Tuesday, January 15, 2019

An Epistle on Baptism

This letter was written to be read in the congregation during my absence on the date below, for the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. 


Dear friends in Christ at Big Timber Lutheran on Sunday, January 13, 2019-

Grace and peace to you from God our Creation, Jesus our Savior, and the Holy Spirit who directs our days. I do give thanks to God when I think of you because your good work in Big Timber is inspiring to me and because I believe that God has brought us together for a purpose in our town for the sake of the gospel, the good news of Christ’s work in the world.

Today is the celebration of the Baptism of our Lord. If I were with you, I would ask if there were any among you who were unbaptized and wished to come forward to the font. In our tradition, we so frequently witness the baptisms of infants and children that we forget that adults are welcomed to the water to be washed in the same way. In fact, part of the way that Lutherans think about baptism is this- since baptism is a gift from God; it treats children as adults- giving them expectations in response to the gift. The gift of baptism treats adults like children- surrounding them, cleansing them, and gently relieving them of fear and strain.

In Lutheran theology, as well as among our other siblings in Christ, holy baptism and holy communion are collectively referred to as “the means of grace”. The phrase is used because it is specifically in those two situations that God has promised to show up, to deliver and feed the gift of faith, and to do all the work that truly matters for salvation and wholeness. We may pour the water or serve the meal, but the work that truly matters is God’s alone.

Since it is God’s work alone, we must be careful about what we say is happening and also what we don’t acknowledge. It is easier than you think to be wrong about the Divine. How easy is it? Today’s reading from Luke shows us that it is easy to be wrong about Jesus and if we get things wrong about the Holy Son, we can additionally be incorrect about the Holy Parent and the Holy Spirit.

Among Christians, we are often taught that the Judean people of Jesus’ time were expecting a warrior king in the line of David, who would relieve them from Roman oppression and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. This is not exactly correct. The expectation of God’s anointed, the Messiah, gave shape to the lives of faithful Judeans by helping them to understand that God’s work was still on-going. The work of creating, redeeming, and restoring had not been abandoned after Eden, but was always God’s work into which people were (and are) invited. 

While that was the corporate understanding, sometimes individual people misinterpreted God’s promises, something that still happens today. John is baptizing people toward a life of repentance, a life of corrected behaviors that are oriented toward caring for others and the world that God made. His expectation of the One who is to come is that the Messiah will continue the work of purification, in an even stronger way. A winnowing fork is a tool for dealing with wheat, it is used to lift the wheat the air, moving it around, allowing air to circulate, so that the chaff- the part that is not to be used- can be sifted out and then taken away.

John expects that this is what the Messiah will do, purify the faithful by removing what is in them or of them that is not useful and is unnecessary. In the verses we did not read today, from Luke 3, Herod has John arrested and imprisoned. In Luke 7, John will send a message from prison, with his own disciples, asking Jesus if he actually is the one who is to come or if they’re waiting from someone else.

Why would John ask that? It is because what he heard of Jesus didn’t sound quite like the purifying work that John had expected. John is not bad and neither were his fellow Judeans or others who had come to an understanding of God through the Jewish faith. They were simply human and part of being human is that we look at our own habits and preferences and assume that God wants the same thing, without truly considering what God wants and how we are actually made the be reflections of those Divine preferences and desires.

So, like John, we often reduce baptism to one point when it is meant to be so much more. We treat coming to the font like the chance to give our children or ourselves a holy “Get out of Hell free” card, but it is specifically not that and it is specifically so much more.

The baptism that we are blessed to offer, as a means of God’s grace, is an affirmation of who Jesus was and who Christ is as the One who has defeated death, triumphs over evil, and is our holy brother and one worthy of imitating. Doing the work of baptizing means that:

1)  We recognize that we are drawn together by God and by God’s grace into a holy and changed community. 
2)  We have commitments that are beyond what we might choose for ourselves, including caring for others whether or not we like them and caring for the world that God made in both large and small ways. 
3)  We understand that elements of creation- like water, oil, bread, and wine, carry the Spirit of God and can do more than the sum of their parts. 
4)  Since one does not baptize one’s self, continuing together is an essential part of living a faithful life. 
5)  We are baptized in an active acceptance of God’s will and God’s work, as well into an active rejection of the work of the forces that oppose God. These forces may be spiritual, of this world, or internal. 

