July 26, 2020
Recording at in Mt. Nebo today!
I’m on vacation for the next two Sundays.
I’ll post a link on my Facebook page to my colleagues worship services next week. They’ll be preaching on the next two Revelation texts in our sermon series.
Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 128)
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Laudate omnes gentes, laudate dominum
Laudate omnes gentes, laudate dominum
Sing praises all you peoples, sing praises to the Lord.
Sing praises all you peoples, sing praises to the Lord.
Prayer of Confession
Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgement. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
Words of Assurance:
Hear the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia. Amen.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray, and to offer our petitions to you in his name. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord:
Let us pray for the world.
Let us pray for the church.
Let us pray for those who govern us.
Let us pray for world leaders.
Let us pray for the sick.
God of compassion, bless us and those we love, our friends and families that, drawing close to you, though we are apart, we may be drawn closer to each other, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
What is one thing you know how to do so well that you can teach it to someone else?
The Great Multitude in White Robes
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their facesbefore the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”
14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,
“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’[a] nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b] ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]”
“Eyes on the Lamb”
Let us pray,
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer…
This is the week where Revelation starts to get weird. Four angels hold back the collapse of the created order. By restraining the winds that threaten to devastate the world. One of the angels, carrying the seal of the living God, announces a great multitude (144,000 people) worshipping the Lamb, Jesus. The multitude will remain faithful to the Lamb ‘forever and ever.’ The multitude fall on their faces and worship the Lamb.
But who is included in this multitude? John says “these are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This is just a weird image. How does a robe that has been washed in blood become white? We all know what happens when we accidentally wash a red shirt with a white tank top. The red shirt stays red, but the white tank top turns pink.
Here is where it’s helpful to remember that Revelation is ultimately a book about Jesus, the lamb of God. And about Jesus’ work in creation. That’s why I’ve named this sermon “Eyes on the Lamb.” The multitude are those who actively work to seek and serve Jesus. They do not wait to be served by him. They work with him to uncover what God is up to in the world, and where they can help. We call discovering where we can help discerning our vocation. Figuring out what we are to do, given who God created us to be.
Here is where we run into some trouble in the text. Having done what we were supposed to do. Having discerned what we are to do given who God created us to be, why are we still experiencing trials and tribulations? Do we interpret “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” to mean that suffering is a necessary prerequisite of joining the multitude?
I don’t think so. Because that reading goes against God as revealed to us in Revelation. Remember the focus of Revelation is on the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Sure, creation may be disintegrating all around us. Yes, God is angry at those who have defiled his creation. But the good news of Revelation is that God will ultimately be victorious. I take this to mean that God doesn’t cause suffering, but suffering will happen until the Lamb returns to wash away every tear.
I believe the good news of this text is that God will be victorious. And that we have an active role to play in the unfolding of a new creation. John tells us that the Lamb will wipe away all tears from their eyes. Have you ever wiped tears from someone else’s eyes?. It’s quite an intimate thing to do. It’s a way of recognizing another’s vulnerability. It’s a way of saying I see that your hurting. Seeing you hurting hurts me. And I want to work with you to make you feel better. This is what Jesus is saying to the multitude who have been through the great tribulation. I see you. I see your pain. Your pain is real and important to me. Come to me, and I will give you peace, because I am in control over all of creation.
Because God is in control over all of creation, this gives us great freedom to participate in the unfolding of a new creation. We are watching a new creation unfold as our world navigates the coronavirus pandemic. One of the blessings of this pandemic is that it laid bare all that which was not working in our society. Here are just a few examples:
Underlying the debate over whether and how to send our kids back to school in the fall is an uncovering of a real child-care crisis in America. This crisis has been going on at least as long as I have been alive. But we’re finally able to see that it’s not sustainable to expect our school districts to be solely responsible for preparing our young people for the responsibilities of citizenship.
Underlying the debate over whether or not to extend unemployment benefits through July 31, 2020 is an uncovering of vast economic disparities that exist in America. As professionals sheltered at home, we realized that many of our essential workers make at or just above minimum wage. Which forces them to rely on public services that are the first things cut during economic recessions.
Underlying the debate over whether or not to wear a mask in public is an uncovering of the limits of individual liberty. Americans aren’t great at seeing how their individual decisions impact their neighborhoods, states, and countries. Masks make visible the threat of an invisible virus. They signify our participation in a collective effort to curb the virus’ spread.
Having received this reality check, this revelation, we are now able to rise to the challenge of creating a world more in line with the Lamb’s vision for the kingdom of God. We can’t go back to the way that things were before. We have seen too much. We can, however, use the multitude of gifts and talents that already exist in our communities to build a better future for ourselves and our families.
We have a daunting task set before us. A good place to start is with a pen and paper. Spend some time thinking about the one thing you can do so well you can teach it to someone else. For example, I can teach someone else how to make scrambled eggs. Next think about how you can share that gift with someone else. As I head home to see my family over the next couple weeks, I’m thinking about who I can make breakfast for. And who I can pass my grandmother’s scrambled egg recipe on to.
Making scrambled eggs may be a weird example. But never doubt that God is going to use your weird gifts in the unfolding of God’s new creation. I trust that the God who named you, who claimed you in your baptism, and who sends you out into the world with a plan and a purpose will use you in whatever our new normal becomes.
Thanks be to God,
In Jesus’ name,
The Kingdom of God is justice and peace. And joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come Lord, and open in us. The gates of your kingdom.
You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a plan and a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do, through you, wherever you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power, Amen.