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Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct”

May my living not be in vain.

A sermon so powerful and so relevant. How easy it would be to imagine listening to this sermon this coming Lord’s Day.

Martin Luther King Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct” Sermon – YouTube.

Mormonism, Racism and Romney: Part 4

Continued from part 3

LDS members today need to be honest about the racist history of the church. But who is responsible?

If it is God who is solely responsible for the prolonged suppression of blacks, and the superiority of whites, only ending when God decided it was time, then the LDS God himself and the LDS church itself is racist at its core. If God is the one responsible, then the teachings and history of how and why black people look the way they do and were inferior to whites, cannot be expunged and must be embraced by all Mormons, Mitt Romney included, like it or lump it.

If the LDS leadership is responsible then there needs to be more discussions on why and what next. Why didn’t they pray and urge God more to end the ban? Why did they merely leave it up to God? Why did they continue to suppress blacks even when they thought or knew it was wrong?

But what about LDS members who were not in the upper echelons of leadership? Are their hands washed clean of their church’s racist history? Of course not. They decided every day whether or not to stand up to the leaders, or even to God himself, and be a voice for their black brothers and sisters. The whites chose to either be superior, or fight for equality. Today Mormons need to decide how they will talk about the racist history. Will they embrace it in honesty and work through it, or will they cast it aside and say, “That was in the past. We are all equal?”

Today, during this last week of the Presidential election push, many Christians around the country will be voting for Gov. Mitt Romney. Obama is a Christian.7 Romney is a Mormon. And one of the biggest farces when it comes to politics is that religion doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Consider how many people keep calling Obama a Muslim. If it didn’t matter, than why bring up the opinion, as ignorant as it may be? Are you not going to vote for a Muslim? Why not? Is it unconstitutional? If it doesn’t matter, then why was there all the hype about Jeremiah Wright’s church and black liberation theology?

Whether you’re okay with it or not, religion matters. For the most part, focus on Mormonism has been on polygamy. But all the while, and lasting much longer than the practice of polygamy ever did, the core of the religion has embraced racism, has taught racism, and there has been no repentance or repudiation of it. Even if Mitt Romney did not like or directly teach it, he has not stated that the suppression of black Americans in the LDS church was in any way wrong. And from his interview with Tim Russert, it’s obvious he is not willing to call his church wrong, to say a negative word against its history, or to even address the issue directly.

What will he do as President? How will he speak to issues of racism? Will he be a trailblazer and a leader, or another politician? Will he do what’s right for the country, or whatever isn’t negative toward his church? How can he be a champion for civil rights when he supported the suppression of black Americans within his own church? Is it difficult to see the hypocrisy when you say, “The color of your skin doesn’t matter when you’re trying to get a job,” but then say, “The color of your skin proves you are not worthy of blessings in our church?”

And Christians by the millions will go support him to be the face and voice of the country. I hope they do so being informed of the facts, and have come to terms with Romney’s response to the issue. I hope they approach their support with honest questions and expecting honest answers. May none of us ever be so tied to our partisan affiliation that we are able to make our decisions in good conscience.

The history and theology behind the LDS church and black Americans is complex. You read LDS writings on the issue and there is a lot going on. But what is clear is that they have not considered the suppression of blacks within the church as wrong, and likely never will. There is no apology. There is no repentance. And Mitt Romney is towing the line. He had a great chance to clear the air. He had a great opportunity to support all people above the evil of racism. He didn’t. Why not?

He had opportunities before the 1978 declaration to take a real stand for black Americans. He didn’t. Why not?


7Whether you agree with his particular choices of doctrine or practice is irrelevant to that issue. My guess is you don’t agree completely with everyone in your church, even the pastors, yet you still consider them Christians. Many will be even quick to judge the faith of someone based on their partisan political choices, without even knowing them personally, and that’s just sad.

Mormonism, Racism, and Romney: Part 3

Continued from part 2

Mitt Romney, like so many other LDS members until 1978, supported the practices and teachings of the church–in particular the LDS leadership–over the people. He contributed to the suppression of equality for black Americans. Instead of critiquing LDS history, instead of repudiating the racism that was rampant in his faith, he essentially validated the racism by saying he was “proud of [his] faith, and the faith of [his] fathers.” He gave credence to the idea that it was the will of God, and the Mormon people, though unhappy with it (by virtue of their being pleased when the ban was lifted, even to the point of Romney weeping when he heard the announcement), could do nothing but wait on the Lord to make the change.

