Sunday, April 24, 2016

“The Times They are A-Changing” (Revelation 21:1-6)

The year was 1963 . . . a year in which the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum . . . a year in which the war in Viet Nam was escalating and pulling the United States into deeper and deeper commitment . . . and, the Beatles’ invasion was storming the shores of our nation and changing forever the understanding of popular music.  It was also the year in which our nation witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  It was a tumultuous year with lots of things changing.

It was also the year that a rising folk singer wrote what is considered one of the greatest folk songs of all-time.  Bob Dylan wrote The Times They are A-Changing in 1963 in the midst of change taking place in the nation and the world.  Dylan recalls writing the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the moment.  He meant it to be a way to ride upon the unvoiced sentiment of a people who were frustrated and growing angry . . . to be a means of being an outlet for those feelings and emotions.  And, in the end, he succeeded.

Less than a month after he recorded the song, President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.  The next night Dylan opened a concert with the song.  Singing it for the first time publically, Dylan was nervous as to how the crowd for take it.  He stated, “I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song?  I’ll get rocks thrown at me.’  But I had to sing it . . . something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song.”  Dylan had hit a nerve . . . tapped into an emotional stream . . . given voice to something that was deeply rooted in the psyche of the people and the times.  Dylan wrote a song that transcended the times and is still quite relevant today.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

I am fairly certain that I would not get too much of an argument from many if I were to say that the times are changing.  It does not take much effort to recognize that when one looks in the newspaper, listens to the radio, or watches television.  We all see the turbulence of our changing times.  And, these changing times has created a frustration and anxiety among the masses . . . a frustration and anxiety we are seeing expressed in this election season.

Times are changing . . . and, being sucked into the vortex of that change is the Church . . . Church with a capital “C”.  The Church, too, is changing . . . after all the Church sits squarely in the world in which it was born . . . the Church is meant to be a major part of the equation . . . a beacon to the masses sort of thing . . . a light to lead the way.  At least that is what is often expressed as the sentiment of many in our nation.  And, this change has created a lot of frustration and anxiety within the Church . . . from the top down to the very bottom.


Because nobody likes change.  Not now and not then.  “Then” being from the setting from which our scripture reading takes places this morning.  Now understand, the Book of Revelation, is a book that is quite familiar with debate and challenge.  It is a book that is written in three different literary genres—epistolary, apocalyptic, and prophetic; of which, everyone seems to have their favorite genre that interprets the book for them.  And, it creates lots and lots of discussion and debate.  Some say that it is a book that describes the historical times in which it was written . . .  some say it is a book of prophecy of things yet to come . . . some just say that it is a book of allegory describing the spiritual path and the ongoing struggle between good and evil.  I guess, somewhere down the road in the future, we will find out; but, in the meantime it is a book that fascinates everyone in one way or another.

So, for consideration, I throw in another point of view.  According to some biblical scholars, The Book of Revelation is a correspondence that was composed in the midst of conflict being waged within the churches in Asia Minor.  The conflict was over whether or not the “Church”—that is, Church with a capital “C”—should engage with or withdraw from the far larger non-Christian community.  These scholars see that Revelation rejects those Christians who wanted to reach an accommodation with society.  Now, this is not to say that Christians in this time were not suffering, for withdrawal from the wider Roman society imposed real penalties.  Revelation offered an escape from this reality by offering an apocalyptic hope.  It was written to give hope in times that were difficult and changing.

Which brings us to our reading for this morning . . . a new heaven and new earth.   In this chapter of the Book of Revelation, people do not go to heaven as most people have been taught but rather God comes down to dwell with humanity.  God is coming to make a home among the humans.  This will be a new creation . . . a creation that God will have a hand in and it will be like nothing ever seen before . . . a new home . . . a new kingdom.  It will be the kingdom as God sees it . . . the kingdom Jesus preached and called all to work towards—not in some celestial place, but here on earth now and forever.

Jesus’ call upon all of our lives is in the business of establishing God’s kingdom in the here and now . . . wherever we are, we are call to build God’s kingdom.  It is not meant to be some sort of reward for being faithful, because if it is, then wouldn’t be easier to just quit and die so that we receive the reward that much quicker?  No, Jesus called for his followers to establish the kingdom of God . . . the new heaven and the new earth . . . where they were in their lives, communities, nations, and even within the places where they gathered to worship.  Jesus called the faithful to bring God on down . . . to let God in.

But, this is a change.  This is a change in the way that we have always done things.  In yesterday’s Billings Gazette Faith and Values section, there was an article about the upcoming regional assembly to be held at Central Christian Church.  The writer interviewed the Reverend Don Beal, retired pastor of Central Christian Church and chairperson of the Regional Assembly Planning Committee.  In the article Reverend Beal talks about the goal of the assembly as an attempt “. . . to ignite people’s passion for something outside of the church that they can do.” 

Reverend Beal explains that in these changing times churches and denominations are seeing a decline in membership and participation.  Because of this they fall into “survival mode”.  Reverend Beal says, “And what they do is put all their energy into trying to save the institution.  And we want people to understand that our calling as Christians has to do with taking Christ into our communities in meaningful ways.”

It is not business as usual.  The “old ways” no longer work.  Old styles of ministry and mission no longer work.  We can no longer wait for the world to see the light and come to us . . . after all, that hasn’t really made much difference since the beginning.  We can no longer go out and “do” for others and expect them to join our ranks . . . to join our churches.  No, we now have to go out into the world and do “with” others . . . to become immersed in the world as we live our faith.  We can no longer keep God up there in the cloud, but we must bring God down here with us . . . we must establish this new heaven and this new earth . . . right here and right now.

That is God’s plan.  God even says it in our reading this morning: “I am making everything new!  Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.  It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

Yes, the times are a-changing . . . but we have heard the “word” of God . . . we have seen that “word” in action in Jesus, our Lord and Savior . . . and, it is the will of God.  Let us keep being living witnesses to the presence of God in our lives wherever we might be . . . a living witness to this kingdom of God’s that is a “new heaven and a new earth” that has never been seen or experienced but shall truly be.  Yes, it can be realize in our day and in our time.  Jesus has shown us the way.  Amen.

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