Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon on Revelation 20:11 - 21:8 (April 28th 2013).

“It Looks Like We Win in the End!”

I’m sure many of you have heard the old story about a youth pastor who took his church youth group to a school gym for a game of basketball. It was an evening game, and while the kids were playing, the janitor was sitting patiently on the sidelines, waiting for them to finish so that he could clean the gym. The youth pastor noticed that the janitor was reading the Bible while he was waiting; he got a little closer and saw that the old man was reading the book of Revelation. The youth pastor was surprised, since Revelation isn’t normally thought of as a waiting-room sort of book. He mentioned this to the janitor; “Do you understand it?” he asked. “Not all of it”, the janitor replied, “but I skipped to the last page, and it looks like we win in the end!”

Well, since you and I were together last week we’ve done a mighty ‘skip’ across thirteen chapters of Revelation! We’ve missed plagues and scorpions and war in heaven; we’ve missed persecutions of God’s people who overcome evil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony; we’ve missed natural disasters that kill millions of people. In fact, we’ve skipped all the things that would give you bad dreams at night, or keep you from suggesting that your kids read Revelation as bedtime reading! This, of course, is typical of our Sunday lectionary, which often tries to keep the nastier or more puzzling bits of the Bible away from us.

On the way, we’ve missed some interesting characters as well. There’s a ‘Beast’ who rises from the sea; in apocalyptic literature, which is the genre we’re reading here, beasts almost always represent evil empires. Since Revelation was written at a time when Rome was the ruling empire, it’s not hard to figure out who John of Patmos is talking about! There’s also a ‘False Prophet’ who tries to make people worship the Beast; he probably symbolizes the cult of emperor-worship that was causing Christians a lot of trouble. Then there’s a scarlet woman who rides the Beast; she probably refers to the City of Rome itself. Sometimes she’s called ‘the great whore’, and John goes into great detail about how she’s drunk the blood of God’s people and how the whole world has become intoxicated by doing business with her. In Chapter 18 she’s referred to as ‘Babylon the Great’, another code phrase for Rome.

But behind it all, there’s a dragon, and John doesn’t want us to be in any doubt as to who he is. In chapter 20:2 he says ‘(The angel) seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more’ (20:2-3a). This is what the dragon has been doing ever since he first tempted human beings: deceiving us, trying to persuade us that right is wrong and wrong is right, and trying to persuade us that important things don’t really matter very much, and that things that don’t matter are really important.

These are the great enemies in the Book of Revelation, and as the book draws to a close they are defeated one by one. In chapter 18 a great angel makes a joyful announcement: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (18:2). When John wrote, the power of the City of Rome was absolute, but he foresaw a time when that impregnable city would fall and her empire would be at an end – as all human empires come to an end. Then in chapter 19 the armies of heaven win a great victory over the Beast and the False Prophet and their armies; the Roman Empire and its false cult of emperor worship are at an end. Finally, as we saw a moment ago, the Dragon himself is bound with a chain and imprisoned for a thousand years, after which, strangely enough, he’s let out for a last gasp before he, too, is thrown into the Lake of Fire. We’re not going to get into what those thousand years mean today!

What’s going on here? Well, all through human history evil forces have preyed on human beings; dictators have oppressed us, rich and powerful people have exploited us, and generals have made war on us. The little people, the poor, the powerless, have felt like pawns, and often they’ve cried out to heaven and said, “How long, O Lord? How long are you going to let evil triumph over good? How long are the rich and powerful going to have their own way? How long are the innocent going to be slaughtered?”

Well, Rome fell in the 5th century AD, but of course there have been many other evil empires since then. The Beast has had lots of children, and the False Prophet continues to tell us that Caesar is god and we must obey our country, right or wrong, even when it tells us to disobey the teaching of Jesus. Like the Scarlet Woman, lots of cities since then have become drunk with their own prosperity and with the blood of the followers of Jesus who they have persecuted.

So it will be a long time, but not forever. That’s the message of Revelation. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven” is a prayer that will be answered one day. Evil will be judged and condemned. And we all know that’s the right thing. We know it’s right, even though there are many voices in the Christian world that say that God shouldn’t send anyone to hell. How can a loving God consign individuals to centuries of torment? How is that compatible with the teaching of Jesus?