He must have been unhappy with his Prophets who either did not plead enough to the Lord to lift the ban,5 or perpetuated the racism by continuing to teach the same sort of ideas that, for example, Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantage. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less…. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.6

That is a racist teaching. Keep in mind, being racist has no bearing on whether it is true or not. That’s a separate theological discussion. But, the teaching gives superiority to whites over blacks, and all because of choices that were made during an existence that we cannot remember now. No black person, whether today or pre-1978 declaration, remembers taking Satan’s side during the war in heaven. The only reason they might even think that is if LDS leaders and teachers tell them that and they believe it. Romney and others, while unhappy with their leaders, did nothing about it.

Completed in part 4


5There is a great article available in PDF form: “Dispelling the Curse of Cain: Or, How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban Without Looking Ridiculous” by Armand Mauss. Here’s the link to the PDF.

6Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, pages 66-67.

Mormonism, Racism, and Romney: Part 2

Continued from part 1

No religion should change it’s doctrines based on the movement of the culture it happens to be in. If you watch the video, linked to in the original article, of Tim Russert interviewing Mitt Romney, Russert was asking Romney if he ever questioned how he could be part of a religion that was considered racist. Beside Romney not answering the question, there seemed to be the expectation from Russert (as well as others) that the LDS church should have changed their stance on blacks long before, especially in light of how the country had progressed in the area of race. But that is not a reasonable request for any religion that takes itself seriously. You can’t go to Islam or Christianity and tell the people, “You know, society has changed. We’re in a pluralistic world now, and you need to stop believing your way is the way. You need to change your doctrine to respect that different roads lead to God, or to no God at all.”

The point I’m trying to make is that according to the LDS church, withholding the blessings from blacks was not an issue of the people being racist, or of the people being a product of the culture they grew up in, and if only they would have repented of their racism the LDS church would earlier have started to treat black Americans equally and they would have participated in the church just like any white American. According to the LDS church, the treatment of blacks was God’s will. Therefore it was a part of the religion itself, outside of the dictates of the members themselves. Mormons were simply being good Mormons.

Mitt Romney grew up in the LDS church. He still holds quite strongly to his LDS faith. He was a clear thinking adult before the church lifted the ban. By all accounts I’ve seen or heard, which aren’t many, he was a good Mormon. He even took the position of bishop, a leader of a local stake.

Now it’s time to get real with this discussion.

Andrew Sullivan, in his article for The Daily Beast, calls the LDS church a “white supremacist church.” If you step back from your (possible) knee-jerk reaction to that phrase, and look at what he’s saying, then you may have a difficult time arguing against it. Until the end of the ban in 1978, black American Mormon men were less worthy than white American Mormon men. If you had one black Mormon child and one white Mormon child, and even if it was the case that today that both might be considered worthy, before 1978 only the white child was actually considered worthy and could be ordained and receive certain blessings.

This practice went on from the time of Brigham Young until the 1978 revelation and declaration.4 In any other context, discussing any other topic, we would be talking about the racism going on here. We (who revile and rebuke racism anywhere it rears its evil presence) would be disgusted and wondering out loud where were the protestors. The structure of the LDS church is not that different from the Roman Catholic church. The history of the Catholic church reveals many instances of protest and dissent over doctrines and practices that created change or affected the future of the faith. Where were the John Wycliffes of the LDS church? Where were the Jan Huses? Where were the people who were going to stand up for black American Mormons and call for the church to finally recognize their equality as fellow brothers and sisters?

Well, it all comes back to this fact: God himself instituted this ban. God himself established this racist situation. The leadership of the LDS church (from the president and prophet to the Quorum) over the decades has guided the church and the people through the raging waters of this racist situation. They did their job to the best of their abilities.

Continued in part 3 has a historical timeline that is fascinating and complex. There seems to be debate over whether or not a certain black American was ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith himself.

Mormonism, Racism, and Romney: Part 1

The scriptures in the LDS church are the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and The Doctrine and Covenants. There are 138 sections in The Doctrine and Covenants, along with two Official Declarations. The first Official Declaration has to do with the halting of polygamy.1 The second Official Declaration was issued in 1978 after President Kimball received a revelation from the Lord, wherein all worthy members of the church were now able to receive priesthood and temple blessings, regardless of race. The declaration was signed by the First Presidency. One of the members of that team happened to be Marion Romney, the cousin of George Romney, father of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The declaration made it very clear that blacks in the LDS church, who were considered worthy in the same vein as their white brothers and sisters, would be treated equally. Also quite clear was that no apology would ever be issued by the LDS church to blacks.

