Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A New Heaven and a New Earth

           A few years ago after finishing a round at what my friends and I like to call Roegusta Country Club or properly  named Roebuck Municipal Course in Birmingham, another golfer who was also just finishing struck up a conversation with me.  Having no idea that I was a priest (no I dont wear my collar on the course) the man started talking to me about God.
            At first, we had a pleasant conversation about how God is present with us even in suffering.  We talked about how the power of Gods eternal word in Jesus is the only thing that can save us in this often times messed up world.  And then he started talking about how he prayed that God would hurry up and rapture us up to heaven so that we might escape the great tribulation.  This was the end of our conversation.
            This kind of theology is called premillennial dispensationalism.  While this theology has roots in the early church, it has only gained momentum in the last one-hundred and fifty years and is consistent with the beliefs of what one might call the “evangelical right.”  This kind of theology is also consistent with the Left Behind series that has been so popular in recent years. 
Ultimately, premillennial dispensationalism is a theology that believes that God will rapture the faithful on earth up into heaven so that they may escape the great tribulation that must take place immediately before the golden age or the 1,000 year reign of Christ. 
And because it seems that this world is always on the brink of natural or human disaster it is no wonder that this kind of theology flourishes in an age of mass media and global news where we are saturated with apocalyptic images. 
I’ll cut to the chase. Premillennial dispensationalism is a theology contrived from piecing together two obscure verses from scripture that were never meant to be read as a part of the same   sentence—specifically 1 Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 20.
At this point you might be wondering, so what if it is bad theology?  I will admit there is a lot of bad theology out there that is harmless but this is the kind of bad theology that has consequences that are devastating not only to our Christian witness but also when it comes to our general worldview and how we act and behave in the world.
  This is the kind of theology that leads people to think that being good stewards of creation isnt that important and that we need not worry about recycling and conservation of energy because God is going beam up us to heaven right before the earth crumbles and decays. 
This is the kind of theology that leads people to believe that war is good because war brings us closer to the great tribulation that signals the beginning of the golden age when Christ will establish is 1,000 year rule on earth. 
First of all, up until this point in the Book of Revelation, God seems to be saying that what happens in this earthly life spills into the heavenly realm and what happens in heaven spills into this earthly life. 
In other words, the current heaven and earth exist in the same sphere and are bound to the same fate.  There cannot be peace in heaven when there is war on earth.  Earlier in Revelation, we see the martyrs who worship under the altar in the heavenly throne room look down on the persecuted Church and cry, “how much longer?”    
The separation of heaven from earth is not Gods ultimate plan for salvation.  In fact, the re-binding of heaven and earth is the beginning Gods salvation plan in Christ, a plan that began with our expulsion from the Garden of Eden.    
Jesus’ prayer is all about God’s plan to re-join heaven and earth, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Jesus also says, “Whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven and whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.”
Here in Revelation we see that the final stanza in the song of salvation does not have Gods people huddled up in the clouds on the other side of St. Peters gate.  I know this might startle some of you but our current concept of heaven as some place in the clouds is only temporary just like our earthly life is temporary—remember that heaven and earth exist in the same sphere and are bound to the same fate.
Instead, what God has done in the first heaven and the first earth is the prelude to the final movement of God’s salvation plan.  John of Patmos sees the beginning of the final movement.  He says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” 
And if we have comprehended anything in all of scripture to this point, we know that God does not make things new by throwing the old away just to start from scratch.  Instead, God purifies and  restores the good the bad the ugly, God prunes and renews.  In Christ, God cleanses and sanctifies the creation that is already inherently good.  Our God doesn’t trash anything he has made.  Our God is about transformation of the stuff he made in the first place. 
Ultimately, it is God’s presence in creation that purifies and restores, that prunes and renews, that transforms.  In the wilderness, God purifies and restores by dwelling with the people in tent and tabernacle.  Eventually, the Temple becomes that place where God dwells on earth to cleanse and sanctify.  In Christ, God’s promise to transform comes through the blood of the everlasting covenant, through the dwelling of God in human flesh.
