In the very first line of the book of Revelation, we learn that the author is in a prison colony—Patmos: a small, rugged island in the Aegean Sea. He is there as a prisoner of the Roman empire. He writes this vision as a letter to the churches back home—a theology for his friends and family, his people, as encouragement in their faith.
The verses assigned for today, on this fifth Sunday of Easter, are from the end of the book, the culmination of his vision. He sees Jerusalem, the holy city of God, descending from the heavens. And there, in the city, in this new Jerusalem, not in heaven but on earth, not elsewhere but here, in our world—in this vision the people are gathered, and in the gathering is the very presence of God.
God’s home is not in heaven but with mortals. That’s the hope, that’s the promise at the center of what this vision is about. God’s life is not elsewhere, but here, on earth, among people—God at home with mortals, God at home with us. The dwelling of God is with people, we read in verse 3, God will live with them.
That hope is what I’ve experienced as you pastor for all these years—that God has made a home in the world with your lives, that in our communal life God shows up. And you’ve allowed me the privilege of a front row seat to see God’s life in yours, to watch God build a home with what you offer of your lives.
Over the years, I learned to think about my role among you, as a pastor, as someone here to bear witness—to notice God in you, to watch for God’s work in your work as a community.
Church life is work, as you know, a lot of work, and the promise is that, as I mentioned last week in my sermon, our labor is a kind of homemaking with God—the promise of this vision from the book of revelation is that God’s heavenly city descends, here, into our earthly community, into the very plain work of committee meetings and sharing meals, into the basic routines of gathering for fellowship and worship, the hand of God in the care you offer each other. For the dwelling of God is with the people, it says, God will live with them, God will live with you.
And I’ve been here to notice what I can, to witness all of it, and to remind you, every once in a while, that God is here among us, that God has made a home with us. To remind you of who you are, of what we are, as a church—that we are held in God’s love, that we have always been and always will be held by God, despite the cruelties of our world, despite the harshness in our lives, and despite our failures.
I’ve reminded you of that truth, that promise at the center of our hope, the gospel at the heart of our faith—that, here, within our reach, are people who provide us with God’s comfort and strength and hope.
The passage from the book of Revelation was assigned in the lectionary for today. But the verses from Colossians, from the letter to the Colossians—I picked those for our service. I picked them because I think they say everything that needs to be said, in terms of how to cherish the gift of church life—these are verses on how to care for a community, words of guidance on how to cherish one another and live together as God’s home in the world.
To bear life with each other with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, it says. To forgive, to love, to dwell in the peace of Christ—a peace not just for ourselves, but for the world, for our friends, for our neighbors, for strangers, peace even for our enemies. To commit to a way of peace, to the struggle of peace.
The gift of bearing witness—of noticing God at work among us and reminding you, week after week, about the God who was and is and shall be, love, from before the beginning, love, and until after the end, love. God as unceasing and unending love.
I’ve seen this in you. Thank you for sharing that love with me. I’ll be forever grateful.