11-29-20 THE WORD TO WATCH


Mark 13: 24-37

Sometimes it is difficult to feel the sense of excitement for the coming of the Lord at Advent; after all, it is a season of watching and waiting; like waiting for a child to be born. It is a season of prophets proclaiming, of angels abiding, of shepherds wondering, of a virgin consenting to an arrangement that changed the world. We cannot push the calendar faster even though children wish we can! As a child, my family believed in Jesus and they believed in Santa! My sister and I would take turns wearing out the pages of the Sears Roebuck Christmas Wish Book that showed all the new toys they carried! Our anticipation of the possibilities sometimes caused me to look through the catalogue after bedtime with a flashlight. I could hardly wait! I have to say I loved Jesus too—the candlelight service when I was allowed to hold a real candle and sing “Silent Night” with others was also special! But the gifts from Santa and others were so exciting!

In his book The Spirituality of Waiting, Henri Nouwen has written that:
Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the cultural in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait! For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place…. The Psalms are full of this attitude: “My soul is waiting for the Lord. I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than a watchman at daybreak.”
[Watch for the Light, Plough Publishing House, Farmington, Pennsylvania, 2001, p. 27-29.]
Now I want to tie watching to waiting. Last week we spoke of the second coming of Christ and the waiting and watching involved with that long process. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul believed Jesus would return in their lifetime. But now Jesus is telling us to watch for signs. Some might still be looking for signs of Christ, but the whole world is beginning to look for signs that Christmas is coming instead. Listen to what Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says about the contrast between those two:
The Second Coming of Christ that history is waiting for is not the same as the baby Jesus or even the historical Jesus. The historical Jesus was one man, and Christ is not his last name. The Christ includes the whole sweep of creation and history joined with him—and you too. We call this the Cosmic Christ …. The celebration of Christmas is not a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born, but much more an asking for history to be born. (see Romans 8:20-23) [Preparing for Christmas, Cincinnati, Fransiscan Media 2008, p. 7-8]

Watching and waiting were two things Jesus stressed to his disciples. When Jesus was troubled and went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, he asked some of the disciples to wait and stay alert while he prayed. What was the point of that? To watch for officials who might look for him, or perhaps to get them in practice for watching and waiting? I have learned that although the work of a news reporter may seem interesting, most of the time they are simply waiting, and waiting to share their information at the time of a broadcast. We wait for doctor’s visits; we wait in traffic; and when we do those things, watching is a spiritual practice. Look at others waiting with you; imagine their lives and their concerns. Today in Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells those listening to him to “watch.” “Watch for what?” some might have thought. Of course, to watch when the master of the house will return. Jesus was always teaching with stories. Before this passage, he warned about the destruction of the Temple, the event that would destroy the one thing in Jerusalem that people thought would always be there. “Don’t be so sure,” Jesus seemed to be warning. Especially in this unprecedented time, it is good to watch others as we all try to navigate the shifting sand of this pandemic. Some who have been resilient through other crises are crumbling now with anxiety or sorrow. Some are very troubled by new feelings of being so alone. Our mission: keep watching and waiting, not just for him, but also for others who Jesus would have noticed. Notice for those who are struggling financially or emotionally, for example. What would Jesus do? He would see them; he would connect with them; he would let them know of his care. That’s part of our task as we begin one of the most unusual Advent seasons in our lifetime: watching and waiting takes on new meaning as we are clearly separated.
But let’s remember too: the messages of this season, though familiar to us, were originally unexpected ones. The words of prophets like Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Malachi seem to describe a Messiah. The presence of angels has never seemed as pronounced as it does during Advent and Christmas. The focus on shepherds is almost uniquely in those seasons. And the astounding news of a young woman approached by an angel to be the handmaid of the Lord; well, it takes one’s breath away. These are not ordinary events; they are extraordinary. So we join others, even disciples, who were told to watch; to keep their eyes open; and to wait. God always keeps us guessing about Divine engagements with the world. As a child, my sister and I knew our waiting for gifts from Santa would be over on Christmas Day. No more need to wait! With the command to watch for the coming of the Lord, we have no such end date; we don’t know how the Lord will return, or where, or when. During this season, our call to watch is renewed. We build up to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but the call to watch does not end there. We are always on call. And yet we love to look for signs: “Is it now?” people ask. “Does it have to do with looking at figs, or at leaves, or at calendars, or at middle-eastern nations? Remember the words of Jesus:
But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates…. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. “

