Revelation 2:1-2, 9-27
November 25, 2001
A GLOBAL COMMUNITY
Terry L. Brensinger, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
The opening ceremonies of the international Olympic games are, for many people, a stunning occasion. The new facilities are unveiled, facilities that cost millions if not billions of dollars and sprawl from one end of the host city to the other. The excitement surrounding the Olympics, however, reaches its climax, at least for me, when the many participants enter the stadium. What a moving sight it is athletes from every country parading into the city. They dress differently, wear a wide range of colors, speak many languages, and possess varying skills. In that moment, the sheer excitement tends to overwhelm me as I recognize that I am a part of a vast community that spreads around the globe.
The apostle John envisions a similar but even more moving scene here in Revelation 21. At the culmination of history, John sees the heavenly city descend. The city is a perfectly proportioned and massive cube, fifteen hundred miles long, wide and high. It is glorious, decorated with every imaginable jewel and precious material. It is holy, and God Himself and the Lamb dwell in its midst. No sun or moon is needed God provides the light. No sanctuary is necessary for worship God is present everywhere and everyone sings His praises, regardless of where they are. The setting is in place. The city has been constructed. One thing is missing, however. As in Genesis 1, when the newly created and otherwise ³good² heavens and earth long for completion the ³very good² human beings so too do the new heaven and the new earth here in Revelation 21 anticipate more. Something is not yet in place.
The new heavens and the new earth long for a parade. And here it is. All the participants, spread around the globe, come marching into the new Jerusalem (1:26). They come wearing different colors, speaking different languages, and bringing their glory and honor. What a scene! What a moving occasion! But what do they bring? What do the peoples of the world have to offer?
I was teaching a seminar on the book of Job in Nairobi a few years ago. About three weeks into the semester, my frustration level reached a highpoint and I felt like abandoning the class. ³All of you talk just like my students back in the States,² I said to them. ³It does not matter what I ask, what questions I pose, or what issues come to the surface. In spite of the fact that you come from several different African countries, you respond like my American students and repeat everything back the way they would say it.² I will never forget when Moses Mwendende stood up in the back of the room and replied, ³Dr. Brensinger, I have never been led by other teachers or missionaries to believe that what I think is important.² At that moment, I could not help but think, rather sarcastically, that those of us from the West certainly did our job. I want to say to Moses Mwendende and a host of other people from all over the world, ³You have plenty to bring to the parade. You have everything to offer.²
The nations of the world bring, first of all, their varying perspectives. I was teaching a class in Zambia a few years ago. The students and I were examining the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. I began teaching the material in the same way that I often did in the past. Coming as I do from the West, I have typically been impressed that Joseph turned down the opportunity to enjoy the sexual pleasures of what must of been a stunning woman Potipharıs wife. What courage and determination! He resisted the temptation and fled. I thought that was impressive, and I still do! After sharing that with the class, however, several of the African students scratched their heads in surprise and said, ³That is not what impresses us about the story. What impresses us is that Joseph, in spite of the fact that he had been ill-treated by his brothers, left for dead and sold into slavery, cared faithfully for his extended family. He met the needs of his renegade brothers, and welcomed them and his father back into Egypt.² The same text that speaks to me about sexual morality, speaks to my African friends about the importance of meeting our responsibilities to our extended family. Now, whenever I think about Joseph, I think as well of my obligation to my family.
A Nicaraguan Christian not too long ago reflected on the suffering that he and his people had gone through and the way they prayed about it. In speaking to a Christian missionary or visitor to Nicaragua, this man commented, ³You people in the States typically pray that God would deliver you from all harm, sickness and pain. We here in Nicaragua assume that these things are a part of life, so we simply ask God for the grace to stand, be firm, and remain committed, no matter what comes our way.² The nations of the world have their perspectives, traditions and visions to bring with them to the parade. They have their rich and unique impressions and insights to offer that will enrich our theology and stretch our categories.
In addition, the nations of the world bring excitement and passion! There is a retreat center called Brackenhurst located about forty-five minutes outside of Nairobi, Kenya. On one occasion, I was invited to speak there to a group of college students. 350 of them came on just three buses. Each bus, by the way, made only one trip! The students were lying on the roofs, standing on the bumpers and hanging on the doors. Soon after entering the auditorium, they started singing, dancing, swaying and bobbing. Before I ever had a chance to speak, the whole gathering of people was marching around the sanctuary singing songs of praise to God. I probably should not tell you this, but the excitement in the air escalated so much that day that I preached for an hour and twenty minutes. I never even glanced down at my watch! Enthusiasm filled the air. I am actually going to put my job here at the church on the line and invite some of you to parade around the sanctuary when Karen leads us in the final song today!
I remember a small church about an hourıs walk from Sikalongo Bible Institute in Zambia where I went one Sunday with two of the students. When we arrived there, we had to bang a gong that was hanging from a nearby tree bang it as loud as we could. No one else was at the church, not a soul. We banged the gong, and we waited for an hour. One by one, as you looked out over all the distant hills, you could see people making their way to the church joining in the parade. After that hour had passed, the church was packed, and the entire area surrounding it was covered with people who heard the gong and made the trip. There was enthusiasm and passion in the air. The nations have that to offer. They bring their joy and excitement.
Finally, the nations of the world have a profound sense of commitment to bring. Many of them have suffered in ways that we in the West cannot imagine, yet they remain faithful. I remember worshiping in a little church in the Arab village of Abud. Abud is located perhaps fifteen minutes north of Jerusalem. The village is hanging precariously in the balance today. Most of the inhabitantsı land has been confiscated by the Israelis, and many of the citizens have been forced to leave. On this occasion in that little Christian village, I was sitting in the front row of the church. An elderly woman knelt at the altar just in front of me. All I could hear her saying was, ³_ukran, _ukran, _ukran, _ukran² (³thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you²). A woman who had lost virtually everything, and yet she offered her heartfelt thanks to God.
Just last week, I read about a twelve year old boy in Pakistan. Some of you might have heard his story. Twelve years old would that put him in our youth group or would he still be too young? A group of people had built a fire and they asked this young boy to Renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. How many twelve year olds do you know who have even thought seriously about their faith in Christ, let alone been forced to stand up for it under such dire circumstances? This twelve year old boy refused to compromise. ³How can I Renounce my faith in Jesus Christ?² he asked. So the interrogators threw him into the fire. Miraculously, he survived to tell the story, though he is now covered with burns from head to foot. People like this young boy have a great deal to teach us about commitment. They have lived through it all. They have lost all of their possessions, and they do not have catalogues from which to choose everything in life that they want. And, yet they stand!
Oh, the people of the nations, they bring their glory and their honor into the city. You and I are a part of something infinitely bigger than ourselves, something that spreads from this continent throughout the world. What do the nations bring? More than we can imagine. What an impoverished place heaven would be what an impoverished place this world would be were it not for the wonderful gifts that they bring.
Just watch the parade for a minute. Here come the Africans. They are dancing and bobbing all around. Here come the Americans, carrying their books. They would have been bringing medical supplies as well, but we do not need those anymore in the new Jerusalem. Here come people from the Sudan, Peru, and Indonesia waving their now restored and totally healed arms. Here come the Russians, decked out in their unbelievable paraphernalia, bringing a little incense with them. You and I are members of a global community, and what a stunning sight it is to see ourselves and others from around the world participating in this unbelievable parade!