Monday, May 02, 2016

Easter 6C

Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22:1-5

Revelation 21

10And 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.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And 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. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But 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.

Revelation 22

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through 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. 3Nothing 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; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And 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.

Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 x 7. The Easter season began with accounts that mostly featured people who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. As the weeks rolled by, the stories reached further outward, and began embracing people from other places and cultures. Two weeks from now we'll celebrate the 50th day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost (wear red!) that initiates the long "Time of the Church" liturgical season, with its mostly green Sundays. Everyone is an insider to God; God has no outsiders.

We've been discussing Revelation as a kind of guidebook, almost a roadmap (but not quite) for living baptized amidst empire. Last week we talked about a God so in love with creation God chose and still chooses to live with and to "indwell" creation; a God so passionate about creation God even chose to live amidst creation as one of us in a body formed out of the stuff of the earth.

Last week: enthronement psalms, with creation as God's dwelling place, God's temple, "throne." Last week Revelation 21:3 told us God makes a home on earth.

Genesis 1 and 2, the first books in the canon of the bible bring us the original creation with:

• tree of life
• river of life
• a garden

Revelation, the last book in the biblical canon, bring us the new creation with:

• tree of life
• river of life
• a city (is this a new Garden of Eden? Not quite.)

Today's text from Revelation brings us a portrait of a city literally descending from heaven. A city of safety, a place that welcomes and includes everyone. A city where it's light and bright all the time, without the dangers night and darkness in an urban area often bring.

What are characteristics of a city?

• ethnic and cultural and income diversity • buildings of every kind • government on local, regional, national levels (esp these days) • a literal crossroads with multiple ports of entry • infrastructure, "streets and roads" and other services • cash economy rather than a barter economy, etc.

As we read the bible, we discover a lot of very similar passages in different books. Today's reading from Revelation is very similar to one from Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest in the holiness tradition of the Jerusalem temple. By the time God gave Ezekiel this vision, the Jerusalem temple was gone, sacked and destroyed by Babylon, yet Ezekiel trusts this glimpse of a restored creation where God dwells, with similar imagery to the enthronement psalms.
Ezekiel 47:1-12

1Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. ... 7As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. ... 9Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. ... 12On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.
We've been discussing Revelation as kind of a guidebook to living baptized amidst empire. The Presbyterian Church (USA) brings us the six Great Ends of the Church that essentially focus on our baptismal call and covenant: worship; word and sacrament; working for justice, righteousness, truth; identifying with a community of faith; caring for and nurturing all creation. But the sixth Great End is "The Exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World." That means when the world looks at us, the church, it looks like the best place possible, it looks like heaven on earth. As Barbara exclaimed about the city in Revelation, "who wouldn't want to go there?" When people look at us as the church, is it "who wouldn't want to go there?"

Discussion of different ways to welcome newcomers to worship without being too intrusive.

One more note on stewardship of creation:

• In the wilderness exodus narrative, we read about water from the rock; manna and quail from the sky that were sheer gifts from God.

• The promised land with its rivers, hills of grain, trees (pomegranate, fig, olive, date), milk and honey required people who had received it a gift to care for and steward it.

• God has given us land and waterways as gifts; God calls us to careful stewardship of all creation.

We've started a list of 52 ways to steward the earth; the poster is in the narthex so we can add our own line items.

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