Psalm 126; Revelation 1: 12-19; 21: 1-8; 22: 1-7; 16-21
Did you know we have had an uptick of visitors to our church during the week? At least once a day someone drives through the parking lot looking at their phone, waiting for something to happen. It’s one of the reasons our sign out front now says, “What are you looking for?” Because people are looking for something specific. We are a Pokemon Go site.
Linda Agre, our Office Manager, found a three tailed Tauros right here in the Sanctuary. She caught a Weedle while I was watching and often receives power in the form of potions and pokeballs just by coming to work.
You see we are a Pokemon-Go site. Don’t know what that is? Don’t worry. You probably won’t need to. But if you have a kid or a grandkid who is into Pokemon, than they probably understood everything I just told you— words that seem foreign to so many of us.
We live in a world where people are always creating new worlds. If you’re into Harry Potter, you are most likely thrilled that there’s a new play that just came out this past weekend and a movie soon that will explain the world of magic and how it got to the United States.
If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you can talk about people, places, and events knowledgeably in a way that sounds like an alien world to anyone outside of it who is listening to you. Even if you are a farmer, there are things you know and talk about that create a world just for you and those who live in it in a way that many of us city slickers will never understand.
And here at church: If we’re not careful, our language can become a code that those who did not grow up in the church or are not connected with it today do not understand and feel like outsiders instead of feeling welcome to be part of the community.
I say all of this because this morning we have a book of the Bible that is written in coded language, and it was done so on purpose. It sounds foreign to our ears, and it’s supposed to. It’s what we now call apocalyptic literature. It is literature written in a very specific time and place with a very specific story to tell. Revelation is a book that was written in 90-95AD, a time when Christians were being heavily persecuted by the Roman government. Jesus had died some 60 years before, so they are living in that difficult time when there may still be people around who have firsthand experiences of Jesus, but most of the people only know what they’ve heard. Jesus had said that he would be coming back, and yet he hasn’t come back. So people are trying to figure out what that means and how God is a part of their lives now. That itself could be a difficult thing for a community, but add to that that they are being killed for being Christians because of the Roman Emperor, Domitian, who preferred to be called Master and God, and you have created a situation that is both difficult for us to understand and awful to live out.
This, of course, is only a brief synopsis, but I hope you can see how a community of people who are not allowed to write about their faith, who are experiencing a crisis of faith both because of persecution and because Jesus hasn’t returned yet, how that community would turn to writing in very coded symbolic language so that they can encourage one another. This is a book specifically written about the persecution that the early church is suffering and was written to provide hope for people to hang in there and to know that evil would not get the last word. It is a visionary book, describing in detail the beloved Kingdom that Isaiah and Micah, prophets of the Old Testament, often described— which is where we get these lovely details about there being a new city and a new earth, how the old has passed away and the new is now here. There is plenty of talk that sounds very vengeful— after all, this is a people who are being killed not because they have done the wrong things, but precisely because they are worshiping God, and they want justice. They want evil to be cast away from the earth. They want the Kingdom that Jesus so often talked about, and so they hold out hope that God will intervene soon so that their persecution will end.
Brian McLaren, in We Make the Road by Walking, says that “the book of Revelation provided early disciples a clever way of giving voice to the truth— when freedom of speech was dangerous one way, and remaining silent was dangerous in another.” (page 257)
For those early Christians, to speak out against the Emperor was sure death. But to remain silent, that was another kind of death. To remain silent when we are afraid, to remain silent when we know that life is supposed to be a different kind of way, to remain silent becomes its own death when we do not take the time to speak our truth.
It reminded me this week of of Harriet Tubman— the woman who escaped from slavery singing her whole way out. She sang a song of goodbye to her Master as she was escaping, but because he didn’t realize she was singing about her literal escape, he didn’t stop her. How often those who were enslaved sang their messages of hope and freedom because it was a language they could use right out in the open without others knowing their meaning. Their singing gave them hope, but it also gave them a boldness to know that the world they were singing of was coming soon— not some distant heaven— but here and now.
What is the message of Revelation? It’s certainly a message that has often been misinterpreted and used to create fear. In the 2nd Century, a man by the name of Montanus began teaching that the end was near, that the world was soon to be over. He took much of his evidence from the book of Revelation and even in that time the majority of Christians, because of that incident, wondered if Revelation was truly from God. Repeatedly this has happened over the years, most notably about 200 years ago, when a man named Darby wrote out his ideas of the different dispensations of time and the idea of a rapture happening, and it was Darby’s ideas about the end of the world, not Biblical ideas, that have become what many people think of when they think of the book of Revelation.
But the main message of the book of Revelation is this— God is with us. That even in our suffering, even when things look grim, even when we can’t see the future and we are wrought with anxiety about who is ruling over us— even then, God is with us. The New Jerusalem does not get rid of the earth— the New Jerusalem descends upon the earth— God once more coming to be where we are, not taking us up to be somewhere else. Jesus comes down to be with us— to bring about the peaceable Kingdom as set forth in Isaiah and Micah— not getting rid of the earth like some terminator movie. And what we find, in the end, is a God who is with the people; and a people who are with God— so much so, that there is no need for a temple. The light of Christ and all of the people radiates throughout the city and the nations are filled with healing and joy.
This book was written to give hope— not to make people fearful. It was written to empower people to stay the course— not wait around hoping for the endtimes. This book is a vision for us to rely on when our hopes are dashed. It is a vision for us to rely on when the evil powers of this world seem to have the last word. Revelation reminds us that God will be, that God’s love will not be overcome, that though the trials of today seem large, that is not the end of the story. Love will conquer all— and not through the ways of hate, but through the grace that only God can offer. (Words of This is My Father’s World?)
So what do we do with all of this? We live it out. It is our role, as followers of Christ, to bring hope— not fear; to live out of a place of love— not hatred; to partner with God in creating the Kingdom in the here and now— not just sitting around waiting for everything to implode. And we do this in worship; we do this by packing meals as we did last Thursday; we do this in our work to create a true community meal in which all are welcome and fed; we do this when we reach out in love to be in ministry with people instead of for people; calling out the power of our world and holding people accountable to live lives of justice, forgiveness, and peace.
Revelation, Interpretation Bible Commentary Series, M. Eugene Boring
Revelation for Today, James M. Efird
We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren