Violence, murder, torture, treachery, dragons, harlots, and beasts–these are all elements of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones. You may have heard, the 7th season was released about a month ago. It shattered all records with 16.1 million people tuning in and 2.4 million tweets posted in the 6 hours surrounding the episode. It’s the most watched, talked about show ever. It has our culture’s full attention. But its themes are nothing new. The same elements…violence, murder, torture, treachery, dragons, harlots, and beasts are included in the book of Revelation. It too, is intended to capture our attention. It seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
We’re continuing in our Dream Big sermon series this week—week 6 of working our way through the book of Revelation. There’s a lot going on in every segment we’ve lifted up in worship each week so I encourage you to reread the story on your own and to refer to the web page where the sermons from both campuses are posted as well as other study resources.
Last week we heard about a dragon who conjures up 2 beasts—1 from the land and 1 from the sea. This demonic trinity works to dominate all the earth. They rule by fear and violence. They wield power through deception and death. Then John redirects our attention—back to the Lamb, who represents Jesus Christ, standing on Mount Zion (Chapter 14) where along with angels in heaven God’s victory is proclaimed. The battle has already been won.
Let all God’s people say: Hallelujah! Amen. (Hallelujah! Amen!)
Craig Koester, Luther Seminary professor and author of the book Revelation and the End of all Things (well worth the read if you want to go deeper in understanding of this book) writes that “Revelation’s scenes of celebration and warning encircle each other like links on a chain.” This book doesn’t provide any clue to where you are on God’s timeline but it does confirm that God is the source of all life, God loves the world and that God’s power is at work in the world making all things new.
John’s vision in Revelation reflects the cyclical pattern of the constant struggle between good and evil. It also reveals the truth that no matter how powerful evil seems, God’s power is greater. God has already written the ending to this story which is our story—good wins. Love wins. Life wins.
This letter serves both as a warning and as a source of encouragement for people of faith throughout the centuries—including you and me. It doesn’t deny that evil is real. It’s a powerful, enticing, and often attractive force and so it’s necessary to continually renew a commitment to the way of God, the way of the Lamb, who is Jesus Christ. Revelation calls for a response: to join in giving God glory as the heavenly chorus does or to join in blaspheming God as the characters in the story do.
So may we join in giving God glory, right here. Right now.
Let all God’s people say: Hallelujah! Amen. (Hallelujah! Amen!)
This week, in that cyclical pattern that runs throughout the book, evil shows up as a harlot. An angel carries John into a wilderness where he sees a harlot sitting on a scarlet beast. From a distance, everything about her sends a message of elegance, beauty, and wealth. She’s “clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls”.
We’re drawn to these kinds of things. That’s nothing new. True for the people in the first century; true for us too. We pay attention to the rich and famous ignoring the presence of others with whom we share space; we let money and those who have it lead us in making unhealthy choices.
But John’s vision implores us to not be fooled by such ways of being in the world. The power we give to wealth and material things is short-lived. Up close the Harlot is in a drunken stupor, drinking from a golden cup, not filled with fine wine as we might expect, but filled with “sewage of the vilest kind” (pg 156 Koester). It’s a cup “full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality”. This woman deceives the earth and is violent against the people of God. (vs 2 and vs 6)
The Harlot, who wears the name Babylon written on her forehead, represents Rome—the ruling power at the time—a power that promised prosperity, demanded loyalty and was obsessed with luxury. Her influence is extensive. The description of her in verse 1 as one “who sits on many waters” is later explained in verse 15: “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues”. This power oppresses the other–those considered of lower status, those of a different faith. Don’t we know—it’s power that still exists today.
Just this past week it reared its ugly head in more places than can be named—between people of different nations and in same neighborhoods. The heated rhetoric with North Korea comes to mind. It has us all on edge as threats to destroy life are used as a litmus test for strength. In Charlottesville racism and bigotry march in broad daylight and horrifying sentiments chanted unashamedly and in unison. Closer to home, the terrorist action of a pipe bomb detonated at Dar Al Farooq Community Center, exposes hate that lives in too many hearts.
This power divides and terrifies but it is short-lived. The heated rhetoric is met with peaceful protests. The shouts of racial slurs are drowned out by voices that sing of light and love. And in Bloomington Tuesday night, 800 people gathered in solidarity at the mosque. The strength of the community overpowered the bombing through handshakes, singing and strong words of support. The children were assured: “the message you are hearing from your neighbors is: you are cherished, you are loved, you are us”
This is the power that endures. God has given his Word that it is so—his word, made flesh who faced the power of evil head on, who suffered and died but was raised to new life. The Word confirmed in our reading today.
John is surprised by the seductive power of the Harlot he sees. Some translations say he is “greatly amazed”. But the angel wonders “Why are you so amazed?” The Harlot’s destruction is imminent. Her power, while persuasive, can’t and won’t endure in the presence of God. Sin will be the death of her. The story of her demise follows (chapter 18). And then in Chapter 19, we’re raised back up, rejoicing and praising God with all the creatures in heaven:
Let all God’s people say: Hallelujah! Amen! (Hallelujah! Amen!)
Into this scene, Christ comes, riding on the back of a white horse. He has overcome the beast with the power of his word, pictured as the sword from his mouth. The Word is no ordinary weapon. It is able to destroy the powers of evil, to conquer death and to create new life.
This is good news! For God’s promise is that into our lives Christ still comes—in the power of God’s word which gives light to the dark places of our lives, in the presence of Jesus every time we gather for the Lord’s supper, and in the work of the Holy Spirit who moves you to act with compassion, practice forgiveness, and show love.
These are the elements of your story that have power to change the world for good. Give them your full attention and God will enter into your life with healing and hope, and making all things new.
Let all God’s people say: Hallelujah! Amen!