Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’

A sermon preached on Christ the King Sunday, from Revelation 1:4-8

Well, this is the second time I’m preaching a sermon from the book of Revelation– which I swore I’d never preach on at all. (God has a marvelous sense of humor…) But yet again, as I consider the world we live in–I fall in love with words that were meant to bring me comfort. Somehow they grab ahold of me, and offer me something that none of the other passages quite will: a word of very deep and real hope, even in the midst of turmoil.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, a day which is celebrated on the last Sunday of the Christian year, and it’s a place where we may stop and consider both a beginning and an ending. As we look at the end of our Christian year, we celebrate all that Christ’s reign on Earth and in Heaven means for us. Maybe it’s like a high point: a final chapter in Christ’s book of days, before we start reading the story all over again next Sunday. Next Sunday, we will begin to be presented with pregnant women, anxious father’s to-be, a world with no room, and all the other things with which we are flooded during the time of ardent waiting during Advent.

But today, we see not only who that tiny little baby grew up to be, but what his life here on Earth meant for us. The man who lived like us, and died in a way that we will learn to do– but today, we envision him on a great and glorious throne and we hail him “King of Kings, and Lord of lords.”

Oh, I can speak the language as well as anybody can. I could quote divine liturgies that talk about Christ’s rule in creation. But as I look around, as I hear about people starving to death, or mothers who sell their five year old daughters into prostitution, or about gunmen who are teased to their breaking point, my heart becomes heavy.

I’ve told you that I’m not so great about keeping up with the news. Partly, it’s because I’m busy and am never around the TV during news time, and I sure don’t have time to read the paper. (Though as I say this, I have several preacher’s voices in my head, reminding me that Karl Barth said I ought to be preaching with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.) But as much as the busyness keeps me away from the news, that’s also partly a defense mechanism. Truthfully, I can’t bear to watch it, and have more or less adopted the mindset that “No news is good news.” I can’t bear to watch how awful human beings are to one another: the ways that we literally kill each other, and the ways that we make another person’s life a little less worth the living.

When I do happen to catch a news blurb, or my news-saavy husband tells me something that’s going on, my prayers/cries of anguish alternate between “Lord, rend the Heavens and come down!” and “Hey! Who’s in charge here?”

Oh yeah, I can “talk the talk” like anyone. But as I look around, it doesn’t feel like there is a King. In fact, it feels more like it’s kind of a “free for all” for anyone who wants to take charge.

I went to the movies for the first time in forever, and we went to see a movie based on a beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. This is the story of a boy who doesn’t feel like he is loved enough. His sister and her friends are mean to him, and his mom is too busy worrying about money to worry about him as much as he’d like.

So he sets off on a wild adventure, and happens upon this place full of wild beasts who are nothing like he has ever seen. He’s about the wildest thing they have ever seen too, and their first instinct is to eat him. But, being a little boy with a great imagination, he makes up this long list of conquests which are somewhat impressive to the wild things. Finally, he tells them he’s a king.

At first, they look at him a little skeptically. After all, he’s only a small child. But the wilder his tales become, the more they believe him. And besides that, they’ve been desperately looking for a king. (The fact that they’ve eaten all the kings they’ve had, notwithstanding.) But they’re looking for someone who will right all the wrongs that have come into their land. They suspend their criticisms of him and why he doesn’t look like a king, and suddenly they’re his most loyal subjects. In return for their loyalty, he promises to make them a brave new world where only happy things can be.

This has been rattling around in my brain as I’ve been working on this sermon. One of the things that grabbed my attention is to what an extent all of us are so willing to settle for a king. In fact, it doesn’t much matter whether or not that person, or thing, or institution even has any credentials. We’re just nervous enough about the state of the world, that we’d happily let anything that even hinted that it might be powerful have our undivided attention.

Oh sure, we know that Jesus is our Lord. But, we reason, that’s a much more spiritual thing. It’s kind of one of those things that works fine for contemplation, but if we were honest with ourselves, perhaps we’ve relegated Jesus’ lordship to only one of those spiritual things. Practically, a king like Jesus is no good. Really, we think to ourselves, Jesus doesn’t do anything. Now, of course, we would never intentionally let anything take away from the ways that we serve Christ. We definitely don’t mean to. We’ve just created for ourselves a nice dualism where we have Earthly kings and a Heavenly king. And we’d even go so far as to tell ourselves that that’s ok, never meaning any harm.