Will you join me in renewing my effort to both watch and wait? Our Lord asks for our faithfulness in doing both. Thomas Carlyle, the English poet, was once bothered by a rooster that would begin to crow every morning. He talked to his neighbor, who owned the rooster, to see what might be done about it. “Does the crowing awaken you?” inquired the neighbor? “No” Carlyle replied, “I lie there in bed waiting for the rooster to crow!” The anticipation we feel, like waiting for a rooster to crow, or a dog to bark, reminds us that something will happen, we just don’t know when. It is as Mark described in verse 35: It is the role of a doorkeeper, having to stay awake, waiting on his master’s return. That was necessary at a time before there were keys; the doorkeeper was also a person’s security system. The doorkeeper dare not fall asleep, as we heard Jesus say in our study of The Chosen on Thursday nights. But we know not when the master will return; not the day; not the hour. Truthfully no one is sure what that day will look like, or even what the master will look like. So we watch; and we wait. This is disciple’s work. This is not Samuel Beckett’s play that premiered in Paris called “Waiting for Godot,” the plot of which is two men talking to each other while they wait for a man named Godot, who never arrives; end of play. No. We know when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus; we do not know when we will celebrate the return of Christ, but he will return! Watching and waiting are spiritual disciplines. Now is the time we work on those, even our Lord asked disciples to do with him, in the garden.
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 29, 2020

11-15-20 NO WARNING FOR CHRIST’S COMING


Zephaniah 1:7; 2-16; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11

During the week of November 3rd, I began writing this message; it was a week of waiting and wondering. Our national election had taken place, but results were not available on November 3rd; or 4th, or, 5th, or 6th. Broadcasters were stumbling through their hours, trying to fill airtime, trying to make news out of no news. Dark circles were under their eyes. They joked with one another about how much sleep they had not gotten. And yet 24-hour news kept reporting—no real news; nothing that people wanted to really hear which was: who won the elections: certainly, the presidential race, but also other races? The hours dragged by; the days dragged by; and yet there was no news. As a microcosm, that is what Paul believed as he addressed the Thessalonian Christians. They needed to stay awake and to keep alert, because the results they were hoping for were believed to be immanent: the second coming of Christ. But with every passing day, it wasn’t happening. In our election week, some turned their television sets to other programs; some went fishing; some went to school; some went outside. There were any number of things they could do safely. But what if “it” happened: the announcement? The risk was not hearing who the projected winner was. Clearly an election result is not like the return of Christ; but we can learn lessons from this week. Human nature is such that if something is not actively happening in our classrooms, or on our computer screen, or on our television, our mind can wander. Some actually have a syndrome called “Attention-deficit disorder” and they simply cannot focus for long. So while we are sitting, we start a grocery list in our mind, or think about the weekend, or change the channel, or look for cobwebs on the ceiling. Our attention simply needs constant re-booting. That’s a term I learned as we entered the computer age years ago: if your computer freezes, reboot it. If your modem is working slowly, reboot it. If your Blu-ray player is not functioning properly, reboot it. Rebooting is the secret to electronic success in this computer age! And it should be done regularly for maximum performance. Do you know that our webmaster has put all of our church modems on timers, so they will go off and come back on in the middle of every night? In a matter of speaking, they turn back on “refreshed!” Likewise, the old Christian habits of revivals—times when a church’s own preacher, or a traveling guest preacher brings challenging and sometimes frightening reminders of what can happen to backsliders—are helpful resets for the Christian life. People get lazy about their faith, people lose their focus on God over time, and their discipleship can become lackluster. In part, our minds wander like our hearts can get distracted by false gods, sports, video games, or the magnetism of other people. So we decide to move honoring God to a dusty shelf of priorities; we shuffle Jesus to the bottom of our decks; and we shift watching for the Lord to “old news,” considering such a claim as irrelevant to modern life. And that, the revivalist preachers remind us, is when the election results will be announced! That, when you are busy doing other things, is when the Lord shall descend, just when your record with your God starts to get examined! It’s like those nights when you did not get your homework done and the next day the teacher gives a pop quiz! You’re sunk! Then when Christ returns at some pop quiz time, judgments will be pronounced on your life, and you will not be ready. “I would have been ready,” you protest on the Judgment Seat, “if I had only known!” But you have been told; you were told by prophets like Zephaniah as we heard today. Even back in Israel, complacency and compromise were creating devastating results. When a nation grows weak in its honoring of God (Listen up, America,) then God may take necessary corrections to get lessons learned and to try to move the human race back on track. One of the oral examination questions for my ordination exam came from a man who asked me “Is Zephaniah a pre-exilic, or a post-exilic prophet?” What a question right? But Zephaniah was largely seen as a pre-exilic prophet, and the other prophet with a similar name—Zechariah—was a post-exilic prophet! The exile was when Babylon invaded Judah, desecrated the Temple, destroyed the cities and villages and took able bodied men, women, and children back to Babylon to work on behalf of the pagan king Nebucadnezzar, It was the consequence for a country that had taken their eyes off the prize; they had stopped honoring and worshipping the one true God alone. “What could it hurt if we prayed to someone else?” they might have thought. Or, “I’ve prayed to God for a child and have gotten no where; I’ll try praying to a different god; or to an idol, for a child.” And so they did. In so doing, the firm foundation they had, based on the 10 Commandments and the only true God, began to get crumble. It began to decay, and finally it gave way. Families were forcibly taken away, some choosing to marry foreign women and men, something unheard of by an earlier generation. For 70 years, the way of the Lord was more than compromised; it was crushed, all because people failed to re-focus their minds on what mattered, and on who mattered. Their minds grew slower, and they became more distracted. Then prophets came along to tell them to “Reboot!” although most used the words, “Repent! Turn back from your foolish ways!” Today, Zephaniah tried in vain to get them back on the right track.

