Archive for the ‘Revelation’ Category

“Reading Revelation Responsibly” is Out

Monday, November 8th, 2010

The good folks at Wipf and Stock/Cascade have miraculously turned my book around in record time. I got copies today for a talk and book signing this Friday. Here is the link to look at and order it. It is available now at 20% off, though Wipf and Stock may soon do a 40%-off email coupon to its regular subscribers. The official publication date is 2011, so don’t expect to see it on Amazon, etc. until some time in December.

The key to this book is the subtitle: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation.

I would post a photo of the beautiful cover here, but, alas, I can’t get images to work in WordPress, so you will have to go to the site.

If you are in the Baltimore-DC area, come out to St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore Friday evening at 7 p.m. More information is here.

BTW, the info about me on the Wipf and Stock web site is 9 years old, so it is about to be updated.

“Reading Revelation Responsibly” is coming soon

Monday, October 25th, 2010

My book Reading Revelation Responsibly; Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Wipf and Stock/Cascade) is in press as we speak. It will be available at AAR and ETS/SBL. The Wipf and Stock website should have it up any day now, though it will take a while to get on Amazon.

BTW:  I can’t post images to this WordPress blog for some reason, though I’d love to have a problem-solver tell me how to do it. (I actually know how; it does not work.)

Three Book Reviews Online

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

I have three book reviews in the current issues of magazines and journals, all of which are available online. My previously noted Interpretation review of Beginning from Jerusalem: Christianity in the Making, Vol. 2 by James D. G. Dunn is here.

My Christian Century review of Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation by J. Nelson Kraybill is here.

And my Duke Divinity School Magazine review of World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age by C. Kavin Rowe is here.

SBL is Coming

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) will meet in Atlanta this November, and there will be a lot of good sessions. The preliminary program book is now online. Although last year I gave three papers (which was crazy!), this year I will only be chairing a session for one of the groups on whose steering committee I serve. (Why nothing else?Largely because of numerous other lecture commitments this fall—four major academic lectures in September and October.) Among the many things I find inviting are the following (must-hears in bold italics; may require some bi-location!):

Theological Hermeneutics of Christian Scripture
11/20/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: History, Historicisms, and Theological Interpretation
Michael Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Presiding (5 min)

Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Eastern University
The Quest for the Historical Leviathan: Truth and Method in Biblical Studies (30 min)

Joel B. Green, Fuller Theological Seminary
Rethinking “History” for Theological Interpretation (30 min)

Matthew Levering, University of Dayton
Augustine’s Theology of History (30 min)

Jeannine Brown, Bethel Theological Seminary (St. Paul, MN), Respondent (15 min)

I will also attend the session of the Gospel and our Culture Network, Missional Hermeneutics Forum, on whose steering committee I serve as well:

GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics
11/20/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Exile, Identity, and Mission: Interpreting Biblical Texts
Michael Barram, Saint Mary’s College of California, presiding

Bo H. Lim, Seattle Pacific University
From Servant to Servants: Continuing the Legacy of the Exile in the Post-Exilic Era (20 min)

Andrew D. Rowell, Duke University
J
ohn Howard Yoder’s Missional Exiles and Jeremiah 29: A Case Study for Missional Hermeneutics (20 min)

Aaron Kuecker, Trinity Christian College
As He Who Called You is Holy: Missional Holiness and the People of God in 1 Peter (20 min)

Suzanne Watts Henderson, Queens University of Charlotte, Respondent (15 min)
George Hunsberger, Western Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)

Also of great interest to me are the following book-review sessions, which are becoming quite popular at SBL:

Book Review: Joseph Mangina, Revelation, in Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010)
11/20/2010
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Ryan Hansen, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Presiding

Kathryn Greene-McCreight, St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven, CT 06511, Panelist (15 min)
Richard B. Hays, Duke University, Panelist (15 min)
Nathan Kerr, Trevecca Nazarene Universit, Panelist (15 min)

Joseph Mangina, Wycliffe College, Respondent (20 min)

Christian Theology and the Bible
11/21/2010
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Book Review Panel of C. Kavin Rowe’s “World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age”
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Presiding (10 min)

Beverly Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (25 min)
Robert Wall, Seattle Pacific University, Panelist (25 min)
Douglas Harink, Panelist (25 min)
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Panelist (25 min)
Kavin Rowe, Duke University, Respondent (25 min)

