You Say You Want a Revelation?

Revelation 4:1-11 – August 13, 2017

1 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
2 At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!
3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald.
4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads.
5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God;
6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind:
7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle.
8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

 

Revelation is a prophetic letter, written in an ancient style of writing called an apocalypse. (apokalypsis) In Greek it simply means “revelation.” It refers to an unveiling or revealing of something that was previously hidden. Just look what’s happened to our association with the very word Revelation. Apololypse!

Prophetic is often taken to mean something like “fortune telling” or “seeing the future.” Instead, a prophet or a prophetic message is about leading people toward God, not away from God. It’s not about predicting the future but giving a divine message about how things need to change.

Many have taken the book as a series of clues and hints at numbers and timelines and tried to get them to make sense, to add up either chronologically, literally, or figuratively. But it’s just not that kind of book. Just as the Bible isn’t an instruction manual you can flip open and follow 3 easy steps. Revelation is not to be read expecting a linear time line. It’s a series of revelations that echo and reflect both Old Testament scripture and New. It’s a series of revelations that, among other things, expose the chaotic and abusive Roman regime. It’s a series of revelations that instruct the church not to get complacent or lukewarm in their love for Jesus. So, as you are beginning to see, Revelation is not to be understood as a “who done it” mystery but rather as a technicolor novel, revealing truths, exposing falsehoods, all framed with the knowledge that God is the beginning and the end. The alpha and omega, are those Greek words.

Which brings us to today’s reading. And I begin with a question:

If you had to describe your vision of God, what would you say? What images come to mind? What’s the setting, what’s happening, what colors do you see?

Revelation blows our imaginations out of the water, right? The first 3 chapters of the book set up who this is for – the 7 churches in Asia Minor. Ephesus has forgotten that love is at the heart of Christian faith; Smyrna is enduring great persecution; Pergamum has begun to look more like the culture around it than the church; Thyatira has weak leaders who tell them its ok to compromise their values; Sardis is suffering from complacency. Philadelphia is under great persecution. Laodicea is a wealthy, successful church. They are too comfortable.

So, John addresses each of their particular issues and then gets right to it in chapter 4. Like he’s saying, “Now then, let me introduce you to God! The very reason you exist.”

And so God is seated in the throne that looks like jasper and carnelian – beautiful gems.

And around the throne? A beautiful rainbow that looks like an emerald.

Around the throne are 24 thrones. Elders are seated on those thrones. Dressed in white robes, wearing crowns.

And coming out of the throne? Flashes of lightening!

Rumbling peals of thunder!

There are 7 flaming torches which are the 7 spirits of God!

And in front of the throne? a sea of glass, like crystal.

And if that wasn’t enough? On each side of the throne are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: a lion (Ezekiel), an ox, a human, eagle. 6 winged, each of them, singing…

Holy Holy Holy, Lord God almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

 

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,

Which wert and art and ever more thalt be.

The elders, seeing the glory of God, surrounded by the glory of God, overwhelmed by the glory of God, cast down their crowns. They acknowledge that God is God and they are not.

Isn’t this an awesome picture? I wonder, this wild, imaginative picture painted for us today causes a sense of awe in me, even amidst the cacophony of noise. I wonder, did our canoers this past week experience the awesome power of God through storm and the pure and awesome beauty of creation?

I wonder what this letter did for those 7 churches back in the day. If those who were being persecuted took comfort and breathed in new hope in this all-powerful picture of the creating God. I wonder if those who were successful and complacent held on tightly to their crowns, insisting that they were fine even as the whole church was not fine.

It reminds me of a time when Bishop Anderson spoke to the rostered leaders of our synod, the geographic area of this part of MN. We have a partnership with South Africa and one of the overwhelming afflictions of the church in South Africa is AIDS. And Bishop Jon said, “the church has AIDS. Now what will we do?”  He lumped us altogether. Their affliction is our affliction. Their joy is our joy. It’s how it works.

Think of the scene unfolding in Virginia: first year college students arriving on campus at the University, nervous and excited parents, greeted by a rally of the KKK. I don’t know about you, but any time I’ve watched a movie when the KKK is involved, I always feel a sick feeling but also one of relief that, you know, it’s part of our terrible past. But now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s part of today. Their affliction is our affliction. Because their God is our God.

It would be so easy, too easy, to start to read Revelation and then to say, “this is the stuff of fairy tales or hallucinations worthy of the 1960s.” But when you know the writer is addressing these particular issues of these particular churches, suddenly it can speak to you about your life, about the health of the heart of our church, here at River of Hope and capitol C church.

The tippy top guiding principle our community adopted years ago is this one:

God is God and we are not.

Because once we believe we are god, then what use do we have for God? When we believe we can fix ourselves or that the success of our business or our church is because of us, well that’s usually when the crowns get shook off our very heads.

When our lives fall apart, when plans don’t go at all the way you hoped; when marriages crumble and friendships die; when you find yourself in a place in your life you wouldn’t wish on anybody else. That’s when we cast down our golden crowns not in humiliation but in praise, in gratitude for a creator who is not hemmed in by lack of imagination or creativity.

And today, in just a few minutes, we will welcome Sadie not because we’re an awesome church but because God is God and we are not. Because God is who God is, God claimed Sadie as a child of God since before she was born. Today, we as the church, as a symbol of God’s creative action in our lives, we mark this occasion with this baptism, knowing that God is powerfully at work already in her life.

It’s a revelation!

Thanks be to God.

 

 

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