Oh, a storm is threat'ning
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away.
So begins “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones – a classic Vietnam era song that reminded us that war is just a shot a way and love is as close as a kiss.
Shelter is a thing that most of us take for granted, but the word itself implies vulnerability. On a basic level we seek shelter from the elements. On a deeper level, perhaps a primal level, shelter means protection from harm. Whether it be from bombs or abuse, seeking shelter is a basic survival instinct.
Talking about hospitality, particularly hospitality from a Biblical perspective, flips the conversation from seeking shelter to offering shelter. Now we can talk about the metaphor of safe spaces and relationships of care, but the scriptures are pretty clear that sheltering others is about offering a safe place to live.
In fact the Prophet Isaiah talks about shelter as a basic human right and describes offering it to someone as an act of worship. The Letter to the Hebrews describes hospitality to strangers as a means of grace, and in Mathew’s Gospel, Jesus describes our care for the needy as an indicator of our separation from or communion with God.
Well, that just got weird. Hearing these bizarre and fantastic visions it is hard to imagine them as real, and yet it seems equally as hard for some of us to try to understand them in any other way. Repeatedly throughout Western history these visions have influenced literature and art as we have attempted to wrestle with these powerful images. Yet we truly do not know if these writings were coded messages, or an actual dream, or even the result of some medicinal herb, mushroom or flower!
And even though Martin Luther only agreed to include John’s Revelation in the Bible as a tool to critique the Roman Catholic Church – and John Calvin didn’t even include it in his commentaries – the church has kept these writings in the canon of scripture for centuries.
So, I maintain the position that the Revelation of John at Patmos was an expression of faith in Jesus as God’s self-revelation. And, I want to remind you what we’ve been focusing on over the last few weeks.
We are now on our third week in a sermon series on the lectionary readings from the Book of Revelation. We began with the idea that Jesus is God’s self revelation, and this book is a particular expression of hope for a particular people who believe in Jesus as the One who revealed the heart of God. Because the language of this book is symbolic it can offer us a word of hope for our time as well. So, people of God, listen to what the Spirit is teaching us today through this reading from Revelation7:9-17.
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.”
As we move from Easter to Pentecost – the celebration of the unleashing of God’s Holy Spirit into the world through the church – we are working our way through the book of the Revelation of John. Last week we talked about this book as a particular description of the way in which God has revealed, and continues to reveal, God’s self through the person, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
And so, we have some natural questions that go along with these readings. Who was John, and what in the world was he talking about might be some good places to start. Most scholars believe that John was a Jewish follower of Jesus who wrote about God’s self-revelation about 60 years or so after the ministry of Jesus.
His writing style reflects the tradition of prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel, but it may have been a fairly common style for his day. He wrote primarily to Roman Christians that were being hunted for sport and abused terribly. This book is in the style of writings that told of a personal encounter with God and with heavenly beings.
Last week we talked about the importance of understanding God as the source of our beginning and the purpose that drives us forward. God is the alpha and the omega. God is the ground of all being, and all that we do must be rooted in God’s love for it to last.
Today is the day that the church breathes a collective sigh after the rigor of Lent and the hospitality of Easter. The lilies are still with us, but they beg to be taken by anyone who will have them. The extra family members that took up the spaces of those members visiting their own families in other congregations have returned to their homes. Hopefully some who came for the pageantry of Easter might have returned to see if the Spirit of God they experienced is more than an idle tale.
And we who follow Christ must ask ourselves if anything has changed since Easter. That question is the essential struggle of the Book of the Revelation of John. The resurrection was not in question – not for those who followed Jesus and called him the messiah. The divinity of Jesus was not a particular concern, either. For John’s generation of followers of the way of Jesus, particularly those who were Jewish or who were considered “God-fearing” people, the essential question was more like “so what?” than “is it real?”
When I say, “So what?” I mean, “So, what does that mean, and how does it impact my life?” As I said before, it’s important to understand that this book was written to interpret the events of a particular time and place. I realize that may be a little different from what you have heard in the past, and I admit that I had some fear approaching this text for that very reason.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” he said. “He is not here. He is risen.” Out of all of the liturgically correct responses we hold dear in the church, I have to say that “He is risen indeed!” is one of my favorites. The resurrection of Jesus is so very basic and fundamental to our proclamation about God, and yet for many it seems to be an “idle tale.”
It seems that the more we know about scientific processes and discoveries, the greater claim we want to make on our ability to understand the mysteries of the universe. The unknown is simply the “not known yet.” Scientific curiosity is certainly a good thing, but it can at times become a sticking point for those who do not believe what they cannot observe. Likewise, the more we know about the human body and disease and metabolic processes, the more impossible it seems that the resurrection of Jesus could have ever occurred.
Of course, this point has been argued from the very beginning – well before the development of the scientific method. One of the earliest conflicts for followers of Jesus was about his humanity versus his divinity. How could it be otherwise when even Peter tells the centurion, Cornelius, that Jesus only appeared to certain witnesses? Wouldn’t you think that God would have wanted more people to have seen this miracle?
Today is an exciting day in the life of our congregation, as we give thanks to God for the life of Al Pheiffur (and his twin brother Elmer). Al has become what a friend of mine once told me that he aspired to become – a centenarian! Thinking about all that Al has lived through is a little overwhelming, and I imagine there are some parts that he may wish to forget just as there are many memories to cherish and hold dear.
One thing that Al can certainly teach us is that life is full of changing priorities. What matters to a boy of 10 is not the same as that of a man of 22. Likewise the things matter to a woman of 22 are not the same as a woman of 65. All of us, in turn, are motivated by different passions and priorities. Sometimes we have so many tugging at us that we may not even know what it is that matters most other than hitting the snooze alarm – one more time.
Certainly we all have goals and responsibilities – or at least obligations – that pull us out of bed in the morning. But have you stopped recently to consider what it is that truly motivates you? What is the fire in your bones that you need to let out lest it consume you?
“Is love ever wasted?” That question was asked in a discussion about this week’s texts on the Pulpit Fiction podcast. It was asked in relation to the parable of the prodigal son, but I think it is an important interpretive idea for all of our readings today. Each passage celebrates the abundance of God’s providence in different ways, and at the core of it all is a celebration of God’s never failing love for us. Of course, when we see ourselves as the recipients of grace and mercy we typically do not think of God’s love as having been wasted. How could we?
Mind Blown [poof] – that’s what we sometimes say when we hear or see something that changes the way we understand the world around us. Marketing companies like to use this phrase to tell you that they have the answer that you’ve just never thought of, and it is available for low monthly installments and terrible interest rates.
So, what are you getting for Lent? That’s kind of a weird question, isn’t it? Normally we think of giving something up for Lent. You might even think of that as a Roman Catholic thing to do. Certainly it comes from their tradition and history, which is also our tradition and history. Some protestants may think that it is somewhat of a “works righteousness” kind of thing to do. Or maybe it is, like in the movie Chocolat, an unreasonable measure of control that isn’t really connected with kindness or compassion.
All of these things may be true, but they aren’t the whole story. First off, giving up something for Lent is a way that we can participate in something as the church catholic – meaning all who follow Jesus. And while some may think of giving things up as earning bonus points or sky miles, it can also be understood as a type of Spring Cleaning for your soul.