Let’s see…just this week, I have gotten angry at my husband and at some of my co-workers. I have used a cuss word, or two. I have passed judgment on our political leaders and their handling of the problem of ebola. I have stolen a candy bar, or two, or three out of Mary Ellen’s Halloween bag. I’m sure that at least one point this week I made a choice to do something or not to do something based solely on my own desires or interests, with absolutely no regard for what God’s will might be. And this is just me, just this week. These are just my shortcomings, my mistakes, my sins. I’m sure you all might come up with a similar list. In the meantime, all around us are other people making mistakes, making poor choices, doing things that harm others. Everyday people are abused, children are abandoned or neglected, innocent people die in the crossfires of violent wars. Then, when you add those things on top of the suffering caused by illness and natural disasters, things can get pretty bad, can’t they? Suffering, it seems, whether self-imposed or otherwise, is a basic fact of human existence.
What are you going through this morning? Is there pain in your heart that is nearly unmanageable? Has someone hurt you deeply? Are you suffering from an illness, a disease? Do you have a daily battle with depression and anxiety? Are you so disgusted by the daily shootings in the news, the continuing occurrences of hate-filled acts, that you feel there is little, if any, hope? Do you feel like you’ll never make it? Are you weeping over the state of our world?
Indeed, we live in a broken world. Every time we turn on the TV or open the newspaper, our hearts are torn out of our chests. We read about children who have been abducted and sold into the human sex trade—it’s absolutely horrific! How can this kind of thing even occur? How can such tragedy and evil exist? The results are tragic.
Sin and the evidence from sin brings a darkness upon our world which is so thick, even a knife won’t cut through. And if we try to ignore it…well, we aren’t really doing much to change it or make things better, are we? Victor Frankl wrote in his book: “There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life.” Does your life have meaning, even in the midst of this lost and broken world? Today we observe what is called All Saints’ Sunday, and really, I think this is what being a “saint” comes down to; having hope and purpose in the midst of chaos and brokenness. In other words, we can be a part of the problem, or we can be a part of the solution.
In our scripture lesson for this morning, John shares his vision of a “great multitude” of people “that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne [of God] and in front of the Lamb” (who is Jesus). John tells us that “they were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”
“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” The word for tribulation can also mean persecution. And a careful study of how the term “persecution” is used in Revelation and the rest of the New Testament reveals that, as Christians, we all experience persecutions when we live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in the world.
While on this earth, there can be no doubt that pain and suffering will be a part of any Christian’s life. If this were not the case; it would mean our hearts were so hardened to the pain of this world that it would be impossible to actually be following Christ. Saints are those people who see the suffering of this world, even know the suffering of this world, and yet they see beyond it as well, to the hope of Christ’s promised future, to the salvation of God.
Indeed, Christ weeps when he sees his people weeping. God so loved the world that he came to us in Christ and has shared our suffering! And as Christ-followers, we share in the suffering of the world as well. We are to be troubled by the fact that so many persons are living without hope, without the knowledge that they are loved. We are to be disturbed that so many people are angry, filled with hatred, and low self-esteem. And we are to be disturbed as well—extremely disturbed—if we are not doing something to help alleviate the problems; if we are not a part of God’s “rescue effort”! This is what the Saints of Christ do with their lives. And we remember today so many that we loved dearly who, through their lives, participated in God’s rescue efforts. But here’s the thing, a saint isn’t a saint only after he dies. Saints are the living, the ones who face the hardships of the world head-on, armed with the hope of God’s salvation!
The great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They are in need of shelter. They have known hunger and thirst and scorching heat. They have tears in their eyes. Suffering has always been part of the Christian story. However, it is only part of the story, never THE END!
This vision from Revelation moves us through its important message about suffering to a vision of how victory is finally won! And this victory is so different than the visions of victory offered to us by our culture; our world. The world tells us that the one with the most toys wins. The one with the most power wins. But that’s wrong, that is not the truth of victory! And the Saints of Christ are a testament to that. Because in reality, ultimate Christian victory comes in death. When we die to the ways of the world, when we die to ourselves, then we are raised with Christ. This is how we become victors! We are conquerors, we are saints, not because we escape persecution—Christ didn’t escape it. We are conquerors because when we rise with Christ, right here and right now—when we allow our garments to be washed with the blood of the Lamb—we become children of God; children not born of flesh and blood, or of a parent’s will, but children born of God!
The word salvation literally means rescue. And God’s rescue plan is found only in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Have you allowed God to rescue you from slavery to sin and death? Have you washed your robe and made it white in the “blood of the Lamb”? Will you be found praising God forever and ever? Will you be one of the multitudes standing “before the throne [of God] and in front of the Lamb”? Will you follow the way of the saints? Will Jesus, the Lamb of God, be your Shepherd? Will he lead you to springs of living water? Will God “wipe away every tear” from your eyes? Will you be one of the ones who falls down on their face “before the throne,” worshipping God and saying, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!”? Do you know Christ is with you? Do you believe it? With Jesus, you see, even the worst of circumstances can become the best.
In the game of chess, the purpose is to "checkmate" your opponent's king in a situation where it can't avoid being captured in the next move. In many games of chess, a point comes when one player makes a move luring the opponent in to something called "a mating net." Usually, this kind of move is a sacrificial one; it gives your opponent the opportunity to capture one of your major pieces, or to gain what appears to be the advantageous position on the board. If your opponent takes the bait, the "mating net" is set. The victor will be losing pieces to the loser, and the loser will appear to still have every possibility of winning. But this is a false perspective. The "losses" of the winner are an integral part of the ultimate victory that has already been assured and the "victories" of the loser are, in reality, the sequence of defeats that lead to ultimate destruction.
In the Cross of Jesus, God makes the sacrificial move that "sets the mating net." God's victory is established at that point, even though history continues--the forces of evil still attack us and seem to thwart God's purposes. As Christians, we still find ourselves pressed in on every side. But we can know that the victory has already been won and everything will be made right when Christ returns and there is a new heaven and a new earth.
So the big question for us now is: Will we continue in our misguided ways, or will we join the saints of Christ? Will we be among that crowd in the throne room? Will we be part of God's rescue effort? Will we allow the light of Christ to flow from us and out into a world that is so lost, so dark, so insanely broken?
There is great meaning to our lives after-all! And that is because Christ has won the victory! And Jesus is with us at all times. Knowing Christ is with us transforms us, our struggles, and those with whom we come in contact. How can we not cry out with the great multitude: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb...Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”