Creekside Church
Sermon of November 1, 2020

"Saints Among Us"
Revelation 7:9-17

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Duet - "I Will Rise" (not included in the video above)

Good morning! I realized some of you may have the heebie jeebies this morning: not because of the haunting from last night’s Trunk or Treat here at Creekside or Halloween festivities elsewhere, or even because of that extra hour of sleep you got this morning. Nope, you may be feeling a bit itchy and restless because of this text from Revelation -- a book of the Bible which is undeniably weird. It is kind of distantly linked to Halloween, but just to be clear I don’t think it has anything to do with Daylight Saving Time.

Revelation is weird because it’s a genre of literature we don’t come across often in the Bible, although there are references to this genre by Jesus and others. Revelation is an apocalypse which means it is a revelation, something which has been revealed, about the end of the world, or the end of the world as we know it now. This revelation came to John of Patmos as a vision -- a dream of the end of the world. John’s dream is a pretty colorful one: a great Beast, the Whore of Babylon, the AntiChrist, and four horseman -- not from Notre Dame, the older ones, the four horseman of the Apocalypse. There’s a lot of symbolism and numerology and stuff which may just seem crazy. Revelation has fueled a lot of predictions about how and when the world will end; some people love it, some people hate it, but as I have mentioned before, it was a significant part of my adolescence, so it seems kind of normal to me. I came from a weird family.

In some ways Revelation is like some of the rhetoric we’ve been hearing around the American presidential election, but there is a significant difference. John of Patmos was sharing his vision of the future with supporters (that is, other Christians) who had fallen on hard times: they were oppressed, persecuted, and had no voice in the Roman government which was perpetrating this injustice. John is predicting how the continuation of this system is going to lead to the world coming unraveled in some really colorful ways. Although John’s audience knew that his account was not intended to be factual, it isn’t so different in tone from the dire predictions we’re hearing from Joe Biden and Donald Trump about what a shambles America will be in if the other guy is elected or re-elected President. I won’t go through all those claims with you -- you’ve heard the ads and seen the coverage. Negative campaigning is a time-honored and effective way of gaining support: make people feel that the future is uncertain, precarious and menacing. That is certainly part of what is going on in Revelation. But here’s the significant difference:

John’s vision of the apocalypse ends with a clear winner: no contested results, no re-counts, no doubt. The winner isn’t John -- he isn’t campaigning for himself. The winner is Jesus Christ; and John represents Christ in a peculiar way: not an elephant or a donkey, but the winner is a Lamb -- not a huge surprise there, Jesus has been called the Lamb of God earlier in the Bible -- but in Revelation, Jesus is a lamb who has been killed. This is a post-resurrection lamb: a pure and innocent lamb which was offered for sacrifice for our sins and is still covered in its own blood. And Revelation 7 tells us that this Lamb, this helpless, bloody, previously dead creature, is the ruler of eternity. This Lamb will be at the center of the throne of heaven and this lamb -- and only this lamb -- is worthy of blessing and honor and glory and power. That is quite a picture. You’re not going to hear that vision of the future from any political campaign.

And here’s the connection to Halloween -- it isn’t all the folks being washed in the blood of the lamb. Halloween is All Hallows eve, the night before we celebrate All Saints Day; the darkness when evil seemed to be winning, is followed by a celebration of the victory of Jesus Christ. And it is not only Christ the Lamb who has risen, it is all of those faithful who committed themselves to Christ in this lifetime, whatever the cost. These are people from every nation of the earth who gave their lives for Christ. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, witness and martyr are the same word. Think about that for a moment, and what that would have meant for John’s readers: to speak out for Christ meant to risk being killed. That is not unthinkable in some place in the world even today.

We remember the people represented by these candles today because they were saints among us. Not because they were perfect, but because we loved them and Christ loved them. Some of them had been a part of our church family for as long as most of us can remember. Angi Harney shared with our Sunday School class that she has never attended a church that Lee and Deana Markley were not a part of. We rejoice that these friends and family members have now joined the company of saints, and are together with those in the throne room of heaven with the Lamb in the center singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!” Whatever the darkness and suffering and pain of their lives and of ours, this is the eternal future of anyone who bears witness to the Lamb of God.

The praise of God by the saints in heaven never ends, but it doesn’t begin when we die. For the faithful, that praise began when we accepted Christ as our resurrected Lord and Savior, and that praise continues throughout whatever time we have left in our lives. We celebrate the saints who have left us to be with God, but it’s also good to take time on this day to recognize the saints among us. Parents, Sunday School teachers, Bible study leaders, pastors, friends who share our struggles and encourage us and point the way to the kingdom of God . I know if you look around at the folks here in the Worship Center, probably even at some of the cars in the parking lot, and maybe even at someone sitting with you in a Sunday School classroom, you will see a saint-in-training: someone who has committed their unique gifts and given their time and talents to continue to the work of Jesus, right now. Acknowledging that there are saints among us is one of the best ways to recognize the saints within us: our better angels who help us to be more just, compassionate, and faithful. Someone who can guide the way for others. We are all flawed and imperfect people, doing what we can in a flawed and imperfect and sometimes scary world -- a world which frankly, no politician has the power to fix. That is why our hope, our commitment, and our allegiance must be to Christ the Lamb. We know Christ will win because Christ has already won: the ending was determined when he was resurrected. Christ has defeated death and evil and all the scariest things which John of Patmos could imagine. We give thanks for the saints who have already received that promise of eternity; we commit to live and witness to that promise, so that we too may cry “Worthy is the Lamb!” Thank you for the lives which you touch every day. May God find us faithful when it is our turn to join the company of saints. God bless you. Amen

 

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