Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

Being prepared for the New Jerusalem

Revelation 21.10, 22 to 22.5

The Go-Betweens were a great Brisbane band, and their name will grace the Go Between Bridge over the Brisbane River when it’s opened this year. And ‘Streets of Your Town’ is their song about Brisbane. I love the catchy chorus:

Round and round, up and down
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way
Through the streets of your town.

Have you ever caught the other lyrics though?

Don’t the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives.

So it’s perhaps with a sense of relief that we’re taken straight back to the chorus with its great hook:

Round and round, up and down
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I play it my way
Through the streets of your town.

Where is ‘your town’? Where do you live? As Brisbanites, we’re justifiably pleased with the climate and its live-ability. But what about its underside? The battered wives the Go-Betweens speak of? What about the homeless kids? The alcoholics and the drug addicted? The mentally ill? The disabled?

Where is our town? What is our town? Is it a sun-drenched—sometimes rain-drenched—sub-tropical paradise? Or is it a place with a hidden story, a story of pain and tears?

Or is it both at the same time?

Sometimes, we live in sunny Brisbane and sometimes we live in a sad Brisbane. I think Brisbanites tend to look more at the sunny side of life here. But then we run the risk of not seeing the people in need that Jesus brings across our paths.

Where do you live? Where did the people of the New Testament live?

Well, they lived around the Mediterranean Sea, didn’t they? But when he wrote to the Christians in Philippi, this is what the Apostle Paul said:

our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3.20)

We are citizens of heaven; but, Paul says, there are people whose ‘end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.’

In other words, they are people whose horizons are limited by what they can get out of life here and now. People who can’t or won’t look up and see that the Lord is near. People who are not citizens of heaven. At least, not yet.

So Paul is saying that a Christian’s true home isn’t here, whether we live in Australia, around the Mediterranean or in South America. We are in truth citizens of heaven.

The writer of the Book of Hebrews also said something about a city that was coming:

…here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13.14)

So, we’re part of a city here, the City of Brisbane. But we’re really citizens of another city, a city that is still coming. This is the city that John is talking about in Revelation 21, as he saw

the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

This is the New Jerusalem, the city to which we belong, and John’s vision paints it as a city like no other.

For one thing, it’s seriously large. You can see in Revelation 21.16 that it’s a cube, measuring 2400 kilometres in length, breadth and height. That’s further than Brisbane to Hobart. It’s about the distance from here to Auckland! And it would be about 80000 storeys high. There’d have to have a lift! But you know, a lift wouldn’t do much good—to go from the floor level to the top would take over 8 days. That’s if the lift just went continuously, 24 hours a day. If it stopped to let people on and off, then who knows how long it would take?

This is a seriously powerful vision; it would be a seriously huge city. Let’s not forget: the images in Revelation are not meant to be taken literally. Thank goodness for that!

So: what is this vision of the New Jerusalem saying, if it isn’t literally a golden cubic city with 2400 kilometre sides?

This is a vision of an ancient city that is totally and absolutely perfect in length, breadth and height. It measures the same in every dimension. It’s huge, and proclaims the majesty of God. It’s made of gold and precious jewels, and its streets are gold.

It’s a city that’s coming down to earth. We don’t escape from the earth to be part of this city. What we do on earth, what we do to the earth, how we treat the earth, is vitally important. We are not escaping from the earth by being part if this city.

This New Jerusalem can hold a lot of people. There’s no shortage of room. Like all ancient cities, it has walls. The walls seem high—about 60 metres high—but they are surely dwarfed by the size of the city. What’s a 60-metre wall around a 2400 kilometre high city? Nothing.

The gates of the city are never closed. It’s an open city, and it’s perfectly safe. There is no underside there. No battered wives, no homeless kids, no one on drugs. As Revelation 21.3 & 4 say:

God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain
 will be no more…

Nighttime was darker in the first century; there were no streetlights or electric lights. So it was good news that it’s never night in this city. It’s always light because God is there, and the Lamb is there. Its citizens can see God clearly. Because God is clearly seen and known by them, they need no church building. You might think that means there’s never any church, but I think it means that every moment is praise and thanksgiving and song.
We are citizens of that city. The Apostle Paul said something in Colossians 3.3 which sheds light on this:

…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Your true life—your true self—is hidden in God. You are far more than you appear to be. You are a child of God, and you are a citizen of that perfect city.

