Not Yet

Texts: Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35 

 

We shared worship on this ‘low Sunday’ long weekend holiday with our landlord congregation, St Matthew’s Lutheran, which broadcasts weekly since 1930, now at ‘Faith FM 93.7’, or Rogers channel 926.   I reassured the radio audience: yes, these are unfamiliar voices.  Visualize a guy a couple of decades older than the regular pastor Sebastian.  Picture scripture readers of similar vintage, one very short, and another very tall and a joint choir led by Ken Seiling on his last day. 

 St Matthew’s and Trinity, landlord and tenant for 18 months, were less friendly a century ago.   Anglo mobs attacked German speaking neighbours, and it was a Trinity choir member who proposed a new name for our city of Berlin. She chose Kitchener, after the Field Marshal, the Earl, the inventor of concentration camps in Africa, and developer of trench warfare artillery carnage, who died when his ship was sunk by a Uboat in 1916, on his way to negotiate with imperial Russia. 

 Shall we rest on our new laurels, of a unified, assimilated middle class? Have we made progress, now long beyond ‘English versus German’ gang fights?  We’ve recalibrated the liberal vision of 100 years ago, ‘the brotherhood of man under fatherhood of God’.   We do need some gender work, racial justice work, to hear from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, land acknowledgement.  Our heaven, and our earth, and our city may not yet reflect God’s promise, eh?    

 Do we look like the neighbourhood?  I don’t, though I live closer than most of us. Will the ION transit riders in June look like me? No.  So I warned the radio audience again, to remain suitably skeptical of these unfamiliar voices.  I am not the face of God, or the voice of the good news.  I am trying, with you, to hear or see it anew, and respond to it faithfully.  That’s more than enough challenge. 

 The March Atlantic magazine reported that half of US professors use ‘trigger warnings’: which are brief tags meant to alert students that certain class texts and images contain material related to racism, sexual violence, or other trauma-related topics.   Perhaps my trigger warning was too late already, after the prayer and scripture which preceded the sermon (appended at the end of these online notes.  These United Church folks sure confuse politics and religion, eh? 

 Don’t assume too much about the readers today, or the preacher.    This was the first time I had seen or heard our two readers read the bible!  Don’t assume that they selected the portions, from Revelation and John, or that I preach a Waco Texas David Koresh version of Christianity in the chapel here.  The more mundane truth is that we use the common lectionary, like Lutherans, aspiring to hear the same word weekly.  Ask your friends how their pastors preached today! 

 12 lectionary cycles ago, 36 years ago, in 1983, settled to a remote northern mining town, for the Inter-Church Commission for Isolated Communities, my job was to represent the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United brands for thousands of square kilometers of bush.  Revelation 21 and John 10 was read on Easter 5 that year too, and given the privilege of preaching again today, what parts remain true or changed, and what have I learned about that good news?   

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… 

 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem…  

The musicians among us are already hearing a great soundtrack.  That promise is sung and celebrated in hymns, anthems, lyrics, including a couple we sang today. Handel’s “Messiah” was written in the 18th century, the 1740’s, in the days of Frederick the Great in Germany and Hanoverian Georges in England.  It got lots of air time through the 1871 Versailles unification under Kaiser Wilhelm, and Queen Victoria’s long reign.  After a Great War, and another Treaty of Versailles in 1919, our romantic nostalgia might be a bit ambivalent.    

 A century ago, we were no longer naïve colonial subjects of European empires.  This Victoria Day, I invited you to visit the park 200 imperial yards from here, sporting a statue of ‘Victoria, Queen and Empress, Model Wife and Mother’. By 1919, progressive liberals wanted a secularized version of Revelation’s promise, trusting in the potential of continuity between our heaven and our earth, our city and us citizens.  The Winnipeg General Strike reflected that powerful hope, motivated by a Social Gospel, reacting to a Great War and Russian Revolution.  

 Our deeper roots, in Irish famines, Scottish clearances, English slums, reminded us of the discontinuity between this world and the promises of Revelation.  To get from this city to the City of God, there will need to be lots of good news for the poor and marginalized, and there will be losers, many of them old, white, rich, looking and sounding like me.   Revelation is good news for the underdog, and that’s why so few of us privileged read it (except escerpts at funerals).  Those enjoying luxuries and financial security now are threatened by the vision.   

 Glib liberals of my generation, trained to the ‘new ecumenical movement’, with our converging liturgical style of albs and stoles and sacramental reform, were corrected by our congregations.  I told the story of the young pastor visiting a aged member, asking her condescendingly ‘are you ready to meet your Maker?’  Glaring with a gimlet eye, she snapped back: ‘Sure, but not yet!’   

 Other classmates 40 years ago fanned out to small towns to introduce frequent sacramental practice like coming forward for intinction. That was great for me in an ecumenical shared ministry, but not for colleagues in the outports of Newfoundland, or rural Ontario. Few partook, and when asked, they said ‘I’m not finished sinning yet – maybe when I’m too old to have more fun!’ 

 By chapter 21 of Revelation, the vision of a city and a garden and a river, to match the Genesis origin myths with fulfillment has come at a cost.  We have read lots of uglier stuff, threats of vindication against those who prosper now, their luxury goods, smug complacence of commercial success lost, gleeful vengeance given to their victims.  In that big picture, what’s our legacy?   

