Revelation 22: 1-5 9-17-17 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever.
The Book of Revelation has gotten a bad rap, mostly because people have tried to read it as a road map to the future. It is not so much a futuristic prophesy; rather it is more like science fiction or fantasy, genres which reveal our own world through a fictional place. The Book of Revelation—one revelation, one long dream--was given to a man named John who lived in exile on the Island of Patmos, between modern-day Greece and Turkey, some 75-100 years after Jesus died.
The visions in John’s Revelation are drawn from experience and knowledge, and they are changed by the Spirit that guides our inner psyches. The Book of Revelation is like a dream in that sense, where recognizable things and events become larger symbols for life’s journey. For example, I dreamed this week of today’s worship, where we were making hygiene kits. In my dream, we had a few technical problems, and we also had many, many unexpected guests. I was trying to juggle all of that, I got lost in my bulletin, and I could not actually lead worship. The dream imagined a combination of last week when I was flustered by the sound system, funerals we’ve hosted that were almost too big for this room, and putting together hygiene kits today. The dream reflected what I know, changed by the Spirit into symbols of my life.
John’s dream also reflected what he knew--the dangerous politics of the Empire and the dynamics of several faith communities in what is now modern-day Turkey. While he couldn’t really call out the political entities for fear of retribution, he did name the churches, calling them to task over their faith and work. John’s dream used images from the Book of Daniel, the Prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, and the book of Genesis to point out the political and religious realities of his day.
The passage we read today gives us part of the last chapter of the whole Bible, with mirror images of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the Garden of Eden. Although Eden was said to be a garden, and John imagined a City of God, there are similarities. Eden was said to be the spring for the four major rivers of the earth; John described a river that flowed from the enormous twin thrones of God and Christ, down the main street of the city, and out to the world. Eden gave us the Tree of Life, which was denied to Adam and Eve—and all humanity-- when they were expelled from the garden; in John’s City of God, the Tree spans the river providing fruit for all seasons, providing eternal sustenance. After Adam and Eve left the garden, God placed angels to guard the gate, and John also has angels guarding the City and the Thrones. John imagined the City of God as more immense and architecturally awe-inspiring than the Temple of Jerusalem or any palaces anywhere. Eden was a garden set apart from the Chaos of the world; John’s City of God will also be a place beyond the chaos of the spiritual world. In God’s spiritual City, which is Eden re-imagined, there will be water and food for all. It is a place, John wrote, where we will be amazed at the size, the intricate artwork, the glory and majesty as well as the absolute power of God, so that the only thing we can say is, “Wow.”
“Wow” is a word I say when I am overwhelmed—not only with beauty, but also with shock. It is the word I said this week as I walked along the Bay Trail and saw a great blue heron preening itself, a little snake sunning itself while a lady big crawled over it, and a cat across the marsh with a mouse in its mouth. It is also the word I said as I saw pictures of the Virgin Islands, Cuba, and South Florida, of destroyed houses, downed power lines and trees, and people wading chest high through water where a few weeks ago there were dry streets. John wrote of a river running down the center of the street, and I saw pictures of that power this week.
John’s river running through the middle of town might be as peaceful as the Sacramento River running through our state capitol, or it could be as frightening as the water running in the streets of Havana. We know both the peace and the power that is in several billion-trillion molecules of H2O, and we say, “Wow” when saw the destruction at the Oroville Dam this year, and we say, “Wow,” when we view the grandeur of the Grand Canyon that was cut over millions of years by the Colorado River.
I am amazed at both the diversity of nature, and the destruction and power of nature, and all I can say is, “Wow.” That is the same “Wow” of John’s Revelation, of standing before the throne of God. It is the “Wow” of God’s power in our lives. And it is the “Wow” of watching people help others when rivers run through our everyday earthly streets.
It is overwhelming, breath-taking, and may even stop you in your tracks. Where there is a feeling of peace when rivers are calm, there is a sense of helplessness in the midst of all that destructive power.
In our helplessness, we can help. Today we’re going to respond to the power of the hurricanes we’ve just witnessed. We will put together hygiene kits for Church World Service to give to people across the world who are homeless, or without water or power, and they will become part of our offering today.
Before you get ready to move back there, Let us pray, God of power and might, God of majesty and Wow, we stand before you in awe, in wonder, in amazement. We mourn the loss of life from the recent storms, and perhaps even more devastating is the loss of homes, livelihood, source of food and water. As rivers run through the streets of our hemisphere, grant us access to the Tree of Life, so that all may be nourished. Grant us access to the pure river that runs from your great throne, so that none may go thirsty. May this work of our hands go to help those in need, and may we find ways to help even as the lasting effects of the hurricanes continue. Amen.