And in Revelation 2.17, the risen Lord Jesus says:

To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.

I think this is a wonderful verse of scripture. It shows that only God can truly name us. God has a new name, a true name, for each one of us. One day we’ll know that name, and we shall discover what that life of ours that is hidden with Christ in God means.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? You might see someone handsome, or beautiful. You might see zits and failures and disappointments. None of these things is the real you, the true you that is hidden with Christ in God.

It’s the true you who will one day live in that perfect city. And you will see the truth about everyone else too. I suspect that’s why nothing unclean shall enter it. They could enter it, the gates are always open. But shame prevents them; the awful truth about them would be clearly seen. But perhaps there may be a way of their turning from their uncleanness even then, and entering the city. Perhaps the citizens of the city will even go out and try to draw them in. I mean, if no one may go in or out, why would the gates be always open?

Where do you live? Perhaps you still think you live only in Brisbane. But that’s only a short-term arrangement. Your true self, your real self, is hidden with Christ in God. You are being prepared for life in the New Jerusalem.

Whilst we’re here though, we are meant to live as our true self, the self that God is making us, the self that reflects the new true name that will be on a white stone. Then it won’t seem like we’re entering a foreign country when that city comes down from heaven.

One more scripture verse: Jesus said,

Your will be done on earth as in heaven.

You know that verse of scripture. It’s part of the Lord’s Prayer. But that’s how we are to live right now, today: as though that city, the New Jerusalem, is already here. Doing God’s will, being shaped into the true self that God is making us.

There’s another verse in that Go-Betweens song:

I ride your river under the bridge
I take your boat out to the reach
Cos I love that engine roar
But I still don’t know what I’m here for.

But we know what we’re here in Brisbane for. It’s to be followers of Jesus, to be lovers of God, to be friends together in the Spirit. To be made ready for eternal life with God the holy Trinity. To live so that we may one day receive our true name from God; and to live for ever in the New Jerusalem. Amen.


Filed under RCL, sermon

4 responses to “Sixth Sunday of Easter (Easter 6)

  1. Michelle cook

    I’ll be singing the go between for awhile but also trying to work out how to actually act like a citizen of heaven

  2. Hi Paul,

    The way I understand the new Jerusalem is as the restoration of the old Jerusalem, the place of Abraham’s tithe to Malchezedec and the burial place of David.

    The Hasmonean dynasty of politician priests had corrupted the temple by their collaboration with Rome.

    Jesus declares his messiahship to the Jewish authorities at the Hannukah festival (John 10), the celebration of the re-dedication of the temple after its corruption by the Greek colonisers.

    In the tradition of the old testament, Jesus’ proclamation of the Jubillee was about real estate, not just the redistribution of wealth but the restoration of the tribal ownership of land in accordance with the covenant of Abraham and the tribal land distribution of Joshua (Jesus’ namesake).

    It is the Roman empire, the very beast that colonised Israel and executed the messiah, that has created pie in the sky when we die, they have severed Jesus from the connections with his land – the covenant of Abraham – and devised a personal morality complete with etherial notions of a new Jerusalem and the kingdom of God.

    The Hellenistic consciousness that the new testament repeatedly warns against includes the philosophy of Dualism as expressed by Plato, aristotle, Zarathrustra etc. This involves a separation from spiritual and material, from soul and body. This dualism can be found nowhere in the bible. “My Kingdom is not of this world” is not refering to pie in the sky but about an alternative to the rule of Caesar – the son of God according to the Romans. Just like the covenant of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, Jesus covenant is about the land of Israel – the land between the Euphrates, Nile, Jordan rivers and the Mediterainian.

    “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is not a proclamation of Hellenistic dualism but of holism, of the one-ness and connection of it all, not the separation and differentiation of dualism.

    What does this mean for 21st century Brisbane?

    It means we await the new Meanjin that will arise again after the collapse, defeat and anhialation (by God) of the foreign occupiers and their foreign Gods (or their repentance and forgiveness as per the whole Samaritan nation in Acts). Just like in the bible.

    Qld. Synod has just affirmed the proposed preamble changes. This opens a massive can of theological worms that undermines the concensus of Nicea as to the nature of God, heaven and earth.

  3. Hi John T.,

    Just very briefly…

    I suppose I can both agree and disagree with what you’re putting across here. No to dualism; agreed.

    The New Jerusalem as the restoration of the old—I don’t think that’s in the text.