As for “regular” sessions, there will be plenty of good ones. Starting with “non-Paul”:

Book of Acts
11/20/2010
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: SECOND THOUGHTS ON A HYPHEN: RECONSIDERING THE UNITY OF LUKE’S GOSPEL AND ACTS
Loveday Alexander, University of Chester, Presiding

Patricia Walters, Rockford College
Irreconcilable Distances: A Challenge to the Assumed Authorial Unity of Luke and Acts (30 min)

Mikeal Parsons, Baylor University, Respondent (12 min)
Heather Gorman, Baylor University, Respondent (12 min)

Kavin Rowe, Duke University
The Return of Allegory: Scholarly Exegesis and the Literal Sense of Luke-Acts (30 min)
Steve Walton, London School of Theology, Respondent (25 min)

Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity
11/20/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Use of Scripture in the Gospel of Luke
Bruce Fisk, Westmont College, Presiding

Craig A. Evans, Acadia Divinity College
Luke’s Good Samaritan and the Chronicler’s Good Samaritans (30 min)

Richard B. Hays, Duke University
Intimations of Divine Identity Christology in Luke’s Reading of Scripture
(30 min)

R. Steven Notley, Nyack College NYC
The Hebrew Scriptures in the Third Gospel (30 min)
Discussion (60 min)

Some of the good Paul sessions:

Pauline Epistles
11/20/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Terence Donaldson, Wycliffe College, Presiding

M. David Litwa, University of Virginia
Transformation through a Mirror: Moses in 2 Cor 3:18 (30 min)
NOTE: I directed David’s ThM thesis at Duke.

Jonathan A. Linebaugh, Durham University
Announcing the Human: Rethinking the Relationship Between Romans 1.18-32 and Wisdom of Solomon 13-15 (30 min)

Christopher R. Bruno, Wheaton College
Eyewitness Testimony and the Jesus Tradition in Paul: The Sermon on the Mount as the Background to Philippians (30 min)

Tom McGlothlin, Duke University
Patristic Rhetorical Analyses of Romans 3:1-8/9 (30 min)

David Briones, Durham University
Does Obligation Corrupt the ‘Purity’ of the Gift?: Comparing Seneca’s De Beneficiis with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (30 min)

Romans through History and Cultures
11/20/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Reconciliation and Peace in Romans
Kathy Ehrensperger, University of Wales, Lampeter (Trinity St.David), Presiding

Jason A. Whitlark, Baylor University
Peace with God and the Pax Deorum: Hearing Romans 5:1 in Rome (25 min)

Matthew W. Bates, University of Notre Dame
The Proto-Creed in Rom 1:3-4—A tool of reconciliation?: Evaluating the Proposal of Robert Jewett (25 min)

Ralph J. Korner, McMaster University
Making Room for Sacred Space in Jewish – Christian Reconciliation (25 min)

Soham Al-Suadi, University of Basel
Placing Christian Origins into the Ordinary – The Hellenistic Meal and the „Birth of Christianity“ (25 min)

Edward Pillar, University of Wale, Lampeter (Trinity St David)
“The Reconciliation of the World”: Exploring how Paul’s Expansive Vision for Israel and the Gentiles Counters and Subverts Pretensions of the Empire (25 min)

Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making
11/20/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: 2 Corinthians in general
Edith M. Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Presiding

B. J. Oropeza, Azusa Pacific University
Saved by Benefaction, Judged by Works? The Paradox of Rejecting Grace in 2 Corinthians (20 min)

Ryan S. Schellenberg, University of St. Michael’s College
Beyond Rhetoric: Self-Praise in Plutarch, Paul, and Red Jacket (20 min)

Hermut Loehr, University of Munster
Stone Tablets. Torah Traditions in 2Cor 3 (20 min)

James Buchanan Wallace, Christian Brothers University
Paul’s Catalogues of Suffering in 2 Corinthians as Ascetic Performances (20 min)

Christopher R. Bruno, Wheaton College
Carrying in the Body the Death of Jesus: The Passion Narratives as Paul’s Model for his Apostolic Self-Understanding in 2 Corinthians
(20 min)

Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making
11/20/2010
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: 2 Corinthians 4
Thomas Schmeller, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Presiding

Dustin W. Ellington, World Mission, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Revisiting Paul’s “We” in 2 Corinthians 4: A Shared Vocation through Participation in Christ (20 min)

Robin Griffith-Jones, King’s College London / Temple Church
‘We’, ‘You’, ‘All’: Respecting Paul’s Distinctions in 2 Corinthians 1-5 (20 min)

Timothy Luckritz Marquis, Moravian Theological Seminary
Apostolic Travels as ‘Carrying around the Death of Jesus’ in 2 Corinthians 4:10 (20 min)

Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, Catholic University of Leuven-Belgium
Episteusa dio elalesa (2 Cor 4:13): Paul and the Psalmist (20 min)

Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Respondent (10 min)

Paul and Scripture
11/21/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: The Place of Scripture in Paul’s Theology
G. K. Beale, Westminster Theological Seminary, Presiding

Matthew Bates, University of Notre Dame
How Do We Judge What Role Scripture Played in Paul’s Theology? (10 min)

Linda Belleville, Bethel College
Scripture and Other Voices in Paul’s Theology (10 min)

Roy E. Ciampa, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Approaching Paul’s Use of Scripture in Light of Translation Studies (10 min)

Papers will be summarized, not read. Papers will be available for download in early November on the seminar’s Web page at http://paulandscripture.blogspot.com.

Pauline Epistles
11/21/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: Paul and Cosmology
Emma Wasserman, Rutgers University, Presiding

Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Copenhagen University
Which Cosmology? And How Important? (30 min)

Stanley Stowers, Brown University
Theorizing Paul’s Cosmology (30 min)

Edward Adams, King’s College – London
“Things that are” and “things that are not:” Cosmological Rhetoric in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (30 min)

Pauline Soteriology
11/21/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: The “Cosmos” in Paul’s Soteriology
Susan Eastman, Duke University, Presiding

Martin de Boer, Vrije Universiteit-Amsterdam
The Cross and The Cosmos in Galatians
(40 min)

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Princeton Theological Seminary
Neither Height nor Depth: Discerning the Cosmology of Romans (40 min)

Edward Adams, King’s College – London, Respondent (20 min)

Cross, Resurrection, and Diversity in Earliest Christianity
11/21/2010
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: Jesus’ Resurrection in the Pauline Evidence
Papers will be available by November 1 at http://austingrad.edu/sbl.html
Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, Presiding

Todd Still, Baylor University
“Since We Believe that Jesus Died and Rose Again”: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians (25 min)

E. Johnson, Columbia Theological Seminary, Respondent (15 min)

James Ware, University of Evansville
Paul’s Gospel of the Empty Tomb: The Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (25 min)

Dale Martin, Yale University, Respondent (15 min)

Pauline Soteriology
11/21/2010
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Theme: The Social Embodiment of Pauline Theology
Douglas Campbell, Duke University, Presiding

Jim Harrison, Wesley Institute
Augustan Rome and the Body of Christ: A Comparison of the Social Vision of the Res Gestae and Paul’s Letter to the Romans (35 min)

David Horrell, University of Exeter
Embodied Theology: Soma as Soteriological and Social Category in Paul (35 min)

Larry Welborn, Fordham University
The Kairos, The Awakening: Pauline Soteriology in Nero’s Rome (35 min)

New Unit Planning Session: Paul and Judaism
11/22/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: What Does it Mean to Approach Paul as Practicing First-Century Judaism?
Kathy Ehrensperger, University of Wales Lampeter, Presiding

Magnus Zetterholm, Lund University
Paul as a First-Century Jew: The State of the Question (20 min)

Anders Runesson, McMaster University
Paul and Jewish-Christianity: Terminological and Conceptual Issues (20 min)

Pamela Eisenbaum, Iliff School of Theology
Paul and Christianity: Was Paul a Christian? (20 min)

Mark D. Nanos, Rockhurst University
Locating Paul on a Map of First Century Judaism
(20 min)

Paula Fredriksen, Boston University
A Way Forward for Research and Discussion of “Paul and Judaism” (20 min)

Pauline Epistles
11/22/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
David Horrell, University of Exeter, Presiding

