I felt kind of embarrassed about that, but not too embarrassed to finish it…it didn’t end well.
The Zombie apocalypse is a favorite device in current fantasy and horror fiction, but we’ve always had apocalyptic literature. It seems like since we began describing the world we’ve imagined its annihilation. The scripture we heard today is from the book of Revelation, one of many apocalyptic works written from about 200 BC to 100 AD.
The book of Revelation describes the ultimate battle between good and evil, which many throughout history have interpreted literally as the end of the world as we know it and the return of Christ at some future time to redeem the righteous and punish the wicked.
But many biblical scholars including Elaine Pagels, author of Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation, interpret Revelation as a reaction to the catastrophic defeat of the Jewish revolt and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.
According to Pagels, the author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.
The debate between those who read the Bible for literal meaning and those who approach it as allegory and metaphor will probably rage on until the end of time, but these differences of opinion regarding how to interpret scripture also go back farther than many people realize. In The Bible: A Bibliography, Karen Armstrong explains that from the time of Ezra in the Old Testament, classical Judaism was a faith concerned not merely with the reception and preservation of revelation, but with its constant reinterpretation. “Indeed,” she writes, “a text that could not be radically reinterpreted to meet the needs of the day was dead; the written words of scripture had to be revitalized….Only then could they reveal the divine presence latent within God’s Torah.” In other words, as we say in the United Church of Christ, “God is still speaking.”
So what does the book of Revelation, the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, have to say to us today? The earth, God’s creation, which supports an astronomical number of plant and animal species in an environment of indescribable beauty, is sick and suffering. We see the pictures, hear the stories, look at the charts and read the reports of the huge negative impact human actions are having on the world that God has provided for us and tasked us to be stewards of. When we read of the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, of the passing away of the old heaven and the old earth, dare we to hope that God is promising that the results of our destructiveness, our thoughtlessness, our selfishness, will pass away, leaving the earth as joyful and beautifully adorned as a bride and groom on their wedding day?
The voice from the throne calls, “Look! God’s tabernacle is among humankind.” Dare we envision God’s tabernacle, the sacred dwelling place of the Divine, the abundant garden, the shining city on a hill, here on earth? What would the world look like if God lived with us, if we were God’s people and God was fully present among us? “In Revelation,” Erik Heen writes, “the distinction between heaven and earth simply falls away. In the process, all life on earth is restored to God’s intent for it.” Every tear is wiped away. Death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more. Those who thirst will drink freely from the spring of the water of life. In this vision, we’re not transported to some distant, future, invisible heaven to live with God. The kingdom of God, or as David Bartlett calls it, the culture of God, is here and now. In the love and compassion and grace of Christ, all of creation has been radically renewed.
A tabernacle is a tent or sanctuary; the sacred place where God met the Israelites during the 40 years they wandered in the desert. Tabernacle can also be used as a verb meaning to dwell as if in a tabernacle. If we want God to tabernacle with us, what must we do? Again, in The Bible: A Bibliography, Karen Armstrong says of the rabbinical practice of midrash, “You did not understand a text until you had found a way of putting it into practice. The rabbis called scripture a…’summons’ that called the Jewish people to action.” What action are we summoned to by the scripture we heard today?
On Friday, Earth Day, diplomats from 167 countries gathered in New York to sign the Paris climate accord that was reached last December. The New York Times reported on the progress and pledges of key countries. Pledges aren’t accomplishments, and many of the goals cited by various countries come with caveats, but that doesn’t negate the fact that humanity is starting to face the challenge of restoring the planet. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to have its emissions of carbon dioxide plateau or decline by around 2030. The U.S. pledged to cut greenhouse gases between 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The European Union has pledged to cut emissions by at least 40 percent by the year 2030. The E.U. also gives the largest amount of money to poorer countries to help them deal with climate change. India has committed to increasing solar power generation from 3 gig awaits a year to 100 gig awaits by 2022. The Indian government has increased the tax on coal eightfold and has toughened emissions standards for coal-based power plants, making solar energy as competitively priced as coal. Many other countries also signed pledges. Experts aren’t confident that the changes agreed to at the Paris talks will be enough to halt the progress of climate change, but they are a step in the right direction.
Closer to home, our state is tied for 5th in number of national parks, which preserve more than 2,600 square miles of public land. In November, a ballot initiative will give Washington the chance to become the first state with a carbon tax which would put a price on fossil-fuel emissions by industries. Seattle is one of five metro areas that dominates electric-car sales, and Seattleites own double the national average of Prius drivers. In 2005, the utility company Seattle City Light reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions to zero. Awareness of the fragility of the earth and the necessity of action to heal the planet is becoming global, transcending religious, ethnic and national boundaries.
God has promised that life is stronger than death. We can’t extinguish the spark of life, but we can choose to help or hinder it. Revelation calls us to reject the power of the empire, to choose wise and compassionate stewardship over greed and exploitation. All people of the world are called to inhabit the world as the sacred tabernacle of the Divine. To choose life. To choose love. Amen.