About The Rev. Miss Tracy Siegman

If you know me, Prissie Sissie may be an appropriate nickname at face value, but it has an alternate meaning to me. Prissie is a nickname for Priscilla. Priscilla was a significant disciple of the Apostle Paul (Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). Sissie is short for sister - I am your sister in Christ.

The Scroll and the Lamb – August 13, 2017 – Revelation 5: 1 – 13

The book of Revelation is a highly political book. In order to properly interpret the book and understand the signs, symbols and language, we need to look at the politics of 1st century Rome. This will lead us to politics in the 21st century United States. As we get there, I will do my best to be political but not partisan which is difficult because there are very few things that are political and not partisan anymore.

Regardless of what party we identify with or if we find a party to identify with at all, we do so, as people of faith, informed by our faith. I don’t think God or Jesus can be particularly claimed by one party or another. The Republicans have become the party of the Evangelical Christians but there is a growing Religious Left movement among Progressives. Both are faithful people and strive to direct their public lives rooted in their beliefs about who God is and what God does. So, I will tread lightly.

In our throne room, we have God at the center being worshipped by 4 living creatures and surrounded by 24 elders dressed in white robes and wearing crowns. The elders cast down their crowns before the throne. Casting down crowns is a political act in 1st century Rome and indicates allegiance. If the emperor was visiting, a delegation of citizens would go to see him. They would be given golden crowns to wear which they would lay down before the emperor. This laying down of crowns is a sign of being the emperor’s subject. It is a sign of allegiance.

This scene of elders laying down their crowns before the throne of God is an act of resistance to the Roman empire. The elders are saying there is no god but God. The emperor or head of state can’t be likened to God or elevated to that status because there is only one sovereign God to be worshiped and due our allegiance. The imagery is counter-cultural in a culture that worshiped the emperor for elders to lay down their crows before God and pledge allegiance to God alone.

In God’s presence any reference or sign or symbol that distracts our attention from God or draws us away from our relationship with God or calls us to pledge allegiance to anyone but God or any kingdom but God’s kingdom is simply disgraceful. American Christian practice allows some space for distraction. We have an American flag in our sanctuary. A sign that we have an allegiance to a leader and a nation other than God and His Kingdom. We are the only country, according to a survey I did of a Facebook group of other clergy who serve all over the world, we are the only country to have national flags in our sanctuary. Our flag is here as a sign of our allegiance to God and country.

John’s vision continues in Chapter 5. John sees God seated on the throne holding a scroll in His right hand sealed with seven seals. An angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” The angel searches for someone who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll which we know to contain the will of God. If the seals are not broken and the scroll read, we will never know God’s plan for the final victory and the fullness of the coming kingdom. The one found to be worthy will be the one who reveals the will of God.

No one in Heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy and able to open the scroll or to read it. John wept bitterly because no one was found worthy to reveal the will of God. Then, one of the elders said to John, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

John turns to look for the lion but sees a slaughtered lamb. The lamb goes to the throne and takes the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne. The four living creatures and the 24 elders fall before the lamb, worship Him and sing, “You are worthy” and “You ransomed the saints” and “Worthy is the lamb.”

No one had been found worthy, but then, the lion of Judah was found worthy. For John, this conjures up the expectations of the Messiah. This goes back to the long-expected warrior Messiah that would destroy the Roman empire by military action and the kingdom of Israel would be restored under the Messiah who would be like King David. But, that is not the Messiah we got. Jesus is the slaughtered lamb. In God’s world order, where He is at the center, worshipped by all around, sacrifice is a sign of power. Sacrifice is the act through which God saved the world and continues to save us.

In verse 5, the elder says “the Lion has conquered.” The Greek word nikhen is translated conquer. It can also be translated victory. It is the word from which Nike took their name. In Roman culture, the one who is worthy is the one who is victorious in winning a battle, especially one of winning the throne. He is worthy of worship for being a conqueror and dominates. The victor oppresses, enslaves, subjugates.

But, Christ is not that kind of victor. Christ’s victory comes through loosing bonds and setting the oppressed free. Christ is victorious over death through redemption and salvation. In Christ’s kingdom, we are saved to be brought in, not defeated to be subjects. Here, Christ is worthy of worship and worthy to open the scrolls because He has been victorious over death and able to reveal the will of God.

