Sunday, 30 June 2013

Revelation Chapter 7

Pentecost 6 year C  Sermon

‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Have you ever laughed till you cried?

You know nothing brings on the jokes among ministers
like the book of Revelation.

A friend of mine who’s just been appointed head of the school of theology at Laidlaw College…it used to be call the Bible College of New Zealand…

Graph slide
sent me this graph about preaching on Revelation
when I told him we were doing a series on it.
I laughed out loud when I saw it.

[Speak to the graph]

Remember it took me eleven years in ministry to have the courage to tackle the book of Revelation…

Ancient slide
Because this is what it looked like to me! The book is misunderstood… and abused… and used by non-believers
as an instrument of ridicule of the Christian faith

Worse it’s been used to deceive the world…
Modern graph
instead of the truth about our God of love and grace revealed in Jesus Christ…Irresponsible teachers have used Revelation to promote a theology of fear…telling people they must live their lives to avoid God’s punishment…in that fiery rubbish dump outside Jerusalem… they called hell.
Seven seals slide
But we now know John is given his vision…
as a message of hope for suffering humanity…particularly those who continue to suffer…the lies and violence and greed and injustice present in our world…

We’ve heard how… toward the end of the first century
things were worse than ever for those who continued
to insist on the cosmic authority of God
over the divine claims of Caesar…

Those who didn’t flee… were cut down in the
fall of Jerusalem, later persecuted for sport… in the arenas of Rome…taxed into starvation for the upkeep Caesar’s armies

The result was famine and financial hardship for ordinary people, leading to disease, further suffering and death. 

And if you were into signs and portents…
of the end of the world… you’d be utterly convinced by the great cloud of ash… sweeping across the sea
turning the sun red…after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

Hope was desperately needed to keep the new covenant movement… of Jesus followers… from giving up…

Heavenly throne room slide
And so we find John on Patmos…transported a vision
into God’s dimension… outside time and space as we know it…and given a message for all creation…

Do not despair…the purposes of God have been accomplished and are being accomplished…
by the Lamb of God…
who alone is worthy…to open the scroll of God’s purposes
to reveal God’s perfect design for all creation,
including you and me.

Scroll slide
But first as we heard last week in Barbara’s
excellent sermon on Chapter 6…the seals that prevent God’s purposes being accomplished… must be broken
and what they conceal …exposed to the light.
And only the Lamb of God can break them…only the lamb can break the power of evil that prevents God’s purposes from being realised

And we learned … far from ‘unleashing’ evil into the world Jesus cosmic role… is to name it for what it is
expose it to the light…and consume its power through love. 

A divine work…that transcends time and space …
accomplished in a dimension we can not see
except by its fruit …a divine… on-going and eternal dimension …that intersects our reality in every age…in the life and death and victory of Jesus…as evil is brought into the light…

And whether cosmic or personal …this salvation …
this restoration to wholeness… is accomplished
when we let Jesus open our eyes to it.

We’ve learned this message of hope is for everyone…and as Barbara reminded us last week…we have a choice…we can work with Jesus to expose the powers and principalities at work against God’s purposes in the world… and in our own self-deceiving lives…or we can remain part of the problem…

And when we allow Jesus to shine his light on the darkness…on the scroll of God’s purposes for our lives …our humanity is unfurled…into a beautiful reality…
knowing the evils of this world may hurt our bodies,
but can never ever touch that part of us which is In Christ…

Revelation Chapter 7 slide
Ok drum roll into Chapter seven…
We now have a clear view of the evil hidden by the seals
that keep God’s purposes from being fully accomplished …
The lies, the violence the greed and death…persecution and catastrophic cosmic events…

So far the Lamb of God has opened six of the seven seals …you can just imagine the little clusters of fearful Christians huddled in the dark… listening by firelight…
as John’s vision is read out to them…waiting for a seventh possibly more terrifying… obstacle to God’s purposes…
to be revealed. [pause]

But before the seventh seal is opened by the Lamb …
listen to this…

Angels slide
After this…John says… I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds…
and another angel coming from the east holding… [pause]
the seal of the living God.

This angel called out to the other four that had power to harm the earth:
Slide words
Don’t harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.

