King Solomon got it right when he said, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…” (Proverbs 29:18). What I’d like for us to think about in the sermon this morning is the flip side of the coin: “Where there is vision, there’s hope.”
No one knew this better than John. John moved to Ephesus after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He took Mary with him. That was to fulfill the charge Jesus gave him as he hung from the cross – where he said to Mary, “Woman, behold your son!”, referring to John who stood by her side; and he said to John,“Behold, your mother!”, and entrusted the care of his mother to him after he was gone. (John 19:26-27)
As one of the disciples, John was held in high esteem among the Christians in Ephesus. He lived to a ripe old age and commanded a place of authority and respect among the churches of Asia Minor.
Sadly, things went downhill during John’s lifetime. The Romans not only destroyed the temple and dispersed the Jews; they turned their wrath on the Christians, as well. Romans found it sporting to throw Christians to the lions or have them burned at the stake.
As for John, the Roman Emperor, Domitian, spared his life but sent him to live in exile on the island of Patmos, and it was from there that he wrote this seemingly strange and cryptic letter we call, The Book of Revelation.
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Written in the style of apocalyptic literature – which was popular at the time – Revelation is actually a word of hope addressed to Christians under persecution. It can be summed up in three words: Hang in there! Yes, things are bad … and they’re likely to get worse. The Good News is God’s in charge, and it’s God who will have the last word. So, be brave and keep the faith and never lose sight of the vision for which we strive: The Kingdom of God on earth.
Thinking of the Book of Revelation in this way, imagine yourself huddled with a small group of other Christians – perhaps in a home or a cave or some remote hideout – reading John’s words and picturing the vision he casts, as he writes:
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
for the first heaven and the first earth have passed away,
and the sea is no more.
I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice out of heaven
saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with people,
and he will dwell with them,
and they will be his people,
and God himself will be with them as their God.
He will wipe away from them every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
neither will there be mourning,
nor crying, nor pain, any more.
The first things have passed away.'”
The telling words come in the next verse: “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 1:5) No matter how bad things are in the world around you – or in your personal life – God has the ability to restore peace and health and beauty and vitality. It’s up to us not to lose sight of the vision.
Apply this to your own life. Have you ever wished you could wipe the slate clean and start over? I’ve often said that, if I ever wrote my memoirs, I’d devote one whole chapter to “do-overs” – things I’d do differently, if I had a chance to do them over again.
We all make mistakes. We make bone-headed decisions and bad choices, and sometimes those bad choices have lasting consequences.
Well, you can’t go back. What’s done is done. But you can start anew. That’s the Good News. At any given point in time, you can say to yourself those three critical words, “From now on …” and resolve to do things differently.
That’s what H. G. Wells did. I’m told that, in his autobiography, the first seven chapters begin with the words, “I started over again…” By God’s grace, you don’t have to be stuck in the past; you can make the necessary changes and get a fresh start.
Of course, it helps if you know where you’re going, and that’s where having a vision is so important. Jesus said,
“But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness;
and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)
So, where do you begin? What’s the first step? The first step is to rededicate your life to Christ. Think of it as being born again. Simply resolve from this moment forward to put Christ first and honor him as the Lord of your life; then do your best each day to obey his Word and follow his example. You’ll be amazed at the difference it’ll make. Paul told the Corinthians,
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old things have passed away.
Behold, all things have become new.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
Putting Christ first allows you to know that, beyond all else, you are a child of God; that no matter what you’ve done or what others say about you, nothing will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:38-39)
But be careful: If you try to overcome the temptations of the world, the criticism of others or your lack of self-esteem by your own power, you’ll fall short every time. Only as you turn to God and rely on a power greater than yourself will you find strength to overcome the obstacles and experience the abundant life God has in store for you. The little children’s song says it best:
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak, but he is strong.”
Keep this vision before you: You’re a child of God, for whom Christ died. But don’t stop there. Apply the vision to others. Look beyond the exterior surface and strive to see everyone you meet as a child of God, as well.
I visited a woman in the nursing home one day. She told me she’d been to the hospital recently for x-rays. She said they sent an orderly down to her room who wheeled her to the front and loaded her and her wheelchair into the van. The problem was the orderly had an attitude. She said, “He was downright rude to me. He acted like he was doing me a favor, that I was an imposition to his busy schedule.” She said, “I don’t know what came over me, but I gave him a piece of my mind. I said, ‘You’re treating me like a charity case.'” She said he acted surprised and said he didn’t know what she was talking about. The lady smiled and said, “But, I can tell you this, he was a lot nicer to me after that.”
It’s easy to let a person’s outward appearance affect how we relate treat them – in this case, to treat older adults as old people, instead of just people who deserve the same dignity and respect you’d give anyone else.
