Saturday, June 18, 2022

Pentecost 2C

Psalm 22:25-28

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear God.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before God.

For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and God rules over the nations.

Galatians 3:23-29

23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The Season of Pentecost

After fifty days of Easter that concluded with the fire and wind of the Day of Pentecost, followed by Trinity – a unique Sunday named after a doctrine rather than an event – we're seriously into the half-year long segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after Pentecost. Because God is triune or three-in-one, one-in-three, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday, but it's cool to have a special day to worship Trinity as mystery without trying to explain the unexplainable.

Beginning with Advent, the first half of the year tracked Jesus' earthly life and the Acts of Jesus' First Apostles. We'll continue with narratives from both Old and New Testaments, along with more formally theologically passages like today's from the Apostle Paul, yet the upcoming six months supremely are Time of the Church, Season of the Spirit of Pentecost. Our time!


Galatians

The church at Galatia was the first ethnic church in terms of culture and geography. Biblically, they also were ethnos because they were gentiles. The words Galatia, Gaulle, Gaelic, Celt, Celtic all come from the same root.

In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul emphasizes the gospel of death and resurrection with its central theme of freedom. In Galatians Paul cautions us about human-made laws such as sacrifice, ceremony, keeping kosher, and circumcision—that's what he's talking about most of the time Paul says law. In today's scripture he finally talks about law as the ten words (decalogue) or commandments of the Sinai covenant. Especially Lutheran and Reformed theological traditions often cite three uses of the law/commandments: to draw people to Christ; to convict us of sin; to lead people to correct behaviors.


Freedom and Juneteenth

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 3:28

My seminary professor who taught the Pauline Letters announced to the class, "This ain't Emancipation Proclamation, people!"

At the time of this letter, categories of Jew/gentile, male/female, slave/free were central and critical in the Greco-Roman world. In the twenty-first century (of course) there still are Jews and Greeks, women and men and non-binaries, young and old, rural and urban. Paul was referring to Jesus breaking down ranks of superior-inferior, better-lesser, worthy-unworthy. In addition, Jesus obliterated the practice of separating people with certain traits from people with other traits… "segregation."

As Paul also loves to remind us, because Jesus Christ has freed us from sin and death, we now are free to live as servants to all. The NT uses two different words that translate into English as both servant and slave.

This year Juneteenth happens on the Sunday the lectionary has appointed this text. When we read scripture, we first need to ask about the original context and intent to the extent we can know it. As comforting as it may feel, we can't flip open the bible and apply a sweet-sounding verse to our current life circumstances.

With ever-increasing awareness of the history of chattel slavery in the USA and this Sunday's Juneteenth commemoration, interpreting Paul's announcement, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; you are one in Christ Jesus," as an early emancipation proclamation won't fly, yet it still reflects Jesus' own behavior and his call to us to welcome, include, and appreciate everyone's unique gifts and contributions.

In baptism a solitary, isolated, individual becomes part of the gathered body of Christ and assumes one of many differentiated roles and positions appropriate to their gifts and experience. We keep our unique gifts (food, music, accounting, administration, hospitality, art, teaching, etc.), but our baptismal identity in Christ becomes central. In baptism we don't go from being a solitary, isolated, individual to becoming part of an undifferentiated blob, but to serve freely in a body filled with rich diversity, an organism where everyone is poorer without the other.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Trinity Sunday 2022

Come, Join the Dance of Trinity

1 Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun—
the interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.

4 Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity

Text: Richard Leach; © 2001 Selah Publishing Co., Inc.
Tune: Kingsfold


Romans 5:1-5

1Therefore, because we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

3And not only that, but we also rejoice in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Reading in Romans

Today's passage from Romans refers to all three persons of the Holy Trinity as they particularly relate to human aspects of creation and human experience.

