In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Good evening, everyone. It is such an honor to be with you all. For those of you that don’t know me yet, my name is Chloe Selles. I’m a seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, and I’m back for the summer to complete a chaplaincy program at Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
Since my time in the Sycamore House four years ago, I’ve been so blessed by this church. I’m grateful for the many ways you all have supported me and encouraged me in my faith. If you told me four years ago that I’d be preaching from this pulpit, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But here I am, and it’s because of your support. So, thank you.
Today, I want to talk about fear. And I’m going to start by talking about my fear of the book of Revelation. I know that until I opened it and really tried to read it this past fall, I didn’t really know what it contained. I knew there was a dragon; I knew that was where “666” came from. So, it just seemed like a source of conspiracy theories and nightmares, and this is largely because of pop-culture and horror movies. Pop culture aside, I know that anytime I think about the apocalypse, the end of the world, I don’t feel comfortable. Sadly, you don’t have to go very far these days to hear a story about the end of the world, whether it be the latest sci-fi thriller or the headline of the daily newspaper.
But what we see here today in Revelation Chapter 21 and 22 is a vision for world peace. In fact, we see throughout each of our lessons God’s desire to gather all the nations to Godself. That vision for peace feels so distant. Looking around us, we see a world divided by conflict and violence. By corruption and greed. By oppression and empire.
John, the author of Revelation, was a prophet and Jewish Christian. Exiled when he wrote Revelation, he speaks in metaphors of the evils of the Roman Empire as he writes encouragement to seven churches. At that time, Christians were marginalized and speaking of the end times brought them comfort.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and martyr who stood against the Nazis, said: ‘“The church of Christ witnesses to the end of things…It lives from the end, it acts from the end, it proclaims its message from the end.”’ The knowledge that Christ died and was raised on the third day is good news — not just for my and your personal salvation, but for the good of the whole world. As a people of resurrection hope, we shouldn’t fear the end but embrace it because our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things.
But John is offering more than a word of comfort. Throughout the Book of Revelation, John draws heavily on Old Testament prophecy, particularly the prophet Ezekiel. In our passage today, John is reframing Ezekiel’s vision of a restored Jerusalem with a “New” Jerusalem. In this New Jerusalem, John tells us that all the nations walk by God’s light. And there is no temple, for God dwells with them. There are gates in this city, John tells us, but these gates are always open. And there is no night, because God’s light is always shining. John tells us that, although the gates are open, “Nothing unclean will enter [the city]. Nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood.” John tells us that in God’s vision for this holy city “the kings of the Earth will bring their glory into it” and “People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
In today’s reading from Acts, we learn about the conversion of Lydia. Lydia was a wealthy cloth merchant in a European Roman colony. We are told she was a “worshipper of God,” which in the Greek is a word suggesting that she was a Gentile, who while not a convert to Judaism, was active within the Jewish community. As a merchant, Lydia was wealthy and influential. Her conversion meant that she brought all that she had, all who she was into the House of God. Her conversion likely led to the establishment of the first church in Europe.
More than a picture of heaven, the New Jerusalem is Christ’s Bride, the Church. This means that Christians aren’t waiting around for entrance into this holy place. It means that we, as a body of believers, are this place. We are the city of God: a holy city that offers open doors and safety to all.
But entering this New Jerusalem is costly. We, like Lydia, must be converted. We must bring all that we are and all that we have, surrendering it to God and God’s good vision for the world. It will cost nothing less than our lives.
The good news is that Jesus promises that “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” and that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” As the Church, we profess that we, guided by the Spirit, are this home. By God’s grace, we gather here to nourish and sustain our faith, encountering Christ in Word and Sacrament. And, as the Church, we leave this place, preaching Christ’s resurrection in our daily lives.
How then do we confront fear and evil? Verna Dozier, a Black Episcopalian and lay-theologian wrote: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear.” Jesus says that if we trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us as we faithfully follow Christ’s teaching, we will become the city of peace and light in the midst of this dark world. My dear friends in Christ, how are we, like Lydia, being converted today and every day? How are we living the New Jerusalem? Amen.
 Jean Pierre-Ruiz, “The Revelation to John,” The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with The Apocrypha, edited by Michael D. Coogan (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 2203.
 Pierre-Ruiz, “Revelation,” 2203-4.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Right to Self-assertion,” in The Bonhoeffer Reader, eds. Clifford J. Green and Michael DeJonge (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 330, in Norman Wirzba, This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 188.
 Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc, 2005), 211.
 Word analysis for Acts 16:14, STEP Bible: https://www.stepbible.org/?q=reference=Acts.16|version=ESV|version=THGNT&options=GVUVNH&display=INTERLEAVED
 “Who was Lydia in the Bible?” Got Questions Ministries: https://www.gotquestions.org/Lydia-in-the-Bible.html.
 Trafton, Reading, 214.
 John 14:23
 John 14:26
 Verna Dozier, The Dream of God: A Call to Return (New York, NY: Church Publishing), 15.