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God Of All Saints

November 5, 2017

GOD OF ALL SAINTS

A sermon in observance of 

All Saints Day

November 5, 2017 (22d Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Revelation 7:9-17


9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
   and worship him day and night within his temple,
   and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
   the sun will not strike them,
   nor any scorching heat; 
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd,
   and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Today we worship God by affirming one of the deepest and most heart-warming claims made by people of faith across the world.  We – each of us and all of us - belong to God!  

 

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” People from every nation belong to God.  People from all tribes belong to God.  People from every culture belong to God.  People from every language belong to God.  We belong to God!   

 

That belief stands against every claim by any religion that its followers have the exclusive hold on God.  God cannot be captured and held captive by any religious system.  The message of this text defies the notion that God belongs to this religion, or that language, or another ethnic group.  

 

God does not belong to any political system or notion of national empire.  God does not belong to Protestants (including Baptists!).  God does not belong to Catholics. God does not belong to Jews.  God does not belong to Muslims.  God does not belong to Buddhists.  God does not belong to any nation, tribe, people group, or language.  All people belong to God!  In this vision, all humanity is represented before God, all humanity is represented in worship to God, and all humanity proclaims that God is author of salvation.  

This inclusive vision of God was no doubt controversial when it was first expressed long ago by whoever penned Revelation.  At that time, follows of the religion of Moses objected to the idea that Gentiles were God’s people.  In the Acts of the Apostles, Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) marks the starting point for a series of passages that pushed back against the long-held notion in Judaism, but also held by other cultures, about God belonging to a specific nation or people group.  

 

When Ananias expressed reservations about accepting Saul of Tarsus as a follower of Jesus during a vision, he learned that God had chosen Saul (later re-named Paul) “to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). 

 

At Acts 10, we read about Peter’s rooftop vision which prepared him for the conversion of the Roman military officer named Cornelius.  Eventually, the issue of whether the religion of Jesus would embrace Gentiles led the young movement during a gathering at Antioch to adopt the view that God’s grace is not limited to any people group, any nationality, any language, or any identification with the religion of Moses (see Acts 15:1-35).  

 

The vision of God being worshipped by an inclusive world challenges us now as it did in the past.  Now there are religious people who would ban women, persons who are LGBTQ, Muslims, and persons who are part of “minority” religious groups from their fellowship.  

The vision of God being worshipped by a great multitude of persons that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages shows us that human notions about religion, government, and social relationships do not set the terms for God’s grace.  In that vision, the great multitude stood before the throne of God and before the Lamb that is first mentioned at Revelation 5.   In that vision, the great multitude of persons that no one could count from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, are robed in white – signifying their status as victorious saints with palm branches in their hands – symbolizing justice and victory over oppression.  In that vision, the great multitude declared, together, “Salvation belongs to our God … and to the Lamb!

 

The multitude that no one could count includes people some religious people don’t want to count.  The great multitude that no one could count includes people some religious people have counted out. The vision of a great multitude that no one could count is a constant reminder that religious people who specialize in counting noses, counting beliefs, and setting boundaries based on what they think is acceptable do not control God!   God calls saints from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, and from every creed! 

 

“Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?... These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14)  Across the centuries, many views have been offered about that question and answer.  Like the entire book of Revelation, this passage is a deep mystery.  Yet, it clearly identifies that countless multitude with God and the Lamb who redeemed humanity to God.  It clearly associates that countless multitude with what is called “the great ordeal” and shows by their white robes and palm branches that the countless multitude has not only come out of the great ordeal, but has overcome!  

 

The great multitude consists of saints who choose God’s unconditional love and justice rather than worship notions of political, ethnic, religious, and commercial empire.  That multitude consists of people who have cast their lot with God and the Lamb of salvation in favor of inclusion.  That multitude consists of people who suffer because they live for justice, suffer because they live for mercy rather than meanness, communal peace rather the false notion of privatized piety, and widespread joy rather than the self-centeredness of greed.  

 

The preachers of my childhood were not afraid to ask their hearers, “Do you want to be in that number that no one can number?”  They understood, rightly I think, that God does not pick and choose who become saints, but that souls become saints by choosing to live as God’s people.  

 

We become saints – each of us and all of us – who choose to love as God loves, unconditionally, and by choosing to bet our lives on love and justice rather than choosing hate, fear, hypocrisy, and deceit.

 

We become saints – each of us and all of us – who choose to go through “the great ordeal” of resisting hate, resisting fear, resisting hypocrisy, and resisting deceit that is part of any and all human empires.  

We become saints – each of us and all of us – who choose to wash our living in the self-sacrificing example of Jesus and all others who defied religious, political, commercial, and cultural attempts to define life by domination, control, and coercion rather than by freedom, inclusion, and respect for the God-given dignity of every person, all people, and the entire creation.

 

We become saints by choosing to live for God, love for God, stand alongside those who are poor, frail, unwelcomed, maligned as unfit, and those who are otherwise marginalized in the name of politics, religion, commerce, culture, and every other form of empire.  

 

The God of All Saints is God of all who resist every form and trick of empire!  People everywhere are oppressed by notions of empire.  They are oppressed by political and military notions of empire. They are oppressed by religious notions of empire.  They are oppressed by commercial notions of empire.  They are oppressed by cultural and ethnic notions of empire.

 

The God of All Saints calls us, through the Lamb, to wash our lives with unconditional love and grace.  The God of All Saints calls us, through the Lamb, to lay down our lives for those who are oppressed by the forces of empire as they face “the great ordeal” of imperial oppression.  

 

And the good news we see in this passage is that the great multitude of saints are the ones who overcome.  In this vision, the great multitude no longer weeps about injustice, oppression, and suffering.  In this vision, the great multitude no longer wrestles in “the great ordeal.”  No!  In this vision, “the multitude” has not merely survived “the great ordeal,” they have overcome!  They stand before the throne of God and the Lamb adorned in white robes of victory and bearing palm branches of justice.  They have overcome with God!  They have overcome for God!  They have overcome in God!  They are One with God and the Lamb in victory!

 

We are part of a great multitude of saints.  Many have gone before us.  Many are with us.  Many others will come after us.  Together, we stand with God!  Together, we live in the power and peace of God’s love.  Together, we have a permanent place in God’s plan to redeem the world, restore the world, and reclaim the world.  Together, we are part of the “All Saints” of God today, tomorrow, and always!  

 

Amen. 

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2017