Photo Credit: Pat Marvenko Smith
To listen to the audio recording of this message please go to: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B9Y6k9QG0gsfeE45clJzOWZYYUU&usp=sharing… it is the very last one (scroll down the page: 2014-06-22, the sermon picks up at approximately 18 minutes into the worship service)
Context: Today, our sermon focuses on the book of Revelation, but since we haven’t done a sermon series on this book, I thought it would be helpful to give a quick, 2 minute summary of what’s happening before we get into this chapter.
Revelation is the very last book of the Bible. What I love about this book is that it shows the culmination of what the whole Bible is about. It’s a type of literature called “Apocalyptic” which refers to the end times and the foretelling of the future. The book of Revelation shows what heaven is like and what God has promised to all His children – to all of us who love Him and do His will. Heaven is the end result for all of us here. Heaven is what God desires all of us to experience. From the beginning of time in the book of Genesis, we see how God has set the stage for our relationship with Him and in Revelation we see how even after death this relationship does not stop but keeps on going. All of us here today face hardships and difficulties, but God has promised that because of His love and mercy towards us – not because we are worthy or deserving, that in the end of time good will triumph over evil and there will be no more pain or grief or sorrow. So that shows us that there is cause for a party!!
The first three chapters deal with individual letters to the various churches in the geographical region highlighting their strengths and also encouraging them in their weaknesses to serve the Lord. Chapter four sets the stage for heaven and gives us a rich description of what heaven looks and feels like. Then once we are in heaven, the events of Revelation 5 take place and my sermon picks up.
Body: All of us have experienced important celebrations. Baptisms, graduations, weddings, child dedications, ordinations, and anniversaries all provide us with ways to celebrate the meaningful events in our lives and to thank God for what He has provided us with. These milestone events serve as ways for our community to join together in an important event rather than just leaving us to engage with the event on our own.
In the 5th chapter of the book of Revelation, we are introduced to another very important type of celebration. That of worship. No one has been found worthy to open the scrolls except for the Lamb of God. The one we call Christ – the anointed one. When the Lamb is found, there is a giant celebration in recognition of His worth even before the scrolls are opened.
At L’Arche we do celebrations very well. Every occasion is an opportunity to practice gratitude for being part of a community of friends, to wish someone well on their next steps after leaving the community, and to foster relationships with members of the house. I was really blessed during my year at L’Arche to experience many birthday and going away parties. During these occasions, we all go around a circle and recognize the worth of the individual we are celebrating and the unique gifts and strengths they bring to our community. This is an incredible practice especially when we are recounting the gifts of Hsi-Fu (a non-verbal man who is completely dependent on assistants) or of a core member who may at times display difficult behaviours. It reminds us that within the tension of not always knowing how to respond in love, we are deeply indebted to each resident at L’Arche for accepting us and showing us their love and care.
Parties at L’Arche are also a special time for the assistants who live and work among the adults with developmental disabilities. Birthdays are always important times for me. Throughout my life I have always sought ways to use birthdays as a way to foster already existing friendships and to create new relationships. Yet even though I’ve had some pretty cool birthday parties including surprise ones and panda themed cakes, my 23rd birthday at L’Arche is one I will never forget. Going around the room and having each person tell me what gifts I bring to L’Arche was both humbling and encouraging. It reminded me how many tasks I overlook are so important to the lives of the core members. To me, helping someone with bathing is no big deal – it’s all part of the daily routine of self-care I assist them with, but to the individual receiving the bath it is a way to share in our common humanity. To me, reading a bedtime story to a resident who has Down syndrome is a fun and relaxing way to end off the evening, but to Darryl it’s an important time where I affirm his worth and make time for him even though the demands at the house can be heavy at times.
Many of us have experienced celebrations recognizing the worth of certain individuals before. The Nobel Peace Prize, the Oscars, and even graduations are all times when we recognize the academic achievements, humanitarian efforts, and entertainment milestones of both ordinary and famous people alike. If we get excited about these events that generally only happen a few times in a life time, imagine how much more impressive it must have been to view the Lamb of God getting recognized for something only He could ever accomplish.
At the beginning of the fifth chapter a request goes out: find someone who is able to open the scroll. Although everyone begins scouring the entire throng trying to find that one individual, even the most saintly person is found lacking to even look at the book. Finally, one is found who can do this action. Interestingly enough, He is not the most handsome, most popular, or the strongest, for God does not judge based solely on who people appear to be to others. Rather, He is a Carpenter’s kid who was persecuted during His short 33 years on earth, and yet who now reigns victoriously with His Heavenly Parent.
The act of finding the worthy one, alone, seems to be of highest importance to those who gather around. This celebration is a giant heavenly party. The Bible speaks of thousands of angels gathering together and signing in unison a chant about the greatness of the Lord. Those of us who have heard Mennonite 4-part harmony or others who have heard a brilliant choir have only experienced a taste of what this heavenly music must have sounded like. The voices must have been more rich and vibrant than anything imaginable. The song must have floated through the air on a melody more exuberant than any orchestration ever written. Think about the most wonderful concert that you have ever attended and try to magnify this experience by a million.
