November 7, 2021
Our second reading this morning is from the oft-misunderstood book of Revelation. Continue to listen for God’s voice speaking to you today.
Filled with symbolic language and wild… sometimes bizarre… imagery… the simple truth is that we will never understand everything that the writer of Revelation was conveying through this book. On its own merits… the book is difficult… but we have made it all the more difficult by our own actions. Over the years we have further obscured the vision of Revelation because we have poured into Revelation all our fears… turning what should be a message of hope and perseverance of the saints into a message of divine vengeance and absolute destruction. Salvation for a small select few who have earned it… annihilation and eternal punishment for the rest… this is supposedly the way of a gracious and loving God, who would send his own Son for our salvation. Or at least that’s how our fears twist the theology.
Revelation has been made into this nightmare of fear and anger… it has been used to cast the temporal enemies of some into everlasting enemies of God. False prognosticators have taken advantage of the symbolic nature of the work to gain power or wealth… interpreting the images within to fit whatever fear can be exploited at the time. There is nothing like fear if you want to control the thoughts of others. Perhaps what is more frightening than anything is that seems to be the Revelation we want. That is the Revelation that gets embraced over and over again. And it’s hard to break away from that addiction to fear. Why can’t we let go of this wrong idea that fear is the basis for faith… fear is the driving force… the reason for us to believe? Why do we keep buying into that to our own detriment?
Over and over again… scripture tells us do not fear. Do not be afraid. Back in Deuteronomy as part of his goodbye to the people… addressing their fears of the others that would surround them in this new land they were entering… Moses tells the people to “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you, he will not fail you or forsake you.” Take comfort in God’s presence. Take comfort in knowing who this God is who has claimed you and called you his own… bringing you out of slavery… taking away the fear of the taskmaster’s whip… guiding and shaping you into God’s people through a steadfast love. Later… speaking on behalf of God, the prophet Isaiah tells the people returning to that same land after exile, “I have chosen you and not cast you off; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Jesus in his goodbye to his disciples from John’s gospel says to them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” He is reassuring his disciples that though he will soon be leaving them… it will only be for a short while… “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.” Do not be afraid. Do not fear. We follow the admonition of 1 Peter, that we are to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us.
God cares for us. Not from far off. Not as a generalized notion. The message throughout scripture is do not fear… do not fear… because God is with you. And that is the same message here in Revelation. From the beginning of the Bible to the end. God is with us. That is the first word and last word on the matter. Do not fear. See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s peoples… it is plural there, not singular… God’s peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more for the first things have passed away. The God of scripture is not a God looking for appeasement… or else. This is a God looking to be welcomed. This is a God whose love is steadfast. That cannot be repeated enough. God’s love is steadfast. It is the people that keep turning their back on God. It is the people who keep going after smaller lesser gods. From the beginning of Genesis to here in Revelation… the desire of God is to dwell with us as our God. From God being with us… in us… through us… do we find that transformation into becoming God’s people.
This past Wednesday our midday study group briefly looked at the Heidelberg Catechism which is in our Book of Confessions. Question one of that catechism is “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” And the answer? “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” I love that last part… willing and ready from now on to live for him. I will be transformed by God’s presence… by God’s dwelling with me. It reflects what Jesus was telling his disciples there in John’s gospel… telling them to follow his commandments… to live as he has lived among them… to love others as he has loved them. Do not worry. Do not be afraid. Words of comfort from the Word made flesh… the incarnate one that comes and dwells among us. You are mine. You always have been mine. You always will be mine. God is the alpha and the omega… the beginning and the end. God, in God’s mercy, is making everything new. Do not fear. Do not worry says God… I have this. By grace I have called you, by grace I have embraced you, by grace I will keep you always. I have come to you. You did not choose me. I chose you.
But… we consistently choose to fear rather than to embrace God’s love. Have you noticed how we tend to flip all that around… completely change God’s words for us? That’s the lie that fear tells us. A lie that we’re all too ready to believe and embrace as truth. Fear tells us that we must somehow get to God. Right? We have to choose God. We have to do the corresponding works to claim God. We have to hold on to God tightly so that God does not slip away. We have to make the journey to the highest heaven… to where God is… in order us to dwell with God. We have to somehow get from here to there. And if we don’t… if we don’t find and do what we are told is the right work… or the proper belief… if we don’t buy into whatever form that indulgence takes today in order to get ourselves to God’s salvation… to God dwelling place… if we don’t… then God will merely give a shrug of the shoulder and it’s too bad for you.
If that were true, then how could we ever entrust our loved ones to God with any sense of assuredness? All Saints’ Day is not the day we honor the few who have been declared as spiritually perfect and successfully made that journey on their own to dwell with God… it is the day we cherish all those who are saints by God’s grace. What does Paul say to us? God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. God comes to us. God removes the barrier of sin. God makes the way clear so that God can dwell with us. Sin is eliminated by God. That which keeps us apart from God… and God apart from us… is eliminated by God. There is no need to invite God in… God is already here. Again to use Paul’s words… “We know that our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
See I am making all things new. The first things have passed away. Two years of Covid… two long years we have been surrounded by the first things as though we have been living in a fog of sin… sin obscuring our sight… breathing it in and out… having it cover our skin with its cold clamminess. We have traded truth for lies. Neighbor has turned against neighbor. We have held up sacrificial scapegoat after sacrificial scapegoat declaring this is the one… this is the one who will finally free us from sin as we slaughter it on the altars of our own making. Be afraid. This is the beginning of the end. Save yourself… even if you have to sacrifice another.
No. No. That is a lie. Because the omega is God. And the alpha is God. And the story of God is a story of love. And saints, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the final and absolute word that brings life abundant and everlasting to all the saints. God is love. And God’s love is yours. Amen.