Once upon a time
a wise man offered a challenge;
“What is the greatest commandment?”
The calendars on our desks share a vision of greatness; bills to pay, phone calls to return, appointments to keep. Love the Lord your God.
The cameras of our memories share what commands us; children to bathe and partners to help
parents calling and grandchildren hopeful.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
Still the Spirit lures us to new priorities; open spaces to experience wonder, strangers becoming friends, devotion to that which transcends. Love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
~ written by Katherine Hawker
Loneliness will do strange things to a person’s mind. So, you have to wonder whether this vision of John’s came from a dreaming recluse or was it indeed, divinely inspired?
Story has it that John had been exiled to the island of Patmos dur- ing the height of the Christian Persecution at the end of the first cen- tury. Domitian, then emperor of Rome, had a major hate on for Chris- tians. When he discovered that John had been evangelizing he had him arrested and brought to Rome. Story has it, that he attempted to boil John alive in a vat of oil in the middle of the Roman coliseum. Appar- ently, when John am merged from the vat, he was unharmed and all those in the coliseum that day converted to Christianity. True or not, Domitian was not impressed by John and exiled him to live the rest of the life on the remote island of Patmos.
It was from there John wrote Revelation and a letter to seven churches who were trying to establish themselves in Asia. Seems like a rather strange letter to write to people struggling in a mystic eastern culture trying to make followers of Jesus. People who are, at best, being tolerated, at worst, are being openly persecuted.
“ I saw and new heaven and new earth,
a river of life flowing from the throne of God, the tree of life, growing leaves in all seasons for the healing of the nations.”
Be valiant be strong, resist the power of sin. That’s the kind of re- assuring message one would expect from the leader of the church. But flowing rivers and bountiful trees? One needs to decide whether John is a rambling madman or he understood something essential about faith.
What strikes me about John is that even after all he has been through in his own life, he evokes images of life, light, healing, and peace. John portrays a God who is good. Not a vengeful God. If I were in his place, exiled from my family and church, I’d be tempted to talk about God in terms of flaming chariots and legions of angels coming down to get you guys. But John talks about a God who is eternally above all forces of darkness, who believes that nothing can separate us from this God’s love, not even the isolation of this island. We can have little doubt that if John was a follower of Jesus, he believed in life being resurrected from darkness.
So what do we hear from John?
- That the forces of evil will not bring about the annihilation of the earth. God will make all things new.
- That this is not a theology of heavenism, ‘we being lifted from this earth to some heavenly reward on some metaphysical plain.’ God will establish God’s kingdom on this very earth. No walls for protec- tion or exclusion. No pearly gates to lock non believers out. The king- dom will be open and expansive and will not only welcome all the nations of the world, but will bring them healing.
- From the very throne of God the river of life will flow. Water, the essence of our being. Water, to give us life, not just refreshing water but wholesome water. Not to restore, but to preserve us.
- And there on that shore grows the tree of life with leaves which change each month and grow year round. Leaves for the healing of the all 12 nations which, in John’s time, represented the whole world. Each nation receiving what it needs for healing.
- Rome proclaims that Domitian is the son of God and that Rome will reign forever. John is clearly saying Jesus is the only son of God and it is God’s kingdom that will reign forever.
No wonder he is writing on an island. Rome didn’t like what he had to say. Why should seven churches being persecuted in Asia care about any of this? For that matter, why should we care what some mystic wrote on an island 2,000 years ago?
When I read the Globe and Mail yesterday morning, I got scared.
I read about two little boys in a sand box calling each other names. As far as I am concerned, let the two of the duke it out on the playground. But the problem is that the toys they both have their hands on are nu- clear weapons. It is sad when even Russia’s President Putin is telling Trump and Kim Jong-un to grow up.
I hear the Isolationist Politics that are being spouted by the US wanting to make Nafta negotiations good for America and to heck with you other guys.
One sees pictures of the nuclear bomb Iran has unveiled after years of swearing their nuclear ambitions were not military.
We see the Muslim refugees fleeing what the Buddhist in Myan- mar are calling a ‘cleansing’ with rifles and swords. Those of us who are old enough to remember the tensions of the cold-war, the ‘star wars’ defensive, the drills we had to do in public school of hiding under our desks in case of an air raid attack, all that is happening today just stirs
up old fears.
In the last month, the world has witnessed four major hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, Jose, totally unprecedented. The devastation so vast, some places will never recover. A major earthquake in Mexico, for- est fires, landslides. Yet, there are those who still say there’s no global warming, so let’s build another pipeline.
Scared enough? I am. As much as the people in Asia were in his time. Yet, John continues to affirm hope to us. He says, ‘You can not fall into despair. Our God is an eternal God. Nothing in this world can ever destroy God. God has been here forever, and will continue to be here forever. This God is the God of love and from that love came the gift of life. Nothing is stronger than God’s love for us. Hate can never vanquish love. Greed can never buy love. The power people grappling for this on earth can never begin to touch the power of God.
Therefore, know that God’s kingdom shall come to this earth. There is still in this world an essential goodness within people. I see protests being mounted against isolation politics calling for inclusion and unity. I see young people cheering at WE concerts embracing the slogan that they can make a difference in the world. I hear of a group- sorry-I can’t recall they name-who are organizing concerts all over the world pledging to raise enough money to put an end to world hunger by 2030.
I am proud to belong to a country that is willing to take the risk of changing by opening their doors to refugees. I see the essential good- ness of people emerging as they are willing to stand up and say, “This isn’t okay. My drinking water is clean while our aboriginal brothers and sisters right here in our own country are drinking water laced with con- taminates causing birth defects and death.” What I see is hope. God’s hope that hatred and self-interest will not win out over people’s essen- tial natures to care for one another. I see resurrection happening. Life emerging from a darkness that tries to lock us in tombs, deny us light, yet the light still emerges.
I wonder what the people in the churches in Asia did with John’s letter? There is only one option. You either believe in John’s vision or you don’t. As for me and my family, we believe, for it is the only hope we have of finding healing for the nations and wading in the river of life.