December 10, 2017: Traditions - Decorations

Pastor Steve Mechem

Luke 2: 1-6 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.


I would ask you to turn your attention to the bulletin cover. Here is depicted, what I would is assume, is a fairly typical photo of a living room during the Christmas season.

On the far left side of the photo stands a seven foot white pine tree with clear and blue lights. The tree, like every Christmas tree in this family for 38 years (with one or two exceptions) has been cut down the within days of thanksgiving at a tree farm or in the woods. Not noticeable in the photo are ornaments that have been collected over that same 38 year span.

Next to the tree is a rocker covered with a throw depicting a teddy bear dressed for Christmas.

Beyond the tree is a corner shelf. Gone from the shelves are its usual occupants. They have been replaced by six different nativity sets.

On the floor next to the shelf is an Isabelle Bloom sculpture of carolers singing.

Beside the sculpture is a fireplace. Greenery rests upon the mantle and 8 stockings hang from the same mantle.

In front of the fireplace is another rocker, this one with a stuffed toy reindeer on its seat.

And next to the rocker, beside the fireplace, is a set of eight Hanakkah candles (Hanukkah begins Tuesday, December 12 this year.)

If this photo showed a 360 degree panoramic view, you would also see a small table crowded with nutcrackers, a variety of snow people, stuffed and carved and molded out of plastic sitting on every flat surface, a Christmas troll or three, and wreaths hanging on walls, and more.

The two dogs on the rug by the tree are not Christmas decorations, nor are they watchdogs, but they are completely confused that all this stuff is now sitting on their turf.

After the holidays, the decorations will all go in boxes and be placed in their prescribed space in the basement til next year. The tree, sans lights and ornaments, will be laced with popcorn and birdfeed and placed in the back yard for the birds until spring.

All this stuff, decorations made or bought, decorations collected and saved, play a significant role in our Advent wait. And, we probably don’t think much about the origins of many of the decorations we put out in the name of Christmas.

Christmas tree traditions find their roots in the very old custom of the paradise tree. Paradise trees were adorned with fruit and included a snake hanging from the branches. The paradise tree commemorated the story of Adam and Eve.

Germanic people, in the late Middle Ages, transformed the paradise tree during Advent by getting rid of the snake and including candles along with the fruit.

Eventually, families cut down one tree, during the Christmas season, brought it into the house and decorated it with candles and homemade Christmons for the family to enjoy.

Voila, the Christmas tree is born. Now, artificial trees often replace real ones, electrical lights replace candles and ornaments replace Christmons, but the tradition remains much the same

In early America, in Puritan society, Christmas trees were outlawed as being pagan and diminishing the meaning of Christmas.

As time passed, Christmas trees grew to be accepted in homes and in churches. Thank the mediaeval Germans for the Christmas tree - minus the snake.

The origins of the greenery upon the fire place in the photo and apparent in the sanctuary this morning come from druid traditions and other religious customs that celebrated the winter solstice. Greenery evoked the idea of life, even in the stillness of winter. Christians adopted greenery for Advent citing its spiritual meaning and emphasized the twisting of the evergreen branches into circles which symbolizes new and never ending life.

We hang stockings on our mantle, or on a wall, or draped over a table because back in the day, in Europe, children would hang an everyday sock on the fireplace mantle on Christmas Eve.

The hope associated with the hanging of the socks was that someone might come through the chimney or walk across the floor and fill the sock with fruit and candy and trinkets. On Christmas morning, children ran to the mantle, took down their socks, and reveled in their small, and only, gifts.

While the tree has replaced the sock as the primary location for presents, the tradition of the sock remained. The Socks became larger and larger in time, and were made specifically for the occasion.

A child’s dirty sock has become a three foot stocking decorated with Christmas symbols and filled with candy, small gifts and gift cards.

Many of the other decorations found inside and outside our homes: snowmen, snowflakes, nutcrackers, reindeer, and drummer boys and girls have grown out of stories, and songs and poems and the winter season itself. They are meant to add to the festive mood of Christmas.

Why do we do it? Why do we drag all of the stuff up out of the basement, or out of the closet, and disrupt the continuity of our homes and fill it with these one-season-each-year decorations?

