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I know many of us may be across the board on this issue, but we should note that in recent public debates, “religious freedom” laws are being passed in several states, including the one directly south and east of us. The “religious freedom” laws unfortunately appear to be disguised attempts to allow Christians to judge and persecute others based on their beliefs, lifestyles and sexual orientation without fear of retribution. This, so the argument goes by those who defend such laws, is what religious freedom means…Christians get to impose their thoughts, beliefs and wills on others when they don’t agree with them. No matter how you feel about certain life-styles, I pray we can all see the absurdity in these arguments and realize that these types of laws and defenses, made by those who supposedly love Christ and want to support Christianity, only continue to erode the support for Christianity in our nation and drive many others, especially the younger generations, to continue to flock to the “none” categories. If this is the best Christianity can offer and this is the public face of Christianity...who can blame them? This type of Christianity is based on fear, and it forces others into categories, into situations and into times of judgement that negate and vilify the love and grace of God. Much like these laws, the book of Revelation has long been one of the most misunderstood books of the New Testament and of the whole Bible for that matter. Many people, authors, historians, pastors and teachers think they know what’s in this book, and, often without truly taking the time to puzzle over, study and perhaps even read it, they arrive at conclusions, positions, presuppositions, and make judgments based on presumed knowledge. This is dangerous with any book of the Bible, and despite the danger, we continue to see many “Christians” use the Bible, and especially this book to defend public positions, whole Armageddon theologies, and other end-time theories that are simply not to be found nor supported in this book! Our passage for this morning comes from near the end of the letter as John brings his thoughts and visions to a conclusion. Throughout this letter he has sought to assure Christians as they faced persecutions, hardships, and generally suffered for trying to be faithful. This letter is also chosen to close out the entire New Testament and the Biblical corpus because it serves as a nice book end to the entire Bible. In Genesis, God made the heavens and the earth. This creation was good and there was morning and evening. This creation story is revisited in our text this morning as John now sees a new creation, a new heaven and earth and from them comes a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. John’s vision is a completion of the creation story as God completes, renews and remakes a new heaven and a new earth to replace the broken ones. We have talked about the promises of God, revealed in Christ many times…specifically the promise that God, revealed in Christ and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, God always comes down! This is the promise now contained in the end of Revelation – John sees God coming down from heaven to dwell with mortals. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’" (Rev. 21:3-4). These are the promises set before us this morning. In the midst of our pain and sorrow as we remember loved ones who have died in years past; in the midst of our news about cancer and treatments, rehabilitation and the long road to recovery; or perhaps we are experiencing the long slow inevitable decline of a friend or loved one that we can only feel leads to death and new life. In the midst of these life journeys God, revealed in Christ, promises to journey with us in the midst of our loss, pain and suffering. Our tears will be wiped away, mourning and crying will have no place in the new heaven and earth, death will be no more and joy will be the emotion of choice. In the new heaven and earth earthquakes will no longer destroy lives in Ecuador and Japan and countless other places around the globe. In the new world, famine and hardships will not plague the most vulnerable of people. In the new world, mosquito nets will not be needed to protect the lives of young children in our companion synod in the Islands district of Papua New Guinea. In the new world all people will be children of God and will be treated as such by those who claim to be people of the lamb! This new heaven and new earth are only made possible through the blood of the lamb. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all these possibilities were purchased as we became members of the body of Christ through the waters of baptism, and through the promises made in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the wine. In communion with the body of Christ, we are reminded, promised and encouraged to share that God’s love, revealed in Christ on the cross and from the empty tomb, shared in the water, word, bread and wine, God’s love is for all people. In the gospel lesson for this morning, an interesting choice for Easter season and post-resurrection, Jesus is quoted from his gathering with his disciples as he prepared them for his subsequent death. In his last words and actions, love is the overwhelming theme. Love guides his words and actions, love is shared with those whom he loved most and the new command, to love one another as I have loved you is given to the disciples and to all future disciples. This is another section of the Bible that we sometimes wonder if enough Christians are reading. As we see the news feeds with line after line, example after example of Christians singling others out in their disagreements, in their pursuit of laws, rules and exclusions of others when they seek medical care, when they seek to live in a nation where freedom is guaranteed, when they seek to have access to healthcare, and the full rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…when we exclude others in the name of religion, in the name of the God of love, we are failing to read and believe these words. Our hope and prayer this morning is that we, as children of the lamb, that we may begin to once again and always, live our lives as if the love, grace, forgiveness, and the death and resurrection of Christ has made a difference in our lives and in our faith. Our hope and prayer is that we may experience this new heaven and earth as envisioned by John. This new heaven and earth could very well be this heaven and earth where all people live out the love of God by loving their neighbors as Christ loves us. Love can win! Hope will rule the day. And the peace of God that surpasses all our understanding will guard our hearts, minds and voices till the day when we feel that love of God transcending all the coldness and hatred in our hearts and opening us up to that love that truly knows no boundaries.