I wonder if we’ve created all these other “Kings” because more than once, we’ve been disappointed in the sort of King Jesus has turned out to be. He never came charging in on a big white horse with his battle sword drawn. The closest he came was riding into town on a little, tame colt, in a small parade. He wasn’t born into a palace greater than we can imagine. Instead, he was born in a place meant to house barnyard animals. He’s never once made our lives any easier. Instead, he complicates them infinitely as he subverts “the norms” that we’ve come to appreciate. He’s not vanquished the ones who hurt our feelings. Instead, he’s told us to consider all better than ourselves. He’s not rewarded us for our careful accumulation of wealth and accomplishments. No, he’s told us we can be the greatest by giving ourselves away.

I’ve been thinking about what makes it hard for us to trust in Christ’s lordship, and I’ve come up with two things.

First of all, movies and books have told us what we’re supposed to think about Kings. We know what kings are supposed to look like and do. And Jesus hasn’t met any of the criteria. Just what kind of king is this Jesus guy anyway? Well, surely not the kind we thought we were looking for.

So instead, we settle for the kinds of earthly “kings” that promise to make us a brave new world with only things that make us happy. We’d choose a king named “Sir Stuff”, or “Prince Power” or whatever else. We seek first those kingdoms, and hope they live up to their campaign promises. Things are great for a while, until we realize we need more and more and more, and that instead of resting easy as beloved children in the arms of the One who loves us, we’re mean-spirited, power-hungry, possession-loving little monsters. And then we turn and look at our “kings” with wide-eyed wonder and can’t believe that we have been let down.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we turn back to Jesus. But then we’re back to the problem of Jesus not behaving the way we think he ought to.

Another scene that grabbed my attention in Where the Wild Things Are, was when the wild things realize that Max is just a little boy, and not any sort of king at all. One character, Carol, was particularly hoping that Max would turn out to be a great king, and is wildly disappointed when Max doesn’t do anything that Carol thinks he should. Carol, the wild thing, complains about this fact to Max. And Max hangs his head and says, “I’m haven’t ruled the Vikings, and I’m not a king.” Carol is quiet for a while, then wonders exactly what Max is. Max says simply, “I’m a Max. I’m just me.” And Carol reminds Max of his earlier fear that he wasn’t much loved by saying, “Well that isn’t very much, is it?”

I wonder how many times we’ve been disappointed in the things of the world, and finally in our frustration turn to Jesus, only to find him standing there staying that he’s not going to slay our dragons for us, that he’s not larger than life, and that life with him isn’t only going to “cookies and milk” moments. Then like Carol, we ask Jesus what he is, and when he says, “I’m just me”, we turn our backs thinking that that’s not very much at all.

The other thing, I think, that is a hinderance to us trusting Christ’s reign is that we’re used to fads. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, think back to the 1980’s. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of glad I don’t dress now like I did then. Or think about all those Christmases where you stood in line waiting to get “The Toy” of the year– which was nothing like the previous year’s “Toy.” We’ve gotten used to the fact that things don’t last. They either break, or they go out of style.

So then, this Jesus guy, who doesn’t look or act much like the King we think he ought to be, shows up. And while we know we’re supposed to think of him as an Eternal King, we don’t, because we can’t really contemplate anything that lasts forever.

I think this passage where a people like us finds a hope that we won’t always be like this.

We love the pieces of this passage that talk about Jesus who is going to come. While we don’t yet know what to do with ourselves, we trust that Jesus is coming to reign and that he’ll “sort everything out”. That gives us a hope for a future beyond ourselves, and that’s easy for us.

What causes us to stumble is that Christ might already be reigning. The world doesn’t feel that way. I don’t feel that way. When I ponder the coming of Christ, I’ve envisioned myself being made whole, and perfect…or at least nice.

I wonder if it might dash our hopes to really realize that Christ already reigns. Does that crush our dreams of being able to love like Christ loves one day? Does that make us hang our heads, and send us back to our original thought that maybe we should have an “earthly” King, and a “heavenly” one, you know, just in case?

Or does it give us hope that the process is both long, and ongoing? And that we are being made new over and over again?

I don’t know how you feel about it, but here is what I can offer you.

This passage isn’t about a backup plan. In fact, it’s about the beginning and end, and every piece of bliss, and every road of turmoil in between.

This whole book is about a revelation (one revelation, not lots of them) of who Christ is, what Christ has done, and what that means for us.

The book is about more: more power, more transformation, more dignity for God’s children. More than we can see presently, more than we can dare dream.

And this book is about promise: things are not as they seem. The things that seem so final and sure turn out to be neither one. The earthly kings which we are so willing to give so much power turn out to be mere pretenders.

This passage begins with familiar words, “Grace and Peace to You”, words which are a rare commodity these days. But the promise in this passage is that the days when those words are the first on our lips are being ushered in by the one who is both already here, and still yet to come.

This passage is not about a king for “the meantime”. In fact, if we take the words we see today seriously, it negates our need to even bother with the “in the meantime” thoughts.

The one we worship and celebrate today is the “King of King and Lord of Lords.” Even if the world says otherwise. Even if we accidentally let our allegiance roam to other beings. The promise I see is that Christ is still king, and king over even the “even ifs”. Can your “in the meantime kings” say that?

Didn’t think so.

As you’re waiting for the days when the clouds are rolled back, and everyone knows just what sort of king Christ is, may you not look at the ways that Christ doesn’t match up with the world’s expectations. May you instead stare with wide eyed wonder at the ways that Christ is changing the expectations, and giving you a hope for more.
Coca-Cola has taught us that their product is the “real thing”. But if you had to choose a “real king”, who would you pick? The ones who make all sorts of “campaign promises” and who are here today and gone tomorrow? Or would you pick the One who tells you that the road might be tough, and filled with potholes, but that the journey will be so worth it? If I had to guess, I’d think that this last choice is the one that has some staying power.

A king for “the mean time”? Or the King of Kings, Lord of Lords– who has dominion over all things?

Glory be to the one in whom we have our beginning and the one in whose hands is our ending; the one who is, and who is to come.



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A Sermon preached on November 8, 2009 from Revelation 21:1-6. (Due to my illness, we were celebrating All Saints Day a week late)

I swore I wouldn’t do this– I wouldn’t preach from Revelation because it’s just too often misunderstood. But as I started looking at the texts for All Saints Day, I fell in love with the passage.

If most of us were honest, a casual reading through the book is enough to “scare us straight”– and if we’re not scared for ourselves, we’re scared for someone we know– who either doesn’t know Christ, or who isn’t doing the job of walking the Christian walk that we think they ought to be.

But at it’s heart, the book of Revelation was intended to be a comfort. It was written by John of Patmos during a time of severe persecution– intended to bring hope and comfort to seven churches who were also undergoing this persecution. It was never intended to be the book of damnation that we’ve come to believe it is.

Scholars look at the book of Genesis as a story of beginnings– a story of how we got here. In the same sort of way, they look at Revelation as a promise of where we’re going. I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot better at thinking about how I got here than I am about figuring out where I’m going.

One of the things I immediately love about this passage is that the writer is given the opportunity to step back from the world, and view life from the perspective of eternity.
Do you ever have the feeling that you have so many things to deal with that you’re only seeing such a small part of the world? I often have the “can’t see the forrest for all the trees” sort of sensation.

But what if you were given the opportunity to step back, way back, from all these things?

When I was a kid, my neighborhood seemed pretty big. I could hop on my bike and ride for an hour and still not see all of it. And by the same token, my town seemed huge (though I’ve since learned that town is barely a “map dot”). I remember the first time I got on a plane that I was old enough to see out of the window. As I was waiting, I couldn’t even comprehend what was “out there”. I mean I just knew I’d see my house, and my church, and my school– but then couldn’t really imagine what else I’d see as we flew to florida. Imagine my surprise when I didn’t even get to see my house or church or school or any of the things that seemed so huge in my world. By time we were off the ground, those things, had I even been in the right place to be able to see them, would have been no bigger than ittty bitty legos.

So what if you had the opportunity to view your life from the perspective of eternity? What would you see? I don’t think you’d see the bills. I don’t think you’d see your infernal, ever growing todo list. I don’t think you’d see the things that worry you so much. Even if you’ve been stuck in bed for what seems like the longest two weeks like I have, I can’t imagine that in the grand scheme of things, that would even be noticeable.

The things that seem so huge, and so overwhelming, and so all consuming wouldn’t even be noticeable.

I can’t put my finger on why it is, but that thought is so incredibly freeing to me.

Maybe it’s because it reminds me that I’m but a speck in the world, and I guess that takes some of the pressure to be and do and have away. But it also reminds me that my speck of existence is connected to your speck of existence. My world has more or less been the walls of my house for almost two weeks– and maybe my yard if I felt really daring. I didn’t watch news, and I couldn’t really connect with anybody. It’s like I was vaguely aware that a world existed “out there”, but that’s all it was– a vague existence. But finally, I got out– and I remembered what it was to be in the world: I saw little Grays Creek, and some of Fayetteville.

How easy it is to forget that we’re only part of a world, and that the world is so much bigger than the little itty bitty thing that we think it is. At least for me, it’s really helpful to be reminded that I’m a community member, and that how I interact with other people is really important.

I guess, thinking about these “getting the big picture” sort of ideas leads me to wonder something else: what do our lives look like from God’s perspective?

