Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Different Kind of King: Revelation 1:4b-8

This week's passage is Revelation 1:4b-8. We celebrate the last Sunday of the church year today: Christ the King Sunday. Because my husband helped me do something different with the children's message today, I had my daughter take a video. We're missing a few lines in the middle where her phone glitched, but the main gyst is that our friend, King Chris, read his calendar wrong and showed up to be celebrated today. I've included the video of that for your enjoyment. 

Because of the trouble the past couple weeks getting my old podcast service to work, I'm switching to soundcloud. This service will a) make it easier to post my audio and b) work. If you follow me on soundcloud, the audio will go up quickly on Sunday after church and you'll only have to wait for the manuscript here. I hope this new system works well for all of us! 


There has been some scary stuff in the news lately. Paris, Beirut, Afghanistan, Syria. You just say the names of these places and jaws tense up. Heated debates are going on all over the place about who should be allowed to seek safety where. Even the less world-shaking popular news items are sparking strong opinions and knock down drag out arguments about whether holiday cups should have snowflakes and candy canes on them and if it’s heresy if they don’t. And being presidential election season, everything we read and see on the news gets blown up all that much more. Reading or watching the news can feel oppressive. I was reading the news the other day and I suddenly had to just put it down. It felt too dark and hopeless and frustrating.
But then I remembered. . . we’re not citizens of this crazy, messed up kingdom the world has set up. We don’t belong to the world of terrorism, intolerance, fear, mudslinging, power-grabbing, fear-mongering. . . we don’t belong to that kingdom we see in the news. We are citizens of a Kingdom that is established by a King who protects the frightened, reaches a hand to the marginalized, loves all, serves even through he is King. No wonder at the beginning of his account of the wild vision he had, John praised God. John thanked God that among other things, this Revelation showed him that there is a greater Kingdom than the one he lived in right then and there.  
When we were in turkey, Tim and I visited quite a few historical sites. Many of them were said to have great significance for Christians, and even though Turkey is no longer a primarily Christian country – it’s population is primarily Muslim and the government is strictly secular – the people there take great pride in these sites and in keeping them in tact for Christian travelers and pilgrims.
            One of the coolest places was near the little town of Selçuk in south-western Turkey near the coast. Selçuk is near the ruins of Ephesus. I think I’ve talked about Ephesus before and how neat it was to walk the road into town that Paul would have walked and to stand in the amphitheaters in which he’d have given his passionate sermons. The other really cool place there, however, was a little way off from Ephesus itself. It’s called St. John’s Basilica. This early church is said to have been built on the hill where John had his vision that we read from this morning – commonly known as the Book of the Revelation. There is even a grave there under the church that is said to be the grave of the apostle John. The bones were transferred there in around 400, so it’s possible that they are actually the remains of John. It’s also possible that they aren’t. Either way, it’s pretty neat to visit a place where for over 1500 years, people have been going to worship and pray and remember the apostle John.
            The South-Western Coast of Turkey is quite a long way away from Galilee, which is where John was from. Remember, he was just a Jewish fisherman when Jesus found him. How on earth did he get all the way to Ephesus? Or at least, how did he get far enough from Galilee that people think he wrote his Revelation and died in Ephesus? John was in exile.
Things were so bad for Christians under the Roman regime at the time that he had to get the heck out of there and hide out.  It was hard to keep the faith when there were evil people on your tail trying to kill you. It made people wonder if it was worth it. But worth it is was. Many of the Christian sites we saw in Turkey are there because once upon a time, that was a safe place for Christians to escape to.
The Roman Empire is no longer a problem for us. As all human empires and kingdoms do, it eventually drifted away into the background and is now only found in museums and history books. Even before it faded into memory, the Roman Empire stopped persecuting Christians and embraced the budding religion for political reasons. It’s debatable if that was actually a healthy thing for the Christian church, but suffice it to say that we not longer have to hide in far off places like John to be safe from the Roman Empire.
There are other empires today that threaten the well being of Christians. At least around here, we aren’t in any physical danger. There are certainly parts of the world where being Christian isn’t a physically safe option, but here it is. But even when we’re not in physical danger, our faith is still in danger. There are still enemies prowling trying to destroy us. In fact, sometimes our faith is in more danger when we’re in physically safe places than when we’re not.
