Sermon for November 3, 2013

Sermon for All Saints’ Day (Observed)

November 3, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Revelation 7:9-17

Sermon Theme:  “Song of Victory for the Church Triumphant”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Deutsche; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 23, Part 4, Series C)

 Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

 It’s interesting to see how congregations name their church.  Have you every noticed that a vast majority of Missouri Synod Lutheran churches are named either St. Paul, St. John, or Trinity?  Maybe that’s a reflection of the sober, sedate, staid nature of a denomination founded by conservative, Midwestern German immigrants.

For more colorful diversity in the naming of churches, you need to drive around East Texas.  Or Upper Peninsula Michigan.  Piney Shade Baptist Church, for example.  But one of the funniest church names I’ve ever read about requires an explanation, or you might not get the humor.

We regularly affirm our belief in the “communion of saints” every time we say the Apostles’ Creed.  Well, the Communion of Saints is made up of two groups of people:  One, the Church Militant and, two, the Church Triumphant.  All believing Christians, living or dead, are saints.  Those of us who are still here on this wretched old earth, struggling not only to survive, but also to lead others to Christ, are the Church Militant.  Those now living in heaven with God and the Angels are the Church Triumphant, as their struggle is over because Christ has won the victory for them through His death and resurrection.

Well, Pastor Timothy Cargal tells the story how one new, little church, just off a big Interstate Freeway, got together a list of good Christian-sounding terms, — Redeemer, Justification, Ascension, Resurrection, and Church Triumphant, — and  voted on them and named their church “The Church Triumphant Community Church.”  Funnier than the thought that they were a church of dead saints living in heaven was the sign they put up on the Freeway.

The sign read:  “The Church Triumphant, Next Exit.”  Travelers driving by might wonder whether it was a church or a cemetery.

Our sermon text for today from the Book of Revelation gives us a good picture of the Church Triumphant, and it’s a happy picture.  You know, a lot of people don’t want to read Revelation because of the scary images and weird visions revealing things about the End of Times.  But our text is a very uplifting, joyous description of the Church Triumphant. 

Let’s look at what is there.  They are our counterparts; we are the Church Militant and they are the Church Triumphant, and together we are the Communion of Saints.  One of the things we notice in our text is that the heavenly angels, presumably with the saints, are singing what we will sing after while in our Communion hymn, “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.”

Christianity is a singing religion.  Christians sing.  In Matthew 26:30, Christ and His apostles sang a hymn at the close of the last supper.  In Acts 16:25, Paul and Silas prayed and sang songs while in prison.  According to Philippians 22:6-11, the earliest affirmations of faith were hymns.  In heaven, the angels fall on their faces and sing praises to God.

George Buttrick reported that the head man in a Pakistani village asked the members of a little church that met next door to his house to move to the edge of town.  He offered to exchange properties if they would agree to relocate.  His motive was a fear that his Muslim wives, hearing the joyful singing of the Christians, would be attracted to the faith. 

Yes, Christianity is a singing religion.  Christians sing in the desert; they sing at night; they sing in storms; so why wouldn’t they sing in heaven?  When a person complained to Martin Luther over the practice of using the music of tavern songs in Christian hymns, the great Reformer responded, “Why should all the fun songs go to the Devil?” 

There’s an old German aphorism by Christoph Lehmann, which goes like this:  “Ein guter Gesang wischt den Staub vom Herzen” (A good song wipes the dust from the heart).

Most of us complain when we have to make sacrifices, even small sacrifices.  I remember my uncle, when he was a young husband and father, moaning and groaning because he had to buy a lawn mower instead of a set of golf clubs that he so wanted.  How many young fathers don’t complain because they have to deny themselves things they want so they can buy shoes and clothes for their kids.

Well, the song of the martyrs in heaven is not a complaint about what they had to give up, including their own lives, but about what they receive from our awesome God.  You notice on the insert that these words are arranged in poetry form, in the form of a song: “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.”

We Lutherans are not weird for singing the liturgy; no, contemporary churches are weird for not singing the liturgy.

Although our sermon text is one of the more joyful passages from Revelation, some of the saints in heaven are described like this:  “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.”  These are the Christian martyrs who were tortured and killed for proclaiming Jesus, and their blood-stained robes have been washed white in the blood of the Lamb.

We take heart that the martyred saints were persecuted, tortured and slaughtered and yet stood firm for the Lord, and now the blood they shed is washed away by the Lamb.  While none of us are suffering or giving up our lives for the Lord, we live in the worst of times; just listen to the evening news if you don’t believe that.  From the healthcare mess, to the violence and bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, to the unstable economy throughout the world, the threat of nuclear weapons, the breakdown of law and order in our own country, and on and on.

The great temptation is to lose heart, to think God doesn’t care, that He’s far away.  Yet, amid all those tribulations mentioned in Revelation and experienced in our world today, John’s words bring us a sense of comfort, as we learn that even now, the Church Militant (that’s us) is under the protection of God.  Our faith, through Baptism, sealed that protection for us.  We live under that protection right now.

And John’s words bring us the further comfort of knowing that when we become a part of the Church Triumphant, in heaven, the Lamb in the midst of the throne will still be our shepherd, and He will guide us to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes!

If you think about the last time your team won the District or State Championship, as East Bernard did last year, how everybody in town was happy.  And everybody was throwing parties to celebrate, and everybody praised the players and coaches.

Well, heaven is like that, heaven is the final celebration of victory, and God and the Lamb won it!  And unlike any other celebration, this does not get old, because it’s not a victory for a season; it’s the victory for eternity! 

That’s why Christians are so happy, and that’s why Christians sing, in church, and in heaven!  “Amen!  Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen!”  Amen.

 The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.