Sermon for May 12th, 2013

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Daniel 12:1-9

‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4But you, Daniel, keep the words secret and the book sealed until the time of the end. Many shall be running back and forth, and evil shall increase.’

5 Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others appeared, one standing on this bank of the stream and one on the other. 6One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream, ‘How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?’ 7The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand towards heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives for ever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. 8I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’ 9He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.

Revelation 22:8-11, 18-21

8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’ 10 And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. 20 The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Conclusion: Uses, Abuses & Timeless Truth of Revelation

What in the world does the book of Revelation have to do with Mother's Day? Well, to be honest...not much. I have a really great sermon planned for later this month on the female personification of wisdom in the book of Proverbs--THAT would have been a great mother's day sermon, but when I contacted Hallmark, they weren't willing to change the date of mother's day to accommodate my sermon schedule. I will offer this, though: As a special gift to all the mothers out there today, I promise this will be my LAST sermon on the Book of Revelation for awhile. After six weeks, some of you are probably tired of hearing me talk about Revelation...actually, I'm kind of tired of hearing me talk about Revelation. But I do hope that today I can wrap up neatly some of the things we've been talking about for the past six weeks, and put some perspective on how this fascinating book can be used, some ways that maybe it shouldn't be used, and where it intersects with the message of Faith, Hope, and Love. I've taken the liberty of putting them into a Dave Letterman-style Top Ten list. So here are the "Top Ten Things To Keep in Mind when Considering the Book of Revelation:"

10. David Letterman is smarter than your pastor. Your Pastor could only come up with nine things.

9. Stephen King didn't write it. John did.

"I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things." John was a man who lived in the first century, which was, in a few ways, like the 21st century, but in most ways very different. John had his own experiences, passions, personality, his own agenda, axes to grind, and his own way of understanding how God was speaking to him. He didn't write the book to be an international best-seller, or to scare small children into accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. There are monsters and scary things in the book of Revelation, but that's because there were some scary things going on in John's world. Revelation is not about's about a lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

8. When it comes to predicting your future... consider contacting a Certified Financial Planner instead.

Despite some very detailed timelines I've seen published in popular Christian bookstores, I don't think the Book of Revelation was ever intended to be a road-map through the 21st century end-times. John did consider himself a prophet, but not the way we think of prophets. A Biblical prophet doesn't predict the future--a biblical prophet speaks out God's message to powerful people, on behalf of the oppressed. In John's case, that meant speaking out against the Roman Empire on behalf of the persecuted Christians. The only prediction John really makes is that in the end, good will triumph over evil, and God will prevail. In other words, your *eternal* retirement is in good hands, but for this life, you might want to contact that CFP. I know a good one in our congregation I can recommend.

7. If you mess with Revelation, the FBI will come after you.

Have you ever seen those FBI copyright warnings at the beginning of a movie? Revelation has one of those too, only it's at the end: 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. It's actually an ancient formula found in a lot of manuscripts—if you copy this, don't change it. But I think we, readers, writers, preachers and students of Revelation need to heed that warning, too. When solving the riddles and puzzles of revelation, we need to be careful not to add too much of ourselves, and likewise not too quick to take away, or explain away things we don't understand. Revelation is, and to some extent will always remain, a mystery.

6. Always look for the cowboy riding the white horse.

Fred Rogers, who, in addition to being the host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, also happened to be an ordained Presbyterian minister, once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The same is true in the book of Revelation and in life. When the horsemen of the apocalypse come riding out sowing seeds of destruction in the world...look for the one riding the white horse: It's Jesus Christ, and he rides out first and last, protecting, healing, loving, saving. And you will find him in the face of a helper, the one riding the white horse...or the white ambulance, the red fire-truck, the blue & white police car, or the green Army Helicopter.

5. If you thought High School Algebra was hard, maybe leave the Revelation Math to God.

7 lampstands plus 7 angels divided by 7 letters to 7 churches, multiplied by 4 horsemen plus 4 heavenly creatures plus 7 scrolls and 7 seals, minus 3 monsters divided by 666, times the square root of 144,000 martyrs and a multitude from every nation, divided by 1 heavenly city with 12 pearly gates, times the Alpha and the Omega = ???? A lot of numbers no one really understands. It's not just the numbers: Revelation is filled with symbols and dream-images that have been interpreted in every possible way...and will continue to be interpreted in every possible way. Always take Revelation with a heavy dose of humility. Unless your John of Patmos or God, you should probably assume that you'll never quite figure it out. And that's ok.