Well, it’s actually quite compatible with the teaching of Jesus, as a glance at the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats will tell you. But there’s another point to be made here. Do we actually want evil to end some day? Do we actually want the world to be free from the power of oppressive people, of brutal dictators, of child pornographers and of people who turn children into soldiers in organizations called ‘The Lord’s Resistance Army?’ Surely we don’t think that God should let that go on forever?

Of course not, and that’s what judgment is all about. Judgment is actually a hopeful idea; it tells us that, although God is patient, wanting all human beings to repent, the time will come when he will say ‘Enough! This is where evil ends!’ There will be a world completely healed from evil and sin, and you and I will see it. And it’s the reality of judgment that makes this possible. The world cannot be freed from misery unless God judges evil and puts an end to it.

But of course, as Bruce Cockburn said in one of his songs, ‘Everybody wants to see justice done to somebody else!’ It’s very comforting for me to be able to point the finger at someone else’s evil; the great deceiver has been tempting people to do that ever since the beginning, when the man said to God ‘the woman, who you gave me, made me do it!’ But the reality, of course, is that the line between good and evil doesn’t divide nation from nation, culture from culture, religion from religion, or person from person. All of us are a mix of good and evil. Every one of us is capable of acts of love and acts of selfishness, acts of kindness and acts of great cruelty. If evil is going to be judged, it’s not just Hitler or Stalin or Osama bin Laden who are going to be judged, it’s me too.

And so John tells us that there will be a great white throne set up, and the one sitting on it is so majestic that heaven and earth flee from his presence.
‘And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books…Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire…and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire’ (Rev. 20:12, 14a, 15).

These books are a little confusing to some people, but in fact they’re quite clear. There are two categories of books. In the first one, everyone’s deeds are recorded; this is John’s way of saying that there will be no mistake. This is a frightening book, because we all know that we’ve done some pretty rotten things in our lives. Paul says in Romans ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23), and ‘the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). That’s what the books are all about. If you’re trying to buy your ticket into the new Jerusalem you’re doomed to failure, since nothing imperfect is allowed in there, and none of us are perfect. These books lead to an automatic sentence of death and judgment.

But the book of life is different. In 21:27 it’s called ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’. What does that mean? Well, last week Susan told us about a great multitude of people who have ‘washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (7:14). That’s impossible, of course: blood will not make things white! But John is using symbolic language again: Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave his life for us on the cross, and through his death we are all offered the gift of forgiveness. So to wash your robe in the blood of the Lamb means to come to God fully aware that you’ve fallen short, to cry out for mercy, and to ask to be forgiven. And those who have done this have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life.

This is the gospel message. Those who are judged and condemned have all earned it, but no one whose name is written in the Book of Life has earned it. Forgiveness, salvation, eternal life – all of these are free gifts. They come from what the Bible calls ‘grace’: God’s love that you don’t have to earn or deserve. It comes to you as a free gift, because God is love. So yes, there is a judgment, and we all need to take it seriously, but the good news is that no one needs to fear it unless they are unwilling to turn from sin, turn to the Lamb and ask to be forgiven and washed and set free.

So we’ve reached the point in Revelation when evil is no more. The powerful forces that have ravaged the earth have all been destroyed. Now the stage is set for a wedding. The people of Jesus are his fiancée, and now our bridegroom is going to marry us. Look at chapter 21:1-7:
‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
 Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

We don’t have time to explain this in detail, so let me quickly point out a few things and then come to a conclusion.

First, the city is not a literal city: it represents a people, the people of God. We know that, because it’s described as being ‘like a bride adorned for her husband’, and in the rest of the New Testament the Church is described as ‘the bride of Christ’. So this city is God’s people through the ages.

Second, note the direction: it’s not up, but down. The gospel isn’t about people escaping from an evil earth and going up to heaven when they die. Yes, for a while we do disappear from the earth, but it’s a temporary state. The New Jerusalem isn’t ascending from an evil earth to a perfect heaven: it’s coming down from heaven, to a new earth freed from evil and sin. In other words, Jesus’ prayer has now been answered: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’.

Third, note what everlasting life is like. It’s not solitary individuals enjoying private experiences of God. It’s not even just me being united with friends and family members. It’s about a community, a city, God’s people together. Not only the people we love, but the ones we find irritating; not only our friends, but maybe even our enemies. That’s why it’s so important to learn to love one another in this life: we’re going to be spending a long time together in eternity!

