Easter 4c, April 17, 2016

April 18, 2016

It’s Out There

Revelation 7:9-17


9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


The Book of Revelation is probably the most misunderstood book in the Bible. It might also be described as the most unusual book in the Bible, and it’s unusual nature sort of lends itself to a wide range of interpretations, but I really don’t think it’s as mysterious as many people make it out to be. This is not to say that I have a clear understanding of what all the fantastic imagery is all about, but I do believe I know how we are to approach the study of this book.


The Book of Revelation is not a document that contained secret codes about future events. It does have a message that is pertinent for us to hear today, but it doesn’t contain predictions of specific events that would transpire at certain moments in history. The imagery of this book lends itself to a lot of speculation about what exactly will happen when, but I believe this book was written to help believers of any age navigate the difficulties of life in every age. The writer of this book seems to have had some veiled references to specific events and individuals of his day, but you don’t have to know exactly what or who he may have been referring to to understand the message.


I believe this book addresses the very real struggle that goes on between people of faith and the agendas of powerful governments and tyrannical leaders, but those experiences are timeless. John’s Revelation was that there is always more going on than what appears to be the case. John was aware of what was going on in the world, but he was also able to see what God was doing, and that enabled him to speak a word of hope to the people who were victimized by the godless governing authorities of his day. The really clever thing is that he did this in a way that left those authorities clueless that he was talking about them, and that’s a wise thing to do when you are dealing with bloodthirsty tyrants.


I’ll say a bit more about this in a moment, but I just don’t want to scare anyone with this text from Revelation. It’s easy for people to feel put off by these supernatural images that we find in this book, we’re sort of conditioned by bad Biblical scholarship to try to crack the secret codes that are contained in this book, but I’ve been exposed to some people who see this book in a much simpler and straight-forward way. I may be totally wrong about the way I’m inclined to see it, but I think the main thing this text is asking us to do is to try to see beyond the surface of the way things appear.


And that’s not easy for us adults. We think we know what’s going on.

We’re in touch with reality. Which means we’ve largely lost the one real skill children have over adults – which is their ability to see beyond the facts of a situation.


The mind of a child is a wondrous thing. By the time we become adults we have routine ways of processing information, and we have clearly defined boundaries of reality.  This is not so with children.  What they perceive with their imagination is not overwhelmed by what they see with their eyes.  Children are able to see things that adults don’t see, and in this sense, children have an advantage over adults.


I mean I can sit on a wooden platform in a playground and play along with a three year-old who announces that we are on a boat in a river with sharks in it, but I won’t feel nearly as threatened by those sharks as that three year-old will.  Nor will I be as proud when we safely set foot back on shore.


Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t find the facts to be as easy to overcome as they were when I was a child.  I can’t look at a toy dinosaur and be transported into the reality of a dinosaur’s life in the way that a child can, and that seems to be one of the unfortunate consequences of growing up.  I don’t think that childhood pretending is the key to abiding in God’s kingdom, but I do think it is essential for people who aspire to be Christian to look beyond the surface of this world.  I think this is an obvious truth, but it’s not an easy barrier to overcome.


The problem with being an adult is that we have this tendency to believe that there is nothing more real than the pressures we feel to keep up, pay up, and look right.  It’s hard to believe that there is anything more important than to function within society in a prescribed manner, and in my opinion our society has not been highly infuenced by spiritual truths.  It is fear and greed and prejudice and selfishness that have primarily shaped the surface of this world, and to be an adult is to have to deal with these formidable realities.


Our society is not without beauty and love and joy and peace, but those aren’t the dominant characteristics of life on earth.  It’s impossible to define the universal experience of all humans on earth, but it is a rare person who escapes the hostility of this world.  It’s a struggle to adapt to the harsh realities of human existence, but we do.  In fact we sometimes adjust so well to life on earth that we don’t like to think that there is anything beyond this life.  Sometimes we get so caught up in demands of life on earth it’s hard for us to believe that there is anything more substantial than the troubles that we face, and it is at the expense of our souls that we become so well adapted to the comfort or distress of our immediate circumstances – for these are both forms of denial of the presence of the Kingdom of God.


It was during a time of great distress that the Book of Revelation came into being.  The Roman Emperor Domitian wasn’t tolerant of anyone who refused to recognize the supremacy of Roman gods and traditions.  The early Christians in the region that was under Domitian’s reign were subject to exile, torture, or death if they refused to renounce the Lordship of Jesus and to worship the emperor and his ways.  These Christians faced some unimaginably harsh circumstances, and I’m certain that it was hard for them to see beyond the terrors that they faced.


The author of the Book of Revelation was a man named John who had been sent into exile on the Island of Patmos.  It wasn’t a horrible spot to be, but it was hard for him to be separated from the people that he loved.  John was a victim of Domitian’s cruelty, but it became clear to John that there was a reality beyond their immediate circumstances. And what we have in the Book of Revelation is John’s understanding of what we might call ultimate reality.


Just as a child can look at a doll and see that doll come to life, John was looking at the trials of the church and seeing the glorious reign of Jesus Christ – but it wasn’t just an exercise in pretending. It’s hard to define the difference between pretending and embracing a more ultimate reality than surface details, but it has something to do with being set free from the demands of the immediate situation. In John’s world, Christians were being persecuted, but God was also being glorified.


The Book of Revelation is an unusual book, but it portrays very clearly the ultimate reign of God and the joyful nature of the people who are faithful to God in this world. This book is a resource for people who are struggling to be faithful to God in the midst of an unholy time and place – which includes our own time and place.


The Revelation of John is an affirmation that the Kingdom of God is truly at hand.  It is a powerful portrayal of the truth that the grace and peace of Jesus Christ is going to prevail over the ways and means of evil.  John could see the evil of his day, but that wasn’t all he could see.  John was able to see that day in which people of all nations and races would come together to worship the Lamb of God.  John’s understanding of reality was unbounded by the immediate concerns of the day, and ours is to be as well.


It’s not easy for us to believe that there is anything more real than the pressures we feel imposed upon us by our godless society; it’s not easy for us to be transported from one reality to the next, but that is what happens when we turn our hearts to God’s Kingdom.  There are many ways in which people seek to escape from the harsh realities of life, but the ways in which people seek relief often generate new forms of misery.  Jesus didn’t offer a way to escape from the troubles that this world has to offer, but he did reveal the way in which the power of love can overcome the cruelty of evil. If the resurrection of Jesus Christ was anything it was God’s affirmation of the power of love.


God doesn’t offer us an easy escape route from the troubles of this world, but we are provided an avenue for abundant life in the midst of whatever circumstance presents itself.


It’s not easy for us grown-ups to believe that there is anything more real than land, more immediate than meetings, or more essential than payments, but that is not what John believed. And that is not what we must believe if we want to take advantage of the opportunity God has provided for us to be a part of the most real thing that there is — God’s glorious community of faith.  There is a child within each of us that is capable of seeing beyond the surface of life. And thanks be to God, we have been invited to become those children of God who can see how life is meant to be lived. It’s not easy to find, but it’s out there — for real.


Thanks be to God. Amen


2 Responses to “Easter 4c, April 17, 2016”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    Thanks Thompson , Revelations has never been the book that I look to for peace and comfort.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    It’s a strange book, but I think we’ve been trained to make it even stranger than it is. Thanks for reading it!

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