This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning, the Sixth Sunday of Easter. This is part of a series I’m preaching on the book of Revelation, which I’ve been referring to as “Crazy Uncle Revelation.” The text today was Revelation 21:10, 22 — 22:5.
I’ve noticed that as people get older, they sometimes start to look forward to a better place. The things that were important to them when they were younger don’t seem as urgent anymore. And they begin to think about leaving all this behind, and going to a place where they won’t have all their worries or hassles, a relaxing warm place, a paradise. Yes, sometimes as people get older, they start thinking about moving to Florida.
Did you think I was talking about heaven? I guess I kind of was. Sometimes when we think about heaven, it seems kind of like Florida, only even better. In heaven, the weather is always perfect. In heaven, we can relax, and do whatever we want to do. If you love to golf, well, you can golf every day in heaven, and you’ll always get a hole in one. If you love jazz music, you can see Duke Ellington live every night. When I was a child, I was convinced that heaven was full of Pac-Man machines, you know that old arcade game? Sometimes we think of heaven as a magical place where all our dreams come true.
Well, there is a magical place where all our dreams come true. It’s actually in Florida, too. It’s called Disney World.
Now I’m not knocking Disney World, or Florida. They’re great. But I don’t think that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. That’s not how heaven is described in scripture anyway.
You know, most of the time I don’t really care what heaven is like. I know that it will be good, andthat’s enough. The details are irrelevant to me. And if somebody thinks that heaven is like Disney World, what harm does that do?
But when I spend time with our Crazy Uncle Revelation, as we have been for the past five weeks, I see heaven a little differently. Right now, I think it might be important to explore what heaven is like, because what heaven is like tells us something about God’s plan for us today. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray this: “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” If we want to find out what God’s will for the earth is – if we want to find out what God wishes this world were like – then we can look to how scripture describes heaven! Scripture does not describe heaven as the place where all our dreams come true, and perhaps that means that it’s not God’s will for this world that all our dreams come true either. Maybe our dreams aren’t big enough, because I think heaven just might be the place where God’s dreams come true.
Well, most of the stories our Crazy Uncle Revelation tells us sound kind of like dreams, and I think today’s story is about a dream God has. God dreams of a holy city, a golden city clear as crystal, the New Jerusalem. Not a countryside, not a garden, but a city. Why does God dream of a city? Well, a city is a place where there are lots of people, gathered together in one place. God’s dream of heaven is a place where we are not isolated, but together. So God’s will for earth is therefore that we are in community here as well. God calls us away from isolation, to be in community with each other.
But this is an odd city. Revelation tells us that two things are missing in this city. There is no temple, and no sun. What does that mean? Well, the temple in Jerusalem wasn’t just any old synagogue. It was the one and only temple. The specific place where the Israelites trusted that God was. Seeing the temple, even knowing the temple existed, reminded the Jews that God dwelled with them. That’s why it was so tragic for Israel when the temple was destroyed not long before Revelation was written. It wasn’t just a sad loss of a worship space and an architectural wonder; it also meant that now people were afraid, afraid that maybe God was no longer still with them.
We fear that today sometimes, don’t we? We don’t have a temple, but we do have reminders of God’s presence, reminders like this congregation, this building, this time of worship. We gather here precisely to remember and remind each other of God’s love. But even with these reminders, we wonder. Is God still there?
But in God’s dream of heaven, there is no temple. There is no need for reminders. Because we will all know with every inch of our being that God is here. God dreamed about that long ago in the words of Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me.” Our crazy uncle shows us what that dream looks like. In God’s dream, there is no temple in the city, because God is everywhere, and everyone knows it.
And in God’s dream of heaven, there is no sun. We rely on a lot of things to survive. We rely on food, on water and air. We rely on shelter. We rely on other people, on our parents, our teachers, our government, our police, our military. We rely on our own knowledge and independence. But above all, we rely on the sun. If it weren’t for the sun, we would be in frozen darkness within minutes. It doesn’t matter that we’ve invented electric lights. The sun does so much more than just light our way. It provides us with life. But in God’s dream, there is no sun, because Christ is the light that lights up everything. God dreams about a place where we rely on nothing at all but his love in Christ.
In God’s dream, the city has no sun and no temple, because we will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is with us and providing for us, and we will rely on that alone.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will for our world is that we come together in community, that we know God is here, and that we rely on God for everything.
That’s not a reality here, not fully. But God is working to make it so. We are God’s hands in this world. We are the church, the people whom God uses to make these dreams a reality. Our job as the church, your job and mine, together, is to allow God to create us into this community, a community that starts here, but is ever growing. And our job as the church, your job and mine, together, is to rely on God, trust that God will provide everything we need. We don’t need to worry about anything. Whatever suffering you have, God will get you through it. Whatever fears you have, God will help you overcome them. Whatever hesitation you have, God will encourage you out of it. Our job as the church, your job and mine, is to live God’s dream, to become God’s dream, here in this place. And to be that dream for the whole world. God is dreaming about you right now. Dreaming about us. And God’s dreams are extraordinary.