Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon for September 3

The reading 

Revelation 21:1-6; 22:1-5
21:1 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.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

The message

Today, we have our last of 4 weeks on the Book of Revelation.  The readings have been very selective, we skipped chapters 8 to 21, the parts of the Book that share John’s visions of the end times, the destruction of creation, the reign of demonic powers, tribulations and death.  Those are the parts of Revelation people know and struggle to understand.  They are the words and visions that makes movies captivate audiences, people of faith live in fear and religious cults thrive.  I am not not pretending they are not there, we are avoiding them because they are the parts of the Book that were never meant to be its focus or its message.  Instead, Revelation shows people practicing a new, distrusted Christian faith and living in persecution that God will be victorious over all forces of evil and God will make all things new.  (We will look at some of the nasty parts during our bible study after church)    

Our first 3 weeks, we looked at the symbolism, history and message of Revelation.  The book opens with letters of encouragement, celebration and criticism written to 7 different churches.  Revelation 4 is the first vision of the heavenly throne room.  Many parts of this vision are reported by prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah (a large amount of Revelation references Old Testament writings).  The vision of God’s throne room shows that God is all powerful and God is to be praised. In the throne room, there are 4 creatures covered in eyes, which represent all creation, singing constant praise to God. There are 24 elders that represent the community of faith and they too worship God. (24 to represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples)   Even the physical properties and layout of the throne room reflect God’s power and glory. 

In Chapter 5, we see God, seated in the throne, holding a sealed scroll containing God’s plan of judgment and salvation. The peace of heaven is interrupted when an angel calls out “who can open the scroll”, who can start, direct and fulfill this plan.   The answer is that Jesus can. He appears as a lamb that has been slaughtered (but is alive) with 7 horns (showing all power) and 7 eyes (showing God’s total presence in the world).   He can do this because he has already defeated sin and death.  With his death and resurrection Jesus has brought the forgiveness of sins to all people and taken away the power of death.  The events that happen when the seals on the scroll are opened (the horrific chapters we skipped over) is sort of clean up, finishing work already done when Jesus rose from the dead.

Last week, in Chapter 6 and 7, we had the only glimpse of Revelation’s destruction shared in this series.  Jesus opens the first 6 seals. Each one unleashes a new terror on the creation God loves.  Each one escalates in a sort of unstoppable progression towards the complete destruction of creation. There is a break between opening the 6th and 7th seal. This offers us a much needed reminder that God is life, forgiveness and love.  As the visions escalate and approach the 7th seal, the visions change and our attention to pointed towards great promises, good news of God’s protection of the faithful and ultimately salvation.  Where we expect to hear visions of complete destruction, we hear, They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." As the horror starts, we are shown that the world does not end with total destruction, it ends with a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"    

After this pause in destruction, chapters 8 to 21, describe John’s vision of the end times.  The 7th seal releases a series of angels with trumpets and bowls.  Each one blows a horn  or pours out a bowl and initiates a horror (things like the sun falling from the sky and burning up a third of the earth).  The symbolism of each vision shows us that God will defeat the forces of evil, sin, death, inequality and empire. One releases Satan who is allowed to reign over the earth for 1000 years (that time has the the most horrific, brutal and destructive events in Revelation.) In Chapter 20, the 1000 year reign of Satan ends.  Now Satan and the forces of evil are imprisoned for 1000 years, put away so they cannot deceive or cause harm.  After this, Christ reigns for 1000 years, along with the martyrs and those who did not worship the beast during the trials.  When that time ends, Satan is released and there is a final battle between the forces of God and the forces of evil.  This ends with God’s victory.  Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire and there is the second death (the final condemning of the unfaithful). 

Today, it is done.  God’s victory is total and complete. As the battle between good and evil is over, as the book of Revelation ends, we come back to those promises seen in the throne room and that vision between the 6th and 7th seal.  Everything ends with God’s new creation.  We will end our series with looking at that new creation.  (next week, our readings begin again with Genesis 1, we will see the first creation). There is a new relationship with God.  At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God with us.  If that thought that was great, wait till you hear what happens now. God and Jesus are sitting in the middle of the street.  “the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them”.  This is not temporary or conditional, this is a new covenant.  At the heart of the Old Testament is God’s singular promise: I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.  Now, at the end, the promise is plural, They will be his peoples and God will be with them.  

So what is life like in this new creation, a place where death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, where there will be no more hunger or thirst, no more floods. I personally see the visions of war in chapters 8 to 20 as a reminder that these things do not leave easily, they are deeply rooted in our consciousness and our world. They do not pack up quietly and go gently.  Again, it is total victory. There is no fear of those things coming back, no memory of what used to be.
I had a very hard time thinking of what to say about life in this place.  One of my friends told me about a sermon he heard on this reading, so I am going to copy that.  The pastor talked about this as a place where there were no keys.  I am trusting and see Elmhurst and Woodside as generally safe communities but this is my standard set of keys for the church. (I show about 20 keys I regularly carry).  In God’s new creation, they are not necessary.       

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