But, we have to recognize something: the LDS church ought to give no apology. As the Declaration says, it was “in God’s eternal plan” that at some time the blessings would not be withheld any longer. While the people of the church waited for that time, they

pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these [those excluded, e.g. blacks], our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.2

Ultimately God is the one responsible for the blessings and an equal status being withheld from blacks. In the past, God established the rule (for lack of a better term), and only God could change the rule according to his plan. The First Presidency in 1949 said quite clearly,

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.3

All the people of the LDS church could do was plead for God to give them guidance. They were living in obedience to the will of God. To have turned on God over this, to have allowed blacks to receive the blessings (assuming it would even be possible), would have been rebellious.

Continued in part 2


1If you take the time to read it you find it more makes the statement that polygamy is no longer practiced, that it is better to stop and adhere to national law than to have the temples essentially shut down; it’s pragmatism not revelation that caused the pause in the practice of polygamy.

2From the Second Official Declaration.

3From The First Presidency Statement on the Negro Question, August 17, 1949.

New Series Intro: Mormonism, Racism, and Romney

Today, a new four part series I was putting together will go up. 4 kind-of short posts focusing on the LDS church, its history with racism, and the connection to Mitt Romney. The point of it all is to both make sure my brothers and sisters who will be casting a supporting vote for Mitt Romney next week are aware of the issue, and to challenge all of us, myself included, to take extra time and consideration of the issue of racism and how it thrives today.

But, first, I feel I need to lay a little ground work. I wanted to give a bit of background into my relationship with the LDS church and that may help you see why this is an extraordinary issue for me.

I don’t mention it much but I spent a good two to three years in deep study of the LDS church. Yes…it was because of a girl. Not to the extent you’re thinking, though. She and I worked together, and she peaked my interest in wanting to find out more about the LDS church. She gave me a Book of Mormon, and off I went. I got a hold of a Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, and got to work. I focused on reading their stuff, listening to their arguments, and seeing things from their perspective. I remember writing a 20+ page letter to her, and another coworker who was also Mormon, talking about what I read and my responses to them. I never gave them that letter. It was more an exercise for me. Instead I gave them each a short 1 page summary of where I was at, and we had a nice little discussion from there. We were good friends, then we all ultimately went different ways because of school, work, moving, etc.

That didn’t stop my thirst for reading about the LDS and having discussions when I could. I did take a break for a couple years while life changed. I married Kimbrah, we started a family, and moved again. That’s when my wife and I spent about a year and a half sharing dinner and conversation with LDS missionaries in our little San Diego area apartment. Some LDS girls helped my wife bring groceries in one day. Then, a week or so later, a couple of missionaries came knocking at the door, apparently thinking that we’d asked to watch a movie on eternal marriage in the LDS church. I kind of think that was a ruse on their part, but that’s alright. We were more than happy to have them over. They were some of the most wonderful kids. Each so different. Each with so much ahead of them. And they were obviously confused by us and the love we showed them. We never once tried to “evangelize” them, or “convert” them. We fed them and had great conversations. We listened and asked questions and listened some more. They listened and asked questions. We knew them by their first names, and this was before the rules started to loosen up on missionaries.

They felt safe and loved in our home. Sometimes they’d be over twice a week. That one tall boy could eat. I don’t think they ever ate so well during their two year missions. And they helped us move

But we love LDS folks enough to be honest with them, and expect them to be honest with us as well as their own history. I hope my fellow brothers and sisters can show them courtesy and respect, and recognize how seriously they take their faith.

So, keep an eye out for the upcoming posts. Read them over. Hopefully they’re not so jumbled it’s hard to understand.

Every member of the community has a role

At lunch time, I was reading Yoder’s section on The Fullness of Christ in Body Politics. This is great:

The Paul of Ephesians uses the term the fullness of Christ to describe a new mode of group relationships, in which every member of a body has a distinctly identifiable, divinely validated and empowered role.

