By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
October 21, 2018
Scripture: Revelation: 21:1-6
Raise your hand if you’ve ever read the Book of Revelation in the bible…not just like an excerpt – I mean the whole enchilada.
It’s kind of a wild book. There’s all of this vibrant imagery and symbolism. It is full of angels and a great beast and a whore of Babylon and 144,000 righteous ones clothed in white. It’s also a controversial book. Sometimes people don’t know what to do with it. When early church leaders were deciding which books should even go in the Bible (like super early in 200-300 CE), the Book of Revelation was on the bubble. It got included in our bibles by the skin of its teeth. Even the very first Christians had reservations about this book.
Because it’s not straight-forward. It’s not a letter like Paul wrote to his communities. It’s not a gospel – a theological story of Jesus’s life. It is an apocalypse, a revelation – a recounting of a vision that the author John of Patmos received from God in a dream, while exiled on an island. It is filled with symbols relating to its particular time and place that we tend to want to interpret as predicting the future. The Whore of Babylon, for instance, is almost certainly a veiled reference to the oppressing culture of John’s day: the ancient Roman Empire.
So when we modern Christians read the Book of Revelation, we are perhaps better off looking at it like a painting, a work of art – considering the images from this angle and that angle – and maybe stepping back to look at the whole picture – rather than trying to interpret line for line what this book means.
One theme that runs throughout the book is of judgement and resolution. All of the scary, unsettling images in Revelation are about looking at the state of the world and saying, “these things are NOT okay.” Sinfulness, wickedness, violence, suffering – that is a giant NOPE. God does not want that. Yet every time there is a passage about the destruction of what is wrong and evil in the world, there is a resolution of what will arise after all the evil is gone: what the world will look like when it conforms to God’s dreams for it.
We see one example of that vision in our reading today: this vision of the New Jerusalem: a holy city coming down from the realm of God to actually be the center of our earth here. And God is fully present on that day, in this new city. The text says, “See, the home of God is among mortals.” And on that day, mourning and crying and pain will be no more. It is John’s vision of what a world devoid of evil and fully manifesting the kingdom of God looks like. It’s a magnificent vision.
Well, one of my jobs as a pastor is to cast a vision – to show you all what the world right here would look like when we finally get on board with what God wants and, in fact, is already doing in the world. This is where I must admit something to you. Vision is difficult for me. I am not someone who spends a lot of time exiled on a metaphorical island dreaming about future possibilities. I am firmly planted on the mainland – getting stuff done. I am a fantastic strategist. You tell me something you want to happen, and I will tell you the steps you have to take to make it so. That is my strength.
But vision. Vision can be a challenge.
When I first started as your pastor here at Hanscom Park, I knew I needed a vision. For the first few months here, I prayed every day, “God, give me a vision. God, let me see what you are dreaming for the people of Hanscom Park United Methodist Church. God, where would you have me lead them? What does the future you desire for us look like?” And every day I would look out of my office window. And there was a construction zone. And from the dirt was rising a building. It was the new JP Lord School.
Well, when I was preparing to start as your pastor, I had looked up JP Lord. I had read that it was the new school being built for about 60 students in our public school system who have significant physical and cognitive disabilities. And yet – for about 30 days, I looked out my window and said, “God, give me a vision!” Until finally, God was like, “ahem.” And the eyes of my heart opened, and I saw that JP Lord School was that vision.
Perhaps, God knew I was vision-challenged. Because I doubt most people get such concrete answers to their prayers. But here I got it. God was all like, “Remember that thing I said about loving your neighbor? Here’s your neighbor. Literally, Chris you are looking right at it. Here is your vision.” So I reached out to Principal Laura when she was still in their old building, and that is how our relationship with JP Lord started.
See, the thing about vision…is that vision is not something any of us can “do.” It’s only something we can receive. So I began to trust in the vision God was giving me. I called up Laura; we met and we talked. I had no strategy. I just thought, well, God gave us these neighbors to love. Let’s see how God wants us to do that.
But I had no idea. I had no idea what God was up to – over there at JP Lord School…until Laura took me on a tour of the finished building.
I know you all are going to see it in less than an hour, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. But I have to tell you…when Laura gave me a tour of the new JP Lord School, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. It was beautiful. It was exquisite. Every detail she pointed out to me, not to mention the joy and love in her voice, showed me that this was an extraordinary place. It was gorgeous with so many colors and textures, created especially so that the students could see and hear and touch and experience.
It was thoughtful – so many details considered that would make the work of the teachers easier, so that they could be more present and care more easily for their students. Little things like the artwork in the halls that students could roll up to and trace the lines of a teddy bear face or a flower… and big things like having an art room when they never had an art room before, and a therapy pool so students could get out of their wheelchairs and float free.
As I toured the building, I had to breathe deep to keep from dissolving into tears. Not because I felt bad. But because I was seeing a glimpse of the kingdom of God. I was seeing how God would have us care for these students – not in some bottom-line, it’s good enough, kind-of way…but in an extravagant, abundant way. A way that says, “These students deserve every comfort and joy possible.” When the kingdom of God is fully among us, every person will be cared for with such extravagance.
So God showed me that. But God was not finished and is not finished with this vision. When I went to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for JP Lord this past weekend, I had a conversation with the architect who designed the building. His name is Robert Mabrey. And Laura had told me about how much time he had spent with the students and staff learning about every little detail, so that he could create the perfect building for them.
After the ceremony was over, I stopped him and told him what a magnificent building he had designed. I told him about my vision of JP Lord as the in-breaking kingdom of God, and we both stood there trying to hold back tears for a minute.
And then he said to me. “You know, when I first visited JP Lord, I assumed that there would be a lot of turnover among the staff because it is such hard physical work.” He was surprised to find out that staff actually stayed there a long time – sometimes their whole career.
And then he said to me, that as he spent more time with the students and staff, he figured out how it was possible for the staff to work so hard and not get burned out. He said, “it was because they see Jesus every day.” The students at JP Lord show the staff – and each other -the face of Jesus every day.
“See, the home of God is among mortals.”
The home of God is among mortals. Christ himself is among us. And this perfect embodiment of compassion, this holy city, the New Jerusalem is right next door in JP Lord School.
May we continue to be swept up in God’s vision.
May it be so.
QUESTIONS FOR CONVERSATION AND REFLECTION
- If you went on the tour of JP Lord School this past Sunday, what were some of the things you saw that reflected how thoughtfully and lovingly the students and staff there are cared for? How did it make you feel to see those things?
- Has anyone ever shown you the face of Jesus by allowing you to care for them, or by caring for you? Who was it? What was that experience like?
- What have you seen in your life that gives you hope that God desires a better world for all of us, and that God is inspiring humans to help make that world a reality?