Saturday, May 05, 2007


Revelation 21:1-6

In the movie The Perfect Storm, a group of fishermen heads out to sea looking for one good catch that will sustain them for the winter. After many days of failure, they finally bring in that big haul and get ready to head home. The only problem is that their ice machine is broken and without ice the catch will spoil. Their only hope is to make fast break home and hope that their small supply of ice holds till then. This strategy is, however, dangerous because a massive storm stands in the way.

If they wait out the storm they’ll lose the catch and needed cash for the winter, but heading home could lead to their deaths. Believing they can conquer the sea, they head home. Their audacity is tested because this is no ordinary storm. This is a perfect storm, a convergence of weather and sea so powerful that there’s no way out – and in the end they’re lost without a trace.


The ancient world feared the power of the Sea. Homer’s Odyssey is a good example of a story of the dangers of the Sea, and the Sea figures prominently in the Old Testament as a symbol of mystery, danger, and Chaos. The subtle tones of our English translations of Genesis 1 cloud the clash between order and disorder that fill the opening lines of the Creation Story. But, if we look carefully, we’ll catch a sense of the danger inherent in Creation, as God acts to bring order to chaos, by separating dry land from the waters and light from darkness.

We see something similar in Job, where God says to Job:

Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? -- when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it and set bars and doors, and said, "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped?" (Job. 38:8-11).

Although God sets the boundaries against the sea, the sea continually pushes back, seeking to erode the barriers so that it can overwhelm the land. Yes chaos seeks to overcome order. Think only of Katrina, and you have a sense of what is happening on a spiritual level. Chaos, the Scriptures tell us, is always there seeking to get past our defenses, causing us to fall.

This message can overwhelm us and push us into a life full of fear. But there is hope. Chaos surrounds us, but into the midst of this disorder, comes the New Jerusalem from heaven. By the time John wrote Revelation, the old city of Jerusalem stood in ruins, the victim of its rebellion. But unlike the old city, this new one will live up to its name and become "a city of peace." Of course this city is a metaphorical one, and not a literal city. And so, the question is – Where is this city of Peace?

To those who feel abandoned by God – those who cry out: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me" (Ps. 22:1), comes this vision of hope. Yes, Chaos is afflicting us — sickness, death, joblessness, divorce, war, terrorism – but the New Jerusalem has come down to us. And in this new world "The sea was no more." Now, not only is Chaos held in check, it is gone. In this holy city violence, hatred, anger, intolerance, oppression, harassment, all are done away with, and in their place there are beauty and peace and joy.

To give us a sense of this beauty and joy, John mixes his metaphors and compares the New Jerusalem to a bride on her wedding day. Like a bride adorned for her husband, so the new city appears in our midst. Every groom who has waited at the altar for his bride can understand this image. As we take hold of John’s vision, we see the joy that comes with the unveiling of the bride in all her glory and beauty, and such is the beauty of the coming of the Lord into our midst.

This short passage is full of grand metaphors – the Sea, the City, the Bride. But there’s another metaphor – the water of life. Although the Sea symbolizes the danger of Chaos, the spring reminds us that we can’t live without water, and what is true physically is true spiritually. In this vision Jesus says to us:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
The sea, which symbolizes death, destruction, and chaos is replaced with a spring, from which flows the water of life.

Too often we read such visions and we think of them pointing beyond this life, as if this life is without hope. I’m no utopian who thinks we can build a perfect society on earth, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change the circumstances of life in this realm.

We can be agents of change precisely because God is with us. That’s the message John hears from the throne of heaven:

See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them. (Rev. 21:3).

As you hear these words, don’t you hear an echo of John’s Gospel?

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).

In Christ God became incarnate and dwelt among us. Now, in the New Jerusalem, God is present among us. If you look closely at this passage, you’ll discover that there isn’t a temple in the New Jerusalem. To borrow an image from Paul, we are that temple in whom God dwells.

Therefore, if God is for us, who can be against us? And if we’re that Temple, in whom God dwells, our lives have purpose and they have hope. We needn’t fear the threats of Chaos, but instead we can be at work in the world bringing hope to the lives of others. Through us God will wipe away every tear and bring death to an end.

Our society tells us to submit to Caesar. It tempts us to live lives of complacency and passivity. But in this vision we see God’s city of peace "where right and justice prevail." If we think that this must wait for the other side of death, then we misunderstand the message. The truth found here is this: Because God is present with us, we’re empowered to be agents of truth and justice, and God’s way in the world. Maybe you thought I was going to say "the American way," but God’s way and the American away aren’t always the same (Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation, Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989, 217-18]. Let us therefore, embrace God’s call to be Christ to the world so that the hope for truth and justice and compassion may prevail among us.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, California
Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 6, 2007

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