Revelation—Facing the future
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
24 May 1998
The text given is for the Seventh Sunday after Easter, Sunday after Ascension in the Revised Common Lectionary.
Bible reading Revelation 22.12-14,16-17,20-21
"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.
There is contained in the Book of Revelation teaching which speaks of Christ in ways which focus our minds upon judgement.
A judgement story - Three women arrived at the 'pearly gates' one bright morning and Peter needed to ask each one about her religious dedication. The first one was Catholic. She showed Peter a well worn rosary. The second one was Baptist and she showed Peter a Bible worn out by much reading. When the third woman was asked for evidence of her faith she felt embarrassed for she had in her hand a brillo pad which she had been using to clean a casserole dish at the church lunch club. Which one did Peter let in?
- Just what constitutes faithful expression and commitment?
- When we are judged what measure does God use?
Well he may have let all three in! But I like to think that the third woman was one who had learned about the faithful expression of her Christian faith in deeds of kindness and that she wouldn't be rejected for doing what the others were only learning about through prayer and bible study .
There are many stories about ending up at the pearly gates, judgement and St. Peter. Because whilst most people live their lives in complete disregard for God, for many people there is a sense of the unknown and the realisation that perhaps one day they had better sort themselves out. I remember my time at college with some mixed emotions. One of the things which was most significant was the constant awareness of a date three years in the future when examinations would take place. Six days of eleven three hour examinations, when all of the previous years of work would have to be given account for. The future was therefore something in a sense to be feared. It certainly cast its light over present events because there was a constant warning over idleness, either you worked hard all the available time or one day you would get your just deserts.
What does the future hold for you?—is it threatening prospect or is it exciting, something to be longed for or dreaded. How do passages such as we have read today from Revelation influence you. This passage could be seen as a frightening thought, 'Yes I am coming soon', Christ is coming back and we are to be judged. We could become even more concerned if we listened to the words of the blessing for the Easter Season:
"The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you what is pleasing in his sight; ..."
This is a quotation from Hebrews chapter 13:20,21, We haven't used in our churches over Easter I don't think, but if we had would you have thought 'Oh I'm not being made perfect, I've got lots of faults'. How many of us are perfect or even getting near perfection? And if we have to be perfect how on earth is there any hope for any of us? I'm certainly out!
There is hope!
When we look deeper into that passage we see that perfection comes not from ourselves but from Christ and from the blood of the everlasting covenant. Its not what we are that matters its what Christ has done which counts. So the buck does not stop with us.
There is more hope!
When we look up the passage in another translation we see that the word perfect is not a good one anyway. The NIV doesn't say 'make you perfect' it says , 'Equip you with everything good for doing his will' The original word in Greek doesn't even say make you perfect, it the same word used as is used for the disciples "mending their nets". So it has overtones, not of moral perfection, but of healing and wholeness. It is about putting something right. Lets give it a different translation
'The God who raised Jesus from the dead ………carry on working with you as a fisherman mends his nets until you are made completely whole, working in you what is pleasing in his sight'
This is more comfortable and more true—it makes sense with Jesus own mission and ministry working with those who were very far from perfect. I don't want to dismiss the word "perfect" to excuse the times when I or others fail to live up to our own (as much as anyone else's) standards of behaviour. But I do wish to take away what I have often felt as an enormous burden to never do anything wrong. For it is so often the pressure of feeling we must not do anything wrong that inhibits us doing anything at all.
We have all heard the frequent excuses that 'God couldn't want us to do such and such because, we are not good enough'. The implication being that somebody else is. The implication being wrong. To use the illustration of the nets, we are all being mended, we are all shot full of holes. Righteousness and suitability for Christ's service is not earned by us, it is given by Jesus. You and I are not perfect, He is perfect and he restores us as a gift not as a right which we have deserved.
In Revelation we are presented with One who is seated on the throne who says: "See, I am making all things new" The Book of Revelation is therefore about Christ making things right, restoring things the way they should be. Making them complete. Christ working with us as a fisherman works with his nets mending them and getting rid of the holes.
I especially like the theme which runs throughout the New Testament of God restoring things and putting them back together the way they should be, before we messed everything up. I remember taking a mixer to Michael Peters in town and asking them if they fixed Moulinex and when he said they did I reached down and gave him a box full of bits. I had been working on it and at the end I had a box with all the left over pieces that I couldn't fit back in. They took it and restored it and put it back into its proper condition, it is that rebuilding process which is going on in us and which won't be completed until Christ returns.
We can know that—all things are being made new—is in fact precisely what is happening. This source of all life in Christ is important for us and should affect our thinking on issues. The Christian recognises that Christ is the source of life and that life is not ours by right, it is a gift from God.
So much thinking leaves God out when deciding moral issues, economics or ethics. If we human beings are responsible only to ourselves and not to God then our approach will be fundamentally different. Genetic engineering, open abortion, euthanasia, sexual ethics all of these things are faced with a new dimension when we see Christ as Creator. For the Christian, human life is given dignity and value because it is made by God in the image of himself. Strike another human being and you strike at God himself.
This isn't an answer to every intractable ethical or moral issue but it is the important starting point. We do not have a right to life, the human pride and arrogance which states for instance, it is my body and I have right to chose is wrong. It is not your body, you abuse the freedom which God has given you when you think that you own life to do as you please.
There is a phrase which comes to mind often used by petulant children in forms of rebellion against authority be it parents, teachers or whatever, 'its my life.' This is so untrue it is not your life, my life, or anybody else's life, Our life is God's life. Irrespective of whether you agree with abortion in some or all cases, the argument used that it is a woman's body to do with as she wishes is blatantly not true. Our body has been entrusted to us like the rest of creation, and we are responsible to God for the way in which we use or abuse all of the gifts which he has given to us.
Now as we seek to be mended by Christ we should not be a people who fear his coming. We are not perfect, we are seeking to be mended by him and in his hands we are secure. We have confidence because we know that, in Jesus Christ, God does not give up on the world and he does not give up on us. No horrible wrong that we commit is beyond God's gracious power to redeem. He will not abandon us and leave us to our own devices. In our lives we have great battles, the battles are real and they are often painful. And yet, we know who has won the war. There is still struggle in the present age, but we have a promise of how all of this shall end. This was a message which the early Christian church learned and they learned it from a very early stage, perhaps earlier than many people had thought.
To finish I would like to bring to your attention the 'sator rotas' word square. Remember this as we look at it,—it was compiled at a time when persecution of Christians was real and a present danger, they were thrown to the lions, tortured etc. Whilst the papers are being given out a joke.....
The Christian is being thrown to the lions and about to be eaten. He prays, God make the lion a Christian. The lion stops as it is about to bite his head off and says 'for what we are about to receive'.
The 'SATOR ROTAS' word square
This has been found from early centuries to modern times all over the world, from Europe to Africa. In 1868 a copy was found on a Roman wall plaster in Cirencester. In 1933 four copies were discovered in Dura Europos. A partial copy was unearthed in Pompeii in 1925 and in 1936 a complete one was discovered in the same city in a building near the ampitheatre.
1—SATOR or 'sower' is an early name for Jesus
2—The letters add up to a double PATERNOSTER with an extra Alpha and Omega, first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Illustrated here—
3—The central letter in each side is a T which in ancient times was written as a cross
4—The cross is flanked on all sides by the A and O representing the Alpha and Omega
5—In the centre comes the repeated word TENET which means 'he holds'
Alpha and Omega were the first and last letters of the alphabet, to say Alpha and Omega would be like us saying 'A to Z'. For the early Christians enduring persecutions, the message was that Jesus was the beginning and end of all things, he was with them. He who had been through it himself would hold and sustain them. The significance of the square is in its embodiment of the faith that he who is the Alpha and Omega of all things has been revealed as 'our Father' in the Christ who died on the cross. Remember that Pompeii was destroyed by Vesuvius in AD 79. the Christians clearly adopted the cross and its symbol from an early date.
We do not know what the future holds; but we do know who holds the future. Our future belongs to him. That is why we are able to live today with confidence and not with fear. We do not have confidence because we know exactly what tomorrow will look like, we have confidence because we know what Christ is like. Christ is the source of all things and the end of all things. We know this—we need not fear for the future is his.