The literature of apocalypse is scary stuff, the kind of thing that can give religion a bad name, because people so often use it as a means of controling others, instilling dread by invoking a boogeyman God. Thinking about the people who would be in church that morning, I knew many of them would very likely be survivors of such painful childhood images of God and would find the readings hard to take. So I decided to talk about what apocalyptic literature is and is not. It is not a detailed prediction of the future, or an invitation to withdraw from the concerns of the world. It is a wake-up call, one that uses intensely poetic language and imnagery to sharpen our awareness of God's presence in and promise for the world.You will find online the handout for our 8-week study of Revelation and the handout for last night's session.
The word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek for "uncovering" or "revealing," which makes it a word about possibilities. And while uncovering something we'd just as soon keep hidden is a frightening prospect, the point of apocalypse is not to frighten us into submission. Although it is often criticized as "pie-in-the-sky" fantasizing, I believe its purpose is to teach us to think about "next-year-country" in a way that sanctifies our lives here and now. "Next-year-country" is a treasured idiom of the western Dakotas, an accurate description of the landscape that farmes and ranchers dwell in—next years rains will come at the right time; next year I won't get hailed out; next year winter won't set in before I have my hay hauled in for winter feeding. I don't know a single person on the land who uses the idea of "next year" as an excuse not to keep reading the earth, not to look for the signs that mean you've got to get out and do the field work when the time is right. Maybe we're meant to use apocalyptic literature in the same way: not as an allowance to indulge in an otherwordly fixation but as an injunction to pay closer attention to the world around us. When I find I am disturbed by the images of apocalypse, I find it helpful to remember the words of the fourth-century monk about the task of reading scripture as "working the earth of the heart," for it is only in disturbed, ploughed up ground that the seeds we plant for grain can grow.
Also in the archives are the sermons In the End, God and The Pause Before the Storm, which are both on Revelation.