4. It's the end of the world as we know it...and the beginning of a new one, too.

2,000 years ago, Jesus told John "Surely, I am coming soon." That doesn't mean that soon for Jesus equals 2,013 years. It means Jesus is *always* coming soon, always has been coming soon, and always will be coming soon. Every day, as the message of Jesus spreads, the old world of sin, war, poverty and disease dies a little bit and the new world of faith, hope, and love takes hold. As the church, we are privileged to be Christ's hands and feet in the world; we get to help usher in the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven. Come, Lord Jesus! We're ready to help!

3. Faith conquers Fear

Throughout the book of Revelation, we've seen how John uses the language of conquest. His great enemy, the Roman Empire, was known above all for its military conquest of lands and people. So John borrows this familiar language, and turns it completely upside down. His people, the Jews, have been conquered and their temple destroyed. Those who follow Christ are being persecuted, killed, conquered, living in fear and powerless to fight back. John himself is stranded, exiled on a distant island, unable to stand with them in fearful times. So he arms them with the one thing he has to give: Faith. "Be faithful until death," he writes, "and I will give you the crown of life." When you face the great powers of this world, when you face your deepest fears with nothing left to hold onto...hold onto your faith in God, and God will hold on to you.

2. Hope conquers Doubt

Some authors, some preachers, read the Book of Revelation with a whole lot of certainty--this will happen on that date... this will happen first, then that... this is what that means... Sometimes I'm guilty of that, too. When it comes to the future, we long for that kind of reassurance. We don't want to speculate about what will happen to us; we want to *know* what will happen to us. But if the history of interpretation of Revelation teaches us anything, it's that we don't know. Still. After 2,000 years. And in the absence of certain knowledge, we have a choice: It's between doubt and hope. There's nothing wrong with a healthy dose of skepticism--Jesus accommodated the doubt of Thomas. And I've heard plenty of explanations of Revelation that I am skeptical of. But doubt rarely motivates people to do anything of great worth. Hope, on the other hand, always inspires greatness. Hope for a better world, hope for a lasting love, hope for eternal life. In the Book of Revelation, John squarely places his hope in Jesus Christ--the one who created the world, who loved us enough to die for us, and who promises eternal life to all who believe in him. No one does hope like Jesus does.

1. Love conquers All

In this 21st century world, just like in John's 1st century world, there are dragons. There are monsters and evils we can't explain. Verse 11 of today's passage from Revelation says "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’ In other words, there are things in this world you can't control. Work on those things you can control. One of those things is love. A few weeks ago, I gave a definition of evil from the famous 5th century theologian St. Augustine. He said that evil was simply the absence of good, the absence of God. But Augustine didn't stop at defining evil. He also took a stab at defining love: "What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of people. That is what love looks like."

Ok, I said this wasn't going to be a mother's day sermon. But I am going to tell you the story of a mother named Monica. Monica had a difficult life, and although she was a Christian, she married a man who wasn't. He was abusive; he ridiculed her faith; and when their son was born, he refused to let her baptize the boy. But Monica's prayer was that someday her son would come to know Jesus. Her son grew up and he followed in his father's footsteps. He rejected Christianity, and traveled the world living dangerously and sinfully. He left and rejected his mother, but she found him and followed him to every city he traveled to, always praying, crying out to God on his behalf. In one city, she approached a famous preacher, and when she told him her story, when he observed her passionate, desperate hope for her son, he said, "The son of so many tears cannot perish."

Monica's lifelong prayers were eventually answered. Through an unexpected series of events, her son came to be a student of that famous preacher, and shortly before Monica's death, her son became a Christian, and she lived to see him baptized. So far, I haven't told you his name. It was Augustine--the same 5th century theologian I quoted earlier. But Augustine isn't just any theologian. He is considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be the greatest of all the early theologians. And Protestants revere him as well. Our own John Calvin quoted Augustine more than any other source except the Bible, and one of my seminary professors once said that everything Martin Luther, John Calvin and all the reformers wrote was just a footnote to what Augustine had already said. His influence was great...and it all began with the passionate, unconditional love of a mother.

But there's more. Augustine was the one primarily responsible for the fact that the Book of Revelation is included in our present-day Bible. Augustine included it because he believed that it's author, John of Patmos, was none other than John the disciple that Jesus loved. Scholars disagree about that, but if Augustine is right, if John who wrote Revelation is the same John who stood at the foot of the cross when Jesus died, the same John who stood next to Jesus' mother when Jesus in his dying breaths looked down and said "Woman, behold your son...Son, behold your mother." If this is the same John, then he knew a thing or two about the love between a mother and her child. I believe that John knew a thing or two about the kind of love that conquers all.

1st Corinthians says, "Now these three abide: Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is love." So as we walk away from the book of Revelation and into our own challenges and trials; as we walk out of John's 1st century dream-vision and into our own 21st century lives, always remember this powerful message gleaned from the last book of the Bible: Put your faith in God, put your hope in Jesus Christ, put your love to work, and put on your conquering boots!