The letter to the church at Rome is the seventh and last of the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles that contain strong evidence of his authorship. We sometimes refer to Romans as Paul's systematic theology—systematics is the philosophical-style theology that presents ideas about God and creation with formal definitions, outlines, logic, and structure. Compared to the styles and standards of theologians like Karl Rahner and Karl Barth, Romans isn't particularly systematic, but it still gives us Paul's mature, well-developed theology.


Trinity Sunday…

…celebrates a doctrine or teaching rather than an event. Scripture strongly implies God as triune or three-in-one / one-in-three, but scripture never uses the word "trinity." The church didn't articulate the doctrine or teaching of God as Triune until 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea that gave us the Nicene Creed.

The Trinity is a mystery! Our human brains insist on trying to describe it, but most attempts ending up with the heresy of modalism. Those would include ice, water, vapor; son, friend, brother, yet they provide at least a faint clue.

Humans casually assign characteristic traits to each Person, but in reality they all participate together in every aspect of the life of the world.


Perichoresis

However, the early church used the term perichoresis or "dancing around." We know peri from peripatetic, perimeter, perigee, periscope… I found a whole lot of words starting with peri! Some are about around / surround, others – like my favorite periwinkle – maybe aren't, though one website suggested "periwinkle" may have come from entwine, so that qualifies. Dance words like choreography and choreographer relate to choresis; chord and anchor probably don't. Perichoresis pictures Trinity as dynamic mutual indwelling in unity, union, harmony, agreement, concord, consonance…

The Holy (Holy, Holy) Trinity models our interactive and cooperative lifestyles and ministries. Baptized into participation in the life of the triune God in the world, for the world, the church [us!] lives as the Image of the Trinity. The hymn sings, "Let voices rise and interweave, by love and hope set free, to shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity."


The Trinity and the Means of Grace

Jesus charges his followers – the church – to proclaim the Gospel in word and action. Jesus calls us to baptize and literally to re-member him by breaking the bread of life and offering the cup of salvation. Created, redeemed, sanctified, we reveal the triune gospel to the world when we live our daily lives as sacraments that mediate between earth and heaven. The church as community and each of us as individuals nurtured and discipled by that community take our cues and clues from the perichoresis of the Trinity.

"The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." Philipp Melanchthon, Augsburg Confession, from Article 7

"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists." John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 4, chapter 1, section 9.


Watch this Space!

Although we set aside one Sunday each year to celebrate the Trinity, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday, every day is Trinitarian for us as Christians. Next week we'll start counting Sundays after Pentecost as the Church moves into its own during a six-month long stretch of green and growing season of Ordinary [ordered, structured, arranged] Time. We'll continue walking the talk as we minister to worlds around us. We're not yet post-COVID, yet the pandemic has given the church more reason than usual to try out new possibilities, to be more imaginative than usual. Baptized into the Dance of Trinity, we minister to a world that meets us as the presence of the Triune God.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Pentecost 2022

Romans 8:14-21

14All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The Day of Pentecost

During the first half of the year that began at Advent, we waited for Jesus' arrival and rejoiced at his birth. The Epiphany season was about Jesus as light of the world and redeemer of all, not only Israel. We followed Jesus' earthly ministry as he called, taught, and ate with followers who became friends. After Jesus' death and the surprise of his resurrection, for fifty days – a week of weeks, seven times seven – we kept on keeping' on celebrating Easter.

The fiftieth day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost is the third great Trinitarian Festival. Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit in a concentrated, broad, and spectacular manner and initiates a six-month long stretch of the church's year of grace that especially emphasizes our ministries modeled on those of Jesus and the original twelve.

Almost everyone considers Luke's Acts 2 account of the arrival of the Spirit the pentecostal paradigm. Visible audible signs of fire and wind result in a true common-wealth that's been imitated but never duplicated. (Scholars believe Luke and his cohorts did a fair amount of idealizing and fantasizing when they composed the Acts of the First Apostles.) However, all scriptures for this day help establish the style and direction of our next six months.