And now in the last stanza, we see that God will make his permanent dwelling among mortals.  Once and for all, God will say, “See I am making all things new.”  This might be likened to the end of a Disney movie.  Someone has sacrificed their life in the name of true love, evil is defeated, then a world that was devastated by sin and death is transformed and made new. 

(Beauty and the Beast)

But this time, the transformation of the world that we have had glimpses of in the story of     salvation will be permanent. This time there will be no sea.  In other words, this time there will be no more sin and evil and death.  This time we won’t have to be sustained by glimpses of God’s light in the darkness because this time there is only light and life. This time God himself will dwell with the people and wipe away every tear.
The vision of the holy city is the ultimate hope of salvation that we get in the Book of Revelation and in scripture.  This kind of theology makes a difference.  Believe it or not good theology changes not only our belief system but also changes how we live in the world.
This kind of theology doesn’t compel us to hide in our little corner of the world to waiting for God to pull us out the side door.  Instead, this worldview sees the faithful fully present and active in a   broken and sinful world because they know God is making all things new through the sacrificial love of his Son, a love that lives in us through the blood of the everlasting covenant.
This worldview believes that God is completing the work of transformation in us, through the living members of Christ who pull back the curtain of despair and point to a life of hope.  This worldview believes that relationships in this life matter, relationships not only with family and friends but also with the enemy. This worldview believes that our relationship with creation matters.  Relationships matter because God transforms the world through a relationship with his Son. 
When we live according to this final vision, we are free to live with the knowledge that no     matter how terrible and ugly things get, God’s sacrificial love in Christ is more powerful than ever the worst kind of evil. 
And even if we don’t see the results of God’s love immediately, we don’t have to resign to a feeling that thinks nothing will ever change, evil will always win.  Instead, we can believe and hope and live for something more, despite our feelings, because God shows us that his love is transformative, that his love works in the fullness of time.

In the end, it is really as simple as this.  If God’s transformative love can change me, then God’s love can change you, and if God’s love can change you, then God’s love can transform the world.  In fact, God’s love has already changed the world.  See God is making all things new.  Amen.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Second to Last Episode

    Every once in a while I get sucked into a sitcom to the point where it tries to consume my life.  The miracle of streaming internet TV and Netflix allows one to watch two, three, four, even five episodes in one evening—all commercial free!  It can be terribly inconvenient especially when it comes to my sleep schedule.  Maybe you can relate.
            Anyway, Jamie and I recently found ourselves getting into a show called Parenthood.  The show centers around the life of the Braverman family.  The show offers comedic and emotional relief to anyone who knows what it is like to be a part of a big dysfunctional family that is held together by love.
            When I finally made it to the last season, the Bravermans were falling apart.  Just about every relationship was coming apart at the seams.  A part of me wondered how the dire situation could be resolved in just 20 episodes. 
            As I began to watch what I thought was the first episode of the final season, I was pleasantly surprised to see that things seemed to be getting better.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel.  Something miraculous happened off-screen between seasons.
When I watched the second episode of the final season, I noticed that life for the Bravermans was back to chaos as usual.  It was clear to me that the writers had employed the flash forward technique.  They snapped a picture of the future to give the audience reason to ask, “What could have possibly taken place so that the Bravermans had a happy ending?”  And this was the question that informed how I watched the last season.
The joke was on me because when I made it to the second to last episode I kept thinking, “Are they playing the first episode of the season again?”  Sure enough, I had accidentally watched the second to last episode thinking it was the first episode of the season.  Turns out the writers of the show did not want you to have a vision of hope going into the last season.
At this point you might be wondering why I just went on this rant about my experience watching Parenthood as it relates to the Revelation preaching series.  Good question!  Unlike Parenthood, the Book of Revelation wants readers to have a glimpse of the second to last episode of the series finale.  
The Book of Revelation is all about giving the readers a sure and present hope of things to come.  This book is all about inviting the readers to wonder how God can possible make good out of a terrible situation. 
As I have already mentioned in this preaching series, the people who first read the Book of Revelation are experiencing persecution and oppression at the hands of the Roman Empire.  For many of them, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  These readers are devoid of hope and struggling to worship the God of all truth.  The temptation to worship the false idol of Rome and Romes false promises is growing.
The part of todays lesson that the first readers were most likely drawn to is the part where one of the elders asks John of Patmos, “Who are these, robed in white, and where did they come from?”  John deflects the question back to the elder, “Sir, you are the one that knows.”  The elder replies, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”  These are the ones who know victory through the Lamb who was slain.
This scene might be likened to a time when the Bravermans experience extreme dysfunction in their family life.  And during this time of chaos, someone comes to their house and gives them a video of the second to last episode of their series finale. 
Sure the family would be able to recognize their family members but they would have a hard time recognizing their family because things are so good.  They might wonder, “How can things be so good when things are terrible now?” 
The same must be true for John of Patmos and the first readers of Revelation.  Surely they would recognize their ancestors who have been persecuted for Christs sake.  But if they were persecuted, then why are they standing in heaven celebrating?  Why are they singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”?  How can they be joyful in the face of such oppression and violence?
The ones who have come through the great ordeal are joyful because they now share fully in the victory of the Lamb.  Their robes have been made white through the blood of the Lamb.  They have endured; they have persevered through the many assaults of the enemy.  They have resisted the evil powers of this world.  God has kept good on his promise to deliver the faithful from sin and death. 
This great assembly in heaven was able to resist because they clung to the sure and present hope of things to come.  They knew that in the fullness of time God would finally rid the world of all evil and death.  They were able to resist because they knew deep in their souls that God marks them as his own forever through the blood of the Lamb, they knew that their Good Shepherd would seek them out and take them to the place where God wipes away every tear from their eyes. 
In a few minutes, Michael Kyle Parks will be baptized.  And you will be called to renew your own baptismal covenant.  You will be asked to renounce the evil powers of this world and recommit to following Jesus as your Savior.  You will remember with Michael that you are marked as Christs own forever. 
Some of you might wonder, what’s the point of baptism?  Is life really that much different after baptism?  Billions of people across the globe have been baptized, and we are still in the same mess as we were in Jesus’ day.  Other than being assured of our salvation when we die, what’s the point of baptism?  Does baptism really change anything?  
For starters, baptism isn’t simply your ticket to heaven when you die.  Baptism is your ticket to live in the kingdom of heaven today.  Baptism calls the faithful to look at the world as though they are cast in the second to last episode of the series finale and this means that we can look at the mess of the world and our lives through a lens of hope versus a lens of despair.  Baptismal life means we live our lives according to the narrative of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. 
Baptism acknowledges that God in Christ gives us a different reality to operate from, a reality that is firmly rooted in the narrative of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and is risen from the dead.  God gives us a reality that says—no matter how bad your great ordeal, no matter how bad the world gets, the blood of the Lamb has and is going to set you and the world free. 
Whatever your great ordeal God is and has and is going to pull you through and lead you to the springs of life.  This is your new reality.  This is the reality of those who have been marked by the blood of the Lamb. 
As Bishop Sloan said on Easter Sunday, Gods new reality in Christ sets you free from the power of shame and the fear of death.  Gods reality tells you that there is nothing left to lose because in Christ you have won everlasting life.  There is no ordeal so great that God cant overcome—just look at the risen Lord—the one who overcame death and the grave.
   Contrary to popular belief we are not asked to have a blind faith.  God gives us a vision of what life should and will look like in the fullness of time when all things have come to perfection.  In baptism, God shows us a world through and beyond the great ordeal, a world through and beyond death and the grave.  And to sweeten the deal, God gives us a way to live in that reality today.
In baptism, God is telling us that he has chosen us to both live in and point to the new creation in Christ.  God has chosen us, the baptized, to call a world who lives in darkness to come into the light we know in Christ.  We are the ones who God trusts will be moved to proclaim resurrection life.  We are the ones who God trusts will be moved to say, “Come and see, there is abundant life in God.  Come and let Gods second to last episode consume you and inform how you live your life today.”
