John of Patmos’ vision continues today. Here is a part of chapter 21 and 22. The portion skipped over go into great length to bring to life a vision of the holy city of God – once only in heaven, but now HERE on Earth. John of Patmos describes his vision as so… Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
Saint John writes our next reading. John the Gospel writer and John the author of Revelations are likely not the same John. They do not write in the same manner, spell things differently, and have different theologies. John of Patmos may be John, the son of Zebedee. And John the Gospel writer may have been writing down the story as the unnamed Beloved Disciple spoke it to him. We don’t know. We do know what we have inherited – a recount of our hope and faith and peace.
John writes… John 14:22-29
Know “That kind of day?” Well, “that kind of day” had begun last Saturday and hadn’t stopped by Wednesday of this week for me. And here it was: Wednesday. I went to the hospital for my pre-operation appointment to find that it had been cancelled…. AGAIN…. and AGAIN I was not told. After an hour argument, the schedulers put me in a slot a week later… by bumping someone else, whom I bet they didn’t inform.
I now was on my way back to my mother-in-law’s house to continue a one day move job on its third day, but I stopped to pick up lunch and coffee for everyone. And tea for myself.
Stressed, I took a moment to drink my tea before starting the car again. It was Wednesday! And I hadn’t yet read the scripture for Sunday. My sitter had cancelled; and I was stressed! I used my phone to pull up today’s scripture…
And I had to laugh.
THIS is the Holy Spirit here. THIS is God’s humor. THIS is God’s message. And this spoke right to my core…
A disciple asked, “Lord, how will we know you, but the world won’t?”
And Jesus answered, “You’ll have my peace.”
I laughed. Peace. In our most frenetic lives, Jesus says… Peace.
And so I sat there and wondered… What just IS the Lord’s peace, which isn’t the world’s peace?
Hot tea definitely gives me peace. And that day, it was more peaceful than usual because I was more stressed than usual.
Is that peace? Peace is… a lack of stress? But all of that would come back to me the moment I reached the dregs. The world’s peace lasts about 20 minutes if I really enjoy it slowly. And then, that peace is gone.
Perhaps… perhaps the world’s peace is like my coffee shop tea. Overpriced, and loaded with ethical quandaries.
The world’s peace is sweet like sugar… and empty like sugar. The empty calories hurt my health. The empty words and phrases we say hurt our communities.
Peace is caffeinated, a drug. A bandage but not a cure. In this case, a nap would be a cure. Caffeine is just a temporary fix. True peace takes time and resources.
Anyways, still humored, I turned to thinking about the peace Jesus spoke of.
Jesus’ peace is free. Not free as in it cost nothing… indeed, it costs our very lives for it cost the life of God incarnate. It costs much to follow. Costs crowns and glories, costs relationships, costs world standing and wealth. But the peace is free as in it is offered to everyone rich and poor.
“Come and eat all you who hunger, come and eat without coin.”
Jesus’ peace comes to us, wherever we are, and seeks us out. Jesus goes after the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal child. Jesus calls to us. Jesus is with us wherever two or three are gathered in His name… and scripture speaks of God as close to us as our shadow, our breath, our hearts.
Jesus’ peace is eternal. Ever renewing. It isn’t over in twenty minutes or when I leave the church, or close the Holy Book.
Jesus’ peace isn’t over when… things aren’t peaceful. Jesus’ peace is in conflict and struggle. In fact, Jesus’ peace is often NOT peaceful in the way the world defines peace. It ruins nations and brings down the powerful. It stages protests and sits with the mourning, powerless, victims. Jesus’ peace isn’t about a lack of conflict at all. Rather…
Jesus’ peace is… the peace of a righteous heart.
The peace of being authentically who we are – to ourselves and our sisters and brothers.
Jesus’ peace is… the peace of being loved, wholly, completely, inside and out, sinful and broken and holy and whole… Jesus’ peace is hope and love in the middle of hopeless, loveless, situations.
I read Revelations and drove towards my mother-in-law’s house thinking about the sacred vision and its description of the Peaceful City. It is a loveless, hopeless situation John is sitting in.
The Christians are suffering under Rome. It is anything but peaceful. Rome claims to bring Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, to all countries to end all wars. All wars end because all nations are part of Rome. But this is at great cost. The cost of the death of Jesus. The cost of the death of independence. The cost of being full citizens. The cost of culture. It means being ruled by tyrants, and evil, and fear. But it’s peaceful… because there is no war.