Bradley R. Trick, Duke University
The Singular Abrahamic Seed and the Law’s Supplementing of the Promise in Gal 3:15-20 (30 min)

K.B. Neutel, University of Groningen
Were You a Slave When You Were Called?: Questioning Paul’s Social Conservatism (30 min)

John Goodrich, Moody Bible Institute
Compelled to Preach: Retaining Paul’s Apostolic Right in 1 Corinthians 9.17 (30 min)

Kevin Scull, University of California-Los Angeles
Paul’s Use of Self-Presentation as a Defense of His Oratorical Abilities in 1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21 (30 min)

John Paul Dickson, Macquarie University
Did Paul expect his converts to further the gospel?
(30 min)

Disputed Paulines
11/22/2010
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Theme: Colossians and Ephesians
Daniel Darko, University of Scranton, Presiding

Matthew E. Gordley, Regent University
Reading the Household Code of Colossians in its Contexts: A Critique and Proposal (30 min)

Ben C. Blackwell, Durham University
Deification and Colossians 2.10
(30 min)

April Favara, Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver
The Stoic Ethic of Perfect Manhood in Ephesians 4:13 (30 min)

Aaron Sherwood, Durham University
A Discourse Analysis of Ephesians 3:1–13 (30 min)

Additional meetings this year include the big N.T. Wright lecture:

Institute for Biblical Research
11/19/2010
6:45 PM to 10:00 PM
Theme: Annual Lecture and Reception
Annual Lecture: N. T. Wright
N. T. Wright, University of St. Andrews
The Kingdom and the Cross
(45 min)

Michael Bird, Crossway College, Respondent (20 min)
N. T. Wright, Church of England, Respondent (5 min)

Also:

Society of Christian Ethics
11/22/2010
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Theme: What Biblical Scholars Wish Christian Ethicists Would Start/Stop Doing with Scripture
Scholarship exploring the context, meaning, and reception of Scripture makes a foundational contribution to Christian ethics, but in this session, Scripture scholars have been invited to advise ethicists not just about how to read texts but about how to do ethics. Terence Fretheim and Stephen Fowl will offer their manifestos, to which Stanley Hauerwas will respond. Their ensuing dialogue will invite additional contributions from those attending.

Michael Cartwright, University of Indianapolis, Presiding (5 min)
Terence Fretheim, Luther Seminary, Panelist (30 min)
Stephen Fowl, Loyola College in Maryland, Panelist (30 min)
Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University, Panelist (30 min)

More to come!

Come Out of Her (Rev 18:4) and Mission

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

In my forthcoming (fall 2010) Cascade book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I argue that Revelation has a missional spirituality. This may surprise some people, so here’s a foretaste of the argument:

The notion of a missional spirituality may seem odd at first, especially as a characterization of the NT book that says, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people” (18:4). That would seem to end any conversation about mission before it even begins. But it does not.

“Come out” is not a summons to escape, and the spirituality of Revelation is not an escapist spirituality. The withdrawal is not so much a physical exodus as a theopolitical one, an escape from civil religion and the idolatry of power-worship. It is a creative, self-imposed but Spirit-enabled departure from certain values and practices, which may entail, for some, a geographical move as well. (I am thinking here of the New Monasticism and its commitment to moving into places “abandoned by Empire.”) It is the necessary prerequisite to faithful living in the very Babylon from which one has escaped. That is, the church cannot be the church in Babylon until it is the church out of Babylon….

It is important therefore to stress that Revelation does not call for the wholesale rejection of culture and of engagement with the world; it calls for discernment. It is one thing, in other words, to live in an empire or superpower, to live in the shadow of the beast, trying to avoid participating in the evils of idolatry while bearing witness to another empire, the kingdom of God, and thereby working for the good of the world as salt and light. It is quite another to endorse that empire—or any culture—unconditionally, or to sacralize it. Yet that is what many Christians and churches have done; they have baptized their culture and/or country into the name of the triune god of political, economic, and military power, wrongly thinking that this is the power of God.

The eternal gospel of the slaughtered Lamb unveils the fallacious nature of this undiscerning baptism. But because civil religion in the West borrows heavily from the symbols and texts of Christian faith, it is nearly impossible for many Christians and churches to recognize the problem before us. Syncretism is a very powerful, very subtle device. (See previous post, too.)

