The audio was recorded at our Praise and Worship service on November 2, 2014.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,
"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor
and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are 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 center 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."
Peace and Plenty
In Revelation we encounter this struggle. Though it may seem more hidden. John penned his letter to struggling faith communities who were caught up in a epic battle for their very lives. Seven churches are named in the opening chapters. Churches scattered throughout Asia Minor, what we call Turkey today. They lived and did ministry during the time of the Roman empire, in the first century of the common era.
Rome had a particular understanding of peace and plenty. And if you did not agree, or tired to set up your own community of peace and plenty, Rome struck back. Hard. These seven churches, along with others caught up in the Jesus movement, had experienced a glimpse of true peace and plenty in the promise of God’s kingdom. They had set their lives apart and chosen to enter into this way of life. And Rome did not agree.
The weight of empire, the power of Rome, came crashing hard against their feeble attempts to ground their lives in Christ. There were many casualties. The list of saints-passed-on grew at an almost exponential rate. Life for those early churches was bleak at best. So John wrote to encourage them. John’s revelation is a letter of hope written for those churches. This letter still brings hope to us today.
We pick up in the letter with John’s vision of a heavenly scene. An uncountable multitude from every conceivable race, nation, language, and people is gathered before the eternal throne. They worship God, enthroned in the midst of the mass of thousands upon thousands. They sing words that we use in our own moments of worship - words we sang just moments ago. An elder asks John who this multitude is and the elder answers his own question. “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.” Or better translated, “These are they who are coming out of the great ordeal…”
These are the ones who have died in the struggle. The ones killed for their allegiance to Christ - their refusal to bend to the power of empire. They have been killed for worshiping Christ instead of Caesar - potentially martyred with the very songs on their lips that they continue to sing at the throne. They are the ones who have received the promise that God made through Christ - the promise of life eternal in the presence of God. They have come through the great ordeal and stand at the throne with the one who brings life out of death. They have a new reality.
The elder tells John: They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center 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.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more...and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:16-17
But John sees through the cracks. John sees the real picture. The churches that he wrote to suffered from the same confusing voices of the powers of this world. They struggled to hold to the promise that had in Christ. But they had experienced the radical equality and abundant grace, the peace and plenty of the promised and living kingdom of God. The promise made through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So John paints them a picture of what God has already done.
In heaven there is no more crying. No more pain. No more threat of death. Everything has been perfected for them in the love of God. The struggles of life are gone. There is finally plenty - enough for everyone. There is finally a true peace. There is rejoicing and singing and worshiping. No matter what happens in this world, even amidst persecution and death, God will bring forth true life.
No matter what happens in this world, even amidst persecution and death, God will bring forth true life.
This is the promise for our lives as people of God. And we get a glimpse of this promise in our worship. Through the worship of God, what goes on in eternity, echoes in our lives. The patterns of worship point to something way beyond themselves. The patterns of worship transcend time, culture, language, and nation to the very power of God who is true ruler of the cosmos. The true author and creator of all life. The true giver of peace and plenty.
The promise of true peace and plenty in the presence of God - This is the promise for our lives as people of God.
Words that we speak and hear in worship shape our very lives. From the pulpit - “The Gospel of the Lord.” From the font - “You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever…” From the table - “Do this in remembrance of me.” These words shape our lives as God’s people.
Especially at the table do we receive the glimpse of peace and plenty. All have a place. All have enough and plenty to space. Thousands upon thousands. A multitude uncountable of every conceivable race, nation, language, and people gather on this day across the world to join together in a thin place, to remember the promise of God.
Life at the table, life at this table, is a symbol of what God has envisioned for the world and has fashioned for us forever. This pattern is not meant to stay here, confined to this space. The pattern we are drawn into at Christ’s table is meant to guide us at the other tables we gather around each week. By experiencing the abundance we have in Christ, we learn to share our abundance with others. We learn to model God’s plenty so that all have enough. Our tables become a sign of God’s abundance. We become a sign of God’s grace.
Our tables become a sign of God’s abundance.
We become a sign of God’s grace.
Today after worship we are going trick-or-treating for canned goods with our youth. Last Wednesday we hung plastic bags and an invitation on the doors of houses in a local neighborhood. We invited folks to join us to collect canned goods and food for the food pantry. We are inviting folks to help us meet the needs to those who hunger in our community. I want to celebrate that today. And I want to challenge us to go further.
In September we collected 700 pounds of food in four hours at HEB. 700 pounds. We were very excited. But when we god to the food pantry we were hit with the shock of reality. 700 pounds of food only lasts four days in our community. Four days! Knowing this statistic is important. It points us to the need and asks us to join in the struggle of demonstrating God’s peace and plenty. The challenge is for us to go further. For us to do more than just collect food. We are called to ask why there is hunger in the first place. What are the systemic causes that lead to hunger? And how can we as church, as witnesses of God’s peace and plenty, combat them? When we ask these questions, the Spirit will lead us to action.
At the table we are empowered to do this. At this table we join with the saints who have gone before us. The saints we name today and the saints from all generations, who have received the promised peace and plenty of God. We join in God’s promised feast so that we can go out and be witnesses of God’s peace and plenty to the world.