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Start with the Ending

Jarrett McLaughlin
“Start With The Ending”
March 29, 2020
Revelation 21:1-5

I know that there’s lots of talk out there about how we can make the most of our social distancing – now that all of our frenetic activity has been taken away we can re-discover a calmer, more natural, more healthy rhythm of life.

That’s a good way to look at things.
AND – there’s also that voice inside me that just screams “WHEN IS ALL OF THIS GOING TO END?!?

Do you know that voice, too?  We’re all coping with COVID-19 as best we can, but I bet we all just want this to be over.  And not just because its inconvenient but because we’re scared.  What will happen to my loved ones?  What will happen to my school or my place of work?  How will I provide for my family?

And of course all of these fears are bouncing around in our head and heart just as we’re told to stay away from the people who hold those feelings with us.  Just this week I was on a call with a number of other clergy in the area and with heavy hearts we made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship through May 17th.  That’s the ENTIRE SPRING!  That’s Easter!

It’s only been two weeks and I just want everybody back here in this Sanctuary where I can lay eyes on you and give hugs and handshakes again.

We really have no idea how long we’re in for here, but already I’m asking ‘when is this going to be over?’

Perhaps that is why I felt drawn to the 21st chapter of Revelation – among the final verses in all Scripture – because sometimes the end of the story is the very best place to begin.  Listen

Revelation 21:1-5a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; 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,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

I have it on good authority that more than a few people in the Church are weathering out these days of social distancing by decamping to the beach.  All I have to say about that is…I’m jealous!

There’s something about the beach – the sound of crashing waves, the surf that carries away all your concerns like the shells that rush out with the riptide.  In these anxious days, is there a better place to be?

And yet – did you catch that detail in the Scripture reading – amidst all of these promises of a new heaven and a new earth where death is no more – mourning and crying disappear – but tucked in there is this little detail “…and the sea was no more.

WHAT?!?  Why?  What does God have against the beach?  If the end of the story doesn’t involve a little ocean-front real estate I can think of more than a few people who might have a problem with that.

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This is where we might need to adjust our thinking and see the world through the eyes of a first century Jewish lens.

With all of our sophisticated research and scientific discovery we take it for granted that the earth is what Carl Sagan called a pale blue dot – one small planet in one tiny corner of space.

But the biblical world-view had no concept of outer space.
To them, there was this world only and everything outside of it was water.

Go back to Genesis 1 – in the beginning the earth was a formless void with darkness covering the face of the deep.  It was an ocean of chaotic nothingness.
That is until God pushes back All that watery chaos to create a space – a womb even – in which life might have a chance against all of that chaos.

So step into that world view for a moment – when you look up at the starry skies, you see water above.  And when you stand at the edge of the ocean – there again is water – dangerous and unpredictable – crashing against everything you know and love.

It’s not unlike those old Navigation maps that would show the lands and seas they had already explored….but often down in the corner there would be a little drawing of a dragon – as if to say “we don’t really know what is down there. So – be afraid.”

And you need only go to the beach with a small child to remember that there is in fact something deeply unsettling about the ocean.  How its waves crash against the sand, creeping up and invading the world we know and love.

These past couple of weeks it has felt like the barrier between creation and chaos has dissolved a bit.  We thought we knew it all – but here we are in the deep end once more.  I wish that I could tell you why we are here or how long we will be here, but I can’t.

All I can do is invite you to affirm with me that there is an end to this story – and it’s good.
I think that’s what it means when the author of Revelation said that the Sea will be no more.
Everything we fear the most dries up in the end.
It will not be a part of God’s new heaven and new earth.

In the meantime, the trick will be to stand strong in the surf.  Like a child eventually plucks up enough courage to wade in to the breakers, we, too, are going to have to learn how to be brave in this new normal.  And if we’re going to do that well, we would do well to start with the end of the story.  Because knowing how it ends sure does help when it gets hard.

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With all of this talk about the ocean my mind drifts to the Navy and particularly the story of vice Admiral James Stockdale.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War by North Vietnam, where he remained in captivity for nearly eight years.  During this time he was routinely beaten and mistreated and placed in solitary confinement.  I can only imagine how awful it was.

Years later – when asked how he coped, Stockdale answered “I never lost faith in the end of the story.”

“The optimists said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

He said
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end…with the discipline to confront the facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

My friends, we’re all living in the unknown right now.  How long will this last?  When will it end?  I wish I knew.
But we do know the end of the story –
It’s the kind of ending that shapes our beginning and all the days in between.

I see that in the way you care for one another if even from a distance.
I see that in the way people show up to ensure children receive meals from the schools.
and in the way you step out into the community to ensure that children are being fed.

I don’t know WHEN this will end.
But I do know that it will end.
And when it does, I pray that we’ll have eyes to see that God has been with us the whole time.  Amen.

Jarrett McLaughlin , Pastor

Email: jarrett@upcch.org

Phone: 919.929.2102 ext. 112

Bio:

Jarrett grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he had a pretty regular childhood – riding bikes around the neighborhood, muddling through school, trying to play various sports (emphasis on try), going through a phase of wearing lots of black in high school, and through it all, always finding a place of welcome in the Church. Jarrett became a “traitor” to his NC State traditioned family when he went to UNC-Chapel Hill for college.  Missing youth group terribly, Jarrett quickly discovered Presbyterian Campus Ministry where, in addition to exploring his call to ministry, he also met Meg. After college, Jarrett served as a youth minister for one year and then spent another year traveling, spending a great deal of time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti living in community with disabled children at Wings of Hope. He then went to Union-PSCE Seminary (now “Union Presbyterian Seminary”) and then went on to serve as an associate pastor for mission and young adult ministry at Village Presbyterian Church in Kansas City.  In June of 2013 Jarrett and Meg accepted a call to serve as co-pastor Heads-of-Staff at Burke Presbyterian Church. In July of 2013 they learned that they would be expecting. In August of 2013 they learned they would be expecting twins.  In September of 2013 they moved and told the Church all of this on their second Sunday. Jarrett is very much looking forward to NOT repeating that pattern as they accept the call to serve University Presbyterian Church. When not engaged at Church, Jarrett enjoys running and hiking.  He is also an obsessive music fan intent on keeping up with independent music of all kinds – reading blogs and record reviews, scoping out live shows and constantly spinning tunes in the car, home or office.  Most of all, Jarrett has a deep passion for the Church as a place of radical welcome and hospitality and tries his best every day to honor the ways he has experienced that in his own life as grace upon grace.