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The Bright Morning Star

A message preached by Jay P. Rowland at the First Presbyterian Church, Rochester MN on Sunday May 8, 2016.  To hear “A Sky Full of Stars” click on the link provided

 

Text: Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21

 

The Bright Morning Star

 

In the clear night sky, every season of the year, they are always there: stars … constellations of stars, distant suns shining from millions of miles away across space and time.

To look up and see all those stars shining, contained as in an ocean over my head never fails–never never never fails–to put my spirit to soaring, dancing; yet all the while breathing a hush into me … ever whispering to me something of God  … silent echoes of the heavenly choir  … like nothing else in this world.

Funny, then, how it is that outer space is so hostile to human life! All that separates us from total annihilation is a delicate ozone/atmosphere surrounding our cozy blue planet.  The “heavens”, as we like to call outer space, is essentially mostly chaos: unfathomable heat and cold, mind-boggling speed of movement, lethal gravitational force and pressure leading to violent collisions and explosions more powerful than the combined detonation of every nuclear warhead on earth.

… but looking up on a clear night none of that is visible: only the vast sparkling ocean of stars, twinkling silently, seemingly blessing the human spirit with Divine Beauty and Spirit.

Talk about a paradox! From the start, the stars above have inspired our species to contemplate eternity and God, and yet the place itself is the contradiction of human life.

In the passage today from Revelation Jesus curiously describes himself in a way that is both deeply rooted in humanity and the earth–while also beyond earth’s sky:

“I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

It’s that last part that catches me:  Jesus — the bright morning star.

The sun that lights and warms our days is a star.  A star is unfathomably powerful energy: an ongoing nuclear reaction. Yet from our vantage point here on earth, total, sheer silence.  The star is inextinguishable light in the midst of the vast chaos and darkness of outer space: present and shining through the longest, darkest night … always there, even when clouds obscure … and well after the darkness is scattered by the morning sun.

Jesus the bright morning star: also unfathomable energy, yet sheer silence.  Unextinguishable light in the midst of vast chaos and darkness—not even death can hold him.  Jesus, bright morning star, the light of the world, present and shining through the longest, darkest night; always there, even when life obscures his face from us. He is the morning sun that scattering the darkness, shining after all other stars burn themselves out …

Last year, in the days surrounding my mother’s death last April, by chance or by grace, I came across a song by Coldplay–British music group–called “A Sky Full of Stars”.  I listened to this song over and over … it spoke to me then (and speaks to me now) of the power of Jesus’ love–the LOVE that is Jesus the bright morning star.  I don’t know what the band had in mind when they wrote it, I don’t know if they’re Christian and I don’t much care.  All I know is every time I hear this song I think about my mother’s final moments on this earth, and about Jesus the bright morning star:

A Sky Full of Stars

(written by Tim Bergling, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion, Chris Martin (2014) )

‘Cause you’re a sky, ’cause you’re a sky full of stars

I’m gonna give you my heart

‘Cause you’re a sky, ’cause you’re a sky full of stars

‘Cause you light up the path

I don’t care, go on and tear me apart

I don’t care if you do, ooh

‘Cause in a sky, ’cause in a sky full of stars

I think I saw you

‘Cause you’re a sky, ’cause you’re a sky full of stars

I wanna die in your arms

‘Cause you get lighter the more it gets dark

I’m gonna give you my heart

I don’t care, go on and tear me apart

I don’t care if you do, ooh

‘Cause in a sky, ’cause in a sky full of stars

I think I see you

I think I see you

‘Cause you’re a sky, you’re a sky full of stars

Such a heavenly view

You’re such a heavenly view …             https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR73DrKX_bs

 

For the past few weeks the lectionary has featured texts from Revelation. Revelation has a reputation for being one of the most “out there” texts in the entire Bible, filled with language and imagery most find hard to understand, let alone synthesize our daily life and faith.

But the more I read about Revelation, the more impressed I am with it.  The author of the Revelation is John of Patmos, pastor to the numerous churches founded by the Apostle Paul in the Roman province of Asia (the western coast of modern day Turkey, not Asia as it is known today).  “The imagery of Revelation, which … seems bizarre to (us) is mostly taken from the tradition of images familiar to those who were accustomed to hearing the Bible read in the worship services of the ongoing People of God” (Eugene Boring, Revelation, p5).  As a text it is in “the tradition of the Pauline churches and is influenced by the Pauline letter form and its use in worship.  John expects this (letter) to be read to the assembled congregations, after which these worshipers celebrate the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper).  Thus “the very specific connotation of the messianic banquet is mentioned (repeatedly).” (ibid, p.6)  “As a letter Revelation is not a collection of ideas or general principles but a particular message to a particular situation.”

Scholars mostly agree that Revelation originated in the late first century, with its many harbingers of the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire: wars and military defeat trouble the empire for the first time, and a run of inferior emperors which weaken and destabilize the empire.  (E.Boring, Revelation, p. 7)

All along, John and his churches have long suffered tremendous political, economic and social pressure to show allegiance to these Roman Emperors as “god”–in some cases even requiring them to curse Jesus Christ–or face brutal consequences.  If this weren’t hard enough, during these years in the mid to late first century, other “phenomenal” experiences contribute to what must have felt like unrelenting crisis: famines, earthquakes, and notably the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which famously destroyed Pompeii and its surroundings, and unleashed a sun-darkening cloud of ash across much of the empire which must have been fearful and ominous to pagan and Christian alike.   [ibid, 10]

The people to whom John wrote had lived through tumultuous times, and many of them perceived their own time as being fraught with crisis.”  [ibid]  John’s prophetic vision addresses these pressures and the great persecution which John sees his people enduring. Revelation encourages believers to resist despairing of these events as meaningless tragedy by reminding them of God’s plan for the consummation of history while also preaching Christian responsibility to remain faithful throughout, even to the point of death. (ibid, 26)

Revelation is intended to support and empower these churches to reaffirm that God is “in charge” in spite of all that’s going on, and that Jesus Christ is God’s anointed “king” of creation.  Revelation is a vision of triumph for those who are suffering while longing for and waiting for Christ to come.

Again, Revelation was intended for worship.  Revelation (and thus the Bible itself) concludes as every worship service concludes, with a benediction.  Benediction means “good word”. Revelation’s benediction offers these good ‘words’: “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with us all.”
Worship ends, as shall our life end, with a benediction not a malediction; a “good word” not a “bad word.  Each Sunday we fly out of worship on the wings of that good word, nestled on the wings of the breath of the Holy Spirit who assures us that the grace of the Lord Jesus is with us, that the divine One is sealed upon us, and that the face that is almost too holy to behold is turned toward us in a smile so broad and a gaze so compassionate as to assure us again and again how much we are loved.

[Scott Hoezee, Sermon Starters-Center for Excellence in Preaching Blog, May 2, 2016,  http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/  ]

And so today let us turn to the Face of Love facing us.  For we are created by, we are encompassed by, we are nurtured by and at the end of this life, we are rescued by … the Love of God looking into our own eyes through the eyes of Jesus Christ … the bright morning star.

‘Cause you’re a sky, you’re a sky full of stars

Such a heavenly view

You’re such a heavenly view

Alleluia.