For the better part of three days this week I gathered with six colleagues and our teacher, Dr. Ron Allen, recently retired as professor of preaching, as well as Gospels and Letters at Christian Theological Seminary. The six of us worked through six passages drawn from Revelation under the tutelage of Ron. We walked through the passages and then yesterday morning we offered sermons (prepared somewhat on the fly), which were critiqued by the group. It is a bit humbling to stand before colleagues and preach a sermon written on short order, but we did it.
As to why I am offering a reflection on the Book of Revelation, I will confess that it is fresh in my mind. One thing we discovered in our conversations is that most of us haven't spent a lot of time with this particular text, which is unlike anything else in the New Testament. I shared with the group that years ago I was at an academic meeting where Robert Funk, a founder of the Jesus Seminar, suggested that Revelation should be removed from the canon because it is too dangerous to be considered part of the Bible. I don't think Funk was as concerned about the content of the Book of Revelation as the way it has been used (and misused) down through the ages. It is true that Revelation has been used to justify all manner of dangerous ideas and actions. However, this isn't a necessary outcome. The better path is to interpret it carefully and humbly. It requires recognizing that it can't be read literally.
The passage I took up was Revelation 19:11-21:
Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God,
As you can see, this is not an easy passage to engage with. I titled the sermon "Feed the Birds," contrasting Mary Poppins song "Feed the Birds" with the invitation to the vultures and other carrion birds to feed on the fallen kings and generals. I will admit that the sermon needs more work if it is to be taken public, but as you can see this is a challenging text. It raises questions about the nature of God, about God's response to evil, the role of the cross, and more. The message in this particular passage needs to be heard in a broader context, but if we are able to hear what John is trying to say, maybe we can hear a message concerning the seriousness with which God takes evil. God is not absent, as we might believe, but is engaged in ways that may not be observable to us.
Again, why share this? Perhaps I just want to invite others to consider the message of this oft misunderstood text of Scripture. It is good to remember that the Book of Revelation ends with a New Heaven and a New Earth -- that is a restored and reconstituted earth. The last of the six texts to be take up was Revelation 22:1-5:
Isn't that a beautiful picture? Certainly a better way to end than with Revelation 19! In any case, may we give careful attention to this most intriguing of books.