Crazy Walls

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 32
November 1, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: We don't need a "crazy wall" to understand Revelation. All we need to do is look into eternity beside John the Revelator, take comfort from the peace enjoyed by our dearly departed saint and recognize that we are part of what's happening right now. Hold on. We can do this.

Amid so much that seems wrong with the world today, it's heartening that the stigma around mental health issues seems to be gradually lifting. Many who struggle with mental health now feel free to speak up and speak out. Mental illness is often depicted in more nuanced ways in movies and on television, and we're recognizing that these are medical issues, as opposed to a question of spiritual weakness or failure.

There have been a lot of steps along this path. One movie that got a lot of people talking about mental illness was the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind , which told the story of Nobel Laureate and mathematician John Nash, and his struggles with schizophrenia. Based on the book by Sylvia Nasar, the movie, which won four Oscars and was nominated for four more, depicted both the achievement and struggles Nash went through.

One of the most striking scenes involved Nash's paranoid imaginings tracking a non-existent spy. Nash covered a wall with photographs, documents, news clippings and wild scribblings, connected by a frightening spider web of strings and thumb tacks. Its discovery by some of Nash's family and friends confirmed their worst fears about his deteriorating condition.

The whole mishmash became known as the "crazy wall." It has also become a familiar meme that is used not to mock those struggling with mental illness, but those attempting to cloud the truth with false theories based on improbable or impossible connections.

I bring this all up because over the past few decades there have been some pretty wild interpretations of Revelation. Self-proclaimed experts set up a crazy wall, filled with stray unconnected verses taken out of context, news stories, photographs and movie clips held together with strings, thumbtacks and wild imaginings. Instead of setting off alarm bells, however, otherwise rational believers are sometimes impressed precisely because it doesn't make any sense.

Some Christians seem to think Revelation is an arcane puzzle that is impossible for ordinary souls to understand, that only the initiates have a clue and that the purpose of the book is to help the chosen few know exactly when Jesus will return and exactly what will happen.



You don't need a crazy wall to understand Revelation. You just need to think like people of faith in every generation who are "Blessed," as Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount, "when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."1

Revelation, like all apocalyptic literature, is written by the oppressed for the oppressed, to encourage them all to hold on just a little longer. Apocalypses are written because of the terrible things that are happening to God's people in the present, and to assure us all that someday God's reign will be recognized by everyone. In the meantime, we're to hold on and hold fast to the faith. In short, the purpose of Revelation, the Book of Daniel and the apocalyptic speeches of Jesus can be summed up in one verse: "Here is a call for the endurance of the saints."2

Granted, the imagery can be vivid, shocking, even frightening. It helps if you think of Revelation as a graphic novel or action movie. Remember that we all learn in different ways. Some people are visual learners. Apocalyptic literature is written for them.

Although most of us would rather do without the honor of being persecuted, the picture presented in Revelation of our dearly beloved departed should fill us with hope and help us build up endurance as we run the same race they have finished.

This particular passage is especially appropriate as we celebrate All Saints Day. God means to comfort us as we endure our present troubles so we will not only survive a time of great difficulty, but stand fast, and stand for Jesus no matter what. It also gives us a glimpse into heaven that should provide comfort as we face difficult times.

Don't be confused that this passage is set within the larger context of a series of sevens.3 Keep in mind that our ancestors in the faith did not worship numbers, nor were they numerologists who believed some numbers had special powers. Instead, they used numbers to express ideas.

Seven was seen as a perfect number, which it is, in a way. Seven is a prime number, one of those numbers divisible only by itself and one. In a biblical setting seven stood for perfection, and therefore, God.

When Revelation opens, we discover John the Revelator is a prisoner on the island of Patmos, suffering for his faith, condemned to forced labor in the tin mines. In some ways it was a fate worse than death. They slaved in poorly ventilated mines always in danger of collapse. It is under these conditions, however, that the skies open up to show John that the witnesses who paid for their faith with their lives - the Greek word for witness is martyr - are doing just fine, thank you very much!

Everything looks great, until a scroll is revealed, locked with seven seals, that no one is able to open - except the Lion of Judah, who is revealed to be a tiny lamb bearing the marks of slaughter. This seems to be Jesus, who is able to open the book of the seven seals

The book of the seven seals

In short order we run into seven seals, seven bowls and seven trumpets. The late Vernard Eller suggested that these three series of sevens are not arcane clues for insiders to decipher, but history as we experience it. The first four seals, bowls, and trumpets are what's happening in the present, whenever our present might be.4

When this set of four seals are broken, they reveal four horsemen, who are identified as War, Pandemic, Famine and Death or Hades. These things happen all the time, and the faithful will recognize that these don't represent the End Times - just Tuesday. Likewise, the first four bowls and trumpets also represent ordinary suffering and want.

The fifth and sixth of every set of seven depicts the intensification of history, as things finally get bad enough to say we're in the end times. After that comes two interludes that give us a chance to catch our breath before we're finally transported into heaven.

The seventh seal, bowl and trumpet reveal the end, and we're so awed the first time that we're stunned by silence for half an hour. The next two times we see more detail.

Hallelujah! The great amen

In the first half of the interlude, we see 144,000 from all the tribes scattered to the four corners of the world. The 144,000 (twelve times twelve times a thousand) is not a limitation, but a way, in an era without the zero to aid manipulating large numbers of saying, to quote the late Carl Sagan, "Billions and billions."5

John the Revelator sees a great multitude, beyond numbering, and what he is seeing is not in the future, but right now. The right now might be the first century, with John slaving away on the prison island, or it might be right now as we struggle through the pandemic, or job loss or rejection by people we considered friends and fellow church members when we stand up for Jesus.

In other words, heaven is always happening right now, and those who have been slaughtered for their faith, those who have been faithful through persecution, people of every ethnic group and tribe and nation and tongue are all mixed together.

And all their tears, from all their suffering, are wiped away.

If you're a visual person, look closely at the multitudes, zoom in, and no doubt you'll see your loved ones triumphant, victorious after their trials and tribulations as well.

Meanwhile, our tears are not wiped away - yet - but by peeling back the skies and opening heaven to our view, John the Revelator not only provides us comfort regarding our loved ones, he also provides hope because we are part of what's happening now. We all suffer and struggle with trials and tribulations, But encouraged by what John has shown us, we should emerge from our trials and tribulations with our faith intact.

On this day of All Saints, we take comfort, not only that all is well with our loved ones, but also that we are one communion, one body in Christ. We still suffer, we still struggle, but we are singing with the saints in heaven. This is all happening in real time. This is the great and eternal Amen, like the ending of Handel's Messiah , that just goes on and on and we never get tired of it. It never grows old. And neither do we. It just goes on forever and ever.


COVID-19 and Proclaim Sermons : We are very aware of the innovations pastors are making to bring their preaching directly into homes. We want to help in every way we can. Please feel free to use Proclaim Sermons in any way you need to in your efforts. This includes copying it into emails, using it in video broadcasts or on your website ... frankly, please use it however you think will best serve your congregation.