“Holy Yard Work”

July 10, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
Revelation 21:1-4, 22:1-5

Introduction

If we have a lawn, it needs to be mowed—either by you, or by someone—lest you find yourself with a visit from local authorities who insist that your yard be tended to.

Mowing the yard, however, is simply the first step.

After mowing, we grab the weed whacker—or in my case you should grad the weed whacker— and then, if we are particularly fussy, we will apply some grass shearers to more delicate areas.  Then we have to drag out the edger, maybe the rake.  Then there are the weeds that never pull themselves.

Maybe back in the spring time some of us rolled our lawn, applied weed killer and pesticides, dug out crabgrass and then spread fertilizer, which, of course, ensures that we will have to begin the whole process over again sooner than later!

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          The word “lawn” does not appear in the Bible.  The word “yard” does, but only as a reference to an enclosed area that functions as a courtyard.  The word “garden,” however, appears about 50 times, and it often refers to a location by a home where the resident could spend leisure time—so in a sense this could be then a person’s own yard.

In our passages for today, garden comes close to this concept of lawn—that which we all tend to.
This is John’s vision of the heavenly New Jerusalem—a beautiful garden and yard where life is good and happy and safe for all who are there.

Now this truly beautiful garden setting, in context of the whole Bible, is meant to imply a restoration of the Garden of Ede all the way back in the book of Genesis.

Eden as we know was a place of direct fellowship with God, and it represented fullness of life— life before it was corrupted by sin and all the accompanying consequences.

And now, here in Revelation, the writer speaks of a coming day when Eden, and all that it entails and includes is restored—it will be a New Jerusalem.

The Word of God begins and ends with a garden— a yard with the divine presence; a garden where creation and Creator are one; a garden of communion and companionship; a yard where all children of God are able to live fully in the divine where, “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.”

It is, of course, a garden, a yard, that must be created, and then cared for by those who live in it.

Move 1

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem.  This past week as once again reminded us of such.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem.  The killing of more African American men assures us of such.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem.  The murder of five Dallas police officers solidifies such.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem.  The animosity spurred forth, the hate embolden, the cries of pain ringing out, the brokenness of our country shattering more and more…on and on and on it goes reminding us of the fact that…

We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem. 

We are like the people of God who found themselves in the Babylonian Exile.

We are lost and torn from the place we were meant to be—a place of peace and hope, liberty and justice, the pursuit of happiness for all.

We are killing ourselves.  We are killing our brothers and our sisters.  We are killing children of God.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem. 

We hear that restoration is coming, but as those who still live in the midst of a world in which some things always seem to be broken and ragged, we barely give such decrees a passing thought anymore.

We have experienced broken relationships, frayed promises, worn-out hopes and dreams, derailed plans, and, in some situations, we have settled for second-best, calling ourselves “realists.”

What’s more, living in the hope of restoration is extremely difficult because the Bible talks of a restoration to a state we don’t even remember.

The Bible talks of the garden called Eden— but we personally were never there.

So to hope for that restoration means longing to return to a situation in which we have never lived.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem. 

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          Still, though… restoration is one of the words the Bible uses to encapsulate the return of Christ and the arrival of a new heaven and a new earth in all its fullness.

In Acts we read the apostle Peter preaching to a crowd, saying “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that God may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through the prophets.”

The hope of restoration is one of the things that empowers us and emboldens us to carry on when everything around us keeps reminding us: we don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem. 

But when we turn to God, and ask for our sins to be forgiven; our sins of division, of judgement, of hate, of silence; then we can begin to find our way to that holy and divine Garden.

Move 2

In the New Jerusalem garden, says John, citizens will see the face of God, and that’s a statement extraordinary in its implications because prior to this, seeing God was unheard of.

Perhaps the most well-known example is when Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai.  God told Moses “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

Yet, here in New Jerusalem, seeing God is a commonplace occurrence, which, far from taking life, is what makes life everlasting.

As John puts it, “They need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”  No more night means no more death.

          We don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem…

But we can start to live in its manner because our faith tells us, and convicts us, to believe that all people have been created in the image of the divine.

All people… Black, White, brown… Man, woman, child… Gay, straight… Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist… Boomer, Gen-Xer, Millennial… Police officer, School lunch room attendant…

All people, in all places, bear the face of God and we—especially we who are people of faith— must start believing it and living it because such a life cannot include building bigger walls of hate and judgement.  It cannot include sowing seed of animosity and contempt.

God invites us to a divine garden, a holy yard where life we are called to cultivate a place of peace and hope, a yard of vibrant life where all living beings can thrive, just as God intends.

In this garden that Revelation describes: there is a life-giving river; there’s a tree of life; it’s a place where one can see God face to face; where there is no death.

All of this matches the Garden of Eden of which Genesis speaks where a river flowed to water a tree of life.  The people could see the face of God there because Genesis tells us God would walk in the Garden among the people.  What John sees, then, in his vision of the New Jerusalem, is Eden restored.

Just as the Bible’s opening chapters are about humankind being expelled from paradise, its closing chapters are about humankind being welcomed back into paradise and all things are restored.

Revelation mends the rip that was opened by the sin in Genesis.  This is a vision of what will be when we live as God intended.

Conclusion

No, we don’t live in the Garden of Eden anymore, and we haven’t yet arrived at the garden of a New Jerusalem, but here’s the thing…

We must keep in mind, the creation we live in today is God’s yard and God expects us to help tend to this holy and divine garden, helping to restore it to the life giving garden it is meant to be.

But this holy yard work cannot be done through judgement and condemnation, nor through picking a side and trying to shout louder than the other.  Rather we do this holy gardening by cultivating respect and compassion.  We do it by active listening, by standing against those who seek to intentionally betray the beauty of the garden through hate.

We do it by loving others as Jesus has and does love us, and all people.  That’s universal restoration— that’s holy yard work—bringing the garden of this world back to the glory for which God originally created it.  But how do we recreate this garden?  How do we care for such?  Well another great prophet has already told us…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told us how when he said…

          The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. …
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Only love can create and cultivate the garden we all hope for.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer, July 10, 2016

Creator God, we know how you intended your creation to be.  You intended it to be a place of beauty and provision, a place of health and vibrancy.  You gave us dominion of your creation and showed us your intent for it all.

But that vision is no longer the reality of this world, and that was made clear again this week in the killings of more African American men, and in the murders of five Dallas police officers.

We pray your blessings of peace be poured out upon the families and communities of these who have died.

We pray your Holy Spirit will be an abiding presence to them all, and that your ways of love will reign forth.

We pray that a better way forward is taken, and that the ways of hate and violence are done no more.

Holy God, there is so much brokenness.  That is what we see all too often— uncertainty, despair, hopelessness, sorrow, death.  We see this brokenness and feel paralyzed by all that is out of order in this world.

But, we don’t want to give up.  We don’t want to stop believing that truth and goodness and love will prevail.  We want to see the world as you created it to be—a place where crying and mourning and death are no more.

So, give us strength to keep going and endurance to persevere in the midst of hopelessness to still hope.  Let us know that you are always with us and may that assurance give us the confidence to be strong—strong to stand up and say that enough is enough.

Let us mourn with those who mourn, but let us also be people of hope, holding out faith that you are still present and active and your creation is still in our midst.

So, wake us up, and turn us around with your hope.  Grant us the courage to step outside our usual patterns and create for ourselves, and others, a sacred space to regroup and rearrange our priorities.

Nudge us to move beyond intentions to the action of making a place for Christ our Lord.

Hear now, we ask, the prayers we offer to you, from the depths of our hearts, in this time of Holy Silence.

All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”

 

 

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