Revelation 1:1-8; 22:6-21
Hymn # 8 Eternal Father, Strong to Save
Prayer of Invocation
O gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you, eyes to behold you, ears to listen for your Word, a heart to love you, and a life to proclaim you, through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Call to Confession
In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!
Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, we confess how hard it is to be your people. You have called us to be the church, to continue the mission of Jesus Christ to our lonely and confused world. Yet we acknowledge we are more apathetic than active, isolated than involved, callous than compassionate, obstinate than obedient, legalistic than loving. Gracious Lord, have mercy upon us and forgive our sins.
Remove the obstacles preventing us from being your representatives to a broken world. Awaken our hearts to the promised gift of your indwelling Spirit. This we pray in Jesus’ powerful name. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah said: “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.” Know that we are forgiven.
Passing of the Peace
Prayer for Illumination
Lord God, let the words of your servant’s mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. Through Christ. Amen.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants[d] what must soon take place.”
7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant[e] with you and your comrades[f] the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
10 And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
12 “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes,[g] so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
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.”
17 The 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.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19 if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
Note: This sermon is a collaborative effort; it is the work of the Rev. Alan Olson (Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Freehold, NJ), the Rev. Charissa Howe (Pastor, Emsworth UP Church and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church), and the Rev. Rebecca DePoe (Pastor, Glenshaw Valley Presbyterian Church and Mt. Nebo United Presbyterian Church).
Sermon: Eve of Destruction (The Alpha and the Omega)
Alan: Good morning. The title of our sermon this morning is borrowed from a famous—or infamous—protest song from 1965. The version that most people know was recorded by Barry McGuire and it spoke about a lot of social turmoil in the United States in the 1960s. It was a polarizing song—if you were alive at the time, you either loved it or you hated it—there was no in between. Whether you loved it or hated it, the refrain is unforgettable: “You tell me, over and over again, my friend, how you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”
“Eve of Destruction” was a big hit and it was despised at exactly the same time. Some people hated it so much, they wrote and recorded counter-protest songs, responses to “Eve of Destruction.” A typical response was “A Song of Hope” by the Back Porch Majority. It was happy, peppy, folky song and its refrain said, “I tell you over and over and over again, we’re gonna make it, if we try!”
I don’t know how “A Song of Hope” sounded in 1965, but it sounds really hokey and corny now. It sounds like it was written by someone who wasn’t paying attention to what was going on in the world. On the other hand, “Eve of Destruction” sounds hokey and bombastic to me. The song doesn’t make for good poetry and, well, it’s been 55 years since the song was released and the world hasn’t ended. Yet. Still, it’s memorable.
I think the Book of Revelation is polarizing in much the same way as the song “Eve of Destruction” was. A few people really love Revelation. The rest of us, not so much. Some are scared off by the nightmarish visions. Many more are confused and have trouble figuring out what the writer, John of Patmos, is trying to say. I have avoided preaching on Revelation in my five years in ministry. Frankly, I didn’t want to preach a sermon on sorcerers, fornicators, and idolaters. Verses like that are usually used to condemn people. Such verses let the pastor condemn his or her enemies, claiming that they are God’s enemies. I don’t want to go there.
But the weird and oddly-specific prophecies seem to speak into our troubled times. In the last couple months, more than person has asked me, “Pastor, do you think all this stuff that’s going on in our world was predicted in Revelation?” My friends Rebecca and Charissa have also been hearing this question. So, we decided that we needed to spend some more time with Revelation. We saw a teachable moment, because the images in Revelation won’t let us go. And the prophecies are relevant to our time—as they are to all times.
The short answer is, no, Revelation is not a code to be unraveled. It doesn’t point to any hidden conclusions or secret codes. Revelation does contain prophecy that points us toward a faithful response to God’s love in a broken world.
Charissa: Sometimes, Alan drives me nuts on our podcast when he connects everything to a song title. I roll my eyes every time now. And yet. . . this week. . . I can’t get R.E.M.’s “End of the World as We Know It” out of my head. Well played, Alan. Now I have two songs stuck in my head.
Revelation is such a complicated book that just the second word of it is problematic. The first word, “the,” isn’t actually used in the Greek. So technically, the first word of the text is problematic. No wonder this is such a hard book to get a handle on. We can’t even get past the first word without things getting murky.
Here’s what’s murky about it: The way we use the word: ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypse in English) is very different than the scriptural use. When we think “apocalypse,” many of our minds go to wars and destruction and death and zombies. And that is not at all what John of Patmos is doing. John is not predicting the end of the world.
Most of our modern translations of the text use the word “Revelation”—which is where the book got its title—to try to clear up this confusion, but the cat is all the way out of the bag either way and shoving cats back in bags never goes well. (Don’t ask me how I know; I’m not ready to talk about it.)
