God is Before, Behind and Beside Us in All Things
A Sermon on Revelation 1:4-8
The Scripture text is from Revelation, but its pretty tame there are no dragons or visions of 7s of things. Instead, We get a long list of attributes of Christ. Some of it is tried and true language that we know very well. Christ is Alpha and Omega, a truth we have upon our stained glass windows. John just seems to drone on with ways of praising Christ, it reads a little like a dinner host whose introduction of a honored guest lasts longer than the planned speech, like a royal party where a caller shouts the arrival of honored guests.
John wasn’t merely playing the social game, or listing compliments in order to increase his word count, he’s saying something quite revolutionary. He is saying that Jesus Christ Is Lord and King, that his life, death and resurrection brings us salvation, and God is Trinity. In fact, he manages to cram almost the entire apostles creed into 4 verses. We cannot let these attributes, this list fall by the wayside as superfluous because these verses are a reminder of the magnanimity, the greatness of Jesus.
So often we talk about Jesus, especially in the South, in the context of getting saved. But it’s the getting saved part, that is always so important. It became the focal moment in so many of our churches and is still a benchmark today for Christian discussion.
We get caught up in saved language. “have you been saved yet?” or “do you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?” Jesus so often gets filtered down to a one and done story, a vending machine of salvation. After salvation and baptism, we resort to living our normal lives, occasionally returning to God in prayer when we need something. Goes something like: hey god, thanks for what you’ve done in my life, I need you again though. We become a little bit like a kid that has gone off to college who only calls his mother when his spending money has run out. That is not a healthy faith, that is not a faith that makes any difference in our lives, or in the world.
Did Christ save us? Of course, without a doubt. But today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last day of the Christian year where we celebrate the coronation of Christ. Because when our Christian discourse stops at saved, we never get around to anything else. People want a saviour, they don’t want a King. Well I believe Revelation tells us that Christ does more than this, that he has saved us for a reason. The salvation of the present is only one part.
Jesus was and is and is to come. He was involved in our past, like it or not, he’s here with us now, like it or not, and he will be here soon, like it or not. He is our King, the ruler of the kings on the earth, the very King of Kings. Harsh on our ears right?
In America we are a bit averse to the term King. None of us here have lived under the rule of an American King, and our nation has never had one. We are born with an inherent hatred of any sort of governmental authority that is not the result of the indirect vote of the people, we are defined by they republic and democracy. The thought of having a ruler by divine birth right makes our skin crawl.
(In Worship, I played a Monty Python clip to illustrate the point. You can watch it here.)
The image of a King usually goes one of two ways: either a fat, plump king ruling without regard for the people, gorging himself on the taxes of his people, living in luxury while his nation scrambles for bread. Or we get the image of the queen of hearts, a ruler completely bonkers with power who with the demeanor of a 5 year old makes decisions so often ending in “OFF WITH HER HEAD!”
Needless to say, these images of Kings and Queens are not helpful when looking towards Jesus, and if the historical failures of earthly kings, even the great David brings disgust and disappointment into your head, it is certainly because they always fail our expectations. And consider where our perfect expectations of what a King should be comes from: the image of God. For the ancient Israelites, God was enough, they didn’t need a King. Eventually, they asked for a king, and God knew that was a bad idea, but God let them have their way.
In Christ, we have a King that we would not expect. Our King is humble and meek, not proud and selfish. Our King is loving not judgmental. Our King is not mad with power, he gives the power to his subjects. Our King does not ask us to die in defense of his kingdom, but willfully gave his own life so that we may find life.
But at a more basic level, consider what it means to call Christ King. King of what? I don’t see a throne or a kingdom for his seat. He didn’t even have a place to rest his head right? With all the focus on the cross and salvation, we often forget that Christ came to also announce the Kingdom.
Christ preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Only Jonah gave shorter sermons than Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is here. Jesus announced these words with an eye towards the words of John. The Kingdom of God has always been here, Christ was present at our creation and formed us out of the void. The coming of the Kingdom is a reminder that God is still in control, even though we may have forgotten. He also meant the Kingdom of God is here, physically in front of you, announcing the word of God has been made flesh, for you, for us, right now. He also meant that that was the beginning of something new, a new vision for what God’s reign will mean. Past, Present and Future. Behind us, with us, before us.