Reading from Romans

Romans is the seventh and last of the apostle Paul's undisputed epistles. "Undisputed" means they carry strong evidence of his authorship. Today's famous passage from Romans is about God claiming us as children of heaven along with interdependence of human creatures (that's us!) and what we sometimes refer to as the natural creation. What happens with us affects all creation; what happens in the rest of creation affects humanity.


God's Kids – Everyone's Sibs

Paul tells us the Spirit of God makes us God's children. He says we no longer have the spirit of slavery, which in that culture would have meant actual bondservants or chattel slaves. However, humans everywhere all the time often find themselves "enslaved" or almost helplessly connected to sins, objects, and behaviors that violate the commandments. Besides, just about everyone has hard to break habits that technically aren't sinful yet in the long run have negative outcomes.

Today we're only considering this passage from Romans, but Jesus redefined family so that all humanity now and across the centuries are brothers and sisters to one another. What is more, this scripture makes ample room for us to affirm all creation our relatives, after the manner of Saints Francis and Claire of Assisi and many others. How about you? How about me?

By grace the HS creates each of us in God's image at our first birth and again at our second birth in baptism; water and word make us siblings to Jesus and to each other. Although the HS is active throughout scripture, the world becomes especially kindred by the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit resonates with our spirit that we are God's adopted offspring; because of this we inherit everything Christ inherits. You may remember God calling Jesus Beloved Son at his baptism? God does the same for us at baptism. Throughout the centuries, adoption has been a complicated concept; you've heard of one sibling accusing another, "You're adopted!" I love thinking of adoption as parental choice—chosen, claimed, embraced.

Can we always make room for one more at the table? Not only the Lord's Table, but afterwards because Jesus' Holy Communion is the model for our ongoing lives together. Like a family that adopts or fosters, is there always room for one more around our table? Why would we exclude anyone from the nourishment of meals or from the nourishment of community? Having said that, I realize there are complicated situations.


Creation Waits, Hopes, and Expects

As Acts 1:6-8 describes it, Jesus' disciples ask him if at this time he will restore the [Davidic] kingdom to Israel. Jesus tells them their question is wrong and counsels them to wait! Because they will receive the Spirit, and because of the HS they will be Jesus' witnesses to the ends of the earth. In other words, Jesus' followers will be the ones to restore God's reign on earth and it won't be shiny opulent bling. The reign of heaven on earth will be abundant life. The world will flourish with love, mercy, justice, and shalom sufficiency for everyone, not only Israel.

Whenever I read wait, hope, or expect in any scripture text, I always find it helpful to remember the same word in Spanish espero (esperare, etc.) means hope, expect, and wait.

In Romans Paul insists all creation waits for redemption because true children of God, humans who authentically mirror and embody their Divine Image, care for the earth in ways that reflect their Divine Nature. All creation carries within itself breath of the Divine and breathes the Spirit of Life. We are kin with all creation! We belong together!

Christianity proclaims God's definitive self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth, in a body formed from the "stuff" of the earth. Now the Holy Spirit fills and indwells our bodies and we become God's presence on earth.

Do you as an individual or as part of a faith community have any special plans for the Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church during the next six months?

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Easter 7C

Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21

12"See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End."
14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.
16"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
17The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
20The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Easter 7 / Revelation

Easter is fifty days, a week of week, a season that occupies one-seventh of the year! For lectionary year C, the second reading for Easter 2 through 7 comes from Revelation, the last book of the bible. Revelation is full of code words, symbols, and apocalyptic imagery that all need to be interpreted. When it was written, insiders would have understood it applied to Rome's Caesar Domitian, yet "Babylon" serves as a cipher and stand-in for empires in general; the book's symbolism and counsel can apply to almost any empire anywhere at any time.


Backtracking

The Revelation passage for Easter 5 pictured the city of God, the New Jerusalem, literally descending from heaven. A safe place that welcomes everyone.

Last week Easter 6 celebrated the river that flows through the city with the healing tree of life on the riverbanks.

