Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"The Lamb's Drama: His People and the Mystery of the Floozy"

Scripture Readings: Revelation 17:1-10a; Revelation 19:1-10
(The sermon is actually based on all of Revelation 17:1-19:10)

The idea of mystery is very important in the New Testament, and in the Book of Revelation. Earlier in Revelation we hear about “the mystery of God” (Rev. 10:11), and here we read about something called “Mystery Babylon”. (Rev. 17:5)

For us, in the modern world, a mystery is a kind of puzzle. We read mystery novels, which we call “who done its”, and we try to figure out the puzzle of the story before the writer reveals it.

Or, for us, a mystery is something that we simply do not, or cannot, understand. We may even think that it is something that we are not supposed to understand.

Mystery, in the Bible, is different. Maybe the mystery novels are not far off, if you keep in mind that there is something going on in their story that is the real thing.

Almost no one inside the mystery story knows what is really going on. Outside the story, in the world of you and the author, the author knows what is really going on, and is challenging you to figure it out before he plays his hand.

Inside the world of the mystery novel there is an illusion (or a confusion) going on, but there is part of the plot that holds everything together. The mystery is the core of the story. It is concealed, and it is your job to figure it out.

In the Bible, however, the author of the story is God, and God knows what is really going on. The characters in this big story of his (which is the history of heaven and earth, and the story of our lives in this world) are not fiction. We are really alive, and we are created to be God’s children who share in their Father’s story. In fact, he has created us to help him write the story.

Our problem with this is that we are estranged children, or runaways, or born rebels, and we don’t see very well into the mind of our Father, and we have no idea, sometimes, what is going on, and we often live our lives at cross purposes to the story as God would tell it. This, or something much worse, is what it is like to be members of the human race; sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. This is sin.

God’s great story, the history of heaven and earth and the story of our lives in this world, is a mystery; or it contains a mystery within its plot. The mystery of this story is the real thing that is really going on. God wants us to see the mystery and to know it to the core, so that we can play our true role within it, and participate with God in the telling of the story.

The mystery of God, the real story of heaven and earth, is that when humans beings cut themselves off from fellowship with God and from the source of life itself, God responded in a completely surprising way. God actually became human, and cut himself off from life itself, on the cross, in order to give us a new life. On the cross, the old creation that went astray in us dies, and we become a new creation in Christ.

This is the real mystery of life. This is the real story that is going on in this world today. Everything that happens around us is aimed at making this mystery known to us, so that we can take our rightful place in the story as God intended it to be. The gospel means good news, and the good news is this mystery of what God really cares about, and what God is really doing in Christ.

The mystery of God is not a puzzle, or a secret, but a wonderful discovery of the things that really matter. Forgive me for singing this song from 1936 that expresses this feeling of discovery.
“Ah! Sweet mystery of life at last I've found thee.
Ah! I know at last the secret of it all;
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning,
The burning hopes, the joy and idle tears that fall!” (From “Rose-Marie” 1936)

When you know the mystery of it all, you see what many people do not see. In fact you see something that human life seems dead set on not seeing. There is a system in this world that makes us dead set against seeing the real thing, or letting anyone else see it for themselves.

There seems to be a way to this world that keeps us superficial, that makes us competitors with others instead of caregivers for others, that judges the worth of others and of ourselves by appearances, and style, and possessions, and power, and cleverness; by drawing lines between people and being an insider, by the ability to get one’s own way, and by the ability to stand in other people’s way. The way this world operates seems to reward those who live according to these values.

This is the world system that that opposes itself to God; that strives, in everything, to be independent from God, and to worship the self. There is something spiritually devilish in this. There is something very human, in the worst sense, in this. It works its way into human customs, and culture, and economics, and business, and law, and government, and schools, and religion.

This world system shows itself in many ways. We can call it the shopping mall of life: a life full of the distractions of stuff. An old name for it was Vanity Fair. We can call it the rat race. We can call it being realistic, and looking out for number one. John tells us that we can call it “Mystery Babylon”.

The mystery of God is the story of what God is really up to. Mystery Babylon is the story of a conspiracy that is trying to prevent what God is really up to. It is devilish; of the devil. It is human, in the sense of the story of Adam and Eve wanting to set up shop for themselves; without the Divine interference. This is a strong force in our lives and the world we live in.

As part of the story of the conspiracy, there is the beast with all its horns, and heads, and crowns. This is just a multiplication of images to show the strength of that force.

