The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring”. (Common English Bible)
I don’t often preach from Revelation, but this familiar passage transmits the vision of hope that we need in the midst of the pandemic. God will wipe away every tear, will dwell with us, DOES dwell with us through Christ, and invites us into partnership as co-creators of God’s realm.
I reread the whole of Revelation a couple of years ago, and it occurred to me that it actually reads like Harry Potter with all kinds of magical beasts, battles of good and evil, dark arts, and the rest. And it provides the beautiful vision that I just read.
The New Jerusalem probably isn’t going to descend from the clouds. In fact, I would claim that it is here, at least in part, for those who have eyes to see it. That vision of a new heaven and a new earth is the kingdom of God writ large. It is the realm that Jesus proclaimed in his preaching and that Luke’s gospel says is already among us. The eschaton, or the final chapter in God’s intention for us, could be violent battle (as described in Revelation) or it could be nonviolent, marked by justice and by peace. Which of those visions is congruent with Jesus’ vision for the world? Didn’t the kingdom of God he proclaimed begin with his pronouncement, and doesn’t it continue with us today? It is clearly not here in its fullness, but it is unfolding across the millennia.
I had an interesting email conversation with one of our members last week, and he appropriately challenged something I wrote in my reflection last Tuesday about seeing a world not of “us and them,” but that we all are “us.” And I think it is so easy to focus on the negatives in our culture (like people protesting against Larimer County’s Health Department, which is trying to keep us safe and alive). But there is more to the story. Aren’t we Christians called to faith, hope, and love? To love our enemies? Even in the face of violence, that is the story I try to live out, if for no other reason, it feels deeply right, and helps build a tiny piece of the kingdom…maybe just the size of a Lego brick, but many bricks build God’s realm. And we need everyone to add a brick.
This is what our mission statement at Plymouth says about that: “It is our mission to worship God and help make God’s realm visible in the lives of people individually and collectively. We do this by inviting, transforming, and sending.” Making God’s realm visible. That’s at the crux of John’s vision of a New Jerusalem.
If you are here this morning or watching online, somehow, you have been invited. Someone told you about Plymouth, or you were invited by our website or a Google search or by our sign on Prospect or Lake Street. Somehow, you’ve been invited in, and invited to eat at Christ’s table.
At some point or points in your life, or at some point in the future, the pattern of your life will be changed by your faith in God. That transformation may be subtle, or it may be a lightning bolt or a two-by-four applies to the side of your head by the movement of the Holy Spirit. It may mean being born again…and again…and again. Think for a moment: How has your life been transformed, or how do you want it to be transformed?
And you have been or will be sent forth to engage others in the spread of God’s realm of justice, peace, and love. The word mission has as its Latin root the noun missio, which means “sending.” Mission is the third component part of Plymouth’s mission statement: getting out there and doing God’s work.
Some of that is what you heard Bobbi describe this morning, and it is something you can support at our Alternative Giving Fair on November 21…just two weeks away! There are all kinds of ways that you can be a part of sending support from Plymouth across the world or down the block in support of mission. (And none of this Christmas gift-giving will be affected by container-ship backups at ports in California.)
There are also all kinds of ways that your regular giving to Plymouth supports our mission: Your gifts made our livestream possible. And we even supported smaller congregations in the Rocky Mountain Conference with simple video broadcast equipment as the pandemic broke out. Plymouth is the largest donor to the Interfaith Council of Fort Collins, (which supports many community organizations) and to Our Church’s Wider Mission, which supports the justice work of the national church, In the Mud grants throughout the conference, as well as new programs and staff in antiracism.
And we have hands-on opportunities for making a difference as well, whether through Habitat builds, being a Stephen Minister, supplying international students with furnishings, working for sane gun laws and immigration reform, or helping with the Giving Fair. Next month, our teens will again be sleeping out on Plymouth’s front lawn…last year they raised over $30,000 for homelessness prevention.
One of the pitfalls that some of us may fall into is in thinking that we have to do it all…that saving the world is our job alone. Of course, that isn’t realistic, and it’s also not theologically sound. When Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is among you,” he is using the second person plural, and if he was from the South, he’d have said, “The kingdom of God is among Y’ALL!” Being a co-creator of the realm of God isn’t primarily about what I do, but about what WE do together. Plymouth cannot answer all the needs of Fort Collins, so our focus tends to be on areas that other congregations cannot or will not do. Clearly not every congregation will address LGBTQ concerns, immigration justice, housing insecurity, or gun violence…but we do! We do the work that others can’t or won’t.
Our new Strategic Plan talks about us embodying Beloved Community and building new bridges to the community, especially to CSU. That is mission! Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are continuing to work for God’s realm in larger and smaller ways.
One of our late members, Bob Calkins, was a warm and wise man. Whenever I tended to over-complicate things theologically, he would say, “Hal, it’s all about LOVE.” I still hear him saying that to me when I get caught up in the details. And “sending” is about showing and sharing our love.
Valerie Kaur, a wise Sikh writer and civil rights activist, says, “Love is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving — a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. This labor engages all our emotions. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger protects that which is loved. And when we have reached our limit, wonder is the act that returns us to love. Revolutionary love is the choice to enter into wonder and labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us.”
You and I don’t have to do it all. We have companions on this journey, and we have God with us every step of the way to guide us, love us, give us hope. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. You just need to take your Lego brick and find a way to put it to good use in building God’s realm.
© 2021 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Luke 17.20
 Valerie Kaur, See No Stranger (NY: One World, 2020), p. xv.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.