Perhaps a violent wind will scorch the earth, stir up the sea and uproot the trees…
but more likely a great shaking will pass through the world of human affairs… as powers and principalities are exposed for what they are… by the Lamb of God.

blank slide
And God’s people need to be reassured
they’ll come through this time of tribulation safely…

Multitude slide
And after the Angels and the four winds and the fifth Angel with the seal of the living God which has yet to be opened
by the Lamb………John sees before him…

a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and holding palm branches and they cried out in a loud voice:

Word slide
Salvation belongs to our God… who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb. [pause]

Now John uses the rich symbolism of Israel’s identity
to mark out those who through the Messiah…
belong to God’s renewed and rescued people
no matter what their ancestry…Twelve thousand times twelve

Blank slide
yes…a multitude of God’s people may not escape suffering …neither did the lamb of God. But they will come through
to safety on the other side…

just as Jesus… passed though death
to the immortal physical life of the resurrection.

One small thing here… remains a mystery to me…
and to most biblical scholars…why does John list twelve tribes adding Manasseh and dropping the tribe of Dan.
Let me know when you figure it out.

before the seventh seal is opened… God’s good creation is being protected…by a fierce and purifying wind… God won’t allow the rising tide of evil… to jeopardise the ultimate rescue of his children…

The message in the vision is clear…the events that surround them may be terrifying… but they may rest assured…
God has them in his care.

Word slide
And all the angels and elders and four living creatures around the throne fell down and worshiped God.

And John heard them saying:

Change Word slide
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honour
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.

And then John and the Elder play that little game again where the Elder asks John to interpret who the multitude are
and John says back to him ‘You know’…and the elder replies

These are the ones who survived the great tribulation; they washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. That’s why they serve God day and night for the one who sits on the throne shelters them with his presence…

The communities to whom John will relate his vision
are about to face a nightmare… and they must be ready for it. What John is given… is a vision of the utter truth…
against which their suffering must be measured

the ultimate reality that they must cling to with dear life…
the reality that the creator God and the lamb
have already won the victory…

This means those who follow the lamb are ultimately rescued from harm and free to worship and praise in the presence of the living God. And in John’s vision…they can’t contain their enthusiasm and their delight and their gratitude to God.

Salvation belongs to our God.

Here the word salvation literally means…rescue.
the realisation that everything good and noble and powerful and wise… comes from God…the one God from whom all blessings flow.

Who is this multitude…the Elder answers…they’re the ones who’ve come through the great suffering.

Their clothes are white… not because they’re perfect, or lived lives of holiness and purity…but because the lamb…
the sacrificial Passover-like death… of Jesus himself…
has rescued them from slavery… to sin…
enabling them to stand… in the presence of the living God.

No need to wait…no need for a lengthy post-mortem clean up period …all that is required has been done.

Not only are they welcome in God’s presence…but God’s presence will shelter them…literally…
this word means God will pitch his tent over them…
as God did the Israelites in the wilderness.

And right here in his glorious vision… John glimpses the future of the new Jerusalem itself. Time collapses… present and future overlap and interlock …and already the blessings of the final community of God… are being experienced by those about to suffer…

And in a wonderful role reversal
the lamb becomes a shepherd…assuming the royal role
of John ten…the good shepherd…the divine shepherd of the 23rd psalm…who leads his people to springs of living water.

And the Elder reveals…
‘Never again will they hunger
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,
    nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd
he will lead them to springs of living water.
    And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

There is an intimacy to this promise that rules out every crazy fearful prediction of the end of the world. A tender compassion that banishes all attempts to create God in our own image…

Yes God is angry with all those who deface and defile the beauty and goodness of creation…yes God is angry with those who make the lives of their fellow creatures miserable and wretched…

but God’s judgment on this… is to overcome evil with love. And again we have a choice…

Will we put our faith in the God of salvation and hope
or will we follow the gods of destruction.

For our God… revealed ultimately by Jesus on the cross…
is no faceless heavenly bureaucrat with a big book
nor a violent celestial bully…

our God is the one whose heart full of the goodness and mercy…that follows us all the days of our lives…whose most characteristic gesture… is to come down in person…
and wipe away every tear… from every eye.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Revelation 8 Chapter 6

