Once upon a time...
The following sermon was preached by Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, former Dean of the Community, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Wednesday, May 9, 2007.
Revelation 21: 1-5
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. God 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."
I am a great lover of fairy tales----have been since I was a child. I, like many children, would be squirming around and then someone would say those magic words, "Once Upon a Time." ----and the squirming would stop---I'd lean back, relax and get ready to listen. Once upon a time— meant — and means for me today that there is a great story coming----but always one that was about something that happened a long time ago----whether it was three little pigs, or a young woman who falls asleep until some guy comes and kisses her, or a girl who has to clean up after her step mother and step sisters, ugly or otherwise-----it was always about something that happened long ago----and was pretty unbelievable----but magic----always something magical about the story and always in the past.
I want to change that once upon a time thing from past to future today---because I think, this part of the book of Revelation----could well be entitled----"Once Upon a Time"----It is fantastic---the images, the ideas------Magical, imaginative language-----fairy tale kind of images---- except it is a future book----fancy name is eschatological----which means it is about the time to come----and so-----sit back---don't relax too much---and let 's hear again---those words---"Once Upon a Time" ---in future time.
Once upon a time----John, the writer of Revelation tells us----Once upon a time---coming soon to a neighborhood near you----Once upon a time---things will be new----Once upon a time----God will be with us---not only with us----but the word is actually God will be tented with us---(down on the ground-----among us)---and in the midst of God's presence with us there will be no more death, no more mourning----no more pain-----the first things-----those things---those first things that characterize the human condition----will have passed away----they'll be gone.
Imagine that----lean back, hear "Once Upon a Time" and and imagine that---Revelation—written from a vision of what things will be like—Once upon a time----gives us a clear idea of what things are like when the kingdom of God works.
It should not be a surprise to us----we are God's people---called to live a fantastical-----imaginative kind of life that calls us out of what is "normal" to something only possible through the presence of God with us.
So, brothers and sisters think with me on , "Once upon a time" when God's kingdom comes in to being------what will that be like---Revelation does not give many details----John lets us use our imaginations----what do you think it would look like ---if you let your imagination go and thought about Once upon a time. What do you think it would look like in this country if we let our imaginations go and thought about Once upon a time—God's time.
What would your life be like-----if you think about Once upon a time?
Once upon a time----a people lived who put their relationship with God first—because God lived among them and they knew it. They put their relationship with God first----and it was a life-changing---and life-giving arrangement.
Once upon a time---these folks knew God had created them and everyone around them in God's image------and they lived with each other like they were indeed reflecting God's image and seeing God's image in everyone---EVERYONE---they met----even those who looked different from them---in race, culture and dress.
Once upon a time----there will live some folks who know that their presence in the world is God living through them---and so all of their interactions---from the one with the guy who cuts them off on the expressway----to the ones with their children and grandchildren---and partner-----to the one with the neighborhood sales clerk----will be lived out as though the people they met would experience God's presence through them.
Once upon a time---there will live some folks who believe that all they are given in life is a gift from God-----and as such ----to be shared with others----even if it will mean not getting something they wanted----it will be a new idea----going against the culture they live in ----but they will share—sometimes with folks they don't know.
Once upon a time----there will live some folks who believe God will do a new thing as they get ready to go to new places of call and other folks who believe God will do a new thing right here in this place where they work and study. And a word here------these folks as they go out to new places or look at new opportunities right here---will continue to believe that a new thing is possible. Sometimes what's new can get old pretty fast and we start to think "Why do they do things that way?" "Why do I have to be here?" "When will it change?" In this once upon a time kind of living----we stay open to possibilities that keep energizing and moving the ministry.
You see how it goes------John saw a new heaven and a new earth----something totally different----beyond the norm----way beyond what he was used to seeing. A new paradigm---a totally new way of being----of seeing---of doing---and it has to do with the people's relationship with God.
It's nothing new to think about living a new way because of following Jesus Christ, is it? The call of Christians is to live in hope and expectation----to live counter-culturally-----to know that things that are impossible for us (little things like loving others as ourselves, trusting in God when trust seems impossible, forgiving, etc ,etc, etc) that things that are impossible for us can be possible with God's help.
What's new about what we hear today-----is that in this new scene---this future "Once Upon a Time, Time" is that God's presence with us will change everything---make things that were difficult, natural----I saw a new heaven and a new earth--- and God said, "I am making all things new."
Sometimes those of us who are Christians are a accused of "pie in the sky" thinking------that things like God making all things new –the kinds of things that we just read. That it is not really possible to do things differently----that the world is set----and we are creatures of habit and that is how it needs to stay.
We hear today-----in this future oriented---this future oriented "Once Upon a Time" image----that God will make-----it is going to happen---and it is in fact happening right now----God will make a new thing. It is definitely going to happen----it is in the process of happening now---Our call as Christians---is to believe that---to know that new things are possible-----and to know---that through the waters of baptism it became possible for us to live as God's called people who know and believe that there is something more----that things don't have to always be as they are but that God is calling us to new ways of being and doing in the world.
It's as simple and as hard as living as though God works through you with everyone you meet. It's treating others like they are God incarnate as you meet them----It's knowing that God is calling Unity in this time of change—to think in new ways ---outside the box----
It's once upon a time time, folks---what new thing is God making in you? What are you being called to do and think, and be in different ways----God's doing it.----in you----
May God, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, who is and was and will be calling you into new things---bless you and guide you and keep you. Amen.