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The Patterns of This World

20 This was because Herod respected John. He regarded him as a righteous and holy person, so he protected him. John’s words greatly confused Herod, yet he enjoyed listening to him.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 6:14-29.

Herod is a hard man to pin down. The basic facts are that he was king of the state of Judea, ruled over by the much more powerful Roman emperor. Herod played the role of a junior bureaucrat, throwing parties and trying to build up his own power. But he dreamed Jewish dreams of ruling as the “messiah” — the true king of Israel, the one to liberate his people and establish justice.

Herod was caught between two competing cultures. He was wrestling with exactly the temptations that the apostle Paul may have been imagining when he wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The pattern of Herod’s world said, embrace the Roman powers, embrace ruthlessness, embrace violence, embrace extravagance, embrace “any means necessary.”

But God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God is constantly providing witnesses, people whose lives make us ask questions. People who have the potential to transform everything.

For Herod, that person was John the Baptist.

Who might it be for you? Who makes you scratch your head? Whose life challenges the patterns of your world?

John the Baptist said no to extravagance and Roman power. He preached that God wanted to totally transform our lives. And that a true messiah was on his way.

The story says that Herod respected John. He protected him because he saw that John was “holy,” set apart by God. But at the same time, John confused Herod. John’s life made Herod ask hard questions. He unsettled the things that Herod thought he knew.

In the end, Herod gets caught in a trap of his own making. He’s forced to choose between Roman ruthlessness and John’s confusing alternative message. He chooses the patterns of his world. He chooses stability. And he kills John.

God never abandons us to the patterns of this world. God’s transforming Spirit is all around us. Psalm 85, the psalm paired with this week’s story from Mark, says, “God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him so that God’s glory can live in our land. Faithful love and truth have met; righteousness and peace have kissed.”

God’s glory longs to live in our land. God never abandons us. But we do have a choice with what we do when the patterns of our world and God’s alternative salvation come into conflict.

What do you choose?

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

 

The Girl Gets Up

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him.On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11  If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

Read this week’s full text, Mark 6:1-13.

The passage immediately preceding Mark 6.1-13 is one I held on to in my late teens and early twenties in much the way that I held on to my pink blanket as a toddler or the way, during long days in elementary school, I held on to the faith that my mom would be there to pick me up at 3:00 and I would get to go home. I had many comforts growing up; those were a few of them. Anyway, when my pink blanket was Mark 5.35-43, I said half lines of it to myself on repeat, “Talitha cum, talitha cum, talitha cum.” Scripture tells us it means, “Little girl, get up!” She isn’t dead after all, just asleep. Jesus revives her.

Jesus addresses a girl on the cusp of adolescence—we’re told she’s twelve. Who knows what transpired in the girl’s life preceding the moment in the text where she appears dead? Who can’t imagine? Listen to girls the world over. Still, that isn’t where the story lingers. God says get up. And she does.

While I don’t doubt a bit that more often than not I miss the mark in my approach to scripture, reading Mark 6.1-13 for this week I realize that, in addition to the mistake of regularly reading myself right into the center of Bible stories, too often I stop reading too soon.

The Bible doesn’t say, “Get up!” and end there. In Mark 6.1–13 Jesus and his disciples head to Jesus’ hometown before venturing out again. They live in amazement. Jesus sends the disciples out into the villages in pairs as healers, teachers, peacemakers, people doing kingdom work. They cast out demons and heal people who are hurting.

The text also instructs the twelve to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against” those who “will not welcome you” and “refuse to hear you.” There is a certain comfort in this, too, and something that is more potent than a comfort. The disciples are given a way to acknowledge and move on from people who hurt other people on purpose. We learn that it is possible, imperative even, to love those who hurt others on purpose without adopting or endorsing that perspective and behavior. Cruelty, injustice, and violence are insidious, but not supreme.

We are called to something else entirely. The positive, generative, big benevolent truth of God is present even when we feel beleaguered. Maybe our own aching can tune us in more fully to the needs of the world. The girl gets up. And the story moves forward. There are other people hurting who need help. We’re invited to venture on, repent, read all the way to Mark 12.29-31 and linger there—that we may love God and other people.
Reflection written by Annie Mountcastle. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Faith in Power

30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.

