“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.
My sermon from Pentecost (May 8, 2016) on Revelation 22:12-14,16-21. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
How to you end a book about the end? That’s the question I like to imagine John of Patmos struggling with as he was writing the last paragraph of what we call the book of Revelation. In my head, I see him sitting in a poorly lit room, with his manuscript on his lap, and smoke from candles making soot marks on the ceiling. He flips through what he’s written. He re-reads his visions of heaven and he recreates in his mind the vivid and colorful images his words paint for us. He sees the four horsemen, sees God’s holy city descending from heaven, and watches as God’s story of faith, love, and hopes collide with the faith, hope, and fear that the Roman Empire taught and proclaimed. Through Jesus, John knows that God is doing an almost ridiculous thing. Instead of scratching everything and starting over, God is taking what’s already here in this world and making all things new. The broken, the doubting, and even those who do not know God are being transformed. The call from John to the people who hear his words is simple: don’t forget that Jesus is with you through all things. And this relationship isn’t just life-affirming, it’s life changing. John, in the 21 chapters before this, shared so much. But how to end it? Maybe, as he waits for the Spirit to inspire him, he watches as the candlelight flickers, casting shadows on the walls. And as these shadows move and dance, he sees images of the people he’s writing these words to. He sees the 7 churches, the homes they use as sanctuaries, the men and women who lead worship, and the young and old who gather there on Sunday mornings, in the predawn hours, to experience Jesus. And so, as the images of people dance before him, John takes a breath, puts his pen to paper, and the words just come.
Now, this past Friday and Saturday, was the New Jersey Synod’s annual meeting. Our denomination’s regional body met – so the Lutheran churches in NJ, sent their pastors and some of their members to meet for a day and a half to talk about what it’s like being the church in New Jersey. I was there, as well as Joanne Milano and David Crouse. But I did more than just share the joys and struggles we experience here at Christ Lutheran. I also co-lead a workshop over lunch on Friday that was all about church communication. Over 3 dozen folks gathered in a small conference room to talk about social media, facebook, websites, newspapers, and more. And it was great because, in the entire hour and a half, the conversation didn’t stop. People talked. They asked questions. And, after the workshop ended and I returned to the wider churchwide session, there was one question someone asked that wouldn’t stop gnawing at me. I….couldn’t stop thinking about it. We were asked if the New Jersey synod had any tips or tricks on how to use church communication tools to target, and market to, a specific audience. Churches do have a point of view, a message to share, and different parts of our story appeal to different kinds of people. Someone who loves thinking, talking, and mulling over God while in conversation with ancient theologians and modern day scholars might not respond to a message which highlights that our denomination is second only to the Roman Catholics when it comes to providing social services like nursing homes, food programs, and more. Our story needs to speak to different kinds of people and we need to know the people we’re speaking too. And that’s what targeting is about: knowing our audience and knowing our own story, too.
But there’s about a third of God’s story that this question misses. By focusing on who we’re trying to reach or on the story they need to hear, we bypass the message teller. We hope that the right message, or the right story, or the right words or images to share, will do all the work for us. If we just advertise in the right spot, and make sure these ads show up in the right space like during the Super Bowl or we never someone logs into Facebook, everything will just fall into place. Faith will spread. Our pews will fill and the world will be changed. But, in this scenario, the message, in the end, won’t involve us at all. And that’s what got me about the question we were asked. The question wasn’t how we, personally, could share Jesus. The question was assuming that the message, somehow, isn’t meant to come through us. But the medium is the message and it’s hard to admit that God has has called us – to be God’s message tellers. We, who don’t always know what to say, who might not even know what our own faith story is, we’re the ones called to tell and share what God is doing in our lives. And sometimes this story – this message – is obvious. When we feel God active in our lives, that’s easy to share. But sometimes, the most honest thing we can do is admit to others when we don’t sense God – and share that our faith, is sometimes hard. We’re the ones who, in our baptism, are given the job to tell our story and God’s story too. The message without the message teller doesn’t share all of who God is and what God does. God is making all things new but that needs to be pointed out and shared with our family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. We’re called to point out when we see that new thing, when we see that transformation, even when the one who is new happens to be us.
When the ink of the last paragraph of Revelation finally dried, what John wrote was simply: come. Come and see what God is doing in the world. Come and see what God is doing in my life. Come and see how God loves – and God won’t let our brokenness be the final word for us or for the world. Come and see. Come and notice. Come and share. Because as God’s story bubbles up in our lives – as acts of service, acts of love, and acts of faith suddenly show up and make themselves felt – when we hear God say ‘come’ – we don’t hoard that message for ourselves. We don’t hide it from everyone else. We who hear, we who experience, we who see and know God, we go into our world, to our friends, to our families, and to even strangers – and, like John of Patmos, like the 7 churches he wrote too, we who are imperfect – who are broken – and who mess up – we point to Jesus and say to all: ‘come.’