Years ago, there was a program called “Scared Straight,” designed to show teenagers and 20 year olds who were getting into some trouble what it would be like if they slipped into committing felonies. They took “fieldtrips” to prisons, and they heard from prisoners who, with realistic and frightening shouting, tried to scare them straight, to convince them a life in prison was no picnic. It met with limited success. Likewise, as many revivals have been held across our nation for more than two centuries, human nature hasn’t towed the line very well to this very day! Zephaniah’s warning didn’t save Judah from being sacked. And all the preachers over the centuries have not saved the human race from ourselves. We are a sinful mess as a nation. Fortunately, we have a God who knew human nature and human weakness. So God made a new plan to save us from ourselves. God’s divinity combined with Mary’s humanity and created Jesus, who would be called “Messiah,” who would show the human race “the way, the truth, and the life.” Perfect! But he was only on earth a short time, so it is still up to prophets and preachers to point to him in the Bible, in the Cross, and in the heavens where he is seated at the right hand of Power. According to Hebrew tradition for weddings, when the Father decides the groom is ready to take his bride (which is the Church) to the room he has prepared in Heaven with his Son, the Father will send his Son to get her, and bring her lovingly to the Father’s House where they can live forever! What a plan! But when will he return? Ah, that is the question of the ages. In Jewish weddings the son never knew when his father was going to say, “The room on my house is ready; you are ready, and your bride has been warned to be ready. Then, maybe while we have been mulling over election results; or while we have been glued to our computer or to the news of our distracted world, Christ will come again. Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, said: “No one knows about that day our hour; no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” File that away! Now you know it as Paul new it when he wrote to the Thessalonians. To them he wrote:
You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do.
Once a week, we get a revival of sort: we offer the Lord’s Day worship. Make it a priority. If you cannot see our services now, then take your printed sermon, and take your prayer list when it arrives through the mail, and turn your eyes upon Jesus. Remember that the Lord is God; that we are his, and that we are the sheep of his pasture. That resets our souls. Our souls need regular resetting. Like our computers and our modems, we need regular reboots. To reboot spiritually is to physically stop the direction the world is taking us and choose true north again; choose the ways that Jesus taught his disciples. The way to stay on that path is to treat your Bible as the bestseller that it is, and to join me in my devotionals or my Bible studies, or by trusting good guidance from well-resourced annotated Bibles. Just as Philip asked the man from Ethiopia in Acts chapter 8 “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the official from Ethiopia replied, “How can I unless someone guides me?” Let church teachers guide you back onto the path of God every week. It is our revival; our renewal; our repentance from the wrong paths; our reboot! Do not let your mind get fuzzy, like a cob-webbed closet! Do not give your soul to counterfeit personalities or causes! Your soul is for your Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer! Listen to what is recorded in the Book of Revelation:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (20:12)

