A fourth deadly virus

It has become almost commonplace to suggest that there are two viruses in our midst – the coronavirus and the virus of racism.

In a sermon series I did in June 2020, I suggested that three viruses are ravaging American society today – the coronavirus, racism, and authoritarianism. The latter, of course, is most keenly represented by presidential poseur Donald Trump and others who follow in his footsteps.

Now I am ready to add a fourth. Call it a variant of the other three. Call it, as others have, an “infodemic.” It is an epidemic of misinformation. So much of it now concerns vaccination and masks and the “freedom” that some claim to expose others to the virus with no sense of personal responsibility.

The Republican party has become a master of misinformation on almost all fronts. I certainly would not call all Republican legislators liars, but when you consider the likes of Hawley and Cruz and DeSantis and McConnell and so many others, it becomes difficult not to paint with a broad brush.

No, we can’t talk about race because that’s “critical race theory.” No, we can’t investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection because that might expose traitors in high places. Yes, we believe in individual freedom when it comes to masks, but not when it comes to reproductive rights.

Yes, we believe in local control, unless it conflicts with mandates from Republican-controlled state legislatures. Yes, we believe in free elections, as long as Republicans draw the district lines and enact rules that keep minority (but soon to be majority) folk from casting a ballot.

There used to be a thing called truth, around which we could unify. Then along came Trump and the concept of “alternative facts,” meaning self-serving lies. And downhill we have gone.

We are in a volatile moment in our country’s history, maybe in human history as well. This is a moral crisis. We need a moral revival. What we need, the Rev. William Barber Jr. says, is a moral revolution. It will not come from liars and poseurs.

We need leaders who will unify us, not divide us. We need leaders who seek not to dominate but to persuade; leaders who want to make peace, not war; leaders who stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor; leaders who are humble, not proud; leaders who thirst and hunger for righteousness; leaders who understand that the source of real strength is not the knee you press on someone’s neck. No, real power resides in your alliance with the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

Look it up, as the loony conspiracy theorists say. Start with Acts 17:28 and Revelation 4:11. Only the truth will set us free from these four raging epidemics.

An anti-anti manifesto

Contrary to popular superstition, the pandemic is not a hoax. It is very real, and it is far more dangerous than you think it is.

Contrary to popular superstition, vaccines help prevent you from getting the virus.

Contrary to popular superstition, masks help prevent you and others from infecting one another.

Contrary to popular superstition, children are almost as likely as adults to get new strains of the virus.

If you don’t want to be vaccinated, you are welcome to have a nice death. But have the common courtesy not to take others with you. Stay home. You are not fit for human society.

If you don’t want to wear a mask, enjoy your “personal freedom” not to wear one – at home. Don’t go out in public. You are not fit for human society.

If you come down with the virus, don’t go to your doctor or the hospital. Why should you put your life in the hands of people you scorn when they tell you to get vaccinated and wear a mask?

If you don’t want your children to wear a mask at school, don’t send them to public or private schools where they might encounter other children. Homeschool them. Or keep them at home without schooling them, so that they will grow up as ignorant as you are.

If you think your rights are being violated, consider the rights of others not to be contaminated by you. Your right to breathe freely in public ends the moment your breath touches another person.

If you think the inconvenience of getting a shot or wearing a mask is too much to ask of you, don’t bother wondering what great thing you can do for your country. You’re just not up to the task.

A Christlike reading

I became aware of Bradley Jersak’s work less then a year ago, but how I wish I’d discovered him earlier! He makes Christianity feel alive again by returning to our origins and tracing how we’ve departed from them, especially how far we’ve drifted from vital readings of scripture.

His latest book is A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way. It’s part of a trilogy that includes A More Christlike God, and A More Christlike Way.

If you noticed the repetition of the word Christlike in the titles, you’ve found the secret to Jersak’s method. In Christlike Word, he says: “The emphasis of this book … is that Jesus is the Word of God and the Christian Scriptures faithfully testify to him.”

“The Bible an epic story of God’s love,“ shown most clearly in Jesus, he says. Reading it the Emmaus way follows the way Jesus himself modeled interpretation of scripture, as when he outlined it two to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27).

