We live in apocalyptic times. There are fires, There are floods, there are earthquakes, there is plague, there is severe illness, there is death, there is famine, there is drought, there is war, There is insurrection ,there is destruction, there is divisiveness, there were even cicadas this year- close enough to locusts to make me nervous- we’ve been through a lot.
We’re experiencing the most difficult time as a nation and as a world that I have experienced in my lifetime. And yet- here we are, the survivors. We may not be whole or healthy- my husband Ken was diagnosed with Covid on New Year’s Eve- he hasn’t been able to taste or smell anything pleasant for 8 months. I had Covid, it left me with brain fog, and a bad attitude. I watch the politicization of public health, the divisiveness around science- SCIENCE!
Every time I turn on the television or read the newspaper -Or God forbid read the comments on a news story on Facebook- I see people promoting ignorance and fear. Congress is even divided as to whether or not to award the Congressional medal of honor to police officers who saved their lives- it’s madness. Yet here we are.
I’ve watched people who absolutely know better create a climate of ginned up rage in order to further their political and personal agendas. I watched people burning masks on main street right here in Bozeman. I’ve listened to parents at school board meetings who would rather risk their children than give in to common sense to oppose masks or a mask mandate because of some whacked out position based on their faith, or gossip or Fox News. Yet here we are.
I am not here to depress you. I’m really not. In the Christian tradition, there is a model for dealing with the apocalypse. And surprisingly, It is the book of Revelation that leads the way. It is in revelation where we find even more pain distraction and craziness than we are putting up with today. Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. The beast and the Mark of the Beast. 666. The whore of Babylon. The suffering, the torture, the misery. Fundamentalists and Biblical literalists see the book of revelation as a fore-telling of the future. I see it as a model of hope.
With all of the destruction and terror that is catalogued in the Book of Revelation, a hero is revealed. The hero of the book of revelation is a lamb. THE Lamb. Meant to represent Jesus of Nazareth. This lamb, meekest of creatures triumphs over all the horrors of the Apocalypse. And ultimately, for me, sums up the whole of Christianity. And it is this: Jesus chose the power of love over the love of power and his followers are to do the same.
Now I have 4° in Christian theology, I read Greek Latin and Hebrew. I have spent the greater part of my life learning how to follow Jesus. And I have to be honest, I have to be clear, there are many, many Christians in our country and in the world who have followed the beast toward promises of power, riches and influence. They are the ones who have pictures of Jesus with an AK 47, they think it’s OK to shoot people who believe or think or look differently from themselves. They believe it’s OK to be cruel to the weak, the poor and the marginalized. Most horribly of all, they have reduced the message of Jesus to this: we are supposed to be rich, we are supposed to be in charge, we are supposed to eliminate all who disagree with us, we are to refuse charity to those in need- in fact we need to pass legislation that will punish the poor in order to get them back to work- a false proposition, by the way. All of that is heresy. That’s not the message of Jesus- its the freaking opposite!
When someone is baptized in the Episcopal Church all are invited to renew the baptismal covenant along with those about to be baptized. Several lines of the covenant speak clearly to the mission of a Christian.
“Will you proclaim by word an example the good news of God in Jesus the Christ?
Will you seek and serve Jesus the Christ in all persons loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”
The people respond with “I will, with God’s help” after each of these questions. A fervent, yet humble response.
There is no question in that covenant about defending yourself, your family, another person, your country, with violence. That’s the exact opposite of everything I believe as a follower of Jesus.
There is nothing about promising to be cruel to those with less power.
There is nothing about amassing as much money, power and influence as you can.
There is nothing about hoarding food and resources in order to keep them from other people. And yet, here we are. People are standing up in the name of Jesus Christ and preaching the exact opposite of everything he taught.
I want to apologize for my very confused, angry, powerless, brainwashed brothers and sisters. I often feel like I sometimes feel at Thanksgiving when I am the only progressive in the room. I’m overwhelmed by the lack of empathy and compassion. I’m shocked at the amount of fear that people are capable of promoting. The lies, the creation of anger around some thing that only a few years ago would’ve been a no-brainer. But I have to say one thing gives me hope. The lamb.
Now the book of Revelation was written to comfort Christians in Rome during persecution. It was written in highly symbolic language, A kind of code, that early Christians would have seen and understood. The references to Rome are not references to the Roman Catholic church as some denominations maintain- it’s a reference to the persecution promoted by the Roman empire. And yet people have twisted that message too. Some crazy scholars have even spent so much time trying to figure out who the antichrist is that they’ve lost sight of the fundamentals of their faith which are the love of God and the love of neighbor. I read an article a few years ago that I papyrus fragment found in Egypt had a part of the book of Revelation on it. The part had to do the mark of the Beast and the sign of the beast. And the number of the beast. And in that manuscript the number of the beast was not 666. It was some other number which I have forgotten. As you can imagine, there are a lot of biblical literalists with constipation over this news.
I wanted you to hear this particular story from my boss, the presiding Bishop of the episcopal church in the United States Michael Curry. You might’ve seen him preach during Harry and Megan’s wedding you may know a little bit about him. But everything I know about my friend Michael is contained in the reading that we heard today. He loves people, Genuinely loves people. He really strives to live the good news of Jesus. His enthusiasm is contagious. And so is his curiosity.
Michael Curry came to St James two years ago to preach to our congregation. I could barely keep track of the guy because he moved around so quickly and he would greet so many people and stop on the way to things that we were late for in order to talk to a child. Unlike a lot of the bishops I worked with in Rome, he wasn’t that worried about keeping his schedule. He was interested in the people. A lot like Jesus was interested in the people. Michael is fond of saying let’s turn this human nightmare into the dream of God- he’s also fond of saying “we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”. That doesn’t exclude our very confused brothers and sisters in other branches of the Jesus movement, it doesn’t criticize them necessarily, but it invites all of us to look at our faith- and our image of Jesus.
The Lamb. The one victorious. The one who chose the power of love over the love of power. And at the heart of the Christian faith- if people dare to go there- is a humble servant, not a Lord and Master. Not a King- a term used too loosely in my opinion. Not a President or prime minister. A servant. Someone who gets down in the dirt and washes the feet of his friends- who gives his life for them.
And you can bet your life that Jesus would never carry a slingshot, much less an AK47.