Audio 6 Easter Yr C May 26 2019 Acts 16:9-15, Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5, John 5:1-9, Psalm 67
I love the long, warm days of summer. But those days are preceded by these days, we’ve just had, rainy and chilly. And yet, we're always so very thankful for the moisture, that turns the grass green and puts the trees into a flowering frenzy. All of this rain gives life to our world, but as we know, all that moisture is life-taking as well. Flooding and storms and tornados are always difficult to watch especially when we are just so thankful for the moisture.
These rains and the water that brings forth new life, remind me of my baptism. And you have come to know me well, so making that connection should not surprise you! I am reminded that I have been joined with Jesus in the life and death of the baptismal waters. I am reminded that we are in a constant process of life, death and resurrection. I am reminded that God is never finished with me, that there is always another layer to be shed, another washing, another opportunity. There is forgiveness and healing, and that always leads to new growth and new life. And, the baby ducks are always born in flocks and travel together.
“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 of each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
The book of Revelation was born out of a time when people who followed Jesus had to live under cover. Worship of the many different gods was proscribed and licensed by the Roman Empire. Following Jesus was not an official form of worship, therefore many were thrown in prison or put to death. The book of Revelation gave hope in that context, and describes the community that Jesus has set up on earth that is an alternative to empire. These were people who would gather and sing songs to God and to the lamb, to share stories and to break bread in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They came together around a radical and transforming vision of the joyful reign of God.
In this letter from John this community heard a call to faithfulness, a call to renew their love for one another. They heard the promise that they would be victorious, provided that they resist the seductions of the empire. I reminded you last week that the signs and portents of revelation worked to wake up the people to change, to wake them up so that they could resist the seductions of the empire.
The vision of Revelation gathers the community together beside God’s riverside, to drink of its water of life, to find shelter beside God’s majestic tree of life with its healing leaves. As you read these verses in Revelation chapters 21-22, imagine yourself walking into this city through its open gates, exploring the landscape that the angel unfolds before you. You are safe at last. You are beloved.
I began today with my story of being reminded of my baptism and being reminded of new life and resurrection because those experiences bring me to a place where I can imagine this reality that John describes for us. However, I know that the truth of our lives here and now is that the seductions are powerful. The seduction of greed, of exclusion, and of self-importance is powerful indeed. Chapter 21 in Revelation speaks specifically to the healing of all nations through the leaves of the tree of life. There is much in Revelation that some have used to dominate others and to create a culture of fear. The concept that some know as the rapture is clearly a misinterpretation of the message of Revelation. The call to transformation and to reconciliation and healing is clear in Revelation. The call to turn away from violence, to turn away from greed, to turn away from exclusion, to turn toward peace, to turn toward generosity, to turn toward inclusion is mighty powerful. God’s holy city provides enough food for all, in God’s holy city all hunger is satisfied.
Given this interpretation of Revelation, that revelation offers hope and freedom, nourishment and sustenance in a culture of greed, violence, and narcissism, I ask you this question. How does this speak to your deepest hunger? How does this speak to the deepest hunger of our world? I think we spend our lives yearning and searching for nourishment, for something that resembles the holy city that is described in Revelation. Our search takes us by way of false nourishment. We look for satisfaction in places that can only offer us momentary delight. But when we look away from God to satisfy our hunger, we continue to go away hungry.
How can you go home, and to work and to school this week, remembering that you are swimming in the water of God’s love, that you are fed with the love that sustains you? And how can you share this amazing hope in which people of every tribe are included? I think we do that by being compassionate. With our families, with our friends, with our neighbors.
Gathered at the riverside, God’s people, you and I, have tasted life-giving water and manna from heaven. We have glimpsed God’s beloved city. Because of that, everything is different now. Everything and everyone is precious. The challenge is to live our lives according to the story of God’s beloved city, to live in terms of its blessing. We live in freedom, not enslaved by the need to please and perform, but fully and absolutely and abundantly loved by the God who created us, who came into our world to live, suffer, and die as one of us, who rose from the dead, and lives among us, and who will come again to reign here in the company of the creation.
We live our lives connected to one another. Barbara Rossing reminds us near the end of her book, The Rapture Exposed, that Revelation’s story is about seeing the Lamb beside you in every moment of your life, in the car, at the shopping mall, at work and at school. We might call that Lamb, the Love that wins. Revelation is about looking more deeply into God’s picture and seeing how the Lamb, the Love that wins, is leading you even now into a world of joy and healing.
And next time you are washed in the rain, next time you witness new birth, remember who you are, God's beloved, equipped and sent to love others.
Thanks be to God. Amen, Alleluia.