Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church – Edmonton, Alberta

Posts Tagged ‘Revelation’

Is Heaven for Real? – Willy Muller, Taylor Seminary

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Letter from Patmos: Afterlife – Justin Majeau

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Of Swans, Elephants and Divine Judgement – Arnie Voth

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Letter from Patmos: What are We Talking About? Practice? – Justin Majeau

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Letter from Patmos: Empire of Illusion – Justin Majeau

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August 05, 2012

 

Today Lorraine will be speaking to us from Revelation 3:7-22. Her sermon is titled “Revelation A Story for Now: Open Door”.

Weekly Book Review : Revelation Redux

How a 80 A.D. Sci-Fi Letter Saved Christianity

 

Christianity within Asia Minor was stuck in a complacent groove within the Roman Empire by the close of the first century. You could stand outside the marketplace and find a charismatic and gifted communicator claiming to give leadership to the church instructing the fledgling movement that since the Emperor wasn’t asking them to sacrifice a dove, lamb, goat or child to him that offering a mere pinch of incense wasn’t that bad. Considering also that if you didn’t offer up the incense to the Emperor you would not be given “the mark” and entrance into the marketplace where you could buy and sell the products you needed to meet your basic needs. (Revelation 13:16)

 

 

“You have a family to think. Besides,” the Nicholation would go on ” do we really want to upset the Emperor and our prosperity over such a trivial matter as a pinch of incense? Just look at what happened to our brothers and sisters to the south when they acted like they could subvert the government.(Luke 19:42) Christ message was one of “personal relationship.” (?) Christs message was that He would dwell in “your private lives”(?) so just offer a little sacrifice, get the mark and get back to your “public life.”

 

 

But despite the efforts of a small group of Christians in Asia Minor who thought this teaching was contrary to what the prophets and Jesus taught (Revelation 2:2), Christianity was very much on the decline. Who were people to believe? A group of poor, destitute followers of Jesus who were claiming to worship him and him alone even to the point of starvation and death or a group of affluent followers of Jesus who were claiming you could have the cake and eat it too. (Revelation 2:9) These Nicholations weren’t bad, immoral or even overtly evil people. They were competent men and women who were moving up in the Empire while “holding Jesus in their hearts.” Plus they did have a point. Everyone needs to eat. (Exodus 16:2 and Revelation 2:17)

 

 

And then came theologian Johns letters from exile. (Revelation 1:9)

 

 

It was subversive and gritty, a poetry-kaleidoscope trip into the adulterous near future. In this poem the smiling Nicolations were recast as worshipers of Jezebel (Revelation 2:20) and followers of Balaam (Revelation 2:14) who were unintentionally doing more than merely encouraging men and women to give a pinch of incense to the Emperor. According to Pastor Johns tale, giving the pinch on incense to the Emperor was equivalent to spending a night in the brothels of demons. (Revelation 2:20) It was a tale of beasts, dragons, monsters, stars, demons, angels, horses, serpents. The letter of the near future was bizarre, threatening to most, reassuring to a few and also strangely real to all. “For those with ears to hear” this story would have been like seeing the world for the first time and with its many throwbacks to the Hebrew Scriptures it would have also been like hearing the prophets again for the first time. With his ingenious use of sevens, sixes, fours, twelves and ones, Johns Revelation wasn’t just stylistically stunning; it felt like the template for a future that was breaking in upon them. A future that “was moving into the neighbored” not just in the future 15 minutes-it was the future sideswiping the listener and leaving them on their knees in either worship, repentance or confusion. Usually all three.

 

 

The letter was a desperately needed course correction. Christianity had lost the thread of devotion, obedience and sacrifice it was originally birthed with ( ). Christians were no longer worshiping a God who was beyond their comprehension, they were systematizing and compartmentalize a deity into “their private lives” so that they could avoid it all the while bowing down to a self-proclaimed deity that seemed to hold all the power. Someone needed to put the Emperors in their place, silence the Nicolations and more importantly, someone needed to grab this young movement by the scruff and yank it around-force them to look at the present moment and decipher its implications. “Let him who has ears, let him hear.”

 

 

Feeling out of options, St. John, reached for a long out of date genre for his letter. People had been complaining for decades that this particular genre wasn’t direct enough. If they couldn’t read it or understanding its meaning in 20 minutes with a simple scan of the eye they would move on to the latest “3 points and a poem” from the charming Nicolations. People criticized the genre as “fluff” and irrelevant to the worlds more sophisticated and scientific pallet. But for whatever reason, maybe John saw things alone on Patmos that could only be described with beasts, violence and mayhem. Who knows? For whatever reason John chose to write his letter as Science Fiction and the Christian church was jolted out of their slumber.

