More Than a Transportation Story

We have all heard some version of the story about the town that had become a place of injustice. A place where greed and corruption became the new normal. If you have heard some version of this story (while growing up I was made to believe that Wyatt Earp coming into Tombstone was the primary version), then you know the feeling when a hero rides into town to make things right. That is the feeling that rides into town on Palm Sunday.

It is unfortunate that we sometimes talk about Palm Sunday in a way that simply details Jesus mode of transportation into Jerusalem. We can be certain the gospel has something else in mind.

Jerusalem is looking for a king. Someone who will drive the Romans out. Someone who might revive the glory days of the Davidic dynasty. Jerusalem is looking for salvation – salvation from Rome. The people were overlooking their sin problem because of their Roman problem. Then here comes Jesus, riding in on a donkey, and they were ready to cast their vote with him to deliver them from their Roman oppressors. This is about much more than transportation.

Still, a nonviolent prophet on a donkey seems too tame. There is a text in Revelation where the heavens open and a white horse appears. We are told the rider is Faithful with a capital F and True with a capital T. We are told this rider makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire. He is wearing crowns on his head. His name is the Word of God. Right behind him are the armies of heaven on white horses. Out of his mouth is a very sharp sword. He brings the fierceness of Almighty God. His robe is inscripted with “King of kings and Lord of lords.” If the people had a copy of the Revelation they would have said “Yeah, that’s what we want.”

But that’s not what it looks like when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst singing and palms. It looks more like a text from Philippians where God became a servant. Where God humbled himself and became obedient, even to death on a cross. But that story does not stop there. It goes on to say that this God was exalted to the highest place and given a name above every name. It tells us that at the mention of this name every knee, in heaven and earth, shall bow.

What we do not want to lose sight of is the fact that the rider on the white horse with eyes like fire and the one who became the servant who was exalted above every name is the one who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is who rides into town on Palm Sunday. It is too easy to lose sight of this. It is easy to withdrawal our support for Jesus and cast a vote for Barabbas. Perhaps he will increase our odds of defeating Rome.

We often find ourselves looking for a man to become a god. We are given a God who became man. It is none other than the God of history who rides into town as King on Palm Sunday. The gospel hands us a palm branch and lyrics to a hosanna song and asks us to follow.

Beware of Lunar-tics

Next week we will witness a lunar eclipse.  According to some, this one is different than others that we have seen before.  If they are correct, then strike up the band and let us to break out into a chorus of “Bad Moon Rising.”

This eclipse will be the first of four “blood moons” in the next eighteen months.  It is of interest that all four of these “blood moons” occur during Jewish holidays.  Since these four lunar eclipses occur on the holidays and so close together; it has been speculated that they have special, religious significance.  Noteworthy religious texts include Joel 2.31 “the sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” and Revelation 6.12 “and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.”  Some project that verses such as these suggest that the blood moons are harbingers of doom.  This is not the first time that we have witnessed others who are tripping over prophetic and apocalyptic furniture.

I tend to get excited about the sky.  I also tend to get excited easily about the biblical text.  So, when sky and text get together in the same conversation it grabs my attention.  Studying the sun, moon, and sky fascinates me.  Yet, the idea of looking at them for prophetic revelation strikes me as a little odd.  Have we started to consider astrology as a Christian discipline?  Does this sound like a Dan Brown novel to anyone else?

It troubles me that preachers participate in this message.  At least pop scientists and writers of suspense thrillers are honest about their craft.  It isn’t the first (nor is it the last) time that marketers have caused a stir like this.  This is the sort of thing that we are tempted to become fascinated with when simple obedience becomes too boring.  Remember when the world last ended in December 2012?

Something we can be certain of is that lunar eclipse is another wonder in a remarkable cosmos that will stir your soul.  Another exhibit from a Creator who happens to possess a wildly creative imagination.  Perhaps a fitting religious text for a moment like this comes from Psalm 19.1 “the heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”  Go ahead and pull out a lawn chair, and marvel at the sky.

