June 2, 2019

7th Sunday of Easter

Revelation 22:12-21
Acts 16:16-34


For us, living in a comfortable country like Australia, the book of Revelation can feel a bit out of place. We may even say that it earns its rightful place at the end of the Bible. After all, it is the last book in the Bible that we would want to read.

 I mean, what’s to like about the book anyway? We live in the best country in the world. At least, we like to say that. But, according to many measurements, we do live in one of the best places in the world today.

 Last year, Australia secured three spots in the top ten of the most livable cities in the world. The list was created by the Economist Intelligence Unit. In 2017, Perth even reached number 7 in the Global Liveability Report!

 No wonder that none of us wants this to stop. If it’s even possible, we may even want to tell Jesus never to return. Why does anyone want Jesus to return to turn everything upside down. Life has never been so good. There is nothing to be fixed in our world. At least for us.

 Well, try to tell this to a child labor in India who has lost his childhood from slaving day and night. Try to tell this to a domestic worker in the Middle East whose liberty has been taken away by his employer; who is being sexually assaulted and degraded by his employer, yet she can’t tell anyone. Try to tell this to a worker in China who is dying after being recklessly exposed to dangerous material in her factory. For these people, the world is an evil place and people who live in there are equally evil. These are the people who would be ready to shout with John and the Spirit, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come! Destroy evil! Make everything new!”

 Yes, the book of Revelation was written for these people, not necessarily to people like us.

 Indeed, friends, we are in danger of becoming like the Grand Inquisitor in the novel Brothers Karamazov. The novel was written by the legendary Russian novelist and psychologist, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

 It tells a tale about Christ who returns to earth and lives in Sevile in Spain during the time of the inquisition. Even though Christ comes silently and unannounced, people are immediately drawn to him and follow him. They recognize him and he begins performing miracles like he did in first century Judea.

 But, soon he is arrested in the cathedral by no other than the Cardinal Grand Inquisitor himself. When Christ is alone in his cell, the Grand Inquisitor comes to visit him. The Cardinal tells him,

“It is You! You! ... Why should your return now, to stop us from our work? ... are You aware of what awaits you in the morning? ... I will condemn and burn you on the stake, as the worst of all the heretics....  You have no business to return and hinder us in our work....”

 If we are not careful, we may, unknowingly, become like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s novel. We may tell Christ to go back to where he comes from.

 Yes, living in a wealthy nation, there is the danger that we become the people that the gospel was against. We may even sound like the Roman man who accused Paul and Silas of ruining his ‘reputable’ business.

 He made a lot of money from his servant girl. He didn’t care that his money came from the suffering of another human being. Life was good for the man.

 If we are not careful, we too can become like him. We can be indifferent to the suffering of others. Too comfortable in our life style, we may ignore the suffering before our eyes. We may even close our eyes to the suffering that is caused by our action, directly or indirectly.

 But, God will not stay silent. God will use people, like Paul and Silas, to bring freedom to the oppressed, often at the expense of the comfortable. Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Evil may seem to rule the world today, but Christ is the one who will say the final word.

 Indeed, Christianity flourished, in the first century, amongst people who were oppressed. The gospel was well received by the slaves, the poor, and the weak. Yes, there were also highly educated people, like Paul, who were attracted to the gospel. Yes, there were rich merchants, like Lydia, who chose to become followers of Jesus. Yes, there were high ranking officers, like Cornelius, who became followers of Jesus. But, the majority of Jesus’ early followers were those who were marginalized.

 These were the people who could relate to the message of the gospel. These were the people who truly and genuinely long for liberation.

 Today too, the gospel takes root especially amongst the marginalized people all around the world. In India, the gospel takes root amongst the Dalit people who are the untouchable caste in India. In South America and South-East Asia, the gospel takes root amongst the poor population in the regions. In other parts of the world too, most people who accept the gospel are often the marginalized.

 These are the ‘spiritual descendants’ of the original hearers of the gospel. These are the people whom Jesus often addressed in his proclamation of God’s Kingdom. The Good News was originally the good news to these people. As such, we can only truly appreciate the gospel’s power when we identify ourselves with these people.

 Take the example of Paul and Silas’ jailer. The earthquake did not only shatter his prison; it shattered the illusion of his life. In that moment, he was transformed from a powerful person to a powerless person. He used to lock people in chains and put them behind bars. Yet, because of the earthquake, he was now in danger of becoming the one locked and chained himself. The certainty in his life had turned into vulnerability. He was no longer a man full of confidence. He was now a man filled with fear. But, that moment had also become the moment when he opened himself to the gospel.

 Friends, this can happen to us too. Like it or not, we are the rich people that the Bible often talks about. We are the people with privileges that Jesus often warned against. To truly experience the gospel, people like us need to put aside our material privileges; to put aside certainty and embrace vulnerability. Perhaps then, when we are vulnerable, the gospel will speak loudly and clearly in our hearts.

 No, the gospel is not against the rich and the powerful. The gospel is for everyone, rich and poor, young and old, male and female. Everyone is invited to experience the good news of Jesus Christ.

 Yet, the gospel was born from within the womb of poverty, not wealth; marginal people, not rulers. Unless we learn to see from their point of view, we could never experience the fullness of the power of the gospel. We are to learn to empty ourselves from our attachment to material possession and privilege. I hope, when we are able to do so, we can join John and the saints of all ages to genuinely proclaim, “Come Lord Jesus! Come! Make everything new!”

Rev. Toby Keva