I came across an interesting discussion on twitter this week about the use of the term “Lord” in worship. 
I know – nerdy clergy stuff – but this is actually a conversation we also have here in our worship committee. Reasons to avoid Lord as a word for God were – it is a masculine name for God; it makes us think of medieval English hierarchy; people in the discussion were pretty much agreed that the many and varied names for God in the Bible should be used in variety and the occasional Lord in a hymn wouldn’t kill us. (Except that is for the 100 people the Rev Stacey Midge from Ohio had to block for being abusive and calling her a heretic).
More problematic though was the discussion about what to do with Jesus as Lord. When the early Christians say “Jesus is lord” they are making a political statement saying the Roman Emperor is not Lord, Jesus is. In making this claim they risked death, or at the very least persecution. Nobody really came up with a better more modern word in this scenario where we want to keep the political strength of the statement – the best was probably “sovereign one” – but in our context that still sounds a bit like the royal family.
We could have the same kind of discussion about the language in our first reading from the Book of Revelation. In the liberal/ progressive church tradition to which we belong I don’t think we often read from the book of Revelation. Its end times, apocalyptic imagery and talk of angels and thrones is not really to our taste.
Written for communities who followed in the tradition of the gospel of John and the letters of John, it speaks in images which are strange to our ears. It is written though, to real communities of people, about real situations, but in a style which makes it seem very disconnected from our reality.
When the multitudes cry out “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 7:10) we hear imagery which speaks of a far away God, in a heaven “up there” somewhere that we don’t really believe in. But try listening again to the words and think of early 2nd century Christians and Jews being persecuted by the Romans. Then perhaps we can hear them differently. As the twitter discussion reminded us, Christians were killed for refusing to call the emperor Lord. They defied the propaganda of the Roman Empire and called Jesus, Lord (read, sovereign). So “salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne” is not about God in some far away heaven, but God on the throne of the lives of those early Christians, God whom they worshiped, not the Emperor.
This was very radical and political talk and certainly cost them their lives. They are comforted by the writer of the book of Revelation – there will come a time when “they will hunger no more, thirst no more, and the Lamb (that is Jesus) will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:16-17). In an interesting overlaying of imagery the Lamb is also going to be the shepherd who will guide them.
In the same way Jesus was the shepherd in John’s gospel, calling the sheep who know his voice to follow him. And echoing the 23rd psalm “the Lord is my shepherd, who leads me beside still waters and restores my soul”. The Christians are being asked to put their faith and lives on the line and call Jesus Lord, not the Emperor; and in doing so begin to build a new community, a new way of living, where souls can be restored.
In her sermon last week Cate said we are called “to tell a different story from the story of violence, intolerance, injustice and oppression” which has appeared in the form of the Christchurch massacre and other acts of hate in our land. She said we can we learn “to act together in a different way, so a way of living well together” is seen and heard. We can work as a community to model acts of graciousness and love and repel violence and fear.
The over dramatic language of Revelation says the same thing – there is a diversity of people “from all tribes and languages”, who declare their faith in God and in the goodness of God. They are not promised an end to suffering, but they are promised the waters of life. So how does this work?
The gospel of John seems to be saying that the foundation of the way we build this community is found in trusting that God has called us into this place of relationship with each other and with God.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them”; like Mary Magdalene at the tomb recognizing Jesus by his voice when he says her name, we hear our names called, and we are told no one will snatch us from the hand of God.
It is from that place of safety, from those still waters that we gather here and say – how can we face down the evil of our world; what can we do to offer dialogue and action that brings peace.
Yesterday we hosted a vigil for peace in Sri Lanka – I was very grateful that at short notice 8 parishioners were able to come and assist with the service and others of you attended. We stood alongside those of other faiths and supported people from Sri Lanka as they ponder yet more violence in their land.
“A great multitude from all tribes and languages” seeking peace and still waters. In order to find that place of peace and still waters we need to spend time hearing our names called; hearing our names called as we come to receive the bread and wine; hearing our names called as we share the peace, say the Lord’s prayer, light candles and receive a blessing.
We take time to nurture our faith so we can stand the heat of the desert and the “great ordeal” (Rev 7:14).
The heat of the desert is the reality of poverty, racism and injustice right outside the doors of this church, on our streets, in our homes, and on our social media feeds. The great ordeal is that racism turned to violence like in Christchurch.
Some of you have started conversations about what next; how do we respond. Keep talking, keep asking, keep listening to the voice that is calling. “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.”
Wherever we are called to, we can be sure that no one can snatch us from the hands of God.
We are led beside still waters, and even if we walk in the valley of death we can still say Alleluia Christ is risen; He is risen indeed Alleluia.