Horns are an animal’s weapons. They are strength. Crowns are authority; another kind of strength. The heads are both hills and kings. The horns are also kings. Hills are a strong defence and protection. The best place to build a castle is on a hill.

All this simply tells a story of power. It tells the mystery of something that can’t be beaten, a battle that you cannot win. It tells the story that resistance is futile. In this sense mystery Babylon is the story of a great big lie.

John is astonished at the woman on the beast. The whole world is astonished. The angel tells John not to be astonished the way everyone else is, because he is going to tell John the real mystery; the real story of what is going on.

The real story is that the great system that cannot be beaten, that cannot be defeated, will be defeated and destroyed. Babylon the Great harlot is temporary. Those who know the mystery, who know what is really going on, will not be fooled by appearances.

Babylon the Great is robed in purple and scarlet, and covered with gold, and jewels, and pearls. She is dressed like a queen, she thinks she is a queen, and everyone agrees with her. To those who want power, she gives power. To those who want success and wealth, she gives it to them. She rewards the quick and easy. She rewards the flashy. She loves popularity. And everyone wants a piece of her. Everyone wants to be in on her game. Her game seems to be the only game; or the only winning game
If you don’t play her game she breaks you; or tries to. And those who follow the Lamb (Jesus) will not play her game. They will not call foul fair. They know the mystery and they cannot be fooled, no matter how dangerous their resistance is to themselves. No one else will understand this because they are glad to be dazzled.

In the world, as it is, there are many ways to play around her game and succeed. In the last days, it will be much harder to play around her. It will seem to be absolutely impossible. John tells us that she is strong enough to drink from a cup that is full of the blood of the saints; full of the blood of those who play against her. (17:6) In chapter seventeen, verse nine, John tells us that facing the great harlotry of the world “calls for a mind with wisdom”.

Babylon has been around for a long time. It has had many names: Egypt, Rome, maybe London, maybe New York, and maybe other future names that we do not foresee. Facing the world that tries to substitute itself for God, and playing around it, calls for wisdom; in the final days it will take a lot of wisdom indeed, and patient endurance.

Babylon is the god of this world. She is glamour and success, and everyone thinks she is beautiful, and everybody wants her. But John sees that she is drunk and dirty.

The woman is a harlot. The beast is full of blasphemy. In the Bible, harlotry is ultimately spiritual. Harlotry is a relationship outside of our relationship with God. Blasphemy is claiming that something is God when it is not. Harlotyr and blasphemy are two sides of the same coin. Blasphemy and harlotry make everything in our lives something to use, or something to serve us. The world system worships “self”.

This is what is really going on. Everyone loves it because it offers a chance to be in charge, and have life be all about us. That is the ultimate harlotry and blasphemy; the mystery Babylon.

The mystery of God is a story that contains another mystery; the mystery of the Bride of the Lamb. The story of the Bride of the Lamb is the story about us, the church. It is the story of our marriage to God.

Our families, our friends, our home, our work, our gifts or talents, our rest, our ability to play and to have fun are really all things that exist inside God. They do not exist to serve us, but they exist to bless us. They exist for us to give ourselves and share ourselves through them. They exist for us to express our love, and joy, and thankfulness through them.

All the mysteries of the Bible end in Hallelujah, which means, “Praise the Lord!”
There is a lot to keep us from singing, “Praise the Lord”. We live in a world system that tries with all its might to keep us from seeing the reality of God. We have grown up in that system, and it looks a lot like our real home. And it also looks doomed.

It is doomed. Babylon was shaken to pieces in chapter sixteen (16:17-21). In chapter seventeen Babylon will be done in by the very powers that make it possible.

We would feel better, maybe, if we could know more about this. The Bible does not help us here. When you read the story it is amazing how very few details are actually given about the end of Babylon, except to tell us who will miss her and why.

I think the details are not important. What is important is a life that receives the gift of joy from God. Babylon gives us songs to sing about ourselves and what we have. The mystery of God will set us free from having to sing about ourselves. The whole world was created to sing about the faithful love of God, and so are we. This song is called “hallelujah”.

Hallelujah is a song that is sung by people who are looking at the Lord and enjoying his gifts, and not gloating over the defeat of others. It is a song sung by creatures to their creator, and children to their father.

When we sing Hallelujah, we give thanks for God bringing us through everything that frightened us and angered us. It sets us free from hatred and scorn. We forget everything that is not love.

And here it brings us back to the real story of the mystery of God who really does set us free from the spirit of Babylon and makes us a new creation in Christ.

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