 

 

Notes

-The Genre that John wrote Revelation in is called Apocalyptic Literature. It is different than Science Fiction in that it is even more bizarre

-I left the title as similar as I could to Paolo Bacigalupis article in the June 2012 edition of Wired magazine because the post is mirrored almost completely on it. See “How the 80’s Saved Sci-Fi” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Wired 20.06

Weekly Book Review: Revelation

 

Little over a weeks’ time we will begin our sermon series on arguably the most debated and speculated at piece of writing in the Western and Eastern biblical canons, the book of Revelation in our series entitled Letter From Patmos. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” Fortunately for St. John and G.K. Chesterton they were not prophets in the predictive sense of the word therefore they were spared from hearing the wild, escapists, end-of-world-forecasting fantasies that have been successful (think billions, not millions, of books and movies) in being propagated the past few decades. Most namely being the collection of novels written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. What has often been left behind by these and other wild commentators” has been the Bible itself. With this firmly in mind I have spent as much time as possible with guides whom recent history has found to be not all that wild ( nor for that matter wildly successful at entertaining the masses as their counterparts have been) and would like to offer up a brief bibliography of the texts , both biblical and none, that have been the poet Virgil equivalent to me not as I journeyed through a fiery inferno but as I journeyed through the vision of reality for the 1st century as well the 21st century and everything in between, before and after, given to Poet John while in seclusion on the Island of Patmos. This summer and early fall at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren we have fifteen Sundays to engage this book which means much will regrettably be omitted and so for a slight consolation if there is something you want to engage with a little longer, linger on or cultivate more fully, it is my hope that this little bibliography can serve as a good place to start.

 

Canonical (The ancient writing collected in the Christian Bible) Books: Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the Psalms. Throughout the series I will be teaching from, unless otherwise noted, the New Revised Standard Version but any translation will do and if you don’t have yet have a Bible flag me down and I will set you up.

 

Non-Canonical (ancient writing not collected in the Christian Bible) Apocalyptic Books:

1 Enoch   ( http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/enoch.html) , 

2 Baruchhttp://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrapha/2Baruch.html) ,

4 Ezra     (  http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/Kjv4Ezr.html ).

If the book of Revelation will “bring a blessing to those who read it” why is the message seemingly so obscure?

The simple answer is that it isn’t obscure and that we have just lost the art or ability that would have been commonly held by Pastor John’s original congregations. As one commentator puts it “faced with the style of revelation, the modern reader who knows little about Biblical literature and its parallels is like a person who, though unfamiliar with stocks and bonds, tries to understand the Dow-Jones reports.” I argue that the best place to start engaging the letter of Revelation (outside of the book itself) is the Bible. While St. John takes pieces of every book of the Bible and makes it his own, he writes in the line of other Jewish prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah and the poets of Psalms. We would be well suited to learn from the same prophets and poets that shaped Theologian John. When it comes to having our imaginations first filled with the prophets and poets before we pick up the letter of Revelation Eugene Peterson goes so far as to warn “we have no business dealing with Revelation until we have (read the entire Old Testament)” which is a helpful reprimand but not entirely feasible for some who may be new or newer to the Bible. However it would serve a good purpose to say that the collected Christian canon should be engaged before we engage the non-canonical apocalyptic books (1 Enoch, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra).

 

Commentaries, Dictionaries and Introductions

The Revelation of St. John The Divine

Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2005 – 242pp. – $37.63

 

A Rebirth of Images

Austin Farrer – Wipf and Stock, 2007 – 350pp. – $44.26

 

Revelation

J. Massyngberde Ford – Doubleday and Co.,1975 -455pp. – $44.99 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

M. Eugene Boring, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 – 236pp.- $27.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

Craig S. Kenner, Zondervan, 2000 -576pp.-$35.49 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation for Everyone

N.T. Wright, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011 -227pp.- $16.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

Revelation

J. Ramsey Michaels, InterVarsity Press, 1997 -265pp.-$18.99 (or free for loan from my library)

 

The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings

Bart D. Ehrman, Oxford University Press, 2000 -465pp.- $71.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

John J. Collins, Daniel C. Harlow, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.-2010 -1360pp.- $104.99  (or free for loan from my library)

To help with these ancient texts, no matter what they wrote in their introductions, modern commentators like Austin Farrer and J. Massyngberde Ford are demanding and call for a level of familiarity with the text and context of Revelation but offer the best example of the intent of St. John (Farrer) and assembly of the most current scholary material (Ford). I mention Borings Revelation because it is part of my favorite commentary series Interpretation and will use it extensively in our sermon series thus potentially making it redundant reading. Ehrman and The Eerdmans Dictionary on Early Judaism both contain only entries on apocalyptic literature and the book of Revelation so here I would suggest not a purchase but a visit to your, or my own, local library. All the remaining texts are accessible ranging from the slightly academic Revelation by Keener to the devotional approach of Wright and Michaels.

