The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - April 24, 2016
Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-6


The Rev. Robert Vodra


     In 1993 I was working at Silver Lake Conference Center, a UCC Camp in Connecticut.  I had been hired, but didnít really have a title, nor a job description.  I had been working there for a few months before the summer started, and did whatever was needed.  When it was still snowing, I plowed snow, shoveled, cooked for weekend groups and cleaned up after they left before the next group came in.  When the weather got warmer, we did more mowing of lawns, and outside work, but the buildings still had to be cleaned and groups still needed food.  When summer arrived, our staff went from 2 during the week, and about 6 on weekends up to about 50.  The camp director sat down with me one day and explained what he wanted me to do.  He had hired a director of the Ecological Task Force, our maintenance staff, who had been working there since 1987, more summers than I had.  But he was more of a follower than a leader.  So he suggested that I attend the morning meetings of the ETF, and work with the director of that group to assign jobs and make sure that things get done.  So being the ETF director without the title, or supporting the ETF director to do his job.   Keith and I got along really well, so we worked very fine together.  The camp director also decided that I could do some special jobs, which he had often done but didnít enjoy.  So I was in charge of filling the soda machine, and a few other special jobs. 

     One thing that we did every night was trash run.  We would start by emptying the trash cans in the dining hall, and then we would go to every building, empty those, and also pick up the trash cans around the camp.  We had this down to a science.  At different times there would be between one and 7 people in the truck.  As we did our slow drive around camp, different people would jump out of the back and run to a building, pull the trash and bring it up to the road, when we came back by, they would be waiting by the side of the road, throw the trash in, jump in and then jump out when they needed to slip through the woods, to get to the next area before the truck got there. 

     Once all the trash was collected we went down to the dumpster.  We would back up to it and start throwing trash it.  The truck was shut off, and an old worn Bible was pulled off the dash.  As soon as the last bag was thrown into the dumpster, we would start talking about what we wanted to ask Scooter that night.  Scooter, or The Rev. Walter Pittman was our chaplain at camp that summer.  And we would come up with something to ask him.  He had said at the start of the summer that while he was there for the campers, he was also there for the staff, so we felt a certain obligation to try to come up with the deepest theological questions we could.  While some did come from the Old Testament, pretty much any chapter in the book of Revelation would raise all sorts of questions for us.  When we arrived back at the loading dock behind the kitchen, Scooter would be sitting waiting for us.  And we would ask our questions. 

     ďSo Scooter, we were just down at the dumpster, doing a little reading and we came across this passage.  We are interested in what this all means.Ē  By this point in the evening, once we had finished the trash run, camp was starting to get quieter.  Often one group would be having a campfire, maybe another group was playing games, and we would pull up some milk crates and he would start to teach.  The last job of the evening was after all the kids had gone to bed, we would walk quietly through camp shutting off most of the outside lights, leaving just enough on so a child could find the bathroom in the middle of the night if they needed to.  So we had a couple hours until that had to be done.  Once most of the kids were in bed, we would go into the kitchen, get out the big 5 gallon pails of ice cream, and big serving bowls.   We would each get a big bowl of ice cream, but other than that we were interested in what Scooter had to say.  That summer, this became our normal evening ritual.

     We were very interested in the end of the world.  What does the Bible say will happen?  Will God return, judge us, separate the sheep from the goats?  Will there we wars, and floods and total destruction?  Scooter seemed to like the passage we read this morning.  A new heaven and a new earth.

     We were all in our later teens or early 20ís, so immortal.  You know, we were all that way once, and some of us have some scars to show from that time in our lives.  So the end of the world was really the only thing that could end our lives.  But I have grown older now, and I know that at some point my life is going to end.  Hopefully a long time from now, but realistically there is a greater chance that I will die before I get to see whatever God has in store for the end of the world.  Jesus said that that end is coming, and the John who wrote the book of Revelation, who is probably not the same John that wrote the book of John, sees another possible vision. 

     A common belief is that when we die we go to heaven, hopefully, and live with God.  There are many verses in our Bible that support that view.  Jesus talks about many rooms in my fatherís house.  And it is a big mystery.  There are also many who believe that the world will end someday.  I guess most of us feel that someday something will happen that will cause life to cease on this planet.  If it is nuclear war, or we run out of clean water, clean air, or even the sun will implode or explode or just burn out.  We are making small steps to do things better, but I use natural gas to heat my home, most of us use oil.  I do produce my own electric when the sun is shining, but when it is not I rely on the big coal burning power plant in Bow to provide my electric power.  I use gas in my cars.  All finite, non-renewable resources.  I am also a consumer, I buy things in stores that are overly packed, and a lot of that packaging goes into landfills.  Or course I do try to recycle what I can.  Bottles, cans, paper and plastic all go into my recycling bin at my home. 

