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Sunday Sermon

All for the Glory of God
Revelation 7:9-17

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. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

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. 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. ‘Never again will they hunger;  never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’   nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne   will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’   ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

~

When I was a student at Austin Seminary I had the privilege of serving on the Student Senate and Admissions Committee. It was an interesting job; we came across all kinds of people with all kinds of different stories. But I loved it because in reading admissions essays we were let into this sacred space where we witnessed how God was working so intimately and so powerfully in individuals’ lives to call them to his work. One of the essays I read was for an Asian student who felt led to Seminary, but wasn’t sure what his vocational path would be. In response to one of his questions to God, he received a vision in a dream. In his vision, he saw a stadium filled with all different kinds of people and he heard all of those people praising God in one voice. It wasn’t in the same kind of voice because each spoke in their own language, but despite the differences in dialect and length of phrasing- they kept time together and could be heard as one song- they paused to inhale together and they exhaled in song together- and they all sang the same words to God. Then, he heard all the nations praying selflessly for each other. The Russians prayed for the Mexicans who prayed for the Iraqis who prayed for the Chinese who prayed for the Indonesians who prayed for the French who prayed for the North Koreans who prayed for the Americans who prayed for others.

I was so moved when I read this that I had tears in my eyes and had to say “Amen!” out loud because it was the purest form of the kingdom of heaven that I had encountered. And what struck me as I read through this vision was how unabashedly true it seemed. It was something that seemed so right, down to the depths of my created being that the only thing I could respond with was Amen. To me, the experience was made real because I could imagine it, I could participate in it.

And that is the goal of the Book of Revelation- to give us a glimpse of heaven and an encounter with reality as it really is. It is to get caught up in our true purpose, the worship of Almighty God. Do you have that kind of experience when you read the book of Revelation? Most of us get so bogged down in the metaphors and trying to figure out what all the symbolism means that we can miss what it is trying to tell us about God and his kingdom.

As I read some passages from Revelation, clear your minds and listen to what may be being stirred up in your souls. John, who writes Revelation, has been invited, through a vision, into the throne room of God and reports back,

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures…Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being….

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders….He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

….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 in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:

“Amen! And praise; and glory;
and wisdom; and thanks; and Honor;
and power; and strength
be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

Did u see it? Did you feel it? This is the great worship service that all people of all ages have been invited to join in. The pure, unadulterated worship of God. To the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end; to the one who was, and is, and is to come. The song that all of creation can sing. Despite what the world tells us or life seems to throw our way, this is the one reality that we can participate in that will endure forever. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

This world is passing away; it is finite. We don’t need to look very far behind us for proof. At the time Revelation was written, believers were being martyred for their faith. Christians were facing fierce persecution and part of the reason the book of Revelation was preserved was to give hope to early Christians who were facing trials and tribulations.

One of the blessings of this message is that it doesn’t promise that there won’t be any great tribulations in our lives, but that we will be preserved through them. You will face trials and tribulations living as a Christian in a broken and finite world, but even in the midst of these, God is in control, working all things together for the good, culminating in an end that is already determined. And faithful suffering can’t last forever because God has started with the end in mind; he knows where it all ends up:

“they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. And guess what- Revelation says, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”

Our Seminary President, Ted Wardlaw, tells a story about a modern cathedral in England that features one whole wall made of glass. The massive south wall of that cathedral is made entirely of glass and etched into the glass are the huge figures -- four feet wide and ten feet tall -- of saints and angels. They're having a party -- blowing trumpets and making merry and swinging from the chandeliers and dancing across this massive wall of glass.

And, were that the only thing you saw when looking at that glass wall, you might justifiably conclude that there's something...downright immoral about such fun going on in the heights of heaven while there are a host of us suffering here in history's most horrific century. You might look at that wall, and ask how they could construct such a thing in the middle of time where there is AIDS and starvation, and the stalking hatred of militia groups, and the neglect and murder of children, and the meanness of our rhetoric, and the growing gap between those who have and those who don't. And hurricanes. You might look at that glass wall and wonder what sort of God would have the nerve to throw a party like that in times like these, and what sort of church would have the nerve to go to it.

But the cathedral, he says, is located in Coventry which makes all the difference in the world. Because, in November of 1940, Coventry suffered the longest air raid endured in any one night, by any city, in England during World War II. It was an air raid which killed and destroyed and reduced the whole city to ruins, including its cathedral. When they built the new cathedral, they chose, as the purpose of its ministry, the theme of "resurrection through sacrifice."

Standing in the cathedral, you look through that modern glass wall, beyond all the saints dancing in heaven, and see at the same exact time, the painful ruins of the old bombed-out church. AND, The rubble of those ruins, that so aptly symbolize life [in this finite world], cannot be seen through that glass wall except in light of the promise from beyond time -- the promise that God gathers up all of our flawed history, gathers it up into God's holy and redemptive purposes -- and such a visual encounter with God's promise for the future permeates that pile of rubble with meaning that is not otherwise there.

As we gather each Sunday for worship, we glimpse eternity. As we sing “Forever” we have the opportunity to participate in the one reality that will never change. Can you hear it? That sound of a million voices lifted up with ours this morning, all singing the same song- praise to the Lord, the Almighty- the one who is, and was, and is to come.

Pastor Lindsay