Don’t fall asleep! Don’t let your mind wander, or if it does, call it back onto things that matter! If you remember to repent, and to reboot your life, the day of the Lord will be filled with joy for you! Prepare yourself, so that Christ’s second coming will deliver you into the arms of a loving Parent, running to greet the beloved child, and to welcome the bride of Christ into a new home. What a day of joy that will be!
Jeffrey A. Sumner November 15, 2020

11-08-20 ABOUT THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP


1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

In a time when the year has been like no other; in a time when the presidential election has been like no other, some may want to join the writers of spirituals and go to “Glory Land,” or join songwriter Albert E. Brumley in proclaiming “I’ll Fly Away.” There have always been times in history when groups of people endured terrible hardships on this earth, and they long for Heaven. But Christians have been taught by Christ that “The Kingdom of God is within you,” Luke 17: 20-21) but it will come in its fullness at Christ’s second coming. Did you know that Leo Tolstoy, the famous author of the book, Crime and Punishment, wrote Christian books too? One was, Where Love is, There is God Also; and another was appropriately titled The Kingdom of God is Within You. It was first published in Germany because it was banned in Russia. It is about our call to offer universal, unconditional love to others: something our world—and certainly our nation—need very badly. It was also Jesus’ own message: for Christians to lead the way “for the facing of this hour” by showing love toward others. It is that kind of love that can transform our world, making hearts of stone begin to beat again. But our desire may be to pull the covers over our heads, or to cloister ourselves from the onslaught of news and election analysis. Christ calls us to pray, to love one another; and to look for the next opportunity we may have to change the world, one person at a time. Yes, we have a rising pandemic; yes we have unrest; and yes some souls may be troubled. Today, with the reading of scripture and the gathering together for worship, we hope to lead you to sing, as we just sang, “It is Well with My Soul.” Next week we will hear the solo: “How Great Thou Art” that includes this verse: “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, and there proclaim, ‘my God how great Thou art.’” Today, however, we go to the passage that has reassured some and puzzled others for ages: 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. The last verse of “It is Well With My Soul” proclaims this hope: “And Lord, hast the day when my faith shall be sight; the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.” Today, as we have been reminded that we cannot will the Lord to hast the day of our flight to heaven, let’s explore this passage that has been at the heart of human hopes for ages.

Paul says: we do not want you to be uninformed … about those who have died so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” [vs. 13] First, your Bible might say, “those who have fallen asleep;” that actually is what this text said, but it is just a euphemism for death, just as some choose to say “passed away” instead of “died.” The translators of the NRSV chose to use the word describing what actually happened—died—to make readers sure of the reference. In society, people often allude to death without saying death, which can lead children to confusion. “If he’s asleep, then he’ll wake up!” they might conclude. Even the Apostles’ Creed, from the 4th Century, declared that Jesus “descended into Hell;” or “descended unto the dead.” One of the main reasons to say that was to declare that Jesus had really died, not just fallen into unconsciousness. The other inference was that he went to the place of suffering because of the sins of humanity, not because of his own sins. And then after three days, “he arose from the dead,” he did not just “awake from sleep.” So “died” is a word of both reality and clarity. Paul refers to that in verse 14 saying: “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” It is much clearer to say, since we believe Jesus died and arose, so God will bring those who also died instead of those who have “fallen asleep.” It’s more clear and more reassuring. That is blessed assurance indeed. Then Paul says in verse 15: “For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord: we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.” Here again we are assured that Paul is talking about being alive as we normally do: as living, breathing persons. It is not a division between people who are spiritually alive or spiritually dead. He is talking to a group of Christians in Thessalonica, in his earliest letter: he certainly assumes they are spiritually alive as they are physically alive! But the crystal-clear New Testament scholar, William Barclay, gives readers valuable insights into the reason for these reassurances. Listen:
The idea of the Second Coming had brought another problem to the people of Thessalonica. They were expecting it very soon; they fully expected to be themselves alive when it came, but they were worried about those Christians who had died. They could not be sure that those who had already died would share the glory of that day which was soon to come. Paul’s answer is that there will be one glory for those who have died and for those who survive.
[Daily Study Bible Series; The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975, pp 202-203]

