Sunday, April 14, 2013

Easter 3 of Series C (Revelation 5:8-14)

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this third Sunday of Easter comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Revelation to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, is church boring? A dangerous question, I know, for a preacher to ask his hearers, but I will ask it again: Do you find the Divine Service boring? I would guess that every single person here this morning has answered that question with ‘yes’ at some point in their lives. Perhaps you answered ‘yes,’ as your parents tried to get you going; perhaps you answered ‘yes,’ as you thought about sleeping in. But you’re here at least, right, even if you think that being here is boring, a wasted hour of your life. Boring, old hymns, boring old words, repeated each and every week, and then, to cap it off, an eighteen minute speech. Let’s just admit it; we are all bored with worship at times or all the time, aren’t we, even (to let you in on a secret) the man who leads it. It isn’t just children, it isn’t just hearers, but boredom on Sunday mornings affects us all, from occasional attendees and children to every-Sunday adults and even to preachers themselves. 

But we aren’t just bored with Sunday morning; our boredom in the Divine Service isn’t the disease, it’s just a symptom. A more “exciting” worship service, whatever that means, wouldn’t cure our boredom. In fact, some sort of “entertainment worship” would simply mask or even feed the disease, because the problem is, deep down, we are bored with the Word of God. We find God’s Word dull and uninteresting. Because that’s all that worship is, isn’t it? You look through our liturgy and you quickly find that our worship service is simply Bible texts arranged together, spoken and sung, interpreted and proclaimed by hymns and preachers. And we are bored with it. We’re tired of old, boring stories about dead people, we are bored with complicated doctrines and ancient poetry. We are bored with God’s Word.

But even that doesn’t get to the root of this problem, this sin of boredom. That’s right, I called it a sin, specifically a sin against the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Boredom is a direct and blatant violation of God’s command for right worship. Why? Because when we are bored with worship and the Word of God, we are actually bored with Jesus. Boredom in church or Bible class isn’t boredom with a preacher or liturgy, it’s boredom with Christ. The Divine Service is all about Christ and His gifts from start to finish. We’re bored with His gifts, we’re bored with His salvation; we’ve heard it all before, and frankly, it’s all old hat. Let’s not kid ourselves; we’re bored in church because we’re bored with Jesus. Is there any greater offense to our God?

For Christ is worthy of our worship, of our glory and praise, not of our boredom. He deserves our worship not because He is flashy or exciting, because He can tell a good joke and entertain us, but because of who He is and what He has done. Our text this morning gives us a glimpse, a privileged view, of the worship that is going on in heaven. And this worship is anything but boring. The Lamb of God goes to the Father sitting upon His throne and takes a scroll from His hand. In response, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down in worship and sing a new song: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals!” The Lamb, the Christ, alone of all in heaven and on earth, is found worthy to open the scroll, the scroll which tells how God will bring victory over sin, death, and the devil. The four living creatures represent all the creatures of this earth; the twenty-four elders stand for the Old and New Testament Church. 

But then the circle expands, and so does the worship: “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” What do they sing? “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The Lamb is worthy to receive all honor and worship, even the honor and worship that is due to God alone, for this Lamb is true God, He is included in the divine majesty. Worshipping Jesus doesn’t violate the First Commandment; it’s the only way to obey it. All creatures in heaven and on earth declare this truth, giving to the Father and the Son together worship and praise: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and glory and might forever and ever!”

Why is the Lamb, the Christ, the Son, worthy of such worship and honor and praise by the heavenly host, indeed, by all creation itself? The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders tell us in their new song: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood your ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The Lamb is worthy of our worship because He won the victory, the victory over all evil, all that was opposed to God and to us. But He won that victory through suffering. He is a slaughtered Lamb, because He was slain for all creatures, for you and me. He is the Lamb of the new Passover; His blood marks us, and death passes over. He ransomed a people for God, He bought us back by paying the price that we owed for our sin with the shedding of His own blood. All of your sin, even the sin of boredom that afflicts you whenever you worship or study God’s Word, is washed away in that blessed flood.

His blood transforms us from a nation of rebels to a kingdom of priests. “You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” He forms us, those who have been claimed by His blood through the waters of Holy Baptism into His Church, His Kingdom, and we are priests forever, offering up the sacrifice of prayer and praise before His throne. The Lamb is worthy of praise and honor, glory and worship because He won the victory, not through power and might, but through humility and suffering. He is worthy of worship because of His wounds, the wounds He bears for eternity as the Lamb who was slain but yet lives, and sits enthroned forever and ever. “The living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.”

It doesn’t seem to us that the Lamb, the Christ, is sitting on the throne when we look at the world around us. In fact, it doesn’t seem like any victory at all has been won. We still get sick, we still have accidents, our loved ones still die. We still fall into sin. Disasters still happen; war still threatens us. The killing of unborn children remains legal, and the destruction of marriage and religious freedom with it may soon become a reality. Reading the paper or watching the news declares that sin, death, and Satan are still sitting comfortably upon their thrones. But that is not reality; appearances are deceiving. In our text today God pulls back the curtain, He shows us what is really happening as we struggle in a world of sin and death. Christ reigns, Christ rules. He has triumphed, despite all appearances to the contrary. The slaughtered Lamb sits enthroned, He holds the keys of Death and Hades, He has conquered in the fight: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! God rules in this world through the Lamb who was slain, our suffering Savior. He rules in seeming weakness, through a Church and a Kingdom that seems on the edge of collapse. But that Church is already victorious, that Kingdom truly does rule over sin, death, and Satan. That is reality, as God shows us in our text.

And we participate in that reality every Divine Service. In our text, God pulls back the curtain on Sunday morning. When we gather to receive Christ’s great gifts and give Him great thanks and praise, we are joining with the heavenly worship that is described in our text. In our ordinary church, led by a sinful man, with imperfect pitch and all the foibles that can fill a worship service here in this corrupted world, we are participating in the worship of heaven. Revelation chapter five shows us the reality that we are included in when we come to this place to worship the slain Lamb, our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. In the Divine Service heaven bends down near to this earth; in our sanctuary the doors of heaven are open and we join the eternal chorus. We are told in our text that the bowls of incense “are the prayers of the saints.” Our prayers and praise rise up like incense before the throne of God, for the Lamb gives us every good gift, even His Body and His Blood; He pours out on us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The Divine Service is anything but boring because Christ isn’t boring. He has won the victory, and He is worthy of our praise and honor, today and forever because His shed blood covers our every sin. Now, this doesn’t mean that a preacher has license to be uninteresting and dull, or that he can conduct the liturgy in a dreary manner. The one who conducts the Divine Service has the responsibility to give Christ the glory for which He is worthy. And when Christ is given the glory, when His death and resurrection are front and center, church is anything but boring. The preacher may not always give an A-plus sermon, he may stumble through the liturgy, but Christ is always victorious, He is always our living Lord. His redemption remains true, it is reality, despite anything that happens in this world, for He has triumphed, He has won the victory. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Worthy is the Lamb, for He was slain, but He lives, never to die again. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

1 comment:

sr_walther said...

thanks for sharing Rev, excellent sermon for me to read today.