City of God
Revelation 21:1-6 & John 13:31-35
An elderly couple passed away and found themselves at
the pearly gates. Peter was there to welcome them. First
he showed them their mansion. The husband,
overwhelmed by the sheer luxury of it all, asked, "How
much does this place cost per night?" Peter replied, "Sir,
this is heaven, it doesn't cost anything." Then Peter took
them to the dining room where table upon table was piled
high with the most delicious foods you could imagine.
Again overwhelmed by the glory of it all the man asked,
"How much for the meals?" Peter said, "You forget, this is
heaven, it's free." Peter then took them out back where
they saw a fantastically beautiful golf course. As the man
stood there open-mouthed Peter said, "Now before you
ask, there are no greens fees, this is heaven, everything is
free." The man looked at his wife and said, "You and your
confounded bran muffins, I could have been here 10 years
Indeed, we imagine heaven to be a glorious, peaceful,
beautiful place, and this vision we heard just a few
moments ago from John's Revelation gives us an idea of
why we imagine heaven in the ways that we do. And
doesn't it sound truly amazing?
Beautiful like a bride dressed for her groom. No pain. No
tears. No death. Yet did you notice the fact that John's
revelation doesn't include pearly gates, or streets of gold,
or golf or mansions filled with succulent food? And in this
final imagery of heaven in the Bible, something else is
emphasized; something, which I find to be far more
glorious —a new heaven and a new earth, joined together
around a Holy City, and at the center of this new city sits
God, living (again) among humankind. Now that really
sounds like heaven!
But for us to really appreciate the vision of heaven that we
get in this passage from Revelation, I think we have to
contrast it with the world we live in now.
For example: 5 years ago, right around this time of year, 2
young men committed a heinous act of terror at the
Boston Marathon, that took the lives of 5 people, injured
scores of others and drove an entire city into chaos and
fear. The entire Watertown neighbourhood of Boston was
locked down while a search went on for the suspects.
People hunkered in their houses, afraid to go outside.
And what about us? What are some of us going through
this morning? Is there pain in your heart that is nearly
unmanageable? Has someone hurt you deeply? Are you
suffering from an illness, a disease? Do you have a daily
battle with depression and anxiety? Are you so disgusted
today's seemingly continual occurrences of hate-filled
acts: acts of terror, shootings at schools, churches and
other places of worship. Acts designed to make us cower,
to make us afraid. Do you weep over the state of the
world? Do you feel like you can't go on, like you'll never
A woman shares a story about her 7-year old daughter,
Jessica. Jessica is a deep thinker when it comes to
theological questions. Recently, as they were re-reading
the story of Adam and Eve and how sin came into the
world, Jessica and her mother discussed why bad things
happen. Later that week, Jessica was sick and had to stay
home from school. Feeling quite miserable, she told her
Mom, "If only Adam and Eve hadn't eaten the fruit, I
wouldn't be sick." And before her mother could answer,
Jessica added, "Of course, if they didn't eat it, we'd all be
sitting here naked!"
innocence, that purity, has been lost and distorted
because of the ways and events of the modern world:
Because of sin.
We live in a broken world. Every time we turn on the TV or
open the newspaper, our hearts are torn out of our chests.
We read about children who have been abducted and
trafficked, or mass shootings, or devastating earthquakes
or weather. It's just about too horrible to even imagine.
And yet, this is the world we live in.
But the promise of John's vision is that we can have hope
in something far better, and at the center of it all is God,
"the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end."
The Presbyterian author and Minister Eugene Peterson
said: "The biblical story began, quite logically, with a
beginning. Now it draws to an end, not quite so logically,
also with a beginning,"
"The sin-ruined creation of Genesis that we know and
experience is restored in the sacrifice-renewed creation of
revelation," The result in the first creation was "the
heavens and the earth." And the result in this ending
creation is a "new heavens and new earth."
And friends, this is not just some rosy description of
heaven that prompts one to comment, "Oh, isn't that
nice?" This is a passage of strength and hope for
desperate times! This is a promise about something
better, far more wonderful than we can imagine.