This is now quite long for something that I am not there to unpack more for you. Additionally, Steve probably has his own questions that he wants to ask me now and I shouldn’t feed that fire any more than I am willing to own the minute I’m back in the city limits.

Our baptisms are a gift from God that shape and give direction to our lives. When we remember that we are baptized, when we wash our face, affirm our baptisms, or see the font in this church or others, we remember that God’s work is a demonstration of grace and mercy. And it does not stop.

The Holy Spirit continues like a winnowing fork, shifting out the chaff which is not only not useful but also takes up space that is needed for the actual part of the wheat that is nourishing. Thus, it is removed.

We are baptized, by God’s grace, so that we may be nourishing- to ourselves, to our families, to others, to the world that God has made, is repairing, and deeply, deeply loves.

This festival, the baptism of our Lord, reminds us that we are a new community in Christ, to care for each other, to forgive each other, and to encourage each other in spiritual growth and health. It also reminds us that God gives all things freely and in holy love, especially renewal and hope. Let me repeat that: God gives all things freely and in holy love, especially renewal and hope.

May you be filled with renewal and hope today, remembering that you (yes, you!) are beloved children of God, marked by the cross of Christ and sealed by the Spirit forever.

In Christ’s own peace and joy,

Pastor Julia





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Friday, January 4, 2019

Revelation Read-Along: Day 18

Reading: Revelation 14

Advent Theme: Absence

I am still reading Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I began reading it in 2005. I am, perhaps, a quarter finished with it. In my view, this is the most significant theological work of the 20thcentury. According to him, these are the things Bonhoeffer wrote after he truly understood the cost of discipleship. None of us truly comprehend that cost until we realize that we are paying it. 

Very early in Letters is this passage:

…God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God. God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us. Matthew 8:17 (he took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our sins) makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

This is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man's religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a deus ex machina. The Bible, however, directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. To this extent we may say that the process we have described by which the world came of age was an abandonment of the false conception of God, and a clearing of the decks for the God of the Bible, who conquers power and space in the world by his weakness…
 
After I read this for the first time, I closed the book and didn’t open it again for five months. I could not stop thinking about this phrase, “Before God and with God we live without God.” What did it mean for one of the most faithful people I can think of- one whose heart for serving others did not let him stay safe but to throw himself into the mess of trying to overthrow Hitler- what does it mean that he believes in an active and compassionate God who does not give us an adequate framework for living

This is what comes to mind when I read Revelation 14. I think of all the people who have told me that their religious practice is “private”. What they believe or how they imitate Christ is an interior practice, not meant for discussion, reflection, or for display in public. It is true, however, that everything we do reveals to the people around us what we believe. To follow Jesus, to truly be a disciple, to show that one’s heart is at rest in the one true God means paying attention to the details. It means spiritually reflecting on one’s habits, purchases, hobbies, time spent, time wasted, words said, words unsaid, generosity shown, generosity withheld. What we do and what we leave undone is what makes the mark on us- revealing to all who will see it where our loyalties lie.

Which brings me back to Bonhoeffer’s cryptic writing. There are parts of the Bible that are just mysterious. They are neither road map nor pointillist painting. They are written for a people that we are not. The Spirit is present in these words, but She may not be speaking a language we understand. Before God and with God, we admit that we do not always comprehend the words of God and then we go on. Frankly, my dear, we have enough to work on with what we do understand.

Potential Takeaway: Throughout history, faithful people have had to make difficult decisions and felt as though God was silent as they struggled. They were never alone. It is a painful part of being human that we are not always as fully connected with our Creator as we could or should be. It is not a matter of letting go and letting God, but rather trusting that God is present, is acting, and will make all things new. Our consolation in this is that when we feel this way, we are not the first to do so, nor the last. 

Holy God, in the beginning, the Spirit brought creation and order out of chaos. Your creation has never known a time when You were absent, when your love was not intimately present. Strengthen me to trust you ever more deeply and yet to live out my faith more boldly and bravely- showing your truth to all whom I encounter. Amen. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Revelation Read-Along: Day 17

The series took a hiatus while I gave time and energy to be with a grieving family and a dying saint. I appreciate your patience. 


