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?.....