Once we accept God’s help, the ordeals of the past are vindicated, profoundly. The divisions of tribalism cease. Happiness, after all, is the best revenge, and God shall be avenged, happily.
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. They cried out in a loud
voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is
seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 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, singing,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving
and honor and power and might be to our God forever
and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me,
saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have
they come from?” 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.
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.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun
will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 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.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Happiness is the title of this two-week sermon mini-series. With hearts that are open, and with God’s grace, we can call experience happiness. Happiness does not exist in isolation. Glad feelings occur in relation to the other basic emotions. Remember them from last week? Sad, Mad, Glad, Bad, Afraid. Last week in Psalm 30, we move from the narcissistic thoughts of me me me to the gladness of focusing upward, outward on God, Not Me.
In 2000 years, if someone were to examine the musical Hamilton, they might get some of the references. They might think the music is interesting. They might understand the 21st century insider language, but most of it will not make sense. The same is true for the book of Revelation. It is full of insider language, and most of it is baffling. It’s also a little scary. Many Christians are afraid of the Book of Revelation.
It was written by John—either John, the Beloved Disciple or more likely John the messianic prophet who came into notoriety during the years 81 to 96, while Roman Emperor Domitian reigned. Under Domitian, John was sentenced to exile on the Greek Isle of Patmos. Revelation is his prophetic allegory and in some ways an epistle meant for seven distinct churches in Asia Minor. All this makes it more confusing for us. Revelation must be understood first in its social-historical context. Once grounded, we may begin to unravel the allusions and metaphors, the Old Testament prophecies reshaped by John’s encounters with the Roman occupation. His references would have been easily understood by the Early Church. Revelation is Hebrew Bible fan fiction. Contrary to what most televangelists preach, Revelation is not a psychic prediction. Contrary to what some TV Christians say they believe, the Prince of Peace does not morph into angry Avenger Jesus. Revelation is not a numerical cipher-code predicting the date, time and location of armageddon. It’s just not.
The Heresy of Domination
John encountered horrible suffering like imperial exploitation, state-imposed hunger, the unmerited power that, to this day, requires the public’s fear in order to rule. John witnessed the self-satisfied silence that can accompany prosperity. Psalm 30 reminded us, last week, of how prosperity and silence are linked.
John’s social commentary sprang from Jewish prophets, like Isaiah, who wrote: “Woe to you who make unjust policies and draft oppressive legislation, who deprive the powerless of justice and rob poor people, my people, of their rights.” Resisting Roman domination, Revelation unveils what could be, what will be: the reunion of heaven and earth, the consummation of all things, the ultimate after party.
MCC theologian Mona West writes that Revelation is
…meant to…encourage belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s dominant powers. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans are a ‘lifting of the veil,’ an exposing, of the heresy of domination… the status quo [is] brought to an end so that something radically new will take its place.
Running on Mad Emotions
Perhaps you know people or have relatives who are a little too obsessed with Revelation. Perhaps they are making provisions for the second coming. Perhaps you have met people, Christians, who are sure about who will go to heaven — and who won’t.
In 1965, one of Flannery O’Connor’s final short stories, “Revelation,” tells of a woman named Mrs. Turpin, a middle-aged white woman residing in the rural Deep South of the mid-twentieth century. Her husband’s name is Claude. Now, she and Claude raise pigs, and their pig pen, by the way, is better than their neighbors’! O’Connor’s prose is rooted in Mrs. Turpin’s sanctimonious, bitter inner thoughts. So, if you are comfortable doing so, please close your eyes and imagine the Turpin’s rural pig farm in the Deep South of yesteryear in this somewhat shocking excerpt from Revelation by Flannery O’Connor.
At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the [pig] pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black [people] in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead.
There are a lot of people today who run on Mad feelings., judgmental, hating anything different from them, insulated by anger, enlivened by bitterness. What kind of life is based on Mad feelings? Can the current cults of victimhood lead to actual better living? If I am offended by the generosity with which God dispenses grace upon grace, what does that say about me? About God?
The Great Ordeal
All the tribes of earth, all the nations, with our so-called virtues burned away by the Holy Spirit, marching in, wearing white robes, singing “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” — that’s the scene in O’Connor and in John’s versions of Revelation. After the angelic concert, John asks “Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from?” Notice he answers his own question: “These…have come out of the great ordeal…” Is this the Great Ordeal, what we’re living through right now? Every generation believes they are living into the eschaton, the end times. Are we?
One of our core confessions puts it this way:
Ignoring God’s commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
We deserve God’s condemnation.
Yet God acts with justice and mercy to redeem creation.
In other words, Jesus meets us where the pain is greatest: “These have come out of the great ordeal.” “…the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more…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 Lamb shall remove the earth from greedy, violent hands and place ys solely in the loving hands of God. Friends, this is the story of Ultimate Happiness. This is where God wants us, by God’s side. While still here, there is work to be done sharing the Good News of Jesus. Be ready for that great day, the welcome of heaven, the healing of earth, of all the unlikely saints in white, including you and me and even those people, singing together of joy everlasting.
Invitation: Glad Feelings
Eternal joy includes you. Yes, I’m speaking to you, going through your own great ordeal, you who worry for this county, our modern recasting of the Promised Land, you who can’t sleep anymore. I’m speaking to you, you made bad choices, one too many terrible decisions. You have cultivated anxiety over being bullied and shunned, you endure men who spit at the ground whenever they walk pass you on the street. I’m speaking to you who have tried to make the relationship work, who who cannot find the strength for one more treatment, one more meeting with the attorney, you who cannot muster the energy to fill out one more application for assistance, you who live under the threats of eviction or deportation, you who are angry at fear.
Hear me. There is freedom. There is happiness beyond anything you can imagine. You are created in God’s image, a creature of light, and, on that day, we will be reunited with one another and with God. Savor every happiness as a foretaste of heaven, and turn off the voices of fear. Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven? In Revelation, God answers that prayer!
This song is becoming my personal theme song, and remembering it, singing it in my heart, helps me face the daily news.
“Our Father (The New Revised Edition)” by Susan Werner
Refrain: Thy kingdom come to every nation,
Thy will be done in everything we do,
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from those who think they’re You.
Lord, send us forth to be of service,
To build the schools and dig the wells.
And deliver us from creepy preachers
With narrow minds and very wide lapels. Thy kingdom come….
Lord, send us forth to bring compassion
To every corner of the world.
And please allow for women in the Catholic priesthood,
And remind the Pope that he could’ve been a girl. Thy kingdom come…