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Mar 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Revelation chapter 8 – 03/17/2024



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Good morning, RefleXion!                       Grace and Peace to you!

Buried Treasure – that seemed to be the theme for me this week.  First, we had our living room rug cleaned which necessitated moving the couch.  We found eight cat toys—those little sparkle-balls they love—trapped underneath it.  It was a good time to lift all the couch cushions to see what was under those; a few more “treasures” appeared.  There were crumbs of things enjoyed, of course, and a lost key, and a coin.  I thought of how that parallels our unconscious that holds things left behind or lost. 

Sometimes people call that  our “shadow,”  because when we’re young we begin to hide parts of ourselves that we don’t think are acceptable or valued, parts of us that have been shamed, things that make us afraid, or unacceptable desires.  They do come out anyway; we project on to other people, and we end up living in the trance and traps of our personas.  But they could be freed, or healed, if we found them now.

The other thing that happened to me:  I was looking for an empty folder in my husband’s desk drawer.  I found one, and I also found that inside the folder were three sealed cards with my name on them.  I thought maybe he had put them there for me to find after he died, or something.  But he had no idea what they were, so we opened them together, and they were birthday cards, for me!  Now, it wasn’t my birthday; and he hasn’t remembered my birthday, nor had a way to buy those cards, for a few years, so who knows how long these cards had been there.  They were most likely bought at the same time and tucked away but forgotten.  They were so sweet; it was wonderful to read what he had written then. 

Things are hidden from us.  We may purposefully pay attention and move the couch or lift those cushions.  If we notice a place that always holds shame or fear for us, we can ask ourselves as to its roots.  Or perhaps it is not we who choose to awaken ourselves, but Spirit leads us to what needs to be discovered, as was done for me.  Practices and Promptings—both can lead to buried treasures.

Some would say that we spend too much time looking at ourselves (naval gazing).  But the call to self-examination and self-awareness goes back at least as far as Socrates who believed that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Plus, the unexamined life constraints us. Christ has set us free – we’re on our way to Resurrection Day for heaven’s sake!

When you’re digging in the dirt, the Shadow, you might also find gold.  And because, it’s St. Patrick’s day – I say, “Keep looking for your pot of gold!”

Will you pray with me? 

Gracious God, thank you for keeping some parts of us safe and now available for such a time as this in our lives.  Will you free us from things that have been imprisoned for too long?  Will you help us find the buried treasures in our unconscious?  For freedom, Christ has set us free.   We are called to live as free people that we may be enlarged in love’s power and privilege.  Give us grace to possess what is ours for your kingdom’s sake.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1
Intro: Revelation is not a normal book – in fact, it’s a conundrum

We enter a mystical world of symbols without a map or compass
– as I understand it, the Revelation is meant to open our eyes to a reality beyond our knowing or experiencing
• there is no way for us to go straight into it with our rational minds
– I’ll share something with you that helps me understand this
• consider a person blinded by cataracts since birth
◦ when, as an adult, the cataracts are removed, they do not immediately see clearly
◦ the world appears to them as a confusion of shapes and colors
◦ they cannot recognize or understand anything they see unless they also touch an object or hear a familiar voice
Arthur Deikman, describes the experience of a man who became sighted as an adult, that “after much effort one patient was able to recognize a pencil held vertically, but when the pencil was rotated 90 degrees, his recognition disappeared . . . .”
Oliver Sacks, relates a story about Virgil, who was greatly frustrated when he was given sight as an adult. At first, he would close his eyes to navigate his home, using his other senses. Later on, he “with seeing–later on he “would say that he saw nothing whatever, but would reach for objects, avoid obstacles, and behave as if seeing . . . yet denied any consciousness of seeing.” [This condition occurs when the part of the brain that processes vision does not communicate with the conscious part of the brain] “Visual signals are perceived and responded to appropriately, but nothing of this perception reaches consciousness at all.”
• that sounds like the disciples when they misunderstood Jesus
Having eyes do you not see . . .?
◦ they did not have the kind of conscious experience of what they saw that Jesus wanted them to have
My med (on Friday), “My problem is that I assume the transcendental dimension is like my four dimensions, only bigger. I cannot imagine what I do not know. So I sit outside the gate of God’s kingdom (in my mind), wishing I could enter; wishing my cataracts could be removed. I want to be taken outside myself, my walls, my knowing”