The main theme of this song is extolling God’s worth. The song, although short, actually hosts a great image of God and God’s connection to humanity. The song simply states, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing.”
The book of Revelation was written during a time when emperor worship was rampant in society, not so much because of religiosity, but more-so because of politicism. To worship the emperor implied that one honoured and respected him and was willing to serve him at any cost. To the early Christians, this type of theology did not line up. The early Christians believed that only God was worthy of our thanks and praise and so they took a stand against what was happening by only conceding to bow to the Almighty Creator – Jehovah God. When the Christians blatantly refused to acknowledge the emperor in the way that he wished, persecution became a quick and easy answer to solving the problem.
So, when John pens that the lyrics of the song referred primarily to God’s worth, this was a radical concept. The phrase “you are worthy” was generally only kept for Roman Emperors who received this as an affirmative phrase from their subjects when they returned home from battle. When the living creatures, the elders, and all the saints proclaim that Christ is worthy, they are quickly shifting this power from the Emperor’s hands into God’s. John is extolling the God who throughout history has shattered nations with one blow, has parted the Red Sea with His magnificent hand, and has spoken every creature into being. Although terrifying, this God is also full of compassion. Although serving justice, this God also offers mercy towards all who revere Him. John acknowledges this God as being more impressive and more powerful than any other lesser god.
In our own lives, we also face the temptation of whose authority we want to be under – God’s or the world’s. Our world beckons us to applaud leaders and the political arena of our day. Our society thrives on being powerful, beautiful, magnificent, and successful. It asks us to choose to honour the gods of technology and romance often at the expense of our true Lord. Our society pulls us away from Christ’s reign by imputing into our minds the concept of the “self-made man or woman” who comes by everything through his or her own power and hard work alone.
This is once again where the beauty of L’Arche comes in, for at L’Arche our core members (adults with developmental disabilities) come just as they are. They are truly an example of self-acceptance and self-love. They love and accept me for who I am despite my own imperfections and false image of myself, and it is in this loving embrace that I begin to love myself more and I begin to view the world differently. A year ago I may never have experienced the vibrant colours of a newly budding flower as much as I do today. 5 years ago, I never would have understood the magnificence of simply being with someone – whether verbal or not, the sheer magnitude a hug can mean, or the smiles a simple joke could produce. God, in His infinite love and mercy has given us so many small blessings in our lives – sunsets and sunrises, creation, music, dance, and song. He has taught us how to live and be in community and how our fulfillment as humankind can only be imparted through the love and care of others whether romantically or in friendship. And yet, it’s also so incredible to think that what we experience here on earth is simply a foretaste of the heavenly and eternal reality. We think we’ve got it good here, just wait until we see Christ face to face. We will worship Him all day every day. We will never lack anything. The Scriptures even tell us that there will no longer be the pains of this world, but that we will know others and be known by others so completely – just like Christ knows us and loves us today.
This passage provides some very important worship questions for all of us. Why do we go to church? And how do we go to church? Do we go out of a sense of obligation or of trying to show others that we are pious? Do we approach the throne room of God by trying to over exert ourselves? Are we secretly resentful that we are here rather than sleeping in or doing some other worthwhile activity? And what does it mean to worship after all?
Worship is any act of giving God worth. It’s about the condition of our heart when we go through each and every activity. If your viewpoint is that you truly want to honour God in every aspect of your life and to proclaim God as more important than the culture, then any activity engaged in can be an act of worship. Baking cookies, playing with the neighbourhood children, reading a book, writing a paper, how you choose to engage with social media, and going to church can all be equally valid ways of learning what it means to give God worth and then actually following through on it.
When we worship God with a light heart rather than a heavy one we also join in the throngs of proclaiming God’s infinite wisdom and might. When we acknowledge God’s power over ours we are saying that God alone is worthy – it is not because of anything that we have done or by means of our own achievement that we enter into God’s Kingdom, but rather solely because of who God is and what He has done.
We are not told how long this particular scene in heaven lasted – a few minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? Time likely does not have the same meaning in heaven as it does here on earth, but still, we have no concept as to how long the elders praised the Lamb for being worthy to open the seals before He actually did it. What we do know is that there was a giant party in heaven. A group of believers down through the ages who gathered together to sing and chant this song of praise to God.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in his book, “Mere Christianity” that time loses its limitations in the heavenly realm. With God it is still 1922 and also 2016. Revelation also tells us that this song included everyone in heaven, on earth, in the sea, and under the earth all proclaiming the song together in a loud voice. With this concept in mind, it is possible that people who lived thousands of years before John walked the earth joined their voices with our voices and the voices of those not yet born in this hymn of praise to our God.
It was a giant party including every Christian who ever walked this earth and whoever will walk this earth. As we assemble before God in worship today we are given the choice of whether we want to join in to this song or not. Whether we will choose to approach worship begrudgingly as simply a Christian duty or whether it will become so much more to us. As we go from this place, let us be encouraged by the worth of our God who alone is able to open up the most hidden and sealed places of our lives and to put our trust in Him as we await the day that we will one day continue to sing this heavenly song when we are seated with Him in heavenly places.