Woah…!!  Hold your horses!!
Pentecost 5 year C Sermon
by Barbara Lee
What’s happened after all the wonder, glory, worship & jubilation of ch5??!! ……..Last week we had this awe-some build up; we have high expectations;…………. what will be revealed in those scrolls? – surely  NOW, everything would be OK – but no ! – He who is deemed ‘worthy’ to break the seals apparently releases all sorts of evil in the world; what can this mean?  In our revelation study series, we now embark on the so-called ‘times of tribulation’ in Rev 6-20’
How do you  understand these passages?  A description of a future which we fear, when mankind rushes into horrendously calamitous times with a rather worrying consequences? When a vengeful God’s patience finally runs out?  I don’t think so!
Look at this imageis it a real photo?  Yes & No!  ……Yes, in that all the elements were really there, and…. No,… in that they were not captured quite how the eye usually see them and - the image has been digitally rearranged to portray a different message – one which I saw in my mind’s eye, but not literally through the cameras viewfinder
So, back to Rev 6……….what elements of reality are there?  And how are they rearranged to portray a message?
…let us consider the context of the time when John had these visions.
To recap a little from Diane’s earlier sermons  - we believe that John wrote Revelation sometime towards the end of the 1st C – long  after Jesus death & resurrection.  Many had thought that Jesus 2nd  coming would occur within their life-times – but no – things were as bad, if not worse than ever… .and still there was no sign
There is a tendency whenever things are ‘bad’ to find marked similarities between apocalyptic (meaning ‘to disclose’ or uncover) literature and one’s own situation.  The hearers of John’s revelation,  would  have identified strongly with the symbolism in this chapter…..  much of which had echoes from OT prophesies…... 

In AD 75, Mount Vesuvius erupted and  totally buried Pompeii and Herculaneum – although these cities were in Italy, not in the area of the ‘seven churches’,  doubtless the enormity of the eruption would have impressed the, then known world,  and been a salient reminder of power of ‘cosmic forces’
At about the same time, ‘The Jewish War’  was published,   This was  a history of the first Roman-Jewish war, written by Josephus, a Romano- Jewish historian .    Josephus himself  was born in Jerusalem of royal descent and initially fought as the head of the Jewish forces in Galilee, before eventually surrendering.  He was kept as a hostage & interpreter by Vespasian and in due course was given his freedom and Roman citizenship.  Josephus would probably  therefore have been thought of as a traitor and perhaps may be the thought  behind the ‘white horseman’. (though there are lots of other theories)
In  AD 80, the Coliseum was completed ;  A show case of Roman power  and also became a place of Jewish Christian torture  & executions  for public spectacle.
5 yrs later,  in AD 85, Emperor Domitian enforced the collection of a punitive  tax from the Jews.   The cost of staples, eg barley which the poor people ate,  shot up in price, whilst the rich could still afford their luxuries.  It possibly also was  a time of drought; Olive trees & grape vines had deeper roots & therefore could survive more easily.  Either way, the effect was famine & financial hardship for the ordinary people, leading to disease, further suffering and death. 
So, it is not hard to see where these images come from, but I do not wish to go further down the path of speculation on the interpretation of specific ills today; rather  now think about the meaning of the ‘scroll’ and the ‘seals’.
In the 1st C, documents were held together with strings which were sealed by (in those days) probably clay.  Commonly, seven seals were used for important docs. …... So what is so important about this document? It was written by God!
From the very beginning, God’s creative purposes have come through The WordIn the beginning was the Word…and the Word was with God & the word was God….(jn1)  God spoke and it was so………(Gen1)  Jesus commanded the waves…. The spirits…… and they obeyed him…. Words….. the power of the spoken word = The way God acts!    But the words on the scroll are not yet read … not yet spoken……. Some of God’s purposes are not yet complete…. Or are they??   ….. Evil is not yet defeated… or is it?....
Jesus cried from the cross - “It is finished” …. He has dealt with sin once and for all, so how come John’s readers (including us) still experience evil & suffering?
Time is not eternal; we live in the dimension of time; our problem is we can only think in a sequential fashion (1st this has to happen, then that, etc…)  …. But God created time, so he is outside it.  God’s perfect design for all of his creation, including us, is written on that scroll; our names – the real ‘us’ (in the sense of  that extra dimension that we cannot yet understand – think back to the Zebra shadow story)……what God calls us; the Name he gives us….., is written in there! It has to be read out loud to become
- but – it is sealed… it cannot be read until the seals are broken; God’s full intention cannot be spoken (read) into being until the powers that prevent it being so are  brought to light, shown up for what they really are….and … are broken – ONLY Jesus, the Lamb can do that; only he can break the power of evil that prevents God’s full purposes from being realised.  So in breaking the seals, Jesus is not ‘unleashing’ evil into the world – he is merely showing up the evil for what it is.  Exposing evil is necessary before its power can be broken –  whilst it is hidden, evil still holds an illusion of power.
So what did this revelation mean for John and his hearers?
I believe that all of  the imagery described in Revelation were different ways of seeing another reality, of recognising the enormity of the truly cosmic struggle that God through Jesus  goes through  for us, rather than prophecies of a series of events which have to happen , one after the other, before Jesus second coming.    In a sense  - God’s creation…, Jesus death and victory….. and his second coming  - are all -  always happening NOW!    Because of our limitations of time & space, we cannot truly grasp how this works.
…. And how do those ripples of understanding touch us?   what does this mean for us in our time-based world?  Because of Jesus’ “It is finished!”  We know that He  has broken the power of evil in our lives – He has broken those seals, our eyes can be opened…. To a new reality
 Although we live in  a fallen world, we do  have a  choice:  we can refuse to allow Jesus to break the seals that bind us – that hold us captive….that prevent God calling our real name from that scroll. We can try to hide   - and  - have the, “I’m alright, jack” attitude….’ we can refuse to face up to the  wrong in our lives, but then our scroll remains unread …the ultimate tragedy…..  
Or  –we can ask Jesus to break those seals, to show us the evil in our very selves,  and allow Him , the Lion-Lamb… His victory!…..the scroll of God’s purposes for our lives can start to be unfurled…be read and become beautiful reality……Jesus is the Word .  If our names are called……, if we are in Christ,….. written into that scroll,  the evils of this world may hurt our bodies, but they can never, …ever touch the real you – the one in the 5th dimension….the one hidden in this mystery…. the YOU in Christ in that Scroll!