    The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven is precisely not pie in the sky; but it is grace for the undeserving.

    Not sure if I know what your saying about the affirmation of changes to the preamble undermining the consensus of Nicea. Care to elaborate?

  4. Hi Paul,

    John Tracey here, if you didn’t figure out who John T. is.

    I won’t argue about biblical exegesis but the preamble stuff is important.

    Have you read “Rainbow Spirit Theology”? written by a group of Aboriginal Christians. In it, the biblical creation stories are juxtaposed with Aboriginal creation stories and it is proposed that the two explain the same thing – the one universal God.

    So far, so good. But how does the notion of, for example, the rainbow serpent as a creator spirit fit into Rome’s absolute notion of the trinity? Is the rainbow serpent an analogy for God the father, son or spirit?

    Now the preamble does not insist that all Australian christians should now adopt the stories of the rainbow serpent, but it does mean that this particular explanation of God the creator is considered within the boundaries of that which determines what the church is. Clearly this does not conform to the consensus of Nicea and all Roman christian doctrine since.

    There are many creator spirits, not just the rainbow spirit. They have a lot more to do with the breath of the elohim and the existential “I AM” than they do with the trinity.

    it was not until the 16th century with the papal bull “Sublimus Dei” that the church even acknowledged indigenous people as humans with souls. Their experiences of god were still deemed until very recently to be devil worship.

    This raises further questions about Nicea and the following universal councils. If god was in relationship with and sustaining his people in this country, and in Africa and the Americas etc, why weren’t these people included in the allegedly universal councils that determined the framework for what the christian faith and god itself was or was not?

    As I see it, there is no contradiction or tension at all between the preamble and the bible, in fact it seems to be solidly based in the biblical principle of reconciliation amongst diversity.

    But the implications of the preamble do indeed cause problem with the creeds, the only point that the Assemblies of Confessing Congregations have relied on in their opposition to the preamble.

    The Creeds were devised as templates to determine what is and is not legitimate faith. The basis of union affirms them as such, although alluding to the possibility of ammendment.

    I am sure there is some complicated theological formula that can reconcile the rainbow serpent with the trinity but the contradiction is clear.

    I hope that the church can get to a point where it says the rainbow serpent and the trinity are just 2 inadequate descriptions for that which cannot be described, but this is well outside the spirit of Nicea. I notice Rob Bos teaches a theology not dissimilar to this.

    There is another discussion that will arise out of the preamble that hasn’t arisen yet, and that is understanding of who and what Jesus is. Rainbow spirit theology says Jesus is an Aborigine to Aboriginal people. as if he is a culturally appropriate adaption of the Roman Jesus. I say Jesus is a tribal (judah) Aborigine of the land of the covenant of Abraham. He was an Aborigine in the first place and this is a key part of understanding the new testament.

    The white Roman Jesus grew out of notions of citizenship of the Roman empire, not the traditional law, culture, ceremony and spirituality of ancestors in their land and the resistance to foreign gods and kings that is found in the bible.

    If we are to accept the legitimacy of Aboriginal experience of God, and our own complicity in the crushing of that spirituality in this country (as the preamble does) then perhaps we have to look a bit further back than the last 200 years to understand why and how the gospel of Jesus can be used to crush Aboriginal people’s relationship with God. The history of the church is the history of the Roman and Holy Roman empires – the perspective of economic and military power. Perhaps we have to look at this history as honestly as we have to look at the role of the church in Australia to understand why white colonialism has been justified by the name of Jesus.

    Read or heard Graham Paulson?

    In “Towards an Aboriginal Theology” he urges Aboriginal christian to take their spiritual bearings from the bible and from traditional culture and bypass the notions of the white missionaries.

    This is relevant to us white Christians also. For example, Celtic Christianity was the fusion of the Hebrew religion and traditional Irish and English spiritualities. The culture and power of Rome smashed all of this too.

    We need to understand our own history and culture and the bibles direct relevance to it rather than adopting the perspective of the Roman empire as a historical self identity.

    We Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish folk were colonised by Rome in the same way Australia was colonised by England.

    In embracing Aboriginal notions of spirituality within the one body of christ, we white folk get a glimpse of our own spirituality outside the confines of Roman orthodoxy.

    But this will mean loosening our grip on the Roman creeds to be able to even see it.

    Have you kept up with Ched Meyers’ theology?
    “Anarcho-primitivism and the bible”

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