When Paul was writing, this pattern for the definition of roles in the group differed profoundly from the patterns that already were present in his world, just as it differs profoundly from our own. Sharing roles was not a culturally available social model.. . . According to this standard account [the worldly model, as in contrast to Paul’s social model], a very few persons–one or, at the most, two or three in a congregation or parish–has the special role of “minister.” Only this especially qualified person can do the special thing that makes the church what it is supposed to be. (47-48)

And it is that worldly model, essentially a hierarchy within a church body, that helps limit a body, that suppresses God-given gifts, that places itself up against the work of God in a community and an individual.

We ought to be encouraging a true, consistent level of involvement from every member of the body. Not the small leadership (pastors, teachers, elders, board members, etc.) telling everyone else in the congregation to find some (other) place to be involved: e.g. work in the nursery, not teach the congregation on a Sunday morning; be a greeter, not work on the vision and mission of the church. We are all equal, and we have different roles, different gifts. Our churches ought to be structured to encourage that reality. And if that means being rid of a current, traditional church model, then let it be done.

Let there be a flood of justice

I hate all your show.

You should hate mine, too.

When I start writing about issues of anabaptism, of church and state, politics, the Kingdom of God amid empire, disciples of Jesus being in but not of the world, I like to get in the mood. I like to be in that zone. Usually it’s prompted by something I’ve read from Revelation, Mark’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel, John H. Yoder. Other times the prompts come from things I hear, like a teaching by Greg Boyd or James White (neither anabaptist nor pacifist, but his points are always so well stated they force me to think and study further).

But to really inspire me while writing I need to listen to some music. Derek Webb is the default, an there is nothing negative in that status at all. I know that at any time I can switch on Mockingbird, The Ringing Bell, or Stockholm Syndrome, and quickly be transported into the real, prophetic Christian struggle. I’m listening to Mockingbird right now. Webb just has a glorious way about his prophetic music. Rich Mullins is (not was; he may have died, but his legacy never will) another wonderful prophetic voice who maybe a lot of Christians didn’t (or still don’t) realize just how much. They were too busy basking in entertainment to grasp the messages from Mullins.

But one of my favorite songs right now is from John Foreman (mostly known for his role in Switchfoot). One of his solo projects is the catchy and convicting Instead of a Show.

I hate all your show and pretense 
The hypocrisy of your praise
The hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show

Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stop up my ears when you’re singin’ ‘em
I hate all your show

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living, living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Foreman once mentioned that some Christians had been offended by this song (I can’t find the link to it right now, but I will and will update this). Well, that’s what Scripture does: it offends those who are offended when convicted.

The song is a retelling of the powerful words found in Amos:

“I absolutely despise your festivals!
I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!
Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied;
I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves.
Take away from me your noisy songs;
I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.
Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up.”

God was sick of the show, the hypocrisy. Instead of the people’s noise, he said there must be justice, a flood of justice, and “an endless procession of righteous living.”

The song is a reminder of what God wants us to be doing, of what we ought to be doing, instead of the show we tend to put on. Sometimes that show happens Sunday mornings during “church.” Sometimes the show goes on at home, or in a Bible Study, or even a soup kitchen. And it’s the show that needs to stop.

This song always helps keep me in check, and is incredibly inspirational.

That song will stay on my while-writing playlist.

Why do you say the Pledge of Allegiance?

I first asked this on Facebook.

Question for my fellow Christians (and please read through the preamble and explanation before responding so you get where I’m coming from): if you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, support reciting the Pledge at schools, do so in church, etc., can you tell me why?

I am trying to understand the why here. I’m trying to grasp the motivation or desire to recite the Pledge, for a Christian, for someone who has pledged their allegiance to Jesus. I used to recite the Pledge. Sang the National Anthem at ball games. Appreciated the patriotic and nationalistic services on Sunday mornings. I’ve been there. But, as I engaged the Scriptures, as I asked certain questions about Jesus and what it means to be a disciple, as I came to an understanding of Christianity as pledging an allegiance to the King of kings and to his Kingdom, and as my conscience arrived at a place where I could no longer split or share my allegiance, I stopped reciting the Pledge. My path here was quite rough, very bumpy. But here I am.

And when I ask why do Christians say the Pledge, I admittedly have a difficult time coming at it from the perspective of where I used to be, of who I used to be. When I ask questions, or am asked tough questions, I always encourage others and myself to look from multiple angles, to step into another perspective. If you want to know about Mormonism, read the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, their teaching manuals, the conference statements, and ask Mormons without trying to convert them. Reading what Mormons call “anti” books (e.g. stuff by Bill McKeever) may be helpful at times, but it doesn’t come close to reading what they read and thinking how they think. The truth will win out in the end. Don’t be afraid.

