Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday, November 1st, 2020
The Book of Revelation gets a bad rap sometimes. Unfortunately because of its vivid and at times bizarre imagery and symbolism, it has been misused and abused by preachers through the ages. Some preachers have chosen to dwell on its images of earthly destruction with sadistic glee, and as a result other preachers have reacted by avoided the book altogether. But we need to hear and understand the Book of Revelation. Yes, it can be a difficult read, and yes it is filled with symbols that you will probably need help understanding and appreciating, but its core message is one of hope, and hope is right at the heart of the gospel.
If you don’t have hope, then you don’t really understand what Jesus did for you. That may sound severe, but I do think it’s that simple. If you are sitting here hopeless today, then you need to rehear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am not just talking about Jesus’s teachings in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, although that is a great place to start, I am talking about the good news of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, and what that means for us. And in today’s passage from the Book of Revelation we are given a vision of what Jesus’s life really means to us.
The Book of Revelation is what its name implies. It is a revelation; it is an image or a vision that we believe was given to John by God. It is mystical and fantastic, but I think it gives us a glimpse of something that we really need to see. We need to hear and imagine this sacred vision of John, because what God shows John is a vast multitude of people: every nation, every race, every little tribe that we like to sort ourselves into, random people that have two very important things in common: they have all been through the great ordeal, and they have all been saved by God and the lamb.
That vision is a revelation that the world needs to hear and see again right now, because in this divided time that we live in, the one thing that I think we can all agree upon, is that 2020 has been a great ordeal. 2020 has been a great ordeal for just about everyone in this world, but it’s not the first time the world has felt dark and unforgiving; it’s not the first-time people have struggled to hold on to hope when despair was knocking at the door. Imagine living in Europe in 1939, or 1915, or 1348. Dark times are nothing new. John, who wrote the Book of Revelation knew about dark times. If it seems like there is a lot of death and destruction in the Book of Revelation, it’s because John knows very well what death and destruction look like. He’s seen it.
But what God shows John; what God reveals to him, is a place where there is no more death and destruction. No more pain, no more tears, no more division, no more petty bickering, just feasting and singing. And what are they singing? What do the people gathered around the throne have to say about how they got there?
Salvation belongs to our God and to the lamb!
It is God that has done this. It is God that has saved us and brought us here. The great ordeal didn’t last forever, but the worship of God does. This is the message of hope in revelation: ordeals don’t last forever, but God does. And because this God that sits on the throne is a God of love and forgiveness; because this is a God of salvation, we can be a part of forever too. That is the revelation, we can be a part of this heavenly vision; we don’t have to be a casualty of the great ordeal. Our God is bigger than the great ordeal, whatever that ordeal happens to be this year or this moment. That is a powerful hope. Too often we don’t appreciate the power of it.
Now even the strongest, most faithful, Christians may have moments of despair from time to time. It’s natural. Despair is deceptive, sometimes it sneaks up on us, and sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we try to hold on, hope can slip out of our hands. But you know why I think that despair happens most of the time? I think it is because the devil, or society, or the media, or the world, or whatever you want to call it, has tricked us into placing our hope in the wrong things or convinced us that we should only hope for little things and have little, tame dreams.
We aren’t hoping for enough.
We aren’t dreaming big enough.
We have been taught to place our faith and our trust in lesser things.
We have been told that miracles don’t happen, mistakes last forever, and that sin is unforgivable and people can’t change.
Worst of all, we are taught to either ignore death and treat it like it’s never going to happen, or we are taught to fear it like it is the ultimate end.
We aren’t hoping for the heavenly vision anymore. We aren’t dreaming of eternity. We aren’t talking about death and resurrection as being real parts of our future. We have been taught to settle for less; and we have settled for less. We have settled for material comforts and earthly power. We have settled for the empty promises of politicians. We have settled for trying to save ourselves and not looking to God for salvation.
We aren’t hoping for enough.
We aren’t dreaming big enough.
Sure, it is ok to have little hopes along the way. I hope for my cakes to rise in the oven. I hope for the traffic to be moving on the Southern State Parkway. I even have hopes about what happens in my country on November the 3rd. But let me say this, if you think that the fate of the world rests on one election; if that is where your hope ends, then you need to dream bigger and you need to hope for more. If the name of one of those two individuals on the top of the ballot this week has been on your lips this year more than the name of Jesus, then maybe you want to take a minute and think about what and who you are really hoping for. If you have given more money to a political campaign than you have given to your church, then whose kingdom are you really working for? If you care more about changing someone’s vote than you do changing their heart, then what are you really hoping for? Maybe you aren’t hoping for enough. Maybe you aren’t dreaming big enough.
We all do it. We all fall into the trap of dreaming for and hoping for lesser things. That is why it is so important that the church continues to talk about this crazy hope of eternity and this amazing dream of God saving his people from the great ordeal. The world will always need to be reminded that ordeals come and go, just like kings and queens and plagues and presidents, but God lasts forever.
So let’s place our faith and our hope, first and foremost in God. Let’s make sure that we spend more time thinking about God’s laws than we do the laws of this world. Let’s spend more time thinking about the vision or the revelation of hope that God has given us, and less time worrying about every little ordeal that comes into our lives along the way. Let’s dream bigger. Let’s hope for more. And yes, let’s make sure that we are working to share this amazing hope we have with the world.
In a minute, I am going to bless these pledge cards that are going to be sent out this week. If you don’t get one, call me or email me, I will make sure you get one. I am blessing them, because when you decide that your hope really is in God, and when you give and I mean really give, to make sure that that hope is shared with others, well that’s like spitting in the devil’s face. That is telling 2020 and every other great ordeal where it can go, because you have a hope, and a belief and a dream and a vision and a revelation that is bigger than your tears and bigger than any temporary pain or disappointment. You have a hope that is eternal.
The saints that we celebrate today, they are people that held on to that vision and held on to that hope, more than anything else. Our ancestors needed that hope and our children will need it too. So by all means, go and vote, and do whatever you feel called to do to make the world a better place, but don’t forget to send me your pledge cards too, because we Christians have been given a revelation of hope and we have been charged to share it with the world. And the revelation is this:
When the dust has settled, when the tears have been dried and the robes have been washed clean, the people gathered before the throne are only going to have one thing to say:
Salvation belongs to our God!