The Sunday Sermon: Seventh Sunday of Easter – June 2, 2019
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-2a, 22:1-5
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Far As the Curse is Found
These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent an angel to tell us what must soon take place. Listen to these Words of God.
In the beginning: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east … out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also, in the midst of the garden … a river flows out of Eden to water the garden … The Lord God took the (the human beings) and put (them) in the garden to till it and to keep it.” (Genesis 2:8-15)
From the Books of Moses: “You (will) cross over the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you … a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of you ancestors, promised you.” (Deuteronomy 27:2-3)
In the words of the Prophets: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, and neither shall they learn war not more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
The wolf shall live with the Lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them … They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind … (My people) shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall build vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat … they shall not labor in vain.” (Isaiah 65:17, 21-23)
In the Gospels: “Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:1-10)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor … The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or “There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 4:18-19, 17:20-21)
From the letters: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through which we have obtained access to this grace in which we now stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2
“Our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20)
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)
Pray with me. And now listen to the Word of God from the Revelation of John. Read Revelation 21:1-2a, 22:1-6. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In all these opening words, these opening readings, we traveled through a scriptural journey, not exhaustive by any means, but a journey through the alpha and omega of God’s kingdom on earth – what was, what is, and what is to come.
According to our biblical interpretation of the worlds (plural) of God and of human beings, humanity distorted itself in the very beginning by rebellion against creation, wanting to be its own “God” and wanting to control the destiny of all, including fellow humans. When this separation happened, the ancients wrote, the world itself felt the blow – the Fall our interpreters have called it for millennia. The vision of John of Patmos that we’ve been journeying toward this Eastertide season on our way to Pentecost next week, the vision that we stepped into last week, pictures a purified and redeemed humanity and the return of a “fallen” world through the coming of a new heaven on this earth.
But here’s the thing: There’s nothing new about it! ‘Twas ever thus.
Whatever interpretation we give to the first three chapters of the fist book of our Bible, it nowhere suggests that the “Garden of Eden,” heaven on earth, disappeared. It got forgotten, lost, driven out. But it has always been here, a part of the good creation, a part of the creatures, including the bewildering creatures we call human beings – the crowning glory and principal challenge of any good at work in the world! From the books of Moses, through the prophets, Gospels, and letters of the apostles, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the peacable Kingdom, God’s Kingdom come, is visioned not as something far away, but as something close by, something already her, something even deep “within” each one of us. In Jesus, we Christians proclaim a “realized eschatology,” not an imminent, “almost” one. However, imperfect, partial, or unfulfilled it is, it is here, the “final things.” What John is revealing in his Revelation is what Jesus revealed in his life and resurrection, which is what God created at the very beginning: The Kingdom of God on earth. What would it mean if we really believed and stopped waiting for it.
We must read and hear our passage this morning with an ear for its significance to the church. The early Christians understood what we must learn: the New Jerusalem is a metaphor for the church. If, and when, we understand that then we are immediately struck by the fact that the community of the faithful – you and I – are not regarded as trapped in some fallen, corrupt world of human invention. What John is revealing, finally, is that we are part of a heaven and an earth that can only come to completion when we start living and loving as we are supposed to live and love, as Jesus Christ lived and loved.
The symbolic particulars of John’s “descended city of Jerusalem” are found throughout our biblical witness, we opened with a few. They’ve been given deeper and richer life through the hymns and prayers of generations of believers. We have heard these descriptions so often that, for many of us, their power has been lost. The Garden of Eden, the lion and the lamb, swords into plowshares, the tree of life are beautiful images, but only a dream, or a wish, or at best a belief about what will be. That is what is wrong. That is the dragon and the beast at work, turning our gaze from what is right in front of us and pushing that reality to another time, another place, far off in the future. And with our sights set on something far away, Babylon has its inhuman, antihuman way with our lives, tempting us always to discord, violence, immorality, and overall opposition to God and God’s kingdom on earth right here and now!
John is not just describing to us what will be. He never was, no matter how determined we are to interpret his writing that way. He is revealing to us what already is: the True church. The church is, we are, the embodiment, already called into being, of a restored creation. A place of safety and inclusion, our gates always open; a beacon of hope and light; a place where the purposes for which God created us are most fully understood and acted out. When we are anything less than what we should be – and we are almost always less than what we should be – the Revelation of John stings us. It should. We focus on the violence and death, and the anger and the destruction when we’re living in fear.
But when – if– we are all we were created to be, if and when we live in the promise and the hope that is ours, then this letter is a balm. For as we struggle with the dragons, overcome the beasts, and resist Babylon, we see the face of God (verse four in our reading). I mean, not even Moses was allowed to do that. The writer of the letters of John in our New Testament says that no one has ever seen God at any time, only Love incarnate who has made God known. But here in Revelation, we are told that if we do not live in fear, when we do not worship the beast or collude with Babylon we will see God’s face. That is the Revelation of John – the face of God.
Revealing all this doesn’t make it happen, anymore than revealing plans for a new sanctuary build the sanctuary, or revealing strategies to end hunger feed the poor, or revealing methods of treatment free those addicted to drugs. The revelation is only the beginning. We have work to do. But we now know what we’ve always known: the grace of the Love we call “God” is with us, working through us to transform all of creation “far as the curse is found.”
We began with the resurrected Christ. We journeyed through the Revelation. Next week we will celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit. It’s all happened before and it will happen again. What we must do, what we must always do is … remember. And guess what … Our Communion table is set before us this morning so that, what? We may … remember. The Lord is come and as far as the curse is found.
Blessed are the ones who read aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and keep what is written down. It is us. “Joy to the World!” Let us sing and prepare to remember again. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / June 2, 2019