So I come to you. I’d really like to understand why you, a Christian, recite the Pledge. How can you say the words and pledge your allegiance to a flag and a republic/nation when you also say your allegiance is to Jesus? I’d really appreciate it.

I am not looking for a fight or a debate. This is an open forum. I may ask follow up questions, but merely for clarity or details. Thanks in advance.

Testing the RSS feed

Feel free to disregard. Having trouble with the RSS feed on here. Just trying to fix it.

Insight via Carl’s Jr.?

I saw this on a Carl’s Jr. take out bag the other day: “Made with quality ingredients. Like flavor and awesomeness.” I immediately thought of Monsanto and the battle over labeling products with GMO ingredients here in California, a.k.a. Prop 37.

Simple technique: distract people with characteristics like flavor, awesomeness, large production numbers, etc. while not ever telling you what’s really in the food.

7 letter word Eddie: Excited

I just received Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps. That one was a randomly won prize in a contest I forgot I entered. Score!

The other, Red Letter Revolution from Claiborne and Campolo, came a little bit ago. That one I get the privilege to review. Score!

But, I’ll still drop a review down for the Hipps book. It’s very welcoming, isn’t it.

Van Gogh: prophet extraordinaire

It’s like Vincent Van Gogh painted a light bulb in my brain.

One of my favorite reads through the weeks is Church Marketing Sucks. A couple days ago Scott McClellan published a great piece: Church Communication Hero: Vincent Van Gogh.

Under the heading “He was, in a manner of speaking, a prophet,” he wrote something that really struck me regarding the famous painting of his, Starry Night (a print of which we have up on our wall):

Here’s Jethani again: “… Starry Night depicts the vistas of van Gogh’s soul more than the countryside surrounding Saint-Rèmy, France. The deep indigo of the sky was used by Vincent to represent the infinite presence of God, and the heavenly bodies are yellow—van Gogh’s color for sacred love. The divine light of the stars is repeated in the village below, every home illuminated with the same yellow warmth. For Vincent, God’s loving presence in the heavens was no less real on the earth.” And here’s where that critique comes in: “But there is one building in van Gogh’s imaginary village with no light, no divine presence—the church.”

It’s that last part in particular that I never considered. And, like a passage in a book by Yoder that causes me to think for a few days instead of continuing to read, I got stuck meditating on it and looking at the painting. And that’s when the abstract light bulb was switched on for me.

Granted, many of you probably already saw it or read about it. But, for me, this was a revelation. I can finally see the painting.

First we see the sky with the big, bold lights.

There is God at work. Magnificent. Evident. Then we look at the town.

Church detail

Look at the houses of the town. They all have lights. They are all inviting and welcoming. In the darkness, they shine like little lighthouses. That is God at work on the earth.

And in the middle of town stands the great church. Tall, authoritative, strong.

And dark. Lifeless. Uninviting. Unwelcoming. Blending into the darkness. The church is part of the darkness, instead of being the great light on earth.

But that’s not the end of the critique as I see it. The most profound object in the painting is the huge tree in the foreground. It goes from the earth and cuts deep into the heavens.

But this is no mere tree. It’s dark, deep, yet empty. Amid the bright lights in the sky (again, God’s work in the heavens) and the lights of the town (God’s work on the earth), the tree cuts into them both. I can now see the unmistakeable analogy Van Gogh used here: the tree is a larger, more dominant, more dark and empty, representation of the church that is dark and lifeless in the town. Look at the shape. Look at the form. It’s identical, simply flipped horizontally. The emptiness of the church on the earth–in the town, in the community–is mirrored in the tree as being empty and dark in the heavens as well.

To say he was unhappy with the church is an understatement.

Starry Night is a wonderful, dramatic painting. Now, being able to see it better, to begin to understand it better, the painting has taken on a new life. Vincent Van Gogh was indeed being prophetic. He had eyes to see, and the paint brush was his tongue. And while we ought to have eyes to see and ears to hear, what will we say and how will we say it?

Walking through The Apocalypse, i.4-6

John's Revelation

Ἰωάννης ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ· χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων ἃ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός, ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν καὶ ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς.

