Sermon Seeds: Seeking the Kindom
Sunday, November 21, 2021
26th Sunday after Pentecost Year B
Reign of Christ
2 Samuel 23:1–7 and Psalm 132:1–12 (13–18)
Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14 and Psalm 93
Seeking the Kindom
Confronting the Future (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
There’s something fitting about the last Sunday of the liturgical year inviting us to delve into the last book of the canon. Revelation calls us into imagining the alternative. It presents a different world. As Tina Pippin notes, “John takes the reader back to a garden paradise within an urban setting.” The kindom of God established in creation is re-created, restored, and re-imagined. The former things pass away to make space for the renewed and reordered. It portents the end of the world…as we know it. In Revelation, we find the rising action of a dramatic confrontation of adversaries, a climactic battle, and resolution of a victorious conclusion the rest of the Bible promises, yet so many of us skip the ending.
Growing up, I loved going to the movie theater with my friends. Our parents would alternate taking us. If my father took us, we knew we would stay until the lights came on. He loved the soundtracks of film and so we would sit there long after most everyone else had departed. He read the credits, a fact brought home to me when sitting, again as the only two people in the theater, he casually mentioned that so-and-so edited a lot of films. That’s paying attention. On the other hand, my friends’ father wanted to beat the rush so when he drove us, we would leave before the story ended. That experience frustrated me even when the conclusion was clear. The ending provides closure, produces an emotional response, and helps us understand the significance of the events and actions that precede it.
So, why do so many of us avoid the book of Revelation? It may be because of its unique literary form in the Book of Books and the reputation it has garnered within the Christian community and beyond:
The apocalyptic book of Revelation is one of the most disputed books of the Bible. Full of mysterious and bizarre symbolism, its visions have inspired artists and musicians as well as doomsday prophets and activists. Revelation was one of the latest books to be included in the biblical canon.Barbara R. Rossing
Authorship of the book is unclear yet central to the plot. This was a vision given to John, exiled on the island of Patmos; it becomes a vision of the end of the world as we know it given through John. Whether this is the same John as the gospel writer or epistle writer(s) is a question that contributes to the mystery of the story. From the very beginning, we are not able to take hold of this story. Of course, that might be part of the point. We’re supposed to let the story take hold of us.
It does consistently invite us to use our imagination as our primary perspective in reading and hearing the text:
The book of Revelation is unique in appealing primarily to our imagination—not, however, a freewheeling imagination, but a disciplined imagination….Some of the imagery in Revelation may seem unusual or even bizarre, but on further reflection, and with the use of a disciplined imagination, the meaning will usually become clear. In any case, it is important to recognize that the descriptions are descriptions of symbols, not of the reality conveyed by the symbols.Bruce M. Metzger
While the tendency may be to be overwhelmed by the imagery and associated meanings of the symbols, we are best served by engaging in the meaning beyond the reality. For example, I once preached a series on Revelation and a member of the congregation who was also a faithful Bible study participant, told me she couldn’t pay attention to the message because all she could think about were “all those eyes.” The visual created of a seemingly monstrous creature obscured the meaning of an extraordinary amount, depth, and range of vision symbolically represented by a creature with lots of eyes. There are no such creatures found in this week’s text, but there is still the beginning of a vision…that begins with an enthroned Jesus Christ “who is and who was and who is to come.” Recall that John resides within a Christian community that had actively anticipated the return of the incarnational Christ every day on the one hand and had begun to doubt the divinity of Jesus on the other. In addition, real persecution at the hands of the empire continued to rise. His vision arrived at a pivotal moment in the formative years of the Christian faith.
Gregory K. Beale suggests that the sometimes distressing and nightmarish nature of the imagery meets its intended purpose:
Why is symbolism the main mode of communication? Neither Paul nor the other New Testament writers use this as a main way of communicating. Why does John do so in Revelation? No doubt, one reason is because the visions could not be expressed by words alone, because John saw things he could not put into words. Therefore, he puts them into pictures. In addition, the symbols show continuity with the Old Testament, because many of the symbols come from there. In addition, the symbols are likely there in order to make the diligent reader of God’s word dig deeper in order to get the richer treasures. If you do not work at understanding the book, you will have difficulty grasping its message….The parables of the prophets served to judge intractably unrepentant people but [also to] shock the faithful remnant out of their spiritually numb and lethargic condition….John wants to shock the sluggish Christians so that they will discern the gravity of the situation.Gregory K. Beale
No wonder Christian communities have largely avoided engaging this text for generations. Who wants to be shocked from positions of comfort or consider that current discomfort will be magnified? Revelation asks us, how do we respond to a shocking vision of the future?
