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On May 14th, a racist massacre at a grocery store in Buffalo.. On May 15th, a church shooting at the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church. And just this Tuesday, 19 children and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas were killed in the 214th mass shooting this year. Only in our country are guns the number one cause of death in children.
Our leaders tell us “there’s no way to prevent this kind of thing” “it could have been worse” and “the teachers shouldn’t have left the door open”. This Memorial Day weekend we pay tribute fallen soldiers and victims of war, but we must also memorialize the children who have been sacrificed for the sake of our country’s right to bear arms. Come, Lord Jesus.
Today’s lesson from the Book of Revelation describes the battle of good and evil. John’s Revelation features false prophets, deceptive leaders, wars and rumors of war, what John calls “the great ordeal.” I trust that you are here to renew your faith. So know this: the same Spirit who ordered the chaos of creation is at work today. The risen Christ is here among us.
This week, the scenes from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas reminded me of my Deep South upbringing in Plainville, Georgia. When I got home from school, I would escape into the piano, practicing incessantly, into the time my liked to watch the news and the Watergate hearings. Although we were Sunday morning Methodists, on Sunday nights I went to play the piano at the Baptist church near our home. Opal, who usually played the piano, wanted to cook Sunday night dinner for her husband, Herb. So, at the age of nine, I thought I was It leading worship up in the Unity Baptist Church.
Now, the preaching there was very different from ours at the Methodist church. The Baptist preacher nearly always referenced the Rapture, saying when Jesus returns, he’ll take the righteous with him up into heaven while the sinners will be left behind. We watched movies about it. The children’s choir sang songs about it. One went like this. Trigger warning: bad theology.
(sung) Life was filled with guns and wars
And everyone got trampled on the floor
I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold,
A piece of bread would buy a bag of gold
I wish we’d all been ready.
The Father spoke, the demon died,
The Son has come, and you’ve been left behind.
Your basic musical child abuse.
One autumn afternoon on a Sunday, I walked to the Baptist church to practice some more, and there was no one around. Usually someone was there to let me in. My watch said four o’clock. I sat down on the red brick steps and thought for a bit. Oh great, I’m evil. Jesus has come, and I’ve been left behind.
I couldn’t go home. My parents won’t be there—just left-behind me, me and my secret sinful self. I knew from age seven that I was different, but I didn’t have words to describe what I felt nor resources to understand my gayness. And now, thought nine-year-old Victor, Jesus has come back and confirmed my worst fears. I began to cry.
About that time, Louise Hobgood drove up in her new royal blue Ford Granada stick shift. “Honey, what are doing here so early? Did your mama forget to change the clocks last night? It’s okay, now don’t cry.” I had internalized that Jesus disapproved of the real me, but in that moment, Louise was all the Jesus I needed, the real Jesus, the One who meets you where you are with unconditional love.
Children need help learning to love themselves. Children need safety and nurture. What we experience as children, we carry with us the rest of our lives. Children internalize the experiences of shooter drills, and thousands of American children, like children in Ukraine and Syria, watch as people are gunned down.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Revelation is an example of a literary style called apokálypsi, apocalyptic. “The earliest readers of Revelation would have been familiar with Jewish apocalyptic literature.” They would know that the beasts are symbols for” the Roman Empire and the Babylonian Empire and noted [Revelation’s] similarities to Daniel, written over 200 years prior.”
Equally important to know, the Book of Revelation is first century political propaganda, holy propaganda. It is not intended to add anxiety to an already violent world, no matter what extremists tell us. Something can be done. Sometimes when I hear them on TV, going off on another scapegoating bender, demonizing children, I feel a chasm of despair calling.
Apocalypse Actualization Syndrome
Has anyone here thought about the end times while reading the news? Theologian Eugene Gallagher says that Revelation “offers an arsenal of apocalyptic images and predictions that can be used to target any specific time as the apocalyptic moment.” The eschaton, the Dies irae, the great deceiver, the four horsemen,…all of these wonderfully symbolic figures, through their vagueness…are very very adaptable. We can play “Pin the Tail on the Antichrist,” and find any number of people throughout history, who have been so designated.”
Pin the Tail on the Antichrist
When Martin Luther re-ordered the New Testament in the 16th century, he put Revelation last, arguing that Revelation should not be equally-weighted with the gospels and epistles. Martin Luther illustrated Revelation through woodcuts, depicting the pope as the antichrist. The seven-headed beast as the papacy. Since most people didn’t read, Martin Luther’s visual interpretation of the Pope as the Whore of Babylon reached a wider audience than did the gospels.
During my lifetime, every president of the United States has been labeled the Antichrist. Ronald Reagan labeled the Soviet Union the Antichrist. Hitler called the Jewish people Antichrist. And today, false prophets demonize Asians-Americans, trans children, Black people, immigrants, women, healthcare providers. The misuse of “Revelation’s chilling rhetorical power” is a scandal to God’s unconditional love. Revelation is neither a comic book nor a graphic novel. No one has the right to use it on whoever they disagree with, no matter how gratifying—or appropriate.
Overcoming Hateful Theology
That song that I learned in children’s choir instilled in me a deep sense of shame and fear. I’ve had to reconstruct my personal theology to call out everything that does not draw me closer to God. Many of you have had similar journeys. Chrissy Stroop writes about her toxic religious experience, saying when “…playing along seems like a safer option than questioning the faith, it’s no mean feat to reject [toxic] religion…The matrix of disciplinary mechanisms, internalized and/or externally imposed (and conservative Christianity has both kinds in spades), is nearly impregnable.”
Think of all the people who cleared out bank accounts to fund false ministries. Remember when Harold Camping prophesied that Christ would return on May 21, 2011? There were billboards here in SF. Didn’t happen. It won’t ever happen like that because Jesus is not Thanos. He’s not a Marvel Avenger either. And he won’t come back a-riding on a dragon.
The Evils of Empire & Domination
John’s arguments are against empire and domination, intended to inspire the Early Church in Asia Minor. Taken out of context, Revelation can “undermine the centrality of Jesus in the New Testament… [and] focus[es] the fulfillment of God’s promises in a scheme, rather than in [the] person [of Jesus Christ].”So, should the Book of Revelation be left behind? It’s too late for that. It’s already baked into our culture.
Metropolitan Community Church theologian Mona West writes that Revelation is “…meant to…encourage belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s dominant powers. Movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo are a ‘lifting of the veil,’ an exposing of the heresy of domination… the status quo brought to an end so that something radically new will take its place. Every generation gets that end times feeling. Even Jesus talks about the end times, although not as wildly as John. Martin Luther thought the end was near. Somedays I do, too. Feeling like the apocalypse is just around the corner is just part of the human condition. This world can be a lot.
For twenty chapters, Revelation tells ad nauseam of the final cosmic catastrophe.
Twenty long chapters, but that’s how it works. The forces of evil count on good people to grow apathetic, to give up. Evil wants us distracted and confused, divided and angry, powerless and afraid. Not today, Satan, not today. Verse 10: “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”
The ancient Greek word for Revelation means expose, uncover, reveal. Look around. Friends, the unveiling is already underway. The real Jesus is unveiled in you, every time you put feet on your prayers and make sacrifices for someone else. The real Jesus appears when good people show up, like Louise driving up in her blue Granada, healing me, loving me. The real Jesus returns every time we break free from the narrative of nihilism, The real Jesus lives in the perfect love that casts out fear.
Be Like Jesus
Since Columbine in 1999, we have allowed a political lobby to endanger children. That they would hold a convention just after Tuesday’s terrorism is beyond the pale. They want us to think we’re helpless.We are not helpless. We are Easter people. We are Jesus people. The Holy Spirit been organizing chaos for a long time. She specializes in it. Jesus never once responded with platitudes like “thoughts and prayers.” He healed. He fed. He went to where the pain was great. He did not give up. He did not give in. He loved and forgave, and he did not compromise his values. He hobnobbed with outcasts, made friends in enemy territory. He trusted women and believed them. He taught us that God’s dominion belongs to the children.