“An Emmaus hermeneutic, in which one reads the Hebrew Scriptures through the gospel lens of Christ, is our primary precondition for reading Scripture,” he states. One implication is that you don’t read Jesus through the lens of the Bible but rather you read the Bible through the lens of Jesus.

That sounds circular, and it surely can be, but it can save you from biblicism and biblioatry. You’re not imposing some fanciful notion of what the Bible is onto the gospel. Rather, you are using the gospel, the Good News of God, to interpret the Bible, from front to back.

If you read something that doesn’t sound like Jesus, you have reason to believe that either you or the author of the passage has misunderstood or misrepresented what God said or meant. “When a passage describes un-Christlike images of God, we must not read them literalistically, because attributing moral darkness to God’s nature or deeds is not worthy of God.”

Again, “The biblical use of words such as anger, wrath, and fury are passions that, when literalized, replace the one true God with an idol and commit a monstrous blasphemy”

You must always read a passage for its literal meaning but be careful about interpreting it literally. Jersak says: “the literal sense is essential to my reading of the Bible. But I believe that literalism and its handmaid, inerrancy, sprout from modernist ideology. Claiming a high view of Scripture, literalism actually undermines biblical authority by pre-imposing on the text a standard of sterile uniformity.”

“The Holy Spirit breathed truth through the authors of Scripture via both ancient worldviews and now-archaic descriptions. This does not make what they said untrue” unless “you force their descriptions to be read literally.”

If you are chained to a literal understanding of the Bible and wonder why it varies so much with the Jesus of the gospel story, now you have an answer to your questions and an avenue for further explanations of gospel truth rather than the fictions of pop religion.

The more you let Jersak’s thesis steep in your mind, the more you will be convinced of its truthfulness, and move closer to the Living Word, who is Jesus Christ.

________

Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Word: Reading scripture the Emmaus Way (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2021)

________

A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.

Have a cuppa

Today’s post from Ginger at CompassionFix.com was too good not to share. She writes:

What is getting your Time, Energy, and Attention right now?

TEA is a helpful acronym to remember to help you stay in alignment with your priorities, values, and goals.

It is also a helpful tool as an energy barometer – if your energy is low, consider what you are giving your time, energy, and attention … then make some adjustments.

We get to choose and control where we spend our time, share our energy, and give our attention.

Decide with whom and on what you will share your precious TEA.

That’s all. That’s great! Have a cuppa on me.

A readable, helpful introduction

The Bible isn’t just one book, it’s a Box Set, and it tells a Big Story, but sometimes we suffer Big Frustration because we read it the wrong way. That’s the thesis of Stephen Burnhope’s new book How to Read the Bible Well.

It’s subtitled “What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Love It (Again).” This subtitle suggests that some readers have loved the Bible in the past but don’t anymore, probably because they think it’s something it isn’t.

Burnhope hopes to clear up a host of misunderstandings in this introductory work on how to interpret the Bible without getting a theology degree. Against those who contend that the Bible needs no interpretation, he insists that it does. Every reading is an interpretation, he says, so you need to know what you’re bringing to the text as well as what you hope to receive from it.

Burnhope is a pastor in the Vineyard tradition, and its evangelical roots are clear in his writing. But Burnhope does not fear to challenge many evangelical sacred cows. He’s clearly no biblicist. He says: “The purpose of the Bible has never been to draw us into a relationship with the Bible, but to draw us into a relationship with God.”

In conversational and not confrontational style, he dives boldly into such topics as the nature of revelation and inspiration, the notion of a single biblical worldview, the nature of heaven and hell, why people suffer, how the Old Testament applies to Christians today, and the different ways God is portrayed in the two testaments.

He offers a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation) that is Christ-centered. “Everything God commands and everything God says will always correspond to Jesus – it will always ‘look like’ Jesus and ‘sound like’ Jesus. He is our perfect ‘lens’ for knowing who God is and what he’s like and always has been like.”

I can’t say that I agree with everything he says (we come from different faith traditions, after all), but this is a readable and helpful work, and I recommend it, especially to recovering evangelicals.

