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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
May 08 2022
Grace and peace to you from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s pretty rare anymore that things like school shootings and incidents of violence shock us. Which should be shocking in and of itself. And with so many things happening seemingly in rapid succession, it feels like we’re praying – and I mean really praying – that things don’t get worse. And as we pray that, it feels like we’re collectively holding our breath and waiting for whatever might be next.
In times like this, it’s challenging to be hopeful and continue to do the things we’re called to do as Christians – like pray and hold onto hope. But when we’re faced with that challenge, we remember that the Bible begins and ends with life. That God’s desire and promise for us is life. And the shelter of that promise is present throughout the history of God’s people – even in the book of Revelation.
Many people are scared of the book of Revelation because of its violent images, and they interpret those images to be a prediction of what is to come. But the people for whom it was written found great comfort in it, and it became a lifeline for them.
It was written when the Christians in what is now present-day Turkey were being persecuted for refusing to worship the Roman emperors. Some left the church rather than continue to be persecuted. And some became martyrs when they were executed for their faith.
The book as a whole points the people to a God who keeps promises, and who ensures justice for people who are exploited, and judgment against their oppressors. It’s about a God who creates the world and sets it right again. A God in whom we can trust on our worst days as much as we can on our best days.
And the part we read today helped prepare the community to persevere in its witness about the good news of Jesus, even in the midst of being afraid of what might happen next. And I want to be clear, nowhere does it say that their suffering was God’s will, because it wasn’t.
Their experience is described as an “ordeal.” But another word that’s sometimes used is “tribulation,” and it isn’t one to be used lightly. It literally means “grinding” and it comes from the Latin word for a threshing sledge, a piece of wood with stones embedded in it. And it was used to beat the stems and husks of grains.
The entire vision in this reading was for a people who strived to be faithful to God, but who were ground down by life. It’s a vision of hope and promise in a world where fear and one crisis after another kept assaulting them.
In this vision grief, pain, and hopelessness are gone – and death has been defeated. It didn’t bring an end to their persecution, but it did remind them that Jesus was with them in the midst of it, and that God both desired and promised life for them – and that there was shelter for them in that promise as they lived.
It gave them something to hold onto and hope for when everything else was falling down around them. One author describes it as being like salve on a wound. It’s a vision of what will be. And it’s a vision that invites the people to imagine a future with God.
Living here in the U.S., very few of us have experienced any persecution for our faith. But we know that being people of God doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from the challenges of life.
We know what it’s like to feel ground down by life. We know what it’s like to be afraid, and experience pain, and feel helpless and even hopeless. And even though we know that any suffering we might experience isn’t – is not – God’s will or desire for us, it doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
But this image in Revelation is for us, too. Jesus is present in our lives, too. And God desires and promises life for us. And no matter what’s going on, there’s shelter for us in that promise. Jesus shelters us from whatever pain we might be going through.
In the vision in the reading, one of the elders asks, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” And in the reading, they’re the people from the Christian community who endured persecution. Their lives weren’t easy.
But I think it’s fair to say that each of us goes through an ordeal or tribulation of sorts in our lives, sometimes more than one. And sometimes, for some people, life itself is an ordeal.
Whether it’s in the news or in our personal lives, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t hear about someone causing pain or someone in pain. Or a situation that causes fear and makes us anxious about what might be next.
This reading, this vision, is for all of us.
The shelter that Jesus gives us, the shelter that is Jesus, doesn’t mean that we never get hurt or never have to face challenges. It does mean that he’s in that pain and those challenges with us, helping us find our way through.
“Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” They are us.
They are every child who has been victimized by school shootings or other forms of violence. They are the families who grieve the ones that have died.
They are everyone that has ever lived under the threat of war, or has endured the violence of it.
They are every person that has ever agonized over the decision of whether to have an abortion.
They are the people in the LGBTQ+ community who have been rejected and told that they don’t have value because of who they are and who they love.
They are the people who live with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and other mental health diagnoses and have been judged as weak and broken. They are their caregivers who love them and walk alongside them every day.
They are the people who sit at the kitchen table with their paycheck in one hand and a stack of bills in the other, praying that the ends will meet.
They are the people who live with addiction; who have survived abuse. They are the people who, at best, have complicated relationships with their family. They are the people who live without having their deepest dreams fulfilled.
In this season of Easter, the season of resurrection and new life, it can sometimes be hard to see life, and hope for it with everything that goes on. But this vision reminds us that, in Christ, hardship and condemnation and violence and death will never be the end of the story.
The shelter that Jesus gives us, the shelter that is Jesus, doesn’t mean that we’ll never get hurt or never have to face challenges. It does mean that he’s in it with us, helping us find our way through. Helping us imagine a future with God.
Reminding us that God both desires and promises life for us. And that no matter what happens to us, there’s shelter for us in that promise. Alleluia! Amen.