I invite you to look at the drawing on the screen.
What was the first thing you saw in the drawing? How many of you first saw a vase? How many of you first saw two people staring at each other?
Let’s put another picture on the screen and tell me what you see?
How many of you see an elderly woman? How many of you see a young woman? When our family looked at this picture together, it took me several minutes before I was able to see the young woman.
For those of you who want more time to look at these pictures, I’ll have them posted on my Nikos blog later today. The address for my blog is provided in your sermon outline.
Sometimes, it’s a challenge to see a particular picture when in reality there is more than one picture for us to see.
Our scripture reading from the book of Revelation invites us to see things in a new way. The word “see” or a variation of that word is used four times in just six verses.
The disciple, John in describing his heavenly vision begins by saying that he saw a new heaven and a new earth.
He then tells us that he saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.
A loud voice focuses on the importance of seeing by saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.”
And Jesus, the one who is seated on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new.”
The Book of Revelation is appropriately named. It is a revelation of God’s final victory when heaven and earth will be made new. The word “Revelation” comes from the word, “reveal.” John is revealing a new world that is made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. John is helping us to look at the world in a new way.
John asks us, “Can you see it? It’s a place where God will dwell with us forever. It’s a place where there will be no more tears. Picture a place where there is no more mourning, crying or pain. This is the picture that John wants us to see, a world that is redeemed by God.
John wrote this letter of Revelation to the seven churches that were located in Asia Minor. Faced with persecution and despair, these churches needed this picture of hope.
And so do we even right here in Lancaster, Ohio where we see so much poverty all around us. Our church does incredible work in our community as we provide meals three days a week and assist people in finding the resources they need, but we are still left with a picture of so many who are struggling to get by.
This has been my picture for a long time until one day last spring when the pastor at First Presbyterian Church, just down the block and I had lunch together. He asked me how I felt about the problem of poverty in our community. I told him what I just shared with you. I said that our churches do a lot of good, but it seems like something more can be done to get at the root of the problem. He nodded his head in agreement. This is the picture of our community that we know all too well.
But then he offered a different picture, a picture that included hope and real transformation. With great excitement, he shared with me about a program that many communities across the country are using with great success called “Sharing Hope.” It’s a program to help everyone better understand the culture of poverty so that across socio-economic lines, people can work together to help end the root causes of poverty.
This summer, some people in our community, including Brenda Shamblin who is part of our congregation, visited this program in action in Springfield, Ohio. Our visit on that summer day included a community dinner and a small group discussion on ways of helping a community overcome poverty.
One of the staff members of this program shares an incredible story in his journey out of poverty. His name is Carlos Guajardo. Born into generational poverty, he was taught to steal at the age of four by his father who was abusive to his mother. After Carlos and his mother left his father, he recalls staying in homeless shelters and strangers’ homes.
He would often go hungry because they just didn’t have any means of support. At six, he was taken into foster care and became very isolated because of his feelings of abandonment. He didn’t like social workers since they took him away from his mother. He viewed college students as stuck-up people. For thirteen years, Carlos was a drug addict because in his words, it took the pain away both internally and externally. Many times he slept in his car at night and sometimes he didn’t have his own car. He had no idea of the horrible path he was following.
His life turned around through the “Bridges Out of Poverty” program there in Springfield. The program helped Carlos to see a different picture. It was a picture of measurable goals, how to build relationships, and new attitudes to help him overcome poverty.
What makes “Sharing Hope” unique from other programs is that it’s not about people doing for the poor or doing anything to the poor, but it’s about the community doing something with the poor. This is the new and exciting picture that is beginning to take shape in our Lancaster community. I invite us to pray about this new possibility that can make a big difference in our community and I hope that as this program takes shape that many of us will be ready and willing to build relationships with the poor and together, help end poverty.
When John shared his revelation, his picture of new heavens and a new earth with those seven churches, I have to believe that it had a huge impact on them. I have to think that this different picture of hope is what helped them to not give up and to stay faithful as God’s people.
After all, isn’t that what saints are? People who don’t know the meaning of the word, “quit.” People who just won’t give up because they believe in a God who won’t give up.
And so today, I thank God for all of our saints represented by these candles. Because of them, we can see a new picture, a picture that is filled with the hope of Jesus Christ. Can you see it?
I have one more picture to show you. Before we put it up on the screen, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to stare at the center of the picture for 45 seconds. Don’t look away during that time. Stare at the center of the picture you’re about to see for 45 seconds. I’ll tell you when 45 seconds are over. After you’re done staring at the picture, I want you to immediately stare at something near you, and a new picture will take shape in your mind.
This is the picture that will enable us to bring transformation to our community and world.
Here’s the picture on the screen. Stare at the middle of this picture for 45 seconds. I’ll tell you when 45 seconds is over and what to do next. Ready, go!
OK, now look away from the screen and stare at something else near you. Give this a few seconds…
Can you see it?