Grace and peace to you from the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
I was talking to some people the other day about the books we were reading and one of the people I was talking to sheepishly admitted to me that before she really got invested in a new book, she would turn to the end of the book and read the last chapter….or at least the last page. She said she wanted to know how the story ends.
The early church was wondering that same thing. It was a dark time to be a Christian. The Emperor Nero had outlawed Christianity and was feeding Christians to lions. A Jewish uprising, which was promptly squashed by the Romans, resulted in the destruction of the Holy Temple, the House of God. Things were uncertain. People were fearful. And in those dark nights, hiding out in underground churches and worshipping in cautious whispers, I can almost hear their uncertainties… were we really right about this Jesus? Will love really win? How does this story end?
We are in that same place, sometimes, aren’t we? We may not be facing hostile governments, or hungry lions, like the early church did. But when we turn on the news, we are most definitely are faced with destruction. Wildfires and droughts.. Missing people. Economic uncertainties. Corruption. Shootings. Bombings. And for many of us, myself included, in our personal lives and in our congregation, the changes that are fast approaching and the transitions that we are facing are leaving this same question lingering in our minds…How does this story end?
Revelation is the last book in the Bible, and, for the early church, it was the answer to that same question that they were desperately seeking. How does this story end?
Revelation tends to get a bad rap sometimes for being a little bit…out there. And it’s true, the imagery in Revelation can be confusing. And that’s on purpose. Because, as we know, the early Christians lived in fear of the government and so in order to talk about the political and social upheaval that they were experiencing, they HAD to write in code in order to avoid persecution.
But even despite these cryptic codes, when we look at the reading for today we see the same message that is repeated all throughout scripture: The Kingdom of God is near when we love God, love others, and love ourselves.
That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Loving God, loving others, and loving ourselves.
We don’t know a lot about what Heaven will be like. We have ideas and theories but, like many things, the details are a beautiful mystery that we are left to wonder about. But there are some things that we do know about Heaven.
We know what Heaven is NOT.
When we look at the passage in Revelation for today we see the author list and describe a lot of things that won’t be in Heaven. Gates, darkness… lies.
Because in Heaven, we will be perfectly able to love God, love people, and love ourselves. And things like gates and walls, darkness and lies…those are symbols of fear. And division. Those things, we are assured, have no place in God’s kingdom.
And in the absence of those barriers, we will be able to participate in the Heavenly acts of loving God, loving people, and loving ourselves.
That last one, loving ourselves, is something we don’t always talk about, but it’s important. I’ve learned that a lot of times, my greatest barrier to loving God or to loving others is because I am coming from a place of fear about my own identity, a place where I have stopped loving myself and stopped believing in myself. I think we all do that, sometimes.
We listen to these lies about who we are. Maybe we hear those advertisements and buy into those lies…that all we need more stuff to make us happy or secure. Maybe we see people in the media and believe the lie that who we are isn’t good enough. Or maybe, we are have listened to other lies that snake their way into our brains…. that tell us that we are nothing more than the worst thing we’ve done. The lie that says that our past defines us. That we are damaged goods. But in Heaven, those lies and falsehoods simply won’t be allowed in.
In Heaven, the scripture says, God writes God’s own name on our foreheads. God gives us a new identity. A redeemed identity. And when we ask God, “Who am I?” God will say “Precious child, You. Are. Mine.”
The author paints a picture of such perfect unity with God that there will be no need for lamps or temples. The very presence of God will illuminate everything, giving us a state of permanent, radiant light. And we won’t have to “go anywhere” to experience God, because God will surround us and envelop us and swirl around us…so there is no need for a Temple. Anyways, temples have the unfortunate design flaw of containing walls.
Walls and gates are designed to separate us, to keep certain people out. And in Heaven, there will be no need for that. All nations will be there, together, enjoying the splendor of God. There’s no loneliness in Heaven. We will experienced loving God through the gift of community.
Community is something Adam and I have found here, with you. The love in your eyes when you share the peace with us. The support we have found in dark times of illness or while we anxiously waited news about Alice’s adoption… The way you have opened your hearts to us and befriended us. And so we thank you, for living out what it means to “love people.”
By doing that, you have helped to heal a lot of our wounds. Experiencing a true community, especially a community that meets together to worship God…that’s a little glimpse of Heaven.
That’s the best part of this story. We know how the story will end. And the thing is that the story doesn’t end. It doesn’t end at all. God’s kingdom is eternal… “And They will reign forever and ever….”. When you are living in the kingdom of God, it’s an eternal kingdom…and eternity begins RIGHT. NOW.
Every time that we reject the lies about who we are and boldly proclaim that God is our only judge…we are living in Heaven. Every time we let the lamp of God’s light illuminate our lives and cast out fear…we are living in Heaven. And every time that we refuse to let our communities be divided by our differences…every time we love our neighbors as ourselves…we are living in Heaven.
So may you trust, in times of uncertainty, in the way you know the story ends. May you work towards an earth that removes barriers to love. And may you experience Heaven here on Earth….and forever and ever. Amen.