#TheMark is the reflection for November 1, 2015. What does the book of Revelation really say? Who are the people who have “the Mark”? Is there hope for Christians to be found in Revelation or not? Listen here in this reflection by Mark Kurowski: Download it into your phone. #MSAWordfortheDay #MySpiritualAdvisor #Sermon #Homily #ChristianCommunity #UPC #MarkoftheBeast #666 #Angels #SpiritualWarfare #JoeWoodland #GeorgeLaurer #IBM #Hope #AllSaints #ISIS #DukeDivinity #Duke #MickeyEfird #Baptism #Anointing #Confirmation #Revelation #Heaven
For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 11/1/2015 , the Feast of All Saints.
Please pause this audio and read Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14.
When Joe Woodland invented and George Laurer refined the bar code, or the Universal Product Code, the series of parallel lines in a box with numbers underneath, which we find on every product in any store, he had no idea that it would end up being seen as the “mark of the beast” from the book of Revelation 13:16. In my lifetime, we have gone from black and white TV’s to HD television sets. We have gone from notebooks to ipads. We have gone from leaded and unleaded to electric cars. The technological leaps have been incredible. Yet, when UPC symbols started appearing on products in stores in the 1980s, it caused so much more of a stir than any of those inventions.
In my hometown is LeSea Ministries, an independent church television ministry started by Lester Summerall. The UPC symbol was a huge topic of discussion on the evangelical radio programs and on the news, Summerall’s superstation on cable was one of them. In fact, as an article from the online magazine Wired points out, Laurer received a letter from someone who purported to be Satan thanking him for the help. The response from people worried about the coming of Jesus and then the war with Satan at the end often focuses on this UPC symbol. These folks insist it is the “mark of the beast” which will be on people who work for Satan.
What amazes me about Christians who read the book of Revelation is that they often focus on Satan and his supposed power. Amazingly, Revelation was written to a group of persecuted Christians by one who was exiled on an island and saw a vision that was to give Christians hope. The only reason that the Book of Revelation mentions Satan is to show how he is vanquished. I have to remind my spiritual direction clients all the time that Satan only has as much power over you as you allow him to have over you.
There is a famous story about Theresa of Avila, a mystic Christian who lived during the middle ages, and her encounter with the Devil. In the middle of the night, Theresa hears the roaring of the Devil and a vision of a bloody, angry Satan at the foot of her bed. She awakes, turns her head and says, “Oh, it is YOU again.” With that, Satan evaporates.
We also think of angels as sweet and cute. They are not. They are Holy B.A.. Think of incredibly tough, strong, and imposing figures that will not allow anything unholy to hurt us when we ask them to protect us. Angels are spiritual beings with wings that are filthy from all the hard work they do. Also, angels do not endorse products or sports teams.
I bring up these misconceptions that we Christians have about the spiritual realities of spiritual warfare because it is time that we Christians lived in the world as it is. I do not mean the physical world upon which we rely, but upon the spiritual world we live out through these physical bodies. For example, the seal, which some focus on from Revelation 13 is not the only seal on the heads of people in the spiritual war. Our passage from Revelation 7 has a second angel in this chapter descending and saying that we, we who believe, we are to have seals on our foreheads that mark us as those who are to be protected from Satan.
I cannot help but think of the seal of water that is poured over our heads at baptism. I cannot help but think of the seal of oil that anoints our heads at Baptism and at healing of the sick. I cannot help but think of the seal of oil on our heads at Confirmation. We have been sealed with the reality of the spiritual truth that God has won the victory of our souls through Jesus Christ.
I remember when Dr. Mickey Efird at Duke Divinity School opened our minds to the numerical symbolism of apocalyptic writing. When he told us that multiples of 12 represent “God’s people” and multiples of 10 represented “the whole” or “completion in the sense of inclusiveness”, the key unlocked “144,000.” 12 times 12 is 144. 10 times 10 times 10 is 1000. 144 times 1000 is 144, 000. In short, it is a numerical representation meaning “all of God’s people.” We can see that this is so, because the people who are gathered in verse 9 are from every nation under heaven before the throne. The 144,000 are all of God’s people who have been marked with the seal of Baptism, anointing and Confirmation. Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit that protects you from Satan, says the angel in Revelation 7.
When we go to worship on Sundays, we go to participate in what we are going to do every day in eternity. We will worship before the throne. We will have no more hunger, no more tears, no more dying, no more strife, no more fighting between groups of people. No more Democrats, no more Republicans, no more liberals, no more tea partiers, no more distinction between cultures, no “whites”, no “blacks,” no “hispanics”, no “Asians”, no disabled, no gay, no straight, no hate, no separation, no distinction. We will just be God’s people. End and beginning of story!
On this feast of All Saints, we are supposed to bring everything into focus because the Church is made up of all the people who went before us in heaven who are alive, all the people who will go after us and believe, and us. Those who went before us, they are in heaven with Jesus living, singing, dancing, praising, and loving the Lord and one another. They have lived lives that were cut too short, filled with joy and suffering, persecution and relief. We recall them all the time: St. James, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John, and then there are many others throughout the history of the Church.
Every local church has their list of saints. They were supremely faithful folks who kept the doors open and served the community in which they were in on behalf of God. They are people who have been poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful when there was no mercy, pure in heart when there was no purity of heart, peacemakers when peace seemed impossible, persecuted for their righteousness when others could not understand what righteousness is, reviled and their reputations destroyed because no one could understand goodness in a human being. You know who they are. They are the people who run our soup kitchens and pantries, protest abortion, visit the sick in the church, bring people Communion, go on mission trips to impoverished areas or areas devastated by natural disasters, run Bible studies, organize Christian Education programs, clean our churches, repair the physical plants, tithe, plan our worship and pray.
They are people whose families do not understand their “Jesus Freak Ways”. They are people who lose jobs because they won’t work on Sunday or some other thing that others think is just silly. They are people whose mouths cannot drop the “f-bomb” as others just think it is nothing. They are the people who are being decapitated by ISIS as they shout the name “Jesus” at the very end. They are the people who are persecuted in China for gathering in the name of Jesus and not letting the government choose their bishops.
It is amazing that the Saints sound a lot like us and like people we read about in the news today. They do because they are. They do because the battle of spiritual warfare rages on. It is a battle that is being fought so that we can present a different way of life. It is a way of life filled with mercy not judgment, kindness not indifference, joy not ridicule, blessing not cursing, and so many more wonderful things that in their purity the world cannot comprehend them.
The challenge for us in this world is for us to live out the spiritual reality in our churches, in our families, in our small groups, and our faith communities. What are the things you need to do to remember that you walk with the Mark of God on your head? What changes do you need to make to be a bearer of the Mark of God?
I had a former student say to me that his church council was complaining about how little money they have and how they could make the project they were planning more successful. In the middle of it all, he raised his hand and said, “Why don’t we pray about it first?”
That is the answer: we need to pray about it first. We need to recognize the power of God first. We need to remember that we are people who walk, not with the mark of the beast, but with the Mark of God on our heads. That mark is sealed with the Holy Spirit. That mark is full of the power of Jesus’ victory on the Cross. So, be bold. Be strong. Be religious. Be spiritual. Be faithful. The end will come and you have been sealed for heaven. Amen.
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