See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.
“Where I am going, you cannot come.” I start off with that only because some of you may not know that next Sunday afternoon I begin a four-month sabbatical. And, as Jesus tries to communicate to his disciples in these last weeks of Easter season, wonderful things are in store for all of you while I’m gone.
Last week, I preached about the Book of Revelation and its aim as a source of comfort for disciples under persecution. I talked about Revelation as the literature of God’s people in their powerlessness. At the church door I got a comment from a very faithful person, the kind of person I describe as a mature Christian —not because of age but because of temperament. It was the kind of comment that clergy hardly ever get and which I, for one, truly appreciate. She leaned into me and she said: I beg to differ with you. I have to say, on behalf of all of my preaching colleagues, lay and ordained, we really do love it when you tell us, on the way out the door, how much you love our sermons. But when someone has a bone to pick, I love it just as much. It lets me know they take themselves seriously as a theologian, and I know they’ve really been listening.
“I beg to differ,” she said, and then she said: “being a true disciple means being Christ in the world, and thus you are not powerless but all powerful.”
And—being a person occasionally able to think fast on my feet—I said: “It’s a good thing this was only Part I of my sermon on the Book of Revelation. Just you wait until next week.”
So here we are with another chance to look at what this complex and oft-overly-reduced book of the Bible has to say to us about discipleship.
Last week I talked about powerlessness, as I said, and about suffering. To be a disciple is to suffer, and to be the Christian church is to suffer. And I don’t think anyone back then thought about suffering in terms of an unbalanced budget or the lack of air conditioning in the sanctuary. So where is the good news, in the reality where we live right now at this moment? The good news is that if we are truly Christ in the world, the principalities and powers of the world need not have any more power over us than they ultimately had over Christ. Or, as I heard at the church door last week, “being a true disciple means being Christ in the world; thus you are not powerless but all powerful.”
So where is powerfulness in the Book of Revelation? Well, all through it. In all its psychedelic glory, Revelation is the place where power and powerlessness meet and dance together. Today’s reading gives us a vision of the New Jerusalem, the place where God’s power and our power as disciples intersects. The New Jerusalem is the author’s way of talking about the Kingdom of God. If you’ve heard me preach more than once or twice you know I believe the kingdom is within our reach, and that our job as disciples is to point to it, proclaim it, and reveal it in how we live our lives.
The Holy City, the New Jerusalem is not “up there” somewhere, but comes down to us. One reader imagines it like the Emerald City, floating on the horizon in the land of Oz. I imagine something much less ethereal and more real. Imagine if the new Jerusalem is all around us. God’s kingdom is here, where we are, in all of our broken, fallen mortality.
God is in the alpha and the omega—the beginning and the end—but also in the middle. The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God, says our text this morning. The middle is where we experience powerlessness and suffering, conflict and grief. Right now. (Well, not right now, I hope, but you know what I mean.) And this middle, between the alpha and the omega, is where we experience the power of Christ within us, the power of being Christ in the world.
Jesus tells us about this power in today’s gospel: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. It is simple, and yet, easier said than done, right? But love is the how for Christ’s power in the world, and for the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. Love one another, love the world, love the work and the play of the world, the mundane and the mystery. Love our neighbors, love our enemies, love our bodies, love our collective soul with all its dark and confusing places.
If we interpret the Book of Revelation as only about end-times, about the elect 144,000 who will actually get to the New Jerusalem, then we can say we are in the world but not of it, with our sights set on what some might call “pie in the sky.” But this would be to deny the text and all of Jesus’ teaching. Our response to the suffering in the world and in our own lives is not to imagine an alternative universe beyond our grasp, but to engage the world where God is. The home of God is among mortals.
These past few weeks I’ve been meditating on a passage of poetry from one of the great soul-searchers and soul-proclaimers of our time, Stevie Wonder. What has caught me, as we’ve been reading hearing these Easter snippets from the Book of Revelation, are these lines from his song “As”:
We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet you life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
so make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it
You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
This is my last sermon for some time. Next week I’ll be here with bells on, but the Bishop will be our preacher. So, as is my wont, I’m leaving you with a few questions: Where do you see God making a home among mortals? How will you live out the power of Christ within you?