This vision is about change, and newness, and wholeness,
and life! This is a promise that can lift us out of whatever
devastation we may be experiencing and strengthen us
with the knowledge that something new and wonderful
The description we have of this new heaven is a Holy City.
But why a city? Cities are busy, and impersonal, and
stressful. Cities are where gang fights and bombings
True, very, very true. But look: Following the tragic events
of the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a well-
circulated photo of a police officer carrying two gallons of
milk last Friday to a home in Watertown under lockdown:
In it lived a family with a small child who had run out of
milk. On that same day in that same community, a gigantic
parking lot was filled end-to-end with federal agents, cops,
emergency responders, and soldiers. They were working
together, methodically going door-to-door in a twenty-
block radius in what was an unprecedented manhunt. On
the evening news that night, looking exhausted and
defeated, the chief of the Massachusetts State Police
shared the disappointing news that there was still no
apprehension of the bombing suspect. But within an hour,
a break came, and less than an hour after that, the suspect
was in custody. And then did you see what happened?
People in the community flooded the streets and they
clapped and cheered as all those cops, and soldiers, and
agents cleared the area and headed home.
It was beautiful; a picture, I think, not unlike the one John
paints for us here.
The New Jerusalem. A Holy City. And perhaps we can
understand better now why. Because cities are places
where people live together in dependence on one
another. A city works when everyone in it does something
to contribute to its welfare: when a cop delivers some
milk, when a citizen reports suspicious behavior, when
citizens emerge from their homes to cheer the first
responders and civil servants who have helped keep them
A city can be a place that works. A city can be the welcome
place where people arrive home at the end of a long and
And, John's Revelation tells us, this Holy City is where God
lives. And it is because of God's presence that pain,
suffering, mourning, and crying are ended. Through Jesus
Christ, God wipes away everything that terrorizes us.
In fact, the vision describes the Holy City (in one way, at
least) by noting what is not in it. After the first heaven and
the first earth have passed away, John says, "the sea is no
The sea is often a powerful biblical symbol for chaos, and
for good reason: You see, the Israelites and new Christians
in the ancient Middle East were not seafarers. They were
more or less land-locked, and except for the fishermen
who would row a little ways out and drop their nets, they
were not equipped to handle the tumultuous waters of
the open seas. They didn't know how to pilot great ships,
most people didn't even how to swim. To them, the sea
was a dark and scary place full of evil. And the sea also
represents what separates humans from one another.
So part of the beauty of this dry, new Jerusalem is that
there are no stormy seas to terrorize lives and keep people
from one another. Here, God and human beings live in
peaceful, harmonious relationship with one another.
And this is where we really get to the wonderful promise
of this passage. The sea was the terror of these ancient
peoples, but we all deal with different terrors today.
Relationships grow cold and sour, and end; hurt and
disappointment come from those we love; life seems to be
unjust or senseless; we don't get the answers we hope for;
failure and discouragement mar our great intentions. We
know chaos and terror quite intimately: John reminds us
that we know all too well the reality of tears, pain,
sadness, darkness, suffering, and death.
But here is our hope.... Here is the great promise of John's
vision: Just as God takes away the sea that was the sign of
such chaos in the ancient world, in the new heaven, God
promises to take away our modern chaos—the bombs, the
explosions, the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the
depression everything, all the way through to death.
If we can have faith in that truth, then the words that we
hear today in Revelation have the power to become such
life-altering words for God's people, and especially for all
who find themselves in the midst of struggle and turmoil.
"Then the one seated on the throne said, 'Look! I'm
making all things new.'...Then he said to me, "All is done. I
am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end."
These are words that matter at the heart of life, where we
question who we are and who God is. These are the words
that give hope when all seems lost. They promise us that
there will be a new day when all that has hurt us will be
gone, and we will live face-to-face with the God who loves
"Behold! I am making all things new!"
Praise be to God. Amen.
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