Decorations evoke memories. On the tree in the photo are ornaments that read baby’s first Christmas, 1981 and 1986 and ornaments with the year stamped on them beginning in 1979. One ornament dated 2016 depicts a “no goats allowed symbol.” There are ornaments from the Black Hills and El Salvador and Halifax, ornaments with the teenage mutant ninja turtles pictured on them, hanging Batman and Horton and Cookie Monster. To look at the tree is to take a trip of remembrance. Decorations around the house have been given as gifts and collected as treasure. Almost all of them contain sacred memories.

Decorations plant seeds for the future. That thing we set on the piano as a new declaration in 1987 was placed there in the knowledge that it would journey with us for Christmas seasons to come. And now, in 2017, it has increased in memory because it has survived with us.

The author Gladys Tabor writes, “Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.”

Decorations evoke the senses. We see them every year, remembering Christmases gone by. Some of those decorations ring or ding or play a little song and we hear them again each year. Some decorations smell, of pine, of cinnamon, of the scent that reminds us of people in our lives. Every year, as we put our decorations in place- we touch, we handle, we grab hold.

Decorations remind us of something bigger.

Decorations are symbols of the season, a season which for Christians is intended to be a joyous anniversary of the incarnation of God. A time when God chose to enter into this world,
to express Godself through

a human being who would be born in the same way that billions of babies have been born throughout time,

a human child who would grow up in a poor peasant family,

a human being who would teach and model a new kind of world- one based on love and grace and kindness,

a human being, who as savior would submit himself to the worst human beings had to offer to show the expansive existential love of God on the cross,

a human being, risen as Lord, who stands together with all of us in our common journey.

Every one of the decorations we see,
Lights on the gutter,
Blow up reindeer in the yard,
A tree of aglow with ornaments,
Stockings and snowmen and stuffed hippos wearing Santa hats,

All of them remind us, if we will let them,
Of the day when God became flesh and blood,
And moved into the neighborhood.

Amen.

December 3, 2017: Traditions

Pastor Steve Mechem

Matthew 1:18-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Welcome to advent 2017

Shane Claiborne writes, “Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.”

The Advent season marks the four weeks before Christmas which Christians consider the anniversary of the incarnation. Advent is understood as a period of waiting. It is meant to be a time of waiting, with anticipation, for the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ, God expressed in human form.

We wait, but our waiting is active. We wait. We yearn. We pray. We study. We meditate. We celebrate. We anticipate. We share. We serve. We wait eagerly and actively.

Most of us find things to do as we wait. In the Doctor’s office, we read a book.

In the the check out line at the market we peruse the ridiculous tabloids.”

As we wait for a movie to begin, we check our phones.

As we wait for a baby to be born, we paint rooms and childproof our lives.

The the things we do while we wait become traditions. The many traditions of the Advent Season are a product of our waiting- waiting for the Arrival of a King who ushers in a new realm.

our traditions include:

setting up trees in our homes and churches, in our offices and schools,

placing decorations on the tree, on tables, hanging decorations on the walls,

Setting out greenery, including wreaths on doors and walls,
stringing lights on trees and along roofs and stuffing them in bowls by the door,

eating Christmas dinners,

sharing cookies with neighbors,

displaying nativity sets,

enjoying school and church programs,

exchanging gifts,

sending Christmas cards,

hanging stockings and filling them with stuff beside feet,

attending parties,

singing carols,

lighting advent candles,

marking advent calendars,

experiencing the creative genius of song, poem and prose from the likes of Handel, Dickens, Frost, Capote, St. Luke, and our own talented choir and poets. Be here the 17th for our Songs and Sonnets Service.

Advent traditions differ from culture to culture, family to family, they are different in different regions of the country, in different neighborhoods in the city.

We will spend a little time over next few weeks, while we are waiting, exploring these traditions. It is impossible to explore them all, so we will choose just a few.

Today we explore the tradition of Christmas foods.

Particular foods and particular events involving food vary from the south to the north to the west, from family to family, from ethnic group to ethnic group.

Do you have favorite Christmas foods, that you enjoy only at this time of year?