Not being able to see the transcendent kingdom of God, – it has to be revealed to us indirectly
– in symbols and metaphors
If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream (Nu. 12:6)
I spoke to the prophets;
it was I who multiplied visions,
and through the prophets gave parables (Hos. 12:10)
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not a maker of parables?’” (Eze. 20:49)
• Revelation helps us learn to see when our cataracts are removed
• what Revelation uses is the strange stuff of visions and dreams

Previous events in John’s vision involved a scroll with seven seals

When each seal was opened some marvel occurred–mostly bad
– after the sixth seal, there was an abrupt scene change
• different events, occurred and the seventh seal was put on hold
◦ but now we return to the seventh seal and with it, a surprise
• instead of more fireworks, the seventh seal brings silence
◦ this sudden full-stop catches our attention
Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher and theologian noted that, “in biblical literature, silence is the presence of the all-powerful Lord.”
For instance:
But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him (Hab. 2:20)
Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD,
for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling (Zech. 2:13)
– in contemplative prayer we practice reverent silence
• the biblical practice includes: seeking, waiting, watching, and listening
– here in chapter 8, heaven is hushed in stillness and silence before God

After the silence, there follows another series of sevens
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake Revelation 8:2-5

Seven angels appear, and each of them is given a trumpet
– before we are told what they do, another angel appears
• he holds a censer–that is, a curved, shallow pan–and is given “much incense”
◦ like the trumpets, the censer is “golden” (and so is the altar)
◦ the gold tells us these are not “normal” objects, like our pots and pans
◦ we are not as enamored with gold as people were from ancient times up until recent history
◦ for the early readers of Revelation, these golden items would have a heavenly quality–which is also holy
• I’ve always been fascinated and encouraged by the mixing of incense “with the prayers of the saints” before Tod
◦ we wonder whether our prayers reach heaven, when in fact they are part of heaven’s worship

First, the incense is offered to God
– if you grew up Catholic or Orthodox this would be familiar, and that was how John’s readers felt
• they would understand, their worship was a participation in heaven’s worship
• we can have that sense of shared experience too
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice (Ps. 141:2)
Second, the angel does something unexpected (of course, this is the book of Revelation after all)
the angel took the censer, filled it with fire . . . and threw it on the earth
– from the beginning of recorded history, fire has been a significant symbol with many meanings
◦ perhaps throwing it on the earth purified or atoned worship there (cf. Isa. 6:5-6)
◦ or empowered prayer and worship on earth (like the little flames in Acts 2:1-4)
• however, it is more likely, given the thunder, lightning, and earthquake, that it was an act of judgment
– two things about this chapter that I find strange, is:
first, we haven’t been told the crimes that deserve the judgment of the world and its people
◦ I wonder if this is meant to trigger unresolved guilt in us
◦ unresolved guilt, even if we don’t give it much thought, can create a lot of stress and anxiety
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. . . .
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day ad night your hand was heavy upon me . . . .
I acknowledged my sin to you
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin
(Ps. 32:1-5)
second, the world of nature is innocent, so why is it being destroyed?
◦ perhaps the real cause of its ruin is the pollution of the land by humans
◦ at any rate, what is destroyed are the natural resources required to support human life
◦ it’s like humankind is being taken off of life-support
Jacques Ellul, says it is not humankind that is the object of God’s wrath, “It is the Satanic power that God destroys, which very obviously entails also human disasters, since [humankind] is deeply attached to them and profoundly possessed by them.”

There is some backtracking in this passage
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so tat a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night
Revelation 8:6-12

We need a moment to compare the seven trumpets to seven seals
– first, the seven trumpets begin where the sixth seal left off
• the world of nature was being torn apart
– then the four horsemen are set apart from the other three seals (in which humankind was assaulted)
this corresponds to the first four trumpets that are also set apart from other three (here it is the earth and sky that are assaulted)
– the recurrence of seven objects (seals, trumpets, bowls) indicates that the series of sevens overlap
• I don’t believe that these sets of sevens follow one another consecutively through time
Robin Robertson, “Remember that any vision from God, the alpha and omega, is beyond time. We will not see a sequential series of events, but rather a spiral of visions that attempt to take us deeper and deeper into a revelation that can’t be reached directly. If one image doesn’t strike us, another might.”
“I’m sorry to keep belaboring this point, but not many of us think any way but linearly, starting at the beginning and proceeding steadily to the end. But the world of myths, dreams, and visions is a timeless world . . . .”
• if this is so, we’re being taken deeper into the revelation

The trumpets and horns were vital instruments and symbols in Israel’s history
– in Numbers 10 they were used to call for general assemblies;
• to signal when they were to break camp in wilderness;
◦ for sounding the alarm to prepare for battle and to signal the charge;
◦ they were sounded at beginning of feasts and in celebrations;
◦ trumpets called Israel to worship and were used in worship
• Israel’s assault on Jericho began with:
◦ seven priests, with seven horns, in procession seven days
◦ Gideon used horns strategically to trick and defeat Midianite invaders
– like the sirens of fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, the trumpet could not be ignored
• trumpets and horns bring something into immediate awareness
◦ so each blast here awakens readers to a host of symbols

First trumpet: hail (solidified water) and fire are opposites
– they’re also basic elements, like blood: all three were incorporated in Israel’s worship (e.g., Lev. 1:5-9)
– we have a natural aversion to blood–it elicits a reaction — so here it is a powerful symbol
• in Leviticus, it’s the life or soul of the body (Lev. 17:11)
• the earth, especially all vegetation, is target of this first onslaught
Second trumpet: the sea is the target of this onslaught–it is hit by a blazing asteroid (or something like that)
Third trumpet: the next target of onslaught is fresh water
The other night Barbara and I were watching a movie. A man had chased a boy through a forest and finally caught up to him by a stream. Exhausted, the man saw the stream and knelt down to drink from it. The boy told him, “Don’t drink that water,” and the man asked, “Why not?” The boy said, “See that plant?” as he pointed to a plant whose leaves were floating on the surface of the water. “It’s poisonous. If you drink from the water downstream from the plant, you’ll die.”
– that is what happens to people who drink from any freshwater source affected by wormwood
• “wormwood” is a poisonous plant
Fourth trumpet: the sky is the target of this onslaught, which darkens the earth

The repetition of “a third” is significant, because the triad is a symbol of unity and wholeness
– right-left-middle; up-down-in between; inside-outside-entryway
• in each instance of onslaught, a necessary part of a whole is removed

A break from disasters for an important public service announcement
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!” Revelation 8:13

Conclusion: What are we supposed to do with this?

Perhaps we’re supposed to notice what we feel when reading it
Not our initial reactive feeling, but something at a deeper level of feeling
Perhaps we can try to experience the action in this chapter
like we do our favorite poems or scripture verses

Whenever we hear of tornadoes, hail stones the size of tennis balls, tsunamis, and so on,
don’t we imagine what we would want to do to survive those catastrophes?
We have a psychological need for security and safety
Perhaps God stirs things up in us, to put his finger on our fears
and to remind us that he looks after us–always
Perhaps he wants to wake us up to his nearness
Perhaps he wants us to take hold of his strong and reliable hand
“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid
(Psa. 56:3-4)

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