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Worship and Sermons
November 1, 2020

“The Hope of the Saints” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, November 1, 2020, Year A / All Saints Day – Revelation 7:9-17 and Psalm 34:1-10, 22  •  1 John 3:1-3  •  Matthew 5:1-12

THEME:  Draw on the inspiration of the saints who have gone before us to live this life as those who will someday join them.


Do you remember the first time you read the Book of Revelation?  How did it leave you feeling?  Maybe confused?  Scared?  That’s probably how most of felt. 

We’re not alone.  Thomas Jefferson read it when he was in his late 20s, and then apparently never read it again.  Late in life, in a letter to a friend, he called Revelation “the ravings of a maniac.”

But that didn’t stop him from including some of it in what is called the Jefferson Bible, including the passage we read this morning.

What makes this scene of heavenly deliverance, comfort and encouragement so compelling, is what happens leading up to it, and following it.       

It follows the apocalyptic breaking of the first six seals, or scrolls.  As each scroll is opened, horrendous tribulations are visited on humanity.  The first four bring the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse.

First, the antichrist comes. He talks of peace, but he wages war – war against the saints.

Then the red rider brings more warfare and widespread death. The third horseman spreads famine throughout the earth.

The fourth rider is Death itself.  Rampaging on his pale green horse, death wipes out a quarter of the earth’s population.

The opening of the fifth seal reveals a vision of the Christian martyrs, wearing white robes and begging to know when the suffering and death will end.

Then the sixth seal is broken.  It unleashes catastrophic natural events on earth, in the seas and in the heavens. 

Everyone left on earth, from the great and powerful to the meek and lowly, scramblea for cover, quaking in fear of the coming judgment of God and the Lamb.  They ask one another “In this judgment, who is able to stand?” 

The answer is obvious:  those who have remained faithful during the time of tribulation.  First among these will be the faithful from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Then will follow a great multi-national, multi-ethnic multitude of people, so large it can’t be counted.  They’ll come from every nation, from all tribes, peoples and languages.

And they’re easy to spot.  They’re the ones wearing white robes, a sign of faithful witness through times of persecution.  

It’s as if a dramatic new Exodus is taking place.  Instead of bringing his people out of oppression in Egypt, God will deliver his people from the oppression of the Roman Empire.

John himself knew this persecution first-hand.  It’s why he’s living on a small island miles away from Roman control on the mainland of modern day Turkey.  

The “tribulation” he describes is the social, economic, and religious marginalization of those who, like him, refuse to participate in the Roman imperial system and its idolatrous worship of the Emperor and other Roman gods. 

Those who come through this persecution now live under God’s tender care.  God shelters them from hunger, thirst and heat, just as he did for his covenant people traveling through the desert. 

The Lamb on the throne is Jesus.  He leads the people to springs of water and brings them through the tribulation into the safety of God’s new Promised Land.

But then this hopeful vision abruptly gives way to the opening of the seventh seal.  When it does, the cycle of death and devastation on earth resumes unabated.  It makes us wonder, what was the point of  this brief interlude of hope in the midst of John’s vision of tribulation?

That’s what I’ve thinking about this week.  And then it occurred to me:  John’s vision of hope is the inspiration God’s people need to make it through troubling times.  It will enable them to endure the suffering and persist in the faith.

There could hardly be a more helpful and appropriate message for us right now.  I cannot remember a time as difficult as the one we are going through at present.

We are suffering our own plagues and natural disasters.  The unchecked spread of a deadly virus.  Devastating wildfires on this continent and elsewhere made all the worse by unchecked global warming.  And a tone-deaf government that lacks the political will to do what is required to stop both.

While parts of our economy are recovering, many folks are still suffering financially, especially the have-nots.  As a result, the gap between rich and poor in this country, which has never been greater, is getting wider still.

Likewise, the gap separating those of different political stripes is also wider than it’s ever been.  In fact, so much so that we dare not even discuss politics for fear that it will instantly turn into an argument. 

If we can’t have open, mutually respectful conversations about the issues that are affecting us, it’s no wonder our government is unable to come up with political solutions.

What we need – right now – is a vision of hope.  The reassurance that God will not permit sin and suffering to have the final word. 

We need a heavenly throne room vision of what awaits those who persevere in following the footsteps of the Lamb:  loving God with our whole being, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, especially those whom Jesus called the least.

And loving God’s creation enough to see it as more than resources to be exploited for profit, but as a divine ecosystem whose intricate complexity, inter-reliance and sheer beauty speak loudly of God’s love for us.

And the ones to whom we should look for that hopeful vision are the youngest among us.

Carl Sagan, the great American astronomer and TV personality once said,  “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are because often they become self-fulfilling prophecies.  Dreams are maps.”

That begs the question what kind of world are our children dreaming of?  Maybe we should ask them.

And a few years ago, someone did.  In 2012, the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada conducted their second annual “Small Voices, Big Dreams” survey.  They asked over 4,600 10-12 year-old children from over 40 different countries about their hopes and fears for the future. 

It turns out that they are largely optimistic.  Like all of us, they dream of a world without crime, disease, hunger or violence. 

They want to know they are safe, healthy, nourished, loved and protected.  And it’s not enough for them to have this for themselves.  They want this for everyone.  They dream of every human being working together to make this a reality for us all.

Now, that’s a vision we can all buy into, a vision of hope for a hurting world.  And on this All Saints day, we take comfort and inspiration knowing it’s not only the living who yearn to make this vision real, but also those who have died and gone on ahead of us to heavenly glory. 

We who are Jesus’ disciples here on earth are the church militant.  Those disciples who now live in heaven we call the church triumphant.  We who are the living saints of the church militant are united with the deceased saints of the church triumphant.  Together, we are all the church, and we are all saints. 

In other words, we do not struggle alone.  As the letter to the Hebrews puts it, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so close, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Friends, just like Jesus did, we too must persevere for the sake of the joy that lies ahead.  Our loved ones who have run this race ahead of us already know that joy.  And they want that joy for us.  So, we trust that there is some connection between them and us, a source of strength inspiration to help us in our struggle here and now.

But it’s up to us to persevere.  Whatever the obstacles, we have to continue to work for justice for the marginalized and justice for the planet.  We have to fight racism wherever it rears its ugly head.  We have to make it our business to understand the needs of those who work in business and who cry out for dignity and equal pay for equal work. 

And we have to provide new and greater opportunities for those who have historically been denied opportunity, whether on the basis of gender, skin color, sexual orientation or whatever else it is that has slanted the playing field of life against them, forcing them to fight an uphill battle.

On Tuesday of this coming week, we will have an opportunity to express this vision of hope.  But our race does not end with politics.  Our race continues as we reconcile with those who disagree with us, including those in our own families.  Because it’s there where love is needed most often.  It’s there where love is learned.

So, today, as you and I approach this communion meal, let’s remember we are not the only ones at this table.  Jesus is our host, and all the saints are there, too.  The ones who follow Jesus on earth, and the ones who rejoice with him in heaven.

Especially, on this All Saints Sunday, let’s recall our own loved ones who have entered into that joy.  They, too, are here at this table with us. And they’re rooting for us.

Let’s live our lives as those who will someday join them.

May it be so.

Last Published: November 2, 2020 11:21 AM
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