A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Reign of Christ ~ Revelation 1:4b-8
I know that some folks start to squirm in their seats as soon as I say that someone (anyone) is your king. Some don’t like the patriarchal overtones. Some don’t like the triumphalist sense it can bring. But I think we balk at it simply because we don’t like to be ruled. We don’t like to be subjects.
Perhaps, instead, we might focus not so much on the ‘royal person’ but on their realm of influence. What does a king/queen/regent do? They reign. They act. They move. They influence. They command (and we all know what Jesus commands, right? – Jesus commands us to love, love, love!). The Reign of Christ – which is what today’s called in the liturgical calendar – is another way of saying the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. It’s the space, the time, the umbrella of authority under which we stand, the canvass upon which our lives are painted, the arena in which our ‘game’ is played. So, will we focus today on the influencer, or their influence? Yes! Both.
Our text for today comes from the book of Revelation. This is a wonderful but tricky book. It has acquired a really negative reputation in many churches because it seems so weird, and violent, and frightening. Even Martin Luther himself would have preferred that it be excised from the bible, and several heavy duty theologians refused to write commentaries on it. Pity. It’s really quite wonderful.
The problem is we’ve never done a good job of teaching people how to read it – and you really do have to read it with a totally different lens than you’re used to. It’s like analyzing a dream – and you know how logical and straightforward dreams are!
Or maybe it’s like a first century science fiction movie – with lots of creatures and special effects.
Or…imagine yourself sitting in a Broadway theatre, and a single actor is standing centre stage giving a tour de force performance of a fantastically wild tale as a one-person show. That’s how this book was likely shared with it’s first audiences – as a story-telling performance. Underneath it all is a very strong message about God, and Jesus, and faith. Our challenge is that we get lost in the flash and miss the substance. (So it is with life too!)
This book was meant to be performed, not dissected – and it was meant to be heard and experienced as a whole, not in little bite-sized pieces that out of context can be wildly misinterpreted.
So, let’s start dissecting! (lol)
Today’s reading is all about influencers and their influence.
And it challenges us think hard about how the influencers influence us!
Revelation 1:4-5 Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
We begin with the influencers. The One who is and who was and who is to come. That’s God – who is (present), who was (past), and who is to come (future). God is not just the God of history; God is also the God of right here and right now, and yet there is also a promise that God isn’t done yet – there’s more yet to come. God was, is, and will be. Our main influencer is omni-present – always has been, always will be.
The other influencer is the Christ who taught, transformed, and reigned. Or is that teaches, transforms, and reigns? Or both? Christ the faithful witness (teacher, taught, still teaching) – Christ the firstborn of the dead (a resurrection reference, he was raised, he is risen, he was transformed and he still transforms) – and Christ the ruler of the kings of the earth (well, he wasn’t literally back then, but then again he was, because he was stronger than the human empires that stood against him and tried to make him irrelevant – and even today his teaching, life, and example move people to confront empire).
These are the players in our Broadway show. The influencers. And what do we know about them?
They are timeless, present, and not yet finished influencing.
What do these influencers do? How do they influence our lives?
Revelation 1:5-6 To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Ok, what has Jesus done for us? Don’t get lost in troublesome words.
Look at the verbs!
Jesus loves, frees, and makes. Loves us – that’s easy to understand.
Frees us from our sins by his blood. Yeah, yeah, I know. That one has tons of baggage. Let me work with it for a minute to see if this helps.
Jesus frees us (removes the handcuffs, tears down the barriers) – ok, so far so good. From our sins – to sin is to miss the mark, to fall short of what you were aiming at. What are we aiming at? Love!!! When we don’t love, when we are ‘unloving’ (selfish, arrogant, prideful, uncaring, unjust, self-important), well, that’s sin.
So Jesus frees us from our unlovingness by immersing us in, and drawing us toward, and filling us with, love – an ethic of love, a way of love.
Frees us from our sin – by his blood. Oh boy! Hundreds of years of embedded theology here. Try this.
Instead of hearing that as a penalty or debt Jesus paid (which can make God out to be a bloodthirsty villain – which God can’t be because we know that God is Love and can only Love!) – let’s add the word ‘life’. Not ‘by Jesus’ blood’, but by his lifeblood!
What is your lifeblood? It’s your passion, your raison-d’etre, your essence, your whole self – your influence. Jesus freed us from our unlovingness by his lifeblood, his teaching, his living, his being, his loving.
(I hope that theological lens helps.)
So, loves us and frees us (from our selves mostly), and one more verb – made us to be a kingdom – that’s important!
We are the kingdom that Christ fashioned.
Let’s put it another way – we are the body that Christ has fashioned, and that body – the body of Christ – lives. And that body has a ‘head’, if you will. That body is ruled, shaped, and guided by an influencer – which is the same as saying that this kingdom is ruled by a king. We are the body (or kingdom) and Christ is our head (or king).
