This quarter I’ve been taking a class on creative preaching. I’ve enjoyed the class, largely because it was structured to allow a smaller group of students the chance to become more effective, engaging, and creative in the way that they approach the craft of preaching. It was not a class to learn how to preach “flashy” or “over the top” sermons, but pushed us to think in new and fresh ways about how we engage the stories and story of the Scriptures and present those stories to an audience.
For our final project, I worked with three of my friends to put together a group sermon (I might try to find time in the next week or two to reflect a bit more about the process of preaching with other people…we’ll see). We worked from the text of Revelation 12:18-13:10 and talked about what it means for the church to be faithful worshippers of Christ in a world full of various objects and people vying for our faithfullness and worship.
I thought I would paste a portion of the sermon that served as the conclusion. While these are words that I physically wrote, they arose out of my conversations with Carrie, Joey, and Paul in preparation for the sermon, so, I can’t take full credit for the words (although I do take responsibility for any issues or errors that are more technical or theological in nature – feel free to post if you have any questions/issues/thoughts to raise on those points!).
John isn’t just predicting a future world – one in which everyone on earth will offer allegiance to those with power and authority – but the author is describing the world that he lived in – and the world we live in, where people are constantly swayed by the subtle powers which whisper into our ears that we don’t have enough, that we are better than others, that we need more power.
But the thing that sets apart the church in this passage is that the church resists the intoxicating aroma and pervasive allure of power, whether that power is embodied in a single person, a nation, or a complex system or structure existing in our world.
Perhaps there is some degree of speculation and appropriate meditation on what the future looks like. The church has always looked forward to our future hope, and has often recognized that there is always the potential that things might get a lot worse before our Hope takes up his rightful throne. But, as we see in Revelation 13, the church needs to be aware of the potential objects of worship in our culture today – the systems, the structures, and the people whose power and authority are overwhelmingly seductive – the things that can distract our attitudes and our actions away from the one true God whom we proclaim.
Richard Bauckham talks about the worship of the beast and the dragon as false worship. He says that: “false worship, such as John portrays in the worship of the beast, is false precisely because its object is not the transcendent mystery, but only the mystification of something finite” (Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 45).
“The mystification of something finite.” Like an empire, or a nation, or a political leader, or anything, really – right down to the clothes we wear and the cars we drive.
It is easy to get lost in the bleakness of a passage like Revelation 13. The language sounds like there is little hope for the Christian community to offer any kind of resistance to such power and authority. The passage says that the entire world is caught up in worshipping the forces that have been opposing the Lamb since the ancient times. But, as readers of Revelation, we can find hope, because if we keep on reading, we realize that the whole world is NOT worshipping the beast. Yes, the whole world is worshipping, but there are always choices about who to worship.
When we read past the closing of chapter 13, we realize suddenly that the dragon and beast are not the only objects to worship. Revelation 14 opens with a sudden and triumphal hope – “then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their heads.”
No matter how bleak it may seem, living in a world that is caught up in worshipping finite things, we are not alone. The church is made up of those who resist the sway of the dragon and the beast- those who are fully aware of the pressure to surrender their allegiance to the dark forces of power that surround them yet choose to follow the Lamb – those who gather in slums and suburbs, on street corners and in mansions, in underground house churches and in cathedrals – those who gather on Mount Zion, proclaiming their loyalty unto death to the Lamb who was slain. The faithful gathered together to worship through actions and attitudes the one true Lord of heaven and earth. Here is a call to the Saints.