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Revelation 21:10, 22-27; 22:1-5

May 1, 2016

God’s National Health Care Plan
How’s your health today? As a person who is advancing in years, I am getting a little
tired of talking about my health. I do, though, because how you feel physically has a lot to do
with how you appreciate and enjoy life.
I do know this. If your health is good – with a few exceptions – you are able to receive
the medical care you need to keep feeling good. If your health is poor, you are likely either not
taking the time to see doctors or take medicine or are financially challenged to receive the
healthcare that you need.
In our country’s never-ending conversation about the most sensible and economically
fair way to provide and receive healthcare, it is easy to forget about God’ National Health Care
Plan. Do you have problems with the Affordable Health Care for America Act? (Who doesn’t?)
You are really going to have problems with God’s National Health Care Plan.
As depicted vividly in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem at the end of the Book of
Revelation, when the world as we know it is transformed into the Kingdom of God, there will be
a river flowing from the throne of God that will be flanked on both sides by the Tree of Life,
producing twelve kinds of fruit with leaves on the tree for the healing of the nations.
This is all symbolic, of course, but let’s try to make some sense out of things.
The number twelve in scripture is one of those perfect numbers of completion. We have
twelve tribes of Israel and twelve disciples of Jesus. After Judas hangs himself, the disciples
scurry to elect a replacement – Matthias – simply to keep things complete. So the tree of life
has twelve kinds of fruit – better than the fruit choices in a roll of Life Savers and leaves that
bring healing.
The tree is meant to represent Christ, but I needed a Greek scholar to point this out.
The word for “tree” that is used here is best translated in English as “timber” or “wood” – the
stuff that is used to make crucifixes.
And the healing that takes place here is for “the nations” – all of them! At the time this
book was written, the Roman Empire had run roughshod over all other nations and the Temple
in Jerusalem had been destroyed once and for all time. Whenever you read “Babylon” in the
Book of Revelation, you can safely replace that word with “Rome” and you won’t be wrong.
This river does not bring life to the desert, but runs through the city – a place where
humans live and a place where life is not always fair or kind. In the words of Eugene Peterson,
“This [vision] is not a long weekend away from the responsibilities of employment and
citizenship but an intensification and healing of them. Heaven is formed out of dirty streets and
murderous alleys.”
Instead of transporting us away to a vision of heaven in which we prosper, John is given
a vision of eternity that shows us God’s desire to bring all people to a place of repentance,
forgiveness, salvation and healing. As followers of Christ, we are invited to do our part in
proclaiming and enabling that vision.
This is not easy, for it will require us to care for others, including the least, the last and
the lost. The unemployed. The underemployed. The immigrants, documented and
undocumented. Single mothers with many children with many fathers. Homeless veterans with
PTSD. Wounded warriors struggling to receive help in overcrowded veterans hospitals. Drug
addicts and sex workers. Refugees. Thousands of sick and malnourished children. And, of
course, those of you who are struggling with catastrophic or chronic illnesses that have
exceeded your resources.

There’s more than you or I could possibly imagine.
But God can. And God cares about each person. This is shown vividly to us through the
cross of Jesus Christ. And you and I can help and we do help in large and small ways through
UMCOR, The Red Cross, The United Way, Medicine Boxes, Mission Teams, and so on.
This morning, as we prepare our hearts for communion, let us invite God’s plan for the
healing of the nations to become our focus for a moment, rather than our health or our country.
Imagine – here is John, exiled on the island of Patmos as a threat to Rome – given a vision in
which everyone is healed, including Rome, through the tree of life – Jesus Christ – and God’s
desire to bring us into God’s presence with all persons and nations.
It’s easy sometimes to imagine heaven as a place where we will be with the people that
we have loved who have gone on before. But Jesus’ love compels us to care about others –
most whom we will never know and millions who we might never understand – as children of
God. It’s the vision of the Kingdom of God and it’s not something that will ever be fully
understood, but a vision that we can grow into.
If you can think of just one person or one group of people that you once thought little of
but now care a great deal for, that is a sign of God’s love through Christ at work in you.
As we share in the bread and the cup this morning, may we experience the living water
that flows from the throne of God, be healed from our sins so that we might be used by Jesus
for the healing of the nations. Amen.