And God sustains us in our faith by calling us to worship the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who is risen to everlasting life.  God sustains us in our faith by showing us the second to last episode.  God calls us to this holy place where we enter into the unceasing song of praise with the countless who surround the throne in heaven, by our own ancestors who know the fullness of Christs victory.  God sustains us by showing us a reality that is and was and is to come.
Believe me; learning to trust in this vision does not come overnight.  Trust in Gods new creation is discovered more and more through a lifetime of worship.  Trust in Gods new creation requires us to watch the second to last episode again and again and again. 
I am still learning how to look at the world using a vision of hope instead of despair.  And I pray that God gives me the grace to continue to trust more and more this new reality until one day I know the fullness of Christs victory—a victory marked by Christ’s sacrificial love for all the children of God, a victory that goes beyond death.
Our prayer is the Psalmists prayer, Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord is with me.  Our shepherd is and will lead us beside still waters, our Good Shepherd is and will lead us to the springs of life and wipe away every tear from our eyes.  This is both our future hope and present reality.

(Children of St. Paul's sing "Jesus Loves Me"
Replay this Episode Again and Again!)

As we celebrate the baptism of Michael Kyle today, remember the claim of love that God makes on all his beloved children through the blood of the Lamb.  And to those who are godparents or parents remind the baptized of Gods everlasting claim of love again and again, replay this second to last episode again and again especially when all hope seems lost, and never despair because God is never, ever, no matter what, going to stop pursing you with his immeasurable love—a love made known through the Lamb who was slain.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Heavenly Throne Room

            Imagine yourself, for a minute, locked in a dark room.  Let’s say you are training to be a CIA agent.  You are alone.  All the lights have been cut off and all the windows have been boarded up.  You cant even see the palm of your hand when you put it up to your face. 
Its been days or weeks or even longer since youve last seen or spoken to anybody.  And just at the moment when you have lost all faith of getting out, the smallest glimmer of light pokes through one of the boards covering the window.
            In a moment of hope, you run over to the window and try to ply the board away.  After hours of trying, your fingers are raw and you cant get the board to budge.  You have come so close to breaking free yet you are still stuck in that same dark place. 
You collapse on the floor and begin to wish that you had never seen that glimmer of light in the first place.  It would have been better if you hadnt ever gotten your hopes up at all.  You rest your face in your hands and begin to weep.
            If you can imagine this scene, then it might not be too hard to image what John of Patmos experienced when he wrote the Book of Revelation.  John is in exile on an island called Patmos.  He is imprisoned for his Christian faith.  But while in prison, John receives the revelation of Jesus Christ.
            This revelation of Jesus Christ is the glimmer of light that shines into Johns dark prison cell.  This glimmer of light gives John hope in the darkest of places.  This glimmer of light calls John to his knees and then to his feet where he comes face to face with the risen Lord.
And this is where we meet John in todays lesson.  In particular, we meet John in the heavenly throne room.  The revelation of Jesus Christ has torn a hole through John’s dark earthly reality and gives a passage way for John to enter into God’s heavenly reality.  
            Revelation chapter 4 describes this heavenly place in provocative detail.  And this description of heaven in Revelation is where we get a lot of the language for our Eucharistic Prayers.  Prayer D says, “Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and, beholding the glory of your presence, they offer you unceasing praise.”
The Eucharistic Prayer also affirms that we, today, are a part of that powerful scene that connects heaven and earth.  Here in worship we also recognize that the risen Lord has torn a hole in our earthly reality and gives us a vision of God’s heavenly reality.  So the prayer continues, “Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name, as we sing…Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty…”

So imagine yourself with John now in that heavenly place.  Imagine that you too have seen that glimmer of light poking through the cracks.  Imagine that you too have been transported to a place where hope gives you reason to try and crawl out of whatever deep, dark place you find yourself in today.
Now take a few more steps with John into the heavenly throne room.  Imagine you are about to receive the instrument that will shatter those planks of wood. Imagine that you have at your fingertips the blue prints that will allow light to overwhelm the darkness.