One thing that seems to be consistent in all the news and the debates and the arguments is that under all the words and ideas is fear. Fear of things that are different, fear of losing control or the majority say, fear of other people, fear of other religions, fear, fear, fear. And the more we fear, the more we close ourselves up in safe little boxes where we feel like those things we fear can’t get us. We’re exiling ourselves. It’s a different kind of exile than John’s, but it’s just as real.
            On his hilltop near Ephesus or wherever it is that John finally did land when exiled, John remained confident that Jesus is King. He remained confident that God is deserving of all honor and glory. As he prepares to write down a bizarre, confusing, frightening vision he’s had in a place so far away from home, he is still confident that God is in control and Jesus is King.
            And it’s not just that Jesus would be King or had just become King. “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Alpha and Omega – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. John says that Jesus is our A-Z, beginning and end and everything in between. He always has been, is now, and always will be the King. Not some wishy washy king hiding in a palace. Not some king who will one day grow old and die or who might die in battle. He is the King of all Kings!
This King – the King of all Kings - This is a King who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.” He loves us. He freed us from sin and guilt and fear and consumerism and bland, heartless holidays full of shopping and stuff and filling the holes we make in our lives. And he didn’t stop there. Jesus gave us a part to play in the Kingdom! He’s described in the New Testament as our High Priest and here John says that as part of his Kingdom, we are the priests who serve under him. What a privilege! We are servants to the King! Not just any servants, but holy servants, carrying his word and his work to the people around us so that they too may be ushered into the Kingdom that is ruled by the King above all Kings!
            There are some obvious ways for us to take the word of the Kingdom to the people outside these walls, and we’ve talked about them in the past. We can talk about our faith openly, we can serve the people around us, we can teach our children and grandchildren in our words and in our examples. Next week, when we gather back together, we will do so in a freshly decorated sanctuary. The whole church will be decked out for Advent. We begin a brand new church year next week. We will be starting out that new church year by exploring how to be the word of the Kingdom of God in the middle of what is swiftly becoming a time of year in which people seem to have set their priorities on everything BUT the King of all Kings.
We won’t solve all the world’s problems or relieve everyone of all their fear in the next month, but together we can make a small dent. Together we can find small ways to start opening up those fear boxes and exploring that abundant life that Jesus promises in John 10:10.
This Advent, we will be following a pattern of worship and teaching that comes from an organization called, “The Advent Conspiracy.” Among other resources, they have a family Advent devotional guide which I’ll have available for everyone who wants one next week. I encourage all of you – no matter how young or old your family is and whether you have one person or ten persons around your breakfast or dinner table to take that seriously this year during Advent. Set aside the excuses of busy-ness – that’s another box we exile ourselves in – and make this a priority. This will go along with the sermons and children’s messages. We’ll be talking about how we can be the light of Christ to those around us as we spend less, give more, worship fully, and love all.
Many Christians fear that Christ is being taken out of Christmas. Instead of just living in a box of fear and hopelessly watching “the real meaning of Christmas” fade into distant history, let’s declare that Jesus is King and truly celebrate this holy time of year.
            Christ is not taken out of Christmas by people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Nor by a plain red coffee cup or the store selling holiday foods and decorations for the winter celebrations of other faiths as well as ours. At worst, these are signs of people ignoring Christ in the world. But nothing can take Christ out of Christmas, or out of anything else for that matter because Christ is KING. If we think we can tell Jesus where he is and isn’t or can and can’t be, we’re thinking too highly of ourselves and we’re ignoring the fact that he’s in charge. Jesus is in the world. Jesus is in the Happy Holidays and the plain cups. Jesus is in Christmas. Jesus is even in Paris and Beirut and Afghanistan. Perhaps most especially, Jesus is in Paris, Beirut, and Afghanistan. He’s there in the people who are comforting one another. He’s there in those who are helping the frightened and hungry and homeless. Jesus is in our homes and our church and he’s working in the world.

            What do the red cups and the world terrified by the extremist group Daesh and the presidential election all have in common? Their King – our King. The Alpha and Omega – the A-Z, the one who is and was and is to come – the Almighty.

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