Call to Action
This Memorial Day, I urge you to contact family and friends in other states and beg them to contact their elected leaders to protect schools from more mass shootings. And that’s how Jesus’ return is close at hand. And his reward is returning with him, according to everyone’s work.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, and help us fix this mess. Amen.
 Revelation 7:14
 One Sunday night, I accompanied the Baptists to a church in Armuchee GA for a viewing of A Their in the Night along with other area youth groups. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Thief_in_the_Night_(film)> Cinematic child abuse.
 GLSEN’s report from 2019 shows that, although there has been some improvement since 1973, LGBTQ students still suffer needlessly. <https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2020-10/NSCS-2019-Executive-Summary-English_1.pdf>
 GLSEN offers this Inclusive Curriculum Guide, something that would benefit every student and include the LGBTQ kids. <https://www.glsen.org/activity/inclusive-curriculum-guide>
 Luke 24:13-35 They were walking along, and Jesus was walking with them even though they did not realize it, yet.
 Ephesians 3:18-19 and many other examples
 Emily Manthei “Apocalypse, Now? A Radical Rethinking of the Book of Revelation” Pipe Wrench online magazine, Issue #4, October/November 2021. accessible at <https://pipewrenchmag.com/revelation/> (May 23, 2022)
 Alex Morris, “The Awful Cost of the GOP’s War on Trans Teens” Rolling Stone, March 21, 2022, accessed online at <https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/trans-teen-medical-care-law-ban-suicide-1324451/> (May 26, 2022)
 Eugene Gallagher interview, Apocalypticism Explained: The Book of Revelation, accessible online at <https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/apocalypse/explanation/brevelation.html> (May 18, 2022)
 Most of the epistles. See <https://www.ncregister.com/blog/martin-luther-s-problem-with-the-epistle-of-straw>
 The Whore of Babylon in art <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon> Luther and the KKK depict the Pope as the Whore of Babylon. Yikes!
 Joe Carter, “The 7 Most Popular Contenders for the Title ‘Antichrist’” The Gospel Coalition, November 16, 2022, accessed online at <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-7-most-popular-contenders-for-the-antichrist/>
 Chrissy Stroop, “Goodbye, End Times” Pipe Wrench Magazine, Issue 4, October/November 2021, accessed online at <https://pipewrenchmag.com/goodbye-end-times/>
 Rev. 12, Rev. 20
 Dr. Ian Paul quoted by Manthei
  Mona West, MCC Call to Prayer: First Sunday of Advent 2018, accessed online at <https://myemail.constantcontact.com/First-Sunday-of-Advent–by-Rev–Elder-Mona-West–PhD.html?soid=1101747410130&aid=6b3_jrT8xBU> (November 30, 2018)
 Matthew 24:34
 “Martin Luther and the End of the World” Ministry International Journal for Pastors, December 1951, accessed online at <https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1951/12/martin-luther-and-the-end-of-the-world> (May 27, 2022)
 1 John 4:18
 Tim May “A secret tape made after Columbine shows the NRA’s evolution on school shootings” NPR All Things Considered, November 9, 2021, accessed online at <https://www.npr.org/2021/11/09/1049054141/a-secret-tape-made-after-columbine-shows-the-nras-evolution-on-school-shootings> (May 24, 2022)
 Genesis 1:2
 Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20; John 13:1-30.
 Mark 5:21-43; Matthew 8; Luke 17:11-19
 John 4:4-42;
 Kevin Deyoung, Out Pro-Women Complementation Jesus, The Gospel Coalition, February 15, 2016 <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/our-pro-woman-complementarian-jesus/> (May 28, 2022)
 Mark 10:13-16: Isaiah 11:6
10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”
Epilogue: Invitation and Warning
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.
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