33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth.34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 5:21-43.

I’ve been thinking about power lately. Where is power? Who has power? Who talks? Who listens? Who is more self-assured, more defensive, more deferential? Who makes decisions? Who looks or sounds powerful?
Some power is obvious: Guns. Wealth. Sometimes it is less so: people who always speak confidently, as if they have no doubt that their words will be heeded. Others who are quick to jump to the defensive, as if knowing they may have much to lose.
Among my friends and teachers who discuss white supremacy, a frequent question is about how we make power visible and shift power structures. How do we make sure that each of us is equally empowered, regardless of our color, or gender, or circumstances?

But when power is abstract and intangible, this is a hard question. It sometimes seems that the only answers are to take power–violently, if necessary, or to sit back and hope that the powerful at some point decide to hand it over.

With so many thoughts of power on my mind, the word jumped off the page at me in this week’s passage: At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him.
This is funny, because we never think that Jesus could lose power. He might use his power for good, or maybe even share it, but how could the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and Omega, actually lose power? And lose it seemingly by accident, or at least unexpectedly. He seems confused and surprised, freezing immediately when he realizes that his powers have been tapped.
This woman did not take Jesus’ power with violence, or persuasion, or through a barter or bribe. Somehow just believing in his power meant that she got some.
But as soon as she realizes what has happened, she freaks out, with “fear and trembling.” I’d be scared, too. Having power you aren’t used to is terrifying. Standing in front of a room full of people who are waiting to hear you speak? Stepping into a job that feels overwhelming and thinking, “there’s no way I can do this”?
This woman doesn’t seem to know what she’s gotten herself into–what her faith has gotten her into. So she kneels down in fear to confess and this slightly-less-powerful Jesus doesn’t hit her, or chastise, or make a mental note to blakmail her later… he blesses her. He announces to the crowd what both of them already know: her faith has healed her.
This woman was empowered by faith in power. And it wasn’t merely the faith itself that healed her, but what her faith led her to do: reach out and touch Jesus.
What power do you have faith in? Do you have faith in your own power? Do you have faith in power of God to bless your life, to flourish in our city, to heal the world?
Or maybe like me, do you most days just have faith in white power, in male power, in straight power, in corporate power, in government power, in violent power?

Where does your faith in these powers lead you? Self-preservation that hides behind white supremacy because it seems like the easiest thing to do? Despair and doubt that you or I or God could ever make this world different? Or does it lead you to reach toward something else?

This woman’s faith in his power led her to reach out and touch Jesus. And in doing so, his strength flowed into her, both power and blessing, and she was healed.
Reflection written by Carynne McIver. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Why Are You Afraid?

35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them,“Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 4:35-41.

Mark 4.35-41 is filled with questions answered with questions. Wind and waves are overwhelming the boat as Jesus’ companions wake him asking, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He answers by stilling the storm and asking them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” They answer his question-answer with a question, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Questions ache off the page throughout scripture, not the least of which is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And how about Genesis when God says to Adam, “Where are you?” And that big book of suffering, the Book of Job, in which God speaks in questions upon questions. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’”

 

Are you still afraid? I often think I definitely am. Some days I feel fear radiating through me—I feel electric with fear, like a sickness, like a short-circuitingknock-knock joke that won’t stop telling itself. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Fear. Fear, who? I’m afraid, are you? I’m afraid, are you, who? Wait, who are you? Knock-knock. Where’s that knocking coming from? Fear. Fear, who? Where are you? Knock-knock. Is that you? You, who? Yoo-hoo! Fear? Are you out there? In here? Anyone? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Fear. Afraid of what? Who?Knock-knock. You, too?Are you still afraid? Are you?

 

My granddad used to scream in his sleep—memories of World War II. On summer sleepovers at our grandparents’ house in elementary school my younger cousin told me scraps of our grandfather’s war stories that her mother had told her, ways of explaining his nightmares. I stood in the hallway, in bare feet and a nightgown, staring at the closed door of the sleeping porch where he slept alone. He was screaming. I should go in there and wake him. I should try to help or do something. I just stood there.

