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Sermon on Revelation 21:6

 

By University chaplain Reinhard Menzel

23. January 2018

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Dear university fellowship!

“I want to comfort, ... I want to strengthen, ... I want to fill up, ... I want to give to the thirsty from the source of living water free of cost.” – Do I expect that from God? Do I really trust that? So I keep asking myself when I hear, read or sing the Biblical watchword for this year. Do I need comfort? Am I looking for help? Am I hungry? Am I thursty?

No, I think then. That's not how I feel now.

My situation is very different from that of the Christians, to whom the Revelation of John was originally addressed. Those who were Christians in Asia Minor nearly 2,000 years ago had to fear for their lives. A megalomaniac emperor in distant Rome demanded that all inhabitants of his vast empire worship him as God. From his subordinates Domitian let himself be addressed as “My Lord and my God”. His commands began:  “The Lord, our God Domitian, commands ...” Everywhere, especially in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, people had to fall down and worship before the statue of Caesar, which was set up in many places. Anyone who refused was charged with lese majeste and was considered a public enemy.

Both were punishable by death. A hopeless, life-threatening situation for Christians.  Many then had to pay their faith with their lives.


For us in Germany, such a situation is completely unimaginable. Christians in other parts of the world are still experiencing this today, e.g. Coptic Christians in Egypt.

Did you notice that? On December 29, four weeks ago, there were several deaths in an attack on a Coptic church in Helwan, about 25 kilometers south of Cairo.  After all, this message made it into the news programs of radio and television. But was it even noticed? Did it really touch someone? The attack happened far away from us. We were not affected.


It was completely different last year at one of our fellowship meetings: When one of our Nigerian students told that there were conflicts between Christians and Muslims in his hometown, there was suddenly a deep sense of dismay in our group. We noticed how his words made us speechless and helpless. What could we do? One of us was affected. His family, his friends – it can meet them anytime.

 

I have discovered that personal concern is also a key to understanding this Bible word.

God says: To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:6)

The message of this Bible verse can only really develop when we are affected ourselves, or at least when we try to understand this background: people are persecuted, are in mortal danger, have no hope and see no way out. To these people, John, the visionary author of Revelation, wrote what he heard and saw:

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,  “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, »I am making everything new!« Then he said, »Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.«

6 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 without cost from the spring of the water of life. …«

 

These are impressive pictures that this text creates in our mind's eye:

-       A city of peace – Jerusalem, today one of the most dangerous hot spots in the world. But in the name of this city – Yerushalayim – we hear the Hebrew word Shalom – Peace, City of Peace.

-       A bridal couple – beaming, happy young people, who have longed for each other and are finally together.

-       People from all over the world, united peacefully – and God in the midst of them, a God to understand and to grip, very close – neither hidden nor enigmatic.

And we continue listening:

There are no more tears, no death, no suffering, no pain, no more screams of fear.

This is a wonderful, livable world, isn’t it?

That's how it should be! But it is not like that.

Is that what John saw and heard, just a beautiful dream?  Nothing else? A consolation to the hereafter – someday, when I have died long ago? Yes, they are images of another world, images that try to describe God's dream of a new world.

I have to be aware of that. There is no doubt about in the biblical text: These pictures don’t describe a very ideal state of our world, there is talking of something completely new – of a new heaven and a new earth – beyond my, beyond our possibilities!

So if this text were just a cheap consolation to the hereafter, then there would be no hope, then John would have used a cheap sleight-of-hand trick, and all who drew hope from these words would be the stupid ones.

 

I am convinced: This text is not a cheap consolation on God's new world that does not exist yet.

I hold on to that it can be a source of hope for anyone whose lives are in danger who have no hope and no way out.

I share the conviction of the South African theologian and apartheid opponent Allan Boesak, who put it this way in 1987 in his book “Write to the angel of South Africa”:

„The dream of God, who takes shape in the visions of ... John, does not have to wait for »eternity«. It becomes a reality where cold and inhuman reality meets and is overcome by the warm and human reality of God.” [1]

 

The dream of God does not have to wait for eternity. Yes! We can discover that. Often it happens unimpressive or hidden. People experience how cold and inhuman reality of our world is overcome by warm and human reality of God.

In Kenya, Martin’s home country, many people do not suffer from the cold, but from the hot and inhumane reality of drought. In many parts of East Africa, the rainy season has shortened noticeably due to climate change. In the long dry season, rivers, streams and lakes dry up, water is scarce and is not enough to protect the crop from drying up and livestock from dehydration. „In the past, I was always scared of having too little water for my family”, says Agnes Irima, a 44-year-old peasant woman. Today her village has a water hole with a tank for rainwater. Just a few days of rain are enough to fill the tank and supply the village with water – even in the dry season. This has been made possible by a well construction project of the development service of the Anglican Church in Kenya, which is also funded with donations from the aid organization Bread for the World.

With the offertory we will collect today when we will sing after the Creed, we can support this and other hope projects.

„Water for All”, the current fundraising campaign of Bred for the World is helping God's reality to overcome the reality of our world.

 

The dream of God does not have to wait for eternity. I also think of the many people in Cottbus taking care of refugees, helping them to learn German, accompanying them to the authorities, providing them with practical tips for everyday life, hoping that their asylum procedures will have a positive outcome.

The dream of God does not have to wait for eternity when people renounce their professional careers or their own family to care for seek or disable relatives or friends and to enable them leading a largely self-determined life in community and dignity despite their illness or disability.

I see in these and similar experiences examples of how the warm and human reality of the dream of God meets and overcomes the cold and inhuman reality of this world.

I am astonished how the Revelation of John, inserted in the biblical canon, has become a Christian tradition and now wanders itself through time. How many people may the vision of the water of life for the thirsty have strengthened and comforted, through the centuries, in every nook and corner of the earth? First the Christians threatened with death in Asia Minor, later other people who were tortured and tormented. The perspective of a new, healing life close to God: First and foremost, it is for those who are missed out on earth.

I've also chosen this vision a few times as a Bible text for a memorial service. I read it and felt the inner power of its pictures. Its pictures do not wipe away the loss and do not ignore the grief. But they expand the perspective and awaken the hope: someday, death will be no more. God wipes away the tears and quenches their thirst with life. My breath calms down when I see such pictures in front of me. I entrust myself to a bigger one. I put my fears into his vision of hope. I give my longing into his hands. I put my life in his promise: Behold, I am making everything new!

And against all doubts and criticism I expect with the fact that the warm and human reality of this wonderful dream of God overcomes the reality of our world for me as well.

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.(Phil. 4:7)

 


[1] Zitat aus: Allan Boesak, Schreibe dem Engel Südafrikas. Trost und Protest in der Apokalypse des Johannes, Kreuz Verlag, Stuttgart 1988, 1. Auflage, S. 145

Letzte Änderung am: 02.02.2018