If Everyone's Wearing White, the World Better End Before Labor Day
The main point in having the conversation about Revelation, no matter how playful we might be with the sermon titles, is that we take the book seriously. Knowing the first century context of severe oppression, this is a book of hope for a people without hope. And for 2000 years it has offered that vision of hope. And it can be for us, if we give up on this matching game of trying to figure out who and what the different players and items in the book represent.
A quick survey of anti-Christs identified in connection with Revelation: several Roman emperors, the Pope (a favorite of Protestants), Hitler, Putin, Bill Gates, Barney the Dinosaur (you have to read it to believe it). In politics, the accusation cuts across both sides of the aisle. There has been much made recently of people identifying President Obama as the anti-Christ; in the 80s, it was Ronald Reagan (the justification being that each of his three names had 6 letters, ergo 6-6-6). Q.E.D.
The point being here that the book of Revelation invites us into God's mystery through this strange, unearthly imagery. And today's lesson is no exception. In it you have the countless multitude clad in white, the symbolic dress of those who have been purified or who are somehow in the presence of holiness. The palm branches are waving as a sign of victory, as well as a reminder of that Palm Sunday when the people welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of "Hosanna" (literally, "God save us"). And here the throngs are shouting "salvation" again.
And yet, something very different is going on here. Their clothes are white because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. And this same lamb has become the shepherd. What John sees simply defies explanation. The normal realm of logical explanation won't work. Again, it is an invitation into that mysterious presence.
All of it is focused on this word: salvation. It means to be saved; healed; made whole. And it is not those clothed in white who do the saving; no matter how pure, holy, wonderful they might be, it is not through their own efforts that they have been "saved." Rather, it is the lamb who has done it for them - a reminder of that ancient practice of animal sacrifice whereby the blood of the sacrificed would cleanse the sins of the one who offers them up.
The premise of this whole series is that Revelation ought to be relevant to us today; otherwise it's only a curious historical artifact. And there's probably no better topic relevant to us than that of salvation. It is not what we do; it is what God has done and continues to do for us. And this knowledge ought to send us out in gratitude, living lives that reflect the grace we have received.
The best example I can think of to describe this grace is a news story from back in January. In Eugene, Oregon, a parking meter Good Samaritan was going around plugging expired meters with coins to help people avoid the inevitable ticket. And in so doing, we was arrested and charged with "obstruction of governmental administration." And there's something fitting about that arrest for a discussion of salvation; the idea of unmerited, unearned, free grace is so alien to us that it's virtually criminal!
OK - let's play out this flawed metaphor. Your car is parked; you've plugged your moral meter. You're dashing around, living life, taking care of business. You've lost track of time and haven't gotten back to the meter; maybe you think you'll get lucky and the police won't notice. But you get back, and you discover another hour left on the meter. What would you do? I would hope you would do one (or both) of two things: give yourself another hour to slow down and finish what you need to do; and "pay it forward" by plugging other expired meters.
That's not a bad metaphor for faith. Your meter has been paid. It's not because of anything you've done, but because love wins and love has touched your life. Take the extra time to enjoy it; and extend the grace you have received to another. Become Christ's hands, feet, Christ's parking meter angel.