Bible I’m proud to say I’ve grown a lot over my lifetime. For the most part, I’ve grown out of a childish fear of bugs. At least… I’ve come a long way. When I was about 7, my reaction to creepy crawlies was so bad that I remember a friend’s parents telling me to keep my eyes closed as we boated under a bridge where there were plenty of bugs just waiting to drop down on me.
I might have transitioned out of my irrational fear of creatures a fraction my size were it not for some bad experiences. At least one bad experience. At some point in my teenage years, I remember getting one of those crunchy stink bugs stuck in my hair, it’s legs all tangled up. I couldn’t get it out.
So my perspective on the dangers of insects grew disproportionally to the reality. I became convinced that I needed my home to be a bug free zone. I deserved to be safe there. The bugs didn’t get the message. One night, I came home after second shift, taking reservations at the Kalahari. My parents had left the light on over the door into our house. The bugs had treated that like the “open” sign inviting them in. When I opened the door, earwigs streamed out from under the welcome mat, dropped down off the door frame, and scurried their way between my legs into my sanctuary. I freaked out and started smashing everything. I took a can of Off and started spraying everywhere, trying to create a barrier that would repel the nasty things far away.
In case you were wondering, that’s not how Off works… and filling the house with Off is a sure way to get your parents ready to send you back to college.
When I hear this text from Revelation, I think about all that grosses me out, all that makes my skin crawl, all that makes me feel unsafe, and I imagine all those things no longer bothering me. The new Jerusalem is a place of safety and wellness. God paints a vision of perfect peace as the foil to our anxious fears, and God declares that our new home will be there.
If God were to prepare a place where you could live without fear, a place that would heal all that hurts you, what would that place be like? What would ease away all your pain and restore your life?
That might be how you would see the new Jerusalem. These culminating chapters of Revelation describe the new thing God is doing: creating a new heaven and a new earth, bringing all God’s people into a new life, which is like and yet different from the life we have known.
Things that are assumed to be necessary are no longer: the temple to meet God, sun and moon to give light, locks to bar people in and out. All these things are gone- and yet not missing. God has transformed everything. There is no temple, because God has come to dwell right with the people. The lights of the sky aren’t needed, because God lights up the city, so that there is no more scary darkness. Gates don’t need to be barred, because there is nothing bad, nothing to fear.
Revelation is an apocalypse: a vision with meaningful, poetic language, that opens up our imagination to try to glimpse a bit of what God’s intention is for us, so that we can live in trust and hope.
Knowing what’s coming next changes the way we live today.
I’m reminded of a campaign a number of years ago that was meant to encourage young people who were getting bullied, who might be considering suicide. Voices from all around the world declared, “it gets better.” Thousands spoke out for hope, sharing their stories, urging those in the midst of despair to hold on, to be held, to look ahead for the dawning of a new day that would bring something better than their current hell.
How might you be changed if you knew things would get better? If the pain of the current moment wouldn’t be all you ever felt?
Imagine a breakup. Young love. Over.
If at the moment when you realized your first love wasn’t going to last – you knew the joy you would ultimately find in your spouse- would it have made the break up easier to bear?
At the time, a break up is horrible. When I’ve had a friend call me over after breaking up, I’ve found it much better to bring over some chocolate and a closed mouth rather than waste my breath saying “he wasn’t good enough anyway,” or “there are more fish in the sea,” or “a year from now you won’t even remember his name.”
At that moment, platitudes aren’t helpful. Grief and pain are real and we deserve to have our pain honored rather than dismissed. That’s what God does for us. In our hard times, God is there for us, right in the trenches of our difficulty. God takes in the experience of pain in Jesus’ crucifixion. Not so that God could say, I know exactly how you feel, it’s not really that bad, I got through it. God enters our pain so that God can say, “I’m here with you. I’m here for you.” And- so that as God drew Jesus up out of death, God could assure us that we, too, will be taken up out of our pain into a new future where our tears will be dried.
As a Christian community, we’re called to be God’s presence to those in the midst of painful life experiences. To be compassionate is to suffer with another, to ease of burden of being alone while facing difficulty. Then, in the days, the weeks, the years to come, we continue to look for signs of God’s healing as wayposts that point us to the full healing in the future.
The Christian community has struggled with the question of how to live life today while trusting that God has a new future in store for us, a future with such whole living and joy that our current experience pales in comparison.
Faced with a vision of what it more important, the Christian community has sometimes ignored the importance of this life. Living only for the future, some choose celibacy, some ignore the command to steward creation, some live today only as a student watches the clock tick, waiting for class to be finished and summer break to begin.
We cannot envision this life only as something to be endured when we remember that it was with joy God declared this creation good, and choose to enter it so fully in Jesus Christ. And yet… we know the brokenness of this world so much so that we long for the vision John experienced to come into our present. Rather, this vision is meant to help us live the life we have with hope. These days are given to us, time during which we can join God’s work in creation, encouraged by this vision to be working towards God’s goals, and still hopeful even when we see no results of our work today.
What in this vision inspires you? It’s those open gates that feed my spiritual imagination. Jesus – the blood of the lamb has cleansed all – transformed all- so that even the nations, the foreign kings, are finding their way into the new Jerusalem. They are no longer foreign occupiers, not even humbled vassals bearing tribute, but they are finding their home- their healing and life- as residents in this new city ruled by crucified king. Can you imagine how radical it would have been for John’s people to hear that even their enemies might have a future as their neighbors in the new creation? It is a reflection of the words God spoke to Peter in our Acts reading from last week: “What I have made clean, you must no longer call profane” (11:9).
God is creating a new future for us. There we will find a safe sanctuary from all that once brought us fear and pain. There God will surprise us. All that we thought was necessary and as good as it could get will be outdone by God’s presence among us. All we did out of fear will be unnecessary and foolish. When we experience God’s welcoming embrace and find God’s made a home with us, we’ll also discover that the scope of God’s welcome is greater than we were able to embody in this life.
The barriers I’ve spent so much energy creating will be unnecessary. Even bugs and ex boyfriends are counted in the all creation God is drawing to Godself. Maybe God’s preparing not only to transform those I once was repulsed by, but is transforming me as well, so that I can see through God’s eyes of love and joy for all creation. I may have grown from my childhood, but God hasn’t completed that great transformation in me yet.
Maybe it’s only in hindsight that we can evaluate the relative importance of all that we once stressed out over. We’re given this future vision so that it can impact our lives today. We know the end toward which God is drawing us. There peace, healing, welcome, and connection with God are the founding principles. We’re not there yet, but we can try to live according to those building blocks of God’s kingdom today.
The future is coming. Through Jesus’ work, God has prepared good for you. Live today in hope: that’s God’s gift of faith for you.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment