“The Rapture is bad theology. Revelation is Good News…” Gospel and Sermon for Sunday, May 15, 2022.
The text from today’s sermon is:
Predictions about the end of the world are one of the most common things in history. Since the time that Jesus walked the earth, there have literally been hundreds, if not thousands, of predictions about the end of the world. These apocalyptic predictions often come in the form of events that will cause the extinction of humanity, a collapse of civilization, or destruction of the planet. Death and destruction are two things that humans seem really drawn to. Maybe we’re just ultimately afraid of our own mortality and death and this is one way we try to deal with it. I don’t know.
The first known prediction of the end of the world after the resurrection of Jesus was from Simon bar Giora, from the Jewish Essenes community sometime between 66-70, right before the destruction of the temple. He said the Jewish uprising against the Romans that was going on was the final end-time battle which would bring about the arrival of the Messiah. He even authorized coins to be minted for the occasion.
And while this was the first prediction, it certainly hasn’t been the last. By the time we get to the 16th century, we see each subsequent century produce an exponentially increasing number of predictions about the end of the world. By the time we get to the 20th century, the list was just too long for me to count. And even though we are only 22 years into the 21st century, there have already been 22 predictions of the end of the world. Remember the whole Blood Moon prediction by the Rev. John Hagee a few years ago? Yeah, he sold a bunch of books and other materials to commemorate the occasion. Go figure, make a prediction about the end of the world, scare people, and make a nice little profit for yourself. Humanity hasn’t changed much in 2000 years has it?
Well, Guess what? Every single one of these predictions has been wrong. Sometimes, a person makes multiple predictions, each time wrong, and somehow people keep listening to them. Maybe they were just using the wrong combination of current events or applying them to the wrong prophecies or taking the wrong Scripture passages out of context wrong. Or maybe these folks have some really bad theology. But hey, what’s a little bad theology, right? No one ever got hurt from some bad theology, right? Ask the Branch Davidians in Waco how bad theology worked out. Or those at Jonestown. Or the Reichschurch in Nazi Germany. Or the Vatican about the crusades.
The theme of Jesus returning in the setting of violence is especially popular and dangerous. Take the belief in the Rapture – the belief that the “true” believers will be whisked away in some kind of holy escape plan before a really ticked off Jesus comes back to earth to cause massive destruction of creation and kill all the bad people. Meanwhile, the good people get front row seats in heaven and watch the destruction and devastation. All while eating some heavenly popcorn as if it was a Hollywood blockbuster.
Does anyone see anything a bit twisted about that? A little sadistic maybe? Do we really want our hope to be that Jesus is ticked off and destroys everything and kills a bunch of people like a human tyrant throwing a temper tantrum? Does that sound hopeful to you? Because it doesn’t to me. It sounds like the ways of the world not the ways of Jesus.
Barbara Rossing, started her book “the Rapture Exposed” this way: “The Rapture is a racket. Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world. In place of healing, theRapture proclaims escape. In place of Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture voyeuristically glorifies violence and war. In place of Revelation’s vision of the Lamb’s vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates the lion-like wrath of the Lamb. This theology is not biblical. We are not Raptured off the earth, nor is God. No, God has come to live in the world through Jesus. God created the world, God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind!” Amen!
The Rapture is really bad theology and it has destructive implications. If we are going to be whisked away, then there’s no need to care for God’s creation, is there? God’s just going destroy it anyway, right? So much for stewardship of the earth.
If God is going to whisk away the chosen few who get the theology right, I guess there’s no sense in caring for the poor and outcast, doing the things Jesus told his followers to do: feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, or freeing those in bondage – unless they change their beliefs first, right?
The Rapture relies on this strange belief that humanity has to get the conditions right in order for Jesus to come back – as if Jesus is somehow hindered by what we do or don’t do. That’s putting a whole lot of power in human hands. And those conditions often involve a war started in the Middle East. Imagine what that belief does for international peace efforts and geopolitical stability in the region.
And yes, there are people who work tirelessly to make sure the conditions are ripe for war so that the Rapture can begin – that’s not an exaggeration. Those who hold onto Rapture theology are willing to have countless people die so that they can be whisked away in a heavenly evacuation. And were not just talking about average joe-schmoe church people here. There are influential politicians and policy makers along with others who influence them who believe Rapture theology to be the truth and who make decisions that impact foreign policy and international relations. Rapture theology isn’t just bad theology, it’s dangerous. The Rapture, like all these predictions of the end of the world, is contrary to Scripture and our faith in Jesus Christ.
Revelation 21 and 22, part of which we’ll hear next week, are my favorite passages in all of Scripture because they are the final summation of what God has always been about and will continue to be about. We don’t have to guess. We don’t have to tie together random current events or pull random Scripture phrases out of context. We don’t have to hope for violence as the means to bring about salvation. We don’t have to settle for some sick death wish for a large swath of the human population. No, none of that.
Here’s what we hear in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.’”
There’s no holy escape plan. There’s no evacuation. There’s no God destroying creation. There’s not Jesus being ticked off and killing. There’s only God dwelling with creation. Does that sound vaguely familiar? In Genesis, God walks with humanity and creation in the garden, dwelling in creation. It is sin that breaks this. Revelation tells us of God restoring that relationship.
Scripture is the continuous story of God coming to creation and humanity, restoring creation and peoples and making all things new, and dwelling with us here. Always. Not once is the story about us having to reach God in heaven.