What is your choice?.....   

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sermon Revelation 7 Chapter 5

Pentecost 4 year C 
Worthy is the Lamb. [pause]
And in John’s vision…
ten thousand… times ten thousand… angels sing

You’re worthy to take the scroll… and open its seals,
because you were slain and with your blood…
you purchased for God people from every language tribe and nation. [pause]

Who is worthy… to break open the seven seals …
the seven prophesies?
Who is worthy to reveal God’s purposes to the world?

Only one

only the Lamb…only the Lamb of God…[pause]

In our series on the book of Revelation…we begin today with the answer to my final question…
how can we know… anything about God at all?

Answer? Only through God’s self-revelation to us.
God breathed revelation…through vision and scripture and prophesy…revelation confirmed by the mission and traditions of the church… and one more…
through personal encounter… with the one
who was and is… the ultimate and complete revelation
of God… and of God’s purposes…Jesus Christ.
Earlier this week as I reflected on the scripture for this morning…I had a revelation…

I’ve tried to find images… to help you imagine
what I saw in my mind’s eye….

Reg and I were sharing our time of devotions after breakfast…

Cross slide
Suddenly… something we read or prayed…
triggered in me an image of Christ on the Cross…

Jesus was speaking his final words…Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.

Sunburst slide
And then wham…

I had a burst of adrenalin …as I realised
that very moment… in the history of the universe
was the moment…

when God’s purposes were revealed… once and for all by the lamb of God. A revelation of God
and God’s judgement…which can never ever be undone.
God’s judgment…is forgiveness.

Worthy is the Lamb…of…God
to reveal the purposes of God…

Vision slide
But today in our series on the book of Revelation… we’re still looking through John’s eyes…not mine
We’re looking at John’s vision…of the throne room of God…the creator of the universe…given him in exile on the Island of Patmos…a vision given for him to share…a vision of hope for early Christian…about to face pain and persecution

And we learned last week…
that God’s divine dimension…revealed this way to John is not a vision of where we go when we die…
nor merely a beautiful hallucination…
to bring us to our knees in awe

This vision is going somewhere…
there’s a project underway. There’s work to be done.

In particular… the work of rescuing creation
from the deadly dangers…that have taken root within it. There’s work to be done… to over throw the forces
that are out to destroy… the very handiwork of God.

It will be a terrible task and God’s people may well shrink from it…because we know we’ve made it worse
by being part of the problem.

Like our world…John’s is full of movements and  systems and philosophies and religions…
that ignore and abuse creation…God’s beautiful good creation…dismissing creation and creatures as irrelevant to the so called spiritual life…
some even denigrate creation…as a nasty, dark
and dangerous place…full of evil and death.

As well the world is full of people who worship the world…instead of worshipping its Creator. People who worship money… or sex …or power and war…
My favourite biblical scholar Tom Wright[i]
believes the book of Revelation sets out the delicate but decisive balance of these idolatrous systems. But proclaims for everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that all creation worships God…
for God alone… is worthy of all praise

And here in John’s vision
God holds the scroll of God’s purposes…like an architect about to renovate a building

and John hears a strong angel’s voice announcing

slide words
Does anyone deserve to open the scroll…or undo its seals
Is there anybody out there…who hasn’t contributed to the problem… under which creation groans. [pause]

John knows the answer…John bursts into tears
and tells us

Slide words
‘And nobody in heaven and on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look at it…

God’s creation is good…God’s purposes for creation are good. And from the book of Genesis…
we read God’s stewardship of creation… is to be carried out by human creatures…

God puts together a covenant people to tell the world about this…but instead we wanted to play God…
Now human creatures are part of the problem
and no one can be found who is worthy to open the scroll of God’s purposes…

It’s as though all of human history… is caught up John’s vision and John is shattered.

