Revelation: Reversal

Revelation 21:1-6; 22:1-5

One of my favorite, cancelled shows is called Firefly. It was a show about cowboys in space after the 3rd world war, leaving in its wake a double-headed monster super power of Japan and America, or so we’re left to assume. The Scooby gang we fall in with ride in a space craft called a Firefly, and one of the signature moves of the ship is that it can flip its back end over to its front and change directions. Like an instant reverse, with the signature firefly light glowing as they speed away.

This letter of Revelation has been one series of visions after another, with disturbing imagery all to give warning to the church to not become like the culture that surrounds it. To wake it up out of its lethargy.

In popular imagination, we’ve been lured into thinking Revelation is about a final day and time, with codes and hints about when the final “going up” will be. A sorting that will happen here on earth, with those who are good being chosen to be raptured up into heaven.

In popular imagination we’ve been lured into thinking there is one gate into heaven, guarded by a pun-loving Peter, who jokes with those approaching about long lines or earthly occupations or answering the right question in order to get in. In the verses we skipped today, the new Jerusalem is described as a city with 12 entrances that appear to be open at all times, and unguarded. 12 entrances with unguarded doors. Just imagine that!

The great reversal of today that flies in the face of our popular imagination and even in the face of what we’ve been reading is this: God comes down. We do not work to climb up to God. God does not stay in that great throne room surrounded by praising creatures and thousands and thousands of angels. God comes down.

You guys, the whole city comes down! Just as Jesus taught us to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We are given a new vision, a new reality of what it means when God and the lamb are at the center.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away; the sea was no more. See the home of God is among mortals!

It’s about God and the lamb in the center of it all. That’s what it’s been about all along. It’s not about worshiping the emperor, the government, the popular culture of the time. It’s not about taking comfort in false security. It’s about God and the lamb and what happens when that is the center of our worship, the center of our lives. It puts us in direct conflict of the powers that be. It plunges us into the midst messy lives, here and now. Because God and the lamb, Jesus, are at the center, it plunges us into service of the neighbor, for digging in where we are.

We can’t know this whole story, but Joel Osteen, a popular tv evangelist who preaches that if you just believe well enough and believe you are blessed, well then, God will show you favor and you will have, well, more than enough. He preaches what’s called the prosperity gospel where you gauge your favor with God by the evidence and amount of “blessings” in your life. You may have seen that his church, located in Houston, was quite slow to opening its doors to the flood victims, saying they weren’t needed or invited to help. As the story unfolded, I thought, “well, we don’t know the whole situation.” And, the good pastor had tweeted that the flood waters were preventing them from opening up. And I thought, well there are times when it is simply dangerous to say, “come this way.” But soon, journalists and locals had made their way over to the facility that used to be the home of the sportball team ________and can hold thousands and thousands of people and found no flood waters, even noting the free-flowing traffic just beyond its doors.

It’s too easy to make Revelation about a God secluded in a throne room in heaven, disconnected from us and calculating the end of the earth through codes. It’s too easy to make Revelation about winners and losers where we think we have it all figured out who goes in what column. Because once you bring up the spreadsheet and the calculator, God and the lamb take a backseat pretty quickly. Perhaps this letter of Revelation is calling out to Joel Osteen and his church to get their eyes on the shimmering sea of water impacting the people of their community and off of the notion of the pearly gates of heaven or the shimmering swimming pools in their homes or the coded language that will tell them the secret of getting into heaven or finding more favor with God. Perhaps this is just the situation John was writing to; a comfortable, successful church surrounded by chaos, suffering, and death.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

The people of Houston are praying for the sea to be no more, for their new city to emerge out of the ruins of the flood. What a tough time they face, to mourn what was, to mourn those who died in the flood waters, to lament their city of ruins, to imagine a new future, to rebuild, to have hope. Hope is key for them to live into this New Jerusalem.

he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.  See, I am making all things new.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

This is about God and the lamb. This is about hope in things not seen. This is about a new reality, pictured in the new Jerusalem, tasted in the water of life flowing in a river and a tree whose leaves are healing for the nations.

We are freed by Jesus, the lamb who was slain. Our conquering hero does not wisp us away at the blink of an eye but instead plunges us into the messiness of living here and now with that hope, knowing that our tears will be wiped away, that the beginning and the end is not a time line but is God.

Revelation is a warning, certainly. And it’s a vision of promise. You will be made new. It might not look like you imagined. It might take longer than you hoped. But it’s the way God works through the lamb who was slain, Jesus Christ.