A few highlights from the text:

“We should respect the Bible for what it is and not try to defend it as something it was never intended to be.”

“Good interpretation always starts with what the text meant then and recognizes that it will not mean now something that it didn’t mean then.”

“There is not and never has been any such thing as a ‘Christian’ worldview or a ‘Christian’ culture to look back on and wish for a return to. There is no current or preceding worldview that qualifies to be called that. There isn’t even one that comes close to it.”

“The biblical story does not start with “original sin” but with “original goodness.”

How to Read the Bible Well, by Stephen Burnhope, Cascade Books, May 2021

A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.

Lest we forget

While House Coverup Leader Kevin McCarthy and his Republican cronies tell new lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, it might be useful to list some of the other the seditious members of Congress.

Election officials in all 50 states insist that the 2020 election was the most secure ever conducted, but the new GOP mantra remains that Trump won. This is lie, but too many people believe it.

These are the seditious 147 – those members of Congress who voted to undermine the presidential election of 2020. (The original list contained 129 names but 17 names have been added because they later voted to object to the results of the election in Pennsylvania.)

Senate

Josh Hawley (R-MO)

Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS)

Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

John Kennedy (R-LA)

Roger Marshall (R-KS)

Rick Scott (R-FL)

Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)

House

Robert Aderholt (R-AL)

Rick Allen (R-GA)

Jodey Arrington (R-TX)

Brian Babin (R-TX)

Jim Baird (R-IN)

Jim Banks (R-IN)

Cliff Bentz (R-OR)

Jack Bergman (R-MI)

Stephanie Bice (R-OK)

Andy Biggs (R-AZ)

Dan Bishop (R-NC)

Lauren Boebert (R-CO)

Mike Bost (R-IL)

Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Ted Budd (R-NC)

Tim Burchett (R-TN)

Michael Burgess (R-TX)

Ken Calvert (R-CA)

Kat Cammack (R-FL)

Jerry Carl (R-AL)

Earl Carter (R-GA)

John Carter (R-TX)

Madison Cawthorn (R-NC)

Steve Chabot (R-OH)

Ben Cline (R-VA)

Michael Cloud (R-TX)

Andrew Clyde (R-GA)

Tom Cole (R-OK)

Rick Crawford (R-AR)

Warren Davidson (R-OH)

Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)

Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)

Byron Donalds (R-FL)

Jeff Duncan (R-SC)

Neal Dunn (R-FL)

Ron Estes (R-KS)

Pat Fallon (R-TX)

Michelle Fischbach (R-MN)

Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI)

Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN)

Virginia Foxx (R-NC)

C. Scott Franklin (R-FL)

Russ Fulcher (R-ID)

Matt Gaetz (R-FL)

Mike Garcia (R-CA)

Bob Gibbs (R-OH)

Carlos Gimenez (R-FL)

Louie Gohmert (R-TX)

Bob Good (R-VA)

Lance Gooden (R-TX)

Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

Sam Graves (R-MO)

Mark Green (R-TN)

Marjorie Greene (R-GA)

Morgan Griffith (R-VA)

Michael Guest (R-MS)

Jim Hagedorn (R-MN)

Andy Harris (R-MD)

Diana Harshbarger (R-TN)

Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

Kevin Hern (R-OK)

Yvette Herrell (R-NM)

Jody Hice (R-GA)

Clay Higgins (R-LA)

Richard Hudson (R-NC)

Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Ronny Jackson (R-TX)

Chris Jacobs (R-NY)

Mike Johnson (R-LA)

Bill Johnson (R-OH)

Jim Jordan (R-OH)

John Joyce (R-PA)

Fred Keller (R-PA)

Trent Kelly (R-MS)

Mike Kelly (R-PA)

David Kustoff (R-TN)

Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)

Doug Lamborn (R-CO)

Jake LaTurner (R-KS)

Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)

Billy Long (R-MO)

Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Frank Lucas (R-OK)

Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)

Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY)

Tracey Mann (R-KS)

Brian Mast (R-FL)

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

Lisa McClain (R-MI)

Daniel Meuser (R-PA)