Fourth, note what the ultimate blessing is going to be: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (21:3). Later in the chapter we’re told that the city won’t need a sun or moon, for ‘the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb’ (21:23). Nowadays, of course, the sun is often obscured by clouds, and often the presence of God feels like that, too; we have a sense that he’s ‘out there somewhere’, but we can’t seem to see through the clouds. One day, though, the clouds will clear, and we will all experience the immediate presence of God without fear.

And this is where I want to end. Those of you who are fans of the old Star Trek series may remember an episode in which the Enterprise takes on an alien who is so ugly that the very sight of him will drive humans mad. And Spock accidentally looks at him and is indeed tormented by the sight, because it’s so horrible.

Can you imagine the opposite of this? Can you imagine a sight so glorious and beautiful that it would drive you sane? A sight so beautiful that just to look at it would give you ultimate joy? In Christian spirituality this is called ‘the beatific vision’ – the vision of blessing. In most of the Bible we’re told that it’s perilous for human beings to look at God, because we are tainted by evil. But that won’t be the case in the New Jerusalem. Jesus says in the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God’ (Matthew 5:8). On that day we will all be pure in heart, and so the sight of God won’t be a fearsome thing but a vision of wonder.

Let’s close with that. Yes, we’re all looking forward to the day when the dead are raised and we will be with our loved ones again forever. Perhaps we even think that this will be the greatest joy that eternal life can offer us. But don’t kid yourself; it’s not. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a wonderful thing, and I’m looking forward to it myself. But there’s another blessing, a blessing so wonderful that everything else will pale into insignificance beside it. That will be the blessing of seeing God face to face, and not being destroyed by the sight.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see you, I want to see you.
To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory,
Pour out your power and love as we cry holy, holy, holy.

Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy,
Holy, holy, holy,
I want to see you.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

May Calendar

Thu. 2nd:
·      7 a.m. Men’s/Women’s Bible Study (Bogani)
·      2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study (Marg Rys’ home – 3404-114 St.)
Fri. 3rd: 3.00 p.m. Corporation Meeting (Bogani)
Sun. 5th (6nd Sunday of Easter):
·      Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m. with coffee hour between the services.
·      ‘Sundays@4’ Worship Service at 4.00 p.m.
Thurs. 9th:
·      7 a.m. Men’s/Women’s Bible Study (Bogani).
·      11.30 a.m. ‘Lunch Bunch’ at the church.
·      2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study (Marg Rys’ home - 3404-114 St.)
Sun. 12th (Ascension Sunday):
·      Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m.
·      Mothers’ Day Wiener Roast fundraiser for YC at noon.
·      ‘Sundays@4’ Holy Communion 4.00 p.m.
Tue. 14th:
·      11:15 a.m. Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
·      7:00 p.m. Planning & Building Committee (church)
Wed. 15th: Vestry 7.15 p.m. (church).
Thurs. 16th:
·      7 a.m. Men’s/Women’s Bible Study (Bogani).
·      2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study (Marg Rys’ home - 3404-114 St.)
Sun. 19th (Pentecost Sunday):
·      11:00 a.m. Diocese of Edmonton 100th Anniversary Service at the Winspear Centre (Note: No morning services at St. Margaret’s on this day)..
·      ‘Sundays@4’ Worship Service at 4.00 p.m.
Wed. 22nd: 7.00 p.m. Special Congregational Meeting regarding the Building Extension project (church).
Thurs. 23rd:
·      7 a.m. Men’s/Women’s Bible Study (Bogani).
·      2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study (Marg Rys’ home - 3404-114 St.)
Sat. 25th:
·      9:00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m. Garage Sale Fundraiser for the Building Extension Project (church parking lot).
·      3.30 – 5.30 p.m. ‘Spaghetti Church’

Sun. 26th (Trinity Sunday):
·      9.00 a.m. Holy Communion
·      10.30 a.m. Morning Worship
·      4.00 p.m. ‘Sundays@4’ Holy Communion.

·      Tim Chesterton’s days off are every Monday, and two Saturdays per month.
·      Jennifer ffolliott-Oujla works Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. – noon.

The Lunch Bunch meets May 9th 11.30 a.m. This is earlier than usual as we will be having a quest speaker, Virgina Haase.  Virginia will be making a presentation about the pilgrimage she and Gottfried made to Santiago de Compostella.  Please come and join us to hear about their incredible journey. There is a sign up sheet in the front foyer or you can contact Julie Holmes at 435-4208 or Elsie McFall at 430-4627  if you would like to attend.

Planning and Building Committee update. The Planning and Building Committee has been exploring options to make our proposed extension project more affordable. We are now in conversation with the architect about the possibilities of a phased approach (i.e. doing the work in two or three phases), based around the question ‘What do we have to do as soon as possible?’ We will be sending out more information as soon as it is available so that we can discuss this at an extraordinary Congregational Meeting on Wednesday May 22nd at 7.00 p.m. (not 7.30 as originally announced). Please mark your calendars and plan to participate in this important meeting.

Sunday School Teachers Needed. Currently we have three Sunday School classes, two at the 10.30 service and one at Sundays@4. The teachers work on a rotation and our goal has always been that no teacher would need to teach more than once a month. However, we have recently lost a couple of teachers, and two more will be moving from Edmonton before the end of the year. This is making heavy demands on those who remain.
We have recently had a couple of new teachers volunteer and hope to bring them on board very soon. However, we could still use a couple more to share the load between the three classes. If you can help, please contact Tim or Jen immediately.

Mothers’ Day Wiener Roast for YC. Every year we help several young people in our parish attend the YC youth Conference on Victoria Day weekend. The main fundraiser for this is the Mothers’ Day BBQ which this year will be after the 10.30 service on May 12th. Hot dogs will be on sale that day and we hope you’ll participate and help our young people have another positive YC experience.

Garage Sale for the Building Extension Fund: Saturday May 25th 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the church parking lot. We need items for the sale (already priced), and also volunteers to help out. For more information talk to Melanie Eriksen and Louise Popp.

Spring Congregational Meeting: Sunday June 2nd at noon. The main agenda items will be a financial update and the choosing of outreach projects that we will support through the rental income from our cell phone tower this year.

Our parish will be supplying lunch for the Habitat for Humanity volunteers at their building site in Rutherford on Friday June 21st, and the lunch will take the form of a BBQ. Stay tuned for opportunities to help with this event!

Saturday June 22nd: Parish BBQ at the home of Lorne and Beryl Rice. Time TBA.

Fundraising Piano Recital with Maria Thompson Corley at the Maclab Centre in Leduc on Thursday June 27th at 7.30 p.m. Maria Thompson Corley is a superb pianist and this event is not to be missed. There will also be a silent auction, and we will be looking for help with donations for this, as well as volunteers. Tickets are on sale now for $35 each, and all proceeds will go to our building extension fund.

Diocese of Edmonton 100th Anniversary.
2013-14 will be a year of celebration in the Diocese of Edmonton as we celebrate 100 years of ministry and mission in the name of Christ.

The celebrations will kick off on Pentecost Sunday, May 19th, when Bishop Jane has invited the whole diocese to come and worship together at the Winspear Centre at 11.00 a.m. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, will preside and preach at this service.

Please note:
·     By the Bishop’s request there will be no morning services at our church on May 19th. We will hold Sundays@4 at 4.00 p.m.
·  The service at the Winspear will last approximately 90 minutes and will include a program for preschool children. You need to register your kids for this service by May 10th. Our office has the registration forms.
·     You are advised to arrive early and/or take the LRT as there are other events at Churchill Square on that day and parking may be an issue.
·      Please note that outside food and drink is not allowed in the Winspear Centre.
·      All Communion wafers for the service will be gluten-free.
Please do not bring parish offering envelopes to this service as the diocese will not be distributing them to the parishes. There will be an offering which will be split evenly between the Diocese of Edmonton and our partner Diocese of Buyé in Burundi. If you would like a receipt from the diocese please put your offering in a plain envelope and include name and address information.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Week of April 29 - May 5th, 2013

Weekly Calendar

April 29th, 2013
Office is closed.
May 2nd, 2013 
7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Study at the Bogani Café.
2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study at M. Rys home.
May 5th, 2013   Easter 6
9:00 am Holy Communion
9:45 am  Coffee between Services
10:30 am Holy Communion with Sunday School
4:00 pm  Sundays @4 Evening Worship

Roster for May 2013

May 5th, 2013  6th of Easter
Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople:  The Hughes           
Counter:  G. Hughes/ B. Cavey                       
Reader:  T. Cromarty                                   
(Acts 16: 9 – 15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21: 10, 22 – 22:5)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys/D. MacNeill           
Intercessor: C. Ripley                       
Lay Reader: B. Popp            (John 14: 23 – 29)           
Altar Guild (white)M. Woytkiw/A. Shutt
Prayer Team: S. Jayakaran/ M. Chesterton                       
Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty
Sunday School (Preschool):B. Rice
Kitchen: - 9:45 am  J. Johnston           
Music:  M. Eriksen
Altar Servers:  A. Jayakaran

