Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ole and Sven died in a snowmobile accident, and went to hell. The devil observed that they were really enjoying themselves. He said, ”Doesn’t the heat and smoke bother you?” Ole replied, “Vell, ya know, ve’re from nordern Minnesooota, da land of snow and ice, and ve’re yust happy fer a chance to varm up a little bit, ya know.” The Devil decided that these two weren’t miserable enough and turned up the heat even more. When he returned to the room of the two guys from Minnesota, The Devil found them in light jackets and hats, grilling walleye and drinking beer. The devil was astonished and exclaimed, “Everyone down here is in abject misery, and you two seem to be enjoying yourselves.” Sven replied, “Vell, ya know, ve don’t get too much varm weather up dere at the Falls, so ve’ve yust got ta haff a fish fry ven da veather’s dis nice.” The Devil was absolutely furious. He could hardly see straight. Finally he came up with an answer. The two guys loved the heat because they have been cold all their lives. The Devil decided to turn the heat off in hell. The next morning, the temperature was 60 below zero, icicles were hanging everywhere and people were shivering so bad that they are unable to wail, moan, or gnash their teeth. The Devil smiled and headed to the room with Ole and Sven. He got there and found them in their parkas, bomber hats and mittens. They were jumping up and down, yelling and screaming like mad men. The Devil was dumbfounded, “I don’t understand, when I turn up the heat, you are happy. Now it’s freezing cold and you are still happy. What is wrong with you two?” They both looked at the devil in surprise and said, “Vell, don’t ya know, if Hell is froze over, dat must mean da Vikings von da Super Bowl!”
With humor, it is always good to be surprised by the punchline. But that’s not necessarily true for all things. As someone who doesn’t fare well with anxiety and uncertainty, I am not bothered by those who read the last chapter of the book first. Apparently, I am not alone. According to a 2011, researchers at the University of California’s Psychology Department discovered that people who like to read the end of a book first aren’t really spoiling the experience but are in fact enhancing it.
Frankly, I like knowing what to expect when I open a new book: what to pay attention to, whether that’s a supporting character or a flashback scene, who to love, who to hate. Knowing how things will wrap up also allows me to prepare myself emotionally. If there’s a happy ending, I’ll know that I’ll be satisfied. If there’s not — well, at least I’ll know that the intent is probably for me to enjoy the character’s journey rather than holding out for a rewarding resolution and ending up disappointed. I rather suspect that that is why St. John the Divine wrote that hopeful and prophetic line at the end of Revelation. “And the sea will be no more.”
Throughout that first century after Christ’s death and resurrection, the church had experienced waves of persecution under the Roman emperors. Two emperors were particularly brutal. In the year 64 AD, Nero blamed the Christians living in Rome for the great fire that had destroyed the city. The leaders of the Christian community were quickly arrested, imprisoned and executed. It was during Nero’s persecution of the church that St. Paul was behead and St. Peter was crucified. Thirty years later, Emperor Domition unleashed a reign of terror on Christians living throughout the Empire. St. John the Divine was arrested and placed into forced exile on a barren, volcanic island named Patmos off the coast of Turkey, what was then called Asia Minor. He was separated from his family and community and only heard reports of Christians abandoning the faith simply to survive.
Christians in that first century were an easy target for public blame and ridicule. There was a general disdain for this group of people who refused to recognize the emperor as divine, worship the various gods who were the patrons of their cities, or to take part in the sacrifices which was expected of those living in the Roman Empire. Christians intentionally rebelled against the social order. They refused to be cremated and instead were buried in secrets tombs outside the city walls waiting for the resurrection of the dead, The believed in revolutionary, democratic principles that all people, slave or free, Greek or Jews, male and female were equal in the sight of God, and so they should be treated impartially as brothers and sisters. For Roman society, Christians were a societal threat. They were disregarded as dangerous and superstitious sect, who practiced a strange ritual of eating the body and drinking the blood of their savior. Christians could not be trusted as members of good Roman society. So those who were being persecuted, found it tempting to abandon the faith, and return to their former Roman ways.
It is just as tempting today when the road is tough, and the shadows seems to darken every path forward. You once felt confident and certain about what is right and wrong, but now friends and neighbors are questioning you. Your faith and values seem to be growing increasingly contrary to the ways of the world. Indeed, voices are violently speaking louder and more pointedly against you. You may at times wonder why you are clinging so tightly to the faith, when others are scurrying away.
Or perhaps for you, faith itself has become a spiritual hurdle. You simply can’t understand what God is doing, or why he is not being more clear and demonstrative in what he intends for you and this old world. And so it feels, as if you are left on you own deserted island alone in vast sea that you cannot escape.
My friends, if that is your experience, turn to the last chapter. St. John’s message from Patmos is for you. “And the sea will be no more.” Of course, there is that joyous final word of a new heaven waiting for you, but St. John also wants you to turn to the closing chapter, so that you do not lose hope in this old world now. “And the sea will be no more.” That was wonderful good news for a man incarcerated on an island. A way would soon be made clear, and there would be no sorrow or tears. Pain would be no more. No more mourning and crying anymore. Knowing the end of the story can empower you through life’s suffering without falling into despair.
Unfortunately, St. John the Divine revelation leaves most of our questions about that promised new heaven and new earth unanswered. But it wasn’t written to satisfy your curiosity about the future about what heaven will be like, but rather it was written to instill within you the confidence that the new creation that God has promised, will be born in you just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead. “Yes, the sea will be no more- everything that has separated you from the world you love, sin, diseases, death, the devil. All will be no more.” For Christ has trampled down death by death, and he is going to trample down all those forces that are fighting against you.
My friends, that is our hope. And trusting in that promise is like reading the last chapter of a good book first. All things will be made new- so cling to that assurance and all will be well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen