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Revelation I: A Disturbance in the Force


The first sermon in Pastor James Clarke’s sermon series on Revelation is “A Disturbance in the Force.” The scripture is from Revelation 1:9-20. Sunday, April 3, 2016.

Revelation is a collection of visions experienced by John of Patmos (not to be confused with the author of the Gospel According to John). The visions also include numerous metaphors and codes that the people who first read Revelation would understand, but we do not. Pastor Jim’s purpose is to help us to see Revelation less as a threat, and by learning more about it, to see it as even a means of grace.

I mentioned “Battlestar Galactica” a couple of weeks ago. I prefer historical fiction, but my sons are much more into fantasy and science fiction. But we share each other’s passions. We watch “Vikings” and “Game of Thrones” together. But I will never watch “The Walking Dead.” I simply don’t understand the zombie obsession! There are even zombie versions of classic literature. Zombies Pride and Prejudice!?

Getting back to “Battlestar Galactia”: The basic story is that humans created artificial intelligence called Cylons. But the Cylons revolted and then evolved to take human form. Then they attacked and nuked the human race, wiping out all 12 colonies but for around 50,000 who were in ships. The largest of which is the Battlestar Galactia. The remaining people on Battlestar Galactia are searching for the 13th colony called Earth.

Just from this short synopsis one can see that while the imagery is from strange other world, the audience is us. This is modern day myth making.       And that’s pretty close to what apocalyptic literature like Revelation is all about. At the time when the Bible was written, they didn’t have science fiction. What they had was apocalyptic.

Apocalyptic literature is in other places in the Bible in the Old Testament; most notably in Daniel. Daniel was written at the time of the time of the Maccabeean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BCE.

And Daniel had visions. His first vision was of four beasts: One was like a lion but had wings like an eagle. A second was like a bear with three tusks. A third was like a leopard which had four wings and four heads. The fourth had ten horns and iron teeth. Which kind of reminds me of a Cylon. These visions were not factual predictions. They were more like science fiction.

Daniel’s images are meant to communicate something about the world he lives in. And in Daniel’s world, in the end, his message was not to respond to the oppression of the Seleucid Empire with revolt, to make a long story very short, but to rely solely on Yahweh – on God. Do not be like those who create Empire with violence. At the same time, do everything in your power to resist the Empire and know that in the end, God wins.

I am not even half way through with “Battlestar Galactica” so I can’t make any definitive statements about its meaning, recognizing also that stories can have many meanings. So far I am taken by this image of the Cylons being like the Empire. They are in control of the known universe while the humans roam and jump around the universe l.ike the remnant of Israel wandering in the desert.

And I can see a similar message to Daniel emerging. The notion of God – and following the prophecies and relying on a force greater than ourselves. And also that in the end, somehow I know that God will win.

Apocalyptic is a kind of literature – just like science fiction or poetry. And just like science fiction, it wasn’t meant to be read factually. It wasn’t written as a picture of how things will be. We don’t expect that “Battlestar Galactica” will become real! Any more than “Star Wars”.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” in an essay I read recently, Dwight Sheets writes:

In some ways the book of Revelation reads like the Star Wars trilogy.  The beast or Anti-Force emperor Palpatine rules from his imperial capital, the Death Star “Babylon,” imposing loyalty through his false prophet Lord Darth Vader and the priestly Sith lords. True believers, the Rebel Alliance, resist the empire, aided by John and his Jedi band of prophets. Is there any wonder where George Lucas got his story line? Without a doubt, when we enter into Revelation, there has been a disturbance in the force.

 Revelation has been greatly misunderstood…. And then misused. It has so often been read literally that anyone else doesn’t want to touch it! It wasn’t fully trusted in the Early Church. And many then didn’t want to touch it; also because it could be so easily misunderstood.

Revelation was written by John of Patmos, not to be confused with the author of the Gospel of John. He was on the island of Patmos in exile; likely for something he said or wrote.

In the beginning of Revelation, John writes letters to seven churches in “Asia” (what is not Turkey) encouraging them not to be caught up in the world. Or, if I may, using science fiction language, not to be involved in the force of Empire. John clearly sees two forces active in the world: The Force of Empire and the Force of God. He is admonishing these churches to choose the Force of God.

To the Laodiceans he writes:   (Message)

To the Angel of the Church of Laodicea… I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot – far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re lukewarm.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, “I’m rich, I’ve got it made.  I need nothing form anyone,” oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.  Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich. Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half naked enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

 Not cold or hot?  John would rather the Laodiceans go to the Dark Side of the Force than be living between – not choosing. And he admonishes them to see…. Really see. And then he shares with them his visions… using images to help them to see.

John writes from being “in the spirit” not from a rational point of view. He has dreams and vision. His world is filled with spirits and forces, principalities and powers. He addresses his letters to the churches, not to the people, but to the “angel” of the church. Almost as if it is to the “spirit” of the church.

