A Great Multitude

“A Great Multitude”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 7:9-17 – April 17, 2016

This past Friday, April 15, 2016, I convened a Peace Breakfast at Kappy’s Restaurant, here in Morton Grove. We had a diverse group assembled! Not quite as diverse as this great multitude that John talked about in Revelation 7, but still, diverse. Culturally, ethnically, and religiously different from one another.

Let’s step back, and think about the book of Revelation. This is not your typical bible passage to read on a Sunday morning. Not your usual sermon text, either. The book of Revelation is a series of interconnected visions alerting believers to the last days of the church.

Chapter 7 comes towards the beginning of John’s visions.

I’d like everyone to think of an old-fashioned radio or television serial, in multiple parts, or episodes. Here we have yet another fantastic episode of this amazing book.

For centuries, many preachers, teachers, and bible interpreters have read Revelation, and completely pick it apart. Find all types of supposed references to actual people, places and things. Use it as a guidebook for the End Times. It sounds like the political hype we lament but can’t quite seem to escape. (Let me say—bible interpreters have been “identifying” people, places and things in Revelation for centuries. Different anti-Christs, different identifications for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and all the rest—every century, every era, every place.)

If John wrote this book to bring hope to his readers, how in the world can this passage of Revelation provide a different, more life-giving vision to us, today?

Our bible passage today opens with a great multitude. It’s like John has a huge video screen in front of him. He’s watching this fantastic vision play out in front of him.

I encourage you all to get into the spirit of this passage. Shut your eyes, and imagine yourself seated in a heavenly theater (an iMax theater, if that helps you). John is seated right next to you, and suddenly, you see a great multitude on this massive screen in front of you. Every racial group, every ethnicity, every language spoken. All of them! All the things, as the young people say today.

Yes, in the larger picture, all of these people in the great multitude are going to go through a time of great trial. However—I would like to focus on this multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multitude of people.

We are all aware of other separations and designations for groups of people. Upper class, working class. City folk, country folk, North side, South side. With all of this fantastic stuff going on in the book of Revelation, on that huge theater screen in front of us, who has time to think about these divisions? Who would be concerned—in heaven? Standing before the throne of God Almighty, in the full sight of God.

Yet—here in this world, here in the United States, in the Chicago area, those things do matter. As a pastor, I talk to a number of people many times in a week. Some of these people share about their fears and hopes for the future. More and more, I notice a shift in the mindsets of people—a shift towards deeper feelings of uncertainty and general anxiety.

I am distressed and dismayed at the overt anger, undisguised racism, and blatant xenophobia that is increasingly happening in this country. The shouting, yelling, name-calling, and general mud-slinging in this political primary process, just for an example. Note: I am not taking sides, but I am truly dismayed by the marked increase in such attitudes due to people’s ethnicity, culture, or religion. That is what I see as a big problem today.

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I would like to believe that we as a nation are truly a melting pot. This country is one of the most like this image, this part of the vision that John saw. That is such a strength of the United States! Yay! Go, us!!

We are going to switch gears. Let us look at the beginnings of the church.

In Acts, shortly after the day of Pentecost, a disagreement came up in the church. As Rev. Findlayson mentions, “The Jewish world was divided between Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine [Hebrews—home grown], and Greek-speaking Jews from the dispersion [or Hellenists—who had grown up outside Palestine]. Racial tension, often focused on religious purity, existed in the wider Jewish community and found its way into the New Testament church. [The tension] revealed itself in a dispute over the care of widows. The [Greek-speaking Jews] claimed that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church’s welfare budget.”

Do you hear the problem? Two separate groups of people in the early Church—all Jews, and one group—a minority group, no less—claimed they were being overlooked. Discriminated against. Now, multiply that 100 times. No, 1000 times. And, you begin to see the problems we all have today with rampant, widespread hatred, racism, fear, and xenophobia.

I guess I was one of those people who wanted to believe that we as a country and maybe even as a human race were becoming more open, integrated, and generous. I wanted to believe that humans were moving past this kind of hatred, fear, and violence. I thought we were on the way towards making it as difficult as possible for anyone to intimidate or harm others simply because they are of a certain religion, or racial background, or culture.

What can conquer such deep set feelings?

John 3:16 is a wonderful verse. So much promise, so much love, so much grace. And—so much power!

Let us consider John 3:16. I suspect many of you can say it with me. We are just going to quote the beginning of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” I wondered: let’s unpack this verse. God loves? With a God-sized love. We all agree. God gave His Son—God’s ultimate Gift. Again, we all agree.  

The last phrase of this sentence? God so loved—the world.

Who is not part of the world that God loved? Let us consider racist feelings. Does God love the racist person? Yes. How about the person who is racially profiled? Yes.

