In advance of the next court appearance of the Juliana youth plaintiffs who are suing the government for a national climate recovery plan, Pastor Mark Brocker of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Beaverton, Oregon offered the following sermon on Sunday, May 26th based upon the assigned lectionary reading from Revelation. Preachers across the country are being invited to incorporate climate justice into their sermons this Sunday and faith communities are invited to make 5 – 10 second videos of support for the youth. More information is available at www.ecofaithrecovery.org/
FOR THE HEALING OF THE NATIONS
Sermon by Rev. Mark Brocker (St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Beaverton OR)
Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.
Revelation has been the most controversial and misunderstood book in the Bible. Prominent fourth century scholars Chrysostom and Eusebius questioned whether the book of Revelation should even be in the Bible.
Luther described it as, “neither apostolic nor prophetic.”
“My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book,” said Luther. “I stick to the books which represent Christ to me clearly and purely.”
Revelation was the one book of the Bible that Luther’s fellow reformer John Calvin did not write a commentary on. In Eastern Orthodox worship services Revelation is the only biblical book not read. 1 Not all Christians have been reluctant to embrace the book of Revelation. For example, millions and millions of contemporary conservative evangelical Christians have been fascinated with the Left Behind series, inspired in large part by Revelation imagery.
The popularity of the esoteric, often violent Revelation imagery among conservative evangelical Christians has served to make mainline Christians even more suspicious of Revelation. The book of Revelation is not easy to wade through. It is a challenge to relate to much of the imagery. But ignoring Revelation is misguided. So many in our time struggle to maintain hope. Our second reading from Revelation offers us a powerful hope-filled vision of the healing of the nations, a vision followers of Jesus need to embrace. The tendency has been to assume that Revelation is about the future—the last days. Certainly that is part of the imagery. But it is also addressed to complacent Christians who saw little conflict between their faith and the prevailing culture of the Roman Empire.
Revelation 18 is a devastating critique of “Babylon,” which represents the city of Rome. Babylon is characterized by indulgent living, pomp and ceremony, confidence in human power and might, unjust business practices, and outright immorality. Some of these characteristics sound very familiar. Revelation 18 affirms repeatedly how quickly the prevailing way of life in Babylon can be destroyed.
In verse 10: “Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city.
For in one hour your judgment has come.”
In verse 16:“Alas, alas, the great city,
clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
For in one hour
all this wealth has been laid waste.”
In verse 19:“Alas, alas, the great city,
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in one hour
she has been laid waste.”
We live in the most prosperous, most powerful nation in the history of the world. We might anticipate that our young people would be full of confidence and optimism. But for many that is not the case. The future does not look bright to them. They are troubled by the way people of differing religions and cultures are stigmatizing and persecuting one another. They can read the ecological handwriting on the wall. They have lost confidence in our leaders. They have a sense of how quickly things can be laid waste. In the last two chapters of Revelation John offers us a powerful vision of hope. God does not want our young people or any of us to live in hopelessness and despair. We are offered a vision of a new city, a vision of the healing of the nations, a vision of a new heaven and a new earth.
What are the key aspects of this vision? First of all, this vision provides us with a powerful sense of God’s presence in and among us on our Earth home. In the Left Behind series salvation is depicted as leaving Earth behind and being raptured to be with Jesus in heaven.
Unbelievers are left behind on the evil Earth. In Revelation 21:2–3 we are told that the new Jerusalem will come down out of heaven and a loud voice will say,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
[God] will dwell with them;
they will be [God’s] peoples,
and God . . . will be with them.”
If there is any rapture in Revelation 21, it is God who is raptured to Earth. In The Rapture Exposed Barbara Rossing speaks of a “rapture in reverse.” 2 God’s presence on Earth is a powerful sign that God has not given up on our Earth home and its inhabitants, and God does not want us to give up either. A striking feature of the vision of the new Jerusalem is that there is no temple in the city.
Why is that?
It is because the presence of God the Almighty and Jesus the Lamb fills the whole city. The whole city has become a temple, a place filled with God’s presence. In Revelation our whole Earth home becomes a temple, filled with God’s presence. A second key aspect of this vision is God’s intention to provide for
the healing of the nations. The Greek word translated as “nations” can also be translated as “peoples.” God is hard at work, making all things new, seeking to bring healing to all peoples.
