Revelation 21:1-6+Psalm 96:1-9+John 13:33-35
Those of you who know me know that I spend far too much time on Twitter. Sometimes, it pays off, or at least provokes some constructive thought.
This week, a progressive Christian author tweeted:
A lot of people pushed back at the numbers, but I didn’t have time to investigate, so don’t take them at face value.
This Tweet, though, speaks to a couple of things. One is that Jesus was a Jew, and in Jewish religious practice, questioning and challenging and turning texts this way and that, was, and continues to be, how Jews come to some understanding of what G-d is about.
Secondly, I think this quote convicts every one of us who profess certainty about what the bible says. Our faith does not require us to be certain about exactly what scripture says, because the bible is not always consistent in the things contained in it.
But there is one thing that is consistent. God is love. God created us in love. God wants us to love each other as we are loved by God.
Everything else – what we believe, what we profess, how we carry ourselves in this world – it all springs forth from this God-given power of love.
And those of you who identify as anything other than cisgender and heterosexual know as well as anyone just how badly we have lived that through the years.
I am sure that most of you are familiar with the film version and series of Left Behind books written by an evangelical minister and predicting what it will be like when the Rapture occurs. First off, I need to tell you that the word ‘rapture’ does not appear in the bible. The whole premise of the elect being swept up into heaven while sinners like us are, you got it, left behind to be tormented by God, is actually based on three very short bits of the Christian scriptures. One is from Matthew (24:40-42) with a variation in Luke (17:34-35) where Jesus is talking about the trials and persecutions to come and he says that two men will be working in a field and one will be taken and the other left, or two women will be grinding meal and one will be taken and one left. So, we are supposed to keep awake, because we don’t know when that is going to happen.
The other place where Left Behind believers find scriptural support is in the earliest letter of Paul, 1st Thessalonians, where it says
For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. (16-17)
There are a lot of things I could say about popular interpretation of this passage, but I’ll just leave it at this: it doesn’t say that anyone is being left behind; Paul is reassuring those to whom he is speaking that the ones who have already died will not be left out of God’s salvation; and it does not say that everyone stays up in the air.
And that is all I have to say about that.
But take a look at what we just heard in Revelation. This is another image for the day when God’s reign is fulfilled. We aren’t taken up into some far-off place. No, the new Jerusalem comes to us. God comes to us, just as God came to us in Jesus, and we live forever in the presence of God where there is no death, no sorrow, no mourning.
Maybe this just isn’t as compelling a vision as the chosen ones being swept off into the clouds while the reprobate suffer here on earth, but it is much more in line with the gospel of love Jesus proclaimed.
It’s a gospel of love that says that everybody is welcome, that peace and joy belong to everyone, where we love our neighbor by making sure that our neighbor has an opportunity to flourish just as much as we do. It’s a gospel that says it doesn’t matter who you love or where you come from or what color your skin is.
There are plenty of things in scripture that can’t be objectively proven which is why faith is called, well, faith. But of this I am sure, “if it’s not about love, it’s not about God,” as our presiding bishop says.
When this Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, preached at the wedding of Harry and Meagan in 2018, he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said
“We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.’ We participate, we begin to make real the reign of God, by living a gospel of love.
A new world where all are welcome, the New Jerusalem where the river of the water of life courses through, with the tree of life on either side bursting with fruit, where there is no night because God’s radiance is our light – that’s the place built by love. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we find a rainbow over the whole thing.