Friday, April 15, 2005

Easter 5C Revelation 19:1-10 -- Sermon

Title: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
Text: Revelation 19:1-10

19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
Salvation and glory and power to our God,
    2for his judgements are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
   who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.’
3Once more they said,
The smoke goes up from her for ever and ever.’
4And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who is seated on the throne, saying,
‘Amen. Hallelujah!’

5 And from the throne came a voice saying,
‘Praise our God,
   all you his servants,
and all who fear him,
   small and great.’
6Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
   the Almighty reigns.
7Let us rejoice and exult
   and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready;
8to her it has been granted to be clothed
   with fine linen, bright and pure’—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

9 And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’ 10Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades* who hold the testimony of Jesus.* Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’

When I arrived here at seminary, I had to learn a few new words: hermeneutic, homiletics, Exegesis. Some of them ended with “-ology” – starting with theology, soteriology, epistemology, eschatology. Actually, eschatology is one of the hardest things for me to think about – I don’t like to think about the end times. I used to have visions of the end of the earth – influenced by people like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. Thinking about these things can give me the "Heebie jeebies" -- and yes, we are facinated with it.

However, I have come to realize that there is hope in the message that is meant by the word “eschatology” – hope in the end times, hope even in Judgment. Yet we still approach the subject with fear and even dread. Eschatology is the center of attention for some groups who dwell on the fringe – so much so that it can loose it place from our round table of theological discussions – and perhaps so to our detriment.

This subject, his book, this passage can be disturbing. It’s not a pleasant or comfortable thing to consider the end of time. It’s not a pleasant thing to contemplate the burning of the Great Whore of Babylon. If I were Phyllis Trible, I might even consider this a “Text of Terror” because of the seeming violence against women.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about coming to final judgment – we hold on to the fear we aren’t really good enough.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about eating wedding cake while we are surrounded by the smoke from a funeral pyre – the black smoke and soot of the fire in sharp contrast with the bright white of a wedding dress.

This book was written late – it was probably the last book in the Bible written – around 90 AD. It was written, not to strike fear in the hearts of believers, but to give them something to hold onto during a time of great persecution. It was written in a way that seems coded to us – we don’t understand all the meanings of John’s symbols. Some are clouded with time, some confusing, none to be taken literally. This book was written to give hope. And it causes me to ask – What is Christian hope? How do we determine what theses symbols really mean for the original listener and for us today? Is there really a Christian hope? In what is our hope based?

When I first looked at this passage, I realized that this particular passage was all about worship. Adoration and Praise to God for what God has done. The word Hallelujah is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “Praise God” and only appears 4 times in NT, all in this passage. This phrase is used in the Greek many times in the NT – 23 times, once in this very passage. But the word “Hallelujah” appears 40 times or so in the OT – why not here the Greek words for Praise God, but a Hebrew transliteration? Maybe for the same reason that the 24 elders are the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 apostles – to show that all people, Hebrew and Gentile, will fall down and worship God. All of creation will say Hallelujah! In fact, first those in heaven sing out Hallelujah, then the 24 elders and 4 creatures, then a sound of the great multitudes. We get so many hymns of praise from this passage – I counted at least 50 before I stopped counting.

So this is about worship and praising God – and don’t we know that is our purpose? In the Westminster Confession of faith, the first statement is “What is the purpose of man?” and in one edition it states “To worship God and enjoy Him forever.” To worship God is our purpose – and that is what will happen at the end of this age – we will worship him. In fact, our Christian doctrine teaches us that, from the beginning, that is what God intended us for.

How does this give hope? It reminds us that this is not the end. As we face our own particular trials, we know this is not the end. It can give us hope as we face our own death. We know that one day we will join in that great Hallelujah chorus. It gives us hope for the return of Jesus Christ – the parousia. This hope of the second coming has given strength to countless thousands of people. It gives us hope for the coming kingdom of heaven – that kingdom that is already and not yet. The scene of a wedding is one that always gives hope – in fact in traditional literature a wedding is always seen as the happy ending. The wedding is a new beginning of a new relationship, just as the church will begin a new relationship with God and Christ in the New Jerusalem.

Does this hope abrogate, or annul or put away my feelings of discomfort in the passage? I still struggled with this until last week. My children were home watching our DVD collection – Lion King, Mary Poppins – things I have seen a thousand times. I sat on the couch and read Revelations 19, contemplating the great whore. They put in “The Wizard of Oz” and I started to hum “Ding Dong the Witch is dead…” And I sort of understood – and it may seem a little reductionistic, but it allowed me to approach the text without all that fear and trepidation. The Muchkins rejoicing were in some small way similar to the praises that are going to be sung by the multitudes – Frank Baum, the author of the Oz books was influenced by the book of Revelation – maybe the kingdom is to be found “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” we are called to “Follow the Yellow Brick road” but our road is red with the blood or Christ and of the martyrs killed by the great whore. Maybe we are to look to God for our heart, our courage our knowledge. Maybe Dorothy is like John, calling out “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” and the angel is like the man behind the curtain. We continue to seek out that Emerald City – a city that will be greater than Babylon in all her worn out splendor.

Let us always remember – there is always hope, even in trials. Jesus himself told us “in my father’s house there are many mansion.” There is really no place like home.

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