Thursday, November 03, 2011

Persevere: Resist the Beast

Thursday, November 3, 2011 -- Week of Proper 26, Year One
Richard Hooker, Priest, 1600

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 990)
Psalms [70], 71 (morning)       //       74 (evening)
Ezra 7:(1-10)11-26
Revelation 14:1-13
Matthew 14:1-12

(apology:  yesterday I sent the references for the readings for Tuesday rather than Wednesday of Proper 26)

When I was in seminary over three decades ago, the common scholarly orientation toward the book of the Revelation was that it was addressed to Christians who were threatened by persecution -- arrest, imprisonment, even death.  John's message was one of encouragement -- persevere even under threat.  God will triumph over the Beast of Empire.

Subsequent archeological and historical research has shown that there was no persecution of Christians in the era when this book was written and in the communities that it is addressed to.  Current scholarship believes the threat that Revelation addressed was not persecution, but the threat of materialism, greed and the economic values of the Empire.  Do not surrender to the temptation and lure of power and wealth, the instruments of the Beast.  Persevere!  Hold on to the values of the Christian community which is characterized by generosity and sacrifice, compassion and gentleness.  God's values will triumph over the greedy values of Empire and Beast.

Today in Revelation we meet those who triumph -- the 144,000 marked on the forehead -- all of God's people.  (144,000 is a multiple of 12 [God's people] and 10 [totality, all].)   In the symbology, the forehead represents the human spirit and worship.  The forehead is contrasted with the right hand of human work and activity.  These 144,000 are those who have not worshiped the Beast and its image.  Their spirit and worship has remained pure ("not defiled ...with woman").  [Again we see the ancient notion that women are impure and corrupting.  Note:  We don't see this in Jesus' treatment of women.] 

Contrasted with the pure ones of the Lamb are the corrupt ones of Babylon and Rome -- those who have given themselves to the glamour and luxury of materialism.  Those who worship that kind of beast have no rest.  Richard Rohr wrote on "Fear" in a 2004 Sojourners magazine:  "Thus wealthy people, climbing people, 'conservative' people in general are precisely those who have a lot to conserve.  By definition, they must be on guard, circumspect, suspicious, wary, with insurance policies at every level.  No surprises allowed.  One gradually slips into this entire stance toward life precisely through the process of climbing, competing, succeeding, and saving.  Those on top literally have everything to lose."

Reading Revelation as a commentary on the fallenness of materialism and greed feels very contemporary.  The images and rhetoric of John's words are not unlike the messages coming from the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.  We've seen the fruits of destructive greed and the misuse of power.  We've seen the cost of drinking the wine of Babylon's fornication.  We've seen a form of the fall of the Beast -- the financial collapse of the derivatives market that produced apocalyptic economic violence throughout the financial world. 

"Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus."  Persevere, says John.  Resist greed and materialism.  Resist the misuse of power.  These are the marks of Empire and Beast.  Instead, join the community of praise that sings forever around the throne of the Lamb.  Embrace the values of the Lamb -- sacrifice and gentleness.  Be the new community that God promises will endure.

Lowell
Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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