Well, here we are again and the text doesn’t get any easier. My preaching professor suggests that we start to craft a sermon we start by looking at what God is doing in the text. Where is God active? Is someone being set free? Healed? Given food? Called into their work of ministry? Welcomed home? That is the good news and a way that we can learn a lesson of who God is in our lives and in the world. Of all the chapters in Revelation that are filled with the glory of God, with the Lamb that is Jesus, this one, is not. So I guess we might wonder why this text was suggested, why this text is important, what it has to do with us and with God.
Here’s where we left off: the seals had started being broken, the scroll was being opened, and there were horses running amuck all over the world bringing with them the calamity that comes from empire. What we didn’t read was that the other seals were broken and there was a time of silence in heaven. Then we cycle back around and there were trumpets blown, remember, Revelation is a spiral, we’re passing by the same things a couple of times.
What happened directly before this, the dragon arrives, and one of two women in the whole text here. She’s draped in creation and crowned in stars and gives birth to the one who will save them all. The dragon pursues her and the earth itself protects her. There are volumes we could say about all this has happened in the chapters between last week and this. But here is
where we begin.
We have a dragon on the seashore, I imagine him staring over the water while… the beast immerged. Some scholars suggest that the beast was the monster mentioned in other parts of scripture as the Leviathan. And then there’s the land beast that they call Behemoth. And Leviathan speaks out against God and the Lamb and convinces people to follow him, to believe in him, to worship him, even if it isn’t in their best interests. And the Behemoth points everyone else to the Leviathan, it does signs in the name of Leviathan, convincing others to follow him, to believe in him, to worship him, even if it isn’t in their best interest, even if their God has called them not to.
There are endless ways to interest this text, or any text really, but there really are a lot of ideas about what this text meant and means, who it was talking about, and what the implications were. We have been working off the theory that this is a prophetic book written to the church in Roman Empire, convincing them to not align themselves with the Empire–to not eat the meat sacrificed to other gods, to not participate in their festivals, to not avoid circumcision–John wanted them to be Jewish followers of Jesus not Roman, not connect to the empire that had destroyed the temple, Jerusalem, and scattered the people for what would be centuries.
In that reading, it is Rome who is the dragon, persecuting the Jewish people, trying to kill that which would bring them salvation. The Leviathan is the Emperor, namely, we think from the numbers given at the end that seem to scare everyone, the emperor Nero. Nero had been… mentally unstable, and the longer he was in power, the more he seemed to lose his ability to function in a way that served anyone. The story is, that during the great fire of Rome, Nero played his fiddle, essentially doing nothing. His own advisers forced him to kill himself so they could replace him, which, I’m not really sure how you do. There had been other emperors, they didn’t live long in Rome.
But there were rumors, stories, fears that Nero wasn’t really dead. Or that he might come back from the dead to continue his madness. So it’s possible, that the fear and influence of Nero echoed for years after he no longer had any breath left in him.
At this time, what would be called Christianity was just a small group of people. It wasn’t yet the world power we know it to be today. They were losing their Jewish identity in part because of the destruction of the temple and in part because they were converting gentiles with no roots in Judaism. They were about to be abused and oppressed, killed and their very worship made illegal. And they could learn to get by, to survive if they could line themselves up just enough with the empire to not be killed, to fly under the radar. This is what John is arguing against–don’t take on the seal of Rome, the protection, don’t align yourself with the power so are not seeking what is good for the people of God and the followers of Jesus.
Because the followers of Jesus would find themselves aligned with the Empire. And the Empire used it as a way to unify a failing empire. And to do that, what had been a diversity of ideas had to become a singular one. And then, over time, the empire and church became one–in which the leaders of the church controlled the leaders of the nations states and the political leaders controlled the religious leaders–there was no separation–they strove to outdo one another, they strove to accumulate more power and the people who suffered was everyone. The church and the state became a monster that rose up. They pointed to each other to hold the people’s allegiance to the power structure, the empire, the Leviathan.
And it happens again and again, that is what makes Revelation true. We saw it through the Middle Ages after the Roman Empire fell into something else. We saw it at the end, at the establishment of the church of England and the murdering of Catholics, and then reversing it when it switched, and then switched back.
