A World Without Water
July 21, 2013
Back in 2007, flooding in Australia caused an unexpected phenomenon at a local golf course that was only discovered after the bad weather had subsided. As the regulars resumed using the course in the days after the heavy rains, reports began to circulate that some players had spotted sharks in one of the land locked lakes on the course. When their stories were investigated, officials discovered that the reports were not the result of their patrons spending way too much time in the sun—rather, they found that the players were actually telling the truth! There really were sharks now swimming in their lake. You see, the flood waters had swept the animals from their regular habitat into an incredibly unexpected place—the aforementioned land locked golf course lake.
The funny thing about this story is the fact that in the end, the managers of the golf course decided that they really liked having the sharks around. After all, they had been having trouble at the course with area children sneaking into their ponds in order to retrieve the golf balls that littered the bottom. The sharks, however, were a nice, welcomed deterrent to these pint sized and under aged golf ball treasure hunters. So in the end, while they certainly seemed out of place, the golf course took in a new set of mascots – sharks, who had found a welcome new place to call home.
Our text for today is a lot like this real event from Australia. What I mean by this statement is that when you read the first few verses of Revelation chapter 21, there is a certain phrase that, like the golf course sharks, seems amazingly out of place. But, once you think about it and once you learn more about what John meant when he wrote these words that seem so strange, I think we will all find that they are a welcomed and fitting addition to John’s overall message and point that is the first five verses of this chapter.
The phase I am speaking of that at first seems so out of place is the last sentence in verse 1 where John writes, “and the sea was also gone”. This strange statement is made in the midst of John’s description of what we refer to as the New Jerusalem. In essence, what John is describing here for not only his original audience but for believers at all times, is the long expected final dwelling place of God’s people after this life is over. It is a place promised and anticipated. As John describes this place, he gives us a glimpse into an eternity with God where we as God’s followers will ultimately dwell with our Lord. This anticipated future home for God’s people is described by John as a place where all of the things that we hate in this life will be absent. In this ultimate dwelling place, John promises there will be no sadness, there won’t be any crying and there will be no pain. John also says that in that place, the evils of this world will no longer exist anymore.
Then, in the midst of all of these characteristics, John also says, in this same yet-to-come wonderful place, there will also not be any sea either.
No sea? What in the world does that mean? Sure, we appreciate a place where there will no longer be sadness, crying, pain or evil. But, what is so wonderful about a world without a sea? After all, as people living through July, when so many of us are either just coming back from the beach or getting ready to go there, it seems like we would appreciate a future home that is more ocean front rather than sub-Saharan don’t you think?!
Our reaction, however, is common because we no longer have the context of John’s original audience. But, for John’s first hearers, his words about the sea would have been easily understood. Let me explain why. You see, in the Biblical world, few things epitomized human fear like the sea. In that day, sea travel was dangerous, difficult and nowhere near as routine as it is today. In turn, there was a good chance that most of John’s hearers had some personal experience with a tragedy that was connect to the sea.
Also, in that time, the sea served as a mysterious place. There was still much about the deep waters that were not understood or discovered. As a result, when people in John’s day spoke about the place where the greatest monsters, strange beasts and horrors emerged from, that location was often this same mysterious sea.
Finally, traversing the sea was not as common as it is today either. In John’s time folks didn’t hop on planes or easily jump into reliable sea worthy vessels like we do today. Instead, to cross the sea was a much more monumental event and thus the sea was often seen as a major barrier between one group and another. This reality was literally true for John too who as he wrote Revelation was living in exile on the island of Patmos and thus separated from those whom he loved. What served as his major barrier? Why it was the sea.
So, we can easily understand why the sea personified a sense of fear. Again, it was mysterious, still heavily unexplored, dangerous, home to monsters and a major obstacle that often stood between one group of people and another. In light of this, for John to say that there was no more sea was for him to insinuate the removal of a great source of fear for those who either heard or read his words.
We can all embrace this as a good thing. For certainly beyond a place where we don’t have to be sad and a place where we can live without evil afoot or pain, we would all love to live in a place devoid of fear. The New Jerusalem, this ultimate eternal dwelling place for God and God’s people is said to be such a place and this should be welcome, hopeful news for us all.
In light of this great hope, though, the question also comes—between now and then, what should we do with our fears? Without a doubt, in talking about a world devoid of sadness, pain, evil and fear, John begs the question. Until these things exist at all times, how are we to come to grip with their existence right now? When I think about this question, I appreciate very much the words of Chuck Poole whose own reflections on this passage have meant a great deal to me in readying for today.
When asked, how we should live until that day when will we know no fear, Poole suggested that as people of faith we should be committed to two things as we seek to live with our fears. He said that we should first be willing to be honest with each other and that second, we should always allow God to be honest with us. Until we can know no fear, this is the best way for us to live and care for one another as people of faith with fears and I think he is right.. So let me quickly unpack his suggestions.
On the one hand, we must live with our fears by always being honest with each other about them. Our human tendency is to generally play the part of the strong person. We want to act like we are just fine when we are not and we want to suggest that we do not need any help when we really do. As a result, when it comes to our fears, our general response is to simply internalize how we feel and to be unwilling to invite others to be a part of helping us live get beyond these same worries, concerns and anxieties.
In the midst of this natural human response, the scriptures beg us to live counter-culturally. What I mean is that over and over again, the scriptures challenge us that we need one another and part of this need includes sharing with each other our burdens and our fears. Being honest and vulnerable with our fear is not a way of showing our weakness. Rather, it is a way of gaining strength by inviting others to help us carry the load.
On the other hand, we are also reminded that we need to allow God the chance to be honest with us. In the midst of our fears, we must allow God to speak to us about the help God does and does not provide. In such times, God often does not take aware our fears and generally speaking God does not remove the sources of anxiety and worry in our lives. But, God does walk with us, support us and stand by us even in the most harrowing places that we find ourselves traveling. This is the honesty that God provides in the midst of our fears.
The past week was VBS at First Baptist. And, you need to know that it was a great week. We had a tremendous group of children and our volunteers did a fantastic job. One morning, while waiting for the day to begin, I was down in the gym where each day started and I watched a scene that unfolded countless times over the course of this week but that really caught my eye in that particular moment because I was thinking about our time together here today. What I observed was one of our smaller children who was upset. Their parents had dropped them off for the day and they were going through a typical moment for a young child of feeling alone, worried and fearful. As the child began to cry, one of our adults reached down, picked the child up, sat them in her lap, rocking her back and forth. She reminded the child that everything was going to be okay and that she was there to care for her. It was long before the tears were gone.
In my mind, that scene was the epitome of what we can do for each other and what God can do for all of us. We truly can shoulder each other’s pain and bear one another’s burdens. And, we can also allow God to sit us in his lap and wipe away our tears. It comes as we are honest and as we admit that we cannot do this alone. Amen.
Many ideas in this sermon were influenced by Chuck Poole’s words in chapter 1 of his book Don’t Cry Past Tuesday titled “No More Sea.”