May 19, 2019: The Portal

May 19, 2019                                                                                         Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN

The Portal

Revelation 21:1-6 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

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In 1979 Disney released the Oscar-nominated movie, The Black Hole. By today’s standards, the movie is pretty lame. But for me, as a nine-year-old kid watching the movie on the big screen . . . It. Was. Awesome. The image emblazed in my mind these forty years was of a terrified spaceship crew entering into a massive black hole. That’s all I could remember about the film, so this week I decided to rent the DVD from the library and “invited” my husband to watch it with me. He’ll tell you that’s an hour-and-a-half he’ll never get back.

Disney’s Black Hole set me on course to be captivated by black holes throughout my life. What are they? What’s inside, or perhaps on the other side, of a black hole? It’s a mystery, perhaps the greatest mystery in the universe according to one physicist:

Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious objects in the universe. They are the consequence of gravity crushing a dying star without limit, leading to the formation of a true singularity – which happens when an entire star gets compressed down to a single point yielding an object with infinite density. This dense and hot singularity punches a hole in the fabric of spacetime itself, possibly opening up an opportunity for hyperspace travel. That is, a short cut through spacetime allowing for travel over cosmic scale distances in a short period.[1]

Science fiction writers have grabbed hold of this idea that black holes contain portals to other places, times, even universes. Any why not? If black holes are punctures in the space/time continuum, the unimaginable becomes, well, imaginable. And imaginations run wild with the idea of portals across space and time. I know this because I have boys who play video games and watch cartoons. My youngest is five-years-old and talks about “porvals” as if they’re just an everyday reality.

Today in our scripture lesson we read about a vision of a porval—er, portal—opening up between heaven and earth.

We’re in the Book of Revelation—perhaps the most confusing and misunderstood book in the entire Bible. How many of you would say Revelation is your favorite book of the Bible, with all of its angels, dragons, beasts, trumpets, plagues and the great Whore of Babylon?

Let’s start with what the Book of Revelation isn’t—Revelation is not a roadmap for the future, predicting the imminent end of the world. No serious Bible scholar reads Revelation as such. Rather, Revelation is an apocalyptic work best read in light of its cultural and historical context. In fact, its specific audience is named at the beginning of the book—it was written for the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:4,11). Some contemporary Christians approach the book as if they’re Scooby-Doo and the gang, looking for hidden clues to solve some great mystery. They develop elaborate theories about the end times . . . they’ve even created a whole vocabulary . . . words like “rapture” (which isn’t in the Bible) . . . words like “pre-trib” and “post-trib” (short for “tribulation) . . . words like “pre-millennial” and “post-millennial” (referencing the “thousand year reign of Christ”) . . . it’s all quite exhausting and rather pointless, in my view.

What is Revelation? Simply put, it self-describes as a vision. It’s a dream. Period. And it’s weird, like dreams tend to be. But dreams and visions can have value; they can have enduring meaning for those who seek meaning.

With that, let’s consider the meaning for those first-century Christians in the seven churches—the original recipients of this apocalyptic work?

Scholars date the Book of Revelation to the 80’s or 90’s, roughly 10-15 years after Jerusalem was absolutely obliterated in AD 70. You see, the Jews had mounted a revolt against their Roman oppressors, but they were no match for the military might of the Romans. The siege of Jerusalem lasted over four months until finally 60,000 Roman soldiers broke through the final defenses and claimed victory. Jewish historian Josephus wrote that over 1 million people died during the siege, most of them Jews. Another 97,000 were made slaves. Perhaps the ultimate symbol of Roman victory was the burning of the Temple—the very dwelling place of God in the minds of the Jews and the early Christians.

So 10-15 years later, when John of Patmos writes the book of Revelation, the early Christians are still trying to make sense of it all. Jesus was (in their minds) supposed to return and overthrow the Romans. The very opposite had happened. Not only that, but they watched God’s dwelling place burn to the ground. The burning of the Temple left a question burning in their minds, “Where now does God dwell?”

The author of Revelation builds to an answer to this question. In the first chapters, the author describes the end, for sure, but not an end of our world. He describes the end of his world. He’s writing to encourage other Christians after the end of their world. All of the weird, scary stuff in Revelation imagines God’s return to destroy the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem. It builds toward an answer to their burning question, “Where now does God dwell?” Which brings us to the hopeful scripture passage we read together earlier. Listen again for an answer to that question:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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;

Three times in verse three the writer answers that question—God dwells among mortals. God lives with and in us!

How can that be? Here’s how one commentator puts it:

“In Revelation, the heaven and the earth that characterize this age must pass away before all things are made new. Far from being separate realities, heaven and earth have an open door between them in the present age. As the vision of the new creation continues to unfold in Revelation, the distinction between heaven and earth simply falls away. Heaven quite literally descends to earth, radically renewing it.”[2]

My translation: Revelation depicts a porval—er, portal—between heaven and earth!

Back to black holes.

In 1935 Albert Einstein and physicist Nathan Rosen took Einstein’s theory of general relativity and developed the idea of bridges through spacetime—a short cut connecting disparate places in space and/or time. These “bridges” are called “Einstein-Rosen Bridges” or more commonly, “wormholes.”

A couple of movies have used a simple illustration to try to explain this complex idea:

Let’s take a piece of paper and draw two dots far apart on the same side of the paper, which represents spacetime. What’s the shortest distance between two points? A straight line? Not so quick. If spacetime can be bent (as in the theory of general relativity) then we can bend the paper and the two dots can occupy basically the same space. Now take a pen, representing a spaceship, and poke it through both dots. That’s a wormhole—a portal that could (in theory) make travel between distant galaxies, different times, perhaps even different universes, possible.

If wormholes, portals, can exist in the world of theoretical physics, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to imagine a portal in the world of faith—a portal between earth and heaven!

This was John’s vision—one that gave hope to his first-century readers, and one that continues to give us hope today. The vision imagines no distance between heaven and earth—earth and heaven are one in which:

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.

Anyone want to sign up for that?

Can you imagine no distance between heaven and earth?

Could this be how God is both Alpha and Omega?

Could this be how God is both the beginning and the end?

Could this be how God is with us

Paul puts it this way in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

In other words: You. Are. The. Portal.

You are the wormhole through which God enters this world! No pressure, right?

·        You are the portal through which God wipes away tears.

·        You are the portal through which God conquers death.

·        You are the portal through which God alleviates mourning and crying and pain.

·        You are the portal through which God is making all things new.

God doesn’t need a black hole to travel through space and time, because God has you!

And lest you think this is some strange new idea your pastor is throwing out today, Christians have been working out this concept for centuries.

The hymn we will sing in a moment, “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” was written in 1642, and listen to one of the verses:

Fling wide the portals of your heart:

Make it a temple, set apart

From earthly use for heaven’s employ,

Adorned with prayer and love and joy.

So, “ye mighty gates,” go from here and live as conduits of God’s mercy, grace, love—as portals of God’s power. Be the open gate through which heaven and earth collide.

[1] Gaurav Khanna, “Maybe You Really Can Use Black Holes to Travel the Universe,” http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2019/01/25/black-hole-portal-dimension/#.XN1xiC2ZNQI (accessed 20 May 2019).

[2] Erik M. Heen, “Revelation 21:1-6,” Feasting on the Word, 462.

Debbie Wilson