Give Me the Bad Stuff, Too

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-22 – The 7th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 8, 2016

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates . . .” (Revelation 22:14)

lectionaryWhen serving full-time in churches, I didn’t write on Sundays. If involved with a novel, essay, or newspaper column, I ignored the work-in-progress on the Sabbath.

It’s a day of rest, right?

Are you kidding? Not for preachers!

(Can I get an “Amen” from the bleary-eyed pulpiteers, please!)

Sundays and sermons have never created a restful time. Though no longer sermonizing, I still skirt the day of rest commandment by wrangling with the rowdy nouns and adjectives in various writing projects. Therefore, many Sundays are devoted to my weekly online musings about ye olde lectionary.

Frankly, all of the lectionary passages stank to high heaven this week.

If you’re a Biblical literalist—I’m not—Acts 16:16-34 may thrill you. Paul, not a Californian like me with the San Andreas fault several zip codes to the west, experienced a strange and shocking earthquake . . . but everything worked out for everyone. I hope Acts 16 wasn’t read in Ecuador or Japan during this April of 2016. It may not have been received too well after those country’s devastating earthquakes.

John 17:20-26 did nothing for me. Since I’m usually charmed or challenged by the Gospel readings, I feel bad admitting that. I read John multiple times and mostly got sore eyes and a blur of red. Yup, red. For part of my New Testament explorations, I use a NRSV translation with Jesus’ statements printed in bright red. This week, the scripture was red, red, and more red as I read. Normally I’ll preacher-up and discover (or be discovered by) something in the crossing of the red sea print. Alas, that didn’t happen this week.

Psalm 97 was as brief in length as it was giddy about God. God is great! God is good! Glory to God! Which I believe is true about God but this week (maybe because my wife is exhausted from non-stop 80-hour work weeks or the dog had to make another trip to the vet) I’ve been grumpy. So Psalms, for all of its holy cheerleading for the Creator I love and cherish, only made me crankier.

This week also featured one of my least favorite sections of the Bible: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. And yet, if I’m adrift in a sea of John’s red and uninspired by Acts or Psalms, why not embrace the sacred text that irks more Christians per capita than all the others?

I don’t think Revelation should be taken literally. As with many scholars, I believe it was less about predicting the future for everyone and more about the visions of a singular believer confronting the dominion of the Roman Empire.

But not everyone agrees with me!

14Some of my fellow Christians flaunt the future found in Revelation as if it were a precise blueprint for a tomorrow of judgment and Holy wrath. For example, the best-selling Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins were inspired by Revelation’s God’s-gonna-get-you anger. They published sixteen titles between 1995-2007. In 2014 Nicholas Cage starred in the most recent movie version of Left Behind. The appeal of the end times never ends.

If you count books published and sold, LaHaye and Jenkins are successful and I’m . . . not! But that’s not the point. The Left Behind authors—probably all writers—understand that writing is actually re-writing. Revision. Hemingway stated first drafts were shit. His words, not mine. Steven King claimed that when he finished a first draft he eventually deleted at least 10% of the words before reaching a completed final draft. Writers write to discover what may appear on the page or screen. Then, to make the story come alive for the reader, words are discarded. The best writing often emerges because of what has been, well, left behind.

And yet I look at Revelation wondering why the architects of the lectionary readings—wise scholars all, I’m sure—left certain stuff out? John, Acts and Psalms were each complete, uninterrupted sections.

But Revelation has gaps: 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21.

Why the missing verses?

Why was this stretch of Revelation “revised” for the lectionary?

With my red-letter Bible in hand, I study the very present verse 14 and the very absent verse 15. Here ‘tis:

(14) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. (15) Outside are the dogs, and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Verse 15’s grim words were dismissed. This week, if you choose Revelation for public preaching or private studying, the leftovers you get are primarily sweetness and light, sugar and spice. If I’d met with the smart folks making lectionary decisions, I would’ve voted to keep everything.

Revision is essential for writers.

But as a reader of the Bible, don’t just give me the good stuff I agree with and that’s safe for my tender ears or eyes.

Even during my dullest and dreariest weeks, I need to grapple with all the bad stuff, too.

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