At the beginning of chapter 5, John has at his fingertips the plan of salvation.  John sees the one who holds the scroll and then an angel declares with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?”  It is quickly discerned that nobody in heaven or on earth or under the earth was worthy to open the scroll. 
John is so close to the answer salvation.  The answer is at his fingertips but he and nobody else is able to open the scroll that details the plan of salvation.  John of Patmos begins to weep bitterly.
I along with you know what it is like to be so close yet feel so far away.  I along with you know what it is like to feel like you have reached the top, you have reached the pinnacle only to slide right back down the hill to the place where you first started.
            On a communal level, I often feel that Selma is on the verge of overcoming a sometimes dark past.  I see these glimmers of hope breaking through the darkness all over Selma.  I see the light piercing the darkness here at St. Pauls in all facets of our life together. 
            I see rays of hope breaking in through different people and groups all over the community—too many to count.  Gods salvation plan seems poised to unhinge those planks of wood that are preventing light from pouring into our community. 
            And just when I  think we have made progress, just when I think our community is moving in a positive direction, just when I think there is about to be a break through, we get more bad news.  Another murder.  Another crime spree.  Another story about mis-trust and broken relationships.  Another fight.  Another story about failing schools.  And the list goes on.
            It is inevitable that someone will say, “some things never change.”  And I’ll admit that I sometimes find myself wondering the same thing.  And so we get out our hammer and nails, hoist up another two by four, and cover the places where light once shinned.  We retreat back into a deep dark hole.  Wed rather stay there than risk being disappointed again.  Weve been hurt one too many times.  We rest our face in our hands and weep bitterly.
            About a month ago, I saw one of those glimmers of light fill the Nave.  Children from the Alabama Choir School out of Tuscaloosa sang during the offertory.  Ill the first to admit that I was a little weary about the selection they choose—“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  However, something happened when they began singing.  
            I felt like I was transported to a heavenly realm.  I felt like I was standing in the heavenly throne room—a hole was torn between heaven and earth and light poured in.  I thought, “What if?  What if this was one of the ways that God is trying to flood Selma with goodness and light?  What if?”
My gut reaction wants to say, 'Let’s make this happen. We at St. Paul's Selma can make this happen!' But God seems to be saying something a little different. I hear God saying, 'I am already making this happen. This is going to happen! Can't you see? My eternal light just tore a hole between heaven and earth. Will you to let it happen?'
If I have learned anything about the power of God’s light, it is that when we let the light shine through we will see things that we never thought existed.  We will be opened up to a reality beyond our wildest dreams.  I have also learned that seeing things in a new light can be scary.  Doing new things is scary.  The unknown is terrifying.  New obstacles will be revealed.  We will have to learn to do things all over again. 
But our faith also tells us that the crucified one has provided a way through those obstacles.  Our faith tells us that the risen Lord shows us that there is life beyond those obstacles.  Our faith tells us that the kingdom of heaven doesn’t have a concept of failure—only a concept of new life.  The light of God’s heavenly kingdom will find a way through and beyond the darkness of our earthly reality.
I hope many of you see a light poking through whatever darkness you find yourself in.  Maybe that dark place is at home.  Maybe that dark place is at work or at school.  Maybe that dark place is in your own heart.  I pray that you catch a glimmer of God’s light.
I know it might be tempting to run toward that light and throw aside any obstacle that gets in the way—even if the obstacle is a big red X.  It might be tempting to do the exact opposite.  It might be tempting to cover the light up because you don’t want to get hurt again.  Instead of doing these things, trust that the God is lighting up the path for you to follow. 
Like the metaphor I used last week, don’t let the finger mesmerize you or terrify you, don’t let the light poking through the cracks mesmerize or terrify you.  Instead, stop to look where the finger is pointing, where the light is shining.  You might just find that those things you once considered obstacles to be the very things God wants to you to use in order to let the light shine. 
For those who might be afraid of the light, God is not promising that you will never get hurt again.  In fact, by the following the light, you might even get hurt more.  But the truth of God’s word tells us that the sufferings of the present time can’t compare to the glory to be revealed.  If you have given birth to a child, then you have an idea of what this means.
   Beloved, all the company of heaven stands around the throne of God and sings a song of unceasing praise.  They sing because our God makes light shine in the darkness.  They sing because victory over whatever dark obstacle stands in the way is won.  They sing because there is one who is worthy to open the scroll of salvation—the Lamb who was slain. 
               They sing because the Lamb who was slain is poised in all times and places to break open the seals of salvation in order to reveal abundant light and life.  May we have the grace join in songs of unceasing praise and let God light up the world with the Good News of the risen Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Book of Revelation as Good News

The Book of Revelation as Good News

In case you haven’t heard, I am going to spend the Easter season preaching on Revelation.  However, I want to frame the preaching series on two verses that we read in John’s Gospel.  These two verses, I believe, are probably some of the most essential verses in the Bible when it comes to understanding the purpose of scripture.
The closing lines of today’s Gospel say, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (Gospel Lesson)
So more than telling us about the history of Gods people, more than telling us stories that teach a lesson, more than giving us words of inspiration, scripture is meant to point to Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.  Above all else, scripture communicates how God is saving the world from sin and death through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
I find these words from Johns Gospel to be the perfect foundation as we start wade into the wonderful, mysterious, and sometimes scary world that Revelation paints for us.  I find these the perfect verses to keep in the back of our mind because if we don’t we will get too bogged down in the symbols.  If we don’t remember that the primary purpose of scripture is to point to the Messiah, the Christ, then it will be very easy to use Revelation like so many have before and twist the images and use them in ways never intended.
Simply put, the Book of Revelation has been used too often to predict the apocalypse.  Countless number of people have tried and failed to devise formulas based on this book to strike fear into the hearts of many by saying the world is coming to an end on a particular date. 
They forget that we are already living in the end-times and that Jesus is and was and is breaking into the world revealing his kingdom on earth.  They forget that the whole point of Revelation and all of scripture is meant to reveal and point to the active presence of God in the world today through the risen Christ.  This book is not a prediction machine. 
This book isn’t supposed to lead us to say, “Well, the rapture is almost here.  We don’t have to worry about sin and death too much longer.  Jesus is going to beam us good Christians up.”  No, the kingdom of God is here—Jesus has said as much. And the kingdom is yet to come.  The purpose of Revelation is to point to the truth of God’s eternal presence—now and forever.  John of Patmos speaks in the name of the God who is and who was and who is to come.
I believe one of the reasons many get lost in the book of Revelation is because we as humans sometimes act like dogs.  We are like that dog who doesnt see the master toss the ball into the field.  And when our master tries to point to the bright yellow ball that is in plain sight, we stand wagging our tail trying to figure out why the master is yelling and waving his hand around in the air.  And we miss the point.  We look at the finger and not at what the finger points to.  We dwell for too long in the imagery.
 How do we find the grace and wisdom and humility to see what the finger is pointing to, to look beyond the imagery?  How do we find the grace and wisdom and humility to chase after the truth that God tosses out before us with his word given in Revelation? 
Yes, a part of that challenge is to understand and hear the words in a way that would have made sense to the original readers—to those well versed in the scriptures—to those who lived during a time of persecution—to those who were members of the seven churches that John of Patmos writes to. 
But even more important than the knowledge of the scriptures, knowledge of cultural history, knowledge of these symbols is an encounter with the living word of God.  As one theologian implied, we are more than students who possess knowledge about the Bible; we are people who are given a faith that believes Gods word is meant to possess us and make us the people of God.
In the verses that follow todays lesson from Revelation (Revelation Chapter 1), John of Patmos encounters the living word of God, he falls to his knees.  How could he not fall to his knees?  If you read on, Jesus is not described as the Jesus you imagine when he says, “let the little children come to me.”  This Jesus has hair that is as white as snow and whose eyes are like flames of fire.  His voice is like the sound of many waters and his face shines like the sun. 