But we find…already God’s promise to wipe away every tear… has begun…
one Elder in John’s vision comforts him…

Slide words
Don’t cry…Look the lion of Judah, the Root of David has won the victory! He can open the scroll with its seven seals. [pause]

And instead of a lion

John sees…

Blank slide
a lamb…the Lamb of God. [pause]

The Messiah. Only he can open the scroll
and he’s already won the victory. [pause]

Worthy is the lamb slide
Now comes what Tom Wright calls…
one of the most decisive moments in all of scripture Did you notice…what John has heard is the announcement of the lion…
what he sees is a lamb.

The lion…a symbol of ultimate power…
the lamb…a symbol of gentleness and vulnerability sacrificed and yielding in weakness… to death…
From this moment on
John…and we as his careful readers
are invited to understand…that the victory won by the lion is accomplished through the sacrifice of the lamb

and in no other way.

But we’re also to understand…
that what’s accomplished by the lamb’s sacrifice…
isn’t merely the wiping away of sin for a few people
here and there…the lamb’s sacrifice is lions victory…
God’s victory over all the forces of corruption and death,
over everything…that would destroy… God’s good Creation.

The lion and the lamb accomplish it…

Yet down through the centuries…history shows us
plenty of lion-like Christians. Believing yes Jesus died for us …but now God’s will…. is to be done in the lion-like way through brute force and violence…
to make the world come into line… to enforce God’s will.

No replies John…think of the lion by all means…
but gaze at the lamb.

In the same way… there’ve been plenty of lamb-like Christians…who say… yes Jesus  may have been the lion of Judah…but that’s a political idea which we should reject… because salvation is about having our sins wiped away… so we can escape this evil world and go off to heaven.

No replies John…gaze at the lamb…
but remember it’s the lion’s victory… he’s won.

And he is holy… and he is worthy…
and he alone has the right to take the scroll and open it…
To reveal God’s purposes to us.

Let us sing of this as we approach the table to which the lion and the lamb have invited us.

[i] Once again my gratitude to NT Wright and his book Revelation for Everyone, Knox Westminster, 2011

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sermon Revelation 6 chapter 4

Pentecost 3 year C 

As we’ve heard the last two weeks…in the book of Revelation …the letters to the seven churches of Asia…are powerful and thought provoking….for the people of God…in any age…

And John’sdazzling vision… of Jesus
at the beginning of the book… is enough to make you and I
fall down in awe and worship
of the risen Christ
just as John fell down.

But powerful as these visions are…they’re just a warm up…
just preparation for chapter four…where the story really starts. For it’s here in John’s vision
as he stands in the heavenly throne room
it’s  here he’s given the ‘revelation’
that gives this book its name.

Everything we read from this point on…is that vision

Now remember… visions from God aren’t  at all unusual
for those who spend time in long periods of silence listening in the presence of God. A few weeks back I showed you my journal… of what I feel God is showing me at those times ...images which inspire me and strengthen me
in my life and my ministry.

So…Revelation Chapter 4
Every line in the short opening passage
gives us an image…rich in detail…
of the place John is taken… in his vision…
and what it all means.

My favourite Biblical Scholar… Tom Wright[i]
thinks its worth savouring this passage slowly
phrase by phrase. So read the first line with me outloud…

Slide words
After this I looked, and there before me was a door
standing open in heaven.

Now when you read these words… what image comes to your mind? Talk with your neighbour…[Ask…]

A night sky…with a tiny little door… shining like a distant star…far far away? I think that’s the kind of image we often have…

But remember what we already know
biblical scholars remind us…
that in the mind of God’s people in the first century…
Jews and Christian’s...heaven and earth aren’t separated…
by a great expanse of outer space …

and particularly for those who follow Jesus
God’s sphere …God’s dimension… is close beside us…
right here …remember Jesus said the Kingdom of God is at handintersecting ordinary reality.

door slide
So for John, it’s not so much a door opening…
high up in the sky far away…it’s more like a portal…
opening up right in front of him…

where the only thing he could see before
was the sand and the sea and the hills of Patmos.
Suddenly there’s an opening
that leads into a different dimension. [pause]

And then we hear an invitation
to come up and take a look around.

