Something from the past rose up to bite my family this week, something ugly and destructive, something we thought had long been atoned for. I can’t say more about it right now for a lot of reasons, but suffice it to say that when I gave my children’s sermon on the seven-headed, ten-horned beast of Revelation chapter 13 this morning, I inwardly shivered because that’s just what this thing feels like.
Now, let me stop for a minute and tell you about this children’s sermon, because I know the 666 beast is not your typical moment with kids. The second lessons in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sundays after Easter are all from the book of Revelation, which I love, so I’m doing a children’s sermon series. It’s all about secret codes, and how God is communicating with the seven churches of Asia minor to bring hope and courage in the midst of persecution.
We’ve already talked about the Alpha and the Omega and its promise that before everything began and after everything ends, there’s Jesus. We’ve talked about the Lamb of God who looks weak and dying, but rises up to sit on the highest throne. We’ve talked about the baptismal white robes the saints of God wear, and the blood which washes us clean. And this week, it was the beast and its number/name.
Pretty, scary, right? I said to the kids. Wouldn’t want to come face to face with that! And there are scary things in our lives, too, right? To which 3 year old Liam replied with a character portrait of the scariest creature he knows, Cruella De Vil from Disney’s 101 Dalmatians. She is pretty scary, evil even.
But here’s the key, I said to the kids, it’s in that number. 666. There’s another number in the book of Revelation that repeats like that (and more). It’s the number 7: seven churches, seven angels, seven stars, seven seals. It’s the number of perfection, of completeness, of holiness. 7 is Jesus’ number.
And 6? It’s less than 7. If 6 and 7 got in a fight, we know which one would win. 7 is bigger, it’s more powerful. That 666 might be scary, but it’s no match for Jesus. In the words of Dr. Vitor Westhelle, the beast’s number tells us one important fact, repeated three times for emphasis. “It is human. It is human. It is human.” Thank you, Jesus, for being stronger than all the evil in the world, we prayed. Amen.
I returned to my seat after praying with the children, and realized I was shaking a little. Sometimes the most powerful sermons are the ones you accidentally preach to yourself. This beastly wrong from the past that has arisen this week to threaten my family has me pretty worked up. I’m having trouble taking my eyes off its ghastly heads. I’m surveying the wreckage of the future, as my friend David would say, pondering all the worst case scenarios.
I’m forgetting that this horrible reality causing chaos in my life has no ultimate power. It may be terrifying and strong, but there is One stronger. It may be tearing away at my security and livelihood, but its teeth gain no purchase on my soul. This week may have been a lot of bad news, but the Good News took ahold of me long ago and it’s not about to let me go.
There were tears in my eyes as the reading from Revelation was proclaimed this morning (no, we didn’t read chapter 13. It was chapter 21, as assigned for the day).
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
God will dwell with them;
they will be God’s peoples,
and God’s own self will be with them;
Every tear will be wiped from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
The woman who read those words choked up over them too. She has MS, and it’s been getting worse lately, her pain is obvious a lot of days; her walk to the lectern was slow and halting even this morning. “Pain will be no more” she read, and when she finished, there were tears in both our eyes. Sometimes the most powerful sermon is the one you accidentally preach to yourself. Thanks be to God, who is One greater than 6.