Revelation isn't a short book, and choosing a reading for each of six Sundays necessarily omits a lot of material that relates well to our ministries. This is a book of sevens: seven letters to seven churches; a scroll with seven seals; seven thunders; seven angels; seven bowls; seven plagues.


New Heaven /New Earth

Genesis 1 and 2 are the first books in the bible; in Genesis 2 the first creation includes a garden, a tree of life, and a river of life. Revelation is the last book; in Revelation the new creation includes a city, a tree of life, and a river of life. Sounds very green to me! Maybe surprisingly, the new creation is about a new earth and a new heaven!

We've been discussing Revelation as a guidebook to living baptized amidst empire. When we follow that counsel and the world looks at us, the church, does it look like the best place possible? Does the church look like heaven on earth?


City of God

All God's creation is beautiful, yet many people idealize and almost idolize less-developed areas like wilderness, outback, tiny towns, rural wide spots in the road, and beach paradises. Even now, many parents aspire to raise families in suburban or exurban places with less traffic, lower population density, and what they perceive as better schools and services. Yet scripture reveals a city as the center of God's new creation. Not the apparently forsaken desert of exodus wanderings that was the site of Israel's identity-formation, but the city:

• Most cities are built along a waterway that creates a literal crossroads with multiple land, air, water ports of entry.
• These crossroads bring together near-infinite ethnic, class, educational, and cultural diversity that create many kinds of fusions: language; music; religion; cuisine; fashion. You can list lots more! Does this lead to cultural appropriation? Nah! Mostly cultural appreciation!
• And so much more!

What's your general opinion of countryside vs. city?

What's your take on a green city as the center of the New Creation?


The Bible Concludes

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all. Amen!

Friday, May 20, 2022

Easter 6C

Revelation 21:10, 22 - 22:1-5

Revelation 21


10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me thje holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.

Revelation 22

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Tree of Life Revelation 22:2
"The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" | "There grows a tree in Paradise. The Pilgrims called it the Tree of Life…"

Easter is a Season

Easter is 50 days, a week of weeks, 7 x 7. Easter season readings in the lectionary began with stories that mostly featured people who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry. As the weeks rolled by, they reached outward to begin embracing people from other places and cultures. Two Sundays from now we'll celebrate the 50th day of Easter, the Day of Pentecost (wear red!) that initiates the long Season of the Spirit-Time of the Church with mostly green Sundays.


Revelation

In the beginning of the bible, Genesis 1 and 2 have very different narratives of the first or original creation; the last book in the biblical canon, Revelation, continues into a new creation that's both new earth and new heaven.

Ever since Abram and Sarai left Ur on their way to the place God would show them, humans have been political animals.

You probably know the basic chronology of scripture with the liberation of God's people from slavery in Egypt; a decades-long desert trek to the Land of Promise; exile to Babylon by another empire; a journey home with subsequent restoration of worship, community, and commerce; prophets who spoke for God and against the establishments. Then Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us. All along the way God prepared the people to live together in freedom as they welcomed the sojourning "other-than-us" stranger, strove for distributive justice so everyone had enough, no one too much, and stewarded the land as part of God's covenant call.


This Week

We've been discussing Revelation as a guidebook for living baptized amidst empire, violence, alienation, and death—in this year 2022's terminology, a map for resistance! Last week's Revelation text (here's the blog for Easter 5) celebrated a God so passionate about the world that God chose to live amidst creation as one of us in a body like ours formed out of the stuff of the earth. Today's second reading finally shows us the new creation as a place where garden and city, native-born and immigrant, past and future meet.

Today's text pictures a city literally descending from heaven, a place of safety that welcomes everyone. The city gates always are open; God's presence permeates and lights the city all the time, without the fearsome dangers night and darkness in an urban area often bring.


