Sunday 19 November 2017 Love, joy and the Apocalypse Martin Baker
This is the third week that we have been looking at the Book of Revelation.
The Book is written to seven churches in what is today South West Turkey. John is writing from the Island of Patmos . Patmos is an Island off the coast of Turkey. He has been banished there. Banishment was a relatively common punishment for the Roman authorities, especially for people like John who questioned the very authority of Rome.
Last week I mentioned that John uses the language of apocalypse , which means unveiling or revealing. A reality, another story behind what we see happening. Like in the Book of Daniel when the Jews were being persecuted by the Greeks it seems likely that the churches he was writing to were facing two particular issues.
On one hand there were some who had died or were being persecute because of their insistence that there was only one God and one Lord and that wasn’t Caesar but Jesus who should be worshipped. And on the other hand, there were other churches who had become lukewarm or insipid. They, perhaps under pressure, had given up and succumbed to the prevailing culture of their day and their life and worship had become indistinct from the practices around them.
So John uses this language to speak of another reality so important that it’s knowledge will help us understand and deal with the challenges we are facing now.
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 honour 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 centre 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."
Let Us Pray
May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and redeemer. AMEN
A vision this morning.
A Great multitude. Salvation belongs to God and the lamb.
Robes washed clean in blood.
No more hungers.
Spring of the water of life.
Tears being wiped away.
Does this make any sense?
I know we are all told to exercise more. I’ve got an aging exercise machine at home. Heavily underutilised. And as much as I dislike exercising in this way, I try to make the time pass by watching as I exercise, episodes of a very long running television series which has it’s origins in the tv series Star Trek. It continues in many forms. I’m up to about 1996 I think. I’ll stop exercising of course once I finally catch up.
On the TV series there is the character called Mr Spock. Actually by 1998 he has been replaced by Tuvoc. Tuvoc, like Mr Spock comes from the planet, Vulcan. And on this planet everyone is very logical and un-emotive. And they find it most difficult to understand the human thought process. Making decisions based on emotions or intuition or feelings they - find very troubling indeed.
There is a value in Mr Spock’s view of life. Some decisions are very important to make on logic. Based on the accumulation of scientific knowledge. We want and need people in society who are very good thinkers. Very good scientists. And doctors and pilots and aircraft engineers. We don’t want these people, in their professional lives, to be spontaneous or make their decisions based on a feeling or an emotion or a whim. We don’t want a pilot to say things like I wonder what happens if I push this button, or to maybe I’ll give this a try or I’ve never seen one of those before or it’s ok I’ll just make it up as I go along.
And yet on the other hand, we want a whole lot of activities to be based on other processes. Our musicians, our artists, our painters, our singers, our inventors perhaps. We also greatly value creative people.
And perhaps above all, we value qualities like love, courage, loyalty, integrity.
We say that some of these qualities, the hardest ones to point a stick at, are also the most important, most enduring things. Even though Mr Spock might say they are illogical Captain Kirk might say that they are the very things that make us human. From faith perspective we could say that these qualities especially of love and sacrifice, grace and forgiveness, are the mark of our maker, the things that express our identity as those created in God’s image.
So how do we look at these readings today?
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!"
Part of us might worry that readings like this don’t make sense. They are illogical. And therefore they become unbelievable. We could say we don’t want to have a faith in something that seems unbelievable. Doesn’t make sense. And yet a whole lot of important things we do may not make a lot sense. At least to the Mr Spock in us.
We could say that having a baby doesn’t make sense. They cry, they keep us awake, they poo, we worry so much about them. My children are still my biggest worry and expense 25 years later. What would Mr Spock say about that?
We listen to this reading today and one part of us says it doesn’t make sense. Washing your clothes in blood how could that make sense? In fact it’s not a very agreeable image at all. We hear that the Lamb at the centre 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."
What we are being asked to do today is to hold two things in mind at once.
