Sunday, 12 May 2013

Revelation Part 2

Easter 6 year C Sermon

Woah! John…it’s that kind of imagery… that gives the book of Revelation a bad name… we’ve never heard Jesus described like that…you must be tripping…you’ll write a book just perfect for heretics and fanatics…and the rest of us won’t be able to make… head nor tail of it.

But looking at the latest biblical scholarship… we can see in this book one of the clearest… sharpest visions…of God’s ultimate purpose. An incredibly important message for you and for me today…

In the book Revelation…I see the promise… that the powerful forces of evil at work in the world’s economic, political and religious systems… can be… and are being… over thrown…by the costly work of Jesus Christ
and his followers.

You see the world where you and I live… is no less complex and dangerous…than the late 1st century world… when the book of Revelation was written… and as Jesus followers today …we owe it to ourselves…to get our heads and hearts
around John’s glorious vision …as we try…
to bear faithful witness to Jesus and his message
in a violent… greedy and unjust world. [pause]

Last week I told you I feel strongly…God’s called me to
help unpack the book of Revelation for us as a church family…and we began…
what I hope will be… an exciting exploration And last week  we learned five things already…in just the first eight verses

Word slide reveal
One – this book ….is a four-stage revelation -
God the Father to Jesus the son passed on by an angel then to one of God’s servant in the church…
God, Jesus, Angel, servant

Two – the book takes the form of an extended letter, written in a form frequently used by ancient Jews… to communicate the vision of a seer…one gifted with insight into the purposes of God. The seer tells us his name is John.

Three – the book is also a prophesy…and much of its language and imagery comes from books of the prophets in Hebrew scripture

Four – Revelation is presented as witness and testimony…
in a great heavenly court of law…Where the testimonyof Jesus and his followers…is a key…
to the ultimate judgement and verdict. And there’s a warning for those who choose to bear witness…they may be called to suffer and die for what they say.

And the fifth thing we learned last week in eight short verses…by far and away the most important thing…

Everything that is to come…flows from the central figure …Jesus himself…and ultimately from God the father…
who was and is and is to come….God…the Alpha and Omega…the beginning and the end.

And because John’s introduction promises us a blessing when this letter is read aloud…let’s read together again…as we explore this weeks verses…
beginning with Chapter 1 verse nine

Patmos words slide
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Blank slide
As we learned already… John is on Patmos…an island 35 K west…. of what we know as Turkey. He’s possibly in exile …or in prison…for bearing public witness to Jesus…the Word of God and his message…but the authorities
can’t prevent John from writing letters…

Here again as in verse eight, John reinforces the link between suffering and the kingdom of God. And he goes on…read with me…

Slide words
On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

Blank slide
John was ‘in the spirit’ on the Sabbath…and a voice…
not a still small voice…but a da ta da!’ voice…
instructs him to record for the churches across the sea
what he sees in his vision

Now…this might seem unusual to you…but don’t dismiss it …because it’s not really that uncommon…

You see…
many who practise the Christian discipline of prayerful listening in the presence of God… record what happens for them in this time of quiet…it’s called journaling.

We don’t use scrolls today of course…
My book slide
but here’s what mine looks like…

In this little handmade book… I try to illustrate what God might show me…in my time of quiet. Now I don’t get a vision like John’s every time… but I do get them
 …and when I do…. I draw them or write them down

So when John says he was ‘in the Spirit’… that’s what I think he means… so it’s important not to dismiss that phrase
if its outside your experience. Maybe you could view it as an invitation to go deeper… in your relationship with God.

So John tells us the voice…the very Word of God… instructs him to write on a scroll what he sees. Well…wouldn’t you?
Let’s read on together…

Slide words
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me.
And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.

slide words
The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.

Slide words
His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

Blank slide
Now you may be someone for whom Jesus is just a very nice loving man… who lived in the 1st century…and died horribly at the hands of the Roman’s…or you may think of Jesus
as someone with whom… you have a close relationship of loving intimacy…and right up till that moment…John probably fell into in the second camp…

But from then on…John is warning us…
that to see Jesus as he is… might just blow us away. [pause]

Soaked in scripture…every prophetic image John’s ever heard…for the building up and encouragement of the people of God…is now made visible to him…in this vision
where Jesus words emerge like a sword

remember in Isaiah 49 and 11 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
with righteousness he’ll judge the needy,
    with justice  give decisions for the poor 
He’ll strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he’ll slay the wicked.

Now read with me again…

slide words
Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One;
I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!
And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Slide words
Write, therefore, what you’ve seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this:
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,
and the seven lampstands are the seven churches themselves.

Clouds slide
Just as in the dream in the book of Daniel…John sees one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approaches the Ancient of Days and is led into God’s presence. He’s given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worship him.
His dominion is everlasting and will not pass away,
and his kingdom will never be destroyed.

As the suffering of God’s people reaches its peak in the persecution of the early church and the worship of Caesar… Daniel’s ancient dream is made real in Johns vision…
the Ancient of Day’s… the alpha and the omega…
merges with one like a son of man…in human form…

what is made visible…when we are looking at Jesus…is God.

blank slide
My favourite biblical scholar, Tom Wright, suggests we just sit for a moment… with John’s image…

Let those eyes of flame… search us in and out.
Hear the voice like the roaring of a waterfall or sustained thunder…echo around the mountains…and around our minds

imagine Jesus reaching out… to touch you…


Now just thinking about his might have brought you a rush of adrenaline…fear might be your natural reaction…
but don’t you remember…once again…Jesus says …
Don’t be afraid…it’s alright
yes you’re suffering and your people are suffering
yes the times are strange and hard
cruel severe rulers are running the world
imposing their will on city after city. [pause]

Jesus slide
But John’s vision reveals…Jesus himself is standing in our midst. And in John’s cultural world the number seven
stands for perfection …the seven churches listed in verse eleven stand for all churches…in all places and all times…

they stand for us…and we need to know as they did…that Jesus is standing in our midst…and the angel who represents us and looks after us…is held in Jesus’ right hand. Here…the spoken word flashes and pierces like a sword…we might know it’s Christ who speaks…saying I was dead…now I’m alive forever… and ever. [pause]

And should we be imprisoned as John was…
by fear or violence or oppression…
well then Jesus has the key’s to get us out…
even… out of death and Hades. [pause]

Hand slide
Of course to grasp all this… requires three things…
Word slide
Faith and courage and spiritual imagination…
and maybe that’s why John’s instructed to write it down
and send it out…or the churches and for generations to come…even to the ends of the earth.

Alpha and Omega slide
You know…some parts of our culture are starved of imagination… others are over-stimulated with fantastic digital effects which change at a rate of fifty per second.

And today in reading the book of Revelation…you and I are asked to use our spiritual imagination…
what would it look like… were the curtain between heaven and earth suddenly to be pulled up…

revealing the Jesus who’d been there all along…
but who we’d managed… either to ignore or cut down to  size in our imaginations…so we could handle him

In reading Revelation we’re asked to conceive of a Jesus who is mind-blowing…dramatically powerful…but gentle and caring…

a Jesus… in and through whom… we see God the creator…
a Jesus who has spoken and still speaks words
that cut like swords… through all the fog and obfuscation
the world produces… to explain what’s really going on.

and warn what will happen in the future.

A Jesus who reveals to us… how the sovereign rule of God can sit together with suffering and patient endurance…
so we can see that through suffering…he won the ultimate victory over powers of darkness…and so might we.

Postscript, again I am grateful for the insights of NT Wright in his book Revelation for Everyone, 2011, Westminster John Knox Press.