Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
November 7, 2021
The weather finally dipped this past week. We pulled out our coats, maybe even our hats. Maybe we felt the throat tingle with that change in the air.
And on one especially brisk evening moment this past week, I inhaled the outdoor air and something about that crisp cold took me right back to the falls I used to know growing up in Ohio. In particular, I thought about the week of Homecoming that would happen each year.
For my high school, that week was all about the float building that would happen.
Monday night – Thursday night, all of the people in my grade would head over to Edward Shelleby’s house. And there in his backyard – alongside a few adult volunteers – we would build our class’s float for that year’s homecoming parade on Friday night.
And to this day…
- I can still feel the crinkle of the thousands of pieces of tissue paper as we stood alongside one another and pushed into the holes and gaps and darkened space of chickenwire – and slowly but surely we would have this colorful float going up that would signal that homecoming itself was not so far away.
- I can still smell the fire pit in the Shelleby’s backyard where we would roast hot dogs and marshmallows late into the evening as the float-building took place.
- I can still hear the fight song and cheering roar of that Friday night football game – a guaranteed winner because people always line up a really bad opponent for homecoming.
- I can still see all the faces – the many alumni who came back for that weekend, all my classmates who came out for that particular week.
What was your homecoming like? Honestly, I can still feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it, and see it. What if heaven were not too far off from something that?
Here’s what I mean: often in our society and even especially in the church, we can be prone to think of heaven as this otherworldly realm in the great beyond. Somehow out there exists a golden glow of goodness far away, and by the grace of Jesus Christ, we shall live eternally in this bright, weightless place.
And yet… the fundamental truth proclaimed in our passage from Revelation this morning is this: God’s ultimate plan is to bring the fullness of heaven to this earth among all of God’s people.
“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”
Heaven comes down to this earth so that there is a “new heaven and new earth” as verse 1 puts it.
Not an escape to another realm.
Nobody is whisked away into some far off realm.
Rather, the fullness of heaven covers, falls upon, makes new this earth and all the things we can feel, smell, taste, hear, and see.
Which begs the question quite quickly: what is heaven?
There’s a lot that can be said here, but I think our passage gives us a significant answer as we see this heavenly city descending upon the earth:
the sea was no more…(“Sea” in the ancient world represented the forces of chaos and evil)
And 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;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more…
Heaven is God making a home with us. Heaven is a homecoming.
- God fully with God’s people to such a degree that every tear that speaks of brokenness and a sense of estrangement or a sense that something is awry or not good…it will be wiped away. For we are fully home.
- And death – the ultimate home wrecker, the one that takes our most cherished parts of ‘home’ – death is done with.
For God has taken all the worst of humanity – our sin and death – and God has fully transformed it unto a holy city, a home in which God dwells with God’s people.
I like how Eugene Peterson underscores this point in his commentary on the book of Revelation. He notes that many faith traditions envision heaven as something tranquil or a beautiful garden away from the noise and busyness – some kind of retreat or distant respite…but in Revelation, “Heaven is formed out of dirty streets and murderous alleys, adulterous bedrooms and corrupt courthouses, hypocritical (faith institutes) and commercialized churches, thriving tax-collectors and traitorous disciples: a city, but now a holy city.”
Heaven is a homecoming upon this earth in all its brokenness.
And here is the truly amazing thing – that is not simply a future hope for God’s creation.
That homecoming is already underway. The floats are already being built, each of them signaling that heaven is at hand; a homecoming is unfolding.
How does John 1:14 famously put it? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (or lived) among us.”
In Jesus, God has already come and made a home among us. And by the power of Jesus’s Spirit alive among us today, God continues to make a home.
In fact, wherever Jesus is at work in and through and around us…that is a glimpse of heaven renewing earth. A glimpse of the nearness of heaven.
Which is as Jesus said it would be.
Some of his first words when he begins his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (a homecoming is at hand)…God is in your midst making a home – healing, feeding, forgiving, transforming the darkness into light.”
Some of Jesus’s first words are about how heaven is quite near.
And then I think it is no accident that at the heart of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray is this petition:
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Not…”Take us, God, from this broken, messy, awful earthly reality” but rather “Land your will, your goodness, your love, your justice, yourself….fully in, on, through this broken earth as it is in heaven…”
“Get heaven here.”
Given how near heaven is – given our weekly prayer together asking for it…Have you glimpsed heaven recently? Have you noticed any float-building going on? Any signs that Jesus is at work and a homecoming (God-coming-in-our-midst) is at hand?
