There’s Always a Next Chapter

The Legoland hotel, one of our favorite spots for vacation, has an open lobby area with a stage, TV, and huge lego bins for playing. Kids can run around freely, exploring cubbies and alcoves made kid-sized with lots of Legos available for building. 

By good luck, we once scheduled our vacation days there at the same time as two other couples who are friends of ours. The husbands are also pastors in our Annual Conference and they are in my clergy covenant, or S3, group. In the evenings, after having been out at the park riding rides, we would gather in these lobbies to talk, enjoy each other’s company, and let our kids run off what energy they had left. 

One night, Carter ran by me, wielding a foam spear-like weapon from Lego Ninjango that he’d purchased from the gift shop.  He was chasing after one of the other kids, who was shooting something back at Carter. I paused and asked Carter what they were playing. He said, “Dad, we’re playing the apocalypse. Duh.” I said to Carter, “what is the apocalypse?” He said, “Dad! The end of the world!” And then he ran off.

Playing the apocalypse. 

We think of the apocalypse as the end of the world. That’s not a very good definition of apocalypse; not theologically speaking, but that’s how we often conceive of it: a fire-laden, war-torn, world that eventually is destroyed under the weight of its own evil. We think of the book of Revelation that way, too, painting a picture of a world that comes to an end with God wielding weapons of war to vanquish foes who fight for the forces of evil, like Carter chasing his friend with his Lego Ninjango spear.

If we think of the world as coming to this kind of end, then we think of the world as descending, however gradually, toward chaos and destruction; a negative worldview. It’s a worldview that’s easy to adopt because it fits the narrative around us. Our media consumption and the stories we hear often convey that the world is descending to the lake of fire. We hear that worldview when we hear comments like: “things just seem to get worse” or “people aren’t like they used to be” or “I guess that’s just the way the world is now” or “you just can’t trust people anymore.” 

And here’s the question for us this morning: is that negative worldview Christian? 

To get at that question, let’s hear from near the end of the book of Revelation. We’re reading from chapter 21.


Until that last verse, this is a beautiful scene of God restoring the world, bringing forth the promised New Jerusalem.

But if we had read chapters four through twenty in Revelation, where we learn about the beast and the armies of evil and the armies of God and the like, we might think that the world is descending to chaos, with this glimmer of hope given to us at the end; reason to hold that negative world view.

We’re very aware that the world slides toward chaos. We know it from our own lived experiences. We’re given plenty of reason in the news daily for that, no matter where we get our news. But we also know it from the loss of relationship, from financial loss, from family disputes, from terrible diagnoses in our health, from tragedy and loss, from heartbreak and fear. 

I thought of this as I watched the news out of Ukraine this week. The pictures are heartbreaking, but there was this one picture that got me: an old man, bent over his cane, walking past the rubble that was his apartment building. His world definitely descended into chaos. We see suffering on a regular basis and we also see the world’s inability to adequately and fully address that suffering.

The world sometimes seems to be descending toward chaos. Is that negative worldview Christian?

The singer Bono is well acquainted with suffering and hardship from his upbringing. He grew up in Belfast, a city torn-up by the fighting that used to be nearly constant in Northern Ireland. His birthplace, like many places in the world, has divisions that can be known by the name of the street where you grew up. He hates the way that divides people and causes them to see you as rich, poor, snobbish, down to earth, a common laborer or a professional, and especially in his case in Northern Ireland, as Catholic or Protestant.

It’s to this that he refers in his band U2’s classic hit titled, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” He writes: “Where the streets have no name/We’re still building then burning down love/Burning down love/And when I go there, I go there with you/It’s all I can do.” He knows what it is to be trapped in a cycle of violence, of trying to build something only to watch it be burned down by forces beyond your control. 

And yet, the song also wants its listeners to imagine that a different world is possible, one where streets aren’t marked by names that create divisions. Imagine Macon without street names defining who we are by where we live. For Bono, there’s hope in thinking that the world could be free of its divisions, united in equality.  

This is the power of music. It can inspire us to see the world differently. It’s why we sing in worship. Singing connects different parts of our psyche together in ways that just listening to music or just speaking words cannot. There’s power there, and when we hear that alternate vision for the world, it can be inspiring. 

But the question remains: is Bono’s notion of a world without street names, a world of equality, just pie-in-the-sky notions of what the world can be? Because the world seems to be descending to chaos, so is there any truth behind what U2 sings? 

What is the Christian perspective on the nature of the world? Descending to chaos? Heaven as a place on earth? Building a place where the streets have no name? Or enduring until it all blows up?

What is the right Christian worldview?

Let’s go back to scripture for the answer. 

After sixteen chapters of mostly doom and gloom, chapter 21 of Revelation opens with a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. “Behold,” God says, “I make all things new!” God has recreated, bringing about the New Jerusalem. If we had kept reading past the lake of fire we would discover that this New Jerusalem is the restoration of the Garden of Eden. It’s lush and contains many descriptions similar to what we find in Genesis 2 and 3. 

In this New Jerusalem, we hear Jesus saying in what we read this morning, “See, the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; 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.” 

Death will be no more. Suffering will be no more. Pain will be no more. Mourning will be no more. That’s the reality after the world has ended. That’s the reality in the New Jerusalem described here. What a wonderful thing to look forward to! 

But, are we just looking forward to it? The end of death, the end of suffering, release from fear and pain, God as comforter, all that ought to sound very familiar.

