Hope from the back of the book. (Revelation 21-22)

The promises of God come in many forms; but you are tired of promises.

The people of God can only go so far on the strength of a promise, no matter who makes it.  This is the universal problem of a life of faith – from earliest history to this very day;

promises are all well and good, but we want action!

You know it.  I know it.  God knows it.

This desire for action (as we discovered last Sunday)

expresses itself in a variety of ways as “mission”.

This action makes us feel useful –

it fulfils part of our mandate as the children of God; as disciples of Jesus –

but there is still the matter of these promises of God.

What do we make of them, especially when they come in such fantastic form?

 

The Revelation to John is a hotbed of divine promises,

wrapped in fantastic visions, sprinkled with political intrigue and a dash of creative license.

As a work of theological literature, it gives us a lot to deal with.

It is addressed to a particular audience, and it deals with very particular circumstances,

but because it has been included in our Holy Writings,

we also believe that it offers something of the truth of God to us,

in this radically different time and place.

The twenty chapters preceding this morning’s reading

Speak of God’s irresistible desire to redeem all of creation.

It will be messy, according to John’s vision – and occasionally frightening

But the reminder must be vivid,

for the people of God are growing tired of waiting on the promises of God

 

 

Though Christ is Risen, and the Spirit has settled upon them,

the expected reign of God has been replaced by a reign of terror.

The tensions between the Roman authorities and those who would give allegiance to God

were always brewing – and a division within the Jewish community

that saw many follow the teachings of Jesus made matters worse.

 

 

Into this world comes an author called John –

isolated by necessity on the Island of Patmos –

and John has had a vision…a series of visions, as it happens, all designed to bring hope

to a people who are tired of waiting for God’s promises to be revealed.

Much of what John describes is horrifying to our ears, but dreams can be like that.

He writes of challenges faced, he speaks in riddles to the seven churches –

and then he relates what the Spirit has shown him;

the slow but steady heavenly war on earthly decadence.

 

Plagues – trials and tribulation – death and disaster;

all part of this cosmic struggle, which is mirrored in reality.

John’s writing suggests an earthly war is also raging,

and he offers his visions as confirmation of God’s promised victory, of an eventual peace.

 

The church has spent centuries struggling with what these visions mean

in light of “our current struggles” – but there is one vision about which there is little doubt.

 

(Rev 21: 10) 10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

What follows has become the model for Heaven as a real place.

Measurements, vivid descriptions, the stuff that hymn-writers dreams are made of…

here, it seems, we have finally been given what we need to maintain our faith.

Here the promise springs to life in John’s graphic description.

The city itself springs from the clouds and descends ‘as a bride’ –

in a remarkable turn of phrase, John brings the promise of God right down to earth.

 

Our problem is that with progress come problems.

We have replaced this heavenly, jewel encrusted, many gated vision of reality

with a much weaker metaphor.  John was speaking in metaphor too,

but once we discovered “only” the vacuum of space beyond the dome of the sky,

we turned this heavenly city into mere illusion.

 

But the promises of God are not illusions.

These visions can still be ours, and we can take from them real hope,

if we release them from centuries of speculation (and fear).

 

The promises of God, John would have us know, are a priceless treasure;

These promises are worth our patience – they are a gift beyond counting –

like a city bathed in light, crowned by precious stones,

and filed with the sounds of joyful praise.

 

That should describe, not just “heaven” but any place that becomes home for the faithful.

The promises of God are not idle, if the people of God can celebrate with praise –

wherever the faithful remember and rejoice, the reign of God comes close to earth.

John’s revelation is meant to encourage those who have given up on the promises –

encourage them to see the world in a different way, to imagine the promise

bursting over the horizon and spilling into their present, harsh reality.

 

We might benefit from this, if we dare.

We might begin to see these visions as a filter for the way we see the world.

We might, with the Spirit’s help, discover the reality of the promise in our midst.

God’s promises are real enough.  God’s action is evident.

All that is needed is our response.

 

John’s vision of this heavenly city draws our attention away from the world as we know it,

and points to a world that has real value for us –

a world defined by God’s glory, and filled with the sounds of joyous praise.

It can become the world we live in –

we need only share the joy we have discovered in Christ.

 

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