Saturday, May 19, 2007


Revelation 7:9-17[1]

One of the great curses of our time is that we have become so accustomed to watching someone else’s imagination portrayed for us electronically that we have lost the capacity to exercise our own imagination. That’s the lesson of M. Night Shyamalan’s recent film, The Lady in the Water. The film is primarily not about the “lady in the water” or the incredible fairy tale her appearance invokes. It’s about a very ordinary guy named Cleveland Heep. Cleveland is the maintenance man for an apartment complex in Philadelphia called The Cove. He had once been a doctor, but gave it up when his wife and kids were murdered. That tragedy not only means the loss of Cleveland’s enthusiasm for living. It also means that he has lost the capacity to imagine anything more to life. He just slogs his way through each day, going from one tenant “crisis” to another, completely lifeless and bored. He’s hiding from the world and from himself.

One night, he hears a splash in the pool outside. He discovers, much to his amazement, that there is a beautiful young lady in the water. She is “Story,” and she comes from a completely different world, the “Blue World” under the ocean. She has come to our world on a special mission, to find a writer and inspire an awakening that will enable him or her to change the world that has become so embroiled in violence. The writer is a young man living in the complex who is struggling to write a book about that very thing. After she meets him and “awakens” him, she is ready to go back to her world. But there are menacing wolf-like monsters that are trying to stop her. In order to make it back she needs the help of several special people to get there: a guardian, an interpreter, and a guild. And one other—a healer, who is characterized as a person “so full of hope that he or she can awaken the life force in all things.”

As you can imagine, Cleveland has a hard time believing any of this at first. One day, he’s trudging his way through his dreary life, and the next he finds himself in the midst of a great adventure of enormous proportions! But the greatest surprise is the role he has to play in this adventure. When Story is injured by the monsters, he assembles tenants from the complex he had thought were supposed to be there to heal her. But the moral of the fairy tale is that “no one is ever told who they are.” As one character puts it, “this world is about finding your purpose, right? … Finding one’s purpose is a profound thing; sometimes it isn’t always what it seems.”

At the crucial moment, Cleveland discovers that he is a healer. Throughout the film, in spite of his fear and his attempts to hide in a mundane world, it becomes obvious that Cleveland is a person who cannot help caring for people. But in order to fulfill his identity as a healer, he has to break through his fear and open himself again to the world of flawed people around him. As Story finally makes her way back to her world, a whole new vista for living opens up for him—one that he thought was closed forever. Cleveland’s amazing experience restores his capacity to imagine something more for himself than a humdrum existence at The Cove.

The book of Revelation has a similar function. In a world that is dominated by images of the “powers that be” in this world, it offers images of God’s power that is already at work making all things new. But it does so in an almost frustrating way. It really doesn’t answer all the questions we have. Rather than “revealing” what we want to know about our destiny, the book of Revelation teases us with hints and clues of the new world that is already breaking into this one.[2] In a very real sense, it serves to provoke our imagination.

Revelation speaks to us of a great adventure that truly has enormous proportions. There is drama; there is tragedy; there is suspense. But ultimately, the story is a comedy because it has a happy ending—the happiest ending of all! This is not just wishful thinking or “whistling in the dark.” It is a hope that is founded squarely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ to new life. The resurrection of Jesus points us to the new life that came into being on that Easter morning and will one day transform everything and everyone.[3] And the scenes in Revelation provide us with a kind of stimulus to regain the capacity to imagine a world in which God’s new creation is complete.

It is all too easy to get caught up in the mundaneness of our lives. We can very easily become just like Cleveland Heep, trudging our way from one tiresome task to another, our boredom robbing us of the ability to imagine anything more interesting or exciting. Revelation calls us to imagine something more for ourselves—the world as it was meant to be, people living and loving like they were meant to live and love. Can you see it in your mind’s eye?

But the Revelation also calls us to fulfill our roles in making this new world a reality. As incredible as it may sound, our lives, our faithful service, our obedience are not inconsequential in the kingdom of God! In fact, one could argue that our lives of faith and service play a crucial role in realizing the hope of the new creation that God is bringing about.[4] So I want you to take a moment and try to imagine with me this new world. Now I want you to imagine the role you have to play in making it a reality. May the beauty and joy of God’s new creation give us all courage to break through our fears and open ourselves to fulfill it!

[1] A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/29/07 at First Presbyterian Church Dickinson, TX

[2]Moltmann, Way of Jesus, 182; Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 197; Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics II:97-98; Emil Brunner, Dogmatics III:346, 366; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV.1, 311-12.

[3] J. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 85, 88; cf. J. Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 256.

[4] Tucked away amidst the strange symbols is a little statement that speaks volumes: the kingdom of God comes after Satan, the “deceiver of the whole world,” is thrown down because the followers of Christ “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:10)!

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