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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Destroying the Destroyers of the Earth

In Revelation 11, John of Patmos speaks of two witnesses empowered with authority (presumably the authority of Jesus; referred to as a "voice from Heaven," chapter 9-10). These witnesses prophesy for 1260 days while clothed in sackcloth. The sackcloth evokes the image of John the Baptist, the austere prophet who paved the way for Jesus and was martyred.

I say they "evoked" the Baptizer because that's what the images in Revelation do. They evoke memory in the community of faith. The pictures of Revelation also awaken our anticipation of what God is going to do both in our lives and in the eschatological future (eschatological future = what God will do at the end of the age). Ours is a faith perceived by us through memory and anticipation, even as we experience the presence of God. At the Communion Table (also called the Lord's Supper and the Mass and the Eucharist), we remember Jesus breaking the bread and saying "this is my body." The memory and the act of eating awakens us to the reality of our own sinfulness (we deny, betray, and abandon him just as Peter and Judas and the others did). And, eating alongside our brothers and sisters in the church fills us with awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives.

The images of Revelation should have the same affect. People get so caught up trying to locate the two witnesses of Revelation 11. Where they Peter and Paul? Do they represent the Church and Israel? Are there two witnesses in the future that will be a part the tribulation period or the millennium? I don't see it that way. These are called olive trees and lamp stands (Rev.11:4). And I remember, "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). Jesus was saying that to his disciples, all his disciples. Thus to me, he said you are to be a witness that flavors and preserves and improves the world around you the way salt (and olives) flavor, preserve, and improve.

I remember Jesus saying to his disciples, and thus to me, "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). You are to be a light that eliminates (as a lamp stand would) the darkness with the truth and love of God. Who are the two witnesses? I know I am called to be a witness, and you, reader, are too if you profess to follow and worship Jesus. We don't need to spend time with "tribulation charts" and mind-numbing end times scenarios where we connect the dots with all the symbolism of Revelation. Doing that robs the book of its power to speak in our lives. If we spend our time speculating, calculating and guessing over the symbols and pictures of Revelation, we never have to actually respond to the provocative Gospel in Revelation with the living of our lives.

I could go on with the connections between Revelation 11 and the four Gospels, but this isn't a commentary. This is an honest talk with God. In this conversation, which you are invited you to overhear, I am struck by an article I recently read in Christianity Today magazine. Author Scott Sabin writes, "In Genesis ... Adam is placed in the garden to serve and protect. Throughout the Old Testament we are reminded that "the Earth is the Lord's" and that our role is one of stewardship - temporary caretakers called to account for how well we have discharged our duties." This is reinforced in Revelation 11:18, which says Judgment Day will bring the destruction of those who destroy the earth."

I was fascinated by Sabin's observation and also by his citation of Revelation 11. I have read Revelation more times than I can count, but each time I have quickly glossed over 11:18. In that verse, who do the 24 elders say is rewarded? (1) God's servants, (2) God's prophets, (3) God's saints, and (4) those who fear [revere] God's name. And who gets destroyed? Those who destroy the earth.

In reading Revelation, we spin our wheels and waste our time when we make charts, graphs, and time lines. A better faith reading is to read the words, feel the power, and then ask oneself. Am I a servant of God, or a prophet, or a saint, or one who fears God? Or, am I one who does destructive things? Am I one who destroys relationships with my words, my jealousy, my racism or prejudice, my disdain for people of different socioeconomic classes or my sexism? Am I one who destroys the planet with my blatant disregard for conservation, recycling, and my indifferent wasting of resources? How we answer when we ask ourselves those questions will give us a sense of our own experience on Judgment Day, whatever that day looks like, whenever it is.

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