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Sermon for Sunday 6 November 2016

FIRST READING Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


PSALM Psalm 149

1Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful. 2Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. 3Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp. 4For the Lord takes pleasure in his people and adorns the poor with victory. 5Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; let them be joyful on their beds. 6Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two edged sword in their hand; 7To wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples; 8To bind their kings in chains and their nobles with links of iron; 9To inflict on them the judgment decreed; this is glory for all his faithful people. Hallelujah!



1See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.


GOSPEL Matthew 5:1-12

1Seeing the crowds, {Jesus} went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.



Our greeting this morning comes from the 1st chapter of Revelation. Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen
So, let me ask you this morning, how prepared are you for the end of the world? Of course, currently we aren’t hearing much about end of the world predictions, our focus has been on the upcoming elections. And with that in mind, please, if you haven’t cast your vote yet, Tuesday is election day, go and exercise your right to vote and then pray for the newly elected officials and then for each other. This has been a stress filled campaign season and there are going to be people who will be anxious about our future. I encourage you, no matter the results of the election to remember, God can and is in control. No matter the results of Tuesday, I doubt the world will end.
How many remember the news reports that said that the world was coming to an end on December 21, 2012? If you recall, according to the prophecy contained in an ancient Mayan calendar, the world was supposed to end on that date—they even made a sci-fi thriller film, 2012, trying to capitalize on the anxiety. Over the years, countless people have predicted the end of times and so far, all of them, without exception, have been wrong. Yet, some people take these things seriously, why I’m not sure.
According to The Complete Idiots’ Guide to 2012 and yes, there is a book by that title, there were more than 600,000 websites devoted to that very theme. Apparently, there were a lot of people who seem convinced that the end of the world was near. But, as I said, history proves these end-of-time claims are nothing new.
Apocalyptic films are of course, a favorite Hollywood scheme for uncorking all kinds of amazing special effects. Besides that, for various reasons, people enjoy being scared. Whether it’s in print, radio, TV or on the silver screen, end-of-the-world themes are just as exhilarating as a good vampire story. The movie 2012 was followed by yet another end-of-the-world thriller. The Book of Eli was advertised as “a post-apocalyptic tale, in which a lone man fights his way across America, in order to protect a sacred book; a transcript that holds the secrets to saving humankind.” I’ve seen the movie a couple of times, and one thing I do know is, there is in fact a sacred book that holds the secrets to saving humankind, and ironically it’s the same book the moviemakers had in mind; the Bible.
For those of us who’ve seen such end-of-time pronouncements come and go throughout the years, these films, while entertaining, hardly merit a yawn. How many remember the Y2K crisis? According to some alarmists, the dawning of the year 2,000, was surely the end of time. Periodically I still find equipment with Y2K stickers on them from that fiasco. I know that I put a lot of Y2K compliant stickers on equipment while I was in the Air Force. Yet this theme continues to intrigue us. For example, the popularity of the Tim LaHaye Left Behind novels, continues to prove that many Christians are convinced that the rapture, that occasion when believers will be taken up to heaven by Jesus, is near at hand.
Before LaHaye, there was the book, The Late, Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. This book, which was a best-seller in the 70s, sold more than 28 million copies. According to Hal Lindsay, the birth of modern Israel signaled that we were in the “end times.” Lindsey also predicted that Christians would soon be raptured. Well, it’s been nearly 50 years since the book was written and nothing predicted in Lindsey’s writings has happened. Another interesting “the world is coming to an end” book was one entitled, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. And oh by the way, it also came in a 1989 edition. Figure that.
If all this sounds a bit indignant, it’s because often times, many of these things end up making us as Christians sound a bit foolish. For example, the old “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno sometimes featured a segment called the “99 Cent Shopping Spree.” Leno would show the audience some odd and badly labeled products, ones usually made abroad. Leno had a field day with one of these products which was labeled “666 Cough Preparation.” Leno noted that the foreign packagers obviously weren’t too familiar with Christian terminology, or they would have come up with another name. “666 Cough Preparation”–the audience was amused, especially when Leno’s band played the theme music from the movie The Omen.
