Brooklyn Bridge Salesmen Need Not Apply

This Sunday we shift gears a bit. We have been looking at the mysteries of faith throughout the season of Lent, and on Easter Sunday we reflected on how diving into the mysteries of faith leads to even greater mystery, and our only response is wonder and awe. Our only response, is “Hallelujah,” Praise God!

 

Well, this week we will start in on a different kind of mystery, one that is fairly terrifying to most people—The Book of Revelation! (Cue the foreboding music) The Book of Revelation has always been a contentious and challenging part of our tradition. Early on, the church father’s debated whether it should be included in the canon of scripture. During the reformation, both Calvin and Luther disliked the book greatly—in fact, Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the New Testament except Revelation because he didn’t think it had a place in scripture. Today, Revelation is often used for fear mongering and to make money off of fear by producing books and movies that prey on said fear.

 

Here is the problem: All of those ways of understanding Revelation fall short of the book’s intended purposes. All of those understandings show us only part of the picture—actually, that is exactly what Revelation is supposed to be about.

 

You see, Revelation is apocalyptic writing. Usually that word, “Apocalypse,” conjures images of the end of the world, fire, tribulation, war, famine, pestilence, etc. The problem is—that isn’t at all what the word means. Apocalypticism was a movement that used wild and imaginative storytelling to reveal the world as it really is—to reveal the full picture, ironically. The Greek roots of the word Apo calypsis, literally translates as “to uncover” or “to lift the veil.” The idea was to write these vivid portrayals of the broken world filled with oppressive forces that would ultimately be overcome by the faithful who had suffered persecution. The only way to do this with the oppressive forces looking over your shoulder, was to do it as a kind of otherworldly, comic book style writing that used symbols extensively. As strange, violent and terrifying as these writings often appear to be, the ultimate purpose of any of these writings is to instill hope in oppressed and persecuted peoples. They weren’t ever about fear, they were about hope. Any one who says otherwise is trying to sell you a stake in the Brooklyn bridge!

 

In fact, the only fear that should be generated by a text like Revelation is for the oppressors. If we experience fear when reading this book, then it might be a social commentary on the fact that we need to be taking better care of the least of these…

 

For the next month, we will be spending some time in the Book of Revelation. The hope is to come out with a better understanding of what is really there, and how it has been so misused. I would love to tell you that we are going to demythologize the book, but the reality is, some mythology must necessarily be maintained to properly understand the book. However, what I do think will come from the next month is a better understanding of what Revelation is all about, and how it brings a word of hope to our lives even today, and how the purpose of a book like Revelation is not to instill fear, but to alleviate it!

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The Agape Mystery

We have spent our season of Lent in the shadow of mystery. We have explored such mysteries like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the messianic mystery, prayer, death, and last night at the Maundy Thursday service, we focused on the mystery of Love. As I said last night, some might think last night was the night to focus on the problem of Evil or suffering. In fact, “Maundy” comes from the Latin Maundatum, and means Madate or commandment. You see, the whole focus of Maundy Thursday is on Christ’s last command, “to Love one another as I have loved you.” On the surface, it does not seem too terribly mysterious, but when you look at the Greek word for love used in this passage “Agape” (in Greek there are 6 different words for love and each refers to a unique kind of love), you come to find that what Christ is commanding us to do is a bit mysterious—or at the very least, incredibly challenging. Agape is the kind of love that we are to have for ALL people. Notice the caps there—ALL PEOPLE! Christ offers us a challenge that often escapes us—to be filled with an overflowing love that encompasses all people and all creation. Mind you, this is not the kind of love that we talk about on greeting cards, or the superficial stuff that the culture likes to bat around. This is a deep and abiding sense of love that causes us to act differently—to live differently. It becomes an ironic tale when Christ’s command is then followed by betrayal, denial, torture, and death—all at the hands of the ones he loved, and the ones that he commanded to love one another. In the gospel of Luke, we are even blessed with further exhibitions of Christ’s Agape love for all of us from the cross after all the ways that we returned his love with hate.

 

The beauty of Easter is that the empty tomb is not just about Christ’s resurrection. That empty tomb is also a clean slate for all of us. We have shown again and again, that we have failed to love one another, but Easter is a new chance to try to embody Christ’s love again—and we will probably need more chances to boot! The point is—take this command seriously! Remember it means ALL PEOPLE! Even the ones you don’t like, even the ones who commit terrible acts, even the ones who vote for that other person you disagree with, even the people who have done terrible things to you. The mystery of love, is that we are called to do it in such extravagant ways that it boggles the mind!

 

Finally, remember that box in the sanctuary? You might finally have some answers to at least one mystery this Sunday…