For many, a highlight of Christmas is the Christmas dinner- ham and turkey and all the fixins’. In our household, Christmas dinner seldom works because of travel, so our tradition is Christmas Breakfast. Its a lot like any other breakfast except we are all together and we use Christmas plates.

Wherever we have lived, there has been a tradition that neighbors share plates of cookies and homemade candies with each other during the Christmas season. They come in tins or cellophane covers plates. The cookies are often shaped and decorated to look like reindeer or shepherd staffs.

Many of us will attend, and perhaps host, a Christmas party or two. Maybe for family, or friends, or co-workers. There will be engaging conversation, lively Christmas music, and lots of food, sometimes dinner, but often finger foods (gotta love those mini bar-b-que weiners).

Red and white canes made of candy stick out of stockings hung with care. Red and green m&ms fill bowls on tables in our living rooms.

We prepare some things the same as we would throughout the year but during this season we rename them- Christmas Chili, Christmas pie, and Christmas breakfast and serve them on Christmas plates and in Christmas bowls and drink from Christmas glasses that sit on Christmas coasters.

Food is integral to the waiting process in during Advent.

And … That makes sense, after all.

-Food is essential for survival. We cannot live without it. It provides nourishment and gives sustenance. Food helps us stay strong, and helps us regain strength when we are weak.

-While food is essential it is also celebrative.
For most of us, we use food to celebrate.
Get a new job, celebrate with a good meal.
Retire, celebrate with food.
Birthday, eat some cake.
Anniversary, celebrate with a fine dinner.
After a wedding, celebrate with dancing and food.
Celebrating a holiday, have a picnic.
Watching the big game, eat some pizza.
Enjoying the movie, eat some popcorn

Celebrating with food is basic to an understanding of what food means. Food is essential. It means life. Food is celebrative. It brings zest to life.

-Food is communal. Food is meant to be shared.

The meal we experience together means more than food eaten, the shared meal denotes a connection of life and spirit. As we pass the bowl of mashed potatoes from one to another, as we ask for butter for our bread, as we make a toast and clink our glasses, community breaks out. As we laugh together, and share a tear together and become engrossed in deep conversation, we experience commonality.

Food brings us together in community.

It is not a surprise to me that Jesus uses food as a point of interaction throughout his ministry.

In Cana, as the wine ran low, Jesus used the occasion to do his first recorded miracle. Wine, tasty and delicious to help the attendees continue to celebrate.

On two recorded occasions, Jesus transformed a few fish and pieces of bread into meals for thousands (literally). Imagine the conversations that took place that day.

Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners and thieves and people of ill-repute. He seemed to revel in the criticism, the people with whom he dined, and the food.

Jesus ate with the religious elites, endured their criticism, and critiqued their over-wrought religiosity. All while enjoying a tasty falafel.

Jesus snatched grain while walking through a field on the Sabbath and reminded hearers that it is not the food that goes through our σπαγχνα that condemns but the hate and judgement comes out of the καρδια that creates sin in people.

And it was at supper, on Thursday, in Jerusalem, on what would be the last night of Jesus’ life, that Jesus shared the new command that we must love one another.

At the same supper, Jesus asked that we remember him as we share together in the common meal.

It is not a massive reach to understand that in the sharing of food, we experience the simple yet profound love of God.

Advent. Waiting.
Food. Sharing.
God. Loving.
Tis the season!

Amen

November 26, 2017: We Gather Together, but Why?

Rev. Jerry Keeney

Ephesians 4:1-6, 13b-16 Common English Bible (CEB)
Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.


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December 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for December is now available here.

November 19, 2017: Just Do It!

Pastor Steve Mechem

Micah 6:6-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?


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November 12, 2017: Lake Itasca, Minnesot

Pastor Steve Mechem

Amos 5:21-24 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


224 miles North and West of Minneapolis is Minnesota’s oldest state park, Itaska. There are over 100 lakes within the park boundaries. The largest is Lake Itasca.

Lake Itasca is a cold water lake, after all, it is in Northern Minnesota. The Lake is about 1.8 square miles. For comparison, Lake of the Ozarks is 84 square miles.

Lake Itasca is classified as a glacial lake and is fed by several streams that run into it from further North.