While this may seem funny to some, for others it’s very serious business and we need to be careful. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: while growing up, I can remember being scared half out of my wits on far too many occasions, either by an evangelist or preacher telling me I’d better repent, I’d better come to the altar right now and “get right with God” because the rapture could happen at any second. I grew up hearing fire and brimstone sermons preached from the book of Revelation, all of which focused only on the gloom and doom. One church even believes and vehemently teaches, that the 144,000 spoken of earlier in chapter 7, is a literal number, and their church will be the only ones spared the horrors of the end time. To this day I can still remember the effectiveness of a few of these messages. But then again, this theme is nothing new. People of every generation have awaited the end of time, and the destruction of the earth.
And all this is in spite of the fact that Jesus, in Acts 1:7, tells us that it isn’t for us to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” And in Mark 13, as well as three other places, the Bible plainly tells us, that no one knows when that day and hour will be, except the Father Himself. (Mark 13:32, Matt. 25:13, 1 Thess. 5:1, Zech. 1:7) Jesus also cried out against those who keep looking for signs. Matthew 16 records Jesus’ response to the religious leaders when they came to test Him. He said “An evil and adulterous generation looks for a sign.” (16:1-4) Yet this hasn’t kept authors and film makers from cranking out book after book and movie after movie all based on this fear-inducing theme.
So, I’ve got an alternative suggestion for you this morning. Instead of buying into the media and those writing fiction for the NY Times Best Seller list, it’s far better to go to the original, authentic account of the apocalypse. This of course can be found in part at the end of the Bible. The book of Revelation is an intriguing book, and comes with its own special effects. And admittedly some of it, is very frightening. What John recorded in His vision is heavy in symbolism. But to approach these writings appropriately, we need to remember that the church was being persecuted when John recorded these visions, so the meaning of some of it, had to be veiled. Quite frankly, after more than 2 centuries of study, we still don’t know how much of it was intended to be taken literally. That’s the reason we pray hard and study these apocalyptic writings carefully. We do need to keep in mind that they are part of God’s word to us, and as such are important. However, for those who struggle with anxiety when reading the book of Revelation, I’m going to give you my two rules to follow.
First, and I need to warn you that this is a spoiler alert, the one thing to remember is that no matter what we read, God wins in the end. Yes, there will be some tough times and difficult things that some will endure, but the devil loses and God wins! It’s as simple as that. Rule number two, we win. As long as we place our faith in God and we’re faithful in our service to Him, then God will always be with us and we will spend eternity with God. There’s nothing the devil can do to change that, period. If you’ll keep these two rules in mind anytime you’re reading any of the apocalyptic writings, then you have nothing to fear. However, I understand that some of the apocalyptic passages that are recorded in Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible, can be unsettling, but please also remember, there’s also a great deal, that’s awe-inspiring and majestic, especially in our second reading for today.
In Revelation 7 we read; “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!’”
What gives me great comfort comes at the end of this passage: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
It’s a shame every apocalyptic thriller can’t end like that. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Think how tears would flow in theaters across this land if people knew how the apocalypse really ends–with the Creator of everything that is, or was, or ever will be–wiping away the tears from His children’s eyes. I think Hollywood is missing a real opportunity. But instead of simply leaving this apocalyptic topic here, bearing in mind that some people really do worry about this, so it might be good for us to spend at least a few moments giving the subject a little perspective.
First, this world will end some day. Scientists even agree on this point, the world as we know it, will end. Nothing in this universe lasts forever. Jesus told us very clearly in Luke 21:33, “Heaven and Earth will pass away”. The end is up to God, and only He knows. I don’t care what the Mayan calendar says, or Nostradamus, or Tim LaHaye or Hal Lindsey–this earth has been around for a very long time, and may be around for millions of years yet to come. Sure, some cataclysmic thing could happen this afternoon, but the odds of the world coming to an end in our lifetime is simply too hard to calculate.
Now those who study global warming may beg to differ. There’s no question that we are in an unsettling time of climate change. We need to take seriously the warnings of reputable scientists, and make responsible changes in our use of energy and how we treat our environment. It is our children’s future that’s being put at risk. But that’s not the only thing that threatens our future.
The spread of nuclear weapons is still a matter of deep concern. With countries like North Korea and Iran continuing to develop, not only warheads but the ballistic missiles to deliver them, we have every right to be concerned. Years ago, Albert Einstein warned that the unleashed power of the atomic bomb has changed everything, except our way of thinking. Because we have not changed, “this earth drifts towards unparalleled catastrophe.” It’s hard to argue with Einstein? Even those who are in charge of keeping the “Dooms Day clock” have set it at three minutes to midnight, the closest it has been in last 30 years.