May 12th, 2013  Ascension Day
Mother’s Day
Greeter/Sidespeople:  L&P Major
Counter:  L.Major/B. Popp                       
Reader:  S. Jayakaran                                   
(Acts 1: 1 – 11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1: 15 - 23)
Lay Administrants:  C. Aasen/ T. Wittkopf
Intercessor:  R. Goss                       
Lay Reader: D. MacNeill            (Luke 24: 44 – 53)           
Altar Guild: (white) J. Mill/L. Pyra
Prayer Team: K. Hughes/S. Jayakaran                       
Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen           
Sunday School (Preschool): T. Laffin
Kitchen:  K. Goddard
Music:  M. Chesterton           
Altar Servers: E. Jayakaran

May 19th, 2013  No Services at Home Churches
Centennial Anniversary at the Winspear!!!!!!!

May 26th, 2013  Trinity Sunday
Greeter/Sidespeople:  The Popps           
Counter:  B. Popp/L. Schindel                                   
Reader:  D. Schindel                                               
(Proverbs 8: 1 – 4, 22 – 31, Psalm 8, Romans 5: 1 - 5)
Intercessor: T. Chesterton                       
Lay Reader:  L. Thompson            (John 16: 12 – 15)           
Altar Guild (white):  M. Lobreau/MW           
Sunday School (School Age): N. Muwanguzi
Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen
Kitchen:  B. Cavey
Music: R. Mogg                       

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon for April 21st (Revelation 6 & 7) by Susan Ormsbee

Sheltered by God

When I worked as a consultant I travelled quite a bit, usually out of the country.  My Canadian passport was an important document, particularly when I travelled outside of North America.  It identified me as a citizen whom the Canadian government would protect in certain ways.  To acquire a passport I needed to complete an application form, have someone guarantee I was who I said I was and have a picture taken.  The government then verified this information and would issue a passport good for five years.  I then had the right to ask for assistance from the Canadian government when travelling and they would try to ensure that I was treated according to the laws of the country I was in.  Useful, but not necessarily all encompassing.

The happenings of this past week in the United States have caused me some concern.  People attending the Boston Marathon were not safe in the middle of a big city at a sporting event, am I safe going to similar events?  In the small town of West people were not safe in their homes when an industrial incident caused a massive explosion.  Am I safe in my home?  The Revelation reading today talks about being sheltered by God; does this include me?  Am I protected?  How?

Last week Tim talked about Revelation 4 and 5 and what heaven is like.  He reminded us that at the centre of the universe is a throne on which God is seated; God is in control.  Second, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is at the centre of God’s plan to save the world from evil.  Third, in God’s view, the people of God have the place of honor; we will be seated closest to God.

Chapter 6 of Revelation shows, in a general way some of the things that make human life painful and faith difficult.  It reveals what the world is really like and what God needs to do to bring justice back to the world.  Remember earlier in the book of Revelation God is described as more beautiful than precious and colorful gems, now we hear the world described in terms of colors of horses.  White represents conquest; red strife and war; black famine, inflation and inequity; pale green fear and death.  These are the colors of a world which is hostile to God; they describe the basic nature of life on earth.  Think about it and how we are a part of these colors.  We see ourselves as winners when we have power and can have authority over others; is this not the white horse of conquest?  We become skillful in conflict and get what we want at the expense of others; is this not the red horse of strife?  The black horse of inequity encourages us to think that market driven world economies are good even when some have to pay a day’s wages for a loaf of bread.  The green horse of fear and death seems to be all around us; evil appears to have won and we start to live by its agenda instead of God’s. 

But, Chapter 6 shows us that God does not create evil, he restrains evil.  God has the ultimate control and uses evil in the working of his plan.  God says that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but that he will not leave Christians unprotected.  God is sovereign and in control.

Remember, John wrote Revelation to give hope to the Christians who were being persecuted.  Being a follower of Jesus does not protect people from the harm evil can cause.  The scroll being opened in the book reveals a world where evil is at work, but evil is not the most powerful thing.  God is in ultimate control.  God and the Lamb restrain evil. 

So then we come to Chapter 7 which was read today.  This chapter, referring to God’s people, is an interlude in the opening of the seals. 