This voice like a trumpet…the one John heard at the very beginning of his vision…this voice speaks again.
Slide words
Come up here and I’ll show you…
what must take place after these things.
After what things? The terrible events the seven churches have just been warned about…in the past two chapters…
persecution and suffering that’s about to happen to them

For centuries people have distorted and misunderstood and made money… out of what’s happening here in John’s vision.
In fact… fortunes have been made…writing ridiculous
and bizarre novels… about the rapture
playing on people’s fears… of a wrathful God

but John’s vision isn’t anything to do with God’s people being snatched away to heaven in a rapture

Throne room slide
This is about a prophet…having a vision of being taken into God’s throne room…so he can see behind the scenes
so he can understand…how everything he sees and hears
fits together…how it all makes sense…

So after the invitation to come up and take a look around… and John says
Slide words
At once I was in the Spirit…
and there before me was a throne …and the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby.
A rainbow… that shone like an emerald… encircled the throne. And surrounding the throne…were twenty-four elders on their thrones… dressed in white…with crowns of gold.

Blank slide
And we know the vision of a throne room given to John…
isn’t a vision of the final stage in God’s purposes for creation and it’s not about the final heavenly resting place
for God’s people…

it’s about the admission of this one man…John of Patmos
into God’s sphere…by way of a vision to which he can relate …a vision of royal courts and counsellors
and trials soon to engulf his world.

But there is a rainbow…did you notice… in verse threereminding John…and us…of God’s visible promise of mercy in the ancient story of the flood…
a promise that God will never again destroy the earth…

So for those with eyes to see
as John seeks the presence of God… he’s is confronted
with a vision… of awesome beauty…and mercy combined…

What John experiences in this chapter and the next
is intended… to help us understand
what’s happening in the rest of the book…[breath]

You see the book of Revelation… is structured around
sequences of sevens… knowing this helps us understand
the scene in the throne room too.
We’ve already had seven letters to the churches
next week we’ll be introduced to the famous series…
of seven prophesies… known as the seven seals
seals which must be opened…if the scroll of God’s purposes is to be… unrolled

and then we’ll hear of the seven trumpets
and the seven bowls of God’s wrath…[pause]

John is summoned into the throne room…
where he’s privileged to stand in God’s council chamber
allowed to overhear what’s going on…so he can report it to the persecuted and suffering churches in his time…and to us.

And John’s vision is completely consistent…
with the visions of the prophets of ancient Israel.

Like the vision of Micaiah ben Imlah in first Kings
John sees God himself… sitting on a throne
surrounded by his heavenly hosts…discussing their plans.

And John’s vision also reminds us…of when the prophet Ezekiel’s given a vision of God’s throne as a chariot
with fiery wheels.

And in John’s vision… in God’s council are twenty four Elders…possibly representing the twelve tribes of Israel…
and the twelve apostles of the early church…
an image of the embodied perfection of the people of God sharing in God’s reign over the universe.

Their white robes… a potent symbol…of purity and victory… and their crowns…a signs of the royal priesthood
we heard about in chapter one.

But this isn’t a scene of blissful calm
for John sees lightning and fire
and hears the rumble of a sound like thunder…
and this happens every time
God’s purposes
are being disclosed in the book of Revelation.

And now we come to the final mysterious detail in this part of John’s vision

Slide words
before the throne is what looked like a sea of glass,
clear as crystal.

This artist has shown it like a giant bowl
like the one called the sea in Solomon’s Temple.

blank slide
What is it… and why is this deeply mysterious image here?

Well throughout the ages…biblical scholars have struggled to explain it… but always recalled Solomon’s Temple.
But throughout the book of Revelation…the sea…
appears to shift and change its appearance… as in a dream

Sometimes it’s like the red sea through which
the children of God pass to safety…from their enemy and from slavery … another time the great Beast emerges from the sea watch over by a Dragon. And intriguingly…given these images of imminent evil… John sees that in the New Jerusalem
there is ‘no longer sea’

Maybe surrounded and enclosed within the throne room…we see a powerful symbolic presentation…that within creation as it currently is…evil is present and dangerous …but contained within and by God’s sovereign purposes…and eventually drained… completely… of its power in the New Jerusalem where there is no sea.

But in addition to all this other dimensional imagery…
John’s readers at the end of the first century
facing persecution and suffering…
in the fearsome arenas of Rome…
these early Christians would see far more
than echoes of ancient prophetic visions

They’d be instantly reminded of a very different royal court one that ruled the world they knew…
and they’d be reminded of the power struggle Jesus refers to between the kingdom of God against the ruler of this world.

