Posts Tagged ‘triumph’

Do your worst. I still love you.

April 15, 2017

Easter – 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

Marian Free

In the name of God who no matter what we do never, ever gives up on us. Amen.

I can still remember the television footage of the moment when the father of Scott Rush first met his son in the prison in Bali. Scott you will recall had been arrested with eight others for attempting to bring a 1.3 kg of heroin into Australia. I imagine that at the moment of Scott’s arrest his parent’s lives will have been completely turned upside down. Their son who had had the advantages of a comfortable upbringing and had attended a good private secondary school was now facing a lengthy jail term, if not death, in a country whose culture and legal system are very different from our own. Scott’s parents Lee and Chris had had to drop whatever they were doing to fly to Bali. No doubt they incurred considerable disruption and expense in the process, not to mention the anxiety and fear that would have attended the news of their son’s arrest. Imagine the embarrassment and shame – visiting Bali as parents of a drug smuggler, facing their friends and acquaintances at home and being exposed to intense media interest.

Media reports suggest that Scott was a drug user who was already known to police and who was wanted in Australia on an outstanding warrant for stealing nearly $5000 from an Australian bank. While he may have been caught up in something bigger than he realised, he was no innocent.

When Scott’s parents arrived at the jail surrounded by TV cameras, they didn’t remonstrate with Scott. They didn’t say: “why have you done this to us?” or “what were you thinking?” They didn’t reproach him for humiliating them or berate him for being so foolish. At what must have been an extraordinarily difficult moment, Scott’s mother Chris said to the journalists who crowded in on them: “I love him”. When his father Lee comes face to face with Scott for the first time, he says, as I recall: “you’re a good boy.” “I love him.” “You’re a good boy.” In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of every parent whose child has become addicted to drugs and especially in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system, Scott was anything but “a good boy”. To his father however, he was and remained “a good boy”.

Drugs – the addiction, the temptation to make vast amounts of money with relatively little effort – show humanity at its worst. Vulnerable people are taken advantage of, dealers use violence or threats of violence to protect their patch, to extract money for debts and to prevent people from breaking free of the habit. Addicts turn to crime and sometimes to aggressive behaviour to pay for their next fix. It is a dark and shadowy world that I am glad to have no part of. Scott might have only been on the fringes of that world, but he was part of it. Yet his father can say: “You’re a good boy”.

The events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion depict humanity at its worst. The disciple who for reasons unknown sells his teacher and friend for thirty pieces of silver, the remaining disciples who promise to be with Jesus even to death, but who abandon him and deny him, the priests who fabricate evidence against him, the solders who mock him, the governor, swayed by the crowd who refuses to do what he knows is right, the lynch mob who bay for Jesus’ death, the crowds who revile him and the soldiers and fellow criminals who taunt him. An innocent man is condemned to torture and death in order to preserve the status quo and to please the crowds.

The story might have ended there. The body of Jesus sealed in a tomb and guarded by soldiers. After all that the people (friend and foe alike) had done, God might simply have thrown up God’s hands in horror and washed God’s hands of an ungrateful and uncaring humanity. God had sent Jesus into the world to save the world, instead God watches humanity spurns the gift, as Jesus endured first betrayal, then trumped-up charges and finally an excruciating death. Imagine for a moment, God’s having to watch humanity behaving in such a debased, immoral and cruel way. Such behaviour would try the patience and love of the most loving and forgiving parent.

One might be excused for thinking that God had done enough for God’s people. God chose them from among all the nations, sent Joseph to Egypt to save them from the famine, brought them out of Egypt when they were no longer welcome and remained loyal and loving despite their waywardness, their lack of confidence in God’s power to save and protect, their failure to listen to the prophets and their chasing after other gods. As a last resort God came among them as one of them in the form of Jesus but they responded by murdering him and with him all hope of salvation. If at that point, God had decided that enough was enough no one would have thought that God was being unreasonable or vindictive. If God had walked away from creation in despair most would think that that was what humanity deserved. Yet God remained steadfast, God did not withdraw God’s love but instead raised Jesus from the dead. In effect God said to the world: “you’re a good boy, you’re a good girl – I love you.”

“I love you. You have done your worst, but I love you. You have shown yourself to be weak, disloyal, fickle and cruel and yet I still love you.”

“I still love you.” The most sure and certain proof of God’s love for us is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection assures us that no matter what we do, no matter how far we stray, God’s boundless endless love will never be withdrawn.

Humanity can do its worst, but God’s love will always triumph.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

 

 

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Breaking the code

April 9, 2016

Easter 2 – 2016

Revelation

Marian Free

 

In the name of God, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who was and who is and who is to come. Amen.

Images such as “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” and “the mark of the beast” have become part of our cultural heritage. Even the word apocalypse is widely understood to mean the violent end of the world. I wonder if people who use such terminology understand that the images come from the book of Revelation or the Apocalypse. This is such a complex and controversial book of the bible, that it was not formally included in the canon of the New Testament until the fourth century. Even now, it is often regarded as too difficult and unorthodox to be included regularly in our diet of Sunday readings.