Thus the vision needed for discernment does not make Christian faith anti-Rome, anti-American, or anti-culture in some general, all-encompassing sense. Rather, it calls us to rely on the discerning Spirit to distinguish the good (and the neutral) from the bad in order to remain in the world (Babylon) but not of it. Then the church’s mission can go forward in faith—and in faithfulness.

Lamb or Beast?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

An excerpt from the draft of my forthcoming book:

In Revelation, faithfulness is portrayed positively as following the Lamb (14:4) and thus being marked with God’s seal of ownership and protection (7:3). It is also portrayed negatively as not following the beast or receiving the mark of the beast (13:16-17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 20:4). Together, these two images of faithfulness demonstrate that we cannot have it both ways: beast and Lamb, imperial power with Lamb-power, civil religion mixed with worship of God and the Lamb. Those who follow the Lamb will enter the new Jerusalem; those who follow the beast are doomed. This is an either-or proposition with very serious consequences. There is no synthesis, no syncretism permitted here. The clarion call of Revelation is to forsake the idolatrous worship of secular power and to worship God alone.

But most of us do not like such either-or propositions when it comes to “religion.” We especially do not like having to choose between “God and country.” What makes the “both-and” approach so attractive is that it seems so right, so noble, so pious. Like adultery, it can feel very good (which is why followers of the Lamb are called virgins [14:4]). Why is the both-and option so seductive? Because it is the deliberate, deceitful work of the devil through the propaganda mechanisms of the idolatrous imperial powers (19:20). Nationalistic allegiance or devotion, especially when dressed in religious garb, may not feel like idolatry—but it is (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). Once deceived, we are hooked, persuaded, and, sadly, doomed. If history is any clue, the unlearning of such deceit—perhaps we should say the liberation from such deceit—is nothing short of miraculous.

War is a Red Horse

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The absence from blogging is due to my intense efforts to conclude the semester while also finishing some articles and my book on Revelation. Most posts in the immediate future will likely be related to those projects, especially the book.

One of my very favorite interpreters of Revelation is Eugene Peterson in his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. If you have not read it, do so immediately. Commenting on the second horse in Revelation 6, the red horse, Peterson writes (p. 77):

For a time, writ large in the headlines, war is perceived as an evil, and there are prayers for peace. But not for long, for it is quickly glamorized as patriotic or rationalized as just. But war is a red horse, bloody and cruel, making life miserable and horrid…. The perennial ruse is to glorify war so that we accept it as a proper means of achieving goals. But it is evil. It is opposed by Christ. Christ does not sit on the red horse, ever.

Rev 22 and Hope in Hymnody

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Easter (which is not over but has just begun!) is the season of hope. In writing today about Revelation 22, I was taken back to the beautiful American choral anthem “E’en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.” Drawing on various themes in Revelation, but especially chapter 22, the piece was written by the well-known Lutheran church musician Paul Manz (1919-2009) and his wife Ruth as their young son lay very ill in a hospital bed. (He later recovered.) Though it is often appropriately sung in Advent, it is no less appropriate in the Easter season Those who do not know it should immediately listen to its hauntingly beautiful combination of text and music:

As many others have said, I want this sung at my funeral.

Lamb Power and the Church

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Perhaps the following excerpts from (1) a chapter of my forthcoming book on Revelation and (2) Udo Schnelle’s New Testament Theology might have something to say to the church, especially to the American church. (It is only coincidental that this appears on the day of the “State of the Union” address in the U.S.*):

It is critical that we not miss the paradoxical significance of this Lamb of God sharing in the identity and sovereignty of God. In his exaltation Jesus remains the Lamb, the crucified one. He participates in God’s identity and reign, making him worthy of worship, as the slaughtered Lamb, and only as such. This is the consistent witness of the New Testament: that the exalted Lord remains the crucified Jesus. When this witness is neglected or forgotten, trouble follows swiftly. Any reading of Revelation—and any doing of theology more generally—that forgets this central New Testament truth is theologically problematic, even dangerous, from its very inception. It is doomed, not to failure, but to success—and that is its inherent theological problem. Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty empowers its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine justice. The reality of the Lamb as Lord—and thus of Lamb power—is, or should be, the end of all such misperceptions of divine power and justice, and of their erroneous human corollaries. Of course, both historically and today, it is not.

