We are continuing our sermon series “Homecoming.”
As Christians we are called to be in the world – not of it. This doesn’t mean we enclose ourselves in a bubble, but we know that the world as it presently is is not what God intended it to be. That being said we aren’t truly home, because our true home is with God and in a world where Christ is fully present.
The early church, however, gave the world a glimpse of what is to come. When Christ returns and makes all things new.
Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, wrote: Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope.
To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violence and ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”
In our passage from Revelation, God gives John a vision of a Holy City. A city unlike any that is found on earth, A vision of what it will look like when Christ returns. But it’s not all of the amenities that makes this city Holy. It is who is present in this city that makes it a holy one.
First of all, God is fully present in this holy city.
There is no temple as God’s own self is present throughout every inch of the entire city. In order to worship there’s no need to remain in one particular place. In Jesus’ day, the Temple was the center of Jerusalem as it was where the Holiest of Holies resides. You went to the Temple to meet God.
When Christ was raised from the dead, the curtains to the Holies of Holies ripped in half. Because of Christ’s resurrection, you didn’t have to go to a particular place to meet God. Now you could meet Christ anywhere.
While Christ is with us we have yet to see the fullness of Christ among us. When Christ is fully present there is no brokenness, no darkness – essentially no sin. One does not have to look too far to see that our world is still full of brokenness.
In the Holy City depicted in Revelation, however, Christ is indeed fully present. In fact the presence of Christ is so complete and powerful that there is no need for the sun and/or the moon. Night does not exist because the full presence of Christ provides all the light that we need.
Also present in the holy city are the people of God. Rev 22:24 states: “The nations will walk by its light.” Notice it says nations – not just one, but many. The Holy City of God will be diverse. People of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds will live in harmony together. The racism that separates people in our world today has no place in this Holy City because the full presence of Christ has healed all that is broken.
Racism is a symptom of brokenness. It is a symptom of sin. But when Christ returns sin will be no more. All peoples will be united in Jesus Christ. There will be no reason for nation to clash against nation because they are all united in Christ. There is no vying for world power because all are secure in Christ. There is no reason for people to flee violence and there is no need to shut anyone out, because God’s holy city is a sanctuary for all of God’s peoples.
As stated in Revelation 22:27, “nothing unclean” can enter this city. Anything that separates us from one another and from God is considered unclean. But when Christ returns we are fully united with God and with one another. All that divides and all that is broken has been healed. All because of Christ who is fully present in this Holy city.
Again it is not about what is present in this city, but who is present that makes this city a holy one. First of all the full presence of Christ makes this city a holy one, but he doesn’t want to be present in this city without us.
We were made to be in community because God is in community with God’s own self in the relationships between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We can’t know God without being a part of a Christ-centered community. When we are intentionally together in worship, mission, and discipleship (where we pray, talk about where we see God at work in our lives, in God’s word together), we come to know Christ more deeply. More authentically.
We were created to know Christ in community. And when we participate in a Christ-Centered community we get a glimpse of God’s holy city that is yet to come. When we are in community we get a glimpse of what it will be like when is fully present among us.
People outside the church also get a glimpse of the Holy City when they see the church being the church. When God’s people are, together, serving others and caring for one another in ways you don’t see anywhere else, others also get a glimpse of God’s perfect Holy City.
Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington is located in the Hilltop neighborhood, which is known to have a hight rate of crime and violence. Like many urban churches that had it’s heyday in the 50s, this mostly white congregation shrank as the surrounding neighborhood became more diverse. But there’s been a resurgence in this small congregation. As Rev. Lynne Longfield, the pastor of Trinity in the late 90s said, “We did not cause the resurrection but simply worked to see what God was doing and followed the Spirit’s lead.”
And they did just that. At one point they were down to just 25 people in worship, but today they have 200 members and 130 children. About 20 years ago Trinity looked around their community to assess what needs were present and how God might be calling them to address those needs. Turns out there was a need for a tutoring program for children as many of them had parents or single parents who worked several jobs just to barely make ends meet.
So together, the members of Trinity Pres began a modest tutoring program. But they didn’t stop there. They got to know the parents and guardians of the children participating in the tutoring program and through the parents learned of other ways they could assist families in the community. Eventually they invited these families to worship with them as they didn’t just want to feed the hungry and serve the poor, they wanted to worship with those they were called to serve.
I actually used to attend this church and I’ve seen first hand how they lived into being the heart of their community by serving others together. As one former pastor described Trinity’s story as one “of coming to understand that we are not called to ‘save’ but to respect and value all people — being willing to journey together with others (inside and outside the church) toward living out the love of God.”
Trinity Presbyterian is a glimpse of God’s Holy city in the middle of an earthly city known for crime and violence.
When we as the church are actively responding to those in need, when we are actually living into Christ’s call on us to serve “the least of these,” our actions give others a glimpse of God’s original intention for our world. A world where people are seen, cared for and cared about. A world where people don’t have to suffer and have what they need. When we as the church are being the church we are giving others a glimpse of the Holy City where Christ is fully present.
Sure we could do such service on our own, but we’re actually called do mission and service together. Even Jesus served others alongside the disciples. The early church was a community of people who were committed to serving the city where they lived. The church isn’t called the body of Christ for nothing. God created us to be stronger together than when we are on our own. We weren’t meant to be alone. We were created for community and not just any community, but a Christ-centered community. If we profess a belief in Christ we profess the importance of being a part of a Christ-centered community. This means we are committed to coming together to worship, to pray, to talk with one another about where we see Christ at work and to be touched by God’s word together. When we do these things we are equipped to be the Body of Christ that goes out into the world to serve others in Christ’s name.
I understand there are legitimate reasons to not come to church. But it’s not about just coming to church. It’s about being the church. But we can’t do that without coming together first. Why? Because God equips communities. We see this all over scripture. God blesses Israel to be a blessing to all nations. God equips the disciples to plant and lead churches. In all of his letters, Paul gives thanks to God for all those God put in his life to support him and to engage in mission with him.
We are called to learn, together, more about Christ’s love for us and for others. We are, together, to live more into our call as the body of Christ together so that together God would use us to give others a glimpse of what it will be like when Christ returns and Christ is finally fully present among us.