It's in Revelations, People! And in the End...
I was totally confused about how to start off today’s reflection until the mail came. I knew it must’ve been the will of God, because it was addressed to me: “Resident.” I’m a resident!
Anyway, it was a flyer advertising “Revelation of Hope”, a lecture series coming soon to Atlanta! Listen to this description: “An exciting lecture series illustrated with computer generated graphics that will help you understand Bible prophecy.” And on the inside, hey gave a glimpse of some of those “computer-generated” graphics, including a lion with wings and a bison superimposed on a map of the United States with an American flag in the background. How could I pass this up?
So I didn’t. And now I’m here to announce to you that I’ve been going about this all wrong. Therefore I’m here to tell you: prepare your canned goods and get your armaments ready, because it’s only a matter of time now…
The truth is that there is some appeal to this approach. What do we do with this bizarre imagery that litters the book of Revelation? What about the 666, the number of the beast? I remember having this argument in high school with a friend who was convinced that the UPC code was the mark of the beast (read here to see that theory in all its paranoid glory; read here to see what UPC codes actually mean).
What frustrates me about this approach is that it isn’t the call of faithful people to try and unlock the mysteries contained in the book of Revelation. Instead, we are called to remember that our approach to the future is meant to be a hopeful one. And the bizarre imagery is there to force us to lean heavily on God’s mystery and to remember that the future is ultimately in God’s hands, not ours.
I remember being faced with this working with Sunday School teachers in another church a while back. We were covered Holy Week in our Sunday School classes, and instead of giving the children a “Bible Memory Verse,” we decided to use something from our communion liturgy: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” So I spent about two hours walking the teachers through the last week of Jesus life, impressed with myself and all I had done to illuminate these crucial texts for them, until one teacher said, “You talked a lot about ‘Christ has died’ and ‘Christ is risen’, but what about ‘Christ will come again?’” I recognized that I needed a new approach. I knew that the type of interpretation in the pamphlet and in the 666/UPC comparison was goofy; but I had nothing to replace it with. Nobody had ever offered me an alternative. That began my study which led me into the discovery that I had completely missed in that same line from the communion liturgy: “Great is the mystery of faith…”
Let’s take a step into the past and put ourselves in the time period of John’s first readers. There was massive oppression of Christians at the time. The Roman imperial cult of worshiping the emperor was in full-swing. And John’s call is to resist – not to fight in a military sense, but not to give in. And what he ends up saying in the face of all this is simply “love will win.” How absurd must that have seemed to the early Christians?
Now compare their situation with ours. We have relative freedom of worship. We have experienced dramatic advances in technology and medicine which give us a degree of comfort the ancient world never knew (which, apparently, is also "proof" that Revelation is being fulfilled in some camps). Even with all the comforts we might take for granted, are we any less anxious? We’re either turning the corner on or still in the middle of an economic nosedive; there is political infighting in DC that assures that nothing gets done and at the very least has kicked civility to the curb; there are “wars and rumors of wars.” If someone says, “It’s going to be OK,” are we any less skeptical?
Here is the message of Revelation then and now, which boils down to four points:
- Only God, only “the Lamb”, only Christ is worthy of worship
- When we get #1 right, then we will naturally live holy lives
- Trials will come; but God wins
- The same God who loves us is the same God who holds us accountable
Don’t get tripped up by details; focus on the big picture. The pamphlet’s approach is much easier because it gets down into the mix. But it’s wrong (the UPC symbol is being replaced, by the way, so apparently the number of the Beast has moved on). Instead, let these four principles be our guide:
- Worship God and God alone. Where is your highest allegiance and devotion? It is to work? Family? Friends? Your culture? Your church? (even this last one can be misleading; we’re not called to worship church; we’re called to worship God. There’s a big difference)
- When worship has the correct object (i.e. God), then we will lead holy lives. Or, let’s put it another way: when we truly worship God, then we become participants in the creation of this new heaven and new earth. Or more simply: what is it that you are doing to make the world a better place?
- Trials will come; but we’re still supposed to be faithful. Do we conform to the world? Do we stand up for faith, even when it’s risky and costly? Or do we let the world tell us what faithfulness is or should be? Do we supplant faith with politics, mindset, respectability?
- The same God who loves us holds us accountable. When we fail on the three above (because we will – none of us is perfect), God will hold us accountable. But that judgment is wrapped in love. If you doubt that, think of Peter’s denial of Christ.
Today’s title comes from a Beatles’ song (we’re fixated on the Beatles at our house right now). The lyric is simply this: “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I think Paul McCartney is a musical genius; a theologian he’s not, because this simply isn’t true. We can never give away as much love as God gives us. What we can do, though, is to reflect the light of God’s love to a world that rests in darkness. May it be so.