Before we begin today it might help us get where we need to be to by considering this paragraph of A Declaration of Faith, a PCUSA piece and, imho, a very fine piece of narrative theology. Reflect on the following for a few moments before picking up our exposition of Revelation as a “Resistical” Worship service.
We are certain that Jesus lives. He lives as God with us, touching all of human life with the presence of God. He lives as one of us with God. Because he shares our humanity and has bound us to himself in love, we have an advocate in the innermost life of God. We declare that Jesus is Lord. His resurrection is a decisive victory over the powers that deform and destroy human life. His lordship is hidden. The world appears to be dominated by people and systems that do not acknowledge his rule. But his lordship is real. It demands our loyalty and sets us free from the fear of all lesser lords who threaten us. We maintain that ultimate sovereignty now belongs to Jesus Christ in every sphere of life. Jesus is Lord. He has been Lord from the beginning. He will be Lord at the end. Even now he is Lord. (ch.4, par.5)
Call to Worship
The message John has been given is for “seven churches in Asia.” Real churches, real people, real struggles, real hopes, fears, and longings.” It’s worth reminding ourselves that the words we read here are addressed to these people, their lives, those churches. They must control our interpretation. The meaning we draw from John’s vision must come through the meaning it had for them. Taking John’s words to refer predictively to events is the far-off future end of the world cannot qualify as a legitimate meaning, the more so if we make this the point of the book!
We are called to worship by John’s rich triune/Christological acclamation of God. “Grace” and “peace” are the gifts and benefits worshipers receive from this God.
-“grace” is the disposition God has toward us and the way he deals with his creation and creatures.
-“peace” is the ground and goal of all God’s works.
Worship is enveloped by “peace” and driven by “grace,” the two marks which characterize his people as we participate in God’s work. The Empire also offers “grace” and “peace” of a sort. The loyal and obedient receive the Emperor’s “gifts”; those not so loyal or obedient, not so much. The “Pax Romana” (“Peace of Rome”) was imposed of all within Rome’s purview, though often in a “We had to destroy the village to pacify it” kind of way. These counterfeits of God’s own being and action place the latter in high relief.
The Emperor’s benefaction had a distinctly “America First” tone. An inscription from the 3rd century BC bear this out:
“In the third year of the twelfth consulship of the Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of a god, . . . the following oath was taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and the Roman businessmen dwelling among them: ‘I swear by Jupiter, Earth, Sun, by all the gods and goddesses, and by Augustus himself, that I will be loyal to Caesar Augustus and to his children and descendants all my life in word, in deed, in thought, regarding as friends whomever they regard so, . . . (so) that in defense of their interests I will spare neither body, soul, life, nor children.”
Tacitus describes the Pax Romana this way: “Neither East nor West has glutted them . . . To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire; they make a desolation and they call it peace.”
In contrast, bright contrast, the Christian God, the world’s true Emperor, is rooted in covenant faithfulness to his people, and through them, his world. The one “who is and who was and who is to come” is committed to his creation in loyal love (the grace and peace noted above), in undeserved goodness and power to bring it to the good end he has planned for it. God identified himself this way to Moses as “I will be who I will be.” And proved it to the world in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.
He is completely present to his world in grace and peace through “the seven spirits who are before his throne,” (v.5) who extends and completes God’s work to all the world.
“and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
Resistance to Trump in America in our time depends on the God we commit ourselves to and are nurtured by in worship. A God who gives good and gracious gifts to all, goes to all, and goes to the grave for all in redeeming love is a God who can transform us into people who truly reflect a humanity worthy of the name. A humanity that trumps every counterfeit empire and emperor!