And, the choir sings, “Worthy is the Lamb.” The Greek word axios which is translated worthy is a politically charged word in Rome. When the Roman emperor was seen in public, the crowds would yell, “Worthy! Worthy!” The emperor was thought to be worthy of their worship because he was a conqueror. One of my sources likened this to a band playing “Hail to the Chief!” when the President of the United States enters a large gathering. But, again, in God’s kingdom the only one worthy of our allegiance and worship is God and His lamb.

As we read the book of Revelation and begin to understand the political message of John’s vision with its politically charged signs, symbols and language, our questions should be, “Who do we give our allegiance? And, who do we trust to reveal God’s will?” I can’t help but think of a particular example from this past week when asking these questions.

This week, Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of the president’s spiritual advisors, advised the president that God is okay will bombing North Korea. Pastor Jeffress said “God has given the president full control to take out North Korean leader Kim John Un. The pastor looked to a passage from Romans and wrote that rulers have full power to use whatever means necessary – including war – to stop evil.”

Pastor Jeffress is one the president trusts to reveal the will of God. The problem I have with Pastor Jeffress’ message is that I don’t think God gets into specifics like take out Kim John Un. I think the scroll that Christ opened revealing the will of God says something more like peace among nations. I’m not saying that war is never justified. The Just War theory is rooted in Christian theology. There are right reasons to go to war and rights acts in war understood through the lens of our Christian faith.

I think we can discern when war is necessary, but what I really want us to consider…is that when God’s will is revealed it is in the long tradition of the Bible. And, we find worthy the One who never declared violence against anyone, who is named the Prince of Peace, and who promoted peacemakers. Before we go pledging allegiance to the President, trusting his spiritual advisors, and supporting war with North Korea, or Venezuela or whoever, we need to enter the throne room of God, pledge our allegiance to God first, and ask, “What is the path to peace among the nations? How do we protect the innocent? And, how do we set free the oppressed?”

We must remember that the power of God is unleashed through the sacrifice and death of Christ. We cannot understand the will of God apart from the Slaughtered Lamb whose journey leads to the cross and victory is in the resurrection. Peace among the nations will come through humility and self-sacrifice, not ego and might.

Sources: I read so much I don’t remember where I read what so here are the links to the articles I read and the podcasts I listened to.
https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=900
https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=901
https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3285
https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=567
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1693
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2823

Heavenly Worship – August 6, 2017 – Revelation 4: 1 – 11

Today, we begin a sermon series on the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation or the Revelation of John is the most intriguing book of the Bible and it is the least understood book of the Bible. Most people want to read it but can’t make sense of the creatures and signs and symbols.

There are some pre-conceived notions we all bring to the book of Revelation. Most of us think of hellfire and damnation, death and destruction and nuclear annihilation from images conveyed in the book of Revelation. Many of us believe that it tells how the world as we know it will end. Some may have even attended lectures or read essays attempting to interpret what is going on in our world in light of the book of Revelation. That is not what I want us to take away from our reading of the book of Revelation.

In seminary, on my last day of Introduction to the Bible, my fellow students and I were all wondering when our professor was going to get to the book of Revelation. We had about 5 minutes left in class. We didn’t know how he was going to cover the whole book. We didn’t know if maybe there was a whole class devoted to the book of Revelation. Then, in the last minute, he said, “God wins. That’s all you need to know about the book of Revelation.”

So, as we delve into the book of Revelation, remember God wins. If you take nothing away from this series, “God wins” is all you need to remember.

The book of Revelation is a vision. Visions require some visuals to help us see. I’m going to attempt to give you something to help you see the vision of Revelation each week. This week, John sees the throne room so I’ve created a throne room for us to enter as we read from Chapter 4. I’m not going to have the Scripture up on the screen because I don’t want you reading the screen as I read the Scripture. I’d like you to look at the throne room and allow the Spirit to give you eyes to see what John saw and ears to hear the Word.

There will be a response you make to the Scripture reading. At the last verse of this Scripture, I will say, “and the people said.” That will be your prompt to read the last line of this Scripture as a response which will appear on the screen at the appropriate time.