An Earthy – Cosmic Celebration

Reading in Revelation renews the imagination.  We often find ourselves reading narratives and letters.  We become used to facts and imperatives.   However, in Revelation we get a book full of angels, trumpets, earthquakes, beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits.  In Revelation we get a master retelling of the Gospel story.  This is not myth nor a puzzle to be pieced together, but a retelling of a known story that is like Gospel – it is Good News!

In Revelation, there are imaginative portraits of the Risen Lord, the church, and heaven.  Among these, we find ourselves looking at a portrait that may change the way we celebrate the coming of Jesus.  Revelation wants us to remember that there is more going on than the casual observer might notice.  Therefore, a reading of Revelation 12 describes the arrival of Jesus from a different perspective.

A woman appears, she is pregnant and begins to cry out with labor pains.  She is joined by a dragon.  It has seven heads that are ready to devour the infant at the moment of birth.  The child is born and the dragon lunges.  It is the kind of scene that makes you want to turn your head.  Yet, when we look again the child has been rescued.  We may want to respond with “Let earth receive her King”, instead we find a great war.  Michael and a host of angels do battle with the dragon and his army.

This is not the way we have come to picture the arrival of the Christ.  In recent weeks we have been reminded that the coming of Jesus evoked wonder and amazement.  Revelation reminds us that it was not without evil and risk.  Revelation makes certain that we do not get too comfortable snuggling up to “round yon virgin, mother and child”.  After a reading of Revelation 12, our response to Gospel can no longer be the same.

Having just celebrated Christmas we may have a picture in mind of what that may have looked like.  But whatever we try to pass off as Christmas, the bible expects us to see more.  So, we might find a jealous king (Mt. 2) or a seven headed dragon (Rev. 12) to remind us that Christmas is more than just a happy time.  But no matter what feelings are evoked, response to the coming of Jesus is inevitable.  Whether his coming results in songs from angels, gifts from Magi, or a war in heaven – the response to his coming has cosmic implications.

Revelation wants us to know the reality of the matter.  That there is more than the eye can see.  This time of year we have been reminded of the joy of parents, the cries of a newborn, the smells of a stable, the sounds of livestock, the sight of visitors, the witness of gifts.  This is earthy stuff.  We recognize the emotions of being human.  The sounds of children.  The smells of the natural world.  The company of others.  The practice of giving.  We recognize these as common parts of everyday living.

Yet, the arrival of Jesus is not limited to the earthy realm.  Even his birth brings us into contact with heaven.  Earth is not big enough to contain this celebration, earth is just another participant in the larger drama.  Words cannot express what has happened, an angelic choir is necessary.  Even the stars bring people to witness this event.  Beyond that, Revelation 12 tells that there was more, a war broke out in heaven.  “Michael and his angels were waging war with the dragon.  And the dragon and his angels waged war.”  Earlier, I mentioned that Revelation is like Gospel.  Here is Good News – “and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down.”

This all reminds me of a very earthy parable.  The parable of the soils obviously includes a sower, seeds, and a variety of soils.  It also includes birds, rocks, sun, and thorns.  But, what we learn later, is that the parable also includes Satan (Mark 4.15).  What appeared to occur only in the earthy realm of a farmer’s field had very cosmic implications.

We are reminded that we can not separate the physical from the spiritual.  That is a strategy we have introduced, not God.  We sometimes try to convince ourselves that the physical does not mix with the spiritual, the earthy does not mix with the cosmic.  Conveniently, we believe that our activities here have little to do with the bigger picture.  But, Revelation reminds us that our lives, from January to December, are involved in a larger plot than we first imagined.  Yes, what happened in a stable, in a crowded inn, and in fields of sheep is of major importance in heaven.  So are the actions of an angry king, excited shepherds, and generous wise men.

Having never received a vision on Patmos, I can only imagine what cosmic implications there are when we discuss scripture during Advent, when we gather for worship on Christmas Eve, when we celebrate what happened on Christmas.  I can only imagine what really happens when we throw seed over the rocks, into the sun, in the midst of thorns, or to the birds.  But my imagination runs wild when it appears the seed has landed in good soil.  One thing is for certain, Revelation sparks my imagination.

