Stations of Resurrection: God’s Love of the City 5-5-13

Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5 And 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…. but there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. 23 The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp! 24 The nations will walk in its light and earth’s kings bring in their splendor. 25 Its gates will never be shut by day, and there won’t be any night. 26 They’ll bring the glory and honor of the nations into the City. 27 Nothing dirty or defiled will get into the City, and no one who defiles or deceives. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will get in.  22:1 Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, 2 right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. 3 Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, 4 they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. 5 Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.

May 5, 2013

Stations of Resurrection: God’s Love of the City

Personally I love living in the city.  The city is a great place to live. I love the vibrancy and cultural life. I love the diversity. I love the activity, the need to work together and live together.
We don’t hear too many good things about cities these days. The news is full of dangerous stories about the level of crime, shootings, drugs, loose living, and bad schools in the city. Many people work hard to get out of the city.
So when I read this great passage which expresses God’s love for the city and God’s hope for the city, it warms my heart. This passage is a vision, a dream “in the spirit,” envisioning the holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven to on earth. Heaven for this writer is heaven on earth, where there is no longer any need for the sun or moon because God’s presence provides all the light that is necessary.
The river in the vision is a river through the middle of the city, and it evokes paradise, reminding us of the Garden of Eden, with a tree planted in the middle, just like in the garden. The tree gives a different fruit every month; it is a fruit of the month club from one tree.
The Bible, you see, is always pulling us beyond our own creative limitations. We imagine heaven for disembodied souls somewhere in the ether. The Bible encourages us to envision a resurrection of the body, as hard as that is to imagine. We tend to think of life in God’s forever after to be rural and green; we look back to find peace and inspiration in the natural. Revelation talks about a city with a river flowing through the middle and people of all kinds living together in harmony, a place of safety and inclusion, where the gates are always open, a beacon of hope to all people.
I admit that this vision is almost impossible to take in. Our culture is infused with images of the city as a place of insurmountable problems: urban sprawl, environmental degradation, overcrowding, and income disparity. The Bible, however, looks forward. The Bible moves from the Garden of Eden in Genesis toward the City of God in Revelation. Our society is getting more and more urbanized. In 2008, for the first time, more than half of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people, lived in towns and cities.
Cities are with us to stay and God is in the city, as well as in the suburbs and in the country.  Recently, I met a pastor by the name of Rev. Margaret Powell.  She is the pastor of Solid Rock United Methodist Church in Olney, a church which used to be known as St. James. It was a proud old church. Betty Marmon grew up there, as did a number of pastors and district superintendents.  It was an all white church, even as the neighborhood around it became more and more diverse – with some 60+ nationalities represented.
Today all people are welcome there. Solid Rock has a school with teachers and children from all over the neighborhood. Recently, they started to garden – to grow food for the neighborhood, which they plan to sell in the local grocery store. God is present in the transformation of the church, toward a new time of diversity, self-sufficiency, and creativity.
It’s not an easy ministry and it’s far from perfect, but a ministry that includes people and nurtures people body and soul – that’s how I imagine the kin-dom of God coming among us. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that our eternal life is somehow bound up with the eternal life of the city – not that we have to do anything to earn God’s love. It’s just that God has a special love for the future of the city and our future is bound up in that love. In growing gardens together and growing community together we will see a new heaven and a new earth. We will see God’s home among mortals. We will see the city of God coming among us to make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
As we come to the communion table this morning, may we be aware of how we are connected to the people around us, that we are windows into each other’s souls. As we share from the one loaf and drink together, we recognize Christ’s eternal presence with us and we know ourselves as part of the risen body of Christ. God frees us, renews us, resurrects us to be part of this new heaven and new earth.
This is God’s good news.