Monday, January 22, 2007

“Now and Forever”

Revelation 1:4-8[1]

What would it look like to you if you could say you finally “made it” in life? Our cultural version of the “American Dream” is rather frightening. The MTV show “Cribs” (slang for homes) gives shape to this “dream.” It’s a show where twenty-something instant millionaires take us on a tour of their mansion and show off all their toys. I’m afraid that there are all too many of us who long for that kind of “good life.”

The problem is that your “dream” defines not only your hopes; it also sets the agenda for how you live. We see the “American Dream” in slogans like “money talks,” “time is money,” “never let them see you sweat,” or “you have to go out and take what you want because nobody will give it to you.” All of this sends us the message that you have to be forceful, be egotistical, be greedy, and be aggressive to be happy.

Around here we mouth the words fairly often in prayer to God “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever”. I wonder if they mean anything to us in terms of what our lives are all about. The book of Revelation would seem to be the last place to go for a dream of what the meaning of life is. Visions of total annihilation and strange monsters pasted together from body parts of different animals aren’t very compelling to us today. At least not as compelling as a mansion with 25 rooms and 6 brand new cars parked out front!

But Revelation isn’t about the weird beasts and the gruesome battles. It’s about the one who sits on the throne—the one who is, and who was, and who is to come. It’s a reminder that “Our God is an awesome God; he reigns from heaven above; with wisdom, power, and love; our God is an awesome God.”[2] And it’s about the one who stands at his right hand—the faithful witness, the lamb who was slain and who has triumphed.

You see, in the first-century world, Christians had to face alternative visions of what life is all about just like we do. Except the ideal in their day was defined by Rome, and it was a dream of power through conquest, exploitation, and domination. The presence of Roman legions throughout the Mediterranean world constantly reinforced that vision.

I would think that vision of reality posed a significant temptation for the Christians of that day. Some of them had lost their jobs and their businesses because they would no longer participate in the obligatory sacrifices to various idols. Some of them had been excluded from families who could not fathom why anyone would turn their backs on the culture of power and glory, prosperity and success, and its “family values”.

As they made their way early on Sunday morning to a home for worship, they might see a patrol of Roman soldiers with their golden standards walking through the streets. They might walk past one of the ancient world’s beautiful temples to Zeus or Aphrodite or another deity. And they then would come to worship and the central affirmation they would hear and say was: “Jesus is Lord”! All around them, however, were images that contradicted that statement.

The book of Revelation was written to remind those Christians that at the heart of their faith was an alternate vision of what life is all about. It was a vision of the one who sits on the throne, who bends everything that happens, both evil and good, toward love and peace and justice and beauty.[3]

It was also a vision of the lamb who overcame all the so-called “powers” of the world by dying. He is the one who alone has the right to sit in judgment over the kings of the earth. He is the one who will one day make the “kingdom of the world” into the kingdom of our Lord, and “he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15)!

At the heart of the Christian faith is a vision of a reality that is ultimately true; it is more true than this reality defined by violence and greed and lust. What’s more, at the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that this ultimate reality is already present and working in our lives—it already subverts all the boastful claims of the rich and powerful.[4] One day it will overthrow them all for the kingdom of peace and justice, where all people will beat their swords into ploughshares and the wolf and the lamb will lie down together (Isaiah 2:4; 11:6)!

Do we find this “dream” at all compelling today? Our Confession of 1967 puts it this way: “It is the will of God that his purpose for human life shall be fulfilled under the rule of Christ and all evil be banished from his creation.” But we don’t have to wait from here to eternity for some kind of pie in the sky utopia. In the reign of Christ as Lord and King, God is already working to heal the wounds and to right the wrongs. God is already working to overcome violence with peace, to end all forms of oppression, and to expose all the lies. God is already working to establish his reign, which will bring “justice and compassion for all people, everywhere.”[5]

When we affirm our faith in the reign of Christ as Lord “now and forever,” we affirm that this vision is what defines the meaning of our lives. We affirm that it’s the dream we long for, and it sets the agenda for how we live our lives! It is a dream that cries out to be realized in and through us.[6]

[1] A Sermon preached 11/26/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Rich Mullins, “Our God is an Awesome God,” 1988, BMG Songs, Inc.

[3] Stephen Shoemaker, GodStories, 67-68.

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 99, 190-91, 254.

[5] Shirley C. Guthrie, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Presbyterian Outlook (Feb. 11, 2002); at Cf. also Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, vol. 2: The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption, 299.

[6] Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Bread for the Journey, quoted at

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