I’ve been thinking and praying about that for a while– and though I believe that our God is intimate enough with each of us that no detail escapes God’s notice, and I definitely believe that some of the things we do make God weep, I also believe that God sees us and says, “Yup, there’s one I can redeem with my love.”

Today, we’re celebrating All Saints Day– it’s a day that carries generations of traditions. It’s a day when we’re specifically pausing to remember those saints in our lives– the ones that have somehow made us the people we are– and have shown us the people we hope to one day become. For the church, especially in the middle ages, All Saints day was a huge feast day, that carried all the festivities of even Easter and Christmas. And fittingly enough for us in this congregation today, it was also a traditional day for Baptisms, because at one’s baptism, he or she is officially counted among the Company of Saints as he or she publicly joins Christ’s family.

At first, I was flustered at the idea that being sick last Sunday would pile too much on this Sunday. When we originally scheduled the Baptism, I carefully looked at my calendar and thought, “that will be great– the Baptism will be the only thing going on, and we won’t even be doing communion or anything!” Ha! “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But as I’ve been thinking about everything, I discovered it couldn’t be more perfect if I’d planned it that way.

What does it mean to be welcomed into the Company of Saints? I don’t think that’s the high pressure title I used to think it was. It doesn’t mean that you have to be a saint. Rather, I think, it means that you join the rest of us ragamuffins who rarely get it right, but whom Christ is working to redeem.

As I was putting together the slide show, it was quite a holy experience for me. I quite literally felt like I was holding Saints in my very hands. I know, I know. The pictures you submitted were of brothers and sisters and cousins and mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends. And the folks who submitted the pictures are the only ones who know the stories behind the pictures. You might chuckle to yourself when you hear me call them saints, because you know they weren’t– you know they got mad, or that they forgot your birthday, or gosh–maybe they even pulled your hair. Yet, out of all the people you know that have died, these are the ones you picked for me to include. Not, I think, because you were under the impression that they were perfect, but because you know that your love for them erases most of their shortcomings, at least in your mind. And not only that, but something you saw in these people makes you want to be a better person.

I wonder if the same principle applies with Christ looks at us with eyes brimming with love? Even though we rarely get it right, Christ doesn’t just give up on us. Rather, Christ loves us so much that it makes us want to be better people. And the promise that grabs hold of me, especially on this day when we’re celebrating All Saints Day, is that Christ won’t stop working for my newness of life until I really am a saint.

I said earlier that we were a lot better at thinking about the places from which we’ve come, and not so great at thinking about the places we’re going. But being a Christian takes a lot of the work out of it– we’re not just going anywhere. We’re going back to God. The picture we saw in the words of Revelation today is our ultimate destination. It’s a picture of what it will be like when humans and God dwell together in complete communion, just as we did before the fall.

One of my favorite songs is “Graceland” by Paul Simon. It was a tradition that every time we took a family car trip, we would listen to this album. At first, I probably loved it because my dad loved it (and it was one of the few songs he’d sing to.) Then maybe I loved it because it had engaging rhythms. But as I’ve grown, it’s kind of become a piece of who I am and what I believe. In fact, the name under which I do things like writing and photography is Going to Graceland.

The song I’m talking about is a story of a very broken man and some of the broken people he’s encountered. And this man, and his little boy “a child from my first marriage” are going to Graceland, in Memphis Tennessee.

One of the choruses says this,

In Graceland Graceland,
I’m going to Graceland,
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love every ending
Or maybe there’s no obligations now,
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

I guess the reason this has become so much a part of who I am is that I know it describes me, and I’m guessing it describes most of humanity. We’re a people broken apart, and we’re all on this incredible journey. We don’t know exactly what we’ll find when we get there, but we keep on going. We don’t know what will be asked of us, we don’t know which decisions we’ll be asked to defend. But still we go– and we like the man in the song, trust that despite our brokenness, we will be gathered up and received in Graceland.

This beautiful passage from Revelation never talks about Saints. It doesn’t talk about even talk about sin. What it does speak of is a glorious gathering up, when God redeems those who have been unlovable. And God himself comes and dwells among them.

But here’s the amazing part. This passage isn’t just a “One Day” passage– it’s a passage that started when Christ died for us. The redeeming and making new is something that has already started. We get to participate in the ongoing reclamation of creation.

“Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

I AM makING all things new.”

When God looks at us, I think he sees neither sinners nor saints. I think what God sees is a whole world of people that can be made new.

Sinners? Yeah. Saints? Yeah. Broken people? Sure. Those barely old enough to have sinned, those who’ve had a whole life time to miss the mark, Whoever you are, c’mon.

We’re going to graceland, and maybe I have reason to believe that we will be received. Amen.

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