Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter (April 14, 2013)

“Jesus: Our Future and Our Focus” (Revelation 5:8-14)

A frog went to visit a fortuneteller.  The fortuneteller gazed into her crystal ball and said to the frog, “You are going to meet a beautiful young woman. From the moment she sets eyes on you she will have an insatiable desire to know all about you.  She will be compelled to get close to you.  You will fascinate her.”
The frog asks, “Where am I?  At a singles club?”
“No,” says the fortuneteller, “Biology class.”
Do you want to know what is in store for you in the future?  The writer of Ecclesiastes declared, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Ecc. 7:14).  And God tells us in Leviticus 19, "Do not turn to mediums or necromancers [i.e. people who attempt to speak with the dead]; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them” (Lev. 19:31).  Nevertheless, even Christians sometimes depend on ungodly things like horoscopes and astrology to figure out what is going to happen to them.
Today’s reading from the Revelation to St. John teaches us that Jesus is our future and our focus.  He has the future under control.  And he is the focus of our worship.
You and I often fret and fume about the future.  We wonder and worry about our health, about conflict in our family, about threats from foreign leaders, about moral decay within our country.  But all this fretting and fuming is simply sinful failure on our part.  We fail to completely place our trust in God and to place our worries in his hands.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us “Do not be anxious.”  Paul, in Philippians 4, says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  And Peter, in 1 Peter 5, tells us to cast “all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  But we DO worry.  We ARE anxious.  We DO NOT cast our anxiety on God.  And this shows that we really don’t believe that God cares for us.
An interesting map is on display in the British Museum in London.  It's an old mariner's chart, drawn in 1525, outlining the North American coastline and adjacent waters.  The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored.  He wrote: “Here be giants” … “Here be fiery scorpions” … and “Here be dragons.”  Eventually, the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s.  Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: “Here is God.”
God has promised to be with you, wherever you go, even though there “be giants” or “scorpions” or “dragons” all around you.  Jesus has the future under control.  In today’s text, Jesus is worthy to break the seals on the scroll in John’s vision.  The scroll is sealed because it refers to the future.  Only Jesus has the ability to break those seals and reveal what is to come.  He was victorious over the powers of sin, death, and hell on Easter morning.  He lives to keep on caring for you.  He holds your future in his hands.  Therefore, you can place all that your worry about in his hands and let him take your anxieties away, because he really does care for you.
Now, even though Jesus opens the seals on the scroll, this doesn’t mean that we will have all the answers we want about the future.  Still, in the succeeding chapters of Revelation, we learn about a series of visions that comfort us regarding what is to come.  Each of these visions gives us an overarching picture of time from the cross to the end of the world.  The comfort here is that the preaching of the Gospel will continue.  Jesus is in control in spite of war and bloodshed, famine, death, suffering and martyrdom.  Nothing will be able to take your salvation away from you.  Heaven and your own resurrection await you.  The Church will be victorious in the end for Jesus’ sake.  That was a comforting message for those who heard John’s revelation read to them in the first century.  It is a comforting message for you in the twenty-first century.
Jesus is in control of the future, and he is also the central focus of our worship.  You and I often make other things the focus of our worship.  Some of us make our material goods the focus of our worship.  Oh, sure, you don’t kneel down in front of them and light candles and sing songs to them.  But in our hearts, the things we see are often more important to us than God whom we cannot see.  Sometimes our emotions and our feelings become the focus of our worship.  We evaluate our experience in worship based on how it leaves us feeling.  Forget about whether what was said or sung in the service was true or not … how did it make me feel?  Did the music get my feet to tapping?
John’s vision of heaven teaches what the proper focus of our worship should be.  Our proper focus is “the Lamb of God.”  Everything revolves around him.  He is the one who was slain for our sins so that we might be forgiven.  Encircled around him are “the four living creatures” and “the twenty-four elders” who fall down before the Lamb.  Nobody is quite sure what these four living creatures represent.  They are probably some kind of angel.  Since they are four in number they may in some way represent God’s control over the “four” corners of the earth, or all creation.  The twenty-four elders probably represent the Church of the Old and New Testaments, with 12 elders from the Old Testament and 12 from the New Testament, even as there were 12 tribes in the OT and 12 disciples in the NT.  They each hold harps, instruments to offer praise to the Lamb with music and song.  In their hands are bowls of incense, which John tells us are “the prayers of the saints.”  In the tabernacle, incense was burned.  As the aroma and smoke went up, both the eyes and the noses of the people would be reminded that their prayers were going up to God.  Likewise, this picture here reminds us that the prayers of God’s people in heaven and on earth continually ascend as a pleasing aroma to the Lord.  Recall Psalm 141 which we sing in Evening Prayer: “Let my prayer rise before you as incense.”
Next, John hears the voice of a multitude of angels around the throne, joined by every creature in all God’s creation singing a song of praise to God and to the Lamb.  We can learn about worship from their songs.  We learn that Jesus the Lamb is the object of our worship.  In fact, we DO sing their songs in one form or another.  “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God,” we sing in our Divine Service.  “Blessing and honor and glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.”  Through his forgiving sacrifice at the cross, your Lord Jesus truly has set you free from your bondage to sin and death.  He has redeemed you.  He has purchased you and won you, not with silver or gold, but with his own precious blood.  And later this morning we will join the heavenly host of the book of Revelation.  We will circle ourselves around this altar, which will become for us the throne of God where the Lamb is truly present with his body and blood.  And once again, we will participate in God’s blessings and promises as we eat and drink with faith in those words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
May 19, 1780 was a remarkable day.  An unexplained, deep darkness such as no one had ever seen fell suddenly upon New England.  Researchers today think it was caused by a combination of forest fires, thick fog, and cloud cover.  At the time, people were terrified.  They thought that Judgment Day had arrived.  The Connecticut House of Representatives happened to be in session at the time.  Many of the House members approached the Speaker of the House, Abraham Davenport, and asked that the House be adjourned so that the members might be with their families as Judgment Day approached.  Davenport called the House to order and refused to adjourn.  His words have been recorded for us, but more poetically paraphrased in this way by John Greenleaf Whittier:
This well may be
The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty, and my Lord's command
To occupy till He come. So at the post
Where He hath set me in His providence,
I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face, —
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do His work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles.
As we wait for our Lord’s return, we remember not to fret and fume about the future.  Jesus has the future in his hands.  He is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.  He is the focus of our worship.  We encircle ourselves around his Word and his Sacraments, receiving strength for the days ahead.  Rather than fearing what is to come, your “present duty” is “to occupy” until he comes.  “They shall reign on the earth,” sang the heavenly host.  “You are a kingdom and priests to our God.”  So bring in the candles, and live as lights in the world.  Burn the incense, and let your prayers ascend on behalf of a lost and dying world.
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And just like the four living creatures, the only thing left for us to do is to say, “Amen!”
So let me hear you say it.

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