So what does that mean for today? If you have a Christian loved one who has died, when Christ returns, he will take them and those who are still alive up into the clouds to join him! What a wonderful message! Let’s read more as Paul describes what he expects to happen: “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” You can see how many hymn writers refer to this powerful description in their lyrics! The Lord will descend—come down from heaven again to earth—at a certain signal, a signal that was familiar to readers of the Old Testament and to those who attended Temple worship: Perhaps our Lord’s cry of command will be, “It is time!” But according to the Bible, only the Father knows the time when that will happen, and he will pass that time on to his Son. So the signal is given, to alert the world, and the archangel-who is a Chief Messenger-passes the word, and the trumpet-that announces the presence of God at Temple events-is blown; and then what Paul described will occur. People have asked me over the years what Paul meant by “The dead will rise first.” You know what it means now, don’t you? It means Christians who were dead and buried will rise up first, then Paul says, “And we who are alive (remember, that means physically alive) who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air.” So yes, those who have died rise first, but I don’t believe the physical bodies will come out of graves, since Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” So it is spiritual bodies that rise, and likely those who are alive will offer up their spiritual body to join Jesus in the clouds and be transported to heaven. The only bodily resurrection on record is that of our Lord; when the women went to anoint his body, it was gone. He later appeared back on earth in miraculous transformation.

So let me try to be clear in this case: This was a situation in time around 55 AD when Paul wrote these words. They thought Jesus would return in their lifetime. He didn’t. So does that mean our loved ones who have died, and are still in their graves or in their “returned to dust” forms, are still waiting for heaven? This calls for interpretation of what the Bible alludes to but doesn’t say:
I think that now, when we die, our physical bodies return to the ground—or to the dust from which they were created—and our spiritual bodies are drawn up to heaven. Otherwise the greatest Christians through the ages—including your loved ones and my loved ones—have not yet gone to heaven! Is that comforting news? I cannot buy that. I believe that our Lord will welcome us—in the air, or at the gates or somewhere in between—and gently walk us over to the other side. He will not accompany our broken, wrinkled, or painfully physical bodies, but our renewed spiritual selves. In spite of bumper stickers that assert: “In case of rapture, this car will be driverless,” I do not believe that God’s grand plan includes car wrecks and plane crashes. No physical corpses—or living bodies—will rise up. But you will rise, in your essence, as your spiritual self.

Finally, listen to more of what Paul says: he was really on a roll when he was writing to the Thessalonians and later the Corinthians. Here is part of his master work from 1 Corinthians 15:51 and the following:
Lo! I tell you a mystery! We shall not all sleep [remember, that means die,] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable [imperishable means not mortal with its weaknesses and illnesses]. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable; and this mortal nature must put on immortality. .,[When that happens] “death is swallowed up in victory.”

That is what our victory in Christ is all about. Keep the faith; hold fast to hope, and in God’s time you will see your Savior Jesus! And oh, what a meeting that will be!

Let us pray: O Creator God: we are glad for the power you have given Jesus to save and deliver us. We are also glad for faithful people like Paul who explained this great mystery to the best of his ability. Now comfort us with these words, we pray, in the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 1, 2020

