Sunday October 1, 2023 | Dan Kent
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it, because the time is near.
Many read Revelation as a predictor of the future. This turns God into a fixed, wooden object who does not actually relate to a living creation. But this book was never meant to be read this way. Instead, it points to a living God who relates to a living creation and calls us into a living faith.
In this sermon, Dan focuses on the word “keep” found in our focus scripture. In the Greek, this word means something like “take to heart” or prioritize. When this is used in other passages of the New Testament, it usually refers to “keep” the command to love one another, serve one another, and forgive one another. In this book, we are told to keep the words of Revelation, and they are very weird to say the least. How then, do we keep such bizarre words?
First, we must recognize that this is apocalyptic literature with images that are not literal, but that are meant to shake people out of their slumber. These passages are portraying images that subvert the common ways of the dominant culture so that the people might embrace the ways of God. Revelation wants us to fixate on the Lamb who is victorious over the violence of the world by sacrificing himself for the world. Through this we are invited into relationship with a living God who invites us into a living faith.
Instead, many people fixate on the images in literal ways and do not focus on the Lamb. This results in a passive escapist theology where we think we don’t have to actually live out our faith because believers will supposedly be saved from the coming violence. This causes us to be wooden because our faith is not living. In addition, it turns God into a wooden idol. We see this played out in Jeremiah 10:2-15. If we read Revelation as a crystal ball that predicts the future and the end of the world, then everything is planned and there is nothing we can do to change what has been predicted—a form of fatalism.
This view means that we are powerless and lack free will because all that exists is a script that has been planned before time. In this case, all we can do is accommodate the script. But this also means that God is accommodating the script, too. If the script is fixed, so is God, and there is nothing for God to do because all will occur as it has been planned. God is wooden, not living.
This wooden understanding contradicts the narrative of the Scriptures which shows the path to the future is unpredictable and full of possibilities, where God relates to people who are making choices. God is living, relating to a living creation. Therefore, we are called to a living faith. This brings us to the word “keep.” We keep the words we hear in a way that is ongoing as we continue to prioritize them by doing what they teach us. This is not an intellectual faith that we merely decide is true at some point in time. We “keep” our faith by participating in it in every moment.
God is looking down for people who are keeping the faith by looking up. This is not just for spiritual superstars who have chosen to give themselves to vocational ministry. This is for average people who are living in average ways. God is a living God, who reigns over a living creation, who calls us into a living faith with him. All of us can join in.