Reading: Revelation 13

Advent Theme: Simplicity

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14) I think about that verse when I read Revelation 13. So much has been made about this chapter, gallons of ink spilled on it alone, that it can be hard to read it with new eyes. Thus, think about how you might explain this to a child. If we cannot explain the scripture to a child, then either our interpretation is off-base or Jesus was wrong. Which one of those two would you like to pick? (I do realize that creating a binary there isn’t necessarily helpful, but please let it stand for this post.)

Let’s approach chapter 13 as though we were going to explain it to a 9-year-old. We have a different relationship with dragons now, but imagine if you didn’t have books and movies about dragons. Imagine the rulers of the world used the images of power and fire, like a dragon, to make people scared. How would you feel if you saw shields with dragons or red flags, like dragon fire, carried on long poles as an army rode by?

Then what would it be like if your friends and their families all said, “We have to follow the emperor. He is looking for all the people who don’t decorate their house with dragons. If you don’t sing the dragon song, he will send the army to kill you.”

Your family and you believe that a house should only have words from God in it and no pictures. Your family will not get on their knees when the emperor’s dragon flag goes by. Your parents say that you are not allowed to sing the dragon song- not at home, not on the playground, not if you’re by yourself. They say that the emperor says he is God, but you know that he is not. Your friends aren’t allowed to play with you anymore because their families are scared and they believe in the emperor, or at least in the emperor’s power.

Sometimes the emperor makes things that seem good happen. His army triumphs over invaders. He allows extra grain to come into the market. He slows down the sacrificing of people in the Coliseum since it is for his entertainment that this happens.

When your parents talk about the emperor with their friend, the ones they know from house church, they use a code. In this code, a different number represents each letter of the alphabet. They use the numbers in conversation so that no one will overhear them speaking ill of the emperor.

What do you do, oh, proverbial 9-year-old?  

This is the essence of chapter 13. It is revealing the symbolism of Rome and the emperor as a cult. Like most cults, this one demands the worship and devotion of those who wish to benefit from the cult’s power and resources. As the cult grows in power, those who are uncomfortable or even fully dissenting will have to work harder and harder to resist and to survive.

Gematria is the system of determining the numerical value of letters. Jewish people at the time of John’s writing would have been familiar with this system and it has counterparts in Greek, as well as in other languages around the world. The name “Nero Caesar” has a numerical value of 666 in Hebrew. In textual variants, the number is sometimes 616, but that also becomes “Nero Caesar” in Greek or Latin. The famous number is just a coded way of talking about the emperor. “I’m thinking of a number. It’s for someone’s name. Can you guess who?” 

The other significance of 666 is in relationship to the use of the number seven (7) throughout Revelation. John uses 7 as a number of completion and perfection. Six falls short of seven. It can never be the perfect number. The use of 6 in relation to the beast and the dragon is to remind the readers, once again, that the empire is NOT the same as God’s kingdom.

Potential Takeaway: John’s readers are shown through more symbols (apocalyptic literature for the win!) that what the world offers cannot reach what God freely gives. We often mix up those two systems, believing that we can easily acquire worldly stature, but we will have to work hard for heavenly grace. Grace is grace. It is free and is truly appreciated when we realize what it cost God to give it (becoming human and suffering our rejection in the flesh). As we grow in appreciation of grace, we will then be led to respond to it by correct worship, caring for others, and stewarding the world that God made. 


Gracious and generous God, Your power is so much greater than anything the world can show us. Yet we remain bombarded with the signs of earthly status and success. Guide me into faithful worship in thought, word, and deed- that I might resist that which fades and find strength and hope in what is eternal. Amen. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Longest Night

Candle [dry gouache] by Julia Seymour
Life begins in the dark. 
Seeds, babies, resurrection- new life starts unseen.

It is unseen, but not without a witness. 
Divine eyes of love perceive all things. 

We sometimes think of our grief, our doubt, our pain as kinds of darkness. 
In darkness, the light looks different. 

In the dark, we dig deep for what is true- giving hope, strength, and peace. 
In the dark, we move slowly, easing forward by degrees. 

Seasons of darkness can break our hearts, 
Seasons of darkness teach us lessons that shape our living. 

Some nights are longer than others, 
But dawn comes- and not through our work or goodness.

It is the goodness of God that lives in the dark and the light. 
It is the goodness of God that carries us through all seasons. 

In doubt and in faith, in grief and in joy, in pain and in wholeness, 
Life begins in the dark. Light begins in the dark. 

