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…

Blank alpha and omega slide
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.