In the North West corner of Lake Itasca, a stream, 20 feet wide and three feet deep, departs from the Lake. The stream moves West and South and North and East in a topsy turvy winding manner, all the while moving demonstrably toward the South. Other small creeks pour into this stream that originated at Lake Itasca. The stream becomes wider and deeper and after many miles it no longer looks like a creek but rather a River. And that River, which began as an insignificant trickle at Lake Itasca will travel 2,350 miles, meandering, turning and bending North to South through the Midwest down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the way, hundreds of creeks and large rivers, from Sucker Creek to the Missouri River, pour into the river transforming the pleasant stream into a great river- and that is the meaning of its proper name- “great river.” And during the spring, as winter thaws impact those tributaries, the stream that becomes a great river becomes a turbulent roaring force of nature over bounding it banks creating floods and impacting the landscape. The floods subside and the river returning to its banks, flows on.

The river is long and winding as it passes through 10 states.

If you were to put a rubber duck in Lake Itasca at the source of the river, and it floated without interference, it would take about 90 days for it to be deposited in the Gulf. That duck would float by Minneapolis, by LaCrosse, by Dubuque, by the town in which I grew up, Bettendorf, by Hannibal, by the Arch, by Cario, by Memphis, through New Orleans.

The River, with a beginning width of 20 feet across and a depth of 3 feet deep varies in depth and width on its journey Southward. It is a mile across at the Confluence just north of us and in New Orleans it reaches a depth of 191 feet.

The River is a massive landmark in the telling of our nation’s history as it has been used by indigenous peoples, western explorers, merchants, entrepeneurs, travelers, pioneers, escaping slaves, adventurers, and tour companies.

And it starts as a small stream which pours out of a relatively small lake in Northern Minnesota- Lake Itasca.

The Prophet Amos declares

“Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

He is speaking to a people who emphasized religion form over justice and mercy. After telling them that God could care less about their religiosity, He told them what God wants from the people who claim to follow God.

From the Message Bible:
“Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.”

Our task, as given to us by God through the prophet Amos, is to promote justice and fairness in our world.

The problem is, however, that we live in a world, a country, a community, a society where injustice and unfairness abound and we feel small and inadequate in our ability to contribute to making a difference as far as justice and fairness are concerned.

The problems are so big. And we are so insignificant.

And yet, it is our calling- to let justice roll.

How do we do it? What can we possibly do?

Here is my suggestion. Be Lake Itasca- where the small stream begins. Let Justice stream from you in your piece of the world. Be a voice where you can be a voice. It may seem small and insignificant but as we are reminded, a mighty bush grows from the tiniest of seeds, a mighty river grows from a trickle of water. And when the actions by others are combined with our own, rivers of justice flow, and the kingdom becomes.

How to be Lake Itasca- the source for small acts of justice and mercy?

You are Lake Itasca when you stand up for those who are distrusted, or misunderstood, or left behind, or villainized for being who they are.

When you refuse to join in malicious gossip or refuse to listen to demeaning jokes about others or make it a point to let people know that you don’t support their bigotry, you are Lake Itasca.

In just a few weeks, many of us will be sitting down at meal tables for the holidays. Family and friends will gather and conversation will take place. Much of the conversation will be warm and fuzzy and wonderful. Some of the conversation, however, will drive you crazy.

At some tables, political and social disagreements will be volatile and voices will get loud. Quite honestly, much of the unfortunate conversation (especially the politics) won’t be worth the arguing over. After all, as Wendell Berry encourages, “By restraint we are made whole.”

But some of that conversation, conversation that is mean spirited and bigoted needs to be challenged in love.

If Uncle Bucky starts talking about black or brown people in the way he is apt to do, you can ignore it, or change the conversation or you could be Lake Itasca and respond seeking justice and fairness. If you don’t know what else to say, you could say, “you know, at our church we have these courageous conversations where folks from different races get to together and talk and I am learning that we have much more in common with each other than we have differences. We all just want to take care of our families the best we can and have opportunities to do better.”

If Aunt Sally makes an off-color joke about gay or trans people, you could choose to be Lake Itaska and respond to her words. If you don’t have anything else, you could say, “you know, my pastor’s son is gay, and we have gay and trans people in our church and I believe we show God’s love when we respect and support all people, regardless of who they love or how they identify.”

