Biblical Text: Luke 12:49-53 (Hebrews 11:17-31, 12:1-3, Jeremiah 23:16-29)
The text is an apocalyptic saying of Jesus. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” On the face of it, it contradicts the message of the angles of Christmas. This sermon attempts to keep them together. How do we have both divisions and peace?
Biblical Text: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 20:17-20 (Appointed texts for St. Michael and All Angels Full Sermon Draft
The texts are apocalyptic. The day is a rarely celebrated Festival of the church. The last time it might have crossed out consciousness is 2002 – the last time September 29th was on a Sunday. What do these things have to say to us?
I’ve got three points:
1) “Worlds” rise and fall, are born and die. We can mark the time, and toward the dying phase that is what we do because we are avoiding the all too apparent appointed time. The apocalyptic is give to God’s people to capture that sense of a world ending and at the same time remind us that the new creation is just as much God’s as the old. The apocalyptic is solely meant to comfort God’s people. He’s got it all in his hands.
2) The instanced of dying and rising, from our personal experiences all the way to the death of civilizations (and the feelings of exile), are portents of the final rising. On that final day all will rise one last time. A people confident of such can celebrate in the midst of death, and can fast or just mark time when the world is decadently feasting.
3) Sometimes seduced by the utilitarian and material world that has flattened everything we forget where our real strength comes from. We can pound our heads against material walls when the true war is spiritual. Our only true spiritual weapon is prayer. The angels of God, as they tell Daniel, are dispatched by the word through prayer.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read the Scriptures and just fundamentally go, “huh?!?! What the Heck do I do with that?” It is not just the OT either, but some scenes in the NT like this one – Luke 22:36-38. No other gospel writer records the talk about swords although they do mention the cutting off and healing of the ear of one of those arresting Jesus. Ezekiel can be the OT version of Revelation – apocalyptic literature filled with figures and strange signs. In the texts above we have the 4 living creatures with four faces around the the throne. I’m not kidding here, in trying to interpret passages like this one I’ve seen everything from very elaborte allegories (four levels of meaning for each face and everything in the passage) to just dismissal as not God’s Word to claims that this “vision” is proof of UFOs.
If you spend any amount of time reading the Church Fathers which the easiest place to do so is through these books you eventually pick up on the fact that they liked allegory, but that allegory had a consistent interpretation key – Jesus Christ. The world is full of a lot of “isms” and each one wants to look at and interpret the world through a particular starting point. If you were a Marxist it is the dialectic or the class struggle. If you are a feminist is it gender. If you are a capitalist it is the dollar (or yen, or pound…). You get the point. There is some point in existence that is taken as constant, unmoving or of supreme importance. For most of us, we are really just hedonists or narcissists and that point is our own gut.
Here is Irenaeus of Lyon, a second century bishop, on the living creatures.
…For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God…the lion, signifying His active and princely and royal character; the ox, showing His sacrifical and priestly order, the human face, indicating very clearly His coming in human guise, and the eagle making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…
For the Christian that reference point is Jesus Christ. The question that all people must eventually ask themselves is – “Do you have the unmoving reference point?” The confession of the church in all times and places has been that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is that true point. Everything else will melt away, but the Word of the Lord stand forever.
Daniel 2:31-49 (Image of Gold, Silver, Bronze, Iron, Clay)
Daniel 3:1-18 (Image of God – Fiery Furnace 1)
Daniel 3:19-30 (Fiery Furnace 2)
Daniel 4:1-18 (The King’s new dream)
Daniel 4:19-27 (Daniel’s Interpretation & Plea for repentance)
Daniel 4:28-37 (Fulfillment of the dream)
Those were the readings in Daniel since I last posted (Sorry, Ethan Isaiah is too cute). I have to be truthful, I am absolutely stuck as to what the heck Daniel 4 is doing in the book. But, Dan 2 and 3 are staples. If you have read any of the popular end of the world books Daniel 2 or the image usually appears in them. And this image is also at the center of scholarly debate. Ask any scholar what the legs of iron represent and you have a pretty good litmus test for that person’s view of scripture. The person with a high view of scripture will probably answer Rome. That person assumes that the Book was written in the late 500s BC and has no problem with predictive prophecy. Others would probably answer Greece. They deny predictive prophecy and so the last empire/section of the image has to the one in power at the supposed time of writing. They would answer Daniel was written in 164 BC, becuase Daniel describes events up until that time, and so the empire must be Greece.
But all of that is to miss the real important piece. A rock, not made from human hands, destroys the image and covers the entire world. God sets up His kingdom that will not be overcome but will overcome the kingdoms and empires of the world. Deep in the OT we hear the proclamation of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is coming and all before it will be swept away. Those ancient empires are long gone. Even the empires of the east have fallen. And the gospel message of Christ has been growing and has been proclaimed around the globe. Empires have risen and empires have fallen – empires of gold (excuse my bias but the British Empire was pretty golden) to Empires of mixed Iron and Clay (WW2 Germany, Italy, Japan). The message of the church still stands and grows. Don’t worship the empire (the image), but worship Christ the Rock on which the church stands.