I’m not sure of your familiarity with John’s Revelation that ends the New Testament. Often its clear and piercing message is hidden behind long sermons trying to define its strange and vibrant imagery of what many people have named “the end times.” The day of a new heaven and new earth. The day that all of our hope is pointed towards. The fact often shocks me, but so much of my theology is anchored in this insanely weird piece of writing. Admittedly I take the language as largely allegorical but its theme has always been very clear to me. It aligns greatly with John Mark’s Gospel. Ready for it?
We will share in Christ’s victory. So stop pussy-footing around.
When everything seems dark and defeated point yourself towards the impossible hope of Heaven on Earth. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7) You see, the hope of what we believe will happen later is not a call to be timid towards the injustices we face now. It’s not a call to wait for God to swoop in some day in the future. No, no, that hope of then means we get to live dangerously and sacrificially now. As Christ Jesus did. As Paul did. As Peter and Stephen did, as the early church did. Because if the LORD is for us, whom then shall I fear? God has always been searching and longing for a body. This is our vocation to the world. This is our Good News. He’s chosen us, predestined us, elected us, to be THIS body. He gave us this purpose at the foundation of creation. To look after creation. To be the vessel of his vision. He came and lived and died in a way that revealed this vision. To be the blue-print for us all. Resurrection is our security. It is this hope of resurrection that builds up all strength and power in us to defeat evil here. To defeat evil in ourselves. To build Kingdom. To build Glory. We have a faith that moves mountains. Because Christ has shown us and given us salvation and we are right to call it good news! It is in Him that we find this power.
Do you understand now? It’s more than some sales-pitch. It’s more than confession. It’s the passionate work of liberation and it’s worth everything we have including our life, and security.
It’s the liberation of fighting alongside Native Americans as their lands are pillaged for oil. It’s the liberation of marching with women after a nation elects a man that preys and objectifies them. Saying we won’t stand for this. It’s challenging pastors who say women shouldn’t have authority in the church as if their body parts mean they are less informed or studied. It’s marching with Black Lives Matter when entire communities are threatened by unjust laws and constant killings by people of authority. It’s naming white supremacy and revealing its poisonous effect on our nation. It’s standing up for the environment God has called us to look after and be good stewards of. It’s confronting all ideas that ask us to fear another person. It’s keeping families together. It’s defending all of life including those facing the death penalty. It’s challenging systems that keep power and prosperity in the hands of the wealthiest. It’s feeding and clothing the homeless. It’s helping to heal the sick. It’s speaking truth to power. The list goes on and on.
The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is famously quoted after the march in Selma as saying: For many of us the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
Marching is worship? Legs can pray?
Heschel was onto something profound because he understand the movement towards Shalom. Of everything in its right place.
The other day I was touring a church in Austin, TX and on one of the walls of a study room were these words by Jody Williams (Nobel Peace Prize Winner):
“There’s nothing magical about change. If someone wants to change the world, it takes getting off your ass and caring enough to make the first step to contribute to change on an issue you care about. It’s not a magical vision for the future. It’s the future you want to see.”
I want to see Heaven on Earth.
That’s my mountain-top. And maybe I’ll never see that Promised Land but I’ll be sure to use my feet, taking that first step that contributes to the change.
This past year my steps have led me to a multitude of causes, protests, and marches built upon the future that I want to see. The Women’s March, a multitude of rallies and marches in defense of the Indigenous Peoples especially those at Standing Rock, the People’s Climate March, Black Lives Matter marches and meetings, A counter-protest of the Ku Klux Klan in Charlottesville, and most recently a 120 mile march from Charlottesville to D.C. to confront White Supremacy.
The common thing in each of these movements is that with every step I find repentance of my own complacency, it literally feels like stepping back on the narrow path which Christ has invited us all to find. Which as far as I’m concerned is simply love. (I heard Lisa Gungor share “The ‘narrow-path’ is love.” Place after that “and only a few find it.” So simple and yet deeply profound. ) When I gather with the marginalized to confront that which oppresses them, I hear the testimonies and experiences that I have never faced and it changes me. It breaks me. It takes whatever culture defined my understandings and throws them out the window. And yet, there were some things that somehow translated quite well.
