What?!

The text of the sermon, based on Revelation 7.9-17 and John 10.22-30, with a reference to Psalm 23, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2022.

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Whenever I read the Book of Revelation, I often have an immediate one-word reaction: What?!

Because most of Revelation’s symbols are beyond my comprehension and imagination. One example: It’s hard for me to conceive, at first and literal glance, how a robe bathed in blood can come out white!

Nevertheless, the central image in today’s passage – “a great, immeasurable multitude, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” enthralled in worship – is familiar.

For almost thirty years, Pontheolla and I lived in Washington, DC; nearly twenty on Capitol Hill. And the nearby National Mall was and remains the place for countless gatherings of countless people from countless cultures, races, and creeds demonstrating, in praise or protest, for countless causes and issues…

Throughout the world, there are countless fields of play, from stadiums to sandlots, where people, across the human social spectrum, gather for the religion of sport; the cheering crowds, an earthly expression of Revelation’s angelic chorus of praise…

On the South African leg of Pontheolla’s and my sabbatical journey some years ago, on Sunday mornings, we relished the experience of vast crowds gathering to worship. Their impassioned songs of praise reaching, raising the rafters, ascending to the heavens!

Revelation is distinctive, but not entirely strange. There are countless earthly, ordinary examples that reflect its rich imagery.

And that’s the problem with Revelation. Its symbols, as symbols, point beyond themselves to an otherworldly reality; which our commonplace examples, at best, only partially, imperfectly reflect.

For Revelation is a vision of life after the end of time; the end of human history. When the eternal “not yet” is now. When our creedal hope that “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” is realized. When, in the words of the Beatitudes, all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, right relationship with God, are satisfied;[1] for they hunger and thirst no more. When the prophetic word of life eternal with the Lamb, our shepherd, who guides us to springs of living water, is fulfilled. When the eschatological gift of white-robed salvation through the sin-cleansing blood of the death and resurrection of Jesus is given.

All this is beyond our fullest comprehension; perhaps imagination. Nevertheless, if Easter’s resurrection-promise is real, then there has to be some way for us to experience it. Now! If not yet fully, then no less truly. But how?

Thank God for Jesus the Good Shepherd; who, in this life, leads us in right pathways, that is, to God.

There are countless voices in the church and in the world that claim to speak in God’s Name, telling us how to be in relationship with God…

Some testify to the importance of having a religious experience. Beholding heavenly visions. Hearing angelic voices. Encountering God’s ​mysterium tremendum;[2] God’s awesome mystery and majesty…

Others require belief in right doctrine. Being certain of every assertion of the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds…

Still others urge constant study and prayer to gain greater knowledge of God; so, to fulfill the biblical benchmark that we “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.[3] That is, that we know who Jesus is as one with God[4] and we know what Jesus knows about God…

Still some others insist on the necessity of morality. Christian belief is to be expressed in ethically virtuous behavior. For, according to the song, “your walk talks, and your talk talks, but your walk talks better than your talk talks.”[5]

All of this is important. Secondarily! For Jesus, only one thing is primary. That he is our Good Shepherd.

Therefore, our relationship with God doesn’t depend on having the right experience, right belief, right knowledge, or right behavior – as if we, by our efforts, could be in right relationship with God. Yes, these things are important! But not foremost! Our relationship with God depends on one thing. That is, what Jesus already has done in his life and ministry, death and resurrection. Because of that (we call it salvation), he is our Good Shepherd. Therefore, we belong to him. Therefore, he assures us that “no one (not even we ourselves in our sins) will snatch (us) out of (his) hand.” Therefore, secure in his life and love, we are liberated from everything! Freed from our past failures and present fears! Freed from our self-righteous pretensions and stubborn prejudices! Freed to live and love as he is and does! Freed to be Easter-people! Freed now and forever!

© 2022 PRA

Illustration: The Good Shepherd, James Tissot (1836-1902)

#Easterpeople #rightrelationshipwithGod #salvation #truestfreedom #JesustheGoodShepherd


[1] Matthew 5.6

[2] Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), German Lutheran theologian, described God’s mysterium tremendum in The Idea of the Holy (1917).

[3] Ephesians 4.13

[4] See John 10.30

[5] From Your Walk Talks (altered), Mark Trammell Quartet (2014)

5 thoughts on “What?!

  1. “Others require belief in right doctrine. Being certain of every assertion of the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds…”

    Great Post My Great Friend.

    Like

    1. “Being certain of every assertion”

      Brilliant alliteration

      Magical

      Like

  2. Paul I had to read this sermon three times because there was so much in there!! Revelation was definitely the hardest book of the Bible for me, but the examples you provided were so helpful!!

    I also have been challenged with the concept of “right relationship with God” because I was always focused on living my life in the way Jesus did. I believed if I did that, all would be well.

    I think though that you’ve peaked my interest enough for me to read Revelation again! Because I didn’t just say What???? When I read it… I said, what the hell?? I definitely have learned though that when something is difficult or uncomfortable you don’t just turn away from it, you tackle it. I’ll let you know how it plays out!

    Much love!

    Like

    1. When reading Revelation, you exclaimed, “What the hell?”? As you would say, you crack me up! And, yes, please, let me know of your reflections upon rereading Revelation!

      Love

      Like

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