Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sermon: "Under the Sigil of House Jesus, or, Beyond Throne Games"

"Under the Sigil of House Jesus, or, Beyond Throne Games"


Preached at South Wedge Mission
Rochester, New York
Fourth Sunday of Easter
21 April 2013

Day Texts: Acts 9.36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7.9-17
John 10.22-30


-Some of you know that I kind of have this thing for Doctor Who.  But last week, I took a break from the Tardis and started reading another popular series: George R.R. Martin’s massive saga, Game of Thrones.  It’s not exactly PG, so I can’t formally recommend it to you.  You know, as a clergy person.  But as a medieval studies minor in college and someone who’s always loved castles and knights and so forth, it definitely hits the spot.

-So the grossly summarized story of GOT is that there are these seven houses, all vying for the throne recently vacated by the now dead king.  Alliances, treachery, intrigue, warfare and such ensue across the island of Westeros.)  And each of these houses has a symbol on their coat of arms, called a sigil, and a set of “family words” that both guides them and also helps describe them.  

-So, for example, the protagonists, House Stark, fight under a Direwolf and have the words “winter is coming,” since they are the tight-knit pack of rugged northerners. House Targarayen who once ruled the kingdom under the power of their dragons now go under a dragon sigil with the words “fire and blood.”  And so forth.

-Now, tonight after service, we’re meeting up at Little Venice to continue our conversations together about who we are as a community.  One thing we’ve discussed recently is potentially changing our name.  And as a visual person, I keep thinking that along with a name, there should be some kind of a sigil (nowadays they might be called icons or logos).  

-Left completely up to me, I’d choose a lion.  Brave, noble, fierce, a leader.  Jesus was called Lion of Judah. And one of our community heroes, Frederick Douglass, was known as the black lion.  

-But the lion would not suffice on its own.  First off, its the symbol of House Lannister, the wealthy, proud, conniving incestuous villains of GOT.  But even more importantly, in the book of Revelation where our reading is from tonight, the one described as a lion is not Jesus.  In fact, dragons, wolves, and lions are all used in connotation with Satan, the antichrist, and the Roman Empire.    

-We do get an animal, presented sigil-like in the reading.  It stands at the head of a vast army.  But not of conquering warriors bearing swords.  It stands, slaughtered, before a host of martyrs - innocents slaughtered by the Empire, washed white in the blood of their leader.  And their leader is a crucified lamb.

-A lamb.  Not even a full sheep.  Hardly something that strikes fear into our enemies, right?  In fact, when I think of sheep, I think immediately of growing up in Fairport.  Yes, it is a suburb.  But right smack in the middle of several developing areas is this massive old farm, filled with sheep.  And its affectionately known to all as “the stinky farm.”  Because it stinks.  Because it is full of sheep. 

-Along with reading epics filled with sex and violence, I’ve also been enamored of my daughter’s kids‘ Bible, the Jesus Storybook Bible.  Perfect compliment, right?  Well, the author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, also wrote a kids‘ devotional, called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.  And here’s what she writes about sheep:

-What animal does the Bible say - four hundred times! - that people are most like?

Oh dear. It’s sheep.

Sheep aren’t clever at all.  They’re foolish.  For instance, sometimes they just topple over and can’t get themselves back up again. They just lie there!  And they’re constantly falling off cliffs.  Or going to unsafe places and getting stuck.  Or eating poisonous things.  Or getting hurt.  Or running off and getting lost.  Or not finding their way home again - even if their fold is in plain sight!

-Oh dear indeed.  The sigil for House Jesus is a sheep.  A stinking, stupid, let’s you steal the clothes off their back, sheep.  Not a strong adult ram with horns.  Not even the one that won the county faire.  It’s a lamb.  A crucified lamb.  A dead lamb.

-Not exactly what most of us often hope for in times like this, no?  Times when we read in every other post and tweet about people disbelief about “how vulnerable America is,” “how messed up humanity is,” where bombs terrorize finish lines and fertilizer plants explode during routine operations.  If you’re human, I’m guessing that in the midst of such a shit storm, like me, you’re looking for some comfort.  For something that promises safety.  That promises security.  Something powerful.  