If cousin Billy-Bob makes irrational and mean comments about immigrants, you could be Lake Itasca and respond by saying something like, “We have several immigrant families in our church and they are amazing, caring people who are just like you and me. They may speak a different language or eat different foods, but it is wonderful to experience life with them.”

If cousin Gertie is defending her favorite politician or preacher who has bee accused of predatory sexual behavior by saying, “you know the way these. girls dress, they,re just asking for it.” You could respond with something like, “No woman, or man, deserves to be harassed verbally or physically and it is a truly despicable act, whether you are the president, or a celebrity, or a clergy person or a next door neighbor.”

Or, in response to any of these nasty kind of remarks, especially if they come from church people, a totally Lake Itasca response would be, “you know, Jesus teaches us to treat other people the way we want to be treated so I think that’s what we should strive to do.”

Granted, you always have to measure your words when at the table with the family. Remember, small streams produce mighty rivers of Justice.

Recycling, making choices that are environmentally friendly is Lake Itasca justice.

Voting is a Lake Itasca act of justice as long as we vote, not just for our own self interest, but for what is right and fair for others.

Choosing not to participate in activities that demean and denigrate others is Lake Itasca justice. And choosing to participate in activities that encourage people and support people is Lake Itasca justice.

The Facebook post, “me too” is Lake Itasca justice.

Holding a hand, signing a petition, marching in the streets can all be Lake Itasca acts of justice.

Serving at a food bank, teaching in a prison, tutoring immigrants, being a foster parent, filling thanksgiving baskets, stuffing backpacks, running for a cure, walking in a pride parade, singing in the community gospel choir, caring for your neighbor are wonderful examples of Lake Itasca justice.

Learning about injustice, befriending people who are different than you ethnically or religiously, listening to people’s stories, striving to discern the truth in situations, acting on the behalf of hurting people is Lake Itasca justice.

Compassion, prayer and action are Lake Itasca Justice.

Lake Itasca Justice is served out in our small acts of kindness and mercy. As others also serve out small acts of kindness and mercy, those acts of kindness become a roaring river of God’s justice and grace. It does not matter how big our actions, it matters that what we do, we do for others.

Let Justice Roll like a mighty River, and let it begin in us.

Amen.

November 5, 2017: Every

Pastor Steve Mechem

Revelation 7:9-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
After 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. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And 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, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


The bible book of Revelation,
lions and dragons and frogs, oh my.
trumpets to be blown and seals to be broken and plagues to be unleashed
sevens and 144,000s and 666s
Beasts and Angels and a ridiculously gruesome winepress
Scrolls and candlesticks and rivers of blood
battles and locusts and horses with scorpion tails
falling stars and shouting eagles
a slaughtered lamb and a King of Kings
lakes of fire and celestial cities
It will leave you scratching your head!

Its confusing, frustrating, and maddening to many 21st century readers. Authors have written millions of pages and a few have made millions of dollars writing books telling people how to understand Revelation. Unfortunately, what one book tells us about Revelation is completely different than the next book tells us.

It leaves most of us bewildered. But in the first century, had you been a part of a church that received the document titles the Apocalypse of John, you would have understood the story, the meanings of the symbols, the metaphors and the similes, or at least most of it.

The New Testament Book that English bibles name Revelation is an example of Jewish apocalyptic literature.

Apocalyptic literate began as a genre after the Babylonian deportation of 587 b.c.e. Apocalyptic writing describes the end of the world with vibrant and strange imagery. Apocalyptic literature, though, as I understand it, is not really about the end times. It is, rather, about the struggle of the here and now, punctuated with the hope of a better day coming. It addresses the upheaval in the world that the hearers are living through and promises victory and a new day ahead. The goal of Apocalyptic is HOPE!

Symbols and images are used as literary devices and as code so that oppressing powers might not be able to decipher the deeper truths of the message.

The genre, began in the barbarity and despair of the Babylonian Exile continued to be popular throughout Israel’s uneven history of occupation and deportation. We see examples of Apocalyptic in the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

A good friend of mine in college, Loren Stuckenbruk, served as editor for a book titled The Jewish Apocalyptic tradition and the Shaping of the New Testament in which the argument is made that Jesus, Paul and all the writers of New Testament documents were highly influenced by Jewish Apocalyptic.