An Apocalyptic Showdown

In Revelation chapter seven we are presented with a great multitude.  They appear again in chapter fourteen.  They are with the Lamb.  As evidence, the name of the Lamb and the name of His Father are written on their foreheads.  This second appearance immediately follows a passage where others are also given a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads.  This time it is the mark of the beast or his name.  What a contrast.  Two troops are being formed.  Two leaders gathering recruits.  The land beast vs. the Lamb.

This is quite a scene.  Here in the middle of Revelation a showdown.  A stand-off with one leader standing on the sand.  (Perhaps he has not heard that isn’t a good foundation).  And another standing on Mt. Zion.  (Certainly a better foundation).  A host of combatants witness this.  Some wear the name of the beast.  Some wear the name of the Lamb and His Father.  We are reminded that Revelation is a political book.

Satan, the seven headed dragon, recruits two beasts to execute his will.  The sea beast to frighten us (13.7).  And, the land beast, to deceive us (13.14).  As the Son receives authority from the Father, so the sea beast receives authority from the dragon.  As the Spirit glorifies the Son, so the second beast glorifies the first beast.  The beasts are described with traits borrowed from God, the Lamb, and Christians in an attempt to validate their authority.

They attempt but fail.  This trinity of beasts; dragon, sea beast, land beast are imposters, fakes, pretenders.  Religious – yes they are.  Political – yes they are.  The dragon, the sea beast, and the land beast form a competing trinity.  But they have nothing to do with God.

Most attention in my lifetime seems to be given to the land beast.  At least to his number – 666.  As the false trinity, the land beast is observed to be a fraud, “like a lamb.”  In the language of numbers, 666 is a triple failure to look like 777.  Have we mentioned that he is not what he claims to be?  666 falls short of the three times perfect, whole, divine number.

G. K. Beale suggests that to identify with the beast by worshipping his image is to identify with his shortcomings and imperfection symbolized by the triple 666.  The triple six emphasizes that the beast and his followers fall short of God’s perfect purpose for His creation.  Triple sixes are intended as a contrast with the divine sevens throughout the book and suggest imperfection.  Triple repetition of sixes intensifies the incompleteness and failure of the beast (and this false trinity).  Though the beast attempts to mimic God, he falls short.  Epic failure.

Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder gets to chapters 12-14 and labels them “The Last Word on Politics.”  Not a bad summary for that section of scripture.  But in essence, it has been the theme of every chapter to this point.  Each chapter in Revelation is political.  Each chapter examines again the question “who is in control around here?”  Each chapter asks the one in control to please stand up.  And every time the Risen Lord rises to the occasion.

With the mark of the beast on the forehead the recipients are viewed as the property of the beast.  With the mark, recipients receive his stamp of approval.  This, of course, is the opposite and parody of the seal placed on the forehead of those who are God’s property.  Followers of the Lamb and followers of the beast are both stamped with the image of their leaders.  Revelation is a political book, we are being asked to give allegiance to Lamb or beast.

There is danger in this reading.  Revelation makes us aware that we are choosing a side.  Revelation alerts us to the risk of aligning ourselves with the wrong side.  Revelation wants us to know that we reflect the one whose name we wear.  Revelation asks the question “Who do you belong to?”

Revelation and the Preaching Emergency

William Willimon tells of a letter he once received from Walter Brueggemann that ended, “thank you for your help in the current preaching emergency.”

“Preaching emergency” might be a “Brueggemannism”, but it is not a new idea.  Perhaps it is because I have been reading Revelation but it appears to me that there we are directed to this emergency.  Times are so serious that Revelation removes barriers that may distract us.  Revelation catches our attention with imaginative pictures.  Revelation reveals perspective on the crisis at hand.  And Revelation preaches the danger of compromise.

Society fills us with voices of data and technology.  Voices that emphasize entertainment and marketing.  Voices that are rational and solution driven.  We might find these things to be helpful.  We might see these things as progress.  But Revelation puts all these things aside in order to remind us that our situation is serious.  In fact, the message is so important that Revelation removes nearly everything that we are familiar with and replaces them with imaginative pictures in order to magnify the seriousness of the situation.  Revelation proclaims with urgency.  As if we are in crisis.