-We want the direwolf, or the dragon, or the lion.  Or the sigil of stars and the stripes.  And the family words, “let freedom ring.”  And a shepherd who will “hunt these terrorists down.”  In the confusion of emotions, we follow after a media that somehow magically develops psychic powers to narrate not only every second of events, but even, psychically, what the fugitives must be thinking before they even know it themselves.  Because knowledge is power too.  It’s security.  Gives us a sense that we are most definitely not that crazy Muslim dude.  Somehow, the insane immediacy of information allows us to put a safe distance between us and the terror.

-See, we want our kings, and our kingdoms, and our sigils, and our words, to give us security.  To keep us from suffering.  Or to make someone else pay so we don’t have to.   We want them to lead us to green pastures, and feed us with grass that sustains.  

-And what makes us foolish as sheep is not so much that we are loyal to our country, or that we want to work for justice, or even that we are afraid of being vulnerable.  What makes us foolish as sheep is that we follow shepherds who promise what they cannot deliver.  They promise peace, and prosperity, and progress, and protection. But millennia of human history says otherwise.  They cannot give us the crown, or the kingdom, or salvation.  They may feed us and lead us.  But not through the valley of the shadow.  Not to a feast in the presence of our enemies.  It is, after all, their games of thrones that have helped make those valleys and enemies.  

-But thank God, this is not the sigil or the king revealed in scripture today.    

-Our house words are different.  As members of Christ’s body the church our house words are “salvation belongs to our God and to the lamb.”  Our house anthem is not “bombs bursting in air,” but “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow.  In the presence of mine enemies.  Not IF I face suffering, and vulnerability, and death.  But when. 

-It is the sigil of a shepherd who willingly becomes a sheep.  Becomes like us, in our weakness and stupidity and lostness, and is sheered of dignity and power and would rather be slain than lift a finger of violence or vengeance.   And descends into the valley of the shadows of death and hell.  And then this lamb rises from the dead.  And washes the fallen victims of violence in his own blood.  And promises to wipe away every tear.

-And see, that’s ultimately the meaning of our sigil.  It is a promise.  Of true provision.  And of true hope.  Because this lamb, this Jesus, is not an ideal or a program that must be defended with violence, or explained by social media, or even be believed to be true.  This lamb, the one slain by the Romans, was also the man, Jesus Christ.  God Incarnate.  The only one who can keep his promises.  Who can feed us, his enemies, with a feast of his own body and blood.  The one, the only one, who makes broken things come undone.  Who alone has power to deliver on His promises.

-This lamb, this king, this God, is not toppled by the blasts of bombs.  He stands at their epicenter.  He does not run from the valley of the shadow.  He leads his followers into it.  He does not avoid death.  He faces it, experiences it, becomes vulnerable to it.  And then crushes and defeats it by love and peace alone.  

-Which means that we are never NOT vulnerable.  We are never NOT unsafe.  Because following this lamb will mean following him into the war of the lamb, the war of peace and love and reconciliation (and besides, an armed sheep is kind of an absurdity, right?)  

-See, the sigil of our King is not one that promises security at all.  There are many who lament that our nation feel more vulnerable than ever. The followers of the Lamb know that we have always already been called to be vulnerable because of who our Shepherd is,  Christ leads us through the valley of the shadow, not because suffering is good but to bring the good of companionship and love to all who suffer. Our vocation is to follow
and do likewise.

-We are called to follow him into the valleys of the shadow.  Places in the world where, for women and children denied education and rights, every single trip top school or the well is a Boston Marathon of terror.  Into the dark secrets and difficult struggles of others where there is no answer, but where we are called to walk together anyway, receiving and protecting one another’s vulnerability.  Not if we walk through the shadowlands.  But when.  

-And this God will provision us.  Feed us.  Care for us.  Promises to give us what we will need.  He gives us liberation from effectiveness, so we might be free for faithfulness. Challenges us to let go of everything else.  And he arms us.  Not with swords, guns, bombs or information.  But with God’s promises already coming true in the resurrection light of the new creation.  The Spirit of hope.  The ways of peace.  And lives of love.  

-We are called to lay down all other weapons and forsake all other shepherds.  And to march boldly into the shadowlands.  To the tables of enemies.  And to the place where the hope that all tears be wiped away will come true.  Under the sigil and the words and the promises of the Lamb.  Who promises, not that we will be safe.  But that he is for us.  And that he will never leave or forsake us.

-Oh dear.  Amen.  

1 comment:

  1. I loved this.

    Also, I have put GOT on hold at the library now.