Sermons from St Faith's     


Fred Nye, May 12th, 2013

Everybody’s goin’ to have religion and glory!

‘You take the Holy Bible in the back of the book, the book of Revelation is the place you look, if you understand it and you can if you try, the Lord is a-comin from his throne on high! A-readin’ in the Bible all the things he said, he said he’s coming back again to raise the dead, are you goin’ to be among the chosen few, will you make it through?’

I’m indebted to the great Pat Boone for that quote from his 1958 best-selling disc ‘Wonderful Time Up There’, and I’m sorry I haven’t got the rock band backing to go with it! But perhaps I can give you a couple more gems from his lyrics, just to  give you the flavour of the theology – ‘Goin’ down the valley goin’ one by one, we’re  gonna be rewarded for the thing’s we’ve done, how you gonna  feel about the things you’ll say, on that Judgement Day?’  It’s a sort of Country Gospel version of the book of Revelation: as we rock and jive down that valley one by one, none of us are going to escape the eternal consequences of our past actions – ‘Brother there’s a reckonin’ comin’ in the mornin’, better get ready ‘cause I’m givin you the warnin’!

Revelation, the last book in the bible, was written to tell us something about God’s hidden nature and purposes, and the Greek word for revelation is ‘apocalypse’ which means ‘unveiling’. But it is a difficult book to read, full of terrifying  visions of battles between good and evil; a book of wild imaginings, of many-headed beasts, of dragons and angels, of seas of blood, blazing stars, earthquakes and plagues.  And although much of the symbolism’s interpretation was lost to us centuries ago, that hasn’t stopped a small army of doomsday prophets and conspiracy theorists from investing the book with all sorts of arcane meanings, many of them highly questionable.

But for me the book of Revelation has one great message that is easy to understand: as it draws to a close it points us to the future with a vision of all things made new, a new earth and even a new heaven, and of the victorious Christ returning to claim his own. This picture of Our Lord’s imminent return is also what gave St. Paul his sense of urgency in his mission to the Gentiles. Even so, I sometimes wonder how helpful this vision of the Second Coming of Christ is for us today. It all seems such a long way off, and set against this grand and remote canvas our own immediate picture looks a lot smaller and darker. The church in the West often feels vulnerable and uncertain of its future, damaged by scandal, threatened by secularism, split from within, and, according your own particular viewpoint, either held back by tradition or threatened by liberalism. And sometimes there is the nagging doubt – is it all our fault?  Beyond the church there lie the prospect of other apocalyptic catastrophes - of financial meltdown, of climate change, of worldwide food shortages and social upheaval, and of the resurgence of nuclear weapons. No wonder people are anxious about the world to come.

But as Christians we are constantly going ‘back to the future’, because the death and resurrection of Our Lord in history gives us meaning and motivation for life today, and for all the uncertainties that lie ahead.  Christ is the same, and his love for us is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yet sometimes I just don’t see it, sometimes perhaps we all fail to see it. As we get older, although we may have some regrets about the past, it can seem a lot safer and more comfortable than either the present or the future. Equally, the fear that we cannot change things, and that the world’s mess will just have to be cleaned up by Christ at some future second coming, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way we end up with a sort of paralysis, and risk losing the redemption of the present moment. ’All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing’. We are after all the Easter people, and we believe in life before death.

Now here I have to declare an interest (if that is what it is called). I was brought up as a child in the tradition of the Catholic Apostolic church, a small Christian sect which held a firm belief in the imminent Second Coming of Christ. So I’ve always felt that the essence of the Christian life is a sort of watchful, yearning expectancy. Times were hard after the war and there was much anxiety about the future. I remember my dear father working out the family accounts in a big red-bound ledger every week and worrying about how he was to pay his 10% tithe to the church. Cynically you could say that the money was a sort of entry fee to heaven, but maybe it was more like a sacrificial pledge to the future, God’s future. Of course, sects like that can promote an awful complacent elitism: the conviction that those in the club, the ‘chosen few’ will be the only ones who are going to ‘make it through’ to salvation. Worse still, this sort of millenial fatalism can produce an appalling, cruel indifference to the world and its people. Back in 1993 David Koresh’s Branch Davidian community in Waco, Texas, used the book of Revelation to justify beliefs and practices that lead to suffering, death and destruction, in a catastrophic fire.

And yet the book of Revelation still speaks of the way in which Christ makes all things new. It was written to encourage Christians suffering persecution, probably under the rule of the emperor Domitian in the first century AD. In the second half of the 20th century the text was used by black South Africans in their struggle against apartheid: the hope and promise of a transformed world sustained them among the turmoil and disappointments of those dark days. Father Simon tells me that the link was made even more strongly by the liberation theologians in Latin America.  Our situation, thank God, is very different. But perhaps our need to experience the Risen Christ going before us is much the same. He meets us afresh every day, in our need to renew our relationships with one another, in the new life he is longing to breathe into our church communities at St. Faith’s and St. Mary’s, in the concern that he has for the future of our young people locally, and in his desire for the coming of the Kingdom, and of peace and justice for the whole world.

The book of Revelation doesn’t contain any concealed messages which will ensure our salvation when the world comes to an end. But Our Lord’s promise to make all things new liberates us from fear of the future and sets us free to do his will in the here and now.  It is if you like, the sanctification of uncertainty. If we will only watch and wait, Christ the alpha and omega, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, the one who makes all things new, will  come to take us by the hand and walk with us into the future, his future.  He says to us ‘Surely I come quickly’. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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