The Holy Gospel according to John, the 14th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today I would like to share a vision. It is the most beautiful vision ever. It is the vision of the Holy City, a vision of what the world looks like when Jesus reigns and we walk as children of the light of God.
The Holy City is also known as Zion, or the new Jerusalem. John uses beautiful pictures to help us imagine the glory of God. In his vision, one of the angels carries him to the top of a high mountain to show him the holy city coming out of heaven from God.
When I was in Tanzania a few years ago, I was on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, a very high mountain. The city of Jerusalem is often called Mount Zion because it is built at the top of a hill. You always have to go up when you go to Jerusalem.
Like the Holy City in John’s vision, there was lots of water every where I went in Tanzania. It started raining every evening when the sun set around six o'clock and rained steadily until 9 or 10 am. Then the sun came out and it was absolutely beautiful.
Tema is a two point parish. The first 2 weeks I was there, we walked a couple of times from Tema to Nrowony where the second church was. The only way to get there was to walk on the mountain path which was only passable the first two weeks I was there because of the rains and the mud.
On our walk, we crossed several streams on foot bridges. The mountain streams ran fast and clear and cold from the snow melt. The view was incredible. Everything was green and lush. There were banana trees and coffee plants. The birds sang as they flew from tree to tree. Everything was like an amazingly beautiful vision of creation, very different from the place we live.
John’s vision of the Holy City is also different from the world where we live. Everyone who goes to Jerusalem, goes to Temple Square. In the old Jerusalem, the Temple is the focal point of the city. The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s house. Everyone knew you went to the Temple to find God and bring prayers and offerings.
One of the things you might notice about the Holy City is that there is no Temple. Instead of a temple in the center of the city, there is a throne. The throne is the throne of God and the Lamb.
God’s presence fills the city. God’s people are everywhere, too. The people of God reign with Christ as priests. They don’t reign over anyone the way a king reigns. They share in God’s reign. They share in God’s work wherever they go, whatever they do.
The old city of Jerusalem had a wall around it. There were several gates, but they were small. They were so small they were often called “the eye of a needle.” You remember the remark Jesus made about how it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven? He was talking about the city gates.
The new Holy City has a city wall, too. The walls are made of jewels. There are twelve gates. I am sure you remember hearing that the gates are made of pearls. Each gate is a single pearl.
That is not the only difference between the pearly gates and the gates of the old city. The old city locks the gates and guards them at night. In New Jerusalem, the gates are always open. Everyone is welcome, no documentation necessary, no matter what country they come from. People enter the pearly gates from all the nations of the earth and walk together on the golden streets.
The Lamb of God is the lamp of the Holy City. The light of the glory of God streams through the open gates. That light guides the people in, from every nation on earth. This is a very multicultural city. Everyone walks in the light of God.
It is a very clean city, too. Nothing unclean can enter it. No one who practices abomination or falsehood may enter, no sinners allowed. The only ones who may enter are the ones whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Naturally, this Holy City has a river. The water is crystal clear and it flows from the throne of God. This river is the center of the city. It runs right through the middle of it. This river is the water of life. Those who drink from it will never thirst.
An enormous tree spans the river, growing on both sides. This is no ordinary tree. It isn’t special just because of its size. It is special because of what it does. It bears twelve kinds of fruit, a different fruit each month. This is the tree of life. Everyone who eats its fruit will live forever.
The leaves of this tree are no ordinary leaves. They have healing properties. They don’t just heal individual sickness, though. These leaves have the power to heal entire nations.
Imagine that - the power to heal the nations. Imagine having the power to bring peace and healing to our country, to Syria, to South Sudan, to Iraq, Afghanistan, to every place where there is warfare and strife.
Imagine having the power to bring people together, the power to eliminate violence in our cities, the power to solve political and economic problems, to eliminate racism, the power to heal our environment, the power to bring people hope.
Imagine a place where people share in God’s reign. They do God’s work to feed everyone, so no one is hungry. They do God’s work to bring about healing and peace for all nations.
They do God’s work to preserve the earth and all its trees and rivers and plants and animals. They pray and work continuously that the reign of God will come on earth as it is in heaven. All the peoples praise God from all the ends of the earth.
This is a view of a beautiful, green, park-like city. The fruit tree makes us think of a garden. It takes us back to that first garden, the garden of Eden. There were important fruit trees there, too.
There was that fruit tree that our first parents, Adam and Eve, weren’t supposed to eat from, but they did. We can’t go back to that garden. That gate is guarded by angels with flaming swords.
There was another important tree in that garden. That was really the reason we were thrown out. God didn’t want us to eat from that other tree. That tree was called the “tree of life.” God did not want us to eat from the tree of life and live forever in our sin.
This Holy City is where we find the tree of life from the Garden of Eden. God was there, too, in the midst of that garden. God has forbidden us to return there because of our sin. No one who is unclean, no one who has sin can enter the Holy City, either.
Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may enter the Holy City and eat from the tree of life and live forever.
Our sin has made us unclean. There is only one way we can ever enter the Holy City. We must be washed in the waters of the river of life. That water flows from the throne of God. That water has the power to wash away our sins.
I have good news for us all today. We have been washed in the waters of the river of life. In Holy Baptism, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life. We were marked on our foreheads with the cross of Christ forever.
We are the ones who walk as children of the light. We share God’s work. And we pray that God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.