Three weeks ago I walked into the copier home here at the church, looked to my right, and the front part of this room is essentially a food pantry stocked so many of your generous donations these recent weeks in light of the fact that the church has been seeing a real increase in numbers among our homeless neighbors.
It made me think of another picture of heaven that Scripture gives us. It’s that moment in Matthew 25 when the sheep in this parable ask Jesus, “When did we see you before we died?” And Jesus says, among other things, “I was hungry, and you gave me bread.” “I was hungry, and you provided my body – and my soul – a glimpse of what home is all about.”
When I see a copy room that is now part copy room and part food pantry, I think to myself “float-building. That’s the Spirit of Jesus at work. That’s a church declaring with its heart and action that God is near; homecoming is at hand.”
Or I think of the time about three weeks ago I wandered over to our Youth Group as they were meeting on Wednesday night in a circle outside in front of the playground that is basically directly across from 600 Degrees Pizza.
I sit down, and they are talking about how great it is so many in the community enjoy this playground and is there anything we would or could do that might make the space all the more welcoming and hospitable? Hebrews 13:2 “Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.”
“What if we moved the entrance gate to the other side? The 600 Degree side since that is where most folks come from anyway.”
“What if we had a “Welcome” sign?”
“What if it read in English and Spanish?”
“What if we had one of those little free library exchanges?”
“What if we had a community garden?” Somewhere in there, someone chimes in, “And what if we had a mote around it?” And one of the leaders goes, “Ok…you think that would be welcoming?” “Maybe not…but it’d be pretty cool.”
What struck me was here is this group of teenagers at the end of a long time of school and homework and sports and drama and band…and the energy is absolutely through the roof when they are invited to think about what would heaven on earth look like? What would ‘practicing hospitality’ look like alongside our community?
I see that energy, that creativity and I think, “Float-building. That’s the Spirit of Jesus. That’s a church whose heart is declaring God is near; homecoming is at hand.”
Or again just three days ago I was in a meeting with adult leaders in this church discussing ideas about how the church best connects to and relates with and learns from our youth and young adults – both in the church and in the community.
We were in the midst of talking about this concept of “sitting on the curb” with the younger generation – as happens all the time at Logos on Wednesday nights here at the church.
The idea is instead of…
telling young people what we think they want to hear or should hear,
or judging young people
or dismissing them
or valuing them only for their school success or athletic success or because they keep all the rules…
Instead of any of that, “Sitting on the curb” means coming alongside our young people and listening. Loving them where they are. Looking out at all that is before them, with them, for them. Living life alongside them.
And we talked about wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the community knew this was one of the things our church is about – sitting on the curb alongside one another.
And one of the church members in this meeting goes, “We should paint curbs! Like all kinds of colors…the curbs on all sides of the church!”
Now, I don’t really know how such things go over with city ordinances and the like but what I loved about this member’s thought was that she thought…
“How beautiful if it were as clear to our community as our literal curbs that we are a church known for sitting on the curb…
sitting with love alongside our youth,
Sitting with love alongside our long-time members,
Sitting with love alongside those we do not understand or disagree with,
Sitting with those why are dying,
Sitting with love alongside the folks in our community with homes and without homes…Sitting in genuine relationship.”
And when I hear an image like that and think of the countless ways this church already lives into that and so provides a sense of belonging unto one another…I think, “I think, “Float-building. That’s a church whose heart is declaring God is near; homecoming is at hand.”
Today we celebrate All Saints Day – we name those who have gone to be in the full presence of God at some point in this past year and who will then one day be part of this fully-made-new earth in which God resides.
And I think about how every Sunday – and perhaps many times in between – they prayed that line: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
And what a joy it must be to know how that prayer continues to bear fruit through the life of this congregation in countless ways – a few I have mentioned and hundreds I have not.
Because truly wherever the Spirit of Jesus is alive and at work amid the broken and pained realities of this earth, the broken and pained realities of our lives…there the kingdom of heaven is near. The homecoming at hand.
Have we seen the grace of Jesus dwelling near in recent days? Have we heard it? Tasted it? Smelt it? Touched it? Let us give thanks for this glimpse of homecoming.
And then where do our hearts ache this day for it to be on earth as it is in heaven?
Perhaps the Holy Spirit is leading us this day to offer our gifts, our time, our prayers, our lives and press life into that particular hole, a gap, a darkness.
Not that we can make heaven suddenly appear, not that we can save the day. Not at all.
But we do believe by the power of Jesus who is faithfully making his home in us…that we can stand next to one another and work on the floats which are a sign – an imperfect sign, but a sign – that yes, a homecoming is near. Amen.