Do we embrace the possibility of a fiery end to systems of oppression or do we worry about being burned? Do we look forward to the restoration of a creation living in harmony with itself or do we resist the behavioral changes and sacrifices necessary to participate in bringing that renewed reality about? Do we content ourselves with relief at returning to a perceived normal after nearly two years of life during pandemic or will we discern the new thing that could be birthed from the experiences, trials, and even grief of this age? Are we happy to be back in our church buildings or do we recognize the reminder that our goal is not merely to gather as a community but to seek the kindom of God on earth as it is in heaven?
Perhaps the reason we avoid Revelation is the same reason we avoid confronting the future: fear of the known as much as the unknown, fear of the invitation into another way, and fear of giving up a good today for a great tomorrow. Twice in this passage, which introduces the vision, Jesus is referred to as the one “who is and who was and who is to come.” Much of the text is reassuring of God’s presence and love as well as the eternal nature of the Holy One who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, and “the Alpha and the Omega.” Embedded in these words lies a constancy that can be grasped as an anchor to keep the reader rooted through the twists and turns of plot this narrative will take. Jesus makes a grand entrance here, unlike the humble birth, as he breaks into humanity once again “coming with the clouds.” This time there will be more than the animals surrounding him with warmth and shepherds as his first visitors to proclaim his arrival. This entrance will be visible and glorious as if all the themes and all the feels of the birth, triumphal entry, and resurrection merged into one event. This is how John’s vision begins to unfold, and we should expect a fantastic ride along the way.
But, we can never appreciate it if we fail to take it. The kindom of God is not an item on our collective spiritual bucket list that we never cross off our list. It is a way of being and living as much as a destination. Revelation invites us to imagine what the kindom looks like and reminds us that we were created “to be a kin-dom.” Jennifer L. Lord charges us, “We who follow Christ are, in our very bodies, the reign of Christ. There is judgement and audacity in these words, because we know we do not always manifest the reign of God.” We may say those words of the Lord’s Prayer with our lips but the most powerful prayer is to demonstrate them through our lives. “Your kin-dom come. Your will be done.” Those are declarative, not interrogative, statements. In reciting them, we do not ask for it to be so, we commit to its realization. Revelation warns us of both the cost of the commitment and the hope of the realization.
But first, we receive the most sustaining reminder. The reign that we seek is initiated by the Person of Jesus Christ. We don’t take this journey alone. We don’t have to drive all the action, we’re called to merely play our part. We serve as supporting characters on a cast with the Alpha and the Omega as the star. And, that faithful witness who is and was and is to come remains seated in glory, loves us, frees us, offers us grace and peace, and makes us who we are created to be.
“So it is to be. Amen.” Seek the kindom.
For further reflection:
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The kingdom of God is for the broken hearted” — Fred Rogers
“The kingdom of God is available to you in the here and the now. But the question is whether you are available to the kingdom. Our practice is to make ourselves ready for the kingdom so that it can manifest in the here and the now. You don’t need to die in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, you have to be truly alive in order to do so.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Communally compose a prayer of thanksgiving for the past, assurance for the presence, and hope for the future of the Kindom using names of God that you do not typically engage as a faith community.
Beale, G K. (Gregory K). “The Purpose of Symbolism in the Book of Revelation.” Calvin Theological Journal 41, no. 1 (April 2006): 53–66.
Lord, Jennifer L. “Proper 29 ] (Reign of Christ).”Allen, Ronald J. et al, Ed. Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.
Metzger, Bruce M.. Breaking the Code – Participant’s Book: Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.
Pippen, Tina. “Revelation.”Newsom, Carol A. et al, Ed. Women’s Bible Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Rossing, Barbara R. “Revelation.” Gale A. Yee. Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
2 Samuel 23:1–7 and Psalm 132:1–12 (13–18)
Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14 and Psalm 93
2 Samuel 23:1–7
23 Now these are the last words of David:
The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:
2 The spirit of the LORD speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
3 The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
4 is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
5 Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
7 to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.
Psalm 132:1–12 (13–18)
1 O LORD, remember in David’s favor
all the hardships he endured;
2 how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6 We heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 “Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool.”
8 Rise up, O LORD, and go to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
9 Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
10 For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
11 The LORD swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
“One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, forevermore,
shall sit on your throne.”
13 For the LORD has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
14 “This is my resting place forever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
16 Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
17 There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
18 His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.”
Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14
9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.
13 As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
1 The LORD is king, he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the LORD!
5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, forevermore.
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”