On one hand some things don’t make sense. They are to do with things about mystery and wonder and awe and none of those things can easily be put into words. And the second thing is to say the things we are hearing this morning are the very most important things for us to think about and write about and speak about. We have to find some way of expressing what is ultimately important.
It’s just the universe out there. It’s just light from a star that is billions of kilometres away. So why gaze up in awe and wonder. It’s just a sunset. It’s just a baby. It’s just a new birth. You’ve just told someone you loved them, it just a feeling.
That little faith community in Southern Turkey who John was writing to in the book of Revelation. They would know that person who came to church last week, that person who wouldn’t bow down and worship Cesar. He knew he was going to get executed for that. He just refused to bow down to Caesar claiming that only Jesus was Lord. Why do that?
This last week the South China Morning Post reported that villagers in the South of China are being forced to take down posters of scripture on their walls and replace them with large photographs of the Party Leader Xi Jinping. (pr: SHEE JIN PING) The stated policy is to “transform believers in Jesus into believers in the Communist party”.
The officials successfully “melted the hard ice in their hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party”, the report said.
As a result, more than 600 villagers “voluntarily” got rid of the religious texts and paintings they had in their homes, and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi.
The local party official Qi Yan said that “Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour … After our cadres’ work, they’ll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help,” Qi said.
He said the township government had distributed more than 1,000 portraits of Xi, and that all of them had been hung in residents’ homes.
The most troubling thing for the communist party is that with now more than 100 million committed Christians in China, Christians now outnumber party members.
A claim in Revelation that we find difficult, but which the villagers in Southern China would know and the book of Revelation expresses, is the conviction that witness on behalf of the gospel of Christ crucified, the lamb we hear about, will bring one into direct conflict with the powers of this world of empire (1:9).
This conflict is spoken about in revelation as “the great ordeal," or “the great tribulation”. John the writer of Revelation believed that great tribulation has already begun and coincides with the mission of the church. Augustine said that the tribulation is actual in the ongoing experience of the church. They are not future events but part of the church’s life and times now.
Today we hear of a vision. In the midst of tribulation. A vison of something greater than our own fears. Or even our own sense of loss. Or our insecurities or our fear or the powerful drive to accumulate and own and possess.
Not empires or power or wealth at the centre but a lamb at the centre. Jesus at the centre. His love his forgiveness his promise of a new life eternal life that starts at the point of our commitment to following him.
We can’t simply explain to young Harry the logic of following Christ. The way of service, love forgiveness and sacrifice will always seem counter cultural, foolish, a stumbling block.
It’s the decision we make about the stories that guide our lives. The party leader and all he represents, or perhaps the more subtle things, the shows of wealth, the expression of our fears.
Or, the words, the actions, the decisions that start off with thanksgiving that say Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever!."
I doubt I could convince Mr Spock that Jesus is Lord and Saviour of his life, that God’s love is immeasurable. But what I could do is tell him stories.
Simple things maybe. Since Sandy spoke last week 50 or 60 people, from our worship this morning, from our HATCH event from our family programme have committed to buying gifts for children from some of our communities poorest homes.
Over the next few weeks we will distribute almost 60 food parcels thanks to your generosity.
Three weeks ago I went for a lovely lunch with our 11 am service musicians at Simon and Fran’s place. We talked about the songs that will uplift our worship and speak to the readings we hear. And from there to our Kawakawa Bay community and this amazing Saints and Angels party that they put on for their whole community. A hundred were involved in an encounter with the Gospel and it’s message through this wonderful set of activities. And then back here for our Sunday night dinners and the question - why are you doing this? – a question which opens up a whole conversation about God’s unconditional love and welcome and hospitality. Mr Spock and maybe the great leader Xi Jinping would be confused.
So today it’s about our faith, our world view. The things we do and say that express what is most important to us. The things we want to teach our children and our grandchildren.
I want to leave you with some words from Paul to an ancient church community in Corinth not too far from modern day Athens. He said this
[2 Cor 4:8,9,17,18].
8 We are pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.