May 29, 2022
These past few weeks have been difficult for anyone who tries to be aware of what’s happening in the world. In the span of just a couple of weeks, acts of violence have grabbed the nation’s attention. Buffalo, New York saw a horrific vision of the racism that still captivates too many people in this country. Irvine, California was shocked by an assailant trying to murder churchgoers. And this week, the worst kind of tragedy happened in Uvalde, Texas.
I have been exhausted by it, to tell y’all the truth. This kind of thing keeps happening, and it feels like nothing will ever be done to fix it. After nothing was done after Sandy Hook, I think something in me broke. And that pain was put into even sharper relief this time because this time I have children. I could not focus on this sermon this week. I couldn’t dig into the texts like I usually do, listening to your stories to see how what’s said could be relevant to our lives. And that’s not a good place for a pastor to be.
I spent most of this week pleading with God to give me some kind of hope, because as it stands I couldn’t find any. The cycle of this peculiarly American national conversation is way too familiar and way too well-rehearsed. I wanted something—something in what Jesus said to his disciples about being made one in the Father’s love, something in Paul’s persistent worship in the face of imprisonment, something in the closing of Revelation—something that would speak hope and healing to the horror and pain of this week’s events and the helplessness and hopelessness that I feel so that I could give that hope and healing to y’all. And the only thing I kept coming back to was the second-to-last sentence in the Bible:
“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
It’s a word that reminds us that the book of Revelation is a book of hope. Yes, Revelation is a book of Christian hope.
Most of us, if we’ve spent time thinking about Revelation, would probably associate it with the imagery found in the Left Behind series of novels. We read in its pages the frightening imagery of the apocalypse, with fire raining down from heaven, horsemen bringing death and devastation, bewildering arrays of numbers with obscure symbolic meanings, dragons and beasts and boiling seas. Hearing it called a book of hope, then, might seem like an odd thing. What is hopeful about descriptions of the end of the world? Of destruction and death? Plagues and violence?
Part of why it can be hard to see the hope in Revelation is that we modern American Christians are in a situation almost nothing like the second-century Christians who first heard this book read. The original audience of Revelation was a rag-tag minority, facing actual bodily harm from their neighbors for being Christian, looked at with suspicion and occasionally persecuted by the authorities, and generally living in constant danger because of their faith. Never mind prayer in schools; these Christians could be executed because they failed to sacrifice to the idol of the Emperor. So when they read Revelation and saw all the horrible imagery of apocalypse, they weren’t disturbed because they were living with that kind of turmoil and anxiety.
Where the hope comes in is the trust that Jesus will not leave them in this awfulness forever. In the face of all that destruction and terrifying imagery, the early Christians saw Jesus shining through the darkness, the peaceable lamb who brings an end to all the suffering and alienation and fear they were experiencing. For a people who, unlike us, had no say in how society would treat them, knowing that the Alpha and the Omega was in their corner was enough to get them through the ways their social circles would abandon them, the authorities would try to kill them, and their faith would be tested to the breaking point. They just had to hold on until Jesus came again.
We are not in a position of powerlessness, like they were. I don’t want us to confuse that. We don’t live as a disenfranchised minority in an autocratic empire; we live in a democracy where the very days of the week are organized around Christianity. However, I think that peek at the end can help us when things feel impossible. When we have a week like we’ve had, and it feels like nothing is going to change. Whatever ends up happening, whatever doesn’t end up happening, we know how this ends. We know that Jesus is coming.
So in the meantime, don’t lose hope. Don’t give up on doing good. Don’t give in to the brokenness of our country and world. Don’t pull back from fighting for justice and for the sanctity of life. Because even though our work will not be complete and it will take the return of Jesus before the evils of this world are vanquished, we are still called to be lights shining in the darkness.
Share the gospel by the way you treat others. Love people by treating them how you want to be treated. Do the little things—sitting with the outcast at lunch, sharing your blessings with your neighbor, making lunches for farmers, sewing quilts and pillow dresses. But also do the big things—speak up for life, write your congressman, argue what makes good policy with others. Our values as Christians should guide every part of our lives, both the personal and the political. And both of them can be hard. Both of them can feel impossible. But we’re not called to shrink from the impossible; we’re called to be bold in the face of hopelessness, to shine goodness when no one can see a way out, to love when the world is filled with hate. We know this work won’t be finished. But Jesus wants us to try, because that’s the kind of world that he’ll bring when he returns.
And when it feels like that’s not enough and the evils of the world start getting overwhelming, we cry out “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” Because that’s how this story is going to end. He’s going to come back and make all things right. He’s going to return and finish the work. He’s going to come back, and it will matter that we tried, because by trying we will be better prepared for the world he’s going to make. By trying we will have washed our robes, ready for the bridegroom to arrive.
So have hope. Do what you can. And trust that Jesus will finish the work.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.