Scripture Reading: Revelation 4: 1 – 11

4 After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the spirit,[a] and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3 And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4 Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
“Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.”
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, [and the people said],

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

So, first a little about what was going on in Rome and with the church at the time John wrote the book of Revelation. The problems the churches were experiencing was that they were either being persecuted by the Romans or Christians were assimilating into the Roman culture and losing their “otherness”. We are called to be set apart, distinctly different because of Christ, not like everyone else. Christ was counter cultural to the Temple culture and Christianity was meant to be counter-cultural to the Roman Empire. For those being persecuted, this provides words of hope and assurance. For those getting too comfortable, these are words of challenge. There is a saying that is true of the Gospels, and also true of the book of Revelation, it is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Chapter 1 is the introduction to the revelation and the beginning of the vision. Chapters 2 and 3 are messages for the 7 churches. Chapter 4 takes John into the throne room to witness and experience Heavenly Worship in the throne room. The message of Revelation which begins in the view of this ordered worship where God is at center is that God is the Creator, not the destroyer. The knowledge that God is the Creator invites us into worship.

Chapter 4 of the book of Revelation has been integral in creating patterns of worship. Today, the traditional liturgies or orders of worship in highly liturgical churches, meaning high church, orthodox, traditional churches, these are the most sung verses of Scripture in worship as responses to prayers and readings. The words are also often used in traditional hymns. The podcast narrator I was listening to this week suggested that the entire praise music industry would collapse if they couldn’t use Revelation chapters 4 and 5 in contemporary praise music.

So, what does this scene tell us about worship? It tells us that God should be at the center of our worship and we worship of God as we add our voices to the chorus being sung in Heaven.

A colleague of mine recently did a survey of his church and asked them to share their opinions about worship. Now, I chuckled when I heard about this. Because, he probably well knew what people think about worship. Because, if there is one thing a pastor and music director don’t have to ask church people about it is worship. Church people freely and regularly share their thoughts on worship, especially sermons and music, especially when they don’t like it.

My friend’s reflections on the survey were again funny but not surprising. Basically, they have no good data to make any changes to their worship. He said for every one person who said they hated something there was a person who said it was their favorite thing. For every one person that said they wanted more praise music there was someone who said they wanted more hymns.

That is true of any church. A contemporary church service with an awesome praise band is going to hear, “Why don’t you play the newer stuff on the radio?” Or “we haven’t sung ‘Here I Am to Worship’ in awhile?” And every traditional worship planner is going to hear “we don’t sing ‘Amazing Grace’ enough” until it is sung once a month, and even that might not be enough.

Let me tell you this.

Worship is not about you.

We are gathered as a community to worship God.

Warren Wiersbe says this about worship:
“When ministry becomes performance, then the sanctuary becomes a theater, the congregation becomes an audience, worship becomes entertainment and the church’s applause and approval become the measure of success. But, when ministry is for the glory of God, His Presence moves into the sanctuary. Even the unsaved visitor will fall down on his face, worship God and confess that God is among us.”

The scene of Revelation 4 is one of people glorifying God, bowing down before God, laying down what they have before God and singing to God. It is our duty of faith to gather among the fellowship of believers and worship God.

Every Sunday, the music is meaningful to someone. Every Sunday, the sermon is meaningful to someone…I hope. But, we can’t play everyone’s favorite song every Sunday and the Spirit may inspire a sermon that is for someone specific, not for the same purpose for everyone. Every Sunday, everyone may not leave feeling edified and inspired. What is important is that we experience God in worship. We experience God’s Presence when we lay aside what we want and glorify Him alone. Worship is about God. It is our purpose in worship to gather around the throne of God and join our voices with what is already being sung in Heaven.

HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! Lord God Almighty!

The Commands of Jesus: Feed My Sheep – July 30, 2017 – John 21: 15 – 25

This text from the Gospel of John would normally be read sometime between Easter and Pentecost. Pentecost is the day we celebrate the birth of the church with the coming of the Holy Spirit in May or June depending on when Easter is.

Chapter 20 of the Gospel of John is the story of the resurrection including an appearance to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb and 2 appearances of Jesus to the Disciples. Then, chapter 20 ends this way:

30 Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. 31 But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name.

Kinda like, that’s the end. But, then, there’s one more chapter. Chapter 21 may have been added on after the original end was written. Like an editor added it after the author had finished it. Continue reading