Readings: Revelation 5:11-14, Psalm 30, John 21:1-19
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Holy and Loving God, write a message on our hearts. Bless us, direct us, and send us out, living letters of the Word. AMEN.
Last week, we began our five-week sermon series on the book of Revelation. In his sermon, Chris set the stage, describing the book of Revelation as a fantastic letter to the faith communities in Asia Minor from her pastor in Exile. Their pastor was in exile because those little bands of newly minted sisters and brothers in Christ were under spiritual siege by the then Roman Emperor Domitian who demanded not only the peoples’ money in taxes, but the peoples’ souls in worship.
According to first century Roman historian Suetonius, Domitian was the first Roman Emperor who demanded to be addressed as dominus et deus (master and god). Obviously, this Domitian kid had issues. Actually, Domitian did grow up under the shadow of a much-more successful older brother Titus who was widely hailed as a military hero and genius. Titus served as emperor for three years, from 79 to 81, and upon his death, little brother Domitian took the throne. Compensating, much? I digress, but regardless of his psychological baggage, Domitian ruled with an iron hand and across the Mediterranean, those little churches in Asia Minor were feeling the heat.
And so John writes this colorful and bizarre tale, to both inspire and correct his flock, and to prevent them from becoming victims of the Roman’s lust for power. And today, in Chapter 5, we are introduced to the central character in the entire book, the Lamb. John writes, “I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’”
Obviously the Lamb is a metaphor for the Risen Christ, the one who was sacrificed and rose again. The Lamb is to be worshipped for he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh. One could call this Lamb a fairly righteous dude. But despite this impressive resume, I believe the most important characteristic of the Lamb is, well … he’s a lamb! Revelation is filled with beasts and horsemen and warriors and dragons, all sorts of might and muscle, but the central character, the most powerful character, is a little, sweet, precious lamb. The lamb is set up to be the contrast to Domitian, but the Lamb’s very nature, the very fact that the Christ is represented by a lamb is worthy of further reflection.
For the lamb is not simply a metaphor for a Christ who was sacrificed - that would be too simple. The lamb represents a radically different worldview than the predominant culture in the first century. In first century Asia Minor, the currency of the time was power and wealth and influence. One was not successful, one had not reached their potential, one was not fully human, unless one accomplished these things. Such a mindset may have produced great roads and great temples, but what did it do to the fabric of society and the nature of people’s souls? One can only imagine. But the lamb stands in opposition to such a trap. The lamb challenges these popular temples of ego and control and instead offers humility, self-awareness, and vulnerability. The lamb, as we will learn later in Revelation, combats the powers of darkness, not through might but through the reconciling power of the cross. Ultimately, being humble, being vulnerable, being grounded in love, trumps any power, worldly, fantastic, or otherwise.
One has to wonder how such a radically different mindset was received in a world under the thumb of Domitian. Was it seen as weakness? Was it seen as ridiculous? Was it seen as dangerous? Did the local authorities dismiss the way of the Lamb as preposterous folly or did they have the forethought to realize what a significant threat this Lamb was to their position.
I am reminded of a story that has recently been retold in the film "42". The story is a great American story, a story that reveals both our horrific flaws and our potential for greatness, a story about Jackie Robinson. Mr. Robinson was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. Before World War II, baseball had been segregated, the “majors” being all white and African-American players playing in the so-called Negro Leagues. But after the War and all the upheaval it brought, the stage was set for integration. On Tuesday, August 28, 1945, Jackie Robinson met with Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. According to second-hand reports Rickey asked, “Do you think you can win for us?” Robinson said yes. Rickey asked, “I don’t know if you have the guts.” “I’m not afraid of anybody,” Robinson said. Rickey replied, “I’m looking for a ballplayer with the guts not to fight back.” Then, it what must have been a horrible, insulting, and surreal experience for Robinson, Rickey apparently went into some kind of tirade, uttering ever kind of racial slur and slight he imagined Robinson might encounter if he played for the Dodgers and at the end, Rickey finally asked, “What do you do?” and Robinson replied, “Mr. Rickey, I’ve got two cheeks.” Jackie Robinson walked out of that August meeting with the first contract awarded to an African-American to play Major League Baseball.
Do we have the guts to turn the other cheek? Do we have the guts to be vulnerable in the face of the egos, the power hungry, the ridiculous Domitians that we encounter day after day? Seeking power is easy; serving in love, that is hard. Would we be better people, would we live in a better society if we exercised such guts?
The lamb is calling. May we follow the example of Jackie Robinson, and not be afraid of anything. AMEN.