Mary Miller (R-IL)

Carol Miller (R-WV)

Alexander Mooney (R-WV)

Barry Moore (R-AL)

Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)

Greg Murphy (R-NC)

Troy Nehls (R-TX)

Ralph Norman (R-SC)

Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Jay Obernolte (R-CA)

Burgess Owens (R-UT)

Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

Gary Palmer (R-AL)

Greg Pence (R-IN)

Scott Perry (R-PA)

August Pfluger (R-TX)

Bill Posey (R-FL)

Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA)

Tom Rice (R-SC)

Mike Rogers (R-AL)

Harold Rogers (R-KY)

John Rose (R-TN)

Matthew Rosendale, Sr. (R-MT)

David Rouzer (R-NC)

John Rutherford (R-FL)

Steve Scalise (R-LA)

David Schweikert (R-AZ)

Pete Sessions (R-TX)

Jason Smith (R-MO)

Adrian Smith (R-NE)

Lloyd Smucker (R-PA)

Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

W. Gregory Steube (R-FL)

Chris Stewart (R-UT)

Glenn Thompson (R-PA)

Thomas Tiffany (R-WI)

William Timmons IV (R-SC)

Jefferson Van Drew (R-NJ)

Beth Van Duyne (R-TX)

Tim Walberg (R-MI)

Jackie Walorski (R-IN)

Randy Weber, Sr. (R-TX)

Daniel Webster (R-FL)

Roger Williams (R-TX)

Joe Wilson (R-SC)

Robert Wittman (R-VA)

Ron Wright (R-TX)

Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

Go, Wally!

Her joy was a joy to behold. Wally Funk’s brief flight into space aboard Blue Origin fulfilled a lifelong dream. An aviation pioneer in her own right, she was denied a chance to fly in space 60 years ago because of her sex. Tuesday morning, at 82, she became the oldest human to ever fly in space.

The real story, though, is her perseverance in following her passion. She trained as hard – even harder – than the male candidates for space flight, but she was never allowed to join the elite (read: male) team of astronauts. Still, she never lost confidence that she would one day make it into space. Billionaire Jeff Bezos invited her to be a guest on Blue Origin’s first human flight to space. It was, finally, a dream come true.

A fun sidelight, at least for this retired United Methodist pastor: On Tuesday morning, 300 members of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, Texas, attended a watch party at the church to cheer their friend’s accomplishment.

Soaring into space, lifted by the hopes and prayers of fellow church members as well as by a powerful rocket, she experienced the thrill of a lifetime. Most of us have dreams more firmly anchored to Earth. May we continue to pursue them as persistently and hopefully and successfully as Wally Funk.

Don’t forget. Tell it straight.

Forget the Alamo is provocatively titled and sometimes provocatively written. As snarky as some passages are, it’s a creditable retelling of the familiar Alamo story, and highly readable to boot.

The authors don’t actually want anyone to “forget” the Alamo. They do want to call a halt to the ways the story has been misremembered and used to demonize Mexican Americans, indigenous people and others.

Their most explosive contentions are that “the Battle of the Alamo was as much about slavery as the Civil War was about slavery,” and that it “might was well be a Confederate monument in the minds of conservative adherents to the Heroic Anglo Narrative.”

As revisionist as these statements might appear to be, they are standard fare for any decent Alamo book written in the last several decades. But those are fighting words if you are not informed by recent scholarship or just don’t care about facts – in other words, if you’re a Republican politician on the make in Texas.

A couple of weeks ago, more than 300 people were signed up to attend an event at a state history museum focused on the book’s take on history. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led an attack that caused the event to be canceled.

So much for freedom of thought in the state of Texas. You don’t mess with the Alamo Myth, no matter how big a lie most of it is. In Texas, it appears that the bigger the lie, the more “heroic” it is.

For the record, the full title is Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth. It’s written by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford, Texans all.

They tell the story of the Texas Revolution and the Alamo battle in the book’s first 10 chapters, then devote another 10 to how the story got to be what most of us were taught in grade school and in such movies as John Wayne’s “The Alamo.”

