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God's Word on Sunday: Revelation takes broad view of universe

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  • October 25, 2020

All Saints, Nov. 1 (Year A) Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

In our quest to understand the mysteries of life and death, perspective is everything. It is easy to see everything through the lens of our own personal experience and, in some respects, this is normal and desirable. But sometimes we need to climb the mountain and take in the view from above, so that we can get a bigger and broader picture.

The Book of Revelation is many things, but it is not a preview of the end of the world or a description of life after death. It is designed to expand our consciousness and to allow us to see things from a cosmic and God-centred perspective. God is the source and the goal of every living being and all human history.

The figures in Revelation are always falling down before the divine throne and praising God — a constant reminder that it is God’s universe rather than ours. All human activity and claims are measured and judged by God’s standards alone.

God does not play favourites or exclude, for multitudes from every nation, tribe, people and language stand before the throne in praise and worship. All glory, blessing, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power and might belong to God alone, for God is both our source and our destiny.

The numbers are also symbolic: 144,000 is not to be taken literally. Rather than a rather limited list of those enjoying God’s special favour, it denotes totality, as it is a multiple of the 12 tribes of Israel. There is but one humanity, one world and one God, and Revelation teaches us to govern our thoughts, words and actions with that awareness.

We can identify with the figures robed in white, for we are passing through the great ordeal, and that ordeal is life in this world. There is enough pain, struggle and tears for everyone.

No one leaves this world in a perfected state or without the painful and obvious marks of human weakness and failure. But we are washed clean in the love and grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Holiness is not our personal possession, but a gift from the Lord when we open our hearts to God’s Spirit.

John was filled with wonder at being a child of God. This phrase is used rather carelessly at times, implying that we are all children of God. In one sense that is true, but the New Testament — especially John — has a different understanding of what being a child of God means.

In that view, one becomes a child of God through a second birth from the Spirit. This new birth enables one to know God personally and directly. John realized that this is just the beginning — what we will ultimately become is unknown for now. The journey to God is one of movement and change and has many stages.

The Beatitudes are both inspiring and a bit discouraging. Despite their beauty and power, they can leave one with a sense of not being able to measure up to God’s standards.

In fact, they have been seen by many as unrealistic and utopian — pretty and nice, but useless for life in the real world. But they were not given to us as an impossible obstacle to overcome. They are the tools of transformation and represent the opposite of the world’s values and methods.

Those living by these principles meet the world’s challenges with humility, generosity, non-violence and gentleness. They expend time and energy working for peace and justice.

The will of God is at the forefront of their words and actions. Their hearts are free of negativity and base desires. And they are willing to endure misunderstanding, ridicule and abuse for the sake of these God-given principles and God’s reign.

We are not expected to master all of them completely — only Jesus did that. But to the extent that we apply these divine principles, even imperfectly, we will grow in holiness and wisdom. We will be transformed, along with the world around us.

Each day we are given countless opportunities to apply them in place of typical human responses. They are far more effective than resentment, competition, judgment, greed or violence.

We are all responsible in some degree for the world that we experience, so let us choose wisely — let us choose God’s way.

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