This is good news for us right now because we are human. It doesn’t matter how much strength we have, or intellectual ability. No amount of money or materials. Doesn’t matter how much we think we have the right answers and beliefs. Doesn’t matter how good we think we are and how good we think we live our lives. None of that matters. We can’t reach God. We can’t rise up enough to ever get to God.
Often at funerals, people want to talk about how good their loved one was and that’s why they are in heaven with God. That’s not how it works. And we should be really glad about that because no one is good enough for that. We don’t dwell with God because of how good we are, as if God owes us. God dwells with us for eternity because of how good God is.
When we keep trying to reach God, rather than see God in our midst, then we are denying our humanity, our limitations, our brokenness. We are denying reality and the truth in favor of a lie – that we can be like God. We’re Adam and Eve all over again in the garden. It wasn’t good enough that God made us human – we want more.
We are refusing to see the beauty that God has created in each of us. Dangerous and really bad theologies, like rapture theology, are really about trying to deny our humanity. Bad theology tries to tell us that we need to be more than human – that our humanness isn’t enough for God. It’s the serpent’s temptation all over again. Bad theology demands that we reach above our humanness, that we be more than human in order to reach the divine. Bad theology demands that we be good enough to reach God. That only the right people, with the right beliefs, can be good enough to reach the divine. That’s not salvation or good news.
Jesus doesn’t call on us to go above our humanness. We humans are limited. We are broken. We need love. To love one another as Jesus has loved us and commands us to do for one another.
Those who think they can rise above their humanness don’t need love. They tell themselves that they have everything they need – of course, they can reach the divine after all. They can spend their time worrying about who is right and who is wrong. Who’s worthy and who is unworthy. Who gets judged and what the judgement will be? It’s such a seductive lie – to be like God, not just a mortal.
But love is an acknowledgement of our humanity and its brokenness. Love is an acknowledgement that we aren’t divine, and we shouldn’t try to be something that we are not. Rather we are called to be fully human.
God is always coming to creation. Not expecting us to make the climb up Mt. Olympus to become gods or demigods. Jesus takes on flesh and becomes human – Christianity is counter to all the stories of humanity, the great heroes of mythology who become part of the pantheon of gods – something only a few select fortunate ones ever accomplish. It runs counter to Rome and all empires who worship their tyrants and rulers as gods and divine – again a small select group of special people. It runs counter to economic systems that make the ridiculously wealthy into gods who can touch the divine by their own efforts. It runs counter to the politics and partisanship which subjugates God to serving some politician or political party in pursuit of a twisted divine-like power that makes these folks believe that God has ordained them to determine how the world should be run and who can be controlled and what they can do. And shocker, there’s only a small select group who are good enough to do this. Aren’t you tired of these stories? We know how they always end. And it’s never good. We all lose.
Christianity isn’t about us reaching up to God. We can’t. It’s always been about God reaching down to us, dwelling with us, taking on our flesh. God coming out of heaven to be with us – whether we are talking about at the beginning of creation in the garden, God dwelling with us now, right here, or God coming to make God’s home among mortals at the end of time.
The very core and essence of Christianity is about God emptying Godself, taking on human flesh, becoming fully human and dwelling with us in Jesus. Jesus becomes fully human because we can’t become divine. Rejecting our humanness and saying that we need to be more than human, more than how God made us, is rejecting God. And saying to God, well, what you made wasn’t good enough. And you made a mistake. God doesn’t make mistakes. None of you is a mistake.
You are broken, I’m broken. But broken doesn’t mean trash. It means we need love. And love is all about being vulnerable and trust. Jesus is willing to be vulnerable with us and risk everything to be in relationship with us. That’s what love is all about. Jesus comes to us, takes on our broken flesh, and loves us in our brokenness. He risks it all. Humanity is scared by that kind of vulnerability. So scared that it was willing to kill. Yet, even with humanity killing Jesus, God doesn’t give up. God continues to pursue us. Continuing to reach down to us. To dwell with us. Think of how powerful that is.
Revelation 21 reminds us of our humanness and how God comes to us not in spite of our humanness, but because of it. Jesus’ new commandment isn’t offered to us in spite of our humanness, but because of it.
We are human. Not divine. We don’t have all the answers, in fact we often have very few answers if any. And if we’re really honest, we don’t know squat about hardly anything. And we are not in control. Revelation 21 reminds us of this. And reminds us who is. It’s beautiful imagery about God dwelling in creation, restoring creation and humanity. And it’s not just about some distant time in the future. It’s about right now. Look around, how is God creating a new heaven and a new earth. It’s not hard to see. Just look. How is God dwelling with us? Just look around. How is God making all things new? How is God setting up God’s home among us mortals? Take a look around. How is God wiping away our tears? How is God making Death no more? How is God making mourning and crying and pain no more? How is God making all these things pass away? Look around. See.
As you know, I’ve been struggling with dealing with long haul covid systems of fatigue, fuzzy head and headaches that turn into migraines. I’ve had lots of time to reflect on this. I don’t know how long this will last. My doctor has told me there is nothing we can do but wait because no one knows what to do. That may sound hopeless to you. But what’s it done for me is release me from trying to be more than I am – a broken human who is not in control. What power do we have? The power to listen and pay attention to what God is doing. To jump on board where we are able. To share with others where we see God already at work and to invite others into what God is already doing. We have the power to be grateful for what God is doing. The power to receive Christ’s love and to love others. And, you know what, that’s good enough. That’s always good enough. Thanks be to God.