Parallel Scripture

In the Good Book we discover many almost parallel passages. Today's from Revelation has a similar feel to one in Ezekiel, but without a temple, "for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb." (21:22) After he lines out technical instructions for a restored temple, Ezekiel's vision expands to a preview of a New Jerusalem. By the way, Ezekiel was a priest in the holiness tradition of the J-temple, so he could not have imagined a Jerusalem without a temple.
from Ezekiel 47:1, 7, 9, 12

1Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. ... 7As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. ... 9Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. ... 12On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Easter 5C

Revelation 21:1-6

1Then 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. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God's peoples, and God will be with them; 4God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

5And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, 'Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

Easter is Fifty Days

Easter is a week of weeks: 7 times 7. The day of Pentecost, our third great Trinitarian festival that celebrates the Holy Spirit, is the fiftieth day of Easter. The fifty days of Easter take up about 1/7 of a calendar year. On his Liturgy website, Bosco Peters recently observed that one-seventh of a year fact makes the Easter season into its own Sabbath day, since each day of a week is a seventh of the entire week. (Why didn't I think of that?!)

Easter 4 blog from last week


Revelation

Today I wrote to the "vision" prompt for the weekly Five Minute Friday free write and riffed on the first four verses of today's passage.

For all seven Sundays of Easter in Luke's lectionary year C, the second reading comes from Revelation. Bookends in the Christian canon of scripture parallel:

• First Creation – Genesis 1 and 2: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a Garden

• New Creation – Revelation 21 and 22: Tree of Life, River of Life, and a City that grows out of a well-tended garden—the garden of resurrection?!

Much of Revelation is in the literary style of apocalyptic that uses symbolic language and physical symbols to uncover and reveal what's otherwise hidden. Other scriptural examples of apocalypse include sections of Ezekiel and Daniel, parts of Isaiah, and some passages in gospels of Mark and Luke.

Revelation was written down by an unknown author during the reign of Roman emperor Domitian and shows us how empires operate. It's not quite a road map, yet somewhat of a guide book for living baptized in the context of empire—whether imperial-style national governments or trans-national consumer entities that creep into almost every aspect of the planet's existence.


Today's Scripture

This chapter of Revelation finally starts to talk about the new creation that's a New Earth and also a New Heaven!

"The sea was no more" in Revelation 21:1 isn't about ecological disaster—scripture often makes oceans and seas code for untamed chaos. In the famous passage that opens Genesis 1 the Spirit of God hovers and breathes and speaks over the "deep," the unordered chaotic waters. In our baptism with Water and Word, God calls and enables us to tame, order, and limit the chaos of empire.

Today's poetry and much of both OT and NT are about a God so in love with Creation that God chooses to make a home on earth in the midst of creation, in a body formed from the stuff of creation—in Jesus of Nazareth, and now in us, Jesus' Spirit-filled, Spirit-led followers. Christianity is earthbound and embodied!

Revelation 21:3 where God "makes a home with mortals" uses the same word as in John 1:14 (the gospel according to John). Late Pastor Eugene Peterson translates it as God "pitching a tent" that allows God to journey step by step alongside us. We find a similar image in the Exodus desert account with God's presence in a cloud by day, fire by night, and in the ark of the covenant the people carried with them.


Concluding song, Peace In Our Time

…by Eddie Money, from The Sound Of Money

You and I know what love is worth
We're gonna build a heaven on earth
Gonna make love the bottom line
Gonna find peace in our time
We're gonna build a heaven here on earth
Turning water, water into wine making love the bottom line
Finding peace, peace in our time…

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Easter 4C

Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out [who are (still) coming out] of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Easter is Fifty Days / Good Shepherd Sunday

Easter is a week of weeks: 7 times 7. In all three lectionary years, Easter 4 always is Good Shepherd Sunday. That means the responsive psalm is…23. In this second reading from Revelation, the Lamb is the Shepherd; the Shepherd is the Lamb.


