BIBLE READINGS
Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

 

SERMON

This Sunday is known as "Good Shepherd" Sunday. Revelation 7 turns that around: "for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,". And then it even picks up on the imagery of Psalm 23: "The Lamb will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

The Book of Revelation is rich in symbolic language. In fact, that's primarily what it is, as it tells a story about the world through a long series of symbolic words. To fully experience this symbol of the Lamb of God, we need to go back to the place at which the Lamb first appears, in chapter 5. It is one of the most dramatic moments in the entire book.

"Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne" - that's God, whose name is not spoken here. God is simply referred to as "the one seated on the throne." And in God's right hand is "a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals." A scroll with seven seals - what does that mean? In Revelation, the number seven stands for completeness, as in a full week of seven days; so seven seals stands for that which has been completely hidden, closed up to human eyes. Since it is God who is holding the scroll, it must contain something very important. We are safe to assume that the scroll contains something like God's entire plan for Creation. It holds the mysteries of life itself. If only we could read that scroll! To know what God knows about the fate of all that there is!

John continues: "And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?' And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And" - John responds for all of us - "I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it." John cries for all of us, that God's plan for Creation has remained completely hidden to us.

But wait! As John's head is bowed in tears, he hears a voice: "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Don't cry! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.'" But here comes the real shock. John looks up to behold the mighty Lion of Judah, the great and powerful Messiah who will devour God's enemies, but what does he see?

"Then I saw, between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. The Lamb went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne." Now we go from crying to rejoicing! There is someone who can open the scroll and reveal to us God's hidden plan. What happens next is a scene of glorious worship, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!"

Amen! Do you understand this symbol of the Lamb of God? The contrast is striking between the Lion and the Lamb, between what John expected to see and what he saw. What John expected to see, the Lion, symbolizes the usual shape of human power, doesn't it? A lion doesn't get its blood shed; it sheds the blood of another creature, like a lamb. It devours; it doesn't get devoured. That describes human power, doesn't it? Those in power in the human world focus their efforts into making sure it is someone else's blood who is shed, not theirs. It's a dog-eat-dog world, right? So it's better if you and I are those doing the eating. A lion is king of the jungle, one who never gets eaten.

A lamb, on the other hand, is the typically victim, the one who is slaughtered, the one whose blood gets shed. A lamb gets devoured by its enemies and is never the one who does the devouring. Like John, isn't our first impulse to always look for the Lion, to look for a display of power? And so, according to John's vision here, God's plan for us, sealed up in the scroll of life, remains hidden. We most typically look for the answers to life among the world's powerful and wealthy. But St. John tells us, in no-uncertain-terms, that we miss the mark. Only the Lamb who is slaughtered can reveal God's power of life to us! What has remained completely hidden to us in God's book of life is the fact that this power of the Lion is not the kind of power which ultimately gives life. We will never see God's answers to life, unless we look to the victims of this world's powerful and wealthy.

But the Lamb of God reveals even more, because it is the Lamb who sits at the throne of God, the throne of real power behind the Creation. And our passage from chapter 7 this morning picks up near the climax of this series of symbols. The Lamb is about to open the seventh seal of the scroll. But the revelation really comes first, as we are introduced to those who are dressed in white robes at the throne of God. They are the ones who have come through the ordeal, those who have hungered and thirsted and suffered under the sun. What is revealed to us is that these victims of human power are the those who are closest to God. So, when we look to them, we don't just see powerless victims. Instead, we also see God. We see the true power of life. In other words, the Revelation of St. John is inviting us to see the world in an entirely different way! When we look at victims, we should not simply see powerlessness and death. We are to see God's power of life residing with them, because God, through the Lamb, has been shown to be with them. God is on the side of this world's victims, not this world's powerful.

What does this all mean? I have to admit that this is the point in the sermon I'm a bit stuck, because there is so much to say. And yet, at the same time, it is easy to say too much. For what this means to our lives is something we have to determine together, during the rest of the week - not something I can stand up here and tell you in a sermon. What this all means is that the entire shape of our lives, and the shape of how we build community together, must be totally different from that of the world's.

Tony Campolo tells this story…

 “I have a friend who pastored a church in a dying community, a place where everything was disintegrating. He kept himself fed and clothed and his family cared for by, by doing odd jobs, one of which was doing funerals for the local undertaker when nobody else would take them.

 “[One day] the undertaker called him early in the morning because he had a man to bury who had died of AIDS and nobody wanted to take the funeral.

 “"About 25 homosexual men came and sat there. Never once did they ever look up at the minister. The whole time he spoke their heads were down and they were looking at the floor. Never once did they ever make eye contact with him all during the funeral. They went out and got in some cars and followed the hearse out to the cemetery, lowered the body into the grave. The minister stood on one side of the grave. The gay men on the other side. Standing there like statues, neither looking to the right or to the left, looking straight out into infinity. Never budging just standing there rigid like statues.

 “The minister read some scripture. He said some prayers. He committed the body to the grave. He said the benediction and started to move – to walk away, but they didn’t move. They stood there as though frozen so he came back and said, ‘Excuse me, is there anything else I can do?’

 “And one of the men said, ‘Yes. I never go to church. Used to go to church but I don't go to church. The only thing I really liked about church was when they read from the Bible, especially the King James. I like the King James. You didn’t read the 23rd psalm. I thought they always read that at funerals. Could you read the 23rd Psalm?’

 “So the minister opened the Bible and read the 23rd Psalm. Another man said, ‘There’s a passage in the 3rd chapter of John about being born again. I like that passage.’

 “He read that. Then a third man said, ‘The 8th chapter of Romans, right at the end, that’s what keeps me going.’

 “And he read to those gay men. ‘Neither height nor depth, neither principalities nor powers, neither things present, nor things to come, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

 “‘Nothing’.”

Tony Campolo says “When he told me that, I hurt. I hurt because I knew that these men wanted to hear the Bible but would never step foot inside a church because they are convinced that church people despise them. And do you know why they think church people despise them? Because church people despise them.”

We look at others who seem different or strange or ugly, smelly, unpredictable, and see nothing but emptiness, powerlessness, and hopelessness. We no longer look at them and see children of God who were given gifts by their Creator. We look and only see victims; we do not see God and the Lamb who gives life.

The affirmation that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, is not just for our own sakes. It also provides us with images of faithfulness and toughness in our mission: standing up to evil and fear; facing off violence and injustice; caring for weakened, abused and neglected people; restoring dignity and power; and providing safe places for those who need time out.

The Lamb is the Good Shepherd who leads us beside the still waters. And God stoops down to wipe away our tears. We are the ones, through faith in the Lamb of God, who are privileged to have the scroll of life opened before us, to know where the true power of life resides. We are the ones washed cleaned in the blood of the Lamb. And so we come here to worship and to be refreshed: "This is the feast of victory for our God, for the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Blessing and honour and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen. Alleluia!"