Sunday, September 19, 2021
Six weeks ago, as we began this series in the book of Revelation, the first image of God we were introduced to was that of Creator. Remember that scene in the throne room with the four creatures as they, along with the twenty-four elders, bowed down to worship, saying “You are worthy, our Lord and God...for you created all things.”
Today, we conclude our readings in Revelation with that same image of God as Creator, whose final great act consists of a new creation. The first part of our reading is from Revelation, chapter 21.
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,
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.
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. --Revelation 21:1-6, 22:1-5 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from the One who is and was and is coming and from Jesus Christ, faithful witness, firstborn from among the dead, ruler of the kings of earth. Amen.
Just a few short weeks ago, I asked this question, “Is this the end of the world?”
I was talking to Pastor Elisa of New Goshen Presbyterian. In addition to her work there as interim pastor, she also works for Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light. If you’re not familiar with it, you might think it’s a power company. Well, it is a power company of sorts, I guess. It’s a community of congregations, faith-based organizations and other people of faith who have chosen to respond to climate change as an ethical and moral issue. And that, through education, advocacy and action, mobilizes a religious response to climate change and the social injustice it creates.
As part of her work, she is privy to studies and other information that you and I probably don’t come across in our normal days’ activities. So, our conversation that day was about a study that she had just seen. That, as she put it, “if you knew what I knew, you would be overwhelmed.” She was referring to a recent report published by a large group of scientists that said that climate change is not some far away thing. That we don’t have 10-20 years, even 5-10 years. That it’s now.
Given all that we’ve been witness to this past summer - the wildfires, the hurricanes, the record rain and flooding, the drought and so many other weather events - the idea that climate change has come is probably no surprise.
But, when you add this to all of the other crises that we have been witness to in the past year or so, including the collapse of the Afghan government, the political turmoil in Haiti, Myanmar, Hong Kong and so many other places in our world, and all those that have past and that I’ve already forgotten because they just seem to happen week after week after week. And, did I mention COVID? It was all of this that, in my conversation with Pr. Elisa, led me to blurt out, “Is this the end of the world?”
Maybe you’ve been wondering this a little, too.
So, perhaps, it has been a good thing for us to sit in Revelation for a few weeks. Because, like us, the early churches to whom this letter was addressed knew chaos and crisis. They knew massive upheaval and change. They knew and experienced hard and horrible things. It’s why the author shared his vision. To help them understand. And to help them prepare. To help us understand. And to prepare.
Their preparation - and ours - isn’t like preparing a “go bag” - one of those bags you keep handy in the event of a major disaster. Something filled with important papers and things you might need in an emergency. It’s not like preparing an “earthquake box” or a “hurricane tub” that you might pack to sustain you and your loved ones for a few weeks until help can arrive.
No, their preparation - and ours - happens by doing those things that keep us connected to God. Spiritual practices - like worship and prayer, and reading our Bible, and loving our neighbor - those things that form and shape us to be God’s people. It is these practices that guide our experiences and decisions and that give us that faithful endurance for those harder things. Because, through them, we learn that we have a God upon whom we can rely. Whether it’s through the small stuff, or the major crises and times of chaos. We have a God who loves us, who has offered up his Son for us and who promises us a new creation.The defeat of the forces of evil doesn’t result in the destruction or annihilation of the earth. Rather, it leads to God saying “I will make all things new.” It includes the resurrection of all the dead, but doesn’t stop there. When death is conquered, creation itself is made new. It’s a future - God’s future - that is pictured as a city with a garden at its center. Where both the human and the natural world are reconciled. With gates that stand open all the time to invite us and all people into the presence of God. With rivers and streams that offer life. And a tree that offers abundant fruit. Sweet, juicy, abundant fruit.
This is the future that God calls and invites us into. And all people everywhere. This is the end of the world that we are promised. May we live in anticipation of this world - this new Jerusalem - by claiming its way of life and by bearing witness to God, whose work of creation and new creation brings only life.
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
For sixteen chapters in Revelation, we read what is commonly known as the vision cycles. We heard one of these visions last week - that of the four horsemen. Throughout these visions, gruesome and frightening as they may be, the salvation community continues to praise God. We heard this last week in chapter 7 - that those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” continue to “worship God day and night.” There is also the promise that cosmic calamities, or the forces of evil at work in the world, or the final destruction at the end of time will overwhelm those who identity and security are found within nor the final destruction at the end of time will overwhelm those whose identity and security are found in God and the Lamb.
Today, we hear of another vision. This time of the two beasts. Our reading today is from Revelation, chapter 13. I’m picking up at the very end of chapter 12.
Then the dragon stood on the seashore, and I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads. Each of its horns was decorated with a royal crown, and on its heads were blasphemous names. The beast I saw was like a leopard. Its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave it his power, throne, and great authority. One of its heads appeared to have been slain and killed, but its deadly wound was healed. So the whole earth was amazed and followed the beast. They worshipped the dragon because it had given the beast its authority. They worshipped the beast and said, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
The beast was given a mouth that spoke boastful and blasphemous things, and it was given authority to act for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to speak blasphemies against God. It blasphemed God’s name and his dwelling place (that is, those who dwell in heaven).
It was also allowed to make war on the saints and to gain victory over them. It was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All who live on earth worshipped it, all whose names hadn’t been written—from the time the earth was made—in the scroll of life of the Lamb who was slain. Whoever has ears must listen: If any are to be taken captive, then into captivity they will go. If any are to be killed by the sword, then by the sword they will be killed. This calls for endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
Then I saw another beast coming up from the earth. It had two horns like a lamb, but it was speaking like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence. It also makes the earth and those who live in it worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. It does great signs so that it even makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the presence of the people. It deceives those who live on earth by the signs that it was allowed to do in the presence of the beast. It told those who live on earth to make an image for the beast who had been wounded by the sword and yet came to life again. It was allowed to give breath to the beast’s image so that the beast’s image would even speak and cause anyone who didn’t worship the beast’s image to be put to death. It forces everyone—the small and great, the rich and poor, the free and slaves—to have a mark put on their right hand or on their forehead. It will not allow anyone to make a purchase or sell anything unless the person has the mark with the beast’s name or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the one who understands calculate the beast’s number, for it’s a human being’s number. Its number is six hundred sixty-six. --Rev. 13:1-18 (CEB)
Throughout history images of animals have often been used as symbols to send different messages or to represent certain things.
Dogs in art, as one example, have not always been considered man’s best friend. From the earliest times up to the Renaissance, their qualities were mixed - from vigilance and faithfulness and wisdom, to anger, lechery, and greed. Titian used the idea of a dog as treacherous for this scene in the Last Supper, as he paired Judas with a dog to symbolize the disciple’s betrayal of Jesus.