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Last month it was the Suez Boat crisis that captured my imagination. I told you that once Louie, my Facebook algorithm, noticed that I’d clicked on a couple articles, he just kept sending them to me, and I just kept reading them.
This month Louie discovered I had another interest and started bombarding me with updates, which I consumed voraciously. That interest was of course the news that a rocket was falling from the sky…and no one had any idea where it was going to land.
In case you weren’t following this story obsessively, here’s a brief recap.
On April 29 China launched a Long March 5B rocket into orbit in order to send the first part of a new space station into…well…space. Once free of its attachment, the rocket – 108 feet tall and weighing nearly 40,000 pounds – was left to spin aimlessly around in space until Earth’s gravity would eventually pull it into a freefall back towards earth. Totally out of control. With no indication of where it might ultimately land.
The hope, of course, was that most of the rocket would burn up upon re-entry. But something this big could make it through relatively intact, and the European Space agency predicted a risk zone encompassing all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of southern Asia, and parts of southern Europe. The experts kept assuring us that it would likely fall into an ocean (which it eventually did on Saturday night, plunging into the Indian Ocean just south of the Maldives) and that the risk of it actually hitting someone was small. But still. A rocket falling out of the sky and landing who-knows-where isn’t nothing. So for a few days, I was captivated.
While Louie was keeping me up to speed on the rocket, I was also reading up on another kind of descent. Last Sunday I preached on Revelation 21 and 22, John’s vision of the new creation, the new Jerusalem, which, if you recall, comes down out of heaven from God. That’s a pretty important theological concept. We don’t escape to the new creation, leaving all the dust and grime of this world behind. Rather, the kingdom comes down to this world and transforms this world – everything is made new, made whole, made into the truest form of itself.
Revelation goes into some detail about what that transformation will look like, what the most true things are – there’ll be a city and there’ll be a garden (Jerusalem and Eden transformed). The city is full of light – there are no shady back alleys or dark corners where danger and evil lurks. In the city humanity dwells together in perfect relationship with one another and God, all warring ceased, all enmity put asunder, for in the garden, the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing, the reconciliation, of the nations, of all people. That tree also provides fruit, which, with the water of life, is all that we need to flourish. The one whom the people worship gives them everything they need.
This is what’s coming – this is where we’re headed. Thinking back to the conversation on my blog post two weeks ago, and to the outrage that ensued because of this out-of-control rocket, I’m reminded that humans like to be in control. We want to know what’s coming, when its coming, and how best to prepare.
The kingdom of God, of course, is not something we control – both in its current reality as ushered in by Jesus and in the fullness of that reality as it will be realized when Jesus returns. The kingdom, said Jesus, is like a mustard seed – you think it’s just an itty-bitty seed but then it grows into a massive plant, taking over your life, showing up where you don’t necessarily want it to show up, catching you off guard. The kingdom will do its kingdom thing whether we tend it or not, whether we’re good kingdom citizens or not, whether we want it to or not. Because we aren’t in control of the kingdom. The Creator is.
But just because we’re not in control doesn’t mean we get to rest on our laurels, or that all we can do now is hang around, looking up to the sky every once and a while, waiting to see the first jeweled wall of the city peak out from a cloud before we know what we’re supposed to be doing. Adela Yarbro Collins, professor of New Testament at Yale Divinity School, wrote in her book The Apocalypse, “The destiny of the world and even of the church is beyond human control. But people can discern the outlines of that destiny and ally themselves with it. They can avoid working against it. And they can embody its values in witness to the world” (p. 150).
We know the outlines of the new creation. We know what’s coming. We might not know when and how it will arrive in its fullness, but we know a bit about what it will look like when it does. And we know that in Christ and through the Spirit that new creation is already here, already shows up in our lives in unexpected and surprising ways. And unlike the falling rocket, which we would flee if we saw it suddenly appear above us, we know that this kingdom, to paraphrase Mr. Beaver, may not be safe, but it’s good. And so we’re invited to run towards the kingdom. To put ourselves squarely in the path of whatever it is God is doing as he transforms his world so that he might use us in the doing. In bringing reconciliation. Healing wounds. Working for justice and dignity. Preaching and practicing trust and contentment. Poking light in dark places. Living as though heaven is on earth.
I love this!
“And so we’re invited to run towards the kingdom. To put ourselves squarely in the path of whatever it is God is doing…”
Thanks, Laura, for sharing the latest thing to capture your imagination. Of course, what has captured your imagination, as well as the imagination of John, if he is the author of the book of Revelation, is pretty imaginative. Of course there are all kinds of interpretations of these final chapters of this apocalyptical book. So reading the book of Revelation, who really knows what was in the author’s imaginary musings.
Of course, most other religions have their own predictions of what will happen at the end of time, all different from the scheme of Revelation. Their schemes, like Christianity’s, are based on their divinely inspired Scriptures, so like Christianity’s, are absolutely true. People of these other religions, such as Islam, are as convinced as you of the truth of their future schemes and the future domination of their religion and God (or Gods). So common sense would suggest that anyone’s guess is as good and true as the next. Of course the certainty of China’s rocket falling from the sky had a lot more certainty than the return of Christ. Thanks for sharing your opinion.
I didn’t quite know how a falling rocket would link up to Scripture but you made it work, Laura. And I can recommend some musical commentaries on John’s Apocalypse: the powerful gospel song “John the Revelator,” recorded by bluesman Blind Willie Johnson (and also, later, by Son House and, believe it or now, Depeche Mode); and the astonishing work of chamber music that premiered 80 years ago this spring in a Nazi prison camp, Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” (I just led a two-session adult ed class on that work and a very different one that was 40 years old in 2019, Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”)
And if any reader of this blog would like more of Pastor Laura’s reflections on the vision of the Holy City go to the website for our church, Second CRC of Grand Haven, and watch last Sunday’s sermon. In my humble and unbiased opinion, it was brilliant.