You might almost miss this verse in the larger reading describing death and destruction. In fact, you could make an argument that this phrase is taken completely out of context since all around it, the vision is exposing harm and hurt. As John describes the reality of the Roman empire’s brutal impact on the communities he loves, he describes, almost like a newscaster, how they have come conquering and to conquer, removed peace from the earth so that people slaughter one another, live in brutal financial arrangements that starve people, kill in numerous ways… in John’s vision, even the earth is experiencing havoc—earthquakes and stars falling like a fruit tree that drops its fruit when shaken by a gale.
Really, it kind of sounds like our news. We hear at least daily of efforts in Iraq to conquer and of those lost in that effort. This morning in the Des Moines Register, I read John Carlson’s reflections on hearing an early morning report of 9 dead and 20 wounded from the 82nd Airbourne—and his dreadful waiting for a knock, a call because as he writes, “my family has someone in Iraq.”
We reel from the stories of killing at Virginia Tech: survivor Erin Sheehan in Norris room 207 said she doesn’t know how she wasn’t shot. As she lay motionless, people lay in every direction from her, and she could hear the sounds of their dying [NPR Morning Edition].
We heard the witness last night at the Hunger Banquet in Peace Dining Room of the brutal economics in our world—the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough food and resources to go around—it’s unfair and inadequate distribution that is starving children, not to mention mothers, to death.
And I heard this week, it a report from peach farmers throughout Alabama who experienced an unseasonable 20 degree cold snap, their grief at losing their entire fruit crop. “You look out and all the fruit is on the ground. There’s not one thing left on the tree. It makes you want to cry.” [NPR Morning Edition]
If we can relate to John’s revealing vision—it’s because the deep pain and need of our world is all around us—and as far as I can tell, this isn’t because we’re living in the “end times”—this is because empire-building, violent grasping for power, abuse of the earth, greed…because all of this sin and brokenness is present in our world today.
The good news is that there is an alternative to selling our souls to empire. We do not have to be paralyzed in the face of all this because there is another, truer, deeper story woven through the book of Revelation – through this vision of John – a story of hope that reminds us of God’s call and God’s promise. Like this little seed within the destruction - “Hurt not the earth or the sea or the trees” - we are bordered front and back by violence and death. But the violence described in chapter 6 is also bordered/bracketed/bookended – it is surrounded on every side by the power of the Lamb.
In the Easter texts of Revelation 5, we hear - “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!”
And we are moving on to the text that comes this next Sunday in chapter 7, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“Lamb power,”*as this power is described in Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing’s book The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, is a very different kind of power—power in vulnerability, power in sacrifice, power in singing, power in worship—this is the power that is given by the Holy Spirit who calls and gathers, enlightens and sanctifies God’s people… for a purpose.
The hope and promise that permeates Revelation is not for some far-off day when we die and thus escape the realities of the world—no way! The hope and promise is to give us a glimpse of God’s vision, God’s reality, God’s way… and the part that each of us can play in bringing that vision to life in our daily work and living.
It’s a little like that piece of wisdom that is sometimes attributed to Martin Luther, “If I was told that world was going to end tomorrow—today, I would plant a tree.” Why? Well not because he was an eccentric man out of touch with reality… but because of his continued faith in God’s work of healing, renewal and reconciliation on earth.
We are called to be a part of this vision of hope—through who we are & what we say & do. Another name for that is vocation. I know, I know… if you’ve heard that word once in this chapel, you’ve heard it a thousand times.
But I think why we’re so obsessed with it is all of us know how hard it is in the crazy busyness, demands and pain of every day life to have a vision of the whole—God’s vision, my vision, the world’s deep need, my deep joy, how these intersect and come together. We need the reminder in our vocation as students, teachers and staff; as sons and daughters, parents, friends, or whatever our role in this place and time. There is a part for us to play in bringing hope into the world.
And whatever vocation God is calling us toward, there will be a part for us to play in bringing hope into the world.
Not unlike the jazz that surrounds this word in chapel this morning, we come together: trumpet, saxophone, drum, piano, trombone, voice… we come together to practice the way our songs together will flow. The melody is shared around. Solos are backed up and supported by the group. We improvise. There is give and take. Together, we make music that permeates the room, that will be in us throughout the day, maybe longer.
Today, God is calling you and me to be the change we want to see in the world, the jazz musicians, spirit-filled act-ors, proclaimers of hope … like the tree of life found at the end of the story in Revelation 22, whose branches hold 12 kinds of fruit and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, we are called to bear fruit and bring healing, we are nourished by living waters… we freed by the power of the Holy Spirit to set others free. Freed by the power of the Holy Spirit to be and become the people God is creating us to be. God is not done with us yet…God is not just leaving us to destruction… instead, we are like the seed, in fertile ground, and the Spirit whispers, “Grow, grow, grow.”