April 21, 2013 Revelation 7: 9-17 John 10: 22-30
Rev. Catherine Purves
A compass is a wonderful thing to have when you are lost. No matter where you are or what predicament you’ve gotten yourself into, it will point to true north. It will restore your sense of direction. It will enable you to move forward with confidence. You could be totally confused, your world turned upside down, but it will point true, and you can rely on that. In the midst of chaos, it gives you your bearings. It is such a small and uncomplicated thing in this age of computers, complex machines, and telecommunications. But in these complex, puzzling, and unpredictable days, in this modern, crazy world, maybe that’s what we all need – a compass.
I woke up on Friday morning ready to write my sermon in the peace and quiet of my study at home. But the bedside radio was on, and I was instantly aware of an unbelievable drama that was being played out on the streets of Boston. This was periodically interrupted by news of the situation is West, Texas where a fertilizer plant had exploded destroying half of the town. I was still lying safe in my bed, but it was as if the whole world had gone crazy. Manhunts in the city of Boston and body counts in the small town of West. Who could believe it; who could make sense of what was going on? What kind of a world was I waking up to, and how are we to live in such a world of random violence and unpredictable threat?
What we need is something like a compass, something that will always point true, something that will restore our sense of direction and show us the way we are to go, something that will renew our confidence and give us hope. As Christians, when we wake up from a peaceful sleep to an inexplicable nightmare that is being dramatized minute by minute on radio and television, what is our compass? What do we have that can put all of that into perspective? What do we have that gives us the courage to get out of bed and face the world each day? What do we have that points true, ever true, when we feel lost and confused?
I’m not sure that there are many people who would instantly say that the Book of Revelation helps them put everything into perspective. But that is its purpose. Revelation was written to help us put “the great ordeal” of life on this earth into the eternal context of God’s kingdom where sin and evil and death will be vanquished. It shows how everything will point true in the end as a vast and uncountable multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language will turn toward the throne of God and cry out together, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Everything and everyone is pointing in the same, true direction in worship and praise. Salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb. No matter what else is going on in the world, this, we know, is true. Salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb. As we are turning about lost and confused in this crazy world, the compass of our Easter faith points us in this true direction and leads us into worship of the triune God who has accomplished our salvation and who promises us eternal life.
“Pie in the sky,” is what some will say. That is like dangling heaven on a string to distract people from the real horrors of this life. That is merely promising some compensation in the afterlife for impossible suffering in this life. Is that all we have to say to the family of little Martin who lost his life in Boston or his younger sister who lost her leg? If that is all our compass will do, simply point us toward the Lamb in all circumstances so that we can find some camaraderie in our struggles, fears, and pain, then that is a small comfort. And if we are only meant to try to see beyond this world to a better world, finding our consolation in that, then we are still left with the problem of living in this world. How can the Lamb on the throne help us with that?
The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God is rich in symbolism that points toward God’s amazing sacrifice for us. He who was fully God took on frail human flesh, lived in our skin, fully human, experiencing all of the struggles and the trials of this life (just like those experienced this week in Boston and West, Texas), and then gave his life for us. The Lamb bore the burden of sin, evil, and even death for us. And he defeated them! This is our Easter faith. The Lamb who sacrificed himself became the Lamb victorious. Our faith compass points to this unwavering truth: sin, evil and death have already been defeated, and they will not have the last word. That is a lot more than ‘pie in the sky when you die.’
But we must say even more, because our compass also points us toward the present reality of God’s involvement in our day to day struggles. The Lamb on the throne is also our Good Shepherd. Jesus is Lamb and Shepherd. A Shepherd who is only a future promise is not much use. We need help now. And this image of Jesus is naturally very immediate and hands-on. This is how Jesus lives with us now, as our Good Shepherd.
The descriptions in both Revelation and in John’s Gospel couldn’t be more personal or more present. The Good Shepherd shelters his sheep. They do not hunger or thirst, for he guides them to springs of the water of life. He wipes every tear from their eyes. They can hear his voice, and they know his voice, and they follow him. The sheep belong to the Good Shepherd. He knows each one by name. He is with them. And no one, no one (!), will snatch them out of his hands. The Good Shepherd is not just a metaphor for how we like to think about Jesus. This is who Jesus is now. This is what Jesus is doing now – in Boston, in West, Texas, in Pittsburgh. “I am the Good Shepherd” is what Jesus plainly said.
As Christians, this is what our compass points to. This is true north for us. This gives us our bearings, whatever our current circumstances may be. Jesus, the Lamb of God and our Good Shepherd, has made us secure in our present and confident in our future. When we are awakened to the reality of sin and evil and death in the world, we are pointed to a deeper and broader and more powerful reality when we look to the Lamb on the throne who is also our Good Shepherd. And we can find the courage to get out of bed and face the day, knowing that Jesus has already won the day. The worst that the world could throw at him could not defeat him. He rose victorious. And now he lives to reign and to serve, to save and to love, as Lamb and Shepherd. This is what we believe.
Get out your compass in these troubling days. Get out your compass, the compass of your Easter faith. Let it point to the truth. And join in the worship that will never end, praising the Lamb and the Shepherd.
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and
honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”