August 26, 2018 // Narrative Yr. 4 Revelation Series 7 // First Congregational UCC Ashland, Oregon // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk // “Into the City”: Revelation 21:9-14, 22-27; 22:1-5; “New Jerusalem” by Tania Runyan

Intro

Maybe this has happened to you. When we moved from my first senior pastorate in a small town into Cleveland to start a new ministry, I remember hearing people say: Why would you move there? It’s crowded. There’s traffic. There’s crime. The city? Why in God’s name would you want to move there? The Good Life is out here on cul-de-sacs planted with boxwood and rose of Sharon. Of course, these folks didn’t know what we would find in the city. They didn’t know we would find there one of the most excellent public elementary schools, a neighbor who told me to pick freely from his riotous rose bushes I inhaled on a walk, a foreclosure cherry pie I was able to make because the house next door was repossessed and no one was there to harvest the cherries, the overly opinionated and eccentric old immigrant from [New Zealand] who owned a fairly disheveled local yarn shop two blocks away, where dyed his own rough handspun wool and hosted “sit and stitches.” (Pause)

 

Trans.

I guess one person’s paradise is another person’s purgatory. (Pause) When we moved from that city – with its world-class art museum, multiple universities, ethnic and racial diversity – out here to Southern Oregon, we heard it again. Why move so far from family? It’s just so… remote. There’s a lot of mental illness. And a lot of homelessness. Such a high cost of living. And… they are really, really, perhaps unnaturally, into their parades. (Pause) Maybe something like that has happened to you when you’ve relocated.

 

I.

If it wasn’t for 2,000 years of familiarity, the fact that John sees “the New Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven might surprise us more. Heaven is… a city? Henry Drummond finds this startling, pointing out, for most of us, “heaven is a nap.” It’s removal. It’s rest. It’s “getting away.” So, even though the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, has some spiritual precedence for John, what happens when we take his vision at face-value? What if John just meant he saw his city, his familiar city, his neighborhood, his neighbor’s houses, his streets… coming down out of heaven, all made new and brilliant by the light of the Lamb? If he was praying and writing today, perhaps John would have said he saw “A New London” or “A New Cleveland” or “A New Medford.” “In every city throughout the world today,” Drummond writes, “there is a city descending out of heaven from god. Each one of us is daily building up this city – or helping to keep it back.” (Pause)

 

II.

Of course, he doesn’t mean just a city. Drummond means all those places where we live and move and grow and learn. Tania Runyan grasps the implication in her poem, “New Jerusalem”:

Alpha, Omega: it makes no difference.

The heavenly city of God has come down.

 

[God] makes [God’s] dwelling place

In the muddy corner of your garage,

 

The oncologist’s office,

The space between paper and pen…[1]

 

Or, as the prophet Ezekiel envisioned, “And the name of the city from that time on shall be: The I AM is There.”[2]

 

III.

You have a “city.” It may not be buildings and streets. It might be the oncologist’s office. Or the school where you teach. It might be the Food Back or non-profit where you volunteer. What I invite us to do today, all ages, is circle up in a small group and share together: What’s our city? (that place where we live and move) How have you seen the light of the Lamb shine there? Or how might you? [Invite into circles… Find someone with a bucket near you…]

 

[people bring finished lego houses, shops, swingsets up to worship table to display]

 

Concl.

For seven weeks now, the poet John has been calling the followers of Jesus to testify, to testify to the power that doesn’t act like other powers we see at work in this world, a power that doesn’t move through violence but through love, through offering. For seven weeks now, John has been opening our imaginations, rallying us to nonviolent resistance, reassuring us the Big Battle of Violence vs. Love is already won. That we can stand. That we are followers of that “sLamb.”[3] John sees a vision that the end of all of this is that Light and that Love fully come, making new all of our places: our cities, our homes, and our communities. This week, as we go out into our “cities,” let’s look for that Light that is Christ. Let’s share Christ, “not as doctrine, but as discovery, as our own discovery,” as Henry Drummond invites us. “Let us live our “own discovery.”[4]

 

[1] Tania Runyan, “New Jerusalem,” Things That Must Soon Take Place.

[2] Ezekiel 48:35

[3] Brian K. Blount commentary.

[4] Henry Drummond, The City Without a Church, excerpted in Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community (New York: HarperCollins Inc., 2002), p. 703-707.