Be One, Too: Praise God into Glory!

This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today.  It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray.  Amen.

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Over the course of the last month, we’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a saint.  I will remind you that in the Methodist tradition, we don’t pray to saints.  We don’t believe that saints have a special audience with God.  And, we don’t have a specific system for determining who is a saint and who is not.

We do believe in saints,though.  We believe saints to be people of genuine faith.  People who live faithfully and share the love of God they’ve found in Jesus Christ with others.  They bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  They are exemplars of the faith whose ever-developing faith inspires others to grow in love with God and neighbor.  And, as Lesbia Scott write (No. 712, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal) in her famous hymn, we believe:

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.

Over the course of the last month, we’ve honored the saints and talked about some ways in which we can strive to be one too.

This morning, in the last week of our series on the saints, we get another glimpse of what it means to be a saint.  Saints praise God (sing) into eternity.

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In our reading for this morning we’re given a glimpse of the saints in action.  It’s a fanciful image that engages all the senses.

“I looked,” writes John, “and there was a great crowd that no one could number.”  The light reflecting off their white robes was as blinding as the sun reflecting off the sea on a bright summer’s day.  They looked like the shimmering sea, they’re waving palm branches, shading the light just enough to see that these people were diverse and different, from every race, nation, and people of the earth; and yet, in their diversity, their voices were joined as one as they shouted:

Victory belongs to our God
who sits on the throne
and to the Lamb

The sound was deafening.  The multitude was shouting.  The angels and elders were singing.  It was an overwhelming scene even for those participating.

One of the twenty-four elders, who attend the divine throne (4:4) and seem to function as divine mouthpieces or criers (4:10-11; 5:5), asks John with the surprised air of one whose country-club party has just been crashed: “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” Taken aback, John reacts like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones: “Sir, you are the one that knows.”[1]

Gaining some clarity in the midst of the chaos, the elder then told John that the multitude had come from a great “ordeal.”  They were battered and beaten; clothes tattered from living in a world hostile to the people of God.  They’ve come through a great hardship, washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb and were worshiping God.  The putrid smell of blood—metallic, salty, musty—was now undeniable; so pungent that John could taste it.

The scene is overwhelming.  Yet, this one fundamental truth is undeniable even amidst this astonishing vision: saints praise God.  They shout praises to God.  They sing!

In the midst of whatever is going on around them, believers always sing.  Day or night, in desert or oasis, whether in prison or free, during calm or storm, they sing: “Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb.” […]

Sometimes the world tricks them into refusing to sing. “My second-grade music teacher told me I couldn’t sing.” “I don’t know the words and tunes to these new hymns.  How can I sing them?” “My voice left me years ago; I can’t sing anymore.”  Revelation overcomes such trickery with the music of the heavenly choir reminding the saints—living and dead—that the good news is heard, even over heard.  The saints’ cry may not always come in four-part harmony, but it’s always a joyful noise.[2]

Saints are never shy about singing God’s praise.  I am reminded of one of my college professors, William Placher, who had a great mind for theology, but a horrible voice.  At every chapel, his voice could be heard above all the rest out of key, off by a beat.  It didn’t matter.  He sang.  Saints are never shy about singing God’s praise even if it doesn’t sound all that great.

They find every reason, even through hardship, to give God the glory.  “Even in the midst of evil, war, social upheaval, famine, luxury, and greed saints cannot keep from singing!”[3]

The Westminster Shorter Catechism—a Q&A on and statement of faith written in 1647 and 1648—asks in its first question: “What is the chief end of man?”  What is the primary purpose of humanity?  Why are we here?  For what reason was humanity created?  The answer, it suggests: Humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  Saints understand and live this.  They find their purpose in living lives in praise to God.

Saints refuse to give up when life gets tough, when faith seems impossible, when it’s easier to follow the selfish ways of the world than to love God and neighbor.  Saints are those who see and seek God’s presence in all things.  They encourage others on their faith journeys.  And in the not giving up, in the seeing and the seeking, and in the encouraging they cannot help to give God all the glory.  They can’t help but shout their praise; because when you see and experience God you can’t help but sing!

One of the most familiar and ancient hymns of the church is known as the “Doxology.”  The word literally means a word of glory.  It’s a song of praise that every saint learns to sing even if they never know the words…

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise God, all creatures here below.
Praise God above, you heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

This song of praise (and others like it) will be sung now until forever by the saints of God.  Saints praise God now and into eternity.  That’s what saints do; I mean to be on and I pray you do too.

Let us pray.

O God, on this All Saints’ Sunday, as we celebrate the faithful who have gone before us, give us a reason to sing.  Help us not to become too overwhelmed by the world around us that we lose sight of you and forget to sing.  Give us a reason to sing that we might sing of your glory now and into eternity.  Amen.

 

[1] “Exegetical Perspective: Revelation 7:9-17” by Christopher B. Hays in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p221.

[2] [2] “Pastoral Perspective: Revelation 7:9-17” by Tom Tate in Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p220.

[3] Ibid.