When we take Revelation seriously we realize that preaching is not community service.  This is not fulfillment of your role in society, community, or church.  This is not light duty.  This is risky business.  Every time you gather is a one time opportunity to relay a particular message to a particular assembly of people.  Preaching may be the only voice of reality that some hear on any given week.

Revelation is a voice that is not attempting to sell you anything.  Not attempting to figure anything out.  Not attempting to teach anything new.  Not attempting to fix anything.  This is a proclamation of what is.  A redefinition of reality.  Whether our text is from Revelation or not, after reading the Revelation we can not help but realize the seriousness of the matter.

Singing in the Face of Evil

Christian worship is an interesting thing isn’t it?  That we would get together every week to sing our songs, pray our prayers, give our gifts, and open up an old book to read words that were written long ago and considered irrelevant by many.  Yet, we keep getting together and we keep opening the book.

And then on some days we open the book and we read about evil.  We have pictures that come to mind when we think of evil.  I can’t help but think of one from Dr. Seuss.  Evil is big and green.  He’s a mean one, as cuddly as a cactus, has all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.  He comes to take stuff just to make others unhappy.

Yet when Seuss’s people lose their stuff, they are not unhappy.  Instead – they sing.  “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores.”  We may not understand the words, but we understand what is going on.  Makes me think I should read Seuss differently.

Revelation addresses evil.  But perhaps even more it addresses worship.  In the midst of all the evil we find in chapter 6-7, we find ourselves in a context of worship.  Worshippers are active before, during and after.  It is saturated with song and the constant opening and reopening of the book.  These chapters are surrounded by prayers.  Here we are in worship.

We may not naturally see evil as a context for worship.  But Revelation does.  Here we find worship taking place.  This starts back in chapter four and does not stop when evil arrives in chapter six.  In chapter four, we found four living creatures singing “Holy, Holy, Holy…”  And then twenty-four elders fall down and sing “worthy…”

In chapter five, the creatures and elders join together to sing a new song.  And then are joined by thousands and thousands of angels.  And they all sing “worthy…”  They are then joined by all of creation.  The living creatures say “amen.”  The elders fall down and worship.  Chapter six sees repetitive opening and reopening of the book.  The four living creatures participate in an apocalyptic responsive reading.

In chapter seven, a great multitude is called forth “which no one could count.”  And they sing with all the angels, the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures.  They sing “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever, Amen.”  And this all takes place in the presence of the One sitting on the throne and the Lamb.

Revelation presents a growing choir.  In fact, Revelation keeps responding to adversity, tribulation and evil by adding to the choir.  With the four horsemen of the apocalypse enter conquest, war, famine and pestilence.  The following chapter brings tribulation.  And the growing choir sings.  Four living creatures, twenty-four elders, the voice of many angels, and all of creation.  Chapter seven adds a great multitude, which no one could count.  And they sing!

Revelation talks about the prayers of the saints.  Both before our passage (5.8) and following (8.3) the prayers of the saints are related to “incense.”  Before the evil of our passage is introduced and afterward – prayer.  I can’t help but think of how unusual this response to evil is.  The saints sing.  The saints pray.  Offer incense.  You may have prayed for someone this morning.  Someone may have prayed for you.  Revelation says prayers are like incense.  Mark Buchanan calls praying people perfume makers.

This is an interesting picture of prayer.  This “incense.”  But we are not looking for prayer that sends sweet fragrance to the supernatural.  We want prayer to eliminate evil.  Instead, Revelation places us in the midst of evil and portrays prayer as “incense.”

In Your God is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan tells a story that he learned from William Willimon.  The story is about a gentleman who was sent as a delegate from the World Council of Churches to check the status of the church in Russia during an atheist regime.

The man was not impressed.  “The church” he said, “is just a bunch of little old ladies praying.”  Buchanan calls them “just a bunch of perfume makers.”  Willimon told the story in the nineties.  After atheistic Russia was no more.  This is an important story.  Not because we wanted to win the cold war.  Not because we are opposed to atheists.  But because we need to be reminded of what happens when a bunch of little old ladies pray.  “Fahoo fores, dahoo dores.”

