Friday, April 27, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2007. Rev 7:9-17, April 29, 2007

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After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Well, today is one of those special Sunday’s of the church year. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday.” For lots of folks it’s one of their favorite Sundays. One of the reasons is because we have the image of the Good Shepherd burned into our minds from the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

That’s what that sheep in the cartoon in your bulletin likes too!

His name is Rick.“You know the best part about having a Good Shepherd?” “Being a sheep!” That’s just like you and me we want to be sheep of a Good Shepherd. We are sheep of the Good Shepherd.

That’s what the reading from Revelation is about, being sheep of the Good Shepherd. You might wonder exactly how that reading ties into our theme, so I’ll tell you. But first, we need to set the stage, we need to understand what’s going on here and the reason St. John wrote the Apocalypse in the first place. John, the author of the book of Revelation, is most likely the disciple John who lived and heard Jesus preach and teach during his earthly ministry. John wrote this book to seven congregations in Asia Minor. It was a difficult time for the church. Persecution was everywhere. Those congregations were undergoing a very great time of tribulation. It was a time that it was dangerous to be a Christian. Most Christians knew friends or family who had been martyred, that had died for confessing the Christian faith. John himself had been sent into exile on the island of Patmos, for preaching. Our reading here in Chapter Seven tells us of a part of a vision that John had while he was alone on the island. In this vision, he saw a gathering of these thousands upon thousands standing before the throne of God in robes of white. These gathered before Jesus are the church. Those who have died in the faith and are standing before our Lord, worshiping him for all that he has done for them. There’s a hymn that I should have chosen for today called Behold the Host Arrayed in White. It comes right from this part of Revelation and paints a beautiful picture of these Saints.

Behold the host arrayed in white Like thousand snow clad mountains bright. They stand with palms And singing psalms Before the throne of light. These are the saints who kept God’s Word; They are honored of the Lord. He is their prince Who drowned their sins, So they were cleansed, restored. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring When they all sing With angels shining bright.

Now the reason that John told God’s people about this vision is the same reason that we take great comfort from this text. John was giving comfort to the people of God about those they knew who had died. Today as we remember the Good Shepherd it would be good to know what that means for our loved ones who are gathered among that vast array described by John. It would be good if we thought for just a moment about what it means for us.

John tells us that he saw a great multitude, that no one could count, from every tribe and nation of all languages and tribes, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are dressed in white robes, they’re waving palm branches, and shouting, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne… and to the Lamb! That’s an important point I’m going to come back to in a moment. But John didn’t just see these people there, he saw “all the angels” too. And they were standing around the throne and they worshiped God by falling on their faces. Amen. They said, Blessing and glory and wisdom and honor and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen! (Sounds like a song we sang just a few moments ago!).

Now when John was watching all this going on, an angel says to him, So, do you know who all these people are? Do you get what’s going on here?

John took the safe answer and said, You know who they are, you tell me.

These people are before the throne of God because they are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. The Lamb’s blood has made them clean. And that’s why they are worshipping him. He has done everything necessary to take care of them. Just look. They never hunger anymore, they’re never thirsty. There are never any tears here. The Lamb, the one they are all staring at is their Shepherd.

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

What’s the comfort that John brings to God’s people with this vision? Think about it for yourself. When was your last funeral? Who do you miss that has passed from you into death? John is describing what’s going on right now with all those who died in faith in the work of Jesus. If you want to know what it’s like after death all you have to do is read here. We say that we just don’t know what it’s like for those who have died, and in a really big way that’s true except for this passage here. Right here in this text John is telling us what Bill, Philip, Freddy, Bertha, Rudy, Leona, and Marcella are doing. He’s telling us what all those other loved ones of yours are doing too.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Did you hear it? Jesus the Good Shepherd had taken away all their struggle and pain. He’s wiped every tear from their eyes. He is now supplying them with everything they need, just as he did for them before death, just as he will do for all eternity and just as he is doing for you and me now. Right now all those loved ones of ours who have died in the faith wouldn’t come back to us for anything. They have Jesus. They have everything they need. That’s the real joy and comfort that St. John is giving us today. Those who die with faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, have passed through death into eternal life.