God wants followers of Jesus to participate in this healing process. A beautiful image of the tree of life is used to depict this hoped for healing:
“On either side of the river is the tree of life
with its twelve kinds of fruit,
producing its fruit each month;
and the leaves of the tree
are for the healing of the nations.”
The image of the tree points to how interconnected our human well being is with the well-being of all our fellow creatures. Human beings and trees, for example, are breathing partners. Professor Cris Brack, grieving the loss of a tree outside his office window, had this to say about the tree’s significance:
“The tree outside my office had been growing
alongside that popular path for years,
and thousands of students
walked past it each day.
Those students gained much from the rich air
that tree was responsible for creating. That air
was drawn deep into the lungs
of all those passing students.
Maybe they even performed
a little better in their studies, energized
by the walk beneath the tree.
But remember –
the students breathed out again.
That very same tree took that expelled air,
breathed from the lungs
of all those students
and now rich in carbon dioxide,
and drew it back into itself to grow.
Think of that.
All those students who passed that tree
over the past half-century
have given a part of themselves
to help form the wood
at the heart of that tree.
The tree is recording a history of us.
In this way, the tree is us.” 3
When we realize how interconnected we are with other human beings and other creatures, it makes no sense to stigmatize other peoples; it makes no sense to persecute or neglect the most vulnerable among us; it makes no sense to persist in a way of life that threatens to cause so many other species to go extinct.
We are who we are in relationship to God, to other human beings, and to other creatures. A third aspect of this vision in Revelation is a holistic understanding of salvation. Salvation is a healing process. This healing process embraces the whole of life. God seeks the well-being of the whole person— mind, body, heart, and spirit. God is concerned about economic, social, political, and ecological well-being as well as spiritual well-being. Some may be surprised that salvation has anything to do with political well-being. But why would God not be concerned with any aspect of life that contributes to the healing of the nations and to the well-being of the planet?
God seeks well-being in our families,
our neighborhoods, our communities,
our nation, and our world.
The image of the river of the water of life implies that healing also embraces the well-being of watersheds. A fourth aspect of this vision is the way of life that fulfills it. It is the way of life of the Lamb of God who was slain, namely Jesus. It is a way of life distinctly different than the way of life that characterized Babylon. It is grounded in trust in God rather than in human power and might.
It is self-giving rather than self-indulgent.
It is non-violent rather than violent.
It is characterized by humility rather than by pomp and circumstance.
It seeks reconciliation rather than vengeance.
It is based on lasting hope rather than fleeting false hopes.
This hope-filled vision in Revelation is not one to be ignored. It needs to be shared, more so than ever. We can well understand why so many young people are filled with hopelessness and despair.
We need to let them know that God has not given up on our world.
We need to encourage young people who have not given up hope, who are willing to take risk, to bring healing to our Earth home.
We need to encourage them to take action, even if we do not always fully agree with them. Friday while I was writing this sermon, Time magazine reported that “hundreds of thousands of students around the world walked out of their schools and colleges Friday in the latest in a series of strikes urging action to address the climate crisis.” 4
The School Strikes for Climate Movement was started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. On June 4 the Juliana Youth Plaintiffs will be in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland. They are, in effect, calling our government and all of us to account for not seeking the well-being of our planet and all its inhabitants.
They are done with our Earth home being laid to waste. They understand how interconnected the whole Earth community is.
Thank God for these strikers and plaintiffs
who have not given up on life,
who still have some semblance of hope,
who have not left our Earth home behind.
For followers of Jesus, these young people are a clear sign that Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, did not die in vain.
Now is not the time to leave Earth behind.
Now is not the time to be complacent.
Now is the time to work with God and Jesus and hope-filled people, young and old, in seeking the healing of the nations and the well-being of our Earth home and all its inhabitants.
In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
- Sermon by Rev. Mark Brocker from St. Andrew Lutheran Church Beaverton, Oregon
1 Paul Neuchterlein, “Nonviolence and the Book of Revelation,” www.girardianlectionary.net/learn/nonviolence-book-revelation/
2 See especially pages 141–158
Please feel free to share this post with others and use the field below to post your thoughts on this topic. Thanks!