And perhaps John is invited to see that all royal and religious courts in their world are simply cheap imitation copies…
of the power of the God…who really and truly rules in heaven and on earth…in love and mercy and forgiveness…
And John is instructed to share this vision with those about to face the trials ahead…

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This is priceless treasure…this book…allowing us to share in a vision given to one of God’s servants…with all it’s alarming and terrifying imagery…it’s a vision given to bring hope.

Our challenge is what is the spirit saying to the church today…not only though our cherishing of scripture…but in how God breathes meaning through it into our own lives…

Are you prepared to sit with it and ask …God what are you saying to me…what do you want to show me…what do you want to reveal to our church.

You see the only way we know about God is from God’s own self-revelation…that is the only way…
The only question for us is… are we willing to savour God’s word to us and consent open ourselves to what God may want to show us.

[i] NT Wright, Revelation for Everyone, Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Dead, lukewarm and complacent

Pentecost 2 Year C Sermon  Revelation Part 5 Chapter 3

Sardis you’re dead. Wake up!

Philadelphia beware…the synagogue of Satan

Laodicea you’re so lukewarm...I’m about to spit you out.
Your so complacent about your wealth… you’re blind…
to how pitiful you really are…and how exposed.

Hard words. And three more of the seven prophetic messages
to the churches of Asia Minor in the book of Revelation…
like emails…copied to everyone in the world in every time …so we can hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

So we can wonder… as a church… are we
more like Sardis or Philadelphia, or Laodicea.

Sardis you’re dead. Wake up!

Philadelphia beware… the synagogue of Satan

Laodicea… you’re so lukewarm...I’m about to spit you out.

Are we like any of these? What do you think…could any of these words of warning be for us? Are we more like Sardis or Philadelphia, or Laodicea or completely different? Just take a minute to think about it... [pause]

Revelation Part 5 – Chapter 3
In our sermon series on the book of Revelation
we discover one of the clearest sharpest visions
of God’s ultimate purpose...
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not just to save the world… through the life death and resurrection of Jesus…but to put his followers to work…
in the service of his kingdom…
to overthrow the powerful forces of evil…
present in the idolatrous and unjust systems of the world

And today we find in Chapter 3 of the book of Revelation
harsh words indeed…to the churches…
at what they have become

Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves…
to get our heads and hearts around this message…
to learn from the words of the risen Christ…
so our witness…to God’s purposes is courageous and faithful so we might speak the truth…
to the powers and principalities of our world.

Fortunately John lets us listen in
to what the spirit is saying to the seven churches in Asia.

First what the heck is going on in Sardis?

Well…you see they had a history of complacency…
six hundred years earlier…Sardis believed she was invulnerable that no enemy could reach her…sitting high as she was…
on her cliff top

But Sardis was wrong…her lack of vigilance
allowed the Persians to conquer her by stealth. She was humiliated.

Centuries later in John’s vision…
Jesus is telling the Christian community in Sardis…
they need to learn the lesson all over again …

sure they have a reputation for being a lively church
a vibrant… going concern…a fellowship where things are happening…But they’ve gone to sleep on their reputation
and need to wake up.

Fortunately for the church in Sardis… it’s not too late…
but they do need to take action in two areas…
first Jesus says

Slide words first reveal
I’ve found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.

You’ve lost momentum
your faithfulness needs to be all or nothing!

It simply won’t do to bumble on looking busy
but achieving little. Reputation isn’t enough.

The second charge uses the metaphor of dirty laundry…yes there may be some who haven’t soiled their clothes…
to the rest Jesus says

Slide words second reveal
Clean up your act! Or you’ll slip away from me.

Their reputation for being alive is no longer deserved…and if this unsatisfactory state of affairs continues
then Jesus…who holds the life of the churches…will come…
and just like the Persian invasion
they won’t know what’s happening… till it’s too late.

but there is a promise…those who wake up…clean up their act …and finish the work they’ve begun…will share in Jesus’ victory over all those things that drag human life down into the dirt…
even death itself….
And most wonderfully…there is the promise…
that Jesus himself will acknowledge them by name
before his father. [pause]

Ok that’s Sardis… what about Philadelphia?
Well…fifty years earlier… the city of Philadelphia was flatten by an earthquake. Their beautiful ancient architecture…
their magnificent pillared structures… toppled and collapsed …huge marble Temples cracked and buckled

Imagine the impact John’s vision on the Christians living there hear the promise of the risen Christ…I’m coming soon.
Hold on

Slide words
I’ll make those who are victorious into a pillar
in the temple of my God.

Never again will they leave it. And on them…I’ll write the name of my God and the name of the city of my God…
the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven
from my God; and I’ll write my new name on them too.

