Sermon – 16 May 2004

A few years ago, I spent an unexpected holiday in the Aegean hopping on and off ferries and hydrofoils visiting the islands and enjoying the food and the sun. It was a peaceful holiday moving up and down the Dodecanese islands. And the highlight of the holiday was a trip to the island of Patmos ? the island where John the Divine was exhiled and where he wrote his strange apocalypse the book we know as Revelation.

I?ve preached about Patmos before ? I remember preaching about the view out to sea from the cave, which lies about half-way up the main hill of the island. This week as I was thinking about this sermon, I found myself returning in my mind to Patmos. This week though, I?m not looking out to sea, but up the hill.

Let me explain.
Half way up the hill lies John?s cave. At the top of the hill lies the township known, as most such places are known, as Hora. It is the place of safety. The place where people can be defended. It is the place you look out from. The place you retreat to. The place people run to.

Nowadays, of course, it is centred upon a great Greek monastery which is interesting in its own right. However, in John?s day, we can presume that he and those who lived on the island thought of the hill top place as a place of safety.

Of course, you will all recognise the kind of place I am talking about. Hill top forts are well known here. We have them all around us. Indeed, the top of the town, with the castle and the church of the Holy-rood is just such a place. The prominent place. The high place. The place where that which was precious could be defended against all-comers.

This kind of place, believe it or not is at the centre of John?s vision of heaven. Listen to his description again?

?And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.?

So what am I saying? Am I telling you that heaven will be like Stirling castle on a bank holiday Monday? No, of course not.

Like all the best things in the Bible, we have to read the text of the apocalypse very carefully and interpret for ourselves the underlying themes. John?s vision of heaven is not a place of battle, but a place of safety. Not a place of entrenchment but a place where the gates are open. Not a place for locals only, but a place where all find a welcome.

Heaven, in short, is an inclusive fort. The place we get to when the fighting over territory stops. When the peoples of the world put away their weapons and learn to live together.

The last time I preached, I spoke about a rabbi, who looked at Jesus and came to the conclusion that he could not be the Messiah because the Messiah would be the one who would bring peace to the world.

For those of us who do live as Christians, Jesus was the one who brought the news of the Messiah-Peace. Brought that news of radical peace out of Jerusalem, out of Judaism. When the church proclaims Jesus the Messiah, throughout the world, as we remember so often in these Sundays after Easter, we are proclaiming that Messiah-Peace for the whole world.

And when we achieve it. Heaven breaks out.

The hope of the rabbis. The hope of Christians. Hope for the world.

When I visited Patmos, it was a peaceful place. However, the fortifications told other stories. It had been a place of terror ? wars, earthquakes, loss of life. Now it is a place of peace. Peace can come. Peace has come.

Whilst terror reigns, let there be temples praying for peace. Whilst war takes over the world, let there be people praying for peace. Until heaven breaks out, let us work for a better world. Peace can come. Peace will come.

It is interesting that John has no place for a temple is his heavenly vision. It is as though he instinctively knows that religious buildings are only for a time. The divisions that property brings into the religious life are only for now, not forever.

He looks not for a fine temple at the top of his hill. He looks for something else.

? A place where no-one is judged unclean
? A place of safety
? A place where there is water for everyone. Life for all.
? A place where the gates can be left open
? A place where all the world is welcome.
It will do as a vision of heaven for me too.

But what about you.

Utopia?s matter. What is your vision of heaven. John?s was drawn from the topography, the lie of the land on his doorstep. Where does your vision of heaven come from. What do you hope for? What do you pray for? What kind of better world do you seek?

For your vision of heaven ? your Utopia does matter. For they set our direction ? the let us know what the next small step will be.

And so we can move forward. Taking others with us on the way up the mountain.

Up the mountain to a place of safety, welcome and abundance.

And Messiah-Peace will reign.

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