     This is not a new thing that people have thought about.  Even in ancient times we knew that the sun will someday burn out.  While I strongly support doing everything we can to save the earth for our children or grandchildren, there are things that are beyond our control, and someday, somehow the world will end.  Just as we donít know what happens when we die, we also donít know what will happen when our world ends. 

     We donít want to believe that someday the sun will go out, and that will be the end.  We believe in a God that loves us, and we want to believe that individually there is something after we die, and as a human race, that even when the earth ceases to exist as we know it, there is something more. 

     You can spend a lot of time worrying about this if you want to.  Academically it is interesting, but I want to try to look at the book of Revelation and symbolism of what might happen before that time.  Now some of this is hard to even imagine, but rather than the end time, what if God is talking about now. 

     I have talked some since I arrived about the Kingdom of God.  Many equate Kingdom of God as heaven, which could be true, but I also believe that the Kingdom of God is something that we should be striving for today.  I also cringe a bit when I hear about people being good so that they will go to heaven when they die.  Maybe the Kingdom of God is not heaven, or someplace we do when we die, but maybe it is here. 

     Oh sure, life is not perfect.  We all know that.   We are met with disappointments, unfulfilled dreams, pain, even suffering.  But honestly, life is pretty good.  We are alive, we are breathing, we all have some eyesight, we all have some hearing, we can all feel the warmth of the sun on our faces.  Rather than focusing on what will happen someday, we have the opportunity to do things today. 

     What will the Kingdom of God look like?  It is a place, in my mind, where all are fed, all have clean air and water, all have shelter, all have medical care.  A place where we do things for each other, not because we have to, but because we want to.  A place where all are respected and all life is treasured.  A place where we can openly share ideas and feelings, and not be judged. 

     Could the church be a place where we can catch a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is? 

     Last year when I was working in Mason, I found the best way to get to church was to go on a toll road.  It was only 50 cents, I would pay in Hooksett and then drive South.  So I had a little pile of quarters on my dresser and on Sunday morning, as I was leaving I would grab two quarters and head out.  When I got to the toll booth I would give them my 50 cents, say ďThank youĒ and drive onto the highway.  One Sunday morning I got to the toll booth, donít remember anyone in front of me, but the attendant at the toll booth said ďThe person in front paid for you.Ē  What are you talking about, I pay 50 cents every time I make this drive, I donít know the person in front of me.  I donít even see a car in front of me.Ē 

     It was amazing to me what that small gesture meant to me.  It was 50 cents.  Not even enough for a cup of coffee.  But wow, someone who didnít know me, didnít know anything about me, did something nice for me.  And it was not that big a deal.  So having it done to me, I decided to do it for others.  Not every week, but maybe once a month after that, rather than grabbing my two quarters off the dresser, I made sure I had a dollar bill in my wallet.  When I drove through I gave them the dollar, this is for me and the person behind me.  I donít know who was behind me.  Many had those little electronic things so didnít even stop, but whoever was behind me that didnít have that little electronic thing got their toll paid.  And my only hope is that it put a smile on their face. 

     So what if John was taking in his book not about what will happen someday, but what could happen.  I can see a new heaven and new earth.  I can see us creating space in our lives for God, a place for God to dwell among us.  I can see God making all things new.  I can see a place where God truly is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  And I believe that the church can truly be a place where that new world starts to show.  Maybe we are called to help bring around this Kingdom of God, not in some way of wars and natural disasters, but in small ways that add up and can change peopleís lives. 

     Yesterday we had our Spring Fling.  This was an opportunity to show our welcome to everyone in town.  And we have so much to offer.  When we arrived in New Hampshire we didnít know anyone.  Glenn was in Kindergarten and Collin was not quite a year old, not even walking yet.  This is a stressful time for parents.  Collin was starting on solid foods, but still waking up at all hours of the day and night wanting food, a dry diaper or just attention.  Glenn could not read yet, and was not great at entertaining himself.  We didnít have any family in the area.  We were ďon dutyĒ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We started to go to church, and the first several weeks we kept the boys with us.  After we got more comfortable we brought Collin down to the nursery.  Glenn started going to Sunday School, most weeks.  One week the boys went downstairs, I looked over at Keri and whispered ďWe are alone.Ē  We know that for the next 45 minutes, unless something big happens, they are being cared for, and we are not on.   That can be a huge gift to stressed parents, as it was for me.  We host a toddlerís program at the community house, we host AA or NA meetings, girl scouts meet here, we have the food pantry, we have humanitarian aid we can give to people who need it.  We can be the start of a new heaven and a new earth. 

     Some of Johnís visions are hard to understand, and hard to even imagine.  Even after many hours questioning Scooter, I still donít understand it all.  But I do have fond memories of big bowls of ice cream, long talks while sitting in milk crates late into the evening, and wondering what the future would be like.  I am no longer as concerned as I was at one point about what will happen in the future, but I am becoming more and more concerned about what I can do today, tomorrow and in the near future to imagine the Kingdom of God can be, and what I can do to help make it a reality, as much as I am able.