Sunday, May 8, 2016

Easter 7C

Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21




Beloved people of God, grace and peace to you from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. AMEN.


On Friday at the Willamette West Habitat for Humanity Luncheon Aisha Osman, a freshman at Aloha High School, moved us with her hope-filled speech and engaging smile. Aisha and her family are Muslims. She was wearing the Muslim hijab, the head wrap many Muslim women wear. Aisha’s parents immigrated from Somalia, East Africa, to the United States in 1995. During Aisha’s early years she and her parents and siblings lived in a rundown two bedroom apartment. They were thrilled when they were able to purchase a Habitat for Humanity Home.


Aisha was candid about acts of prejudice and discrimination that have been directed toward her as a Muslim and an African American. One person even told her to go back to where she came from. Since she was born in Portland, she wondered where she was supposed to go back to. Her dad has taught her that racist and prejudicial comments are a product of ignorance and fear. Rather than take such comments personally, even though they can be painful, Aisha reminds herself that she represents something bigger than herself; and thus, she seeks to practice being peaceful and forgiving. That something bigger is the community of faith to which she belongs. Her confidence in the promises of Allah, the one God, allows her to face the future with hope rather than fear and to live accordingly.


We would do well to pause and ponder how we ourselves view the future. Are we filled with hope? Or are we filled with fear? What will be our final destination? How do we view the promises God has made concerning our future? How we view the future profoundly impacts the way we live our lives in the present.


Many Christians in the United States view the future in a way popularized by the Left Behind series. The Left Behind series was inspired by a theological system called “premillennial dispensationalism,” developed in the 1800s by British writer John Nelson Darby. History is divided into periods known as dispensations. The current dispensation is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus. As Craig Koester explains, “the next great dispensation will be the millennium, a thousand-year period of peace on earth. . . Since the authors of Left Behind insist that Christ must return before the millennium begins, they are called pre-millennialists.”[1] According to Koester, premillennial dispensationalists, inspired by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, stress that Christ will return “to snatch the faithful up from the earth before the beginning of the great tribulation that will conclude this phase of history.”[2] Their hope for the future, therefore, is to leave earth behind and be raptured by Jesus to heaven. Those who are left behind will have to deal with the consequences of the tribulation.


The Norwegian Lutheran tradition in which I grew up did not talk about being raptured. But we did have a milder form of “left behind” thinking instilled in us. The focus of faith was on individuals believing in Jesus enough to get to heaven. The hope was that Jesus would come again and raise the dead to eternal life in heaven. So, in effect, Earth and all its problems would be left behind and believers would go to heaven. Such a view of the future did not provide strong motivation to care about matters such as seeking justice for mistreated human beings or caring for Earth and all its inhabitants.


Our lesson for today from Revelation 22, the final chapter of the Bible, offers a distinctly different view of the future. Like proponents of left behind thinking, followers of Jesus long for his second coming. In Revelation 22:12 Jesus assures his followers: “See, I am coming soon.” He refers to himself as the Alpha and the Omega, just as God is referred to in Revelation 1:8. The Alpha and the Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The implication is that Jesus speaks with the authority of Almighty God. God and Jesus are the first and the last, the beginning and the end of all things.


The Spirit and the bride—that is, the church— respond to Jesus, saying “Come.” Everyone who hears the voice of Jesus is exhorted to say to him “Come.” In Revelation 20:20 Jesus testifies once more, “Surely I am coming soon.” The response is: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” “Amen” means “make it so.” “Come, Lord Jesus” reminds me of the common table prayer we said before every meal when I was growing up: “Come, Lord Jesus; be our guest. And let these gifts to us be blessed.” Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest? Proponents of left behind thinking treat Jesus as if he is a guest on Earth. His real home is in heaven. The hope is that Jesus will visit believers on Earth and take them with him to the heavenly home he has prepared for us.


The final two chapters of the Bible offer a very different picture of where God and Jesus make a home. Revelation 21:3 announces: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” God does not leave Earth behind. Rather God comes and makes a home with us on Earth. When the followers of Jesus pray “Come, Lord Jesus,” they are not inviting him to come and be a guest. They are inviting Jesus to come and make a home with them. They are confident that when God and Jesus come, good things will happen.


Revelation 21:4 affirms that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” The coming of the Lord, therefore, will lead to the alleviation of suffering. That is certainly something to look forward to.


It also clear that Jesus will come to judge. Often we have a negative view of judgment. But followers of Jesus in the early church, especially those who were victims of persecution and oppression, were eager for Jesus to come soon and set things right. They were confident that Jesus would preserve what is good and constructive and leave behind what is evil and destructive.


Those who longed for Jesus to come were also confident that his coming would lead to the healing of the nations. In the first two verses of Revelation 22 the life-giving healing power of God and Jesus is pictured as a river of life: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the city. 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 Greek word translated as “nations” can also be translated as “peoples.” Revelation 22:17 affirms that this healing is available for anyone who desires it: “Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” God and Jesus are eager to give this gift.


Those who see that God and Jesus are intent on making their home on Earth, not on leaving Earth behind, will live their lives in the present accordingly. They will seek to alleviate suffering. They will pursue that which is good and constructive and resist that which is evil and destructive. They will engage in the healing of the nations. In other words, they will seek to participate in what God and Jesus are up to on our Earth home. Our hope for the second coming of Jesus impacts how we live our lives here and now.


Surely followers of Jesus will want to love and care for all that God and Jesus love and care for. They will do things like make quilts and health kits and serve as a place to gather in quilts and kits from all over Oregon for Lutheran World Relief. They will seek to fulfill Willamette West Habitat for Humanity’s vision “of a community where everyone has a decent and affordable place to live and where substandard housing is politically, religiously, and socially unacceptable.” They will welcome a Muslim refugee family from Syria.


On Tuesday, May 31, the Alajrub family we are sponsoring will be arriving— a dad and a mom, a 17 year old boy, a 12 year old boy, and a 10 year old girl. They are coming sooner than we anticipated. They are Syrian. They are Muslim. They do not speak English. Our capacity to welcome the stranger will be tested.


The Alajrubs have been living in a refugee camp in Jordon for some time. They may have high hopes for a new beginning. But imagine what it will be like for them to arrive in a strange land— a land in which many people do not want to welcome them in.


Surely Jesus wants us to welcome them with open arms. They have suffered the loss of their home and their homeland. They have been afflicted in so many ways. Mr. and Mrs. Alajrab want what all caring parents want for their children: a safe place for them to live and thrive. Surely Jesus wants us to help them make a new home in their new land, where they can all live and thrive. Welcoming the Alajrub family is a way of living our promised future now.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Make it so.

















[1] “Revelation and the Left Behind Novels,” Word & World, Summer 2005, 275.

[2] Ibid., 276.