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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
May 5, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Revelation 5:1-14
Subject
Easter 3C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: May 5, 2019 – Easter 3C

Revelation 5:1-14

 

Lamb Power

 

              I’m not sure how many hours of TV I watched as a kid, but it was a lot. Lots of Saturday morning cartoons, Nickelodeon, and “real-life” shows like Unsolved Mysteries and Wings (about military aircraft). The brainwashing came during the commercial breaks. Fast-food, gaming consoles, amusement parks, cola wars, board games, dolls, “action figures”, and of course, shoes. Shoes were a giant status symbol when I was growing up. And the shoe that offered the greatest social capital was Nike.

 

              Nike. “Just Do It.” Michael Jordan. Everyone wanted to be like Mike and fly. Through a barrage of TV ads, Nike told us that if we only wore Michael’s shoes, we would be like him. We would “just do it”.  It was an insidiously clever bit of marketing.

 

              Nike’s namesake is even more clever. The corporation is named after Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. (The Romans also claimed her and gave her the name Victoria.) In the Roman form, Nike was the protector of the Roman Senate and a potent symbol of Roman triumph.[1] In the Roman world, victory was often achieved – and always kept – through the power of their military. Behind the soft power of governors and client kings stood the overwhelming might of brute force. It was clear. In the Roman world, might made right.

 

              And we’re not much different today, are we? We live in an ostensibly more civilized time. We don’t have anarchy on our streets (though if you talk to people in certain parts of Chicago or Washington D.C. or Minneapolis, you might hear a different story). We have certain rights as citizens. Freedom of speech, assembly, religion; from unjust search and seizure, self-incrimination, cruel and unusual punishment, and the like. Rights that I am grateful for. We’re usually nice to each other. But in the end, don’t we often associate the right thing with the power to achieve it? Sure, we love underdogs. Look at one of Indiana’s most cherished stories – that of the Milan High basketball team of 1954. But’s here’s what’s key – we remember that team because they won. The odds may have been overwhelming – but they won. If Muncie Central had won, would there have been a movie about how a tiny basketball team made it all the way to the state finals? Maybe. There is also Rocky. But I doubt it would have been as foundational a story for Hoosiers if they had lost.

 

              Besides this, think of what our government does. A lot of good to be sure – Social Security, Medicare, disaster relief, national defense, disability, food stamps, fire and police departments, and so on. You can even get free phone service from the government if you qualify (which, by the way, started under President Reagan, not President Obama!)[2]. But the government does a whole lot of bad, too. Propping up dictators, overthrowing governments, meddling in elections, passing unjust laws that enrich a few at the expense of many, and, of course, bombing people. We outsource our violence to those who rule us. And they use it. Might makes right. How to get Iraq out of Kuwait? Ultimatum, then bomb them. How to get Serbia out of Kosovo? Ultimatum, then bomb them. How to get the Taliban to hand over bin Laden? Ultimatum, then bomb them. How to remove Saddam Hussein? Unjust sanctions which impact the most vulnerable, then an ultimatum, then bomb them. How to get certain American citizens associated with the Taliban or ISIS? Bomb them. Our answer for many of our thorniest problems, foreign or domestic, seems to involve either violence or the threat of it. Hard power.

 

              The Book of Revelation gives us another model of power. God’s power is subversive. It does not inflict violence. God’s power absorbs violence. It repurposes that violence to save people of all nations from those sinful, demonic systems that wield it (You’ll see a snapshot of that in next week’s reading from Revelation.). God’s power is also deeply laden with irony. Look at verse 5. After John weeps because no one can open the scroll, an elder comforts John, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”[3]

 

              What do we expect to see? Why, a lion, of course! With razor-sharp claws and teeth, full-maned, opening its mouth in a terrifying roar. Maybe with a little blood of his enemies dripping down its snout for good measure. The conquering lion is what we expect. The verb for “has emerged victorious” in Greek is nikao. Nike. Meaning to overpower, overwhelm, overcome. To triumph. That’s what we would expect.

 

              But we don’t see a lion. No, the Lion of the tribe of Judah turns out to be a lamb! And not just any lamb. Scholar of religion and philosopher David Bentley Hart and New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing point out that John uses the word arnion, the diminuitive form for lamb.[4] As in lambkin, little lamb, even lamby. Not exactly expected! The conquering, victorious Jesus is the one who was slain, the one who purchased us and people from every tribe, nation, and language with his blood. The crucified Christ is the conquering Christ. The slain Christ is the risen, victorious Christ. God’s power is most present under its opposite – the image of a helpless, little lamb. When everything seems hopeless or lost, when we are at our most vulnerable point, when we can’t pretend to be self-sufficient or have it all together anymore, that’s when the Lamb’s power is most active in our lives. When we stop trying to justify ourselves or make excuses for how we act or how our leaders act, that’s when we are most open to God’s regenerative grace.

 

              It’s all about “Lamb Power”, a title which, by the way, I borrowed from Rossing’s book.[5] Look at what happened to Paul on Damascus Road. It wasn’t until Jesus knocked him flat that he was in a position to receive the regenerative grace that empowered his ministry. Paul had to be made weak before he could be truly strong. Look at the disciples in our Gospel today. What would the point of the miraculous catch be if they had already been successful? The disciples had to fail – all night – before they could experience success through the word of a mysterious man on the beach. It’s the same for us. Jesus’ power is under the disguise of weakness. And it is when we are weak, when we have failed, or when we have lost that we are able to experience the power of God’s amazing grace.

 

              Beloved Christian author Rachel Held Evans died yesterday at the age of 37. She sums up this radical grace at work in people like us, when we realize our hunger, when we realize our weakness. “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”[6] Amen.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

 

[3] Rev. 5:5, CEB.

[4] The New Testament: A Translation, David Bentley Hart, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017), 504. Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, (Basic Books, New York, 2007), 111.

[5] Rossing, 109.

[6] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2015), 148.