Revelation I

Last Sunday's Easter 3 blog

Genesis 1 and 2 are the first books in the biblical canon. A garden (not a city!) with a tree of life and a river of life comes with the original creation. Revelation is the last book in the bible. Revelation reveals the new creation with the garden of resurrection grown into a city, the "new Jerusalem" that like the old city of Jerusalem forms an axis mundi to connect earth and heaven. This city has life-giving trees and a river of life but unlike the old Jerusalem, it has no temple.

Long tradition says the yet unidentified author "John" wrote from the Roman prison island of Patmos in present-day Turkey, though recent scholarship suggests John could have been an itinerant preacher who made Patmos a regular stop on his circuit. Revelation's author very definitely is not John the Evangelist whose community brought us the 4th gospel. To help discern authorship we look at internal evidence such as grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, references to people, places, events.

We're previously mentioned apocalyptic means uncovering, unveiling, revealing—the book of Revelation even begins with the author telling us it's an apocalypse.


Revelation II

Revelation is not an indecipherable collection of strange sayings or predictions of events future to when John the Revelator recorded it. Just as with much literature and a lot of human conversations, it includes symbols, code words, and figures of speech.

Mainline Catholic and Protestant Christians have been very very cautious about public reading and interpretation of this book. Somewhere I read that Orthodox Churches don't include Revelation in their lectionary schedule of scripture readings. Continental European Reformers Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli famously did not believe Revelation belonged in the bible; John Calvin wrote a commentary on every NT book except Revelation. On that always there other hand, you've likely heard of the Left Behind and Late Great Planet Earth books that flooded best seller lists a few decades ago and still have currency and clout in certain circles.


Revelation III

Written during the reign of Roman Caesar Domitian, Revelation shows us how empires operate and provides subversive, counter cultural ways to resist. Rome was one in a long series of empires that continues globally through this year 2022. Revelation is a liturgical, political, counter-imperial text, a guidebook and a map for living out our baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection as an alternative to imperial violence and death.

"This is the Feast," the hymn of praise we sing in the liturgy many Sundays comes from Revelation 7:12. It brings us seven (the number of completion and perfection) words of praise to God and to the Lamb:

1. Blessing 2. glory 3. wisdom 4. thanksgiving 5. honor 6. power 7. might

These words make anti-imperial claims that only God is Lord. Not caesar. Not even the elected president or prime minister of any democratic nation. Not anything else or anyone else.

Although the hymn of praise in the liturgy announces, "This is the Feast of Victory for our God," Revelation 7:10 proclaims God's salvation and not victory. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza reminds us in that culture the concept of salvation (brought by a Savior, of course) was synonymous with the fullness of God's reign described in this passage as no hunger or thirst, no scorching heat (or icy cold), no sorrow or tears—essentially Shalom. She also points out how close this was to the supposed Pax Romana of the Roman emperor that instead dealt out cruelty, death, and devastation.


Today's Scripture

"After this" at this start of today's text beginning at verse 9 refers to verses 4-8 and their description of the 144,000 plus tribes of Israel along with people, ethnicities, nations, languages, cultures, everywhere that fulfill God's promise to Abram of faithful descendants greater in number than stars in the sky, more than grains of sand. Some of those faithful descendants include us, the church with Jesus Christ as ultimate authority under the cross of Calvary. Please note these people still stand solidly on earth and have not been raptured.

7:14 Those who have come out of the mega ordeal—in the Greek—still are coming out. The church lives out its baptismal call and identity in Jesus' death and resurrection alongside the pain and suffering in the world. God in the Spirit calls and enables us to be a counter-force to the deadly violence of empire.

7:15 The Shepherd-Lamb on the throne will shelter us with a dwelling, booth, tent, tabernacle. Same word as in John 1:14 that tells us the pre-existent word became flesh and lived in our midst, literally "pitched a tent," a portable structure (¿¡ramada?!) that would go with us wherever we journeyed. You can read more about God's presence in the Ark of the Covenant and the Festival of Booths / Succoth.