And now we have the horror of international terrorism. Technology is wonderful in many ways, but in the hands of terrorists, we have good reason for apprehension. The perfection of suitcase sized nuclear devices is still a legitimate concern. We live in a world in which a small group of crazed and determined individuals can wreak havoc on society. It may only be a matter of time until we have another catastrophe on the scale of 9/11. We have the responsibility to control those things that we can. But in the end, it’s up to God.
Second, at times this is a scary world, but this is also God’s world. Here’s the good news for today. Ultimately, God is in control of this world’s destiny. Humanity can despoil the planet in a hundred different ways, but we cannot defeat, God’s over-all purpose for creation. So why is it that we fail to focus on those positive images of the future that the Scriptures contain? Do we enjoy fear, or are we for some reason afraid to allow hope into our lives?
Edward Hicks was a nineteenth century Quaker minster who also happened to paint. He depicted God’s promises for the future in a painting which he called “The Peaceable Kingdom.” Some may have seen the painting. Hicks painted several dozen versions of this theme. While Hicks’ technique may seem childish, he gave us a beautiful vision of a world at peace. It’s a world where babies play with wild animals and where people of different races sit down and eat together.
Hicks took his inspiration from the Scriptures that present God’s future kingdom. For example, Isaiah wrote: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear; their young will lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (11:6-9)
So why don’t we talk about these positive images from the Scripture that speak about the future? It’s probably because we’ve allowed the extremists to extract a tiny portion of scripture and then distort what the Bible really says about God’s plan for the world. They’ve gotten rich and they’ve lifted the rest of us up to ridicule.
What the Bible truly says about the future, is clear: God is in control and God will not forsake His children regardless, of what may come. We don’t know what the future might hold, but we do know Who holds the future. Jesus has assured us that He would return someday, but this isn’t a cause for anxiety, it’s a reason for great joy.
This reminds me of a bad, a really bad joke I heard. It seems that Hollywood decided to make an action movie called The Three Bs, based on the lives of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Bruce Willis signed up to play Beethoven and Mel Gibson agreed to play Brahms. When the casting director approached Arnold Schwarzenegger and asked him if he’d like to be in the movie too, he thought about it a minute, then nodded and said: O.K., “I’ll be Bach.” I told you it was a bad joke.
Jesus is coming back someday. And for those who love and believe in Him, this is wonderfully exciting news. This is God’s promise. So, in the meantime, wouldn’t we be better off focusing on spreading this message of hope, rather than obsessing on end of time mysteries? We have all kinds of very real obstacles we must to face every day. The real message of Revelation is one of optimism; a message that reminds us that God will be with us regardless of our circumstances.
When the book of Revelation was written, Christians were suffering terribly at the hands of the civil authorities. The writer wanted them to know this was only a temporary situation. God would never leave them, nor would He forsake them. And that message of hope and faith, is just as real today, as it was then.
A few years ago, the western world celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Czech revolution. It’s been sixteen years since the citizens of the Czech Republic overthrew its communist government. You may remember, that revolution was sparked by students in Prague who began chanting to the Communist party leadership, even while they were still in power, “You have lost already! You have lost already!”
The communists were still theoretically in power, but their days were numbered, and the students knew it. “You have lost already! What’s important about that event is that we can say the same thing to all the forces of evil in this world, “You’ve lost already!” That’s what the writer of Revelation was saying about those who were persecuting the early church, you’ve already lost! Even more importantly, John wanted all Christians to know that even when it seems like evil has the upper hand, whether in the world at large or in our individual lives, God is still in control. God will never forsake us, regardless of our circumstances.
So, here’s my suggestion anytime you encounter an and of time subject: instead of letting Hollywood tell the story with a distorted end, let people know how the story really ends. It’s right here in Revelation: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And the really good news? This isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning of eternity. God wins and we win! For all the faithful who believe, we will get to spend an eternity with the God of all creation, who loves and cares so much, that He wipes away all the tears, from His children’s eyes.

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