We need Revelation.  We need reminded that though evil is present, it has no real power.  Evil – beware.  Beware of the prayers of saints.  Beware of revolutionary perfume makers  disguised as old ladies.  Beware of elders falling down, living creatures who sing, and the multitude that joins in singing “salvation belongs to our God.”

Evil beware.  Ride out on your power horses spreading death and famine.  This is not fighting on your terms.  This is not methodology that you might use.  This is not the expected response to evil.  This is the response from another reality.  One that recognizes who is in charge.  One that knows who wins.  The response from Revelation insists that worship is the only way to see reality.  In the face of evil, we continue to open the book, to give, to pray, and we sing.

The Reality of Evil

I was recently assigned Revelation 6-7 and the theme “evil.”  Eugene Peterson has written a helpful chapter titled “The Last Word on Evil.”  It is a good title but it is not the one we would prefer.  That would be “The End of Evil.”  We want evil gone.  We want an exterminator for evil.  We would like to see it annihilated.  Can we call SEAL team six to destroy evil?

There are things we would like to say about evil.  We would like to talk about the end of evil.  Instead, Revelation acknowledges the reality of evil.  Moving through chapter 6, we find four horses with riders who carry a bow, a crown, a sword, a pair of scales, and the authority to kill.  We find slain souls “those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.”  History is coming apart.  The world appears doomed.

Here the sun turns black, the moon becomes blood, the sky splits, and mountains and islands are moved.  Even nature is out of whack.  Here there is catastrophe so great that powerful men are hiding in fear and calling for mountains and rocks to fall upon them.  This is bad news.  We might say this is evil.  In fact, things are so bad that Revelation asks the question “who is able to stand?”

Revelation reveals reality.  That is a good way to read the Revelation.  It reveals what is really going on.  Without the blinders of culture, society, trends.  Without the distraction of news, sales, and gadgets.  Revelation tells what is really going on.  Tells what eyes tend to miss because we are caught up in another reality, a false reality.

Evil exists.  We know it.  This is reality.  The thing about evil is that sometimes it is where we do not expect it.  It is a mistake to think that we have evil figured.  Sometimes evil is obvious, other times not so much.  Revelation also recognizes evil.  Revelation does not minimize evil, but it does put it in its place.  In the Revelation, evil is surrounded by other realities.  In the Revelation, before we get to chapter six and all of its evil, we meet the risen Lord, are introduced to the church (where we find the risen Lord), and find ourselves in worship.

Revelation admits the reality of evil but sees a different world.  One where evil is put into a context.  Evil is put in its place.  Evil is given no long term credibility.  Evil does not rule the world.

Revelation and Reality

One may wonder whether a book containing angels, beasts, dragons, and bottomless pits is the place to discuss reality.  In Revelation we receive an image of Christ with a sword protruding from his mouth.  Four creatures (each with six wings and numerous eyes) who cannot stop singing.  A trumpet blows and a star named Wormwood falls from heaven.  A red dragon appears with seven heads and ten horns.  We meet a beast like a leopard, yet with feet like a bear, and a mouth like a lion.  An angel binds the dragon with a chain and throws him into the bottomless pit.  Admittedly, these are not the usual images one looks for when seeking reality.  Yet, Revelation presents them without apology.

The title of the book “Apocalypse” literally means “to reveal.”  That is exactly what occurs in the reading and hearing of this book.  Realities are “revealed” which run counter to those of the dominant society.  Revelation relates the truths of the Gospel specifically to difficult cultural, social, political, and economic realities.  It reminds us that the separation between church and state is not as clean as we like to think.

Revelation encourages us not to compromise with the world but to align our thoughts and behavior with God.  Revelation knows our real danger, that we will conform to the values of the world.  Therefore, imaginative images are used throughout the book to “reveal” the realities and implications of such compromise.  G. K. Beale says that these images illustrate the evil nature of the institutions which individual Christians were beginning to compromise with.