11-01-20 GLIMPSING GLORY


Revelation 7: 9-17

Unbelievably at one point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was talking to his disciples and declared: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [18:3] If I say to any of my grandsons, “You can’t believe what’s in this bag!” they will absolutely say back to me, “Let me see!” It is such a natural thing to say. Sometimes wanting to see inside something, like a box, has gotten the human race in trouble according to the Greek legend of Pandora’s Box. Originally it was just a storage jar, but like other stories over the years it’s gotten stretched or changed, and now we know the story as being about a box, and someone really wanting to see what was inside. But once the box was plundered and the contents discovered, the discoverer was cursed with unexpectedly bad troubles. Sometimes, even with human nature, it is hard to say no to a mystery! As we draw closer to Christmas, let me ask you: was there ever a time you really wanted a gift; hoped you’d get it, and the week before Christmas, you saw presents beautifully wrapped with name tags, sitting under your Christmas tree? And did you, when you thought no one was looking, actually try to lift the box; or shake the box; or see if a corner of the wrapping paper might let go enough for you to peak inside? Doing that was nerve wracking- oops; I said that like I’ve done it before!  I think Jesus knows the ways of a child, and even the ways of adults. The intense desire is to look inside some special box, or to gently tear open a special gift; or to pull back a curtain to see what is behind it. The presumption of the game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” is that everyone is anxious to see behind curtain number 1, curtain number 2, and curtain number 3. It is fun at home to guess which curtain has the big deal, and which curtain might have a ZONK! But if you are the contestant, how would you choose? Would you choose a favorite number like the number of children you have? Or would you choose with some kind of “eeny-meeny-miney-mo” kind of guessing game? What people know for sure, is that suspense dissipates once what is behind the curtain is revealed. While you are still guessing, you are intently focused, considering your options. The game show creators knew people would come back day after day to be tantalized with another “big deal of the day!” It is our human nature.

Many years after Jesus left the earth—perhaps as many as 60 years—we believe that Jesus shared a glimpse of glory with John in a book that we call “The Revelation.” After Jesus had ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, Hebrews 12: 2 tells us he was seated “at the right hand of the throne of God.” Such a description is a description of honor more than of location. To sit at one’s right hand was considered the seat of “blessing, honor, glory, and power.” And that’s where Jesus sat because he had those qualities, the same qualities that God has. He was robed in white for purity, and he was called “the Lamb” because an unblemished lamb was the requirement at Passover for the forgiveness of the sins of Israel for that year. But this scene in Revelation is not a history lesson. This is Jesus—knowing human nature and the nature of children—pulling back the curtain between earth and heaven just a bit; just enough to entice us; enough to reassure us; and enough so that we would be connected with mystic sweet communion to those already there, those who have “come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” [7:14] Goodness! Even a glimpse of glory tells us things are very different in Heaven. In heaven, but not on earth, you can wash clothes in blood and they come out white! Imagine! And people were not looking for seats like they do on earth; there they stood; they stood, around the throne of God, with elders, and four living creatures—that represent the corners of the earth—and they sang, like our quartet sang today. The Bible says the words were: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” [7:12] Jesus hopes that we will want to be in that number when the saints go marching in. Jesus hopes that letting us peek behind the curtain might urge us to continue participating in this game called life. And later, Jesus pulls back the curtain again to John in Revelation 21 and 22. There he says the city of God—New Jerusalem—has high gates—12 of them—that are never closed. On the gates are 12 pearls. The city has 12 angels, and it is bejeweled with all the precious stones of the earth and, Jesus describes enticingly that the streets are made of pure gold. That’s what Revelation 21:21 says; it’s not some kind of gold plate, but 24 K gold! How practical is that? Doesn’t matter; the rules are different in heaven. But some don’t actually read Revelation to see what it says; they just hear rumors from others about what heaven might be like. For example, the story is told of a very wealthy man who knew his time to leave this earth was coming near. He had been a church goer, but he always wanted to be prepared for any circumstance. So his instruction was to bury him with 2 gold bricks, not enough to break out the bottom of the casket, but so if he went to the bad place he could perhaps bargain his way out, and if he went to the good place, well, it wouldn’t hurt. By the grace of God when he died, he indeed was whisked to the Pearly Gates carrying his gold bricks, where St. Peter met him. Peter started laughing, and he laughed some more. “What’s so funny?” The man asked. “Look at the roads” Peter replied gesturing. “You brought pavement to heaven! The streets are already paved with it!”

Read your Bible, even Revelation, with a little help from a teacher or a preacher or a good guide. Then you will have a glimpse of the backstage tour that invites your excitement about heaven well before your departure! Today, we will keep in our hearts those we love who are already walking on streets of gold.

Jeffrey A. Sumner November 1, 2020