It happened in Germany when they asked the church to line itself with the Nazi party, commit to their causes, their ideologies, their systems, their economy of money and people. And there were Johns, crying out that the church not be sealed with the marks of the monster that rose up. They hid the persecuted away, they refused to submit. Theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer with members of the German Confessing Church refused to support or look a blind eye to the evils of their time, of the Leviathan that rose up, and to oppose it! Oppose the evil and do not give in to even small compromises of the evil you are seeing, because it will not accept your compromises but will take everything.
In Apartheid South Africa, The Dutch Afric-can church benefited from the political system that made the black South Africans less than, marginalized, outsiders, oppressed, and abused. The Kairos Document was developed and signed by theologians, philosophers, pastors from all over the world calling the Christian Churches of the Afri-cans to do the things that Jesus called them to do, to be the church Jesus established, to live into the liberating power of Revelation and not be sealed by the Beasts of the age but to sealed by God and God’s call for justice and compassion and love. A focus on these examples of God, of this image of liberation, living into this example of being sealed by God has lead many to stand alongside others who are victims of their systems and beasts, in this case, Palestine.
We have seen it even in our own time and systems. Now I know, we’re about to enter onto precarious ground, but follow me for a while and see where we land. We can see it in our own times. Did you know… in the US system of Government that the chances of laws passing at a federal level are the same if 10% of the population supports the law as it is if 90% of the population supports it. It doesn’t really matter the public opinion, there is a Leviathan that has control over the politics and policies, it’s the Leviathan of who can pay to influence the world. And as a society, we worship at the feet of the systems that have created a wealth gap like we have never seen before. It’s not un-similar to the Leviathan that asks us to worship celebrities or certain political parties or politicians.
How about the distribution of wealth in the United States.
and how we align ourselves with the wealthiest because maybe we can become them, we won’t, we never will. The average worker would have to work a month to make what the wealthiest 1% make in an hour.
And, the church American has been wrapped up in political parties for years. Promoting particular policies, particular ways fo viewing the world, honestly, you know, supporting the dehumanization of some to the extreme benefit to others. There are preachers who have made masks and the vaccine a political and a health battle. From the front of their churches, they are demanding their folks not participate in the science and the actions that bring life but rather worship at the monsters that declare health and community care evil.
When you start to see the powers, the forces, the Leviathans that point us away from the God that brings life, abundant life, and that cam and lived and moved in love, when you start to see them everywhere. These are big issues. There are small things in our daily lives that try to point us away, that try to convince us to follow them instead of the God who is calling us to kin-dom living, to abundant living, to whole living, to live in love and hope and peace and justice.
The beasts come to destroy life, to make our lives small, to lead us to abandon hope. The answer to the forces that try to destroy us, is to focus on the one that brings life. To take small steps toward life. To join together with others who are choosing the one that is love. The answer to one that tries to bring darkness is to live in hope.
The Antiaparthid Kairos document wrote:
The church of Jesus Christ is not called to be a bastion of caution and moderation. The church should challenge, inspire and motivate people. It has a message of the cross that inspires us to make sacrifices for justice and liberation. It has a message of hope that challenges us to wake up to act with hope and confidence. The church must preach this message not only in words and sermons and statements but also through its actions, programs, campaigns and divine services.
It is the God of love that calls us to community and living this life with others, our family by choice or by blood or by baptism. It is the God love that calls us to consider even those who do not cross our paths and claim them as neighbors and family, too. It is the God of compassion that calls us to respond with mercy and love and a helping hand. It is the God of justice who calls to ask why? Why is there such a need? Why are there those on the outside? Why is there such inequality? Why is there such pain? And then, do something. write a letter, protest, fight the system, refuse to participate. Because the God of love is calling us to be sealed by God and not the world.
We are choosing every day, every time we enter into this world, always. We are choosing how we will participate, engage, and where we are going to stand. Who is going to have our allegiance because it will be somewhere. Let us be people who are sealed in the love and abundant life and hope of God.