The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Third Sunday of Easter
May 5, 2019
I had only lived in Washington, D.C. for a few months at the time, so I wasn’t quite used to it. I was walking through Georgetown when suddenly, there was a cavalcade of sirens. Turning around, I saw a caravan of big, black SUVs with tinted windows; guys wearing black suits, sunglasses, earpieces, holding big machine guns leaning out the windows. Congested D.C. traffic parted like the Red Sea parted for Moses and that caravan sped right through Georgetown. I had only lived in Washington for a few months at the time, but I knew exactly what was happening. Somebody important was driving by
You know the scene. Some movie star walks out of a restaurant and they’re mobbed by the paparazzi. James Harden couldn’t walk his dog without being swarmed. The bishop shows up at church and it’s like he suddenly has a thousand friends. Funny how that doesn’t happen to the rector.
It wasn’t so different in the ancient world, either. Think Palm Sunday and the crowd that hailed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. On coins or in art, Roman Emperors were often depicted with a crowd surrounding them. When the emperor came to visit a city, the city leaders would send out musicians and a throng of greeters to welcome the emperor, swarming him as he made his way into the city. If you have a crowd, if you have a following, it shows how important you are. Or, for the mortals of this world, how important you think you are.
You can see what St. John has in mind in this passage from Revelation. Seated on the throne is the Lamb, and surrounding that throne are myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice. And every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them are facing the throne and the One who is seated on it. We might think that the power brokers, movie stars, and athletes of this world have notoriety; but we would be sorely mistaken. That’s the not so subtle message here in Revelation.
Y’all know that Revelation is one of my favorite books of the bible. I know, you weren’t expecting to hear that in an Episcopal Church. Now, I do not think that Revelation is about the end of the world. Revelation is just that - a revelation, a glimpse into the heavenly throne room. The word “revelation” is the same word they would use to open a curtain so that you could see what’s on the other side. And what do we see? We see a throne, and all of creation, all of creation worshipping the Lamb on the throne.
O God what a vision! This is what my soul is aching for. I desperately want to be part of this crowd. To just hear that music, to see the Lamb, to be caught up in the heavenly worship and to swarm around the only person that has ever mattered. That, that would be life. It seems that everybody in this world is just trying to gain prestige for themselves, to create their own entourage. I mean, that’s what social media is. We all post, hoping to create a buzz and to have people talking about us. We are trying to create that throne for ourselves, to get people to sing the praises of our vacation pics and our selfies.
Now, Revelation is about the end of the world in one sense - it’s about the end of this world as we participate in it. Revelation is offering a fresh vision, a new perspective, a new way of life. St. John is inviting us to see Jesus, and only Jesus on the throne. Instead of trying to create a crowd for ourselves, thank God we can lay that burden down, and instead join the crowd flocking around the Lamb that was slaughtered. It’s the end of the world as we know it.
The heavenly worship. In a way, it’s the end of our church as we know it. Have you felt it, have you noticed that in our church? Have you noticed that shift, that the center of our life together has moved? You know, it used to be the center of our life was the Parish Hall. It was like Grand Central Station on Sunday morning. But, we’ve changed. This building has changed us. Dare I say, the Spirit of God has changed us, because I’ve noticed, I’ve noticed that the center of our life is now here. In the nave, in the worship space. I’ve noticed that more people come in here to pray quietly before church begins. I’ve noticed that when church is over, this is where people stay to talk and chat and catch up. I’ve noticed that we are approaching our worship with more intentionality. Dare I say, I think the center of our life is more and more on the throne and the Lamb and the altar, than on the coffee pot. We are joining all creation in the most important thing we can ever do - worship.
Yes, we are called to do charitable work. Yes, we are called to raise up the poor and marginalized. Yes, we are called to feed the hungry, defend the weak, advocate for the oppressed. By all means, Jesus Christ commissions us to leave the safety of the church building and to proclaim the gospel to any and all people. Yes, we ought to enjoy one other’s company and fellowship. Yes, we can have coffee together. I mean, y’all know about my love affair with coffee. But we do all of that only because we first worship Jesus Christ. Everything else in the church flows downhill from our worship of the Lord God.
We pray it every day - “on earth as it is in heaven.” We are praying that the worship in heaven, what’s going on in Revelation, is what our life on earth looks like, too. Our whole lives, both at home and in the church, ought to look like this vision. We are praying that God focuses our whole lives on the Lamb, and only the Lamb.
This, this is what the church has to offer that is different from the rest of the world. Like that caravan of big black SUV’s zipping through D.C., the strong men and the phonies of this world are desperate, desperate for your attention. They will pound their fists, screech on cable news, coerce you through your headphones, and slowly, but persistently, entice you to pay more attention to them than to the Lamb. This is what we are up against. For some, this image from Revelation is comforting, a glad reminder that at the end of the day, all that matters is the grace of Jesus Christ flowing from the throne, as freely as the blood of the Lamb flows from his wounds. But this image from Revelation is also a challenge, it is a challenge to those of us who spend more attention on the people and personalities of this world.
Revelation is not subtle at all. All creation is worshipping Jesus. Every human, every dog, every cat, every scorpion, earthworm, octopus, mosquito, and I suppose, if they exist, every alien is worshipping the Lamb on the throne. All creation is bending its voice to the praise of God. So if even the three-toed sloths and beluga whales and daddy long legs are praising God, why aren’t you?
Never is this more important than in our current culture. We have five hundred and forty eight days until Election Day 2020. Over the next five hundred and forty eight days we will be bombarded with messages, ads, screeds, and threats as has already started. But at the end of the day, true authority does not reside in the White House, the Congress, or the Courts. They will desperately try to get you to notice them, but no earthworm or alligator or egret is going to pay attention to them, even on Election Day. No, true authority is given to the One who was slaughtered. True power is given to the Lamb, held powerless upon the cross. For five hundred and forty eight days they will try to get you to pledge your allegiance to the elephant or to the donkey. But for all eternity our allegiance is to the Lamb. Yes, you and I will vote. But our votes will flow downhill from our worship, because our life is first defined by the altar and font, not by the ballot box. And election day, well, election day was held two thousand years ago when Jesus opened wide his arms upon the cross. He did not do it for fame, or power, or prestige, or notoriety - no, he did it for love.
Take my heart my friends. Through the ages of ages, with all creation, you and I will gather around the throne singing to the Lamb and only to the Lamb - singing blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. Amen.