Revelation 21: 1-2, 22-26 – 6th Sunday of Easter
I do not like the Book of Revelation, it’s a sentiment I share with American Episcopal
preacher Barbara Brown-Taylor. Taylor says—I do not like its violence, its
vindictiveness, its opaqueness, its psychotic visions, its attitude toward women, its enemy
thinking, its dualistic worldview, or its absence of love. It’s really hard to like many of
the Christians who like the book of Revelation as well, since so many of them use it to
justify their crazier ideas about God and scare other people with what they think they
know. This book has been used to interpret events and crises such as the AIDS epidemic,
9/11 and COVID as instruments of God in punishing the unrighteous and portending the
end times. Like Taylor I wish it had been left out of the Bible. But since it wasn’t, I’ll
grant this much: if you want a sublime vision of God’s end-game for creation, there is no
better place to look than the last two chapters of Revelation, with its golden streets and
pearly gates—where death will be no more—no more tears, no more crying, no more
. Also this; “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty
and the Lamb.” In other words, there ain’t no church in heaven. You don’
t need church when all is God. You don‘t need church when love, peace and justice are the
norm. You don’
t need the symbol when you‘ve got the real deal: God.
The book of Revelation is written in the late first century during the reign of the Roman
emperor Domitian. It is a terrible time to be a Christian. Some historians say Domitian
insisted that all Roman subjects make public profession of their worship of the emperor.
Many Christians refuse and are executed. So, I find it fascinating and a little humbling
that although they will die for their faith and their church these early Christians know it
just a symbol of something much greater. They are instead driven by a vision of God’s
reign of love peace and justice over all creation. The writer of revelation realizes that
the church is and always will be provisionary. At it’s best it stands for the presence of
God in our communities, it helps us to mediate God’s love to one another, but it isn’t
God. The church is not the real deal. The scripture today is quite clear: You do not need
the church when all is God. You do not need the church when God and humanity have
face to face intimacy. You do not need the church when justice reigns, sorrow ceases
and the spirit of God infuses your every word, your every breath. That’s why there ain’t
no church in heaven – you don’t need the symbol when you’ve got the real thing.
As a child, I remember in the formal living room of or house my mother has a bowl filled
with plastic fruit. It looks so real, so appetizing. The apples are a gorgeous red, the
bananas a perfect yellow and the grapes a mouthwatering green and purple. When my
mom isn’t looking, we play picnic or house with this fruit and put our mouths against it
pretending to eat it. It looks tantalizingly real, but we know it is fake; it isn’t the real
deal. It’s a stand in for the real thing.
1 https://cathedral.org/sermons/rev-barbara-brown-taylor-way-home/, November 4, 2012.
That’s what the church is at it’s best, a stand in for God. Let’s not kid ourselves at our
re second best here, were the consolation prize. Still, I think we matter.
While we wait, I believe we need church, not just Christian churches but synagogues,
mosques and temples. We need places and communities of people that point to what is
We need church because all is not God; God is pushed to the margins in our world. We
need church because love is not the criteria by which world leaders make their decisions.
We need church because justice is often achieved only after awfully long struggles. We
need church because we are faced with epidemics of busyness, loneliness, anxiety,
meaninglessness and depression in our time. We need church because so many people
lack grounding in any kind of firm and enduring identity, instead tying who they are to
wealth or lack of it, to social media attention or the lack of it. We need church because
there are so many messages that pull us away from being our true selves, from using the
gifts we were given, from connecting with those we meet. We need church because we
need places where we can affirm the sacredness of creation and the primacy of love. We
need church because we need places to come together in grateful worship for all that is.
We need church because people are hungry for meaning in their lives, for acceptance, for
a chance to be defined by who they are instead of what they do, for real community, for
liberation from a life of economic and social expectations, for the knowledge that life
does not all depend on them, for the reminder that they are not alone.
We need church because all is not God. As stand ins for God, we do this best in
community, because God exists in community, in relationship—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—
Mother, Child, Womb—Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer—Love, Love Incarnate, Love’s
Power. So, we are thankful for Andrew, Karen, Fern and Joan who join us and
strengthen us in this endeavor to stand in, to bear witness to Love.
When all is God, we will not need church, since every place will be church, if what you
mean by church is the place where you seek God. In the new Jerusalem, God won’t be
hard to find anymore. With a future like that, religion can’t be your be-all-and-end-all
now. God’s presence is what counts.2
The church is not the real deal, God is. In the
meantime, we are needed not because we have buildings to maintain, traditions to
uphold or beliefs to defend. We are needed because we and the world need hope of a
better way and God needs us to proclaim that hope. May God ever bless us with this
humility and this sense of purpose. Amen.
Rev. Joe Gaspar
2 Barbara Brown Taylor, https://cathedral.org/sermons/rev-barbara-brown-taylor-way-home/, November