And in the first century, with a new and growing church facing fierce persecution, believers found hope and meaning in the despotic utterances found in Apocalyptic literature.

Convinced of this, renowned theologian Ernst Käsemann once said “Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology.”

Who knows how many documents like John’s Apocalypse made the rounds in those early days of the church, but it can be assumed that there were several.

Only the book of Revelation actually made it into the New Testament Canon as a whole document, although the Apocalyptic influence is seen in most New Testament books. Whether it belonged in the Canon was debated then and has continued to be debated through the centuries.

But, if Revelation were not in the Bible, we would not have such amazing passages like the one that describes Jesus knocking on the door, hoping to come in and sup with us, or the description of a new heaven and new earth where “God will wipe every tear from their eyes and death will be no more. Where there will be no mourning, crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Or the one read this morning.

The passage from Revelation read by Fred and Cary this morning describes a throng of people standing before God and singing praises. “Soteria belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

The passage reminds of the closing scene of the first Star Wars movie, where throngs of admiring people stand to acknowledge Luke and Han and Leila and Chewy as heroes, saviors who brought victory to the rebellion.

“Σωτηρία belongs to our God, and to the Lamb.” crowd shouts.

Σωτηρία is a Greek word that is most often translated “salvation.” But apart from spiritual salvation, it also means victory, deliverance, rescue. And a fair number of Scholars, using both the context of the passage and the grammatical fit of the word, opt for the meaning of “Victory” here.

“Victory belongs to God, and to the Lamb.”

One of the things that has always bothered me about Revelation is the blood thirstiness and battlefield imagery in the book. As I have been told by more than one teacher, in the Gospels we see Jesus as a the Savior who came to sacrifice himself but in the Revelation we see Jesus as a Warrior who comes to get revenge.

Sorry folks, I just don’t buy that schizophrenic description of Jesus. Greg Boyd, in his incredible 1400 page book Crucifixion of the Warrior God, is helping me understand this paradox somewhat. He suggests that if we focus on how this warrior Jesus is described, we will discover that he is not a gladiator out for blood, he is a Savior whose weapon is a two edged sword which comes out of his mouth. A “two edged sword is a common symbol for the Word of God and His weapons are the words of truth and grace he utters.

Apart from the perception that Jesus is a warrior in Revelation, the reality is that he is most often identified in the Apocalypse not as warrior who slays, but as “the lamb who was slain.” The spotless, blameless One who sacrificed himself for all the rest. It appears that the bloody imagery that is found throughout Apocalyptic literature is transformed from blood letting to sacrificial giving in the Lamb who was slain.

Σωτηρια, victory, is found in the salvation that comes from God as it is experienced in the Lamb who expressed to us the person of God whose very being is love and whose sole desire is to help us experience holy love!!!

The throng that is singing these praises is described by the writer as “a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Every.

“Every” is a big word. It is all inclusive. Every means every. The crowd is described by the seer as being from every nation. tribe. people. language.

In 2017, according to WorldAtlas.com there are 194 nations in the world.
In just one of these 194 countries, the country of Burma, there are 135 tribes and ethnic groups.
The Joshua project suggests that there are 16,825 people groups in the world.
The Ethnologue Catalogue cites 7099 languages that are spoken in the world today.

Every. nation. tribe. people. language.

For those who don’t like to hang around with people who are different than them,
for those who think its demeaning to have to listen to people speak a different language than them,
for those who think people should stay with their own kind,
for those who hate or fear or distrust people who are different shade of melanin than them,
its gonna be rough days ahead.

They are not going to like heaven one bit, every. nation. tribe. people. language.

Every. When I think of the word “every” and the bible my mind automatically goes to that amazing passage at the end of the poem in Philippians chapter two where the writer declares, “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”

Every. nation. tribe. people. language. knee. tongue.

When all is revealed, when the the Lamb that was slain reigns as King of Kings, all of us, every one of us will find ourselves where we need to be- in the very presence of a God who loves us and accepts us as beloved children.

That is the hope!

Amen.

November 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for November is now available here.

October 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for October is now available here.

August-September 2017 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for August-September is now available here.