This is a story that is recognized in every generation on earth.

We scramble for power unless we already have it.

If we already have it, we stay seated and silent.

But silence is not innocence. And we are marked by where we sit.

The harlot is silent, but she says so much without words. Her body is covered in scarlet and purple robes, gold and jewels, glitter and bling that aims to trick us into seeing someone regal and reserved in the midst of great violence. She is seated on a great beast and the beast covered in horrible words: lies, profanity, transactions, violence, shame, and reckless pride. He is marked with the excuses she makes, the distance she keeps, the lengths to which she goes for more.

In her hand, she holds a chalice of impurity, a drop for every time she’s sold out and given herself away to the voices of this world that whisper to and about all people:

You are not enough.

You will be found out for who you really are.

You are unlovable and don’t belong here.

She is addicted to the status quo and numb from the pain of her secrets and in her silence she has been marked by everything that could not satisfy: Babylon.

She is riding the beast toward the pit of destruction, a familiar and fruitless path that guarantees death. Don’t get me wrong. This journey has its moments: a rush of adrenaline here, a new shiny toy there, fleeting moments of security when by comparison she seemed to have a bit more than the others.

We scramble for power unless we already have it.

If we already have it, we stay seated and silent.

But silence is not innocence. And we are marked by where we sit.

This week Unite the Right, organized white supremacists, gathered in Charlottesville, VA for their largest rally in a decade. Hundreds of white men carried torches through the streets of UVA chanting “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us”, both slogans of Nazi Germany in the 20s and 30s. Many were saluting, hoisting confederate flags and KKK memorabilia.

Like many of you, I watched video footage of the rally and a chill ran up my spine. These men believe that some Americans are better than others and that some people aren’t human at all. Some interviewed were quick to deny the Holocaust, hold up a noose, blame the “Jewish power system” for their woes, praise foreign dictators, and justify their cause with racial slurs.  They don’t recognize their whiteness as a passing, finite thing. They march and chant as if it is the one and only thing.

Their hate and fear wasn’t coming from a nation far away. It wasn’t spoken in a language we need translated. Their faces and blatant racism were not hidden under dark scarves or white hoods. They looked familiar in their polo shirts and khaki pants – like husbands and dads and neighbors I’d seen them in the grocery store that morning. They looked just like us.

Racism and bigotry do not operate in isolation. These same men return home tomorrow as “nice guys” and t-ball coaches and Lutherans from the Midwest. And those of us who sit silently, waiting out this moment with little more than a shoulder shrug or quiet disapproval? We are marked like Babylon, because our silence says so much without words, our acceptance of what God does not find acceptable at all.

Remember that this story from Revelation is recognized by every generation on earth.

We scramble for power unless we already have it.

If we already have it, we stay seated and silent.

But silence is not innocence. And we are marked by where we sit.

Our national and global politics are tense and divided as ever, but they are not completely original either. For since the days of Cain and Abel, we have been either scrambling for power or silently sitting on it. But both lead to the pit of destruction where we are to get what we deserve: we must die the same death we wish upon the Word of God.

We muffle the Word when it’s labor is inconvenient:

Care for creation.

Love for the neighbor.

Forgiveness at foolish and vulnerable lengths.


We twist the Word when it feels unfair:

Extravagant grace, even for those we don’t like.

Gospel that disrupts our comfort and ease.

Mistaking comprehension for faith and agreement for community.

 

We kill the Word when it threatens the status quo.

Infant Jesus fled borders to safety.

Prophetic and political Jesus arrested and crucified

for challenging earth’s justice with heaven’s justice.


And so whether we scramble to get our share at the expense of others or sit in the midst of the madness marked by our silence, we are dying.

Our reading today skips more than a chapter, most of which is a funeral dirge. It is a mournful and musical march into the depths of our sin: all the ways we have failed and fled and refused to live as children of God. As we trudge to the grave, there is nothing but time for this truth: no power left to protect, no competition to win, no whiteness left to worship, no audience to prove right. Nothing remains but the admission of sin and shame, the violent and self-righteous scramble and the silence that ushered more pain to the world whether we meant to or not. With each step, we remember the ways we long mistrusted God’s voice, low and steady under the howl of the world. The voice that breaks through the beast’s marks and our jewels, reminding that we have already been marked:

You are enough.

You are created in my image.

You are lovable and belong in my kingdom.

We die down here in the land of the unsatisfied, the angry, the hate-filled blasphemy, the wailing, vindictive, silent tombs. We breathe our last breath shackled like the whore and the beast to each other. Because death is real and that’s the deal.

But in Christ, God says that death is not the end. In Christ, God has died the death we deserve. He has been to the pit of despair, his body broken with our chants and torches and apolitical shrugs. He has heard the things we call each other, he knows the assumptions we make about the stranger, he feels our dangerous apathy, and he sees compromising justice.

And so he cannot and does not stay where these things win, where the mark of the beast has bought us, where our divisions define us, where we have forgotten that we are siblings in Christ and children of heaven.

When Christ says YES to life and heaven and freedom, it springs him from the pit with such might that death loses its sting, the beast burns until smoke rises and the angels rejoice. A rider on a white horse appears with armies from heaven. This is the Word of the Lord and his sword is Truth. The Battle of Armageddon is won and the dragon is defeated, not with drones or infantry or nuclear weapons, but with God’s justice that reigns in the face of all of humanity’s scrambling and silence, sin and shame.

And not only once on the last day, but all day every day in baptism. God knows

We scramble for power unless we already have it.

If we already have it, we stay seated and silent.

But silence is not innocence. And we are marked by where we sit.

So do not get comfortable in your purple and scarlet robes, wearing gold and jewels to convince yourselves and the world that silence is innocent, that privilege is an accident, that the beast’s marks are only temporary.

For even though we have been known to kill the Word when it threatens our status quo,

               we have been marked by a God who

               does not settle for broken systems

                does not bless our dehumanization of each other and

                does not ordain the church to sit silently in the face evil.

 

This is a story recognized in every generation on earth.

We spend so much of this life scrambling for power or minding our own business, different forms of the same violence. But in Christ, breaks through sin, evil, and death with a Word that cannot be silenced. There is a rider on a white horse who fights through our status quo, our privilege guarded, and our acceptance of what is unacceptable.

He has marked you and me and all people across our tension and divides for the sake of divine justice and bold truth about all of humanity:  

You are enough.

You are created in my image.

You are lovable and belong in my kingdom.