At funerals, I open with these words: “Dying, Christ destroyed our death, rising, Christ restored our life, Christ will come again.” I then go on to say, “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died and behold, I am alive forever more, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you also shall live.’” 

That is not a declaration of something that is only to come one day. It’s a declaration of a here and now reality. The words I share at every funeral, the words printed starting on page 870 of the hymnal in front of you and every United Methodist Hymnal, share that these words from Revelation 21 are a here and now reality, not just one we wait for. 

What are we to make of this? 

Here, in Revelation, God declares that the new heaven and new earth will be a place of release from suffering and death. But in our funerals, and from this pulpit, we declare in our faith that we can know today release from suffering and death and that death, for our loved ones, is not the final word. But we are also aware that death still happens, pain and suffering happen; the world is not free of those.

It’s clear that the world is not merely descending to chaos. If it was, we could not declare at funerals that those who believe in Christ, even though they die, yet shall they live. We could not declare that there’s comfort to be found in the midst of death. We could not declare that God is our comforter, wiping away our tears, releasing us from mourning, crying, and pain. If that wasn’t a here and now reality, we could not declare with faith these things to be true. 

This means that a perspective on the world that only believes the world is descending to chaos, that the world is only getting worse, that you just can’t trust people anymore and things will never be what they once were; that negative worldview is not Christian because God is in the midst of our world, wiping our tears, restoring what was broken, even in death, and releasing us from suffering.

Like those children from the intro to this sermon, we play apocalypse when we believe the world is only descending to chaos, giving into the vision of the world that evil itself has cast: a vision that says things can only get worse. It’s a vision straight from evil itself because it says there’s no hope.

So there’s the first answer to our question: a negative worldview is not Christian.

So what is the right Christian worldview?

Here in scripture, we know that no matter the chaos that ensues, and no matter the apocalypses we may know where our worlds seem to come to a chaotic end, there’s a next chapter, a chapter 21, a final word that God has. A final word of release from suffering and death, of comfort, of restoration as God makes things new. 

And that is our hope. There’s always a next chapter after chaos and destruction and death because God always, always, has the final word.

Not just in the future, but now. When Jesus came, died, and rose again, Jesus brought a bit of heaven to earth. We can know release from death, from human suffering, now. We can know freedom from fear, we can know order when chaos abounds, we can know love when hate seems to be winning, we can know all of these things and more because Jesus has provided them and brought them into the world, now.

God makes us new, now. We celebrate that at baptism, just as we did earlier this morning. We remember and celebrate that when someone joins the church and professes their faith in Jesus Christ. We remember and celebrate that at confirmation. As Methodists, we believe that receiving communion renews us by imparting grace into our lives; we are made new again when we come to the Table. 

For the world, there’s a next chapter. And in our lives, too, there’s a next chapter. Evil will not have the final say, the terrible and challenging things that happen in our lives will not have the final world, not even death gets to have the last word! God is among us, moving in power, redeeming the evils we know and bringing about goodness out of the bad things that happen in our lives. 

So what is the right Christian worldview? 

It’s to see the world through the eyes of hope; a hope born of knowing there’s a next chapter for all of us: in our lives and in our world.

It’s the hope we hear when God says, “Behold! I make all things new.”

We must place this story of the New Jerusalem, here in Revelation 21, as our worldview, rather than some fiery apocalypse. Because when we focus on the apocalypse, we believe that the world is marked by chaos and that evil is winning. There will be evil in the world, there will be terrible things that happen, and sometimes things will get worse. The question is not whether or not bad things happen, they do; the question is whether or not those bad things have the final word, they do not. God has the final word.

When we focus on the restoration of the world, one happening now and one that will happen in fullness in the future, we believe that the world is marked by God’s redemption, by God making all things new, and thus God is winning. 

We, as Christians, are to be ambassadors of this reality. The world gives plenty of reason to think that it is descending only to chaos. We know better.  

So when tempted to believe that the world is only getting worse, hear the bellowing words of God, “behold! I make all things new.” God is redeeming this world; a fancy theological word that means God is making new, good, things out of the old, bad, things. Look for that redemption. See it in the life that’s changed for the better. See it in the apology that comes out of the blue and restores a relationship. See it in the life lessons learned from setbacks. See it in the random acts of kindness. See it in the cards you receive in the mail. See it in the provision that comes out of the blue. See it in your relationship with God.

When you’re suffering and in the midst of chaos, when there’s destruction and death and difficulty and disaster around you, hear God saying to you, “I’m writing your next chapter right now. Behold! I make all things new.” God will make new, will renew, the evil you know now, and it will not have the final word.

And then, when you’ve seen that, in fact, God’s home is among mortals and death is no more and mourning and crying and pain do not have the final world; when you’ve seen that sometimes heaven is in fact a place on earth, when you can testify to how God has written your next chapter, go and bring relief to others. Go and walk into their suffering. 

We have the power to bring hope into this world, to be a people of hope, to establish that there’s reason not only to hope for a better future, but to celebrate that God is making it so! But to be those ambassadors of hope, we must first believe ourselves that there’s a next chapter; that evil and death and chaos and destruction do not have the final word. In that statement, a statement that we’ll sing in our final hymn this morning, God declares that God alone will have the final word: “Behold! I make all things new.”

So let us, as individuals and as a church, be ambassadors of the reality that there is hope in the world; there is a next chapter. God is in our midst, making all things new. No matter the evil we know, we have reason to hope. 

God is writing our next chapter right now. Hope is the Christian worldview. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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