He is our King and his power is everlasting, he has firmly established the world, and promises us justice and peace eternal. He has given us the Spirit and all the blessings of being part of God’s family and has made known to us the power of God’s love.
Sociologists and Psychologists write often of religion and its Utility as assuaging our fear of death, our lack of meaning. That humans find religion in order to feel better. Marx referred to religion as the opiate of the masses, as though it is for the unrefined, the uneducated to keep them quiet and happy.
They are simply wrong. This may account for academic religion, but it cannot be an account of Christianity. Religion is misunderstood if it is conceived of as a simple sentimental supplement for our lives, or as nothing more than a wholesome family activity. Christ as King does not ask for sentimentality, he demands allegiance. Christ cannot be said to be King if the only he rules is the colors of the paraments on Sunday.
Now, I could list the achievements of Christ forever, but the truth of the Kingship is found in us. Just as “Mother” makes no sense without “child” or “Doctor” makes no sense without “patient,” so King makes no sense without “kingdom.”
Revelation says Christ has made us to be a kingdom, that we all are priests serving God and Father. If we are a kingdom, then we have to realize God expects something of us as citizens. Like any kingdom, there are rules and expectations. Having a King, means that God is not done with us after Jesus saves us. In fact, he saves us so that we might serve. Freedom in Christianity is defined by slavery, not as a freedom from restrictions. The freedom Christ gives us is the freedom from sin, that we may orient ourselves rightly towards God.
We live in a nation where for so many people, the First Amendment, the freedom to do and talk as we please, receives infinitely more attention than the First Commandment. As Christians, our freedom is very much limited, we are limited by the needs of our neighbor. As an American, I have the right to be as selfish and greedy as possible, yet it is not a proper use of the freedom if we claim Christ as King.
So I ask: Are we ready? Living as a citizen of God’s kingdom is not an easy task. Living today in our world, there are so many things that ask for our allegiance and demand our attention. The conflicting demands of our jobs, our beliefs, our families, activities and anything else in our lives form us into who we are and how we think. Think of the impact politics has upon our lives. With the recent election, there was a flurry of religious articles claiming Christ to be behind both sides of the party division, but that is the true tragedy of the election, that it has the power to divide not only the nation, but Christians down political lines. The minute we let devotion to a political ideal, philosophy or anything else supercede our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, we have stepped in error.
Christianity does not belong to a nation or a political party, it is rather an alternative to politics. In the trenches of God’s Kingdom, Christ asks us to love radically. We are not alone in God’s Kingdom, but we all have been entrusted to be witness to the truth of God’s reign. The paradoxical kingdom where the invited guests refuse the invitations and the poor, the widows and orphans are welcomed in. The bizarre place where the dead receive life, the refuse of society are given and loved, and all are welcomed in the name of Christ
The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is a phrase that Christians frequently said. Paul says it is all one needs to say in order to be saved. In three words, it is the shortest creed we have to say. It is our pledge of allegiance.
When we say “Jesus is Lord” we are confessing that we have given Jesus Christ power over our lives. It is our way of saying that God and the Church come first in my life. No other power or authority can fill us, guide us or direct us as Jesus does. When I remember that I am God’s, and no one else’s, it brings me joy and comfort to know that I belong to a Kingdom where the King has sacrificed himself for me.
With so great a King, the question comes with how we handle that reality. It is not a matter of proving to each other or the world that Christ rules. That is simply true. The real concern is how we live in the presence of so great a King, the ruler of the free world.
Living in the Kingdom of God asks us to consider what Christ is calling us to do. What he is calling us to value. It means that we acknowledge to the truth of the revelation that Christ is in control of the world. And that doesn’t mean that we will get a good parking spot, or that God is in control of whether or not you have a nice car in the driveway or blessings uncountable. Rather, Christ being in control means that the truth has been revealed, that power is found in weakness, that sacrificial love is true power, and we are called to reflect that truth.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ reigns as King, he saves us so that we are able to serve him, that we might follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and there we find the eternal life Jesus promised us as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.