A few more chapters continue the saga of how politicians and historians and preservationists have battled over how to properly manage the site of the 300-year-old Spanish mission that became a fortress and then a cultural shrine with religious implications.

My only complaint with the book is the chapter on the misadventures of British rocker and Alamo buff Phil Collins. I understand why the chapter is included, but I think it’s overlong.

Short take: Ignore the shrill attacks. This is a good book. You don’t have to be an Alamo buff to like it, and you’ll like it –unless you’re predisposed to hate it.

God’s glory is right here

If you were to publish the book of Esther in a mass paperback edition, the cover might look like one of those bodice-ripper romances, and there’d be a hangman’s noose swinging ominously in the background.

Esther is a beautiful young Jewish woman who wins a beauty contest and becomes queen of Persia. Her cousin Mordecai learns of a plot to massacre Jews throughout the Persian empire. Mordecai tells Esther she must persuade the king to stop it.

She hesitates, explaining: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law: all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for 30 days.”

Mordecai replies: “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish.”

He adds: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Esther tells Mordecai to call all the Jews in the city to three days of prayer and fasting.

She says: “After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

On the third day, Esther puts on her royal best and approaches the throne. The king is pleased to see her. (Reality check: Why wouldn’t he be pleased to see her? She’s the most beautiful woman in the empire.) He holds out the golden scepter and vows to give her whatever she requests.

Happy day! The plot against the Jews is foiled, the perpetrators are hanged, and Jews live in relative security in Persia from that day on. (Read Esther 4:1-5:3)

The Jews are saved not only because of Mordecai’s warning and Esther’s bravery. Though God is never mentioned in the story, the providence of God is implied in Mordecai’s statement to Esther: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Today I want to ask that “Who knows?” question of all of us. For what moment has God been preparing each of us? For what moment has God been preparing you?

God surely has prepared you for many things leading up to this moment. For what other things has God been preparing you?

Janice McLain spent many years in Africa as a United Methodist missionary. When she retired to the Paola area a dozen years ago, she said that looking back on her life, she could see how God was always preparing her for what came next.

She said: “It makes me wonder. What is God teaching me today that is going to be of use to me in the future that I don’t know about?”

I’ve always appreciated that approach to living. For what future is God preparing me that I cannot imagine today?

Mary Lou Redding, former editor of The Upper Room magazine, has a new book out titled God Was With Me All Along. It offers dozens of stories from everyday folks who look back at the events of their lives and realize that God was never far, in bad times as well as good.

Her thesis is that God is weaving a tapestry of love and redemption for the world. Each person’s story is a part of that tapestry. She asks, how does my story fit into this tapestry? Again, for what future is God preparing me?

There is at least one moment of decision and action for which I am uniquely prepared. What is it? When will it come? How can I be sure I’m ready?

Irenaeus, an ancient church theologian, once said that the glory of God was a human being who was truly alive.

John Eudes, a French priest who lived 400 years ago, expanded on that thought.

He said that each of us should base our lives around the thought, “I am the glory of God.”

We are each the glory of God, he explains, because we are where God chooses to dwell. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual life involves making space within ourselves where God can dwell and where God’s Spirit can grow stronger and God’s glory can shine for the world to see.

Eudes asks, “Where is the glory of God?” It’s right here, he answers, in each of us. I am the glory of God. You are the glory of God. Just as God has been preparing a place within each of us to dwell, God also has been preparing each of us for a mission, for a specific moment, or for a succession of specific moments, times in which God’s glory can shine for the world to see.

For what moment has God been preparing you? How can God’s glory shine in you?

I am retiring from church ministry, so this is my last post based on a weekly Sunday sermon.

This post is a partial transcript of a message delivered June 13, 2021, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, from Esther 4:1-5:3.

Apocalypse right now

Probably more lies are told about Revelation than about any other book of the Bible. That’s too bad, because Revelation has an important message for us that should not be obscured by lies.

Most of the lies come from what is called Dispensationalist theology. This is also known as “Left Behind” theology because of the series of best-selling books it inspired.