Still today, all churches have a “spirit” or an “angel”. One can feel it when one walks in to a church. It isn’t rational or easy to explain. If asked about one’s experience visiting a church, one doesn’t just talk about objective things, but about a sense one has. And not only churches, all institutions have a “spirit”.

Schools have a spirit – and colleges. Do we make the decision to go to a college solely by statistical analysis?         I recall when we visited a college with Aaron, I won’t say which one, and he said, “It felt preppy,” that’s a spirit!

And I will say that nothing is as important as the spirit of a church. This is the world John of Patmos lives in. He has visions and he speaks in imagery. And this has become a totally foreign world for us. How can we possibly understand what John is trying to say if we don’t understand the world he lives in. Not just the historical world he lives in, but the spiritual world he lives in. For John, the forces are very real. John was a Jedi!

When we read science fiction and fantasy, it’s like we enter another world, isn’t it? Reading Harry Potter, we enter into the Hogwarts world before we try to figure it all out.

I believe to understand Revelation, we first have to enter John’s world that is full of angels and spirits and forces and powers rather than read it literally or to figure it all out. We must be open to being “in the spirit”. Our world is so rational that we try to objectify everything; even people. People have spirits too – sometimes they’re called “auras”. Do we remember “auras?”

We have to begin by accepting Revelation on its own terms with the language of imagery, not reasoning, and this is hard for us. We say a picture speaks a thousand words, but do we practice that? I really do believe that pictures speak, carry meaning, create feelings and carry intuitions. That cannot be rationalized. And if we do try too hard to rationalize them, we lose that meaning and power. Can pictures have a spirit? Can a photograph? A painting?

It is our desire to know rationally that has led people to interpret Revelation literally – which is objectively. To think that John’s visions were descriptions of what is to come is erroneous because it is to interpret if from our perspective. The Rapture – which isn’t even in Revelation. The Left Behind books and movies, the maps of the end times, each verse meticulously analyzed for clues, is all dishonest because it doesn’t accept John on his own terms…. To understand that apocalyptic literature is not predictive. Apocalyptic literature invites us to get out of our heads and to be “in the spirit” before anything else.

I really liked the first “Star Wars” movies, now known as episodes 4-6. Episode 1 was a disaster on many planes. For me, the biggest disaster was the midi-chlorians. Remember Qui-gon-jin tested young Anakin’s blood for something called midi-chlorians, some organic substance that enabled one to connect to the Force. By doing that, they objectified the Force, connected it to a thing, rather than see the Force in spiritual terms.

I haven’t seen the new one and I resist it, I guess because of the notion of midi-chlorians and because it’s made by Disney. That is what we do – we objectify everything.

But John of Patmos was not being rational or objective. He was “in the spirit” and ironically the first “meaning’ of Revelation is to practice being “in the spirit”. Can we have visions and dreams too? Can God speak to us through our dreams? What is my “spirit” like? How is it with my soul? To use Wesley’s language. What are the spirits of other people like? Not to describe them, but to sense other people.

Imagine if we took the time to open ourselves to the spirit of others, their moods, sufferings, their being, rather than objectifying them – because we are in a hurry and subsequently make judgments.

What is the spirit of our Church? Can you feel it?

I can tell you that the spirit of the Oregon State and Washington Women’s basketball teams are really strong right now. Unfortunately the Beavers have to play the “Beast” Connecticut. But don’t we feel a spirit in a team? We understand what momentum is, don’t we? Do we think the Golden State Warriors are winning now just because of talent? They play “in the spirit” while LaBron James like he’s mad. It’s like a force, isn’t it?

Not only churches, but companies and corporations have spirits like angels. What would we want to write to the angel of Wal-Mart or Amazon? In the political world there are spirits, can we feel them?

The rise of Donald Trump is a spiritual thing. It is like a force, isn’t it? Inexplicable and definitely on the dark side. It isn’t simply about The Donald,     as much as HE believes it is.

The goal of Revelation for John was to help people see, really see. To see the forces at work in the world, not rationally, but in the spirit. And our first response to Revelation should not be to figure it out, but to be open to the spirit; to be “in the spirit”.

One thing I like about “Battlestar Galactica” is: One would think that the Cylons would be pure evil, like in “Star Wars” where it’s pretty black and white. You are either on the Light or the Dark side of the Force. But in “Battlestar Galactica” the Cylons are not all bad. The Dark Side of the Force is in humans and Cylons alike.

Not only that, but the Cylons are also spiritual. They are seeking God just as much as the humans. Maybe even more. And that’s just darn apocalyptic!



Apocalyptic may be defined as a type of biblical literature that emphasizes the lifting of the veil between heaven and earth and the revelation of God and his plan for the world. 


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