Revelation is often misread as a demonstration precisely of this kind of divine power in human history, especially in interpreting the visions of judgment. We will need to return to this issue in a later [post]. For now, however, we need especially to say that only when chapters 4 and 5 are read as Revelation’s hermeneutical key to reality, divinity, history, and ethics will we be able to place the visions of judgment in proper perspective.

—M. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (Cascade, forthcoming)

[I]n worship, the community of faith realizes its new identity under the lordship of the Lamb and under the conscious, intentional rejection of the claims to lordship made by Babylon/Rome. As the place where the new being is repeatedly practiced, worship is also a locus of resistance against the anti-God powers, and, since the Apocalypse was read out in worship, also a place of hearing, seeing, learning, and understanding/insight.

—Udo Schnelle, New Testament Theology, 767

Does this sound like your experience of worship??

*Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Excerpts from a Sermon as we Remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Here is the first part of my sermon, “Lamb People, Lamb Power (Rev 7:1-17),” delivered at Union Baptist Church on January 17. The pastor of the church is a former student, Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, and it was an honor and pleasure to be there.

**************************************************

He was a man of deep conviction… of fervent passion. A man of vision and of visions. His vision was of a beloved community that included people of all nations and races. A vision of unity and equality.

He was an eloquent speaker and gripping writer, with a gift for words like few people of his time. A man who gave speeches and wrote texts sprinkled with allusions to Scripture, words that challenged the system and gave great hope to the oppressed. Words of comfort to the afflicted and words of affliction to the comfortable. Words of a prophet.

He was a teacher, a preacher, a leader of The Movement. Some claimed he was a subversive. Some claimed the whole movement was subversive, dangerous.

He was a man of power. Not ordinary power, but power nonetheless. The power of conviction, the power of powerful critique of the powerful, the power—ultimately—of God, the power of the Spirit, indeed, the power of Jesus. His was the power of suffering love, the power of nonviolence, the power of faithful witness and resistance.

He was, therefore, a threat. A great threat. A threat to the status quo. A threat to the powers-that-be and that were and that are. So the powers, of course, took him out of commission, or so they thought. They put him away. But even there he dreamed and he had visions and he prayed and he wrote—he even wrote a now-famous letter, a classic epistle full of his vision and his visions, full of his passion and his passions, full of his convictions and his convicting words to the churches and to the civil authorities, full of his own hope and his words of hope to those he had had to leave behind.

Today, we remember his legacy, and we celebrate his vision, his passion, his commitment.

His name, of course, is John. John the Seer, John the Revelator, John of Patmos, John who penned that famous visionary letter that concludes the Scriptures: the book of Revelation from which we read a portion, chapter 7, together. John the servant and witness, as he calls himself (Rev 1:1), John the exile, banished by government authorities because of his faithful preaching of the word of God and his faithful witness to Jesus (1:9). John the subversive and troublemaker.

You, of course, thought that I was speaking, not of John, but of Martin, of Dr. King. I was not, and yet I was. For you see, John and Martin have much in common. They are both visionaries inspired by Jesus with a vision of God’s desire for the world and given power in and by the Spirit to articulate that vision for their peers and for all who come after.

It is easy to forget 40-plus years later that Dr. King was not merely a political figure but also a spiritual figure. Indeed, he is recognized by the Episcopal and Lutheran churches as a martyr, a witness to God and the Lamb who paid the ultimate price. And it is easy to forget nearly 20 centuries later that John—like Paul and like Jesus—was not merely a spiritual figure, but also a political figure. His was the politics of God, and that meant that the politics of Rome were in trouble. His vision was of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9-10 NRSV).

“What’s so threatening about that vision?” we might ask, and understandably so. Here is what’s so threatening, very simply: it is not Rome’s vision! Rome imagined itself as the bringer of salvation, and the emperor as the Savior. Rome had its own plan for obtaining and maintaining peace and security and unity throughout the empire, and it had nothing to do with a foreign deity or a crucified lord from Israel, from the east, which the Romans thought to be the source of most cultural scum and political sedition.

John’s vision was also his power, it was the power of the Lamb, the power of suffering love, the power of nonviolence, the power of faithful witness and resistance. The power of the Lamb that was slain.


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