The chapter opens with four winds representing evil, being restrained by angels.  (This is part of what makes Revelation confusing, John mixes his metaphors, the winds are the same as the horses discussed in chapter 6; the angels are restraining the evil.) 

Verse three says that no destruction can occur until the people of God are sealed.  A seal must be put on the foreheads of the 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.  This is a symbolic number; it represents all the people of God on earth.  One interpreter says it comes from the 12 tribes of the Old Covenant multiplied by the 12 apostles of the New Covenant multiplied by 1000 (103 ) which is the number of perfection.  The number 144,000 means that all the redeemed on earth are sealed. 

What does it mean to be sealed?  There is an old custom of documents being sealed with a glob of wax and then pressing a seal into the wax to identify the sender.  In today’s age we talk about the seal on a bottle of aspirin, put there after manufacture; it has the same purposes as the wax seal on a document.  The seal does three things: it prevents tampering, it ensures ownership, and it certifies that the document is genuine.  So Revelation is saying that every believer is signed and sealed so that we can not be tampered with, because we belong to God.  We can not be eternally harmed. 

John next sees a great multitude, from all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues who are standing before the throne clothed in white.  They are celebrating because they have been delivered from the tribulations on earth.  The word tribulation (thlipsis in Greek) means pressure, all the pressure that sin, suffering and death cause, the stuff that the four horsemen create as they travel through the earth.  The people around the throne, have made it through life on earth, they have been delivered by Jesus.  They are dwelling with the Lamb on the throne and they will not hunger or thirst anymore.  The lamb will shepherd them and lead them to eternal life.

So, the multitude of God’s people is sealed, safe and secure.  They are in the presence of Jesus, the Lamb, and will serve him with joy and peace.  There will be no more war, or famine, or sickness, or persecution and no more tears.  Jesus, the Lamb of God will be their shepherd.  But, how does this affect us?  What does it mean to us, in this day and age?

The first question that comes to my mind is – Am I sealed?  Has God stamped me saying: “This one is genuine!  This one is my child!”?  Paul talks about sealing in Ephesians 1 when he says: “It is in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit.  ”.  (Eph 1:13, The Message).  The Holy Spirit seals us.  In baptism we are signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own for ever.  Therefore, all baptized Christians are sealed, marked as one of God’s people. 

The second question is – What am I delivered from?  We have seen that the four horsemen are present on the earth; evil is powerful.  But we know that God is in control – any threat is known by God.  He shelters his people and leads them to springs of living water.  We have troubles, tribulations but Jesus has won the victory over death.  The prophet Isaiah says “You’re my servant, serving on my side.  I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.  Don’t panic. I’m with you.  There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.  I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”  (Isaiah 41:10, The Message)  It does not say that nothing bad will happen to you or that once you are baptized life will be sweet and easy!  It says that believers will face tribulations but God will bring them out of these problems.  God is in charge.  If we depend on God he will watch over us, shelter us and bring us to eternal life.

So, how do I stay protected?  How can I have joy and peace now?  How do I renew my passport in God’s kingdom?

The multitudes in heaven are those people of God who have gone before us.  This cloud of witnesses shows us how we can be faithful by being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). 

One way of being faithful and reminded of our hope in Jesus is by attending worship services regularly.  It is sometimes easy to get out of the habit of attending church.  I am reminded of the story of the Lonely Ember.  Sitting around a fire and watching the flames and coals, a person moved one coal out of the fire.  Over time the coal turned dark and became cold.  The coal was then placed back in the fire and immediately it began to glow again as the light and warmth from the surrounding coals warmed it.  Being in church and worshipping with others is like that.  It warms us and keeps our faith strong. 

Remember what the multitudes were doing in heaven?  They were celebrating!  They were dressed in white robes and waving palm branches as symbols of victory.  They worshipped God by declaring that he is worthy.  They proclaimed that blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might belong to God forever and ever.  The multitudes were celebrating that God has power and is in control.  We too need to celebrate, to worship as a people of God, to learn to listen to the voice of our shepherd so that we may follow him.   

Let us pray:  We give you grateful thanks, O God, for all the saints who have gone before us and who now dwell with you.  We thank you for their witness in our midst, their faithfulness to you, and their courage in the face of adversity.  And we thank you that for them, there is no more crying or pain, no more heartbreak or injustice, but only the great joy of worshipping you and serving you with all the hosts of heaven.  Prepare us for the day when we too will be eternally worshipping you in heaven.  Amen.