Τῷ ἀγαπῶντι ἡμᾶς καὶ λύσαντι ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν ἐν τῷ αἵματι αὐτοῦ—καὶ ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν, ἱερεῖς τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ— αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων ἀμήν.

From John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from he who is, and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth.

To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen. (NET)

In these few sentences alone are some powerful declarations that I think we might miss if we reading the text with a futuristic prophecy perspective. Remember the context during which John was writing these words: the Roman Empire is strong, powerful, authoritative. The Emperor has complete reign over the people within the conquered world. Christianity is still fairly young and being ravaged by persecution in various regions of the empire. If you read the text for what it is you find the anti-empire proclamations.

First, the one being called “he who is, and who was, and who is still to come” is God. Not the emperor, but God. Not Claudius. Not Nero. Not Galba, or Otho, or Vitellius, or Vespasian. Not Titus, the mighty destroyer of the Jerusalem temple, and especially not Domitian. God alone is, was, and is to come. And God sits on a throne, unmatched by man.

Second, Jesus is called “the ruler over the kings of the earth.” This is a radical statement that too often is under-emphasized (not just in this text, but throughout the Scriptures; not just in our reading, but in our daily lives, in our national context). Yet, this is what truly sets the tone for the rest of The Apocalypse. Jesus is the true ruler. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Those of us who are his subjects (his disciples, his friends, his followers) must place our allegiance with him and no others. We cannot split our allegiance. Not that we must not, but that we are unable to. We either serve the King of kings, or we serve one of the kings of the earth.

Jesus is called ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν, “the firstborn from among the dead.” If you think back to the letter to the Colossians, and the contrast made between Jesus and the Emperor (Col. i.15-20), Paul there also called Jesus πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, “the firstborn from among the dead.” He is the one to worship, who brings life to the dead, who rules even over death. The Emperor doesn’t even come close.

Third is the most obvious, radical, rebellious statement: Jesus “has appointed us as a kingdom, serving his God and Father.” We are a kingdom. In the middle of this vast, powerful, authoritative, Roman Empire, Jesus has appointed his disciples “as a kingdom.” We are a kingdom here on this earth amid the many earthly kingdoms, and we have Jesus as our King. We are what Jesus wants to do on the earth. We must be obedient in our service.

All of the imperial language is intentional. Worshipping Jesus–placing your allegiance in Jesus–puts your life in contrast with the kingdoms of the earth, with the Empire. And this is a great encouragement. Why? Because you have the King of kings, Lord of lords, ruler over the kings of the earth, master over death, and the one seated on the throne over all creation, on your side.

Do not get sidetracked by phrases like “kingdoms of the earth.” The US is an empire as much as Rome was. It looks a bit different, but the ideology and activities aren’t that different at all. Just because we do not technically have a king or royalty doesn’t mean we do not have a kingdom of the earth. So when you’re considering how to apply this text today, keep in mind the context and that the world truly hasn’t changed all that much. Empire is Empire.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday sermon from Trinity Mennonite Church

This is a great sermon that I hope you all can take a few minutes to listen to. It’s not what you might think from the title of this post.

This sermon was given at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, AZ, by Hal Shrader. He’s a wonderful teacher. Ahem. Peter. You need to go check them out. They are only a few minutes away from you.

Click here for the Sermon Audio.

What? Californians don’t like communion or something?

What’s the deal Cali!?!

Election Day Communion is coming up in just a month.

Yes. It’s the Tuesday as election day. Can’t forget it now, can you?

I took a look at the updated participation map and it’s over 200 congregations so far, in 42 states. That’s incredibly encouraging for a Christian like me who can get incredibly discouraged. It makes me smile. Gives me a bit of hope.

Congregations nation wide. Looking good.

Seems a bit loaded on the east coast. Then I took a look at the churches participating (so far) in my state of California.

Yikes. Only two. Come on, Cali! What’s the deal?

Election Day Communion is a great event. It’s a great opportunity for us to focus and remember. To unite. To humble ourselves. To serve one another. To love. It’s not limited by creed or denomination. It doesn’t matter if you’re voting or not. This is about Jesus and his Kingdom.

Participate if you can. Check it out.

And, if you have a congregation in California…make it happen. Are we seriously going to let those mid-westerners and east coasters think they’re better Christians than we are? I mean, Maine has two. Jersey has two.

Let’s show the country how the west coast throws down a communion.

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