Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Members of the Multitude

In Nomine Iesu
Rev. 7:9-17
November 6, 2016
All Saints’ Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Say what you will about “marching to the beat of your own drummer,” and “doing your own thing,” and “charting your own course,” most people are conformists by nature. Nobody wants to be the lone voice in the wilderness; everybody wants to be part of the majority. Everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon. Case in point: Before last week who knew there were so many Chicago Cubs fans in the world? Apparently, if you grew up with WGN as one of your cable TV channels, well, then the Cubs are your childhood team of destiny—and you have a reserved spot on the bandwagon. The point is—we all long to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Today I have good news for you: You are indeed part of something bigger than yourself. You are a part of the holy Christian Church—not just Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church and not just one of millions of Christians worldwide. You belong to the Communion of Saints—saints on earth and saints in heaven, the church militant and the church triumphant—a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. To look around the room this morning, it would appear that we are but a tiny minority. But on this Sunday we are reminded—don’t believe what you see. Things are not as they appear. You are members of a holy multitude.

All Saints’ Day is the church’s memorial day—the day on which we remember with joyful thanksgiving all the saints who from their labors rest—including those dear saints from our fellowship who, in this past year, departed this life to be with Christ. As the hymn of the day reminded us: We feebly struggle, they in glory shine.

Revelation chapter 7 gives us a glimpse of that glory. There the curtain that separates the church on earth from the church in heaven is lifted, and we get a sneak peek at what’s going on around the throne of God. St. John is our tour guide. And the first thing he points out is a crowd—and not just any crowd. It is a crowd of unimaginable size and scope: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.

Beloved in the Lord, that multitude is your multitude. That crowd is your crowd. That is the great cloud of witnesses who constantly surround us and pray for us. Let that multitude remind you—you are never alone. No Christian is ever alone: Not the martyrs beheaded by ISIS, not the Christian business owners who have lost everything for failing to endorse the sexual lunacy of our land, not the university professors forced to choose between being fired or renouncing the faith once delivered to the saints. They are not alone; for we are one with them in the body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. This crowd is a great comfort.

But there are other kinds of crowds, too—crowds that will quickly pull you away from your Savior and from His body, the church. We are conformists by nature; and if we’re not careful we’ll find ourselves conforming to the wrong kind of crowd—a deadening crowd that wants to swallow you up—body and soul. We often warn our teenagers about the perils of peer pressure; but peer pressure isn’t just a teenage problem. The pull is powerful to conform to the popular crowd—to go along with the “group-think” and drink the “kool-aid” everyone else is sampling.

You must resist those trending crowds. Those crowds will suck the life right out of you. The crowds that swarm around you—they welcome sexual immorality in all of its deadening manifestations. That crowd wants you to view your body as a mere instrument for the pursuit of pleasure, rather than to see it for what it is—a temple of the Holy Spirit, designed to glorify God, destined for resurrection glory. The crowds that swell today want you to live as if this life is all that matters—to live a life of pride and selfishness—to view yourself a victim rather than to humbly help and serve those who are truly victimized and hurting. This crowd wants you to view your suffering as proof that God doesn’t exist (or if He does exist, that He’s unjust and uncaring and unloving), rather than to see your suffering as the setting where faith is forged and strengthened, and where the glorious grace of God is proved sufficient, and where His power is made perfect in our weakness.

But, as Jesus says, rejoice and be glad. For Jesus has called you from this world’s crowd of walking dead and has made you a member of that great heavenly multitude. You’ve already heard about the impressive size and the amazing diversity of that multitude in heaven. But the most unique thing about that multitude is not its size or even its diversity. It’s the unity of their attention—their laser-like focus. In St. John’s description of those white-robed saints, the thing that stands out above all else is that they aren’t paying the least bit of attention to themselves—or to one another. Instead, they are united as one as they look with undivided attention to the Lamb upon His throne, the Lord Jesus Christ victorious over death and the grave.

And right there is the secret to being part of that holy crowd of saints. You don’t join that holy crowd by squeezing in and trying to imitate the look of astonishment on their faces. You don’t do it by putting a Jesus bumper sticker on your car, or flying the Christian flag, or by wearing a crucifix, or by stitching up a white robe for yourself. Those things don’t make you a part of this crowd. No, the only way you can share in the blessedness of the saints is to join them in looking at what they are so fixated upon—the Lord Jesus Christ—the Son of God—our Savior. For you received your white robe of righteousness when Jesus claimed you as His own brother or sister in the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus humbled Himself and became like you . . . so that He might lift you up to become just like Him—a holy child of God.

To be part of the crowd of saints is to fix your eyes upon Jesus. And yet, don’t think of it as Jesus on the pitcher’s mound and you somewhere up in the nose-bleed seats. No, every single member of this crowd enjoys the gentle, tender, individual attention of Jesus. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Think about that. Whatever tears of tribulation stain your face, Jesus will wipe them away. And the only way to wipe away another’s tears is to be right there, up close and personal—face to face. With a touch of His nail-scarred hand, Jesus will wipe away your tears and you will never weep again. As St. John writes, “We shall see him as he is.”

And those nail-scarred hands will remind us of how it is that we poor sinners can stand before God in that great multitude—because our tattered and sin-stained robes have been washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. All of your sin—all that should rightly keep you out of this saintly crowd—it’s all been answered for in the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, as your sacred substitute. And that same cleansing blood He offers to this crowd, here today, as we gather around this altar: “Drink of it all of you. This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”

In just a few minutes the chimes will toll for Marge and Don, for Ruth and Bernice—dear saints of our Savior who now stand in the Savior’s presence. One day the chimes will toll for you. But do not fear. Rejoice and be glad. Jesus isn’t overwhelmed by the size of this holy crowd. No, today we realize just how precious each saint is to Jesus—of how precious your life is to Jesus. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Today we have our fair share of trouble and tribulation. And things are going to get worse before they get better—no matter who gets elected on Tuesday. But because the Lamb is victorious on His throne, we know. We know that tribulation is temporary; life with the Lamb is forever. He has called you into His holy multitude. On the day of resurrection He will raise your body from the grave. Your white robe will be waiting. And your voice will be clear and strong to join in that delightfully deafening chorus: Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.

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