The New Heaven and the New Earth
21 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. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home[a] of God is among mortals.
He will dwell[b] with them;
they will be his peoples,[c]
and God himself will be with them;[d]
4 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.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Good morning church! Today is the last Sunday in our National Park Sermon Series this year. It has been so much fun, maybe we will revisit it next summer. Brad Lyons and Bruce Barkhauer have certainly written about enough National Parks that we could continue on for several more weeks. But, for now, if you have missed any of the previous sermons you can find them on our church facebook page or a text-copy on our website.
This morning, we are “traveling” together to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Glacier Bay is different from the other Parks we have talked about this summer because rather than providing a steady, constant presence it is changing drastically and fast. According to Barkhauer and Lyons, in most National Parks we recognize the lack of steady change. However, “Glacier Bay National Park is different. Here, change is the main attraction, and it is happening quickly…The bay and its shoreline are filled with all of the wildlife you would hope to find within the fields of blue ice and floating icebergs: humpback and killer whales, sea lions, otters, bald eagles, puffins, brown and black bears. It is all framed by steep snow-covered mountains mirrored on the water’s surface, which more than doubles its beauty.
What is hard to fathom is that less than 250 years ago, there was no Glacier Bay, at least not in liquid form. The entire sixty-mile trek now taken to reach receding tidewater glaciers from the inlet at Bartlett Cove was covered in ice hundreds of feet thick. As the glaciers advanced, they scoured the landscape of life, cut deep channels in the softer rock, and dragged harder stones with them. Now, as they recede, they melt into the ocean and leave on the land a barren moonscape littered with stony debris.”
And, while it is beautiful, and these changes have made it possible for humans to spend time there and more animal life to flourish there, the truth is this fast change is a major warning sign of global warming. Lyons and Barkauer finish their reflection on this park by saying, “As glaciers and polar ice are melting at a quickly accelerated pace, scientists express concern about climate change and its impact on the environment. To counter the warming of the globe requires us to change…How are you making the changes in your carbon footprint necessary to preserve places like Glacier Bay and its wild inhabitants?”
Over the past two months, we have been reminded every Sunday about the importance of our National Parks. We have been reminded about ways we can see God in nature. We have been reminded about the stories that we share about our own trips to these places. That’s special, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that our descendants have the same opportunities.
Here in our church we take seriously our commitment to the planet and are aware of at least some of the issues that climate change is causing in our world. However, there are Christians out there who preach and believe that how we care for our planet really doesn’t matter. Take for example Billy Graham who has been quoted as saying, “My home is in Heaven, I’m just passing through this world.”
Or Evangelical Minister Mark Driscoll who went viral back in 2013 for saying, “I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV.”
Last August in an article titled, “Understanding Christian’s climate views can lead to better conversation about the environment,” Professor Emma Bloomfield wrote, “In 1967, historian Lynn White Jr. argued that Christian beliefs promoted the domination and exploitation of nature, and therefore were incompatible with environmentalism. Almost half a century later, polls showed that fewer than 50% of all U.S. Protestants and Catholics believe the Earth is warming as a result of human actions.” This figure was taken from research done by the PEW Research Center back in 2015.
Some Christians believe that how we treat the planet doesn’t matter because either (1) we will be raptured to Heaven and the Earth is going to perish anyway or (2) because God will come through with a Divine Garbage Truck to clear away our mess and make everything new. These beliefs come primarily from a poor interpretation of the Book of Revelation. These scriptures were originally intended as poetic and prophetic imagery addressing the Early Christian church and their domination by the Roman Empire. Modern day Christians have taken these scriptures out of context and misused them to scare generations of people into becoming Christians. The consequences of this has led to serious abuse of our planet and of marginalized peoples.
If we read the scripture as intended, Revelation serves as a wake-up call against dangerous powers that exploit the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Revelation 21 and 22 describes the world that God is calling us to be. God says that God’s home is here, among us. Barbara Rossing, Professor of the New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology wrote in her commentary on Revelation 21:
“The promise of newness — a “new heaven and new earth” — gives a radiant image of resurrection and renewal. The first earth and the sea have “passed away” (apelthon, 21:1). But John’s point certainly is not that the whole cosmos will be annihilated… The “first earth” that passes away represents the earth as captive to imperial domination and sin.