One of the hard things about being part of a kingdom is you have to acknowledge that you’re not the boss. Instead of words like control, or in charge – words we like to claim about our own lives – we have to reckon with words like ‘allow’. Let. Permit. Acquiesce. Agree. Accept. Comply. Consent. Assent. Give in. Submit. In other words, we have to do the thing we don’t want to do – surrender. Friends, let me say it straight out – you cannot enjoy the benefits of a kingdom if you’re not willing to acknowledge the authority of the king.
Now again, some of us don’t like that king metaphor. But it’s just a metaphor. Try this instead…
You cannot be a member of a sports team or musical ensemble if you’re not willing to acknowledge the leadership and authority of the coach or conductor. Imagine the chaos if every musician in the band or choir did their own thing, or every player on the team had their own strategy.
We need authority, and to recognize and accept authority, as long as it’s benevolent and loving.
The problem is we’ve too often been burned by unworthy examples of authority. Power and people and systems gone awry – unloving.
But I hope we can remember that God is on a whole other level. God is one with us, but God isn’t one of us. God is God. Thank God!
And God is the ultimate influencer – if we allow ourselves to be influenced. But also even if we don’t!
Everyone and everything is under God’s reign, so to speak. Some may not want to acknowledge it, or refuse to see it, but they are still influenced by the Holy Mystery we’ve called God. I may not want to acknowledge gravity but if I jump off a cliff I’m not going to float down – I’m gonna go splat no matter what I care to acknowledge!
If the presence of God, the person of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit are everywhere and always (and that’s what people of faith know to be true) then we are always in and under their influence.
Ok, so now what? What do I do with that?
How do these influencers influence my living?
How don’t these influencers influence your living?! The difference between a person of faith and not is that the person of faith acknowledges the influencer’s influence and welcomes it, embraces it, even relies on it. Knowing that you’re ‘on the team’, knowing that you’re ‘in the choir’, and acknowledging the leadership of the influencer is what faith is all about. Is that what Faith is all about? I hope so!
But there’s one more thing here. It says Jesus made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father…
Did you know you’re a priest? How does that sound? Weird? Well, think about what priests do.
Priests receive a school of learning, and interpreting, and experiencing the Divine, the Holy, the Something More – and then they share it in some capacity. You could say that priests are ‘influencers’ in the name of Jesus.
Like it or not, you are an influencer, in the name of Jesus. If someone knows you are a church member, or a Faith United person, then everything you say and do (or don’t say or don’t do) will be influencing their sense of what faith is, and what Faith is.
This is the last Sunday of the church liturgical year. A new calendar starts next week with the Season of Advent. But today is also kind of the first Sunday in a new era for our church. We’ve been worshipping and being church in a different way for the last 20 months. I think it’s safe to say that we’re not the same as we were when we left. We can’t help but see and understand things differently now. We’ve been shaped by this season apart, but not apart.
So this idea of ‘was, and is, and is to come’ is really intriguing when we think about our churches – and this church!
This church was at one time three other churches, and no church at all. This church is now Faith United, a wonderful, vibrant, vital expression of Christian community and faithful journeying.
And now, as we return to being together in an old way (in-person), and a new way (online) at the same time, we need to think about how this church will be…
I have some inklings about it.
I’m certain that what is to come will include a blending of in-person and technology in every aspect of our church life, not just worship.
I’m less certain about what that will all look like, because I’m still learning, and discovering, and wondering too.
I know this much – the demographics that currently are fed and nurtured by our churches need to continue to be fed and nurtured in ways that feed and nurture them! In other words, as we think about what is to come we’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
But some of that bathwater needs to go!
And what about the demographics that are not currently being fed and nurtured by our churches? What about those in God’s realm of influence who haven’t yet learned to notice, or acknowledge God’s Presence, and receive all the benefit, and nurture, and love that could flow if they did?
“It’s our purpose as disciples of Christ to reach out and evangelize those folks.”
I bet that sent a shiver down your spine! The language is likely as problematic as that blood stuff we talked about earlier. So how about this instead?
“It’s our work as receivers of God’s love and Jesus’ Way, to reach out and share that love with the world.”
I bet that felt better. How about this?
“It’s our challenge as members of Faith United to find ways to be influencers in a culture that we are not all that familiar with, to interact with those who haven’t experienced the love of God or the Way of Jesus, so that they might benefit in the wonders of peace, and joy, and hope, and blessing in which we’re immersed to overflowing.”
We honour what was, we celebrate what is, and we open our hearts to what is to come.
Our influencers – God, Christ, Spirit – always have been, are now, and are still to come.
And we, as influencers, have a new church to love into being.
It is wonderful to be back together in this way again. Now let’s journey into the future in faith.