Folks, here is the sermon I preached today at my internship congregation. Scripture texts were Matthew 2: 1 - 2 and Revelation 7: 15-17
The Book of Revelation is a challenging text. Biblical scholars have struggled with it for centuries as they have attempted to understand just what exactly this book is actually about. It is full of strange prophecies and visions and images that cannot easily be explained. It is usually claimed by more conservative Christians to be a text about the end of days and what will happen to the faithful and unfaithful when Christ comes back in final victory. The wicked shall be punished and the good shall be rewarded and there shall be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Devil himself shall be conquered when Christ comes back in final victory. Before that can happen, though, there will be a great war to end all wars and there will be many casualties. Those who believe will be saved while those who don’t shall be denied eternal rest with God and instead will suffer the eternal torment of Hell.
That, as I said, is a conservative Christian reading of it. It has been used to justify all manner of evils in this world from holy wars to genocides to persecution of non-Christians. I’d like to, if I may, reclaim this text. Instead of labeling it as a text of terror, I’d like to offer up the idea that it is a text of grace. Let me explain what I mean.
Recently, there was some controversy in the news regarding an interview that the patriarch of “Duck Dynasty” gave in GQ magazine. For those of you who don’t know what “Duck Dynasty” is, it is a reality show on the A & E network that follows a family of duck hunters in the Louisiana bayou. The show is one of the most-watched TV shows on basic cable and frequently has more viewers than many critically-acclaimed shows like “Downton Abbey”, “The Good Wife” and “Mad Men”. In the interview, Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family, was asked about his views regarding homosexuality. Now, it shouldn’t really be that shocking that a redneck bearded straight white male from the South wouldn’t be in favor of it. What really stood out about the interview was the level of vitriol and distaste he had for it. He compared homosexuality to bestiality and cited his religious views and personal belief in God as the reasons for his dislike of it. Now, I’m not here to judge or condemn his remarks in any way. That’s not the focus of my sermon today, other than to say that if you’ve known me for more than five seconds, you can hopefully guess where I stand on his remarks.
What I am going to focus on is the level of “Christian outrage” that was generated over his remarks. The A & E network immediately suspended Robertson for his remarks claiming that his statements did not fit with the network’s personal views. The amount of Christian outrage over Robertson’s suspension has been astronomical as Christians have rushed to Robertson’s defense even going so far as to send A & E’s CEO death threats for daring to suspend him. Many Christians have held up his views as the correct Christian view on the issue and have said that Robertson is being persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Now, here are my questions about all this. A man is suspended from a TV show because he expresses his Christian beliefs that homosexuality is sinful and wrong. Christians everywhere respond with death threats and boycotts. Over 28,000 people in the United States have died due to gun violence since the school shooting in Connecticut last December. That means 90 people have died every single day due to gun violence. Where is the Christian outrage about this? One in eight people worldwide suffer from hunger or malnutrition issues. One in 8. Where is the Christian outrage about this? The United States, the richest and most developed country on Earth, has approximately 50 million people living at or below the poverty line. Where is the Christian outrage about this? In countries like Uganda, Russia and Qatar, LGBTQ individuals are subject to imprisonment, castration and even death just because of their sexual orientation. Where is the Christian outrage toward these countries and their flagrant human rights abuses?
Perhaps we have our priorities out of sync. Perhaps we’ve let our more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ hijack the message of Christianity. Perhaps it is time we reclaim this message and what better day to do it than today.
Today is the day when Christians celebrate Epiphany, otherwise known as the day that the magi (or the Three Kings or the Three Wise men) came to deliver their gifts to Jesus. Epiphany traditionally marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas and the beginning of what we liturgical nerds call “Ordinary Time”. Epiphany comes from the Greek word, epiphania, which translates as “the manifestation of God into the world”. Epiphany, literally then, is the day on which we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world because Christians recognize just how important Christ’s entry into the world is for their own lives.
What does it look like for Christ to be manifest in our world today? Earlier in the service, we sang the hymn “My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout” or as I learned it, “The Canticle of the Turning.” This happens to be a personal favorite hymn of mine and one of the reasons why is because it details what will happen when Jesus Christ manifests into the world. “The hungry poor shall weep no more for the food they can never earn. You will show your might and put the strong to flight. Your justice tears every tyrant from his throne.” This is what the world will look like when Epiphany happens and Christ is manifested in the world.
We hear this same sentiment expressed in our Scripture text from the book of Revelation. They will hunger no more and thirst no more... and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. This is the Good News that we hear from this book of the Bible. This is how we, as Christians, can reclaim the Book of Revelation and indeed the entire Bible: by declaring that it is a book full of hope and promise and grace. It proclaims that when Jesus comes into our world, there will be no more hunger. There will be no more thirst. There will be no more gun deaths or homophobia or racism. Not in the world that Jesus creates. There is simply no place for any of that in Jesus’s new world.
Just like a wrecking ball, Jesus comes in and tears down all our walls. Our walls of homophobia. Our walls of racism. Our walls of classism, sexism & transphobia. Jesus breaks on through them all and calls us to live with each other in peace and freedom. Freedom from violence and hate and bigotry. Freedom from oppression and freedom from repression. When Christ manifests himself into the world, it is truly a new day and a new world. One where indeed, the hungry poor shall weep no more. One where bigotry and homophobia no longer exist. One where our Christian outrage directs us to work for the outcasts and the displaced. The immigrants and those in poverty shall all have a place at the table in this new epiphany.
There’s a new day coming. A day in which Jesus is at the forefront. A day in which the Christian outrage is over issues like gun violence and poverty and homophobia and bigotry and sexism. The only questions that remain: are we going to let Jesus break down those walls? Are we willing to let Jesus Christ be the wrecking ball that our world so desperately needs?