 

He’d been an U.S. soldier in Europe then Japan. He took photographs of the newly liberated concentration camp Buchenwald thinking no one would believe him otherwise. When I was in eighth grade he came to my school to talk to my English class. Someone asked him about the war. He stood there and cried.

 

At his funeral, as he had requested, we sang “Silent Night.” It was 2006. My sister and I drove up from a still wrecked New Orleans to attend the funeral with our family and there we stood, singing a Christmas carol after lowering his casket into the green earth, that heart ache refrain, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” And, “Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.” And those final lines of song, “sing Hallelujah. Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born.”

 

The truth is not that the flood waters will never overwhelm our boats, flood our cities, drown us, our families, our neighbors, plummet whole neighborhoods under water. It happens all the time. God notes that Job is faithful, among the most faithful; then all ten of his children die when a house collapses on them.

 

Are you still afraid? It’s the wrong question. I conflated the two questions Jesus asks in Mark 4.35-41 and in doing so I’ve gotten it all wrong, made a depressing jumble of things I don’t understand. Jesus knows the people are afraid. That much is totally clear. They’re terrified that they’re drowning, and they’re mad he’s not more worried about it.

 

Jesus doesn’t ask whether they’re afraid, he asks why.

 

He says to the roiling wind and sea, those forces that the people with him experience as real and pressing threats, “Peace! Be still!” The result? “Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” You were afraid of death? It isn’t coming—life everlasting is present already, here in the dead calm of the sea and in the windstorm, too, here even in our suffering, in our anger, in our confusion, and in death. Love cuts through every horror and sadness. Grace is all present all the time everywhere. I think that’s the idea, anyway.

 

“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks before going on, “Have you still no faith?” It’s as though the divine is roaring in our trembling, terrified ears, I am here. I’m with you in this. You’ve got questions? Ask them. I’m going to ask you right back.

 

Jesus asks “Why are you afraid?” and then, instead of asserting that they have no faith, he asks them. He says, “Have you still no faith?”In asking this, Jesus invites them into faith.

 

The question is not whether we’re afraid. Of course we are. The question is why and what’s the way forward. Do we use our fear as occasion to blame others? To be like the people on the boat asking Jesus why he’s not helping us more? To scream, “Doesn’t anyone care about me?” All the while Jesus is here with us, right here with us, offering peace and asking “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” We can stand in our fear with faith, let it become a reverent fear, a faith that in awe asks to know God more fully—Jesus, who says “Peace!” in the midst of the cruelest, most terrifying, storms.

Reflection written by Annie Mountcastle. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.

Seeds of Faith

Still-Background-Set-Seeds-of-Faith_slide4_426x320Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvesttime.”

He continued, “What’s a good image for God’s kingdom? What parable can I use to explain it? Consider a mustard seed. When scattered on the ground, it’s the smallest of all the seeds on the earth; but when it’s planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all vegetable plants. It produces such large branches that the birds in the sky are able to nest in its shade.”

Read this week’s full text, Mark 4:26-34.

For those of you who know the enneagram, I’m a 5. For those of you who don’t, I’m an investigator. This means that I “want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending myself from threats from the environment.”

This makes religion a bit of a sticky subject for me.

My sticking point is what’s at the core of every religion. Underneath the debates, underneath the discussions, underneath the ideological difference and the dogmatic similarities there’s one common, undeniable core – faith.

It’s faith, or the leap of faith, that flings us from the shores of logic to the sea of spirituality. It requires us to admit, not to others, but to our own souls, that there is something more. Something that we will never fully comprehend. And that that is OK.

That’s tough for me.

I like to be able to look at a seed in the ground and tell myself: “First it will germinate, then stem cells will mutate to fit the plants needs at each stage of life. It will pollinate and fertilize, form new seeds then disperse those seeds to start the process anew.” I like those words, ‘germinate’, ‘mutate’, ‘pollinate’, and ‘fertilize’. They’re science words, meaningful words, words that let me convince myself that I know what’s going on.

But, if I were to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that they only teach me I know nothing. A process, maybe, but I still don’t know why the trees grow. Why the wind places the seeds where it chooses. Why the water gives life to some and not to others.