The same holds true for people who are sick. My wife, Donna, was diagnosed with cancer in 1993. The chemotherapy took a heavy toll on her body. She lost her hair, her abdomen swelled up like she was pregnant, her muscle tone went away. Friends would come to the house to visit and, though they meant well, they couldn’t get past her appearance. One day she said, “I get so tired of people relating to the cancer. I want them to relate to me. After all, I am still Donna!”
The same goes for the poor. William Barclay tells the story about a young doctor in England in the 19th Century. One summer he set out on a backpacking trip across Europe. He hiked for days on end, sleeping under the stars at night. In time, his hair and beard grew long, and his clothes became tattered and worn. One day he took a bad fall and broke his leg. He lay helpless for days before anyone stumbled across him. By then, he was barely alive. They rushed him to the hospital where two older doctors examined him. He was in pitiful condition. One said to the other in Latin, “Poor bloke. He’s about had it. We’d do him a favor to let him die.” The young doctor was weak, but he heard every word. When he did, he looked up and replied – also in Latin – “Never call a man worthless for whom Christ has died!”
We’re all guilty of judging a book by its cover.
In the Old Testament, God sent the prophet Samuel to the home of Jesse in search for the next king of Israel. Jesse had eight sons, seven of which were big and handsome and fitting to serve as king. One by one, Samuel rejected them. Then he asked Jesse, “Are all your children here?” And Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is keeping the sheep.” “Send and get him,” Samuel said. He took one look at David and said, “This is he.” Then he told Jesse what we all need to remember – he said, “For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7-11)
One of the great old hymns of the church says it best:
“Are ye able to remember
When a thief lifts up his eyes
That his pardoned soul is worthy
of a place in Paradise?”
Listen: Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Let that be the vision that inspires you. Look for signs of God’s presence in the faces of each person you meet. Say to yourself, “This is a child of God, for whom Christ died,” and treat them accordingly.
Lastly, apply the vision to the world around you. It’s no secret: We live in a broken and fallen world. Sin and evil lurk around every corner. What’s more, the world around us is changing so fast, it’s hard to know who’s on first. Sometimes you feel like a stranger in your own home town.
That’s why it’s so important not to lose sight of Christ and his kingdom, but to stay focused and keep the vision before you. One of the best ways to do this is to remember the parables of Jesus. They’re all about the kingdom of God. Say to yourself: The kingdom of God is like …
• A good Samaritan, who cared for a stranger in distress … (Luke 10:30-37)
• A farmer who sowed his seed and, in spite of all the obstacles, it yielded a hundredfold. (Luke 8:5-8)
• A great banquet in which the dregs of society were treated as honored guests … (Luke 14:16-24)
• A good shepherd, who left the flock in search of one sheep that was lost … (Luke 15:4-7)
• A loving father who had two sons, one who was faithful, one who was not, yet he loved them both the same … (Luke 15:11-32)
• Laborers in a vineyard who were paid the same daily wage, though some worked a lot longer than the others. (Matthew 20:1-16)
I got what I took to be a vision of the kingdom the other day at the UACCH Fish Fry. We got there just after they started serving and, already, there was a huge crowd milling around the front lawn and walking track. There were the Lions Club members frying the fish, of course, and the faculty and staff serving the food; plus, this year we had all the politicians on hand who are running for public office. It was huge crowd – several hundred, at least. Over the course of the evening, there were a couple of thousand.
What impressed me were all the young adults with children in tow, who receive the single parent scholarships provided by the proceeds of the Fish Fry. We call them, “non-traditional students,” because it’s not as if they’re high school seniors who’ve gone off to college. The majority are young mothers who never had the opportunity to go to college before and are now pursuing a degree or technical skill in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their children. Many represent the first member of their family ever to go to college.
So, as we sat under the tent and ate our fish and chips, I watched as these families interacted with each other. Many of the students had brought their parents and siblings, as well as their children. To be honest, they were a little wide-eyed. Being on a college campus was a new experience for most of them.
In time, it will become familiar turf and, as it does, these little children, now running around and playing with the balloons, will be students themselves. They’ll be future teachers and doctors and nurses and engineers. They’ll know their place as responsible citizens and contributing members of society. One day, God willing, they’ll have children of their own, who’ll carry the torch of their family’s destiny even farther.
Let’s wrap it up. Do you think it sounds unrealistic to think that the kingdoms of this world could become the kingdom of God? George Bernard Shaw didn’t. He said:
“You see things as they are and ask, Why?
I dream things that never were and ask, “Why not?”
Keeping the vision of Christ and his kingdom alive allows you to be confident that Christ is at work even now reconciling the world to himself and blessing us with the gifts of his grace and love. Where there’s vision, there’s hope.
Nobody knew this better than Samuel Stone, who wrote the words to our opening hymn, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.” The fourth verse says it best:
“‘Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.”
May that be our inspiration, both now and in the weeks to come. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2010, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.