Of all the books of the Bible, Revelation is the one most open to misunderstanding and abuse. It is difficult to read and its meaning is so obscure that it is often avoided. This is unfortunate for two reasons: one is that it means that we fail to appreciate it and the second is that it leaves us unprepared to challenge the dangerous results of misinterpretation[1].

As the introduction suggests, Revelation is written (as a letter?) to seven churches in Asia Minor. The context suggests that church members are feeling under threat. As there was no official persecution at that time we can only guess that their conversion to Christianity had led to social exclusion and financial hardship. Being a Christian meant that they could no longer associate with the local Temples. This meant a form of voluntary social ostracism. Temples were places for meeting and eating and what is more they were closely associated with the various trade guilds. Not being able to visit the Temple mean isolation from the community at large and it also made it almost impossible to ply one’s trade.

When a community feels under threat, it is not unusual for those people to envision a future in which everything will be put to right – the righteous rewarded and the wicked punished. It is in this context that we need to read the book of Revelation. The colourful, and in places lurid imagery is intended to give hope and encouragement to those who (at some considerable cost to themselves are refusing to conform to the society around them.

Understanding Revelation requires making sense of the symbolism, breaking the code as it were. For example, numbers and colours take on specific meanings. Seven is the number for perfection, which means that 3½ or 1,260 days is the number for imperfection. We see that the work is written to seven churches, there are four sets of seven – seven seals, seven trumpets, seven visions and seven bowls. There are also seven churches, seven unnumbered visions and seven beatitudes Twelve is another significant number – 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples. 666 (of 616, “the mark of the beast”) may have no more significance than that it refers to Nero the letters of whose name add up to that number. The use of colour is also of significance. The four horses are white, red, black and pale (or green). It is believe that these symbolize conquest, war, famine and death.

The author is heavily reliant on the OT and it is easy for example to find images from Isaiah – the angels before the throne saying “holy, holy, holy” and the idea that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Imagery of the Son of Man coming on the clouds is straight out of the book of Daniel and so on. At the same time, the book is not written in isolation, but is a product of the times. Nero was a particularly erratic and violent Emperor who was condemned to death. Before the execution could take place, Nero disappeared – this lead to a rumour that he would return one day. When Revelation refers to an army gathered in the east, it is possible that it refers to the return of Nero.

Not only is the book filled with symbolism, it is made up of repeated patterns. For example, each of the letters to the churches follows the same pattern and each of the seven plagues follows a pattern of persecution (of the righteousness), punishment (of the nations) and the triumph of God. Another aspect to note is that the writing is concentric or cyclic rather than linear, that is the events repeat themselves, each time becoming a little more dramatic or more destructive. It is impossible for the earth and all who live on it to be destroyed over and over again. Rather the pattern is repeated for emphasis, describing the wrath of God on three levels – the individual, humanity as a whole and the cosmos. The violence and the heavenly portents are not intended to be descriptions of what is to happen, they are pictorial images presented with a degree of exaggeration to make a point. Each builds on the last, but that does not mean that the events as described are meant to occur sequentially. A world without God is destined to self-destruct, but in the final analysis, God will make all things right.

The writer obviously had a sense of drama. Michael Fallon believes that the book can be divided as if into scenes in a play, with moments of high drama[2] – such as the dramatic pause before the opening of the seventh seal. The first five scenes are followed by glimpses of heaven – a vision of what life will be for those who hold on to the end.

The book of Revelation does not describe actual events, nor does it provide as some sort of road map for the present and future. It is an imaginative picture of a time of future judgement when the righteous will be rewarded and the unrighteous punished. It is written to give the recipients a cause for hope and the courage to hold on – even in the most difficult circumstances. When this life has done its worst, “those who conquer will inherit a new heaven and a new earth”[3] and having faith in the face of great opposition will be seen to have been worth it.

For all its difficulties, it is worth breaking the code and trying to understand the book of Revelation. It is a book of hope for the hopeless, a reassurance that all things are in God’s hands and at the end God will be seen to be the victor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Think Jonestown and other millennial movements that have convinced people that the world is so corrupt that the only solution is withdrawal and even suicide.

[2] a. Introduction                                                                         1:1-3

  1. Opening liturgical dialogue                                1:4-8
  2. Prophetic commission                                         1:9-11

Heaven

Scene 1 Letters to the 7 churches                                    2:1-3:22

Heaven                                                               4:1-5:14

Scene 2 Six seals are broken                                            6:1-7:9

Heaven                                                               7:9-8:6

Scene 3 The sounding of six  trumpets                          8:7-11:14

Heaven                                                             11:15-12:12

Scene 4 Forces for good and for evil                            12:13-14:20

Heaven                                                             15:1-8

Scene 5 The seven bowls                                                 16:1-18:24

Heaven                                                              19:1-10

Scene 6 The final struggle, victory                                19:11-20:15

and judgement

Scene 7 The Church of God on earth                            21:1-22:5

  1. Guarantee of prophecy                                         22:6-7
  2. Concluding liturgical dialogue                            22:8-17
  3. Conclusion                                                              22:18-21

 

[3] 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

4                   he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

5   And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

 


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