“Cosmic Hope from the Strangest Book in the Bible:
I want to start out this morning by doing a public act of contrition. Last week during the children's sermon I may have made what seemed to be negative references to a certain baseball team from New York. Given the actions of the New York state legislature this week I want to publicly apologize for saying anything negative about anything having to do with New York.
I know at least one of our members has been working hard to help pass marriage equality in New York State for a long time – Bill Smith. Do we have other here who helped work on marriage equality in New York State? Would you please rise?
Some of you heard about the church trial of Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin this past week. Amy was found guilty of doing a same gender wedding but given only a token penalty…a 20-day suspension. A 20-day suspension doesn't even include loss of salary. It is like a three-week vacation. After the announcement of the penalty, I saw a number of pastors on Facebook saying "Punish me. Punish me." The Spirit of God is moving.
We saw our youth off yesterday on their way to their mission trip to Jackson, KY, a town named after Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson worshipped at Foundry when he was a senator. So our Foundry youth are off to repair homes in a town in Kentucky named after a Foundry worshipper. Keep our young people and their adult counselors in your prayers this week.
I want to say a special word of thanks to our choir this morning. Our choir sings every Sunday, all year long. We often applaud our choir and we often applaud the soloists who have such gifted amazing voices.
I want to say a special word of thanks this morning to our rank and file choir members. They are my special heroes. I had one of our choir members say to me once – I'll never sing a solo. I don't have a solo voice. But it is my privilege to contribute to my section and to make it stronger.
I want to say a special word of thanks to our choir volunteers this morning who show up week in and week out to give this choir the depth it has. I know sometimes you have to work really hard to learn the music. And I know you sacrifice to be here. There may be some people in the congregation who have sung in the choir for special seasons. Would all of our choir volunteers in the choir and in the congregation please rise. We are especially grateful to you today.
If God has given you a singing voice, you really ought to ask whether God might want you using it in this choir. Do you know what I would give to have a voice good enough to sing in this choir? And you don't have to be as good as our soloists. If you wonder if your voice is good enough, ask Stanley to listen to you sing. I'm sure he'll be glad to do it. And you'll grow in the process. Stanley is not only a great director, but while he is directing, he is also teaching.
About a year ago I was asking people for suggestions of topics for sermon series or sermons and someone asked me to preach on this topic: He said he had recently moved to Reston and the topic he wanted me to address in a sermon was whether he should keep coming back to the city to go to church.
This request has been bothering me for a year. I didn't know what to say in a sermon about this question. For one thing, I could not find any biblical references to Reston in my concordance. I really didn’t know what to say.
And then I realized this week as I was studying these last chapters of the Book of Revelation that finally here was that sermon. So by the end of this sermon I will answer the question as to whether you should keep coming back into the city to go to church when you move to Reston.
The biblical story begins in a garden but it ends in a city. And what a city! As Ashley sang, "Oh, What a Beautiful City."
Heaven come to earth is a city. When the Kingdom of God comes into history, according to John the writer of Revelation, it will be a city.
This is often hard for American Christians to believe because the church in America began as a rural and small town movement and there continues to be within American Christianity an anti-urban bias.
So I'd like to ask three questions today about the city that American Christians often ask and let the book of Revelation answer them. Three questions about cities that American Christians often ask and the book of Revelation will answer them.
The first question about the city is this – Isn't the city a place of great poverty? Isn't the city a place with lots of people who are poor? This is our assumption about cities. When I goggled the words "urban poverty" Google told me there were about 4 million 5 hundred thousand matches. Don't cities breed poverty? How could the city be a symbol of heaven? How could heaven be a city?
Here is the Book of Revelations' answer: the city is a place of great abundance and wealth. Here's what Revelation says about the city:
The wall is built of jasper, while the city is pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city are adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates are twelve pearls, each of the gates is a single pearl, and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass. (Rev. 21: 18-21)
The city is full of amazing riches and wealth and abundance. The problem in the city is not poverty but injustice. The problem in the city is not that there isn't enough wealth but that there isn't just distribution of wealth. The problem of the city is not poor people but our inability to neither establish just economic systems nor to share affluence.
Heaven is the city healed of injustice. What God is doing in human history is developing a humanity who know how to live with each other justly and who have a desire to do so. And when we learn to share and when we learn to establish just economic systems, then the city of God will come down to us from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2) The city is a place of great abundance.
The second question American Christians often ask about cities is this: Aren't cities places with a lot of decadence? Aren't cities places full of loose morality? Aren't cities places where young people go to sow their wild oats? Aren't cities places with R and X rated movie theatres and gay bars and straight bars and prostitutes and adult clubs? Aren't cities decadent?
The Book of Revelation's answer to this question is very interesting. Revelation's answer is that cities are places of freedom.
The Harvard theologian Harvey Cox became one of the most famous theologians in America in 1965 when he wrote the book The Secular City. Harvey Cox grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. I remember reading either in the Secular City or another book he wrote that one of the reasons he loved the city was because, when he was young, in the city he could smoke a cigarette without six people calling his mother.
The city is a place of freedom. Why do so many gay and lesbian folk move to the city? Because the city is a place where LGBT people can be free to be who they are, or at least freer.
Why were there so many Negro spirituals written about the city of Zion talked about in this passage in Revelation? Because the city meant freedom. The city meant opportunity to define your own future.
God wants us to be free. This is why there is no temple in the city. "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb." (Rev. 21:22)
God does not want us to follow morality prescribed by religious institutions. God doesn't want us to be decent and good and loving because a Sunday school teacher or a preacher tells us to be good. God wants us to have the capacity to reason out our own sense of morality.
The whole story of the New Testament is that imposed rules don't work and God wants us to be able to think through to our own morality and ethics based on love. This is called grace.
God wants to liberate us from imposed rules so that we can act morally and do good because of our own internal compass and not because the temple is telling us what to do. God wants partners who think for themselves, not stooges who obey an externally imposed morality.
We can not be good unless we are free. God loves freedom. The city is a place of freedom and God longs for us to become ethically mature so that the city can be a place of love and inclusion.
If you get this this morning, it will be worth the price of admission for the year. God doesn't want you to follow a religious authority. God wants you to think.
Here's the third question American Christians ask about the city: Aren't cities dangerous? Aren't the city streets full of foreigners and people who have different values and people who are different? Isn't the city a dangerous place to be?
The Book of Revelation's answer is that the city is full of people who are different and this is a source of life and healing for the nations.
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. (Rev. 22:1-2)
The street of the city is the place where people divided by barriers, by mountains and by oceans and by desserts come together and the result is life and healing.
What God is doing all the time is removing barriers so that people can come together and there will be life and healing.
Jane and I had a vacation of a lifetime this year. Nancy Groth almost ruined it. (I told her I would say that today.) We were in Venice for a week and the entire time I kept thinking how awful it was that a person in a wheelchair would not be able to travel more than a block or two in any direction in Venice. Once someone has raised your consciousness, it is impossible to lower it. I kept thinking the whole time about how there were no curb cuts in America when I was a kid and how many energetic, talented people were denied access to the streets because of a stupid thing like not having curb cuts.
In the city, God is cutting cuts through all of the barriers that separate us and the result is life and healing.
Heaven is a city come to earth and it is a beautiful city. So here is what I want to say to you when you move to Reston. Either you can come to the city or the city will come to you.
The city is coming. The city is justice; the city is freedom; the city is life.