Revelation shocks Christians back into the reality of their faith and reminds us of the seriousness of sin.  Beale points out that the figurative visions illustrate the reality facing the churches.  Revelation is a reminder that spiritual struggles are going on in the midst of what is happening on earth.  Such reminders motivate Christians not to place ultimate security in the world with unbelievers and idolaters.  Revelation counters the values of the world and insists on the eternal significance and consequences of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection as they relate to present choices and behavior.  The heavenly perspective also reminds the churches where their victory comes from.

Revelation includes visions as a portion of the whole story.  When images are interpreted, the interpretation should be held firmly and should serve as a starting point for understanding others (1.17-18, 20; 12.9; 17.9,18).  In spite of appearances, all visions should be read in context of the reality that God is in control of both history and of the church.  The church will experience suffering, even death.  But, they are also reminded that neither suffering nor death is the worst that can happen.

The book is addressed to churches and views the church as the community called to demonstrate the “counter-definitions of reality” revealed by God.  In Revelation, this begins in worship.  But, the churches are the subject of more.  They are praised for faithful obedience.  Corrected for compromise.  And motivated to pursue holiness.  The church is where we find Christ.  He “walks among” the churches.

Eugene Peterson suggests that Revelation “takes the old, everyday things of creation and salvation, of Father, Son, and Spirit, of world and flesh and devil that we take for granted, and forces us to look at them and experience again (or maybe for the first time) their reality.”  I add an amen.  Revelation does not claim to contain a timetable of history or the identity of the Antichrist.  It is not a revelation of the end of the world.  It is a book about God, the revelation of Jesus Christ.  Here, his reality is “revealed.”

I’ve Never Been to Patmos, But Here’s What I’ve Done Lately

Patmos is a small rocky island in the Aegean Sea.  A place where Roman authorities sent those who offended the Empire.  Here John was placed in exile.  Here is where John wrote his Revelation.  In Revelation, John tells of a beast from the sea.  Of a creature full of eyes.  Of a dragon with seven heads.  I have not encountered anything that looked like these things, but I have met Hyla versicolor.  A proud eleven year old boy held this creature in his hand.  I was admiring it when it leaped at me and stuck to my glasses.  I have never been to Patmos but I have had a very close view of the Gray Tree Frog.

One summer I read John’s Revelation and noted a great contrast between my activities and those John experienced on Patmos.  I played waffle-ball in the backyard.  I got a haircut.  I bought black socks at K-Mart.  I ate chili dogs.  I attended a street fair.  I watched Spiderman the movie.  I toasted marshmallows around a fire.  I sat in the passenger seat while my thirteen year old daughter drove back and forth in the driveway.

Before it is anything else, Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ.  Items that describe events past or future are only mentioned on account of their relationship with Jesus.  It is not an accident that John sees Jesus before he sees anything else in Revelation. Revelation is a gift for those of us interested in reality.  It places the earthy in the context of the supernatural.  Revelation takes ordinary situations and forces us to look at them again.

Revelation tells us that there is one walking among the lampstands.  Revelation tells us that the lampstands are the churches.  Revelation tells us that the one walking among the churches is Jesus.  With eyes like a flame of fire.  With a voice like the sound of many waters.  With a face like the sun shining in its strength.  He holds seven stars in his right hand.  From his mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword.  He is the one who was, and is, and is to come.  The Alpha and Omega.  The First and the Last.  The one who was dead and is now alive forevermore.  This Jesus walks among us.  Revelation is Good News.

When many of us picture Jesus we see him holding children in an olive grove.  Or speaking to crowds in the temple court.  Or instructing disciples along the Sea of Galilee.  Revelation portrays Jesus with eyes of fire.  With a sword protruding from his mouth.  As holding seven stars in his right hand.  Revelation reminds us that our narrow earthy perspective is not enough.

I can’t help but think of how earthy and ordinary my life seems in comparison.  How mundane my experiences appear next to John’s experience on Patmos.  John sees one with hair white like wool, I sit in a barber chair.  John sees one whose eyes are like a flame of fire, I watch Spiderman.  John sees one with feet like burnished bronze, I walk around in black socks from K-Mart.  John sees one with a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth, I eat a chili dog.  John sees one with seven stars in his right hand, I hang onto a stick and toast marshmallows.  John sees one whose face is like the sun, I get a close up of the Gray Tree Frog.

