister of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by his authority I declare the entire forgiveness of all your sin.”
He shared great relief to have this weight off of his shoulders and felt God would give him the courage to beg his children for their forgiveness and ask that they begin anew.
A nurse came into the room and declared his heart had converted and was back to normal again. We celebrated and knew we had experienced a glimpse of heaven. Amen.