 

Revelation in the News

Revelations: Vision, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation

Elaine Pagels, Viking, 2012 – 246pp.-$29.50 (or free for loan from my library)

 

If are only going to read one book on Revelation make it one of these

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination

Eugene H. Peterson – HarperOne, 1988 – 194pp. – $18.99 (free from my bookshelf)

 

The Beginning and the End: Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions

Michael W. Pahl – Cascade Books, 2011 – 106pp. – $11.65 (free from my bookshelf or the LMBC Library but you really should buy it)

As someone who has made her academic career on Gnosticism I was shocked to find Elaine Pagels engage a most decidedly earthy gospel. One of Dr. Pagels many gifts is the ability to bring academic debate into the public square. She is able to articulate an interesting view of the writer John and presents a widely different approach than the one I will be taking which will most decidedly be in the vein of Peterson and Pahl. 

 

Non-Religious Summer Reading You Could Justify as Revelation Work

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination

Margaret Atwood, Signal, 2011 – 255pp. – $26.99 (free from my bookshelf)

The Road

Cormac McCarthy, Vintage,  2007 – 304pp.- $21.00

The actual quote eludes me but I once an essay by Michael Chabon in which he wrote something like ” a religious systems of belief is beyond my grasp because of how much Science Fiction I have read” the quote, or idea, struck me as odd as it is precisely that type of literature (like Jeremiah, 4 Ezra) that create the right atmosphere to embrace a faith that has real life consequences on this earth here and now as represented in the letter of Revelation. Atwood displays how Science Fiction forms our imagination while Cormac McCarthy does just that.

Deep Time

The founder and publisher of the online science salon edge.org, John Brockman, wanted to know what scientific concepts would improve humanities cognitive toolkit. He wanted to know which scientific concepts should join the ranks of “market,” “placebo,” “random sample,” and “naturalistic fallacy” in making a difference in our everyday lives. Martin Rees, (President emeritus, the Royal Society; professor of cosmology & astrophysics; master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge) ventured the understanding of “Deep Time” and the “Far Future”

 

Evidence that the first century-church expected Jesus to return in a “very short time” and in “the near future” is finger printed all over the New Testament. Most incriminating of all evidence is the idea that Jesus’ closest disciples began to rethink their understanding of his return travel itinerary before the close of the apostolic period. Arguably nearing the end of his life, Simon Peter, wrote a second letter that seemed to address the issue; “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.” Peter was trying to persuade the church or maybe just himself that they needed to extend their time horizons. That they needed a deeper and wider awareness that far more time lay ahead than had elapsed up until then.

 

This is not entirely different than “Deep Time” presented by Martin Rees who argued if we could come to understand that our present biosphere is the outcome of about 4 billion years of evolution, and we can trace cosmic history right back to about 13.7 billion years ago, if we could not only grasp the stupendous time spans of the evolutionary past but also the immense time horizons that stretch ahead we would be the better off.

 

Last week my friend Darrel wrote; “Writers of the New Testament wrote as though in a sprint against Christ’s return. 2000 years plus  and it’s a marathon. Should that not impact our orthopraxy?”

 

While there is no justifiable denying of the fact that a belief in a “very short time” or “near future” return of Jesus did not (expansion of first century church) or does not (expansion of the 20-21st century pentecostalism) engender activity. Much of it good. Though the same could be said of positive short term gains with steroid use in professional athletes. Within “Short Time” we are left scrambling, hurrying, rushing and worst of all time is treated like a non-renewable resource which we trade like oil and water in the apocalypse waste land of Mad Max or science fiction landscape of Justin Timberlake. Locating ourselves within the “Deep Time” of Christ or the universe doing the opposite of leaving us intimidated by the vastness of both we are liberated to live thoughtful, present lives and lives to the full.

 

Like an injection of Human Growth Hormones Christ could have used “very short time” language to incite a flurry of activity in his followers but instead he chose to prepare them without using that type of hurry and crisis language so common in election campaigns. For the health of his church and followers he welcomed them into “deep time” to the point where people accused him of being lazy. Eugene Peterson;

 

“A kind of intimacy develops naturally when men and women walk and talk together, with no immediate agenda or assigned task except eventually getting to their destination and taking their time to do it.”

 

Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of wholeness will be available to us when we come to understand that our sun is less than halfway through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it’s got 6 billion more years before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, engulfing the inner planets and vaporizing any life that might then remain on Earth. But even after the sun’s demise, the expanding universe will continue, perhaps forever. That, at least according to Martin Rees, is the best long-range forecast. Who knows.

 

Not only will our cognitive toolkit be improved but a kind of intentionality on this life, here and now, will be available to us when we come to understand that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like on day.”