Remember dont dwell in the imagery too long.  Remember what the finger is pointing to.  How is this image of Jesus pointing to the Messiah?
His white hair is a reminder of Jesuswisdom and his purity.  The eyes of fire remind us that when Jesus looks at us, he purifies us with his great love, a love that both judges us and saves us.  The sound of many waters draws from numerous scriptures and reminds us that God uses water to give way to salvation.  And of course, his face shines like the sun because Jesus is the light that is coming into a world of darkness. 

This encounter with the living Christ takes ahold of John of Patmos.  Jesus’ word possesses John of Patmos with his encounter.  This revelation of Christ consumes John to the point where he is compelled to give this vision to the Church—not just to the seven churches in Asia Minor in the 1st and 2nd centuries but also to the Church in all times and places.
We know this because seven symbolizes completeness as God rested on the seventh day after the completion of creation.  As we move along in the Book of Revelation, you will find that certain symbols can contain multiple meanings on a literal, metaphorical, and eschatological level. 
On a historical and literal level, John of Patmos writes to churches that are being persecuted or at least controlled by Rome.  As the letter continues, the revelation of John will respond specifically to the issues of each church.  However, the prevailing theme asks, to whom does our worship belong?  Does worship belong to Cesar or to God Almighty?  And as we read, we also find the issues faced by the churches in Asia Minor aren’t too different than the issues that the church faces today.
During these times of great persecution and Roman occupation, the Christian faithful are tempted to surrender to the allegiances that the world demands of them.  The faith of many of these communities is growing dim. 
Amid all the suffering and oppression, should these churches still believe that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead?  If he isnt coming back, then life would be much easier to simply go with the flow of the Roman culture. 
While we do not, here in the United States, experience religious persecution, we do understand what it means to be a part of a culture that demands that we worship its lifestyle, its way of life.  We do know what it means to say one thing but do another.   
We do know what it is like to grow complacent and live according to a reputation that is no longer true.  You better than I know what it is like to live in a city that once seem so alive look dead. 
We do know what it is like to lose hope in something we were once so sure of.  We understand what it is like to wonder how God can still be alive amid all the suffering and chaos in the world. 
But the good news says that our encounter with the living Christ will not leave us in a place of despair and hopelessness.  We, who sit in darkness and John of Patmos who writes from a place of dark exile, are given a vision that sheds light on a different way, on a better way to live—a way that follows Jesus Christ. 
We have a choice.  We dont have to concede to the ways of the world.  We dont have to concede to ways that look tempting on the front end but ways that leave us empty in the end.  Instead, like John of Patmos, we can fall at the Lords feet as though we are dead, dead to a world that fills us with lies and half-truths and alive in a God who fills us with the knowledge of the hope that is and was and is to come.
For when we fall at the feet of Jesus, we look upon the One who made the way of victory through suffering on the cross.  When we look at the risen Christ, we look upon the One who reveals all truth, the One who says that the ways of the world will one day kill you but the way of the suffering servant will grant you life and immortality.  When we come before the risen Lord in worship, we are in essence saying, “Let your Word and Holy Spirit take ahold of me, possess me, and guide me into all truth.” 
As you leave church, I invite you consider how your encounter with the risen Lord this day is shedding a hopeful light in a world full of darkness.  How does your encounter with the Suffering Servant call you to be alive and attentive to the needs of a world that knows too much suffering? 
Ask yourself, “How is my life reflective of the fact that I worship the risen Lord, the one who comes to take away the sin of the world, the one who gives hope where there was once despair, the one who gives life where there was once death?”  How is my life reflective of the fact that God’s word has taken ahold of me?
And finally, how might you order your life in a way where everything you do, everything you say points to the risen Christ, to the Messiah who is ushering in a new kingdom?
Beloved, God has tossed the bright yellow ball of truth in front of you. May you have the grace to let God’s word take ahold of you and use you to point to Jesus the Messiah.  May you have the grace to chase after the eternal truth given in the risen Christ and discover the richness of life in God.  Amen.