We have probably all noticed
that life on this planet isn’t a cakewalk.
A lot of bad stuff happens.
I’ll spare you the list of horrors in the news.
You already know that.
Along with the bad stuff, there is plenty
of goodness and beauty.
There’s a great deal to love here.
But there’s a problem with that too.
The lovely comes and then it’s gone. It’s transitory.
A thousand poems have said it.
Robert Frost put it simply:
Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden came to grief
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
it is not so much the bad stuff that breaks our hearts
as the passing away of what we love,
the people, places and times we love.
That’s why religion – not just ours –
religion itself looks beyond what the Prayer Book calls:
the changes and the chances of this mortal life
to find a place where our true hope resides.
The Scriptures teach us to set our eyes
upon that realm where God’s gracious
and merciful will is done
not just now and then
but forever and ever amen.
As Christians, we have another world in view.
If the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,
we have a building from God,
an eternal house in heaven.
Life was hard in Appalachia in 1784
when Christians began singing,
I am a poor wayfaring stranger
While travelin’ in this world below.
There is no sickness toil or danger
In that bright world to which I go.
Since the 5thcentury BC in Greece
-- and earlier in the East –
there have been compelling philosophical arguments
for believing in a realm of enduring
meaning, beauty, and goodness.
But our first intuitions of such a hope
did not come from philosophy.
They came from the visions of prophets:
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel,
Enoch, and St. John the Divine
who gave us today’s lesson from Revelation.
During a dark time of persecution,
exiled from his home in Ephesus,
living in a small cave on the little Greek island
of Patmos – a dark, grim place then,
a holy place today adorned with candles and icons --
John had a vision that became the last book
in our Bible.
It has always been a controversial book.
It made it into the Bible by the skin of its teeth.
Parts of Revelation are seriously problematic.
But there are also passages of such tender consolation,
we just couldn’t let go of it.
Granted, there have been times when the Church
was so heavenly minded
we weren’t much use on Earth.
But in our day, we have turned our eyes
away from Heaven,
reducing our faith to either
a political agenda or an amateur psychology.
The gospel certainly has social justice implications
and faith can support psychological health.
But if we lose sight of our hope in Eternity,
we betray the gospel and fail to offer
this heartbroken and despairing world
the very thing it so desperately needs.
Today’s lesson begins with the key words,
Albert Einstein said,
Reality is an illusion but a very persistent one.
Our greatest physicist said this realm
of time and space is illusory.
John the Divine used his sacred imagination
to look past that veil of illusion,
the chaos of this world,
maya, the Buddhists call it,
to find the context of sacred meaning
in which our so time and space reality floats.
John looked and he saw a multitude gathered
before the throne of God.
The multitude were those who had
come through the great ordeal.
Which of us has not been through
the great ordeal?
And the multitude sang,
Salvation belongs to our God
who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.
Then John tells us the ultimate fate of the multitude
-- that would be us.
They will hunger no more and thirst no more.
The sun will not strike them
nor any scorching heat . . .
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.//
When we say Heaven,
we are not talking about a geographical place.
We are not talking about a date in time.
We use images of space and time
to because that’s how we think.
But Heaven is a realm beyond space and time.
John is describing the larger Reality
in which space and time exist.
It’s made of love beyond our capacity to imagine.
That larger reality already holds us in being.
1,300 years later, Lady Julian of Norwich in a vision
saw the whole cosmos as a hazelnut,
so frail, so insubstantial, she asked God
What holds it in existence?
What keeps it from falling into nothing?
It exists, God answered, because I love it.
But why should we trust such visions?
Are they not perhaps psychotic breaks?
Why trust one vision rather than another?
There are two reasons for us to believe
in St. John’s and Lady Julian’s visions.
First, we put visions to a moral test.
What does faith in such a vision do to people?
If we say, when life’s play is done
and we ask what truly mattered,
and we answer, the bottom line is love,
what kind of person does that make?
It makes us kinder. It makes us compassionate.
It inspires us to live in hope instead
of the despair that possesses so many
leading to paralysis at best
and at worst, to violence.
The second test is coherence.
Marilyn McCord Adams, one of our very best
philosophers of religion,
wrote a book titled, Horrendous Evils
and the Goodness of God.
She says, if God is who we believe God to be,
infinitely good, boundlessly merciful,
if goodness and mercy are what make God God,
then the Eternity which waits for us
has to be so wonderful, so splendid,
that we can look back on even the worst
things that have happened,
and say that, awful as it was,
the destination makes it worth the journey,
having endured all we have endured.
God will wipe away every tear
we have ever shed
and replace them all with joy.