The repeated phrase “no more” (ouk eti) in Revelation 21 underscores all the ways God’s mystical city of beauty is the very opposite of the toxic city of Babylon/Rome. Mourning, pain and death — all found in Babylon — come to an end in God’s holy city. John’s declaration that “the sea was no more” does not mean he is anti-ocean. The Mediterranean Sea was the location of Rome’s unjust trade, including slave trade condemned in Revelation 18. In the political economy of God’s New Jerusalem there will be no more sea-trade…
Unlike the unjust commerce of Babylon/Rome, God’s New Jerusalem is a place where life and its essentials are given as a free gift. This vision of God’s water of life for everyone, even those without money, can be vital for us to proclaim in our time of economic and ecological crisis.”
So, Revelation 21 gives us hope that a different way of living is possible. Not only is it possible, but as Christians we are called over and over and over through the scriptures to be the driving force that makes it happen. We are called to seek justice—justice not only for all peoples of the Earth, but also justice for our planet. In Genesis, God gives humanity the sacred task of care for our earth. This call is repeated throughout both the Old and New Testament, reminding humanity that God loves the Earth and all its inhabitants. There is also condemnation of those who pollute or refuse to care for the Earth found in many scriptures. Take, for example, Rev. 11 which says, “Your wrath came, and the time for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
If we take the message found in scripture seriously, we must take this sacred call to caring for our planet seriously as well. If there was ever a time for us to act, it is now. If as a society we continue exploiting the environment and refusing to acknowledge that climate change is a real issue, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
Let me try to give you an idea of what that means for humanity and the planet. According to the scientists at NASA, since the 19th century the Earth’s temperature has increased by 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit and most of that increase has been in the last 35 years. In that time, we have seen warming of the oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow, and an increase in catastrophic weather events. This leads scientists to believe that as temperatures continue to rise we will see more and more severe and deadly weather events, more droughts and heat waves, the sea level will continue to rise, we will have increased fires, devastation of ecosystems, and the increased extinction of some animal species.
It is easy, in the midst of this climate crisis, to believe the situation is hopeless. Up until a few months ago I felt like nothing I did could make a significant change for the better. I wondered why I should even bother making changes to my own lifestyle if it wouldn’t actually make a difference in the grand scheme of things. And then, I was introduced to Project Drawdown.
Project Drawdown is the world’s leading resource for climate solutions. It was founded by environmentalist Paul Hawken in 2014, and now employs over 70 highly respected professionals in the fields of science and public policy from 22 countries. Working together, they have created a plan that, if implemented, can reduce greenhouse gases enough to start reversing global warming within the next 50 years.
In his book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Paul Hawken wrote that due to an absence of understanding our ancestors are innocent of the damage they were doing to our climate. However, today we know that the way we are living is destroying our planet. It is time for us to take ownership of what has happened, stop blaming others, and see this as an opportunity to build a different world. It’s time for us to commit to living in a way that prioritizes environmental justice and the sustainability of our life on this planet.
Some of Drawdown’s solutions need to be implemented systemically by organizations, corporations, and governments. However, there are many solutions that can have a real impact if each one of us made small changes to our own lifestyles. For example, the solution that has the 3rd largest impact within the plan is reducing food waste and the 4th largest impact is increasing a plant rich diet. The 37th solution is increasing the use of mass transit, the 47th solution is decreasing our use of plastic, the 55th solution is household recycling, and the 60th is composting.
As a result of Project Drawdown, Kelsee and I have spent the last year making small changes to the way we live. We have begun using reusable shopping bags, utensils, straws, and cups to reduce plastic waste. To help limit food waste back in Kansas City we got our produce and some other grocery items from an organization called Imperfect Produce. They delivered food that wouldn’t be sold in grocery stores because it is too small or ugly to our door. They haven’t made their way to New Mexico yet, but I’m hoping that they do soon and we can start getting produce from them again. We have switched to using more sustainable products in our home and are working on finding more ways to reduce our carbon footprint. If you have suggestions for local resources that you can share with us and with the wider church, please do. We are all invited to be a part of this sacred calling.
The vision that Revelation gives us of New Jerusalem is a vision where we live in harmony with one another, where everyone has what they need, and where exploitation and greed has ended. Christians are not being called to look forward to the day when we can escape our world, but rather we are called to partner with God to help transform our world into the new, more just world that God has imagined for us. Let us be partners together in this important mission. Amen.
The New Heaven and the New Earth