Saturday, April 21, 2007


Revelation 5:11-14

What are your priorities in life? Tragedies like the Virginia Tech shootings can be wake-up calls. For a moment we stop and think about what’s important in life. Tragically such events happen every day somewhere in the world, but usually we don’t take much notice of them. Indeed that same day nearly 200 Iraqis died in four separate bombings.

Now, my sermon today isn’t about what happened in Blacksburg or in Baghdad, at least not directly. But perhaps there are connections to be found. This morning’s text comes from Revelation and ultimately it’s a word concerning allegiance. For early Christians, especially those living at the end of the first century, long before the church received favored status from Constantine, being a Christian was tricky, even dangerous. The emperors didn’t care what you believed as long as you would swear allegiance to them as well. Just call me "Lord" they said, and everything will be okay.


Revelation is full of strange beasts and characters. They’re not to be taken literally – they’re symbolic of the powers that grab for our attention and our allegiance. These are spiritual powers, but they’re also political, cultural, and economic systems and institutions. And very often they become violent when we fail to give them our allegiance.

There are all kinds of powers that seek our allegiance. Since today is Earth Day, it’s appropriate that we recognize those powers that pollute and waste, and often draw us into their activities. Consider the evils perpetrated by the corporation that dumps carcinogens into the river that provides drinking water to people living downstream. Going in a different direction, what of the companies that try to hook kids on cigarettes even though they know that these children will likely die prematurely? Further afield, there’s the dictator, such as Robert Mugabe, who wages war against his own people to keep his hold on power. And closer to home, the politician that sells his or soul for votes. This is, Walter Wink says, "the world of the Powers." Whether good or evil these powers produce an intricate web that we "can neither ignore nor escape." [Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, New York: Galilee Doubleday, 1998, 1-2].

On Easter Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’s victory over the powers of violence and death, and this morning’s reading from Revelation celebrates the victory once more. But historically there’s a time lag between Easter and John’s vision of heaven. This time lag reminds us that while victory is assured, the powers of death and violence aren’t ready to give in just yet. You see, we face what Walter Wink calls the "Domination system," This system demands that we bow down and worship it as it seeks to control our appetites and values.
But we don’t have to bow down and give our allegiance to the "Domination System." Although we hear the drum beat that calls us to bow down to the emperor, we also hear a song coming from the heavenly court: It sings:
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created." (4:11)
And as the song rings out we hear a challenge to the rulers of this world and it proclaims the reign of God.
Now, you say, we live in America, and things are different here than in Rome. Ah, but are they? Are we really immune from the demands of the "Domination System?" Are there never conflicts between national values and our spiritual values? Consider those who would question the patriotism of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq. America, we’re told "love it or leave it" But what if things aren’t quite that simple?

Corporate American has also woven a web to trap us. It promises many blessings, and then it bankrupts us with debt. Consider that this young man who took so many precious lives, and then his own as well, seems to have felt shut out of the American dream. We don’t know his whole story, but we know he felt alone and discouraged. And the choice he made was to lash out in violence. Unfortunately it’s a choice made by far too many people in the world when they feel left out.


If violence isn’t an appropriate response to the Domination System, what is the right response? Should we simply give up and let be, what will be? I think that John, like Paul, would point us in a different direction. His solution is spiritual and it starts with acknowledging God to be Lord rather than the emperor.

Yes, we’re tempted either to lash out violently or simply give up, but John calls on us to change our allegiance. Rather than bow down to the Domination System, he points us to the Lamb who was slain. I think John, like us, would prefer a Lion to a Lamb, but it’s the Lamb who is our guide. The way of the Lamb requires sacrifice. We must give up some things for the greater good of creation. It might be what we drive or what we wear, how we spend our money and where we spend it. It probably involves the way we vote. And as we vote, we must remember that our ultimate allegiance isn’t to party or to a candidate, it is to the common good of all God’s creatures. This is what it means to give allegiance to God.

John takes us on a trip into the heavenly court and there we see the heavenly chorus singing.

To the one seated on the throne and to the lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!

The early Christians suffered great indignity and even death, because of their faith. These words from John encouraged them to keep the faith. Yes the Lamb has been slain, but the Lamb also reigns – not by violence, but by laying down his life. And while the Emperor’s reign is temporary, the Lamb of God rules forever. Yes, evil will have its day, but it will not ultimately succeed.

When we take the way of the cross, we discover that Jesus doesn’t just change the rulers, he changes the rules and values of the past. Not my will be done, but thine be done, that’s what Jesus said to the Father, and so must we!

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Third Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2007


Jason said...

Hiya Bob,

I agree totally that violence doesn't help. From the Emporer's chasing Athanasius around the country killing anyone who believed that the bible meant what it said all the way to the Ku Klux Klan, to try to destroy is to presume God is not in charge.

One question, though, Why was the lamb that was slain worthy? Why was the violence against the lamb necessary or even included?


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

That is a good question -- but I don't think you'll find penal substitution here! Perhaps the reason the Lamb was slain is that the Lamb would not give allegiance to Caesar -- this would be, after all the message that resonated with the first readers of this letter.