And, in the light or in the dark, you belong to God. 
We belong to God. 




Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Revelation Read-Along: Day 15

Reading: Revelation 12:7-18

Advent Theme: Adversity

An interpretation and re-telling of Rev. 12:7-18, Revised Julia Version

And then fighting began in the spiritual realm, near God’s throne. Michael, who is a leader among the angels, and the other angels fought against the Satan, the adversary of God’s will. The spiritual forces that oppose God’s will battled mightily, but they were defeated and they could not last near the throne of God. To be clear, the Satan is the same one who is sometimes called the Devil or by other names. The Satan works to deceive the world and there are spiritual forces- on many levels- that are willing to try to work against God’s purposes. At the end of the battle, the Satan and his minions fled back to the earth, to try to make trouble there.  

Then John heard a booming voice in heaven, stating clearly:

“It is the right time. Here are the saving power and everlasting leadership of our one true God. Here is the authority of his Anointed One, the Messiah. For the one who tries to make trouble for our friends, the saints, has been defeated. Oh, that sly one tried to present a case for how they were weak in faith, but they persisted!

The saints of God won by a three-fold victory. First and foremost, Jesus claimed them through his own blood. Secondly, their testimony was certain- identifying themselves with Christ. Lastly, they both lived and died in Jesus Christ. 

It’s too bad for those who will not do those things. The Satan is loose on the earth and is angry because he knows his is a losing battle.”

So, when the Satan realized his heavenly visa had been revoked, he stirred up trouble on earth. Eagles took away the woman whom Satan harassed so that she could rest in safety in a place apart from fear and pain. He still tried to whisper lies to her, lies that he sent in a variety of ways. Yet, God’s creation would not let the lies stand. The very soil and water of the earth witnessed to the power and majesty of God’s creative love and mercy. The lies of the Satan could not stand.

The Satan was mad. Stomping off, the Satan- the spiritual adversary of the Christ followers- vowed to make life hard for all who seek to live a life of faith and hope.

The Satan made a stand at the edge of the abyss and waited to for willing accomplices, with whom to wreak havoc.

Potential Takeaway: There are spiritual and earthly forces that oppose God’s will. The internal force of sin is a manifestation of the human desire for control and our struggle to understand that only God is God. And that God is good. A very real part of the life of faith is renouncing the forces outside and within us that seek to oppose God’s will for life and wholeness. 

Holy and mighty God, Your word is love and your gospel is peace. Yet the forces that oppose You do so with such violence that it can be difficult to walk a path of justice and peace-making. Guide me in following You, identifying Your work and word, and living into Your truth alone. Amen. 

Revelation Read-Along: Day 14

Reading: Revelation 11:15- 12:6

Advent Theme: Vulnerability

I am presently reading Where the Red Fern Growsout loud to my son. Since it has been years since I read the book, I had no memory of the theological thread through the book. God plays an influential non-speaking role in the story. The first appearance thereof is when Billy remembers a lesson he learned from his mother’s Bible reading to the family: “God helps those who help themselves.” My son’s own mother (me) had to pause to point out that the Bible doesn’t actually say that. 

Many people want to spend time and energy proving the thesis that God helps those who help themselves. I’m never sure what that’s a point to prove. Furthermore, there are plenty of people who do work hard, who live faithful lives, who invest toward helping others and who do not receive financial, physical, or mental reward. Matthew 5:45 notes that God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust.

What does that have to do with this very odd juxtaposition of verses in the middle of Revelation? The angels and saints are praising God, saying that God’s kingdom shall be forever. There is storm from heaven, while on earth a pregnant woman is threatened by a dragon. The woman is swept away by God to the wilderness and the baby is safe as well.

One way to look at this imagery is that the pregnant woman represents the Christ followers. Bearing new life, they are vulnerable in the face of dragon that wishes to crush and devour them, snuffing out the new life and the growth it represents. God’s intervention in the metaphor indicates that John believes God will protect the groups of believers, perhaps even removing them to a safer place. 

Please note, though, that the believers cannot save themselves. The remove to safety, the sheltering, the protection- it comes from God at the Divine will. If the believers fight back against Rome- perhaps with swords- they will likely die. If they run away to hide, they may not be in a safe place or able to sustain themselves. They are to continue the work that John mentioned in their specific addresses, earlier in the book, and wait with attention for God’s guidance.