I hide behind the words these words because I feel like they have power, but I stray away from words like God and prayer and Christ and Love because those words actually do.

Those words have to power to show us why the trees grow and the winds blow, but only so long as we are so humble and so honest as to admit that we know nothing, and that we never truly will.

Reflection written by Garrett Button.

Sitting with Jesus

Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!”
Read this week’s full text, Mark 3:20-35.

I can easily imagine the conversations that went on as Jesus’ family overheard bits and pieces of stories about his ministry. Is he eating enough? Is it really good for him to spend so much time with these prostitutes and swindlers?

And then when they heard how he was upsetting the local people in power, they really got worried. Does Jesus really want to confront these powerful people? If he keeps going like this, he’s going to get himself killed.

After worrying themselves sick, they decide that they need to do something. For his own good, they’re gonna bring him home where he can think it all through and come to his senses. “We need to go and take charge of Jesus,” you can just hear Mary saying.

Have you ever felt like that?

Those of us who have known Jesus our whole lives, who grew up in the church, singing all the right hymns and praying before every meal—we‘re pretty darn comfortable with Jesus. We think we know just exactly what he’s up to. And sometimes, we might know a bit better than Jesus what faithful Christian life looks like.

Like Jesus’ family, we hear about Jesus’ teaching and it is too scary, too dangerous, too risky, and too uncomfortable to really be taken seriously. Just like his family, we want to say to Jesus, “You are out of your mind.”

But the key to understanding this passage comes with where we sit. Jesus’ family insists that he come out to them, sending in a messenger to announce that Jesus’ family has arrived. They remain at a distance, not willing to be confused with the desperate throng that surrounds Jesus.

Jesus beckons them—and us—to come inside.

In this passage, Jesus shows us that we are not merely invited into a relationship with him, but we are invited into a new family. But just before this, Jesus comes down hard on people who “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” To blaspheme is to slander, to insult, to go against God’s way. It is to divide ourselves from the only One we truly belong to—Jesus Christ. Maybe the ultimate blasphemy against the Spirit is to refuse to enter the house of sinners, even though Jesus makes it clear that’s where he is going to stay.

Jesus still beckons. He asks us to join the throng, to sit in the circle around him, to get our hands and knees dirty on the dirt floor, to press our bodies in with the outcast, the prostitute, the sick, and the swindler. Jesus says that if we want to come into his house and join his circle, we don’t get to choose who sits beside us.

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman.

The Wild Kingdom

Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water, shining like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life, which produces twelve crops of fruit, bearing its fruit each month. The tree’s leaves are for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more. They won’t need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will shine on them, and they will rule forever and always.

Read this week’s full text, Revelation 21:22-22:5

national_parks_26A few weeks ago Garrett and I decided to plan a romantic weekend in the mountains to become officially engaged. We had a three day backpacking route around Linville Gorge mapped out and anticipated fields of wildflowers and beautiful sunsets.

It was all going to be perfect. And it was…for a few hours. After a day of hiking we found an ideal campsite, only to discover that the water source shown on the map was impossible to find. It turns out that when you have only a half liter of water left, deciding whether to get married seems like a very minor problem compared to whether you’ll survive the night. But we did finally find water–at the bottom of a long and winding road.

Day two was going to get better. We would descend into the gorge, cross the river on a bridge, and have a pleasant walk along the river while happily imagining our future life together. But the descent turned out to be one of the longest and steepest trails either of us had ever seen. And our reward at the bottom was a bridge that had washed out from a flood two years earlier. After deciding that we had minimal chance of boulder-hopping across the rushing river with our packs, we reluctantly turned back up the mountain to retrace our very steep path from the morning.

Relieved to have finally made it to the top, we were looking forward to finding a campsite and having a well-deserved dinner and rest. That seemed to be within reach, until we ran into wafts of smoke and tiny floating cinders. Yes, there was a forest fire. On our trail. Between us and our car.

After only slight panic, we managed to find a ride from from a friendly former ranger at a nearby parking lot, who took us an hour and a half out of his way to arrive at our car minutes before the search and rescue team set out to look for us. We decided that surviving dehydration, floods, and forest fires seemed like good practice for surviving marriage. And then we went to Asheville and ate for 24 hours straight.

