“God’s Dwelling Place”
Revelation 21:1-6 – April 24, 2016
It’s spring! It is finally spring! Bushes and trees are budding, the grass is greening up, the spring flowers are in full display. After the long, cold winter, everything finally is blooming and budding—showing signs of green, fresh, new life.
It seems like it’s been a long, long time since we have seen the last leaves fall from the trees, last year—in the autumn of the year. This past week I read several books to the four and five year old children at Kids Academy about trees. In one book, I read about what happens to trees during the winter. They certainly appear dead, from the outside. But now in spring time, life starts shifting into forward motion. Full speed ahead, with the new growing season!
Imagine the newness of spring, of exactly this time of year, with everything outside budding and blossoming and growing. See that in your mind’s eye. Now, imagine it, 100 times bigger and better. No, 1000 times bigger and better! Now we’re getting the beginnings of an idea of what the new heavens and the new earth are like. That’s a little of what Eugene Peterson meant when he wrote his translation of Revelation 21:1; “I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.”
Doesn’t it say somewhere that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good?” As the book of Genesis tells us, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God created everything good.
God gave humanity the world and everything in it for us to enjoy. It is all a gift, everything, for us to enjoy together with God. Not only that, God wants to be in relationship with us. Can you imagine, daily strolls through beautiful gardens, in the cool of the evening? That’s just the picture that is painted for us by Genesis chapter 3.
You all know the plot line. God did have a close relationship with Adam and Eve. Then, one day, God came looking for Adam and Eve, but what happened? Sin happened. That relationship was fractured. Humanity was separated from God by sin. Now, today too, I am separated from God by my sin. We all are separated from God. Alienated from God.
When the world was created, everything was created very good. God says so, at the end of Genesis 1. Beautiful, glorious, magnificent Earth was created, and humans were placed on it to be good stewards of the Earth, and to take good care of it. But, we all know what happened. Sin happened. Not only we—us humans—were separated from God, but something catastrophic happened to the Earth, too. The world has been suffering from the catastrophe of sin, inside and out, ever since.
Another word for sin is separation. I know I sin. I displease God. And when I sin, I am separated from God. I feel it. I know I am alienated from God. I feel intense sadness, sorrow, and longing to be back in relationship with God. (And with other humans, too.)
This separation and alienation is a problem. Not only for you and for me, but for the Earth, too. The Bible is not specific on this point, but when Jesus died on the cross, the gospel of Matthew tells us that the Earth shook and the rocks were split. Somehow, the Earth knew when the Son of God died. The Earth reacted when the Creator of the heavens and the Earth died.
Thank God that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. Just like us. Thank God that Jesus reconciled us to God, so that we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. And, this passage from Revelation reminds us that the world is going to be renewed, reconciled to God. The Earth is going to become that fresh, new, spring green place that it once was.
Remember, the book of Revelation was written by John. This book of amazing, fantastical visions was written for our edification and to help us get ready for things to come in the future. When you read this passage, this description in Revelation 21, what is your reaction? Do you think this description is pie in the sky? Is it way, way far-fetched? Or, is it a blessed promise of things to come?
Let’s read more from Eugene Peterson’s translation. Starting with verse 3: I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.”
That doesn’t sound like this crazy, messed-up world, at all. Does it? Especially the part with God moving into the neighborhood!
How would you like God—the Lord God Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth—to live in your neighborhood? On your block? Across the street, or maybe even living right next door? For some, it’s a scary, daunting thought.
Some bible scholars say that cities—like Chicago—are scary! Sometimes, they are. Dark, dreary, dangerous places, where sin, evil, violence and alienation reign, and keep the good Christian folk huddling inside their homes and buildings. However, that is not the case here. John tells his readers that the New Jerusalem is a bright, shining city! The city of God, where God dwells. That’s God settling down, getting comfy in our very own neighborhood!
The commentator Dana Ferguson describes urban settings and cities in a fascinating way: she talks of cities being places of cooperation, interdependence and welcome. (See Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 2). Let’s go with that description, and think like that. What a positive, encouraging way to think of the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.
Yes, this bible passage provides a vision of the future, of where we’re going. These descriptive words tell how wonderful it will be. Not only a bright, shining city, but also a welcoming snapshot of what God has promised to us. And, just think. That’s where God is settling down. As Peterson translated, “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”
Theologian Frederich Buechner gave a telling response: “What does it mean to be ‘with God’? To say that a person is ‘with it’ is slang for saying that whether he’s playing an electric guitar or just watching the clouds roll by, he’s so caught up in what he’s doing and so totally himself while he’s doing it that there’s none of him left over to be doing anything else . . . In other words, to live Eternal Life in the full and final sense is to be with God as Christ is with him, and with each other as Christ is with us.”  [italics mine]
Let’s enlarge that vision to include all of Earth. Have you ever thought of caring for the Earth as caring for God’s creation? We just celebrated Earth Day on Friday. Earth Day is a day of responsibility and caring for this wonderful world. And, it serves as a tangible reminder of God’s unconditional love, extended toward all humanity.
We can celebrate God’s love, God’s presence with us, and the gift of God’s creation.
Sometimes, I hear language like, “Jesus lives in my heart.” Or, “My heart, Christ’s home.” Is it, really? How welcome is Jesus Christ in my heart? Am I generous and kind with my heart and my attitude, or does Jesus feel unwelcome when He knocks at the door of our hearts? Great question! An intriguing thing to think about. Sometimes, a serious thing to think about.
I know, I know. We aren’t there yet. The new heavens and the new earth are not here, yet. However—what are we going to do with these Bible words in this in-between time? How can these words from Scripture impact our lives, today?
We can take these words as hopeful, encouraging words: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!” We can celebrate God’s presence right by our sides, today. Now, in the in-between time, and at the time of the new creation, too.
(Thanks to Kathryn M. Matthews and her online commentary, Sermon Seeds, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_april_24_2016 Several of the ideas in this sermon were used in Kathryn’s article.)
 Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner, Harper & Row, 1973, 21-23.