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Awaiting the Bridegroom: “… that brings us together today.”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.
After nearly four months (this is actually only the 8th message), we enter into the final chapter of the book of Revelation in this overview look at what some think of as just too confusing and uninterpretable. We have decided to see this ultimate account of Jesus’ apocalypse in the simple and straightforward understanding of how John the Apostle describes it: Jesus revealing Himself to His chosen eternal-life-partner, the Church.
Over these last several weeks we have been, to use the words of this book, Awaiting the Bridegroom – today, this World Communion Sunday, a day when churches of every color and culture, every tribe and tongue, every style and tradition, remember that God saves and loves and calls all His people together as one – today we hear His Word that, to quote the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride, “… bwings us togevuh today.”
Look with me at Revelation 21. I invite you to hear the Word of God from Revelation 21:9-22:5 …. —-
21 9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. 14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. 16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. 17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits (216 feet) thick. 18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
22 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Before we go very deep into this passage from John’s record of Jesus’ Revelation, allow me to remind you that this is a picture of heaven – this is not here and now. (Duh! Thanks Reverend Obvious!)
But let me also point out that God’s desire is that we taste this right now! That we smell heaven, and that we smell like heaven to the world around us, today, October 2, 2016! We should be able to hear the sounds of heaven, even while we endure the clashing noise of sound-bytes and sirens and news of shootings and beatings and evil!
We live in 2016. We, here in this room, live in Spokane, WA, USA, in 2016. We are surrounded by darkness – fear-inducing news of terrorism, of cancer, of divorce and break-up, of addiction. We can all name our own “dark places”. We all have them.
But, 700 years before Jesus was born Isaiah told us that “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” We know that light because we know Jesus Christ. He even calls us to be the light of the world!
In today’s reading, where are the dark places in the New Heaven and the New Earth? [There are none.]
Why are there no dark places there? [Because God is the light that shines in the darkness!]
Why do we have dark places in our lives? [Maybe we have blocked Jesus from that room in our lives?]
What happens when light shines in all the dark places? [The dark places disappear.]
One candle dispels the darkness of an empty room.
One flashlight exposes whatever is hiding in the shadowy corner.
In just a few minutes we will gather around the Lord’s Table and discover again His Light. After that we will join in prayer – and TODAY is LPC’s DAY to PRAY for Spokane. What dark places in our community need the Light of Christ to shine in them?
Look at verse 24 – this passage is not describing Spokane in any part of this city’s history; it is, rather, a description of the New Heaven and New Earth, the New Jerusalem – Heaven’s eternity. But, as we said a few minutes ago, we have the ability, and the responsibility, to experience this and to share our experience with the world around us right now, October 2, 2016!
Verse 24, Who is mentioned here as coming into this New Jerusalem? [The nations, and the kings of the earth – the gates will never be shut because there will be no reason to close them, to lock our doors, no 911 emergency system – those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life!]
How will this be the same as what we experience here on any given Sunday morning? [Church is a safe place to gather with other Christ-following believers, to be comforted, encouraged, fed, challenged – we get a glimpse, a taste, a scent of heaven. My hope is that we get enough to rub off on us that when we leave the building, when we go to work or school tomorrow, when we have lunch this afternoon, others will feel our exposure….]
How is this different from what we experience here? [Take a look around – we all look pretty much the same – white, middle class, English speaking, mostly Builder and Boomer Generations. I am so thankful for Boris and Vera who represent a piece of the world different from our western world lives, but even they look like us; I am grateful for Lilly, and Jake and Ashley, and Melissa, and DJ, and Little Julie, and Jacob and Hope and Oran and Johnny and Kayden and …. For representing Millennials and Gen X and whatever they’re calling today’s generation of 4th graders and younger.
I am also super psyched for our new interest in looking into global and developing country Christianity, Kenya, in particular.
These kinds of things make us a little more prepared for what awaits us in Heaven.