Dispensationalist theology was created virtually out of the whole cloth in 1830 by a wacko Brit named John Nelson Darby. Since then it has managed to infect many believers around the world, but especially in the United States, where it took root like a poisonous weed alongside other similarly wacko fundamentalist fantasies.

The chief Dispensationalist lie is that Revelation is about predicting the future. It is not. Revelation is a book of prophecy, but – as I’ve said many times before – prophecy is not about predicting the future. Prophecy is telling the truth about the present. Prophets aren’t harassed and killed because of what they say about some far-off neverland. Prophets are harassed and killed because of what they say about the present.

The title of the book actually tells all. Revelation is an English rendering of the Greek word apocalypsis, meaning unveiling. Revelation reveals or unveils or unmasks the truth about what’s going on in our world.

Think of that scene in the movie “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the funny little man controlling all the scary pyrotechnics. That’s what Revelation does. It lifts the veil, it parts the curtain, it shines a spotlight on the truth about human life and how God is acting to save us.

Revelation is not primarily about the future. It is mostly about the present. That’s why misunderstanding it is so critical. Revelation is not about what’s going to happen a long time from now. It’s about what’s already happening right now.

Since the powers that be don’t want you to know what’s happening right now, they want you to think Revelation is about some other time – any other time – so you won’t know the truth about what’s happening today.

It follows, then, that Revelation is not about the so-called “end times.” It’s certainly not about the “end of the world.” That’s a phrase that you shouldn’t find in your Bible, by the way, though you will find it in mistranslations of Matthew 13:49.

So kindly forget all that “end times” garbage, plus all the nonsense you’ve heard about “the Rapture” and the Anti-Christ and the millennium all the other stale dispensationalist fantasies.

Also forget about reading Revelation literally. John of Patmos, the author of Revelation, tells us in the very first sentence that he’s going to be speaking in symbols. Oddly enough, only the King James manages to translate this correctly. John says that God “signified” the message to him. That is, God used “signs” or “symbols” to convey the message.

If that’s not clear enough, John warns us more than 50 times that what he is describing is “like” something. It’s not really this, he’s saying, but it’s like this. So if you take his description literally, you miss the point. Most interpreters of Revelation have missed the point, especially for the last 200 years.

I can hear some of you wondering, “Revelation was written 2,000 years ago. How can it be about the present?” That’s because Revelation is about the way things are, the way things have always been and the way things are going to be – not world without end but until Christ comes in final victory to clean up this mess.

Despite our advances in technology, nothing has significantly changed in the last 2,000 years. What was then also is now and will be. As time goes by, only the names, clothing fads and hairstyles change.

If you read Revelation literally, you will misunderstand it terribly. If you read it as a parable, as a symbolic revelation of how human systems oppress people and how God acts to save us from oppression by human empire, then you will gain much from it.

Revelation is full of bizarre and often violent imagery. It contains visions of seven-headed monsters and the gory deaths of millions of people. Should we take these images literally? No. Are these images real? Oh yes.

One example. You’ve all heard of the Four Horses, or Four Horesemen, of the Apocalypse. These are four horses and riders that appear early in the story as seven seals are broken to reveal the message on a mysterious scroll.

Some people imagine that these horses will appear in the future, and when we see them, we’ll know that the end is near. But there’s something so very familiar about these horses. They’re not future at all. They have galloped throughout history, and they gallop today as well.

First comes a white horse ridden by a conqueror. He rides out to conquer and destroy. Next comes a bright red horse, representing the blood spilled by the conqueror. Next comes a black horse. Its rider measures the hunger and want that always follow war. Finally comes a horse that’s pale green, the color of death, the inevitable result of warfare and oppression by human empires.

There is nothing specifically future about these horses and their riders. We know them all too well. The horses may tell about the future, but they also tell about the past and the present as well. From beginning to end, that’s what Revelation does. It tells about our past and our present and points to a glorious future when God literally brings heaven down to Earth. It also points to disasters that may occur if we continue to ignore God’s command to act as caretakers of the earth.

With that in mind, let’s look at Revelation 8:6-13. This passage describes the first four of seven trumpet blasts made by angels who serve at the throne of God. The text is from the Common English Bible.