I have never been to Patmos, but I have attended a street fair.  I have never been sent into exile, but I have experienced ordinary.  I have never feared for my life, but I have ridden in a car with a thirteen year old.  No matter where we find ourselves, no matter what we find ourselves doing, Revelation wants us jolt us into rethinking our definitions of reality.  To take another look at things we take for granted.  To listen another time to things we’ve heard before.  Revelation wants us to realize that things are never as ordinary as they may first appear.  And that no matter how things appear, Jesus walks among us.

A Pledge for Perspective

There are likely many sermon series with a political twist that occur in churches leading up to election time.  Granted, many of those are about increasing interest and attendance.  Many amount to little more than socialist propaganda.  Many derive from a conservative ghetto.  But at least some will explore the all important matter of allegiance.

More attention is likely given to presidential debates.  A debate series stirs media attention (much more than a sermon series) because of entertainment value.  Sometimes there is more to it, but like every other televised product, a debate series is primarily to attract viewers.  There will be claims that they serve the primary purpose of enlightening viewers of the best candidates for president.  But, these show remind us every four years that this is not about information.  It is not about issues.  It is about marketing candidates and television ratings.  The media would like nothing more than to create a star that will guarantee ratings the next four years.

In their effort to become the star the media is looking for, candidates attempt to say the right things.  In one of these shows of the 2008 series, the dialogue went like this; John McCain said “America is the greatest force for good in the history of the world.”  Barack Obama, in his response, said, “Senator McCain and I do agree, this is the greatest nation on earth.  We are a force of good in the world.”  I have to ask, would Jesus say amen?

Television debate encourages candidates to avoid reason unless it serves the greater purpose of making an impression.  Complexity nor logic nor ideas typically play a part in this drama.  In fact, it would not be shocking if future debates were to come with a soundtrack or a power point presentation to further emphasize themes and enhance impressions.  Candidates may debate from a distance from a web cam or even as holograms.  Just as long as they leave the desired impression.

I am reminded of Neil Postman’s warnings in Amusing Ourselves to Death.  There are great concerns when eye contact, one liners, and cosmetics become more important than ideology.  Or when the appearance of meeting expected claims becomes more important than the actual capability of meeting those claims.  Or when even things considered most important can be presented in a neat entertainment package.

Post debate commentary is even less credible.  People who desire to be on television and appear as if they have value in the political process line up to further enhance the impression of their preferred candidate.  (Usually by calling into question the impression made by the rival candidate).

An election year puts us on a slippery slope.  The temptation increases to get caught believing in a political illusion.  The temptation to put ultimate trust in political leaders and political structures.  The temptation to get angry with those who do not share our ideology.  There is no denying it – it is political season.  We are surrounded by media spin, campaign rhetoric, over-commercialization, over-exposure of candidates, and entertainment disguised as intellectual forum.  And the danger of temptation is real.  We are constantly faced with the question of allegiance.

Recently, I’ve been reading Revelation.  It doesn’t take long to realize that this is a political book.  You can deny it – but that doesn’t make it less true.  Revelation is political.  Authorities are announced.  People are being called to march under the mark of their leader.  Revelation is a call for allegiance.

Erik Erikson stated that “Politics always competes with religion (joining it, tolerating it when it must, and absorbing it when it can) in order to promise, if not a life beyond, then a new deal on this earth, and a Leader smiling charismatically from the placards.”  To this, Revelation responds.

We live in political days.  Revelation is a political book.  This makes it a great time to read Revelation.  Revelation attempts to give perspective to the present by setting it in the context of the supernatural world.  We are in need of a perspective that transforms the mundane activity of an election year to a greater perspective of reality.  Perhaps Revelation should be mandatory reading during an election year.  Perhaps it should be included in more sermon series.

Revelation reminds us that these debates, these campaigns, these commercial dollars, and even this brand of government is not permanent.  As important as these things appear now, we must be willing to ask ourselves about their ultimate importance.  In the land where we embrace, encourage, and celebrate separation of church and state – Revelation may sound a bit out of step.  Revelation places politics right in the context of worship.  But, Revelation knows that anything, in fact everything fits in this context.