May 6, 2001
Fourth Sunday in Easter

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

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Additional Sermons / Resources on the Texts for Today


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"The Greatest Thing a Person Can Do"
Revelation 7:9-17


It is one of the most amazing word pictures in the bible!

This morning's reading from the Book of Revelation describes an incredible gathering of heavenly beings, martyred saints, four breathtaking creatures¹, all focused on a majestic throne occupied by a Presence too awesome and fearful to describe and there is a Lamb which has been mortally wounded -- yet lives.

The gathering is punctuated by loud cries, angels fall on their faces while multitudes wave palm branches and sing joyfully day and night without ceasing.

What in the world is going on?

***

Actually, this scene does not take place in the world at all. It takes place in heaven where the author of Revelation has been transported in a vision into the realm of heaven. Here an awesome and joyous celebration of God's redemptive plan takes place and the Lamb of God which was slain now is a shepherd who graciously cares for the whole redeemed population.

Our reading from the Book of Revelation is a window into heavenly worship. An innumerable gathering of persons from every nation and every tongue stands waving palm branches while shouting:

"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

***

As we gather for worship today and each week on the "Lord's Day," we move through prayer, praise and the word of God - our hearts are united with the saints of all the ages. We join them as we pour thanksgiving from our hearts for the great gift of God's redeeming grace! It is as though in worship we join a heavenward procession of the saints into the presence of the One who is seated on the throne.

For ages, many churches have begun their prayers of great thanksgiving with the words, "The Lord be with you," and the response is, "And also with you." Then all hearts are moved closer to the throne of God as the leader enjoins the people, "Lift up your hearts,"  and the people respond, "We lift them up to the Lord."

Then the leader invites the people to give thanks. "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," and all are united with the response, "It is right to give our thanks and praise."

At last the hearts of all the saints of every age along with all the heavenly realm are united in praise. Listen once again:

And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. [vv.10-11]

Now all voices are joined and every heart is united in worship that shall never end. Here is the beautiful thing about worship - we are most fully who God created us to be when we are involved in authentic worship. As a matter of fact, Jesus told his followers that God is searching for worshipers:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. [John 4:23]

When Moses was commissioned by God to bring the people of Israel out of bondage and into a promised land, he was told to deliver this message to Pharaoh, Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and say to him, 'Thus says the LORD: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. [Ex.8:1]  The whole trial which fell upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt was precipitated when Moses told Pharaoh that he and his people had to leave Egypt so that they could worship the Lord. Finally, Pharaoh had enough:

Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, "Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone.
[Exodus 12:31-32a]

Worship is not a peripheral activity in the Christian life, nor a duty to be endured. Worship is the central reality of a soul which is freed from the bondage of the world and delivered into the presence of God where worship is the heartbeat of heaven.

***

The very first question in the Westminster Catechism points to the highest goal of human living.

Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?

Answer: Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

Several other catechisms use this same expression of our highest goal. IF this is true, then the most significant act any human being can accomplish is the act of worshiping God. And yet, many people consider worship a waste of time. In an interview with Time magazine, Bill Gates said in effect that worship is a waste of time because it had failed to pass his cost-benefit analysis.²

But Gates is not alone. According to theologian Marva J. Dawn, worship is a waste of time. Listen to these words from her book on worship.

"To worship the Lord is -- in the world's eyes -- a waste of time. It is, indeed, a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless. By engaging in it, we don't accomplish anything useful in our society's terms." ³

There is a critical point here. None of us who have gathered here today would agree with Bill Gates - and yet - we do live in a society which values productivity and measures the value of a person's life by what they do and how much they accomplish. The old song which said, "You've got to stop and smell the roses," pointed to the hurry and hassle that fills many people's lives. We are vulnerable to the temptation to put first things last!

Even though we would not go all the way with the attitude of people like Mr. Gates, there is a pressure on our commitment to worship that subtly begins to make worship one of the many "things" that make up our busy lives. 

Be very careful of this trap. Worship is not one of the "things" in our lives that takes time, it is the central reality of a Christian's life where we discover and rediscover the wonder of who God made us to be. Worship is not so much something that is done "out there" in the church, but something that flows from "within" and is then joined with the worship that flows from your heart. Our hearts and souls are united in celebrating the redemption we have in Christ and our worship here is joined with the worship of all of God's people on this earth and with the worship of the saints of all the ages. Worship is where we come together and participate in the one reality that will endure forever.

***

Our text in Revelation points to three enduring and enriching realities concerning worship:

Worship is Inclusive

The countless multitude that is gathered before the throne of God is made up of worshipers from, "All tribes and peoples and languages." All are invited to respond to the grace of God and join in worship and none should be prevented. One of the blights on Christina history is when one group of human beings prevents another group from being included in worship.

All people are created in the image of God and discover their truth worth in the worship of God. The church is made strong and its witness made real when worship is inclusive.

Worship is Rooted in Redemption

Why does the multitude worship?

An elder explains to the writer of Revelation that the multitude is made up of persons who, "...have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night..." 

We worship because God has broken down every barrier that stands before us and divine righteousness and has given the gift of Jesus Christ so that we might stand in righteousness before the throne of God. The gospel hymn, The Solid Rock, contains the affirmation of God's redeemed children, "...dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne."

Worship Celebrates God's Gracious Care

"The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them."

