Please forgive me for beginning with a shameless plug.
Next Sunday at 10:30am, also on Zoom, I will begin a seven week study of the book of Revelation entitled "Hope when hell breaks loose."
Since some will not get to participate, and since others like me need to hear something multiple times to get it, let me preview now what Revelation does.
Revelation widens the frame.
It pans back the camera to give a much bigger picture.
It does this because it is written to people who live in day to day fear for their lives.
Christian households then had to have conversations then like black families do now
about trying to stay safe and alive in public without compromising who they are.
It is a delicate, dangerous, and sometimes deadly dance.
The violence in Revelation does not come from heaven; it arises on earth.
Evil starts it; God finishes it.
The insight that John, the exiled and incarcerated pastor, wants to get through to his
people is that small screen appearances to the contrary, God has already won.
The ugly present is lagging behind and pointlessly resisting the inevitable and beautiful future.
So John moves back the camera, as if moving from the face of a junebug in your
backyard that appears larger than earth, that tiny speck in the sky.
John writes this way to show that the shadows of today are microscopic and lost in the
overwhelming light of God's unstoppable tomorrow.
John is telling his endangered people that death is no danger, because God has already won.
Today's problems have already been resolved, we just don't know it or live it yet.
This Friday is Juneteenth.
On June 19th, 1865, United States General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas
with the news that all slaves had been set free.
The president who had announced their freedom was already dead.
The news of emancipation was almost two and a half years old.
Slaves toiled and died for nearly thirty months before word reached them that they were free.
Of course there was significant resistance to this news in certain quarters, so it took
awhile for the announcement from above to become true on the ground.
That is the kind of situation John sees: he rushes to tell those suffering on earth what has already
been decided in heaven.
It is also the kind of situation Jesus sees: when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Ignorance, disease, and despair surrounded him.
What he has long known to be true has never been shared with them.
Someone needs to tell these people the good news that the war is over and God has won and they
So now disciples become apostles, or sent ones: ambassadors, heralds, official representatives
dispatched to announce in the unjust, stifling kingdom of Herod that The kingdom of
heaven has come near.
Jesus promotes his students to generals and sends them into Texas to say there's a new sheriff in town and things are going to be different.
Now people matter more than power and profits.
Life triumphs over death and law and order.
The God of Moses is in charge now, so the system is defeated and all the slaves are free.
It will not do to announce such a radically new reality in the same tired old way, so Jesus does not send soldiers or slick professionals.
He sets his ambassadors up for failure, which is part of the message.
The kingdom of heaven will not force or impose itself; it comes vulnerable and honest,
underfunded, understaffed, empty-handed, like a baby in a manger, like a Savior on a cross.
The kingdom of heaven refuses to rely on money or violence or power or personality or proper training or status or any other idol, because they have already lost to the real God.
So the kingdom of heaven draws near to a society in disarray and sends in a dirty dozen.
Matthew lists them off, with very little resume, which is all they have.
Years ago at camp, we counselors would have cabins that looked like this group, young and dumb and eager and totally unqualified to work for the Boss of All Things, and we would
tell our kids that the twelve apostles, who were foundational to two thousand years of
church, were just as clueless and hopeless as they.
We sometimes shared an inspired memo from "Jordan Management Consultants":
To: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop, Nazareth 25922
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial
positions in your new organization.
All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist
and vocational aptitude consultant.
The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.
As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an
auditor will include some general statements.
This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee. It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education
and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking.
They do not have the team concept.
We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.
Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.
The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.
Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater
Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely
have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential.
He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind,
and has contacts in high places.
He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible.
We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man.
All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.
We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely, Jordan Management Consultants
God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.
And God can get away with this because God has already won, precisely by losing.
There is no greater failure than a messiah dead on a cross.
There is no greater healer than the Messiah dead on the cross.
God enters and becomes our brokenness and leads us into it, through it, and beyond it until we are whole.
Because this is so hard to trust, especially for westerners addicted to achievement and success and status and competition and comparison and image, John moves the camera.
He changes the setting from earth to heaven, where a voice announces the Lion of Judah. Everyone on the red carpet is abuzz and hurries to their seats.
The lights go down, the drum rolls, the anticipation builds, the curtain drops, and the spotlight zeroes on center stage.
The mighty Lion of Judah walks out ... as a dead lamb.
The crowd goes crazy.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
The kingdom of heaven is not how we pictured it.
It is far more ordinary and vulnerable and glorious and near, hidden in plain sight.
So many overharassed, underloved people don't see it and don't know it.
Wherever you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near."