Weekly Seeds: Seeking the Kindom

Sunday, November 21, 2021
After Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
Seeking the Kindom

Focus Prayer:
Almighty God, you remembered the oat you swore to David and so established a glorious realm of salvation through Jesus of Nazareth, his heir. Train our eyes to see your righteous rule, that, standing firmly in hope before the powers of this world, we may heed your voice and be constant in your truth. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Revelation 1:4b–8
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.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 23:1–7 and Psalm 132:1–12 (13–18)
Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14 and Psalm 93
Revelation 1:4b–8
John 18:33–37

Focus Questions:

  1. What images come to mind when you think of the book of Revelation?
  2. Have you ever studied Revelation? Why or why not?
  3. Where do you see God moving in the past, present, and future?
  4. How might the church engage in reimagining in light of the vision presented in Revelation?
  5. How might you reframe the vision of your own life in light of the Revelation story?

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. Peak 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. Peak)

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

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.