 Visitors to the north decades ago told me they knew of American ‘deep south’ but not Canadian ‘deep north’.  Our injustices are not limited to resource towns of hinterland or to metropolis.  There is lots of bigotry in these provincial cities.  Do you really want a new heaven and new earth? What would that cost you in terms of ‘comfort’ living?  Are you really ready for citizenship in the City of God?  I’m not ready either – not yet!  

I give you a new commandment, 

that you love one another…  

There we go again, ‘new’ or novelty, not petty preservation.  As Jesus loved us – agapé – we are to love one another, selflessly, sacrificially.  Current scholars call this ‘fictive kinship’: loving like a mother loves her child, or better, as a child should love her mother.  This is a call to far more than mainline midcenturyt church affiliation! 

 Judas has just left the room.  The remaining disciples will all fail. What ‘glorification’ is there in Jesus’ ugly bloody death? “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  Jesus in the Fourth Gospel never says ‘the kingdom of heaven will be like this’.  Instead, he says ‘I am’, ‘ego’.  Then he leaves the disciples, so they must be the ‘I am’ for now.José Miranda, in his 1978 commentary ‘Being and Messiah’, challenges the ‘mistake called Christianity.’   He says we reduce the discontinuity, between our earth and city and the promised ones, or resolve it as a future promise: ‘Bread for now, pie in the sky when you die.’ 

 Both the ELCIC and the UCC have grounds for pride, in our unification across post-colonial divisions.  We are proud to be included in mid-century ‘WASP’ identity.  Our generation was the first to get schooled and move into the suburban middle class in housing and lifestyle.  But did we pitch a bigger tent? 

 God forbid that we confuse our voices with God’s. We are now old white affluent folks, with gold-plated pensions, clipping coupons, hedging risks with annuities, 

complacently self-righteous, safely ‘charitable’ to the ‘needy’, members of a service club without service, a glee club without glee.  We are not the good news. We are challenged with residential schools, and as a settler culture.  In turn we are justly condemned for racializing new neighbours, preferring to assimilate ‘strangers within our gates’ rather than recognize a ‘new normal’. 

The good news today is this:  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… 

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem… 

 Would that be good news for you? Would you be ready to be a citizen of it all?  Me neither.  Not yet. 

 

I give you a new commandment, 

that you love one another… 

 

That’s more than ‘gospel of nice’.  It’s a reminder of Jesus’ glorification in agape.  As I said last week, in familiar doggerel, 

 

There’s so much good in the worst of us 

And so much bad in the best of us 

It’s hard to know which of us 

Should re-form the rest of us! 

 

Thanks to St Matthew’s, landlords and hosts to Trinity, overcoming a colonial history of a century past.  God forbid we simply celebrate the unity of this day! 

I ended the service with Martin Buber again, as I did in benediction in February.  

Buber was a Jewish German language biblical scholar, famously pro-war in Great War Germany.  As a Zionist, he lost his job in 1930, and died in Israel.  

We cannot avoid using power, 

Cannot resist the urge to afflict the world 

 

So let us, 

Cautious in diction, 

and mighty in contradiction, 

Love powerfully  

Are you ready to meet your Maker?  Me neither.  Not yet.  I am with you only a little longer – 2 more sermons at Trinity on Church UC Kitchener.  But I can still sing the old stuff loudly, like the chestnut chosen by Sebastian to follow the sermon today: Shall We Gather at the River ELW 423 (VU 710). 

 

Prayer of the Day 

 

God, 

Before whom earth’s proud empires pass away, 

As o’er each continent and island, 

New voices join your praise, 

Our morning hymns ascending 

Give us a glimpse of a God’s eye view 

 

This sanctuary at 54 Benton, 

Built during a Great War 

Between European colonial empires 

Outlives its old rival at 74 Frederick, 

Where a crane now sits in a deep hole 

A century after Paris’ Versailles treaty 

 

What do you make of these Games of Thrones, 

Penultimate loyalties to siren calls: 

A Victorian imperialism of British unity 

A Kaiser’s reich of German reunification, 

Their successors in our times, 

multilateral trade deals and tariffs? 

 

Help us imagine 

A new heaven and a new earth 

A new commandment 

To love one another 

Rising above partisan polemics 

Moving beyond petty preservations 

 

What word do you have for our hearts 

God, 

Before whom earth’s proud empires pass away, 

Give us ears to hear. 

Amen  

 

Revelation 12:1-6  

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. 

 

2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, 

coming down out of heaven from God, 

prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 

 

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 
‘See, the home of God is among mortals. 
He will dwell with them; 
they will be his peoples,  
and God himself will be with them;  
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.’ 

 

Also he said, 

‘Write this, 

for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 

 

6Then 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. 

 

God still speaks  Thanks be to God! 

John 13:31-35 

 

31 When he (Judas) had gone out, 

Jesus said, 

‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, 

and God has been glorified in him. 

 

32If God has been glorified in him, 

God will also glorify him in himself 

and will glorify him at once. 

 

33Little children, 

I am with you only a little longer. 

 

You will look for me; 

and as I said to the Judeans 

so now I say to you, 

 

“Where I am going, 

you cannot come.” 

 

34I give you a new commandment, 

that you love one another. 

Just as I have loved you, 

you also should love one another. 

 

35By this 

everyone will know 

that you are my disciples, 

if you have love for one another.’ 

 

God still speaks 

Thanks be to God!