Potential Takeaway:  God cares for sparrows, ants, platypuses, and giant squids. God’s compassion isn’t waiting for the most assertive to gain access through the right combo of words and actions. It is present to all, poured out, actively on-going because that is God’s own nature. The next time you’re thinking, “God helps those who help themselves”- consider that might be a sign to slow down, reflect, and look for clarity and spiritual guidance. 

Merciful God, Your generosity knows no bounds. Your kindness lasts from generation to generation. Your divine help is called grace- unearned, unbidden, and poured out for all. Guide me into a deeper trust of Your provision and care. Amen. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Revelation Read-Along: Day 13

Reading: Revelation 11:1-14

Advent Theme: Witness

I grew up in a Christian denomination that was focused on the conversion experience. The re-orientation of one’s heart toward Christ was the perceived moment of salvation. I serve, as a pastor, in a denomination that teaches that salvation is complete through God’s own work and that our responsiveness to that work is the life of faith. The “moment of decision” happens every day, multiple times, when we make the choices that indicate a life lived in imitation of Christ, serving others and the world that God made.

That being said, Western Christianity has shifted in the past centuries to make faith an intellectual pursuit, an issue of correct thinking and understanding. If there is anything that John the Revelator is trying to make clear, it is that the life of faith is not about mental comprehension, but about physical and spiritual witness to the Lamb (Christ) and against the beast (Rome).

Those whose words and deeds bear witness to Christ’s power and might may be martyred. They may die an ignominious death at the hands of rebellious and oppressive people, who are angry, envious, or simply depraved. Be that as it may, the ones who believe cannot allow their witness to falter.

As the imagery becomes complicated, pull back from the details. Look at the whole forest, not the individual trees. John has planted a grove of images that are meant to bear the fruit of faithful behavior in Christian community- mutual love, care for the outcasts, and worship of the one true God. Do you feel like you already read these points before? You did. Apocalyptic texts are repetitive because they are trying to send a clear message. John does not deviate from the form.

Potential takeaways: Even when things are confusing or busy, faithful living happens in all of our daily choices. What would Jesus have me do- in the store, at work, with my family, relaxing, or as a citizen? We all have work to do for God’s kingdom. Are we doing it? 

Dear God, what is the work that You would have me do? Guide me in stillness, that I may perceive Your voice, understand Your directions, and work toward Your perfect will. Amen. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Revelation Read-Along: Day 12

Reading: Revelation 10 
          

Advent Theme: Mystery

In my class on parables, we memorized this poem by Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

The Reverend Dr. Fred Borsch (may he rest in peace and rise in power) impressed upon us the reality that parables are God’s truth told at a slant, in a disguise, because the flat-out truth of grace, the expanse of the kin-dom, and our absence of control in the situation would break people, including the one who was charged with bringing the message of good news. I don’t want to say we “can’t handle the truth”, but… 

I distinctly recall not knowing how to respond to a man who told me that God fully intends for us to comprehend all of the scriptures and to have complete understanding in this life, if we study hard enough and prove faithful and diligent. That may be so, but I don’t think I have that kind of works righteousness in me. In fact, I know I don’t. 

In chapter 10, John the Revelator is confronted with the reality that some of God’s words, works, and intentions are going to remain a mystery. They are not to be revealed. John, like Ezekiel and others, ingests the words of God and finds them sweet, even if they are not fully digestible. 

The truth told slant about God is that the Divine is mysterious. I know that 2 + 2 is 4. I can see it. I can make it happen. I do not take it on faith. God’s grace, providence, and wisdom- I do take on faith. I have seen signs and wonders that support the continuation in faith, like following a river that bends just beyond my sight. What I have beside me and behind me gives me enough guidance to keep moving forward toward what I cannot see and do not know. And I trust, without seeing, that God does know. 

Potential Takeaway: In the middle of the chaos of apocalypse, when all hell has broken loose because heaven is no longer holding it back, God does know. 

Holy Divine Mystery, You are the source and ground of my being. My heart is restless until it finds its home in Your everlasting peace. In times of mystery, strengthen my faith so that I may move forward in courage and trust in You. Amen. 


