And in the spirit [one of the angels] carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
My sermon from 6th Sunday of Easter (May 1, 2016) on Revelation 21:10,22–22:5. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
So – bandwagons. Do you jump on them? I’m not ashamed to admit that I do. I’m not even a baseball guy but when the Mets score 12 runs in one inning like they did a few days ago, suddenly I’m paying attention. Another thing I’m paying attention to is this: vinyl records. I’m totally into it. A new release from a band I like comes out on vinyl? I’m buying it. Crates and crates of old records show up at our amazing Trash and Treasure sale yesterday? I’m crouched over them, letting the smell of old cardboard and all this dust billow over me as I flip through them. And it was while I was digging through those crates that I found this: X’s – Wild Gift. X, as in the letter, is a punk band from Southern California. And I actually already own this album – but only in digital form. My former experience with this music involves song names with the letters mp3 added to the end. But not anymore. This music experience now has heft. It has weight. It’s more physical, and in some ways, more connected that it was before. X’s music, dreamed up, created, and crafted in a specific time and in a specific place has been physically etched onto this record. And it takes something just as physical, the needle of a record player, to make that music come to life. Without the record, we have no music to play. Without a needle, we have no way to retrieve the sound that was created. Each part – the record and the needle needs to be connected to the other to create and share a beautiful song.
And it’s that sense of connection that flows through our reading from Revelation today. For the last five weeks, we’ve been walking through this final book of the bible. We started at the beginning, continued until we met the four horsemen of the apocalypse and are now in the last few chapters of the book. Our author, John of Patmos, is sharing a vision of what God’s future looks like. Last week, we heard how he saw a holy city – a new Jerusalem – descending from heaven and settling in our world. And today, John fleshes out what that city looks like. There’s a giant river, flowing through the middle, and a large tree that does an impossible thing and grows a different fruit every month, like some kind of cosmic fruit-of-the-month club. And in parts we don’t hear today, John describes this city as massive – 1500 miles long and wide. Surrounding it is a large wall, covered in every gem and stone. He goes in detail, naming the stones of the city, and sharing that every building and every street is made of transparent gold. But God’s city of precious stones and metals surrounds what is even more precious to God – people. And, like we heard a few weeks ago, this countless number of city dwellers contains every kind of person from every kind of place. The vision that God gives John isn’t only huge, it’s also vivid, colorful, and, above all, incredibly urban.
Because that’s what’s neat about what John is describing here. When we imagine heaven – or our paradise – or the place where God lives – do we imagine a city? The breathtaking scenes of paradise that we usually think about are beautiful vistas, white sandy beaches, and a wilderness that is perfectly harmless but when we see it, our breath is taken away. Even scripture, when it describes creation, talks about a beautiful garden that Adam and Eve called home. But today’s vision, while beautiful, doesn’t describe an isolated place. There are no beautiful vistas, signs of untamed wilderness, or white sandy beaches where the only thing we see is our feet, propped up, while we’re resting in a hammock. Instead, God’s future is a city – a city filled with city blocks, city streets, and city sidewalks. This new Jerusalem is more New York City than a mountaintop retreat, and is filled with buildings built right next to each other and with windows looking into a neighbor’s apartment. And with this city living comes city people. Everyone is moving, crowding streets and sidewalks. Each step we take involves weaving and dodging through crowds of people who don’t look, act, or sound like us. City living is a very physical kind of living. City living should be a very connected kind of living too. Every single person is gathered together, drawn around the Lord – around the Lamb – around Jesus – who is more than just a presence in this holy city. He’s it’s source. It’s from where he sits that water flows. And it’s that water that gives life to the tree that everyone seems to see. And from the food that comes from this tree, the people aren’t just fed, they’re healed. This tree isn’t for one kind of people. It’s for the nations. It’s for everyone. And it all starts with this Jesus who died on a cross and who marks that cross on his people, forever. To be in the holy city is to be connected to the One who provides life, the One who feeds, the One who brings light even into our darkest places. A life with Jesus is physical – tangible – truly connected and one that sings.
But this life with Jesus is a life in community. A city isn’t a city if we are the only ones who live there. A city needs people, it needs others, and it needs folks who don’t ignore each other but who care, listen, and get to know who their neighbors are. God’s future isn’t only a vision for tomorrow. It’s a vision for what living with God looks like right now. It’s as if the Christian life needs others so that we can live into God’s eternal dream for us. Like a needle on a record, when God grabs us in our baptism, we are called to be connected. We’re called to get to know each other. We’re called to notice who God has brought into our community and into our city.
And that means more than just noticing that [baptismal name] Nicole Bauer is joining the body of Christ today. I mean, we should notice her because she’s adorable. But more than just adorableness is happening today. Today, we’re changing. Today, the body of Christ as we could see it, is different than it was before. Our vision is expanding. Our understanding of God’s city is growing by 1. And as we share God’s story and a little of who we are to this new member of the body of Christ, we know that Nicole is going to do the same to us. As she grows and experiences the love God gives her everyday, our vision of Christ’s story grows. With her, we can all more fully sing the song God has given to us. Without each other, we’re like a record that can’t speak or a needle that has nothing to say. We can’t be who God is calling us to be without each other. We can’t wait to share our stories, to see what Nicole will add to our vision of what God’s city can look like, and to walk together, in faith, knowing that God’s future is big enough to include all sorts of people – and is big enough, no matter what, to include us too.