The weekend reminded me that nature is wild. It’s powerful, unpredictable, and overwhelming. But on the first night we did enjoy a stunning sunset. And eating lunch next to the river, we admired the rushing water and swirling pools. The hike back to the top of the gorge culminated with a beautiful view of a lush gorge, overflowing with spring’s bounty of leaves, buds, trees, and flowers. Our drive to safety down the mountain took us on winding back roads, past hidden glens of evergreens and peaceful fields. Nature’s strength is only surpassed by its beauty.

Last week, John’s Revelation told us that God will dwell with humankind. This week, we see what God’s dwelling here looks like: A glowing city, basking in eternal sunlight and flowing with “a river of life-giving water, shining like crystal.” This river of life is bordered with trees of life–a whole orchard of trees, overflowing with good fruit to eat. Adam’s curse is lifted and we live in peace with nature, with God as our neighbor.

We often talk about the kingdom as “breaking in” to our world, as if it is only appearing in tiny cracks and we may get a glimpse of it if we are very lucky. But if the kingdom is crafted from the rivers and trees of life, then it is already here, exploding, just outside our doors!

God didn’t create a world filled with nicely mowed lawns and perfectly air conditioned spaces–we did that. God created a huge wilderness, brimming with divine strength and power and filled with beauty and life-giving water. And he placed us in its midst, inviting each of us to drink.

Reflection written by Carynne McIver.

Make us beautiful

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. But for the cowardly, the faithless, the vile, the murderers, those who commit sexual immorality, those who use drugs and cast spells, the idolaters and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This is the second death.”

Read this week’s full text, Revelation 21:1-21

One day at church, I stood next to my pastor friend while the congregation began singing that gorgeous song by Gungor: “Beautiful Things.”

You know the one:

img-thingYou make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things;

you make beautiful things out of us

As the music swelled and the more evangelical among us started to get a little bouncy, my pastor friend leaned over and said: “I don’t understand why we think this is such a nice song. We should be flipping God off while we sing this one.”

His point being: it hurts to be made new.

Being made beautiful by God is not without its pain.

————

Revelation 21 is one of the most beautiful, hopeful passages in all of the Bible.

There is a new heaven and a new earth!

God’s dwelling is now among the people; He will dwell with them!

There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain!

He says: “I am making everything new!”

————

Revelation 21 is fresh and bursting with newness. A newness that is so light and glorious precisely because the old has passed away.

But the church didn’t just wake up one day and put on its sparkling wedding gown, suddenly ready to descend as the new Jerusalem.

The church labored and tore its flesh. Cried and talked and talked and cried. Prayed some and fought some and resisted newness to the point of exhaustion.

Being made beautiful by God is not without its pain.

But look! A new heaven and a new earth are on the horizon.

So maybe we give ourselves to the pain.

Make us new, God. Make us beautiful. And then come and sit in our midst.

Reflection written by Sara Moser.

Holding Firm to the Witness of Jesus

I heard something that sounded like a huge crowd, like rushing water and powerful thunder. They said,

“Hallelujah! The Lord our God, the Almighty,
exercised his royal power!
Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory,
for the wedding day of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.”

…Then I fell at [the angel’s] feet to worship him. But he said, “Don’t do that! I’m a servant just like you and your brothers and sisters who hold firmly to the witness of Jesus. Worship God! The witness of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy!”

Read this week’s full text, Revelation 19: 6-10

Months ago, we celebrated the opening of the heavenly scroll when God would finally do away with evil, pain, brokenness, and injustice. God was about to remake our world to answer centuries of prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This world would finally, finally be made new and beautiful and whole.

And the scroll was opened.

Then, we spent months wading through horsemen and plagues. We heard cries for justice from the saints sacrificed at the altar. We bounced between worship in heaven and chaos on earth.

Destruction, destruction, destruction.

It didn’t go like we’d planned. It didn’t happen in an instant, a flash. The healing of the earth has taken agonizingly long.