Let’s think about it with this story: I got this story from Pastor Will Weedon in Hamil Illinois.

Now this is a real story even though it sounds like it’s not. Once upon a time there was a wolf who lived in a cave. And this wolf had it pretty easy. Whenever he was hungry he would just go out his door and there grazing right by his door were sheep. He would eat as many as he wanted to, to satisfy his hunger. One after another, day after day, the more he ate the fatter he got and the fatter he got the more he ate. It was an unending cycle. And the sheep knew, each and every one of them, that one day the wolf would come out of his cave and eat them. Now one day he woke up and went out of his cave to eat again. And right there on his doorstep was the biggest fattest sheep he had ever seen. He couldn’t believe the nerve of that sheep to be grazing right there on his doorstep, so he let out a big howl, that the sheep promptly ignored. So he ran right up to the sheep and he blasted him with his breath right in the face. And his breath smelled bad, in fact the wolf himself smelled bad, because this wolf had a name and his name is death. So the wolf tried to frighten the sheep and he said, “don’t you know who I am?” The sheep answered “yes, I know who you are.” “Well, aren’t you afraid of me?” And the sheep looked at him and blinked and said, “…of you? You’ve got to be kidding.” Now this made the wolf really angry. “That does it,” the wolf said, “I’m going to kill you, and it’s going to be slow and painful and it ’s going to be awful and it’s going to hurt a lot.” And the sheep answered, “I know.” Now the other sheep had gathered around to see what was going on, because nothing like this had ever happened before. No sheep had ever spoken to the wolf in that way. Maybe they thought it would be different this time. But when the wolf pounced it wasn’t any different. So the sheep scattered. And just like he promised the wolf made it slow and painful and awful. When it was done belched out his victory to the other sheep who had stopped to look on again. And they scattered even further. Then he went back to his den. “Wow!” he said to himself, “that was the best lamb chops I’ve ever had.” And in fact he thought it was quite strange that that one sheep had almost satisfied him and he didn’t even feel hungry. And he went to bed. But when he got up in the morning he wasn’t feeling himself. He had a small stomach ache. Now all through the day it began to grow worse and worse and he began to wonder about that sheep he ate. Could it have been poisoned? He began to howl and complain so loudly that the sheep came to the door to see what was going on. In the middle of the next night the wolf couldn’t take it anymore, because inside of as something alive. And it was poking and prodding from the inside. Then all of the sudden a ripping sound and his belly was ripped open, death stomach was torn wide open, and out stepped someone that looked like a shepherd. Now the shepherd walked around the den and he laughed and he laughed and he said to the wolf, “Well my old foe, do you recognize me?” The wolf recognized the voice it was the sheep that he ate three days before. “You!” he said, “How could it be?” “You kept your promise to me, you made my death painful and slow and awful, but what are you going to do about me now? You’ve got a hole in you belly that’s never going to heal. You go ahead and eat my sheep. I promise, I’ll lead them right out of your belly just as I myself have come out of your belly. That hole you have is forever.” Now the shepherd went out the door and he gathered all the sheep together. And he said, “Look, he’s going to be coming out in a few days and he’s going to be just as hungry as ever. And yes he’s going to eat you. But look, he’s got a hole in his belly and I’ll lead you through it just as I went through it. That’s the Good Shepherd who is the Lamb. He’s the one who laid down his very life for the sheep. And the sheep remember that even though death comes for them, he has a hole in his belly.

The vision that John gives us is of those who have been lead through the hole in death’s belly. It’s the best thing about having a Good Shepherd. He’s poked a hole in death so that we pass through it into life instead of death. That’s the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the In the Gospel lesson for today the Good Shepherd himself said it like this.

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life…

If we put it in words of the story, I will lead them through the hole in death’s belly…

and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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