Our first reading today comes from the Book of Revelation. I know that we tend to read Revelation in horror and trembling - it’s filled with war and plagues and dreadful things happening. The first time I read it I decided that if Jesus, the Lamb of God, can order such awful suffering upon the people he was supposed to love then I didn’t want anything to do with him. Luckily I met a wise Disciples minister who told me this was a vision, a dream, that one man had during a particularly trying time for Christians. She encouraged me to focus on the gospels to learn about Jesus, his teachings, and his love, and study Revelation later with a teacher who could help me understand it better.
In our Monday night bible studies we often talk about the vision of heaven that can be found in the book of Revelation - streets of gold, houses made of precious gems, fountains pouring out the water of life, the believers, dressed in robes of white, singing unending choruses of praise to God along with the angels and all the other inhabitants of the New Jerusalem. This is a place that represents all the most wonderful images that John of Patmos could use in describing his vision to the churches. And many even today believe that this is what heaven will be like.
The book of revelation is, quite frankly, a dangerous book, as all books of prophecy are. People can and do use it as a threat - a stick to beat people who don’t believe as they do. And yet - the book of revelation is intended to give hope, as all the biblical books of prophecy are.
Hear the passage again : Read Revelation 21:1-6
After pages and pages describing the awful things that will happen - to believers, to non-believers, and to people who haven’t made a choice about what they believe, John speaks to what the final outcome will be. Rather than trying to figure out what form the number of the beast will take, or worrying about the exact date of the end of the world, or thinking the end will come immediately after a world currency is agreed upon, we might best understand the book of revelation as saying “bad things, even unimaginably horrible things, will come into our lives. But if we are faithful, if we obey the commandments we have received from Jesus, we can live in the Kingdom of God. We can bring the Kingdom of God to earth.” We can bring about a world where there is no suffering, no pain, no hunger, no disease.
The passage from revelation tells us what will happen.
Today’s gospel reading from John tells us what we must do to make it happen
Read John 13:31-35
Love one another. Love is one of those complicated words - it can be really hard to define. I suspect you have all heard, at one time or another, someone pontificate upon the meaning of the three Greek words for love - I’m not going to do that today. I will remind you that love is not a warm fuzzy feeling we can sit back and enjoy. It’s a verb - an action word - something we do. When I say “ I LOVE those shoes” or chocolate or a TV show, I am misusing the word - as I suspect we all do from time to time.
We all know how to love someone we consider loveable. Because I love my husband, I don’t sit back and assume he’ll know I love him - I do things to let him know that. I give him gifts I think he will enjoy, I cook things I think he’ll like, I tell him that I love him. In fact, since 9/11 we do not leave each other, even for just a trip to the market, without saying “I love you.”
It seems harder to love someone we find unlovable, or whom we do not know. That is probably because we think of love as a feeling, rather than an action. When we love, as Jesus directed us to, we act.
Because I love God, I try to do things that will be pleasing to God. I try to care for God’s children, whoever and where ever they are. I try to care for God’s earth and all the creatures in it. I work at forgiving those who I think have hurt me. And I try to discern what is the best way to love others.
That’s not easy. Some decades back a group of American women wanted to reach out and help the poor women of India. They discovered there were no shelters for battered women. So they collected money and built shelters and found people to work in them. And the shelters stayed empty. In India at that time, women who left the home for a shelter, no matter how abused, would then have no where to go from the shelter except back into the home. They couldn’t get jobs, they couldn’t live independently - by law and by tradition. Shelters did not help make their lives better. These American women had done a good thing, but not the right thing, because they hadn’t taken into account the culture they were interacting with. They had not taken into account that the establishment of battered women’s shelters here came as the result of a long process toward women‘s independence. The end of that process will come when there is no longer a need for such shelters anywhere - when the kingdom of God is established in every household, and violence is no longer a way of life.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul tells us more about love. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love does not insist on its own way.” When we love, we do not try to make those we love over. We do not try to change who they are. We accept them as they are, as beloved children of God. We do not decide that our way of loving, that our understanding of what is needed is the only way.
As Christians, we can and must work toward justice with mercy and compassion for all the people of the world. How each of us loves - what actions each of us take - is a matter between ourselves and God. Each of us must take a hard look at the world, and at ourselves, and prayerfully discern which of our actions are truly love - and which are not. Remember always that the Kingdom of Heaven, New Jerusalem, can exist in bits and pieces here and now, when we are find ways to end suffering - hunger, homelessness, violence - even in a small way, for one person.
A couple of weeks ago, this note was left in the offering tray:
Dear Church: Over the years we have been united as one. We have been united with love. But I do not feel the same way anymore. I feel as if the love has died. Therefore, instead of giving an object (money) I choose to give you more love. By doing so, my intentions of resurrecting the love are more likely to come true, hopefully. Jocephyne
How perfectly Jocephyne speaks of love. “I feel as if the love has died - therefore, I give you love.”
Her words reflect the way our God speaks to us through scripture. Over and over, God spoke through the prophets and through Jesus, assuring us of love and forgiveness, and inviting us to respond to that love by loving God and all of God’s creation.
Let us respond to Jocephyne’s words, and to God’s words, and to the final commandment Jesus gave to his disciples, by seeking ways to act in love. Let us take the spark of love which God has placed in each heart and pass it on, that the world might experience God’s Kingdom on earth.
Hymn: Pass It On