But let’s just imagine that it did happen like we wanted. What if those scrolls popped open, and God gave a heavenly clap, and we arrived at all these “hallelujah”s for this week, if the new Jerusalem came right on down from heaven, adorned like a bride for a husband? Imagine if we had skipped through all of these hard weeks. Think of all we would have missed.

The same temptation to quick and easy fixes lies around every corner in our world. Whatever issue you are passionate about – racial injustice, domestic violence, abuse against immigrants, climate change, political gridlock, broken families – we all know the pain of persistent waiting. We all know the temptation to give up, or to pick an easy solution that we know is incomplete. As our weekly confession says, “Our patient endurance runs out.”

But in fact, all of heaven has also been shaped by the hard work of persisting in faith and endurance. Like Jesus’ resurrected body still has scars, the new Jerusalem will also bears the marks of the pain of the world. This week, when John sees that the agonizing waiting is finally over, he is overcome. He falls down to worship the angel of heaven. But the angel says, No way.  “I’m a servant just like you and your brothers and sisters.” Being God’s heavenly messenger is no more than holding firmly to the witness of Jesus through all seasons of hard waiting. 

There are no privileged people who get to avoid the struggle of waiting and witnessing in the darkness.

As we witness in struggle and pain, we join with the angels of heaven and the saints of the earth. Thank you Revelation for teaching us again and again that this hard life is blessed beyond measure with God’s infinite, eternal grace. That as we witness to Jesus, we touch and taste heaven on earth. That deserves another hallelujah.

Reflection written by Amanda Diekman

Why are you so amazed?

I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and the blood of Jesus’ witnesses. I was completely stunned when I saw her. Then the angel said to me, “Why are you amazed? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and the seven-headed, ten-horned beast that carries her.

Read this week’s full text, Revelation 17:1-8.

This week John introduces us to another superhuman character in Revelation–the “Great Whore of Babylon.” He describes this woman in rich detail–her purple and scarlet robes, covered in jewels, carrying a golden cup and riding on a seven-headed beast. The woman is is the source of “earth’s abominations,” a temptation to the people of the earth. She is “drunk with the blood of the saints.”

John’s description is as grotesque and disturbing as any we have seen in Revelation, and upon seeing her he is “greatly amazed.” But his angel guide doesn’t see it that way, asking “Why are you so amazed?” The angel goes on to explain the symbolism and what will happen to this woman, but I stopped at his question. Why is John so amazed by this woman? Is such opulent evil really surprising?

This week I opened my Bible to a section in the middle that I’ve barely touched–the stories of the Israelites after Moses finally brought them to the promised land. I’ve heard the highlights from these chapters, but never sat down and read them, so now I’m trying to.

But it’s frankly just as disturbing as the Great Whore of Babylon. The Israelites finally reach this land that God has been leading them towards and find it flowing not just with milk and honey, but with families, homes, and cities. And what do they do? Do they move into the empty lots and try to become good neighbors? Do they arrange multi-lateral two-state negotiations? No… they just kill them all. It was upsetting and confusing to read about and I was as speechless as John was when he saw the woman.

If an angel had been standing at my shoulder at that moment, would he have said, “Why are you so amazed? Tell me, what is surprising about a group of people moving in and being unwilling to make peace with those who are different? Does this really shock you?”

I’m amazed today, when I look up from this book, to see that another black man has been killed and another city is erupting in violence. I’m amazed that the lives of over 4,000 people have simply vanished as the earth crumbled beneath them. I’m amazed that thousands of years later, in the same deserts and valleys that the Israelities conquered, people who claim to love God are still killing each other in His name.

Should I be amazed? Is any of this surprising? Is the whore any worse than the violence and pain humans have inflicted on each other for years? Why should I expect anything different?

But the very fact of our amazement is itself amazing. It’s amazing that even after seeing angels pour out the wrath of God, John can be stunned by anything. It’s amazing that I can really keep expecting neighbors to love each other. Somehow God gives us this deep-seated hope and faith that redemption is finally possible and even as we read about the bests and the dragons of Babylon, we look forward just a few weeks until we can hear about God making all things new.

Reflection written by Carynne McIver. If you are interested in writing a weekly reflection for Durham Church, contact Carynne.