The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r163.htm
s163e04 Lockleys Fifth Sunday of Easter 9/5/04
'on the east É north É south É and É west three gates' Rev 21.13
We are given this very impressive picture of heaven, and it seems like it is an altogether daunting place. For those who have seen the Lord of the Rings, the Gates of Mordor were similarly daunting. High walls, gates and each with an angel. And we could so easily assume that the wall is to keep people out. However walls have different purposes. The Berlin Wall was not so much to keep people out but to keep people in.
And it is huge. 1500 miles is 2400 kms Ð nearly the distance from here to Darwin (2622 kms). As wide as it is long as it is high. Presumably there is more than one story if the walls are 2400 kms highJ ! Not something easily scaled! If this place were on earth, we wouldn't be able to see from one end to the other Ð it is so vast.
But this picture of heaven as a forbidding place, - a place that is difficult, if not well nigh impossible to get in Ð is perhaps more a construct of our own rather pessimistic if not morbid outlook, rather than the reality as it is painted for us. For while we are told that there are twelve gates, we assume that they are closed and guarded by angels to keep people out. But in verse 25 of this same chapter (which will be read next Sunday) we are told: "It's gates will never be shut by day Ð and there will be no night there". So these gates are never closed. Instead of the forbidding place, actually the existence of twelve gates, three on each side, express the welcome and an eternal openness of heaven.
It also expresses the fact that one can enter heaven from a lot of different directions, indeed from every conceivable direction. There is not just one way to God.
And the size of heaven shows us that it is not limited in accommodation. There is plenty of space for everyone, well at least in the world-view of a first century writer.
And the words about the names of the tribes of Israel on the gates and the foundations with the names of the apostles on them, show us that this openness of God is what the ancient and the new people of God were all about. By contrast therefore, "the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters and all liars" are those who say that there is only one way to God - that God is essentially reclusive, that only those who measure up are welcomed. Again we see that "fornication" has nothing to do with physical intimacy between people trying to express their love for one another Ð it is about those who flirt with a god narrower than our gracious Father.
The comparison of the size of heaven to the distance between Adelaide and Darwin, also prompts me to realise that this is much, much bigger than the Holy Land. When I was the Rector of Broughton Valley and Crystal Brook, I realised that the parish was the same size as the Promised Land in it's entirety. Our Primate (writing in a recent "Bulletin" magazine) makes the valid point that Jesus had no knowledge of other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. Our friends from the Sudan have had little experience of maps and globes of the world. One said to me that they knew about the existence of kangaroos, but they had no idea where Australia was. Mind you, I had a job explaining to those in the Youth Hostel in New York where Adelaide was in Australia. No one had ever heard of us Ð and of course most people I met there was not Americans. "Half way between east and west and at the bottom", was what I said. When John states: "no one comes to the Father but by me" it is not a statement against the other great religions of the world - which exist now. For the Jew and the Gentile, now Jesus showed them what God was really like Ð open to all rather than selective, welcoming rather than forbidding, sociable rather than reclusive.
The shear size of heaven should alert us to the fact that it is far, far bigger than the Promised Land, and so people from all sorts of backgrounds are encompassed. Not that they would have known it, but the distance from Rome to Baghdad is 2950 kms, so essentially the size of the new Jerusalem encompassed what would have been the whole of the then known world. In fact the moon, one quarter the size of the earth, has a diameter of 2,160 miles or 3,476 kms. And surely these numbers are put there for a reason rather than being an architectural statistic. Surely we start to get some appreciation of wideness of God's mercy from these figures. And of course there are far more people accommodated between Rome and Baghdad than there is between Adelaide and Darwin or on the moon J!
In our first reading the apostles and believers were led to the conclusion that the Gentiles had a place in God's kingdom. Jesus hadn't specified this in so many words earlier. Jesus in the gospel reading bids the disciples to love one another, and often it is hardest to love those with whom we share communion. It is easy to love people in third world countries. We send money and hope it does some good. But often it is more difficult to live with members of our own families, who inevitably "rub us up the wrong way".
And God bids us love those we can, rather than expecting us to love people we actually are never going to meet "in the flesh". We are not actually expected to change the world, just love those God puts around us Ð whoever they are.
Links to other sites on the Web:
Back to: A Spark of the Spirit