For the past several weeks we have been talking about our stewardship campaign—the “Saint’s Alive” program. We have seen and heard our narrative budget and how and who it impacts— the various ministries we aim to implement as a church and the people we aim to serve.
I hope and pray it has been informative, helpful, and inspiring. I hope and pray you have come to understand the gifts you give to the church are put toward good and faithful endeavors—ministries, programs, events, people and efforts that have a meaningful intent—intent that has as its core the Good News of Jesus Christ. Because whether we are explicit about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ—through things like Worship, Music, Christian Education, Youth Group, Drama, Guilds, and Outreach efforts…Or whether we are implicit about sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ—through things like supporting the Scouting programs that meet at our building; AA, or Ice Cream X-treme or Foruth of July Pancake Breakfast or Trunk or Treat where we never preach or proselytize but simply hope folks get a sense of goodness, generosity, and community solidarity— that is what we are doing: sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
We are sharing Good News in a world that is too often devoid of good news and is instead flooded with bad news, heart breaking news, soul crushing news because that is the world we live in today. A world filled with death. A world flooded with tears.
That was the same kind of world of the people John was addressing when he wrote the book of Revelation. The first audience for Revelation was the early church, which was suffering under the cruel domination of Roman rule. The message for them, and subsequently for us, is one of hope, looking ahead toward God’s ultimate victory over evil—a day where God will create a new heaven and a new earth, where death will be no more, suffering and pain will be vanquished, and every tear will be wiped away.
In the book of Revelation, John is very intentionally casting a vision of hope.
It is a vision for the people, so they can live faithfully toward that day of God’s promise.
It is a vision for the church so that the church rises up and becomes the catalyst that casts a vision of hope for the rest of the world.
John was writing at a time of a great ordeal of bitter experiences. There was division among those in power who were using it for personal gain. There was oppression, there was quarreling, and there was war—particularly the Jerusalem war in A.D. 66. John knew the people needed a vision of hope for better days. And so he gave it to the people, to the church, so that they and it could further this vision of hope, and offer the people an alternative perspective to what they were experiencing.
And today we can read this same text and apply it to the bitter experiences of our own time, because today we find ourselves living in a world of a great ordeal filled with bitter experiences. And we are in need of an alternative perspective.
But to get it we need to know what keeps it from us.
We live in a world where we have in our heads the idea of the very real possibility that when we go to a mall, or a movie, or a night club someone with a gun might show up and start shooting.
We live with the idea of the very real possibility that when we send our children or grandchildren to school, someone with a gun might show up and start shooting.
We live with the idea of the very real possibility that when we come to church—for worship or bible study or what have you—someone with a gun might show up and start shooting.
But it’s not just limited to these very real possibilities.
We live with the idea of the very real possibility that someone might drive a truck down a busy bike path, or a closed off street during a holiday celebration, or through a crowd of people.
We live with the idea of the very real possibility that when we drive down the road, someone will take offense to our driving style and start an altercation because of such.
But none of those very real possibilities—or even ones like them—are our biggest concern.
Our biggest concern isn’t even the ongoing threat and worry of terrorist attack or nuclear war.
Or biggest concern isn’t disease; it isn’t lack of bipartisan cooperation; it isn’t who is, or who isn’t the Commander in Chief. It isn’t socialism, recession, red states and blue states, or even neo-nazi white-supremacists.
Yes, all those things are concerns, and I dare not diminish the fact that they are. But we will never be able to deal with these concerns properly, effectively, and faithfully until we acknowledge and address that the single biggest issue we are plagued by, day in and day out, that controls our thoughts and actions, our very way of life is…Fear.
Fear is all around us. Fear lingers in every corner of our thoughts. Fear fuels our actions.
Fear does this, even without us realizing it, because fear is a powerful force in our world today.
Fear has become the number one tool for advancing agendas, for making arguments, for crafting laws, for selling products, for determining how we live life.
Yes, we can make the case that fear has its benefits. Without it we wouldn’t buckle our seatbelts or protect our online identity and the like.
But let fear go unchecked, let fear control our lives and fear does something far worse than protect us. Fear destroys hope.
John knew this. And it’s why he wrote the book of Revelation.
When writing the book of Revelation, John knew the fears of the people, of the church. He knew they were real and valid. But John further knew that God was at work to make all things new. John knew, because of his faith, that God would fulfill the promise God made. This is why John wrote Revelation—to address the pessimism and fear of that first century ordeal and its bitter experiences, and cast a vision of brightness, of Good News, of hope.
And his vision was of all people coming together. His vision was of unity, despite differences. He vision was of coming through that great ordeal faithfully, where all people… “will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life ….”
John casts a vision where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Yes, this is easier said than done. It is easy to cast a vision. It’s not so easy to live it.
Which means if this passage is to fit into our existence, it has to be read as belonging to some future we cannot see and can only, like John, envision.
It further means we must live out this vision—even with the most slender of threads, those of promise and hope—and become a living embodiment of the vision.
And we do this—we live out and embody this cast vision—when we are the Church.
The Church is meant to be a place of hope. The Church is meant to be the one place where anyone can go and find a refuge from the fear filled hopelessness that surely comes to all our lives.
But to do so, the Church must be more than just a building.
The Church must be the people who show up and make the ministries, programs, events possible.
The Church must be the body of Christ, made up of those who live as those who make up the body of Christ, and cast a vision of hope in hopeless times.
It is as the saying goes… “Don’t just go to church, be the church.”
And every time we show up at church…
Every time we worship as church…
Every time we offer our time and energy to the church…
And yes, every time we give to the church…
We are saying, “I choose not to live in fear. I believe God is at work to make all things new. I believe God will wipe away every tear. I believe that even though this world seems determined to destroy itself, God has not given up, and neither will I.”
That is a vision of hope. That is a life of faith. And it is what our world today desperately needs.
John casts a vision of hope that shows better days are surely coming, but they do not come with lives lived in fear. They come with lives lived in faith. And lives lived in faith, cast a vision of hope.
So may we, as individuals, as a church, may we, every day, and in every way, live lives of faith and cast this vision of hope. And may it begin, again, today. Amen.