Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living

Sing a New Song:  “Sing New Creation”

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Isaiah 49:8-13; Revelation 7:9-17

February 12, 2023


Isaiah 49:8-13

Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you,   on a day of salvation I have helped you; have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out’, to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’

They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road and my highways shall be raised up. Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west,  and these from the land of Syene.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones. 


Our theme for this month has been Sing a New Song. Today’s theme is Sing New Creation, with a text from Revelation. Revelation is an odd book of apocalyptic literature.

As Vernon Gramling shared in his blog this week: Apocalypse literally means an unveiling—a revealing of God’s presence in the world. As we will hear in our text for today, Revelation is full of symbolism.

Revelation is to be understood sort of like an abstract painting, with some symbols clearly representative and other symbols evoking our imagination. The Lamb on the throne is, of course, Jesus Christ.

 The four living creatures represent the four gospels. Elsewhere in Revelation, the great beast from the sea represents the Roman Navy. This odd book of Revelation was written during a time of Roman persecutions, when the powers of Rome oppressed and exploited any person or nation who opposed them. Revelation was written to sustain people who were suffering,  written to give hope in a desperate time.   If all we are doing today is preparing to sit down on a comfortable sofa in a warm and dry home to watch the Super Bowl, the words of Revelation could seem distant and unrelatable. 

These words would be better understood at the site of the earthquake in Turkey, or on the front lines of the war in Ukraine, or perhaps on the cold and wet sidewalks of Decatur for those who have nowhere else to sleep. 

Hear the Word of God from Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’

Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;  the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

There will always be a gap between how things are and how they could be, a gap between current reality and the good intentions God has for humankind. The supposed author of Revelation, John, was in exile on the island of Patmos. Living in a cave, witness to the brutality of a Roman prison, witness to the oppression and exploitation of an empire.  He receives a vision of life to come, a vision beyond the limitations of this world, a vision of a New Jerusalem descending from heaven.

“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.’” (Revelation 21:3-4)

At the heart of the vision is that the comforting and protecting presence of God would be with the people always.  There would be no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem. This, at first, may seem odd, since the temple was seen as the locus of God, the place where God dwelt.

But in John’s vision, God himself is the temple, ever-present throughout the city, always with us, always keeping us from harm, always calling us to worship. This vision gives new meaning to the word Emmanuel, God with us.

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal….

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Rev. 21)


John’s vision of the end times, for the coming together of heaven and earth, was a great multitude of people worshiping, singing praise to the Lamb on the throne. There would thousands from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, but also a countless number of people from all over the world, from every tribe and nation and language. All the people, dressed in white robes, singing songs of praise before the throne of God, with angels and archangels, a great multitude of people from every land and tongue.

A friend confessed to me the other day that they just didn’t get Revelation. If heaven is going to consist of everybody just standing around in white robes singing hymns all day, they weren’t so sure that’s where they wanted to go.

John’s other-worldly vision is probably not meant to be taken so literally.  I suppose when one is exiled in a cave on an island, mostly alone and afraid, the vision of a clean and well-fed congregation looked pretty good to John.

 And John’s visions have inspired all sorts of apocalyptic literature over the centuries.  There are many forms of new creation songs, some that could be taken quite literally. Take, for example, one of the most famous visions of new creation from the 20th century. John Lennon, formerly of the Beatles, released the song “Imagine” in 1971, at the end of a traumatic and divisive decade, in the midst of the Vietnam War, not long after the assassination of the Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Kennedys. 

“Imagine” was Lennon’s best-selling single of his solo career. The lyrics of the song encourage listeners to imagine a world of peace, without materialism, without borders separating nations, and without religion.

While one of the most popular and performed songs of the last fifty years, including its use at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, the song was not without controversy.

 Specifically, the words asking everyone to imagine “no religion too” sparked an uproar in some circles. Yet, if we look closely, perhaps this imagining of a world with no religion is not far from the vision of John outlined in Revelation.

Shortly before his death, Lennon said that much of the song’s lyrics and content came from his wife, Yoko Ono. When asked about the song’s meaning during a December 1980 interview… Lennon told the story that a friend had given Ono and him a Christian prayer book, which inspired him the concept behind “Imagine”. The concept of positive prayer … If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion—not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing—then it can be true … the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?”

That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.” (

During the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lennon’s son Julian Lennon  for the first time covered his father’s song, calling on world leaders and everyone who believes in the song’s sentiment of hope and peace to stand up for refugees.

Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too

Imagine all the people Livin’ life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people Sharing all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will live as one

Ranked as one the greatest songs of our modern era, one reporter described the song as “an enduring hymn of solace and promise that has carried us through extreme grief, from the shock of Lennon’s own death in 1980 to the unspeakable horror of September 11th. It is now impossible to imagine a world without ‘Imagine’, and we need it more than (Lennon could have) ever dreamed.”

On Wednesday, in our Faithful Living class, we talked about what would compose an ideal community of people. What would be the characteristics of an ideal human community? Someone said kindness and welcome. Another said sharing with others, so that everyone had enough.  Someone said a diversity of people and mutual respect. Another said “love – of course there would be love.”

Then we explored a hymn written by an American Roman Catholic and Medical Mission Sister named Miriam Therese Winter. Her hymn, O For a World, is based on 1 Corinthians and was written in 1982 for the the Presbyterian Women’s Triennial Conference.

The hymn acknowledges the gap between how life is and how life could be.

O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways,

Where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.

O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved,

Where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.

We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice,

That opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.

The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise,

Tell all who mourn; outcasts belong, who perishes will rise.

O for a world preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace,

Where time and tears will be no more, and all but love will cease.


Singing such songs of new creation can bring hope in the midst of despair. Such songs can be not only comfort in our distress, but also a call to action. When we sing songs of new creation, we can experience a foretaste of God’s beloved community, even if only for a moment. 

Behind all the glitz and glitter and other distractions of tonight’s Super Bowl, we remain a world desperately in need. There are still those who hunger and those who thirst. There are still those who face scorching heat and biting cold. There are still those whose eyes are full of tears, and those who have no shepherd to guide them to springs of living waters.

In our own individual lives and the life of the world, there remains a tremendous gap between what is and what could be. So let our songs be sung. Long after the season is over and the score is forgotten and all the bets are settled, let us sing songs of God’s new creation.

Let us continue to look to God to make all things new, and strive to do our own little part in the gap between what is and what shall be.



Rev. Dr. Todd Speed

Decatur Presbyterian Church

Decatur, Georgia