It has happened that throughout time, when people have time, people have stopped and looked at the world around them and thought, we can do better. They saw a problem and then imagined what the solution would be, and what the world would look like if everyone lived by their solution. Sometimes, people would even put their ideas into practice. There are 5 places called “Utopia” in the United States. Most with the intention of creating in their own perfect society.
In 1593, the Republic of Venice build Palmanova, the perfect self-sustaining fortress, and no one wanted to live there. There was a live-work salt company in France that started in 1779 and continued production until 1962 that was designed as a perfect place, yet working conditions were less than perfect. There are currently small co-operative communities in Copenhagen, in Arizona, In India, in Iowa, not one of those started before the 1970s. The one in Iowa started in 2001. I only say because utopians rarely turn out to be what everyone hoped they would be so they seem to have rarely lasted.
In 1516, Thomas More wrote the book “Utopia,” doing much like mentioned earlier: he saw some problems and then described a world in which all those would be fixed. But here’s why i think we have far fewer utopian novels these days than we do dystopian. More made some assumptions about utopia–there were still slaves, and a hierarchy, and those who were to be submissive. And I’m sure he got all that from our letter writer Paul, but what is utopia if it isn’t utopia for all?
There have been so many ways to think about utopia, perfect living, society in balance, that always seems like a good idea but rarely works, yet they do keep coming up. There is something in us that desires utopia.
But we have that idea, that hope, that desire for perfect living where everyone has enough, and there is no suffering, and we don’t have conflict. And we, Christians, think about that place or time as Heaven, somewhere in the great beyond that we cannot get to on this earth. And I think it’s why the last few chapters here are so compelling–there is a beauty in it. What we didn’t read was a description of the city that is covered in jewels and gems. And you’ll find plenty of people, preachers and pastors who look at this text and tell us what heaven is going to be like. But what we have read about today, this isn’t the eternal heaven we think about when we die, this is the new Jerusalem, that comes down from heaven to be here on earth.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there are multiple multiple ways in which we can read the text of Revelation:
- in its historical context, that it was written in a time and place for particular people of that time and space.
- As if there is some truth, something about God and humanity and the world where it keeps repeating itself.
- A personal journey to God through our own darkness and struggles into hope.
- a timeline or blueprint for the future, for the end of all things.
We have spent a lot of time looking at the historical context of Revelation–how rooted it is in the Rome and Empire and earliest days of Christianity. The history of Revelation is rooted in Rome’s rise, and its ultimate fall.
Here’s Where We Are. John on the island of Patmos was writing this Revelation this reminder this call to the church tell us that live in 2 the draw of Empire in about 80 maybe 90. they had just gone through all of the trials and difficulties under the Empire Emperor Nero who persecuted the church and the Jews actually. remember John thought at the church compromising with the empire was compromising with a force of evil in the world. And there would be no compromise wrong would consume anyone and everything in its path is that is what Empires do.
For the next 200-250 years there was a pretty clear distinction between Rome and the church at least Rome as the Empire stood. There would be times throughout those years in which Christians would be killed would be persecuted would be a reminder that they were outside of society and outside of the positions and places of power. But the popularity of Christianity in the Roman empire grew. they grew particularly with women it gave them increased freedom, a reason, and an ability to say no to marriages and leadership in the church least for a while. During those years the church started to establish for itself an order, a hierarchy. They were figuring out what it meant to be Christian, what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, and who Jesus even was.
In 313 everything changed. the emperor Constantine’s mother had become a follower of the way of Jesus years earlier and maybe Constantine had a vision and maybe he thought it was just a single religion would be a really good way to unite an Empire but in 313 Constantine made Christianity legal in the Empire and Constantine would call for the First Council of Nicea. From that moment forward the church and Rome were bound to each other.
Constantine supported Christianity and made building projects building 300 churches throughout the area of Rome. He also used Christianity demanding that a religion that held multitudes only had one understanding of who God and Jesus were. Particular theologies were established and others were made heresies. You could start to unify people around those singular ideas, instead of living in conflict. The cannon the Bible as we have it today was set.
In 380 emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica declaring that Christianity was the state church of the Roman Empire. Everything John was advocating for on the island of Patmos became moot by the time 380 rolled around. There had been compromises and consequences and they led to bigger compromises and they led to bigger consequences. The church and the empire had become one.