I was taught that if I didn’t share the gospel with others then I really didn’t love them.
What translated was if I saw injustice but didn’t evangelize our vision for their justice, (that God is reconciling all things) did I really love them?
I was taught that if I didn’t talk to others about the problem of sin, then I may as well share the blame for them being in Hell for eternity.
What translated was if I didn’t expose the evils that oppress others and place people in bondage, then I may as well have put the chains on them. I may as well have created their Hell if I’m merely going to be complicit in injustice.
I was taught that Christ transforms your life. And in truth I never really felt I encountered that in my life until he stole all of my foundation away from me. It was only then that I actually began to love his people. I was too busy defending God and theology to ever love others. To ever go out and meet Christ where he said I’d find him. To ever enter into their brokenness and fight to bring justice and restoration. I really do think this is because of the way I was taught to see the Gospel. It made it too personal. Selfish even. It didn’t speak to the community of all things that Christ reveals.
See we are said to be made in the image of God. And the words used are “Let us create man in our image, after our likeness.” God is a we? God is a community? We are made in the image of relationship? That might change the way we think about things that disrupt that relationship, yes?
The power I felt that day of the Women’s March was sacred. To be in the presence of all of those prophets was astounding for me. But it never ended there. Marching across Key Bridge in the pouring rain to stand against White Supremacy and the actions that led to the events that conspired in Charlottesville, was one of the most emotional moments of my life. There was no pussy-footing about that action. We marched through the streets of the most powerful city in the world to speak truth to power; singing songs of freedom! We faced down threats, insults and armed-gunmen to share Good News to all those who have ever faced the boot of white supremacy. That we will not stand for this. And that whatever you bring our way, we shall not be moved.
To be present with undocumented immigrants as they learn that DACA was being taken away will change you. To hear their stories will break you. To hear the stories of women who’ve been mistreated, abused, and treated as less than will crumble your heart. To hear the worship songs of Indigenous people who fight with everything they have to stand against the people who continue to steal whatever they see fit from them will show you what real power and strength looks like. To be surrounded by clergy in protest will show you genuine faith. To sing worship as you march will give you community and family. To hear from LGBTQ people about how the church has mistreated and abused them will lead you to shame and repentance. To hear from other religions that share your vision for justice and restoration will humble you.
To protest is to give skin to the world you long to see. To advocate is to evangelize the good news. To prophesy is to speak truth to the powers of injustice. For the greatest act of protest in human history is the cross of Jesus Christ, who refused with his own life and death to conform to the corrupt system of violence that dominates our world. Who even in his dying words forgave those who put him there. Picking up your cross is to protest your own life. What a rebellion are the words “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!”
Let justice roll down!
I think of Aragorn’s plea to Theoden in The Two Towers:
Théoden questions:”So much death, What can men do against such wreckless hate?”
Aragorn, gives the reply: “Ride with me. Ride out and meet them. For Rohan. For your people.”
So you, my dear brothers and sisters. May you find the liberating power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. One that doesn’t wait for the perfect act of protest, but rather one that brings with themselves the change they desire to see in the world. One that rides out and meets with those willing to take a stand against injustice. One that stands even when nobody else does. Even when all friends and loved ones run away. Even when those who once stood by your side refuse to associate with you. One that seeks out the marginalized of our societies and fights for the liberation of their chains. Because our God has freed us from our chains. May we go and do likewise!
We have a God who is the God of the oppressed. Who raises leaders that destroy systems of injustice. That is creating a body of people who will live out His vision for the world. For God’s will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. For restoration. For Justice. For the reconciliation of all things. A God that is willing to die confronting the oppressive powers of the Empire. That stands before the world with His Good News announcement saying the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
That’s what Revelation is all about.
And so pray.
Pray with your feet. Worship God with your steps. Lift up our freedom song.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
May Grace & Peace be with you all.