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A Temple… made of living human beings…with Jesus as the foundation…a Temple where the living God makes his home.
Hold on…don’t give up…with Jesus backing they’ll have all they need. Hang in there… in times of persecution keep the faith …keep Jesus word…never deny his name.

Yes Jesus has the key… that will open and unlock every door
but they have to have the courage to go through the door…
to grasp the opportunity while they can

But in John’s vision…the risen Christ warns the church at Philadelphia… there’s something in the way…
the established synagogues are using their status
to block the advance of the message of Israel’s Messiah.

A Jewish community with several thousand members
and magnificent buildings…is pitting it’s power
against the young church…
of maybe two or three dozen at the most

a tiny movement who are holding on…to the highly improbable
and extremely risky claim…that the God of Israel
had raised Jesus from the dead.

That incredible imbalance… helps us understand
what is now being said.

Slide words
I’ll make those in the synagogue of Satan – who claim to be Jews though they’re not, but are liars —I’ll make them come and fall down at your feet… and acknowledge that I have loved you.

This isn’t an anti-Jewish proclamation…but an inner-Jewish conflict going on…about which group can legitimately claim to be carrying the light…and here in John’s vision…the risen Christ is clear…those who follow him are the true Jews. Those who deny him forfeit their right to that noble name.

Remember the ancient prophesies foretold a time
when foreign nations would come…
and bow before the people of Israel
acknowledging the one true God was with them…

now it’s going to be the other way around.
The followers of Jesus will go through the open door…
they’ll be pillars in the new temple
they will carry the new name –the triple name of God –
Father Son and Holy Spirit…

they will carry the name of the new Jerusalem
and the new name of Jesus himself… as King and Lord.
They are to be the Temple… and the city where heaven and earth are forever joined. What is the spirit saying to the church at Philadelphia…keep holding on.

Now for Laodicea…what’s that all about?
Well an earthquake did major damage to Laodicea as well

but they didn’t need Rome’s help… thank you very much….
you see they were the banking centre of the whole region
and what’s more they boasted a fine medical school
specialising in ophthalmology…the healing of the eyes.
People came from far and away to train there.

As well… Laodicea was famous for a particular breed of black sheep… whose wool was especially fine. And from this wool
highly sought after …fashionable garments were made. Laodicea seemed to have it all.

But one thing the city didn’t have was good water.

Pipes slide
in fact they had to pipe their water in… over six or seven K… from hot springs high in the hills. But by the time the water arrived in Laodicea… it wasn’t hot any more…it was lukewarm and what’s worse… the concentrated chemicals in it…
made you sick if you drank it.

They also tried piping in clear icy water from mountain streams but that didn’t help either…the climate was so hot by the time
it arrived in Laodicea…that water was lukewarm too.

So you see…hot water that cools down …and cold water that heats up…lukewarm…

So the church in Laodicea knows what the risen Christ is talking about when he tells them…with a mixture of sorrow and anger…

Side words
You’re neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you’re lukewarm…I’m going to spew you
out of my mouth.

My favourite Biblical Scholar Tom Wright[i] says… spew isn’t too strong a word here. The sense is Jesus is disgusted
at the taste of Laodicean Christianity…it makes him sick.

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And the local colour continues in full strength…
you were rich…you say you’ve done well, you don’t need anything! Apparently the smug…well off attitude of the town
has rubbed off on the Christians.

They need to take off those designer clothes and get back into their baptismal robes of pure white…they need to make a commitment to the life Jesus has called them to. [pause]

You know there’s a story that St Theresa of Avila once complained to God about her suffering. And God apparently replied…this is how I treat my friend.
And right back Theresa said…then you shouldn’t be surprised you have so few of them!

And there’s a hint of the same humour in verse nineteen of Jesus message to Laodicea.
slide words
Those I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

Jesus won’t punish them to destroy them, but to bring them to their senses. The one church that’s in real trouble…
draws from Jesus the most intimate and loving promise.

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Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for all of us.

Jesus is the AMEN to the one who stays true…
And at an unexpected hour the master will return home…
knock on the door of his own house…and the one inside who stayed awake…who remained faithful… will open the door.

And when it’s all be said and done…Jesus will enter and break bread with them…the bread of life…will give himself to them

And when it’s all been said and done
those who share in that meal around that table…will share his strange sovereign rule over the world…

the rule to which he came… not by force of arms…but by the power of suffering love…

Let anyone with ears to hear… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And now let us reflect in silence as we listen

[i] Once again I acknowledge the work of NT Wrights book Revelation for Everyone Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.