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Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

God's Math

There are a whole lot of arrivals at the end of Revelation. There are almost as many arrivals in Revelation 22 as there are at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport!

Quite a few years ago now, I led a team of college students from Kansas City on a short term mission trip to Ecuador. There were only three students and myself. One would think that small crew would make for easier travels. That might normally be true, but on this trip, we had to fly through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Upon leaving Quito, Ecuador, our flight was delayed, which collapsed an already short layover in Atlanta. Then, when we arrived in Atlanta, our arrival gate and our departure gate were on completely opposite sides of the airport. And if you've never been to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, traveling from one end to the other will fill all the rings on your Apple Watch! (That means it requires a lot of exercise.) The airport is HUGE and it took us forever to make that transition. On top of all of that, one of the students filled up his Nalgene water bottle with Ecuadorian tap water; a really big no no. In the middle of our first flight, he goes to the restroom and doesn't leave it because he can't stop vomiting.

After literally running across the airport - with a few brief stops for one student to vomit in disparate trash cans - we arrive at customs. Apparently, our plane was not the only plane to arrive in America at that time. When we arrived at customs, the line was running out past the entrance. We had about 20 minutes to make our flight and that line itself would take over an hour to get through.

Being 6'3", I used my height to my advantage to yell over the crowd. I didn't know what else to do, so I made myself as tall as possible and hollered over the crowd, "HEY! I HATE TO BE THAT GUY, BUT OUR ARRIVAL WAS DELAYED AND WE HAVE 20 MINUTES(!!!) TO MAKE OUR CONNECTING FLIGHT! WOULD ANYONE ALLOW US TO CUT IN LINE SO WE DON'T MISS OUR FLIGHT?" A few people rolled their eyes at us, many more ignored us, but there was a couple towards the front of the line who had compassion on us and told us to make our way up front. We made it through customs, and with one last barf at the host stand, we boarded our plane and made it back to Kansas City on time.

All of those circumstances added up to a hectic and stressful arrival. And the arrival of so many others at the same time as us made it difficult for us to enter our correct gate. It makes sense, but it was a perfectly unfortunate equation.

In Revelation 22, we read of a different equation; only in this story we read about God's math. And God's math doesn't work like your or my math. In Revelation God's math works differently. For God, 1+1+1=1! For God, twelve thousand times twelve thousand equals infinity (Revelation 7:3-9). And in our reading for today, there are all these arrivals and no departures! (The word ἔρχομαι, or it's various forms, shows up 6 times in these verses.)

The pericope is bookended with Christ's promise, "I am coming soon." And intermingled through out are various parties to invite others to come, or there are those who are supposed to come themselves. All this arriving and no departures. God's math is not our math.

The first verse also speaks to God's math, and I think it's worth a brief note. In verse 12, Jesus says that he is coming to give everyone their reward for their work. This is clearly the judgment of Christ upon humanity, but I think it we need to read this passage through the lens of the Gospels. There is another story Jesus once told about someone paying people for their work. In Matthew 20, we read the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. In that story, God's math is different than our math. In that story, God's math isn't fair! In that story, it really didn't matter when you arrived, the master wasn't going to withhold his riches.

If we read Revelation 22 through the lens of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers, the question is, who will receive a lesser wage because of their work? If, as verse 12 says, Jesus is going to remunerate everyone based on their work - and if, we believe the Parable of the Vineyard Workers from Matthew 20 teaches us about the type of grace Jesus has, the question is, who won't receive the full day's wage? Or, to put it in the context of the New Creation, who won't be welcomed into the Kingdom of God?

Maybe, God's math is so different than our math, that when Jesus looks upon us in judgment he does so like the master of the workers; without condemnation! Interestingly, these verses don't say that Jesus punishes for people work; only that he rewards them for their work. Honestly, I'm having a hard time figuring out who wouldn't come.I remember Dr. Randy Beckum preaching in a university chapel, "God has judged you and the verdict is good!"

If Jesus begins by coming to us, and if Jesus rewards people for their work like the gracious vineyard master, then the response must be similar. Which is what the preceding verses depict! The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" The one who hears says, "Come." The Spirit which is given by Christ pronounces an invitation. The corporate body of Christ, the church, his Bride, does the same. (But, let's be honest, we don't really want them to come, do we?) Those who have heard the invitation of Christ (the one who hears) cannot help but echo Christ's invitation!

This is practiced week in and week out in our liturgy as we pray our prayers of invocation. We invite Christ to come to us by the power of his Spirit, knowing full well that it was Christ who first invited us to come into his presence by the power of his Spirit! There is a constant mutuality of invitation here. Because Christ says come, we say come. Because Christ says come and because we say come by the power of Christ's Spirit, those who can acknowledge their need of God's grace, the thirsty, respond to the call! And they come and they are filled with living water. No one who can acknowledge their need will be turned away.

God's math is not our math. No critical mass of arrivals will bottleneck the gates of the New Creation. All those who come do so by the response to Christ's invitation and they will be welcomed!

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!