This is the message I preached last Sunday, May 19 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Revelation 21:1-6.
We know we have problems in our county. Perhaps the most debilitating one is addiction, whether it’s to opioids, alcohol or any other substance. The affects of addiction traumatize not only the addict, but their families and communities.
The Addiction Response Ministry is one organization working to fight this epidemic. Our focus is on uniting God’s church together in response to this issue. To help us better understand the issue, the work of the Addiction Response Ministry and what God is doing in our community is what One Voice, One County, One Hope Sunday is about.
In apocalyptic literature, like Revelation, the present situation is so indomitable that God will have to intervene to destroy evil and establish a new and just world order. Here at the end of Revelation, when God has destroyed all evil and the final judgment is complete, God recreates. The God who created at the beginning now creates at the end.
One Voice-God is calling the churches of our county to speak with one voice concerning the addiction issue and its fallout here. We are to work together to be God’s voice in this place, allowing God to recreate the broken. What does God’s voice sound like? Is it just a whisper that we must listen for very carefully? Not in this case.
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,” v. 3a. Make no mistake about it, God was making sure the life-changing, fulfillment of long ago promises was heard. The gist of it is that God is making “all things new,” v.5—not some, but all. And the thing is it is not through our hard work, our efforts, by the sheer force of our wills. It is God who is doing this.
One County-We realize that we as the church and the Addiction Response Ministry cannot be effective if we are so worried about addiction all over our nation and world. It is not that we are unconcerned, but we cannot do everything and so God calls us to concentrate on our part of God’s kingdom, Chautauqua County. Other people are working in other counties to fight addiction and to walk alongside the addicts and their loved ones.
Today we speak of One County because this is our home, the place for which we are responsible.
There are many good programs with which the Addiction Response Ministry works, including inpatient treatment at WCA. But the hold drugs and other substances have on people is strong. It’s easy to be clean when you’re in a residential treatment facility, a bit harder once you’re discharged and attending meetings, but if you’re trying to fight this problem on your own, forget it. To live an abundant life that goes beyond merely staying clean, as good and important as that is, one needs the One Hope of the Lord Jesus Christ working in and through one’s life.
Revelation states that there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. These things are seemingly inescapable in our lives. Yet, God promises that one day heaven will fully come down to earth and the two will be one. Just as Jesus came down and was fully one of us, so too will heaven come down and heaven and earth will be fully one.
Our faith is not as much about us one day going to heaven, but rather it is about heaven coming down to us. Why is this important? Because God is the God who always comes down to us where we are at. God comes down to addicts where they are at.
God was making “a new heaven and a new earth,” v.1. This implies new structures of existence that do not allow the violations that were possible in the first heaven and the first earth.
In Jewish literature, the sea is sometimes a symbol of chaos. It was a scary thing—considered to be the frightening domain of monsters. John writes that the “sea was no more,” v. 1. In the new world, the sea’s destruction means that chaos is no longer possible. What a stark contrast to the chaotic social conditions in the Roman Empire.
God is making “all things new,” v. 5. As M. Eugene Boring points out in his commentary on Revelation, “God does not make “all new things,” but “all things new.” God replaces all that has been broken, defiled, betrayed, polluted or destroyed. Somehow, God gathers it all up and makes the old new again.To renew something is not to destroy it and replace it. It is to take what is there, transform it, heal it and reconcile it to a pristine condition
Jesus is the beginning of this work. The resurrection continues through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s resurrection changes everything, enabling new out of old.
One Hope—Our hope is in God, who promises to make all things new for believers. God’s promises are realized both now and in the future—the now and the not yet. In some ways we are already in the new Jerusalem, married to God, living without sorrow and death, but we are not completely there. The power of death will be destroyed. Those things in life that create tears, mourning, crying and pain will be gone.
Jesus refers to himself as “the Alpha and the Omega,” v. 6. That is like saying, “I am everything from A to Z, from the beginning to the end.” He bookends our lives and is with us from the beginning, in the middle and at the end of our lives on earth and then into eternity. We cannot escape him.
The great joy of our faith and part of its uniqueness is God coming and dwelling among us; God wanting relationship with us.
We can do a number of things to be part of the cure of the addiction plague in our county. Among the objectives of The Addiction Response Ministry is to equip and exhort the unified church to actively pursue service to Christ on behalf of those affected by addiction by:
1. First and foremost praying for addicts, their families and our communities.
2. Providing ongoing training and eduction opportunities to churches and community organizations serving those affected by addiction.
3. Another one of the objectives is creating connections for those who are called by God to actively pursue addiction ministry. That’s something we can participate in. If this kind of activity interests you, there’s a sign-up sheet in back as well as more information.
4. The Addiction Response Ministry seeks to partner, both in prayer and action with other addiction efforts in our region such as the Mental Health Association, The Resource Center, CASAC (Chautauqua Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council) to name but a few.
5. The last objective is to foster and support new Christ-centered ministries of hope, comfort, guidance and healing to all who are affected by addiction. At last count, the number is seven different ministries that we involved with.
“The urgent message [in Revelation] is that Christians must be faithful in worshiping God and renounce Babylon/Rome in order to participate in God’s holy city” (Rossing, p. 84). Can we let go of those things keeping us from God, “the powers of this world that rebel against God,” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 229) as we profess in our baptismal liturgy?
The work before us is daunting, but our God is the One who is making all things new, who comes down to live with us, who holds us when we cry, wiping away all tears. God loves and cares for us all, no matter what we are struggling with in this life and desires to make all of us new as well. Ultimately, this is the call of God to those struggling with addiction too. God desires to make those addicted to opioids, cigarettes, alcohol or anything else new in Christ as well. God wants to be with them, wiping their tears. This is news everyone needs to hear. Will we be God’s hands and feet reaching out to the lost and lonely, sharing this good news?
Jesus says, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” v. 6. The Easter Proclamation says,“This is the night in which heaven and earth are joined, things human and things divine,” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Leader’s Desk Edition, p. 647).
Addiction Response Ministry, addictionresponseministry.com
Ronald J. Allen, workingpreacher.org
Eric Fistler and Robb McCoy, pulpitfiction.com
Janet H. Hunt, dancingwiththeword.com
Brent Neely, aplainaccount.org
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com
Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation