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Easter 4C Sermon
Psalm 23, John 10: 22-30,
Revelation 9: 1-20

April 17, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The Psalm, Second Lesson and Gospel reading this morning remind us of two important images of Jesus: That he is a good shepherd, and that he is the lamb who was slain. Now I know that can be a little confusing and strange: how can the same figure be both shepherd and sheep? I don’t want to get into any kind of convincing argument for how this can be – I guess today I am asking you to accept it as part of the mystery of the Christian faith. Doing that, please allow me to focus on the importance of the images for us living in these days and times.

Heavy on the minds of many people in Columbus and especially in Clintonville are the events which were going on just up the street last Sunday, the aftermath of which was still going on when many of us arrived here for Sunday school and worship. A group of SWAT officers delivered an arrest warrant to Lincoln Rutledge, a very troubled man who allegedly set fire to his wife’s house, barricaded himself in his apartment and began a stand-off with the police. As a result, Officer Steven Smith, a 27 year veteran on the force, was shot and killed in a sort of a fluke way. He was inside the turret of an armored vehicle, and somehow a bullet that Rutledge had fired in the direction of the vehicle got through and struck Officer Smith in the head. We all prayed for the officer last week in worship, and during the early part of the week until we got word that the inevitable happened. Officer Smith died from his wounds. Our community – including our church – continues to struggle with these events and the realities that are present in the world that make no sense. Mental illness and the process that would make a person like Rutledge commit any of his actions. Death coming to a 54 year old police officer with a wife and two children. Fire which damaged an apartment building and neighboring buildings, forcing some to be homeless. A community left to grieve as one of the good guys gave his life in service to his community. Many times when things like this happens we ask, “Are times getting worse?” When we listen to the evening news or read the paper, rarely do the headlines or lead story include good news. Usually they are made up of stories like this one – violence, greed, disaster and other forms of evil appear to be winning. To be sure, I often get concerned that things are getting worse, especially as I think about the world that my children and their children will inhabit long after I am gone. But during the season of Easter this year, our second lessons are all from the final book of the Bible, Revelation. When I read this book in the midst of the terrible events of our present day I ask, “Haven’t there always been difficult to understand ordeals?” Of course the answer is yes – that is what Revelation is all about! This strange and symbolic book was not only written to seven churches in the midst of the ordeals which they were undergoing around 100 AD, but to every person of every time and place.

“Who are these robed in white and where have they come from?” This is the question that we all ask when we hear the description of those gathered around the throne singing songs of worship to the Lamb. And we are told that these are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. What is the great ordeal? Quite simply, the great ordeal refers to the reality of life that things happen, tragic things, which we don’t understand. Evil sometimes rears its ugly head and appears to be making strides in defeating God’s presence in the world, and our fascination with these things glorifies them and puts them front and center in our lives.

Without minimizing their effect on our lives, we see here in this passage that there have always been victims of this great ordeal. Even John of Patmos, the one who received this Revelation, saw the many, many people who had come through the ordeal of life, enduring to the end with their faith intact and now participating in heavenly worship with all who have come through with them. And when I hear this elder say the words, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” I am reminded that when people experience innocent suffering that goes along with coming through this great ordeal called life, they participate in the crucifixion of Jesus. We cannot deny that Jesus suffered the greatest of injustices when he innocently suffered and died on the cross. And when these who come through the great ordeal participate in the crucifixion of Jesus, we can know that they also participate in the resurrection of Jesus as well. How does this happen? I am sure we can find it in each situation, but I am confident that it does. For instance, by participating in the crucifixion of Jesus, Officer Steven Smith’s death has provided new life for at least 8 people. One of the reasons Officer Smith didn’t die until Tuesday even though he received his mortal wound Sunday morning is that he was an organ donor. He and his family saw the importance of providing new life to as many people as they could, and his organs are bringing new life to others who may be suffering innocently as well. Hearts, kidneys, livers, even lungs can be transplanted – a friend from Oak Harbor who worked as a mechanic his whole life suffers from debilitating lung disease because of breathing in those fumes. He recently received new lungs, and we are prayerfully waiting to see if his body will accept this new gift of life. We have many life-giving measures today which are possible with the sacrifice of people like Steven Smith.

Jesus is the lamb who was slain, whose blood washes clean the robes of everyone who comes through the great ordeal of the presence of evil in life, prepared to sing around the throne of that same lame. And in the meantime, Jesus is also our Good shepherd, present to walk with us through the ordeals of life, even to the time when we travel over the valley of the shadow of death. When we are tempted to ask God why he is inflicting us with pain, we can confidently confess that God does not inflict pain, but accompanies us through pain, confusion, grief and suffering, inflicting compassion and tenderness upon us all the way!

Jesus is the Lamb who was slain – his blood washes us as we endure the ordeals of the presence of evil in our lives, until we gather around the throne. We also have Jesus as our good shepherd, calling us by name and accompanying us through the dark valleys. This is the promise of the resurrection, and the importance of these two images to us Christians today. We look forward to the day when we join those people in their white robes around the throne one day. But in the meantime, we gather here, and when we do this, we participate in heavenly worship while we are still walking through this life. So much of our worship and many of our hymns are based on words from these passages in Revelation. We join our voices with the heavenly voices every time we worship Jesus here, and in so doing, the presence of Jesus invades our world to give us encouragement and hope in the midst of our ordeals. May the risen Christ continue to bring new life in places where we only see grief, suffering and death. And may the one who is both lamb and shepherd accompany us through our ordeals to show us the presence of our living Lord. Amen.