Let’s consider xenophobic fears. Does God love the person who is so afraid of people who look different from them, or speak another language, or come from another part of the world? Yes, God does. God loves everyone. No matter what.

That is the hope we can gather from this passage in Revelation 7 today. God loves you. God loves me. Even though we may be flawed, and make mistakes, and do or say bad things. God still loves us.

The Peace Breakfast was a beginning, a chance to continue the conversation. We all live and work together, in community. Let’s promote positivity and friendship, not distrust and alienation. Here, in Niles and Morton Grove—and in Des Plaines, Glenview, Skokie—all over the Chicago area—we have such a multitude of diverse people! And it’s an opportunity to shine forth as a light of the Gospel, right here on this corner of Shermer and Harlem.

Finally, we can all praise God along with the great multitude from Revelation, and say, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)

An Instrument of Peace

“An Instrument of Peace”

instrument of Your peace, round

John 14:27 – February 17, 2016

This evening, we are going to consider pursuing peace within ourselves. Tonight we consider two things: a verse and a prayer. Both have a great deal to say about peace. And both are examples for us and our daily lives.

First, the verse. Giving you some context, this verse comes from the final night our Lord Jesus spent on earth. Jesus was at a Passover dinner, or seder, with His friends. The Gospel of John gives us an extended look at this evening, and devotes several chapters to this time. Jesus discusses some things and gives His disciples some last instructions.

Now, the verse, John 14:27. “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

These familiar words of Jesus we’ve just read can sound far away and distant. Perhaps we remember this verse from a funeral, or quoted by a chaplain at a hospital or care center. It seems that almost every week we are surrounded by evidence of upset, catastrophe, and trauma. Many people today are searching for peace in an anxious, unpeaceful world.

Remember the political situation Jesus was operating under! Israel was an occupied country. Politically, the situation was not good. Personally, in the life of Jesus, this was not a peaceful time, either. Remember where Jesus was, here in John 14. This was the Passion Week of our Lord, hours before His arrest. Imagine what Jesus was preparing Himself to go through, in the next hours. Yet, we hear Jesus talk about peace. His peace. He wants to share His peace with all those who are listening. Amazing. Astounding. Almost inconceivable.

Suppose we catch on, and suppose a light bulb goes off in our heads, and we say to ourselves, “Maybe what I’ve been hearing in church on Sundays and in services on Wednesdays is worthwhile, after all! Maybe God really does want to give me peace. Maybe God wants me to focus on peace on the inside. Internally.”

So, some people turn around and concentrate on the inside! To be more specific, on their insides. The internal person. But there’s a danger here, too. If we’re not careful, worry and anxiety can sneak into the picture. Worry and anxiety can push away peace. Worry and anxiety can gnaw away on the insides, as well as our relationships with God and with others around us.

Has anyone here had any experience with termites? I never have, thank God, but I understand that termites can go through large amounts wood over an extended period of time. If we allow worry and anxiety to eat away at our peace with God and with others, it’s like termites eating away at a wooden front porch. After a period of time, even though the porch looks stable, and seems like it can hold weight, it collapses.

It’s the same way with us, when we lose peace. When we allow worry and anxiety to get the better of us and take control of our insides. This refers to the second part of verse 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This is Jesus giving advice to us! He is helping us hang onto the peace He’s just given us, just as He told the disciples so long ago. This is an exhortation, not a suggestion.

The second half of this meditation tonight lifts up a prayer. It is a really good prayer: arguably the most famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. There is no direct link to St. Francis, but one of his companions, the Blessed Giles of Assisi, wrote a short synopsis of this prayer. The prayer could very well have been enlarged and written from those words.

The first line of this prayer runs as follows: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” I am assuming we all want the peace that Jesus so freely gives away. Jesus gives it away to anyone. I mean, anyone. Step right up, and Jesus will lovingly give you peace. His peace.

This wonderful prayer lets us know some of the outgrowths of the peace of Christ. For example, using God’s peace, we can sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.

St. Francis and St. Giles knew very well that they were both imperfect people. Yet, this meaningful prayer was an expression of everything they strove to do and everything they tried to live by. We, too, are imperfect people. Anxious, fearful, sometimes even angry and sinful people. Yet, we can be instruments of God’s peace, too.

This night was the most event-filled night of our Lord Jesus’ life. He knew what was coming. Yet—He makes the statement, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” He gave His disciples the gift of His peace.

Jesus gives us the same gift, today, too. His peace. It isn’t peace like the world would expect. It isn’t always external peace (although it can very well be that, too!), but it is peace on the inside. Peace where it counts, as far as Jesus is concerned. We have His word on it. He promises to give us peace in our interior selves. So that, imperfect as we all are, we can be instruments of God’s peace to our brothers and sisters, and to the world.

Amen.