Anyway, “apocalypse” does not mean “end of the world”. At no point in the book of Revelation does our dear saint, John, say “this is how the world ends.” What he says is “this is the end of the world as we know it.”
The Bible does not talk about the end of the world. It never does. There is no talk about the whole thing exploding or imploding or going poof. It talks so much, though, about the end of the way things are.
It’s well documented that among the three preachers you’re getting the next few weeks of the series that I’m the language nerd. So, here’s another Greek lesson. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. (Beta is the second. . . alphabeta. . . ABCs.) Omega is the last letter. Jesus is the beginning and the end. The end of the beginning, the beginning of the end, everything from beginning to end and back again all at once.
The Bible doesn’t tell us the world is going to end. It tells us that the way we know the world now will end. It’s the end of the world as we know it.
If apocalypse doesn’t mean “end of the world,” what DOES it mean? It just means, uncover or reveal. But it doesn’t mean necessarily a revealing of the end of times or even of the future. There is no sense of prediction associated with this word at all ever in the Greek. It’s a revealing of the truth. It’s a time when we are opened up, unburdened, unblinded from the things that are holding us back from seeing things in a new way. And it’s something that is done to us, not by us. Think about the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. That was a revelation—an apocalypse.
I know that I am not the only person in the world right now who feels like we are seeing the end of the world as we know it. And we sorta are. This isn’t the end of the world. But we are at a time when so many things are being brought to light by this pandemic that we can’t possibly go back to how things were. The world will and should come out of this different. The pandemic is an apocalypse—it’s forcing us to see things in new ways. It’s bringing to light how much we need to slow down. It’s forcing us to retool church—something that the American church has been in desperate need of for decades. It’s brought to light the inequities of systemic poverty and structural racism that we prefer to avoid confronting when possible. So many things are being revealed—good and bad right now.
So, yeah. We’re living in an apocalyptic time. Not in the “it’s all ending, Jesus is coming back with a trumpet blast tomorrow” way. But in the “Paul on the road to Damascus in need of a serious conversion” way.
Take a deep breath—that doesn’t mean we’re headed to Hell in a handbasket or that halfway through this sermon, Rebecca and Alan and I are gonna just be piles of clothes on the ground. Apocalypse isn’t all bad.
Rebecca: As I read through our text this week, I think the good news it offers us is that revelation is ultimately a book about Jesus. About who Jesus is, about how Jesus relates to creation, and about how we are to respond to Jesus’ action in our own lives. Revelation is not about how to predict when the world is going to end. We did not choose to preach on this text this summer because we think the coronavirus pandemic is a sign of the end of the world. Instead we think that Revelation is a profoundly hopeful book. It is a book that bears witness, though albeit strange signs and metaphors, to God’s sovereignty over all of creation.
Revelation teaches us that God, made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, is in absolute control of all things. While we will face trials and tribulations, God will ultimately be victorious. God is actively working to restore creation to its intended glory. Because of God’s love for all of humanity, God has the first, and God has the final, say in all of creation. We hope that when life feels overwhelming this summer, we too can find comfort in God’s sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty.
If the good news of Revelation is that God is in absolute control of all things, this gives us great freedom to be flexible in the midst of trials and tribulations. One area where we find ourselves being flexible right now is in the way we “do church.” My small churches have resumed in-person worship. Alan’s church is experimenting with a hybrid model of virtual and outdoor worship services. Charissa’s churches are continuing to meet virtually. Freed from the constraints of the way we’ve always done things, the three of us are able to collaborate to breathe new life into our virtual worship services. We each bring different gifts to the table. Alan challenges us to look at the text in new ways. Charissa produces our videos. I make sure that we meet regularly and get our information to each other on time.
This pandemic has taught us that the church isn’t the building. But the church is her people supporting one another in whatever is going on in the world around them. As we prepare to go from this place, I encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on what it means for God to be in control of your life. Here is what I found when during my reflection time: If God is in control, then…
1. I can be flexible with how I worship.
2. I can embrace opportunities for virtual connection and collaboration.
3. I can clarify essentials routines and rituals from inessentials.
4. I can be open to the movement of the Spirit in my life and community.
5. I can let go of the things that exist outside of my control.
Friends, Charissa, Alan and I are excited to collaborate with you this summer as we do a deep dive into Revelation. We hope that you will follow along with the Revelation reading plans I have (printed in the back of the sanctuary/delivered electronically). If you have questions about what you’ve read, we encourage you to bring your questions with you to Thursday afternoon Bible Study. We’re looking forward to learning what Revelation has to teach us during this strange and unique moment in our history.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
Alan: Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 450 Be Thou My Vision
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 1 Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, remember that the truth of God’s love is always being revealed to us. Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!