Worship and the care of God for the children of God are closely connected. As we worship, we are embraced by the one who reigns over all things and has all things under control.

In worship we join with all who hear and respond to the call of God, we celebrate the redemption we have in Jesus Christ and we rest in the arms of the one who will care for us forever!


¹ For a unique page of links on the "four living creatures" and artwork connected with same, >>> click here <<<

² From Rev. Mike Macdonald in an article in the Gaston Gazette 

³ Marva J. Dawn, "A Royal Waste of Time,"  Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999 p. 1  (This is an excellent text on worship which you can find in our online bookstore.)

 

Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

 

Connections in the Text

The Great Shepherd cares for, redeems and protects the sheep. The 23 Psalm celebrates the care of the Shepherd while Revelation focuses on the redemptive work of the "Lamb" of God. In the gospel, Jesus explains that those who truly know God will hear his voice, follow him and receive eternal life.  In Acts, Peter brings life to Dorcas - not in and of his own strength, but though the power of the one he prays to.

Authentic life comes from a relationship with the One who created us and in the arms of the shepherd we discover rest. 

John 10:22-30

Jesus is pushed by the people gathered at the temple to reveal whether he is the Messiah. However, they do not understand the true ministry or methods of Messiah. The "works" or ministry Jesus has gives witness to who he is - but neither his words nor his works have been received by those who ask the question.

Those whose hearts are open hear the words of Christ. Is he Messiah?  Only God's Messiah can give life and Jesus claims to be able to give life.  The passage concludes with the most amazing statement. "The Father and I are one." While commentators have offered many interpretations of this claim, the gathered crowd understood what he meant quite clearly.  Our text ends without going on to the reaction of the people to Jesus' words. Depending on how you approach the text and theme for today, verse 31 might best be included: The Jews took up stones again to stone him.

There is a full text sermon as well as two outline for Psalm 23 here >> John 10:22-30

Also check the sermon on Psalm 23 here >>> Psalm 23

Acts 9:36-43

Some have difficulty with this text and the raising of Dorcas. A few commentators suggest that Dorcas may have been in a coma and here "waking" after Peter's prayer was a fortuitous happening. This defeats the clear intent of the episode which is related by Luke the physician

When Peter stood before the council, he said that the apostles had to obey God and not human beings. "We are witnesses to the resurrection," he told them as he refused to remain silent about the resurrection. In this episode, the resurrection is not simply a theory, but a real hope for all who trust in the Lord. The witness of the apostles is not simply the witness of words, but the witness of a continuation of the mighty acts of God. Jesus had promised his followers that they would do the things he was doing and even "greater things." The apostolic word, empowered by the Holy Spirit is a witness of word and deed.

Revelation 7:9-17

The text is rooted in the care of God for those who trust that the Shepherd will protect those under his care. The destiny of the people of God is described in 7:16-17 and more fully described in 21:1-4.

The power of this passage however, is in its description of heavenly worship. A study of worship in the book of Revelation would be well worthwhile. The focus could be on the hymns which are recorded in:

Revelation (4:11; 5:9-10, 12, 13; 7:12, 15-17; 11:15, 17-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 18:2-8; 19:2-6)

 


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 23)

Leader:   We come to praise your name, Shepherd of our souls!
People:  From your hand we have received life's treasures;
Leader:   You have given us rest in our toughest times,
People:  Renewal when life has brought us low.
Leader:   You give us guidance when life is confusing,
People:  And show us the way we should go.
Leader:   Your goodness and mercy shall surround our days,
People:  And our spirits are yours forever and ever!  Amen!

A Prayer of Confession

O loving and gracious God, we beg your mercy today. It is not so much that we say we are without sin as it is that we act as though we are without sin. We judge our brothers and sisters even as we excuse ourselves. We cling to your grace even as we hold others to the law. We have given lip service to your command to love one another as you have loved us, while in fact our hearts have been open to some and closed to others. O Lord God, who does not repay us according to our sin, but according to your mercy, renew a right spirit within us today and make us fit to give genuine witness to your holy love.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Let us embrace the encouraging word of the Lord that, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart..."   The forgiveness of God will renew your joy on account of the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

We rejoice and give thanks O Lord, for the great gift of salvation you have made possible for us through the sacrifice and suffering of your Son Jesus Christ. With all the saints of all the ages, in heaven and on earth, we lift up our praise and worship to you today.

We can not fathom the depths of your love. As the heavens are high above the earth, so are your thoughts higher than we can grasp. We come so short of fully embracing the peace of Christ, for it goes beyond all understanding. The greatest news that has ever come to this world is ours because of a grace we could never have imagined.

It is all too much for we poor mortals O Lord, and yet our hearts are filled with gratitude and our spirits are renewed as the earth is renewed day by day around us. Our minds are filled with hopeful anticipation as we hear the words of life and listen to the songs of angelic choirs giving thanks for your loving care.

O shepherd of our souls, we come to you today with the great joy of knowing that your care for us is eternal and your love without limits.  Bless you Lord, all praise and thanksgiving belong to you. You alone are worthy of the devotion of our heart and mind and soul and body. Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication
How can we begin to thank you Lord? We can scarcely understand it. This gift of life everlasting which is ours in Christ, is greater than our hearts can contain. Can a God such as this receive offerings such as these? O Lord, may Your overflowing grace surround those who bring these gifts and prepare those who will receive the ministry they support. Amen.