The two were so wrapped out that in 410 when the Visigoths destroyed the city of Rome one of the religious leaders is Jerome who is mostly remembered for translating the Greek Bible into Latin, wrote “the whole world perished in one city.” Augustine the significant Theologian of his time, and Bishop of the Northern African city of Hippo felt he had to give an answer to Jerome and had to answer the pagans of Rome, who thought that the reason Rome fell was because they had abandoned their gods and followed this Christian God instead.
Augustine wrote the city of God there’s a lot of problems with Augustine but he may have been right on this one he wrote the city of God and in it he described the city of people of Earth as being those understood and fashioned and formed by humans focused on Power and always, always choosing a way of self-satisfying and the City of God as a city that is run on Faith and Hope and love.
Which means, there is still hope. Even as Rome had fallen, even as the church learned what it is to be church, even as they learned what it was to how power and lose power, there is hope. There is a journey, sometimes long and struggling but it is a journey of hope.
Sometimes this is our journey. It is the journey through the shadow of death. It is the journey through hard times. It is the journey through to hope. As we get to the end here, the last pages of Revelation, we have God speaking for the first time to the people.
Before that God seems to be speaking through the Angels or the creatures that are around the throne. and the first thing God said is that God’s home has been made with people and “behold I make all things new.”
Now, if we are reading Revelation as a personal journey to the heart of God this is at the heart of God because this is a god of Resurrection this is a god of renewal end of Hope. That God even makes you new it means that your Brokenness and your ruins your hurt and your pains your grieving and your struggles are not wasted and they’re not nothing they make up Who You Are. Ernest Hemingway said wrote that we are stronger in our broken places and Leonard Cohen says that it is our cracks that let the light shine through. Perhaps when we are remade it is like the Japanese art of kin-tsugi, of joining broken pieces with gold making something beautiful out of it, creating art out of where there had been wounds. Revelation is a book of Hope end parts of the hope that we find and it is that we as individuals are not finished and we are not our darkest moments we are not our wounds.
Behold, I make all things new.
There’s a word in Greek which is the language that Revelation was written In the word telios It could mean end or completion or fulfillment but it also gets translated as goal. Revelation 21 & 22 are the telios of God. God did not create us for nothing but to live a mutual Community with all of creation and with each other. That’s what we see in creation, it is the kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about over and over again, and it is what we find here. This has been the goal, this has been where it’s all been heading. To a renewed community, a renewed creation, to renewed relationship with each other and with God. This is the journey, from self-serving, self-satisfying to faith, hope and love. from the self to community and connection. From isolation to relationship. From separation to communion with God.
This is the journey of the church. Always journeying toward love, always journeying toward communion, always journeying toward God.
We will not be aligned with Babylon or Rome or the Empire we will stand in the balance of God’s plan and where we are. We will not be overcome we will not be taken in we will not be coerced or tempted or mislead that somehow we can turn the empire into the city of God. Instead, we live in the hope of the plan of God that is a city of Welcome of community of equity of compassion and of love. And we end where we began in communion with God a present and personal relationship with the creator of the universe. we end where we began amongst nature with a tree this one in a city rather than a garden. In a re-creation. And what we see in the city is that there is still work to do the tree bears fruit. And the leaves are the healing for all of the Nations which means there are still Nations that we are coming and going from the city we are being brought back and forth that we are bringing healing and love this is not a utopic world it is a community rooted and being made in the image of God and bringing healing. So maybe it isn’t image of God’s goal for a creation maybe it’s also an image of God’s goal for the church. for Who We Are. to bring healing out of the doors and into the world. So that the world might be renewed. So that all may know they are made in the image of God. So that all might know that they’re not broken beyond repair they are in the process of being made new.
that is what the Book of Revelation is about is hope in the midst of a broken world but the God who made us and loves us is Renewing us every day.
You received a leaf or 2 when you came in today. I invite you to think about what brings your hope. And what is the hope that you bring to the world around you? Write on one what brings you hope, add it to our tree. Write what hope you bring to the world, carry it with you, hang it up, look at it. Remember that what the world needs is hope, hope that what is broken does not stay that way, that everything is redeemable. That there is still a plan. So take your leaf that brings you hope in the midst of a world that needs it. what is the hope you have found that you bring into the world with you.