Well it is the final week of our sermon series Things That Go Bump In The Bible…gonna miss that…and our Scripture comes from the book of Revelation and tells us about a seven headed dragon. But now, after talking to our children this morning about baptism and being family, how can we connect these two concepts? How does the baptism of a small child coincide with the supposed threat of the Apocalypse and a rampaging seven headed dragon? Well, let it be said that I always liked a challenge…
Let’s start with the Scripture reading first. The book of Revelation is one of the most theologically contested sections of the Christian Bible. Some people feel very strongly that it outlines without question what the end times will be. Others feel that it describes the rise and fall of the Roman Empire in relationship to the Jewish people and the Christian followers of the time. Still others feel it is just the ramblings of an isolated and exiled man who began to lose his grip on reality and wrote down the dreams and hallucinations he began to experience.
Did you know that the Book of Revelation was not included in the original groups of texts for the Bible? It was not included during the Council of Nicaea, but was added several years later at another gathering of faith leaders. Regardless of whether you take these passages as literal truth, theological interpretation, or just some crazy stories, there is a lot of value here for everyone regardless of where you fall on the theological spectrum.
Let’s look at the Scripture reading again. “Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” So we are not just talking about the kind of dragon we see in most movies like Disney’s animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” or even the fantasy action film “Reign of Fire” where dragons have taken over the earth and humans hide in fear.
No here we are talking about a huge, monstrous create with seven, SEVEN, heads, ten horns and a crown on each of the heads. And this things does not sound very friendly like the creatures featured in the children’s film “How To Train Your Dragon.” No, we read that its tail knocked a third of the stars of heaven down to earth. Let me say that again. It knocked a third of the stars of heaven to earth.
I have a very powerful imagination and I’m still not sure I can even begin to fathom what that might look like. This is some serious power and a very real threat to humanity and creation. This thing, this seven headed dragon is not messing around here. This is without question one creature I really would not want to cross paths with.
But as we continue to read, we find the hope and salvation that we have in God. It continues with, “And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” So we find that God’s army of angels is not only able to defeat this dragon, but the dragon’s army of angels as well. Victory is secured! Right?
So all is well then? The threat has been neutralized and happy ending yeah? We can all go live happily ever after in joy and peace, playing music on harps and lutes. Just like a Disney cartoon or a fairy tale story. Good times… Well…not quite… You see, if we continue to read on we see that the battle continues on earth and there is much more to come. The dragon continues to attack and verse seventeen goes on to tell us that the dragon was angry, and went off to make war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.
Guess what people? That’s us. That is all Christians in the world. The dragon is now focusing its anger and attack against people like us who claim Christ and are in relationship with God. But there are some things that we claim in our faith tradition that bring us hope. We believe in an all-powerful God that loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We have read here that God’s angels can defeat this great dragon, so we know we are not alone to fend for ourselves. God is with us.
Let’s take a few moments now to step away from the scary dragon running around eating things and spraying fire all around, to look at our theology of baptism. And when I say “our theology”, I mean the United Methodist Church theology that we claim when we are in this space together in worship, as well as when we are out in the world. I know many of you have already been baptized but I am guessing for the large majority it happened when you were very young and you might not remember most of it, if at all.
But regardless of when it happened, some very important things are recognized as happening in that moment. One of those things is that we claim a new identity. When we become Christians, we are said to be “putting on Christ.” And baptism is a celebration of this new identity in Christ. That is why we start the baptism with renouncing the evil and sin of the world, and then move to pledging our loyalty to Christ.
Another that is happening during this time is that we are entering into a covenant with God. But this covenant is not initiated by us through our pledge of loyalty, but rather it is initiated by God. And that is recognized through the words we have said, “The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Baptism is just the beginning of our relationship with God. It is one of the doorways through which we enter into relationship with God. And I say one of the doorways because there are more than just this one. In the United Methodist Church we do not believe that you must be baptized to be saved. But we do believe that baptism is a gift of God’s grace that we receive as part of the journey of salvation. So those who have not had the opportunity to be baptized, or don’t even know about it, are not lost.
And the God we claim, our faith and our theology, is one of what I believe to be a God of love. It is because of God’s love that God invites us to be baptized and be in relationship with God. It is because of God’s love that Christ came to suffer, die, and rise again after defeating death and sin. That love wrote a new covenant and established us all as children of God.
So what does the seven headed dragon we read about from the Book of Revelation have to do with our baptismal covenant with God? Well, if we look at both situations we find two separate examples of the same thing: God’s love. We find God’s love in the battle against this evil dragon, and we find God’s love in the covenant of baptism. And I think that some would argue that the covenant that we enter into through our baptism is not only recognized in the moment when the dragon attacks, but it is upheld when God retaliates against the dragon and defeats it.
Now that is not to say that those who have not been baptized would not be saved from the attack and wrath of the dragon. As I mentioned before, baptism is not required for salvation. But the covenant is also upheld in that moment. But that also assumes that moment will come in the way it has been described to us.
The truth is we do not know exactly what will happen in the end, or for that matter when the end will come. Many people have tried to determine when the world will come to an end, and so far they have not been correct to this point. The Gospel of Matthew even affirms this where it says, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
What we do know, or rather we believe we know through our faith, is that our God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We know that because of what we find in our Scriptures. We know that because we believe that Christ came to this world, became human and divine, and then suffered, died, and resurrected after defeating death and sin. God made that sacrifice because God loves us and we matter to God. We know God continues to love us through the blessings we receive every day. We know God continues to love us in those moments in our lives that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.
So as we close this sermon series about the monsters and scary things we find in the Bible, I hope you have come away with some important lessons and ideas about our God and our faith. We talked about the monsters in our dreams. We talked about the monsters of the unknown. We talked about our fears and where they come from. And today we have talked about one of the evilest monsters in the Scriptures, the great seven headed dragon.
But we also talked about God’s love. We also talked about God’s protection. We talked about being in relationship with God and trusting God. And today we talked about the new covenant that God invites us into through our baptisms. We have talked about just how powerful God’s love is, and that is stretches to all humanity and all creation. In every dark place, we found God’s love there. In every scary moment, we found God’s love there.
It is my sincerest hope that these past four weeks have given you some new perspective on the fears in your life and the scary things in this world. I hope that you have found new strength in God to stand up against those scary things. I hope that you have found new levels of trust in God to go into the dark places in your world, knowing God’s eternal light will guide your way.
And, as I always do, I want to leave you with a challenge for when you head out from this place today. And that challenge is one that I know will itself be scary for some of you, but it is a very important one. I want you to go from here and share what you have discovered about God and fear with someone in your life. Share it with someone who may be facing some of their own scary situations. Share it with someone who is living in fear in their lives. Share it with someone needs it the most.
Because that is what we have been charged with doing. As United Methodists we claim our mission to be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And it is through sharing these messages and our faith that we accomplish that mission. It is a mission we must always lead with love, and do in a caring way. Fear mongering and coercion are never appropriate methods. But go out with God’s love as your guide and share it with all you encounter in all that you say and in all that you do.