Whitworth University offers a week-long Pastors retreat and seminar every year called The Whitworth Institute of Ministry; in 1998, I do not remember exactly what the theme was or who all the nationally known speakers/presenters were, but Steve Goodenberger, the Music Minister at Spokane’s First Presbyterian Church, wrote this beautiful dream narrative afterward. Listen to this:
“Worship is a rehearsal for heaven”
When we sing, we pray, when we focus on God, we are preparing for a time when the rafters will ring with full-throated glorious singing from all the nations. We will all join together in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Handel will conduct it the way he really meant it to be sung. The rest of us won’t argue about tempos and how big an orchestra is appropriate. The we will join is as people from Zimbabwe sing “O Sifuni Mungu”. Then we will all sing a Latin cant of “Kyrie Eleison” together. We will join in as we sing a Russian anthem of salvation. We will all clap along to a blue grass style Brush Arbor song. Jamaicans will stand next to rap musicians. Irish Catholics will join hands with Protestants. We will all joyfully join in singing a hard-rock chorus of praise. (and we will love it!) Gabriel might join in and improvise on his trumpet. The Latinos will start a mariachi rhythm, and we will all sing a song of praise to the Creator, while snapping our fingers and letting our bodies join in the dance. Then Bach will lead us in the “Magnificat”. Then he will make a odulation and bridge into the key for “O Sacred Head now Wounded”. All the hosts of heaven, including us, will sing. Then, we will sing “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” (in Korean!). Only there, instead of a dancer from Knox Presbyterian spreading his hands beneath the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ will open His arms, we will see the scars on His hands and all of us will bow before Him, not just a handful of dancers.,
Why will we be so ready to sing so many kinds of music, so many languages, so many physical stances for worship? Because we will be in the presence of Jesus Christ. Our desire will not be to find the music that best pleases us, but to use whatever means we have to please the Lamb on the throne. Even if we don’t know the music or the language or the style, we will join in, because the performance will not be the purpose Thunderous adoration will be. We will be one. People from all nations, all tribes, all languages, all musical styles will have a single focus. My quietest, most intimate utterings of individual faith will also be heard, and Jesus Himself will look around past all the millions of people and catch my eye, and acknowledge my praise.
This is powerful stuff. No one could experience this kind of worship without being changed. He devil will do anything to keep us from experiencing this depth of adoration here on earth. He works hard at getting us to takeoff the One we worship – onto the tools or forms of worship. If we start arguing about which tool of worships most appropriate, we lose track of the whole point of worship – to get the focis off of us, and onto Jesus Christ. So, instead of music and worship unifying us, we have come to a point of talking about “Worship Wars”, and why it would be so much better if everybody would want to worship just like me. There is a high level of tension in the Church about music, every denomination, every size congregation:”
This section of Revelation closes with the picture of the River of Life and the Tree of Life. The beauty of this New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation is how much it looks like the picture drawn for us in Genesis – only now it is perfected and fulfilled.
“Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration—this is the great narrative movement of the scriptures. It begins with God’s original design for this world, and our place in it in relationship with Him; our fall from this life of “all things right-with-God”; and then right in the middle of the Fall, we see God, walking with us, speaking into the Fall. He speaks words of curse (against sin and its effects) and words of blessing (promises of redemption). And He speaks of keeping us safe until the fullness of His redemptive work is completed (keeping us from the Tree of Life until we can eat from it in a state of right life rather than sin life.)
Then we enter chapter after chapter, book after book, of God clarifying and bringing about His promise. This promise reaches its climax in His own coming to us in Jesus—the decisive action in God’s redemptive plan, and the one that accelerates us toward its fulfillment at the end of time.
When we reach the last chapter of this great story, we find ourselves made new, and living here for eternity with people from every race and tribe and language in the full presence and light of God.”
There is much we might look forward to when we get to that place of paradise – seeing loved ones and enjoying pain-free dancing and running. But what we might be most excited about is simply being allowed to be with Jesus ….
Mawwaige. Mawwiage is what brings us togevuh today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam…. Then wuv, twue wuv, wiww fowwow you fowevuh and evuh… So tweasuwe youw wuv….
Lord God, we long to experience Your presence and power here in our lives today. Restore what is broken in our lives today – health, relationships, cross-cultural, inter-racial, multi-lingual, inter-generational, cross-economic, inter-educational bring Your people together, today to taste Your perfect Paradise, we pray, in Your Son’s name, the Lamb of God, the Shepherd King, Amen.
Currie, Susan Porterfield; Revelation: Awaiting the Bridegroom; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2010; Pp. 85-96.
Goodenberger, Steve; “Worship is a rehearsal for heaven”; Whitworth Institute of Ministry; 1998.
The Princess Bride; 1985.