IMAGINEPosted: April 24, 2016
SLIDE 3: THE REVELATION TO JOHN
The Book of the Revelation to John almost was not included in the Bible. Many early church leaders were concerned that it’s wild imagery was subject to the kind of irresponsible interpretation that many modern fundamentalists apply to the text. The Left Behind series, millennial groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, that focus on the “second coming” confuse and distort the interpretation of the faith.
SLIDE 4: A LETTER TO SEVEN CHURCHES
The authorship of Revelation is uncertain and dates to the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian about 90 – 95 A.D. Sometimes called the Apocalypse the literary form of Revelation is a Letter intended to be circulated to seven churches in Asia Minor, today’s Turkey. Some of the churches were suffering persecution at the hands of Roman officials, and all of the congregations were being warned against assimilation and compromise with Roman culture.
SLIDE 5: FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE — DARK AGES
The author warns his readers against the corruption and oppression of Rome and seems to look ahead to the eventual downfall of the Empire. In many ways the author of Revelation prophetically foresaw that with the Fall of Rome the world as he knew it would come to an end. The collapse of the aqueducts and the sewer systems of the great cities of the Empire would lead to disease and plague. The breakdown of communications and transportation would result in food shortages and famine. The failure of the Pax Romana with the armies of Rome, and Roman justice keeping peace among the many nations led to a time of war, conquest and suffering that pushed Europe into the Dark Ages. The “prophecies” of Revelation then have already happened. They were a foreshadowing of the Fall of the Roman Empire, the world as John knew it, not a series of predictions of the end of our planet earth.
SLIDE 6: JESUS BECOMES A MONSTER
As a result progressive Christians need to keep reminding people who study the scriptures not to search for secret knowledge about the end of planet earth in the apocalypse. We also can warn people searching for faith of those who would use the “revelations” to try to scare people, so they can be manipulated. In the past evangelical preachers in particular have tried to employ the terrifying images of the Revelations into frightening people into getting “saved.” The problem with this approach to religion is it is manipulative and promotes a culture of violence. “God is going to get you if you don’t watch out.” Rather than the messenger of love and forgiveness, Jesus becomes a monster. “Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”
SLIDE 7: VIOLENT FRIGHTENING IMAGES USE TO MANIPULATE
Using violent and frightening images of a fantasy future in order to manipulate people is unethical and has been used for centuries. Some branches of Christian faith still focus their primary message around the “return of Jesus:” Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, the Left Behind Series Enthusiasts. In 2011 Harold Camping of American Family Radio was predicting the end of the world on May 21st of 2011. Many of his followers sold their possessions expecting to be raptured, on the predicted date. When May 21st came and went, Camping claimed he had miscalculated the time and announce a new date of October 21st 2011. When Jesus failed to show up again, Camping went into seclusion.
SLIDE 8: MAYAN CALENDAR HOAX
We have even seen secularized versions of the end of the world fantasy in the December, 21 2012 Mayan Calendar hoax. Remember that? Supposedly the Mayan Calendar pointed to the end of the world, and some people were motivate to “prepare for the end!” The survivalist movement caters to this kind of paranoid fantasy that the end is coming soon.
SLIDE 9: SURVIVALIST MENTALITY
About a month ago I tuned into Rush Limbaugh to see what was going on in that part of “political never-never land.” And Rush didn’t really have much to say, but what drew my attention was one of the advertisers on his program. The commercial began, “In case of social disorder and food disruptions your grocery store only has a 3 day supply of food. If interruptions to our food supply should break out, you don’t want to be fighting it out with others for the food your family needs. Our product has a 25 year shelf life guaranteed to help you keep your family safe no matter what the disruption.” The kind of paranoia that drives last days philosophy and theology comes in many different forms and styles.
SLIDE 10: GOD IS NOT GOING TO GET US
So, given that the Revelation to John is part of the Bible, what we do with it? First, we need to keep the book in its historical context. The author had a vision of the very real consequences that would accompany the fall of the Roman Empire. Second, we need to stand opposed to preachers who would abuse the text by using its images to frighten and manipulate the gullible. Third, we must reject all efforts to employ Revelation in creating a culture of violence. It is not God’s will to destroy the earth. God is not going to get us, if we don’t watch out. Now if we continue down the road of global warming willy nilly, then Miami may go underwater, but that is natural and logical consequences not God’s punishment for a whole list of sexual, political and social sins.
SLIDE 11: IMAGINE
So can we draw anything positive from the Revelation to John? The title of this sermon drawn from the lectionary offers us a clue — “Imagine.” Imagine a world at peace. Imagine a world where adequate health care is the right of every citizen. Imagine a world where food is shared and everyone has enough to eat, unlike our friends who are stock piling freeze dried food with a 25 year shelf life. Imagine a world where racism has been healed. Imagine a world without hate crimes. Imagine a new heaven and a new earth.
SLIDE 12: NEIGHBORS IN NEED
But then let’s do more than imagine. For several years the United Church of Christ Neighbors in Need Offering has used the theme “Imagine.” Imagine a new world where children are taught to read, and literacy becomes a priority for our nation. Imagine a new world where native American congregations of the United Church of Christ help to bring justice and development to our native American congregations like June Boutwell’s friends Byron and Toni Buffalo, who have picked up where Ray and Shirley Berry left off on the Lakota Sioux Reservation. Imagine a new world where our Neighbor’s in Need Offerings support our United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries to address the failures of Congress to meet the needs of our poor, the elderly, and children.
SLIDE 13: WHAT PROJECT FOR UNITED CHURCH?
Not only does God inspire us to imagine a new world of peace and justice, but then God summons us to help bring that vision into reality in the present. The Projects of the Neighbors In Need Offering come from individual congregations to make a real difference in their local communities. What justice issue in our community might God inspire us to seek a grant from Neighbors In Need to address? Homeless youth? Transgendered teens? Support for families who are in mental health crisis? Legal help for the indigent? Maybe employing our labyrinth for community healing? What unique contribution might the United Church of Huntsville make to imagining a new and better world? Whatever mission we might decide to support and enhance, it can’t be the Pastor’s project. This is something our congregation as a whole would have to embrace, because the sustaining enthusiasm and willingness to see it through would have to arise out of and be sustained by our community of faith.
SLIDE 14: A NEW WORLD
Imagine a world at peace. Imagine a world where adequate health care is the right of every citizen. Imagine a world where food is shared and everyone has enough to eat. Imagine a world where racism has been healed. Imagine a world without hate crimes. Imagine a New Heaven and New Earth. Amen.