Then the seven angels who held the seven trumpets got ready to blow them.

The first angel blew his trumpet, and hail and fire mixed with blood appeared, and was thrown down to the earth. A third of the earth was burned up. A third of the trees were burned up. All the green grass was burned up.

Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain burning with fire was thrown down into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, burning like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water.

The star’s name is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it became so bitter.

Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars so that a third of them became dark. The day lost a third of its light, and the night lost a third of its light too.

Then I looked and I heard an eagle flying high overhead. It said with a loud voice, “Horror, horror, oh! The horror for those who live on earth because of the blasts of the remaining trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

Note first that it is never said that God orders these awful events. The trumpets simply announce them. Also note that you cannot take any of this literally. For example, if a star actually fell to earth, more than one-third of the rivers would be affected. All of Earth would be obliterated.

But what if you took this passage seriously rather than literally? What if you tried to discern what Revelation might be saying if you examined its images as symbols of reality, pictures of things that are “like this” but not this exactly, images that point to the truth about current events?

Wouldn’t you, in fact, come up with a picture of what is happening on Earth today?

Wouldn’t you find that the awful images of Revelation accurately describe what’s happening today because of centuries of human destruction of our environment?

Wouldn’t you find that the awful images of Revelation accurately describe what’s happening today because of global climate change triggered by centuries of human destruction of our environment?

Consider the evidence, which corroborates what scientists have been warning us about for more than 50 years.

  • Exceptional volcanic eruptions on the island of St. Vincent, in Hawaii and elsewhere.
  • Uncontrollable forest fires in the American West, in Africa and Australia and Indonesia and Siberia.
  • Drought, massive crop failures and famine all around the world.
  • Widespread, sometimes unprecedented, flooding, and increased numbers of dangerous hurricanes. Last year’s ocean storm season was the most active on record.
  • Marine life dying because of pollution and changes in water temperature; not just coral reefs and whales and dolphins but also mammals such as sea otters and polar bears.
  • Glaciers worldwide melting and the level of the seas slowly rising, eroding shorelines, destroying beaches, soon threatening cities as well.
  • Poisoned public water supplies such as in Flint, Michigan.
  • The Western Monarch butterfly, which used to be such a joy to see returning every year, now nearing extinction.
  • Winter snowstorms that catch public utilities unprepared, causing power outages, rolling blackouts, and untold amounts of misery

And it goes on. All of nature is out of whack because of human sin. Time after time, the call echoes throughout Revelation: Repent! Change your ways! Time after time, the call is ignored. We continue to treat God’s beloved creation shabbily.

Do you know what leads people to repentance? Two things, according to Revelation. First is the perseverance of the saints. Don’t give up hope, Revelation says repeatedly. Don’t be bewitched by the lies of a twisted culture whose continued existence depends on you believing its lies.

Revelation describes this twisted culture as empire – specifically, in the first century, the Roman Empire. It calls this culture Babylon, and it says, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins and do not share in her plagues” (Revelation 18.4).

Babylon is any human regime that does not honor God and God’s purposes for creation. Babylon is every human regime, to one degree or another, because all humans and all human institutions are tainted by sin and all human governments allow or promote the rape of the earth for momentary profit.

So the first thing that leads the world to repentance is Christian perseverance, Christians awakening to the truth about Babylon and staying free from it as much as possible. The second thing is Christian witness to the truth.

Ultimately, Revelation seems to be saying, Christian witness is the only thing that convinces non-believers to turn from their destructive ways and follow the ways of the Lord. No amount of plagues and other disasters will do it. Only clear Christian witness will convince non-believers of the truth about life and the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

So there you have it. If anyone asks you what the book of Revelation is all about, tell them to forget all the end-times lies they’ve heard concerning monsters and the slaughter of infidels. Tell them that Revelation reveals the shining truth about the love of God and the need for believers to stay faithful to God’s commands and witness to their faith.

Revelation is about the victory of God over the forces of evil – a victory that is being won not in some weird fantasy world in the future but today in our everyday lives, if we are faithful and witness to the truth.

Amen.

This message was delivered June 6, 2021, at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas.