Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 17)

Text: Revelation 7:14-17

Looking through a window

As I look around the church this morning there are some familiar faces that are missing. Mavis who sat over here in the first block of seats, Harry and Rob who sat in the middle of that block of seats and Kevin who sat over here. Some havenít been here for a while because of failing health but now they have completed the course of their journey in this life and have now gone home to be with their Lord and Saviour.

In the light of the loss we have experienced recently I have abandoned the regular readings for my sermon today and turned to the Book of Revelation. We have a vision of heaven and the question is asked who all these people are who have gathered around God's throne. We are told,
"These are the people who Ö have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb. Ö He who sits on the throne will protect them with his presence. Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

Recall the times when you have stood at a shop window and admired what was on display - clothing and jewellery, perhaps a new car, or some kind of appliance or tool thinking that you would really like to have that but also realising that it's more than you can afford. Or perhaps you have looked in the window of a travel agent and seen an advertisement for a holiday. Now thatís just what you need at the moment but there is the family, work, health issues, and a shortage of that essential substance you need for a holiday Ė money Ė and so you move on putting the idea right out of your head.

As we read this text from the Book of Revelation it's as if we are window shopping and pressing our noses up against the window dreaming longingly at what is on the other side of the glass. As people of faith we know that the vision before us is not unattainable or impossible. The writer of Revelation is giving us the opportunity to look through the window of inspired scripture to see the glory and the beauty of what heaven is like.

As you look through the window God has provided and see what is happening in heaven what is it that impresses you the most?

Is it the enormous crowd that impresses you? We read, "I looked, and there was an enormous crowd - no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language" (Rev 7:9). That is an impressive scene. And as we look closer we exclaim with a good deal of excitement, "Hey! Thereís Mavis, and Harry and Rob and Kevin. And look thereís my mum, my dad, my brother or sister". We can see them but we are separated from them by the glass window. We would like to run up to them, hug, them hold them once again. But not now. We are on one side of the window; they are on the other.

All these people from every race, tribe and nation are gathered there. There are none of the old divisions that we experience here in this life. There before the throne of the Lamb there is no racism, sexism, nationalism, unionism or whatever other "ism" you can think of. Unique indeed! There are no cliques, clusters and special interest groups. They are all friends. They don't exclude someone because he/she is different or strange or appears to behave strangely. They are totally one.

When you look through the window that the Book of Revelation gives you is it the setting of this magnificent scene that impresses you? As far as you can see there are people dressed in robes of white. And interspersed with the white there are splashes of green.

As Revelation says, "There was an enormous crowd dressed in robes of white and holding palm branches in their hands" (Rev 7:9). The Lamb, Jesus Christ, died to make them clean and holy. As Isaiah says, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

Every person in that crowd is there because Jesus Christ is indeed the totally successful Saviour of all people regardless of race, nation or language. He promised that those who live and believe in him will be saved and never die. This scene before the throne of God is proof that he has kept his promise. The blood of the Lamb who was sacrificed for all people has cleansed this vast crowd. This is a happy crowd. This is a victorious crowd. They wave palm branches as banners of victory. They have come through the trials, troubles, persecutions and death and now stand victorious before the throne of the Lamb.

Or as you look through the window into heaven is it the activity in this heavenly scene that impresses you? Those before the throne aren't rushing about. They aren't concerned about the future or anxious about what might happen. They arenít sad to have left their earthly life to be there in heaven. There are no expressions of agony and pain on their faces. 

They are joyful and happily engaged in worship. They call out, "Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!" And then everyone, including the angels, all join together in one thunderous chorus of praise saying, "Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!"

What a magnificent scene! But it is even more so when we hear these people havenít drifted through the years in spiritual ease, untouched by pain and sorrow and death. They have gone through tension, affliction, stress, trouble and the testing that comes because they are followers of the Lamb. In the conflict they didn't buckle; they didn't compromise their faith. In the heat of their troubles they withstood the attempts of Satan to undermine their trust in God.

That's not to say they were perfect in their faith and trust. Again and again the conflict grew too much for them, the enemy was too strong, their afflictions too overpowering. Many times they buckled under the weight of their sickness, sadness and anxiety. It was only with Jesus their Saviour and Shepherd that they have been victorious. They have been made clean and white through the blood of the Lamb. He has strengthened and supported them and brought them through all their trials to this magnificent place we call heaven.

Now they no longer live in fear or want. No hunger, thirst, no want or poverty, no hurt or sorrow will bother them again. God is there! He is their good Shepherd who will guard and protect them from all danger. Revelation says, "He who sits on the throne will protect them with his presence. Never again will they hunger or thirst; neither sun nor any scorching heat will burn them, because the Lamb, who is in the centre of the throne, will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev 7:15-17).

And as we stand looking through the window into heaven, we are glad that Mavis and Harry and Rob and Kevin and those who arrived there earlier Bill and Esther and many others are now free of the troubles and pain of this life and are now enjoying living in the presence of Jesus their Saviour and of such a wonderful crowd.

A wonderful vision isn't it? This isn't a psychological escape, a hallucinatory lift for troubled minds. This is God-given insight into a glorious new reality - planned, prepared, reserved and guaranteed for us by a merciful Father, a risen, victorious Saviour, and the all accomplishing Spirit. What a wonderful, glorious revelation of tomorrow for all those who put their faith in Christ as their Saviour! And what a comfort for us who have been saddened by the loss of members of the St Paulís family and yet can rejoice that they have gone home to be with their Saviour and those who have gone ahead of them.

Because Jesus has destroyed the power of death through his own death and resurrection we too can be assured that even though we may despair at times because of our lack of faith and trust in God as our helper and strength, Christ has given us the white robes of righteousness. We have been made clean by the blood of the Lamb. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ" (Rom 8:1).

Itís true that we might be tempted to think that heaven is a distant reality. But heaven is where God is. And if he is enthroned in the lives of his people in a humdrum, ordinary world, we are already experiencing something of what heaven is all about. When we celebrate Holy Communion and we say, "With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we adore and magnify your glorious name, ever praising you, we are joining our voices with the multitude gathered around the throne of the Lamb who are saying, "Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!"

Sure we still have our struggles to contend with, and jobs to do. We are still tempted and our weaknesses will often get the better of us. We still fear the icy fingers of death that touch us every now and then. But we have a Shepherd who seeks out the lost and brings them lovingly back in his fold. In the dramas of every day the Shepherd watches over us, comforts us and strengthens us with his constant presence. "The Lamb Öwill be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes" (Rev 7:16).

That's heaven. Being totally with God. Living in the shade of his love. Enjoying freedom from the guilt of our failures. Joined together with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in worship and praise of the Lamb who sits on the throne. Our hopes fulfilled.  Joyful that our journey has reached this point - that's heaven. 

In faith we are already experiencing the joys of what it's like to be in the presence of God. One day we too will join Mavis and Harry, and Rob and Kevin but we don't have to wait till we get to heaven to join in the great chorus. Already we know of the love, the victory, the help and comfort that our God gives and even though we are standing on this side of the window and the heavenly crowd on the other we can still join in our voices with theirs and proclaim loudly, "Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th August 2010

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