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Revelation Read-Along: Day 11

Reading: Revelation 9:13-21

Advent Theme: Recognition

Now things are getting scary. It’s hard to untangle meaning from these passages that tell about death and destruction coming from heaven. Not only do such passages seem to contradict the over-arching biblical theme of God’s mercy and desire for peace, but these passages also sew seeds of doubt in the heart of many who read them. “Am I in danger?”

Let’s deal with those two things separately, shall we? Firstly, what is the purpose of angels in most of scripture? They are created beings, like humans, but they do not live on the same plane as human beings and they appear to have different work than human beings do. In writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul has an awareness that those who follow the Lord will participate in the judgment of the world, including judging the angels.

Thus, when angels appear to be destructive, it does come from a heaven-sent directive. That being said, if the main work of angels is usually protective, instructive, and encouraging- it is possible to see “destructive” work as a withholding of their power, rather than unleashing it to a hard end.

Can I say this in a simpler way? I’ll try. Since much of Revelation is unveiling the results of human habits- wrong worship, oppression, failure to care for others and the world that God made- the destruction that we see at the hands of the angels may be caused because the angels are no longer intervening for the sake of the world. If the heavenly host stops doing their work, who knows what life in this realm might be like? 

Thus, John’s vision indicates that the trauma and pain that is happening to those in the Roman Empire is not because heaven is causing it to happen, but because heaven is no longer intervening to stop the full extent of destruction that humans cause to one another and the earth. 

As for the second question, should a believer be afraid? No. The early part of this book, as well as the rest of it, along with the whole Bible, indicates clearly God’s saving power and intentions. Those who are walking in the Way of Christ- in word and deed- have nothing to fear. They may struggle because others do not understand their commitments, but their eternal rest is secure because of Jesus. So, as the angels say, do not be afraid.

Potential takeaways: Pain and destruction in the world are not necessarily God “teaching people a lesson”. It may be the result of peoples’ choices and actions. When we who trust in God see these things, we are to lift up our heads, continue to speak peace, and work for the sake of our neighbors in generosity and kindness. 

Holy God, You have given angels work that is beyond my understanding. They are charged with the care of much. You have also given me work to do in my family, my neighborhood, and in the world. Guide all Your servants in the work you have put before us that we may do that which pleases You and brings peace to Your creation. Amen. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

Revelation Read-Along: Day 10

Reading: Revelation 9:1-12

Advent Theme: Long-suffering

There was a story about one of my professors in seminary. One day in chapel, he was scheduled to preach. The selected passage for the day was from Leviticus. He came to the front, read the passage to the assembly, closed the Bible, and said, “This is not the Word of the Lord for me.” Then he sat down.

I find myself doing the same thing in part of Revelation. John’s intense and purposefully chaotic metaphors about the locusts and the abyss, with a king called “Destroyer’, only confuse and frustrate me. There is nothing here that reveals Christ to me, stirs the joy of my salvation, or helps me in any of my vocations (wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter, pastor, neighbor, citizen,…). This is not the word of the Lord for me.

The books, movies, and other materials that seek to explain these parts of Revelation in detail exploit people’s fears and capitalize on the same. And when I say capitalize, I mean using fear to make capital, to get rich. This is precisely the kind of behavior that John warns the seven churches against. It is not a biblical interpretation that comes out of love and service; it is an interpretation that is borne out of a desire to get rich. This is not the path of the Lamb, the Way of Christ, the life of discipleship. 

To be clear, I am not saying that having money means that a person cannot be a Christian or even a good Christian. What I am saying is that there are several generations of alleged Christian apologists (explainers) who have expounded on the mysteries of Revelation to the great gain of their pocketbooks, but not to the end of actually making the world better by an outpouring of Christ-like behavior. This, to me, is like locusts- swarming on people, stirring up fear, not actually harming them- but making them quite miserable.

Potential Takeaway: When I speak as a Christian, it should be to make a situation better and for the benefit of all concerned. When I am the major beneficiary of what I say or do, I may not be imitating Christ quite as much as His love would compel me to do. And, sometimes, a particular part of the Bible may neither inspire devotion, historical understanding, or literary reflection. For a time it may not be the word the Lord is using in my life. And that’s okay. 

Dear God, Your Word is holy and good, but also mysterious. I struggle enough with what I do understand that I should not be anxious about the parts that are not yet clear to me. Guide me to a greater depth of faith and courage to live into what I do understand, following in the way of Jesus the Christ. Amen.