It’s the world’s peace. No war. But no shalom either. No completeness, wholeness, health. Not the peace of God. It’s a tentative 20 minute peace based out of fear.
It’s a peace maintained by exiling people like John to the island of Patmos and murdering, exiling, or torturing anyone who questions Rome’s authority.
Like those Jews and Gentiles claiming Jesus as their one and only Caesar.
Under this persecution, John of Patmos sees a grand vision of hope for all the world.
He sees that we – you and I – can choose to live as citizens of the world, as citizens of Rome, or the USA, or any culture or country. And we’ll suffer the fate of that identity… which will be, some day, destruction.
Or we can choose to live as citizens of Heaven, and suffer the fate of having the identity of being a citizen of Heaven… which will be bringing heaven on earth as we do God’s will.
Last week, we read how God gives a new community to us, and God chooses to make God’s home among us…. Not high in the sky away from us… but here. In community.
In the words of Dr. Ronald J. Allen… “The city is gold. The gold signals the value the community: it is as valuable as the most precious metal in antiquity. But these walls are clear as glass…” This isn’t a community that is closed off. It is the most precious community that is ever open and accepting in more.
And “the city has no temple. Indeed, the length, width, and the height of the city are equal. The city itself bespeaks the Holy of Holies.” Which is described the same way. “God is immediately, fully present to shape community life.
… The new Jerusalem contains only those things that build up community, such as the glory and honor of the nations, and the nations and rulers living in its ways. But that things that disrupt community have been destroyed.
[Today’s reading] recollects an important theme in apocalyptic literature: the end time (the new world) will be like the beginning time (the world as God created it, before the ancestral couple ate the forbidden fruit and invoked the curse).
In the semi-arid character of the Mediterranean basin, water is important. The presence of “the river of the water of life” is a way of saying that the power that sustains life is unending and irrepressible. That image recollects the water flowing out of the temple in [the book of] Ezekiel, across the streets of the city, down to the Dead Sea. Along its route, vegetation flourishes. So it is also in community: people become generative and they flourish.
The tree of life — a symbol that God guarantees life — is on both sides of the river and bears twelves [sic] kinds of fruit, one each month. Provision is ceaseless. Fruit, of course, is a traditional Jewish symbol for qualities of life.
In those days, they made some medicines by grinding up leaves. The nations — typified by Rome — suffered from idolatry, injustice, and violence, and they collapsed, one after another. By contrast, the cities that take this medicine — that live according to the vision of this community — will be healed.
[This vision] draws on a traditional apocalyptic notion that, after the apocalypse, the faithful will reign with God. However, John [of Patmos] has earlier indicated the nature of this rule: the saints worship God in the pattern […] by laying their crowns before God. To reign with God, in this Book, is to serve God’s purposes.
John [of Patmos] sees God bring the holy city into place as the climactic act of the coming of the new world.”
This is shalom. This is God’s peace. There is no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no sickness, no sin, no evil, no absence of God, no inequality among humanity, no fear. This is God’s peace: the world and all nature, all people, restored to the glory God plans for us.
In the face of all that, my un-peaceful week looks really… well, weak. Powerless.
What power has the hospital’s schedulers compared to the power of God who literally is recreating the world?
What power has traffic, or computers, or schedules compared to the God who can and IS forging out of us the blessed community?
The God who has conquered death, and sin.
The God who has set order to the chaos.
The God whose love has made possible life itself, and abundant life at that.
I… got hopeful. Happy. I laughed.
Jesus said he’d leave us with a peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that is nonsensical. And yeah… I know we have that.
In prison. In exile. In homelessness. In stressful times and in oppression… we are still the Easter People. Still the people of the Resurrected Jesus. We are still the citizens of Heaven who strive to set free the full reign of God’s peace on Earth as it is in heaven.
We have senseless hope and peace to keep going when our fields are still wet. We have love and joy when our families feud that, although they fight, they have goodness still in them. We have Jesus’ peace that notices in the worst of times… there are still glimmers of good.
And we find that light. We are that light. We share that light. And we tip the balance of the world ponderously toward good.
We are the children of the all loving, all good God.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”