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Gratitude: These are They

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!" Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes--who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 'Never again with they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; 'he will lead them to springs of living water.' 'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.' -Revelation 7:9-17 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.

Sir Isaac Newton is credited with having used this phrase when he said, "The only reason I've accomplished the things that I have si because I've stood upon the shoulders of giants." Likewise in our faith, we could say that we are who we are because of the giants that have gone before us. So much so that this is depicted in the stained glass windows at the Medieval Cathedral in Chartres, France. e of gratitude. So November, while it's our stewardship time, is actually going to be a month of gratitude. And if you saw the newsletter article that came out, I'm suggesting that we need to give thanks in all circumstances as Paul suggested. I noted in that article that we're not giving thanks FOR all circumstances. We're not giving thanks for pandemics, hurricanes, natural disasters, and all those other things that we've been experiencing this year. We're going to give thanks even so. Or we're going to give thanks nonetheless. So you may have a journal that you keep at home and you're free to use that. We also have notebooks at the welcome center, you're welcome to pick one up. It's a short notebook, it's just lined pages. But I want to give you an assignment for this month. That is that each day at some point if you have a regular devotion time you can include it, or maybe you can start one. But to find time beginning of the day, end of the day, or throughout the day to begin writing down the things that you're thankful for. What are the blessings that you have in life? What are the things that bring you joy? What are the things that put a smile on your face? To begin focusing upon the fact that while this year has been rough for many people politically, economically, health-wise, whatever it might be: it's been a tough year. But in the midst of all of these things that are going on. It's not that there's a lack, or an absence, of blessings but rather these unpleasantries have overshadowed them. Sometimes we forget to look. So we're going to be intentional about looking to see how we are blessed and what we are thankful for. On top of it, according to the experts at Psychology Today, they list five positives that gratitude can produce in your life. Gratitude helps us to feel valued. Gratitude minimized negative habits, patterns of thinking and feeling. Gratitude helps us rekindle our inner childhood wonder and awe. Gratitude helps us feel inspired which can help with motivation. Gratitude prevents worry and frustration. I don't know about all of you but those are a lot of things that we could use much more of right now. I'm going to add a sixth to their list because I firmly believe as we'll find out over the next couple of weeks that having an attitude of gratitude opens us up to be more generous people. So that's why we're going to be spending some time talking about it. Do pick one of those up if you'd like. You know if you want to make this a family activity and keep one journal and maybe do more than 10 if you have multiple people contributing or if you want to do this individually, please take one of those and use it.

Sir Isaac Newton is credited with having used this phrase when he said, "The only reason I've accomplished the things that I have is because I've stood upon the shoulders of giants." Likewise in our faith, we could say that we are who we are because of the giants that have gone before us. So much so that this is depicted in the stained glass windows at the Medieval Cathedral in Chartres, France. They have beautiful stained glass windows there. On the south wall of that building, there is an enormous Rose Window. At the center is Christ. Around it are other saints and a number of scenes in that big circular window. Under it are five tall narrow windows call the Torch Windows. They're the ones that come up and curve into a point. There are five of them. In the center one is the image of Mary holding the baby Jesus. Then in the other four, two on each side of her there is a very large figure and then a much smaller figure. Those larger figures are the four major prophets of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Then, either being carried by one of those giant prophets or sitting on their shoulders are the writers of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Now it may be easy to look at that and think why would the Gospel writers, who were there and knew Jesus and wrote his story be smaller than the prophets? Yes, they had a firsthand seat to what Jesus was doing. Yes, they are the ones that wrote and recorded it. But that artwork, that stained glass helps to depict this idea that we can see further than we could on our own when we sit upon the shoulders of giants. By that, it means that those Gospel writers sitting on the shoulders of those prophets of the Old Testament who had talked about, proclaimed, and pointed to the one who was to come, laid the groundwork. They set the stage. They prepared the way so that when the Gospel writers were there, they had that perch from which to look upon and see what Jesus was doing and say, 'That's why now we understand. We can see further. We can see clearer. We can see better because of those who have gone before us.'

So it is with the story of our faith. The story of what it means to be a part of the church today here and now in the 21st century. We don't gather this morning and pick up this ancient text and hear words that were written 2000 years ago and have to decipher them and figure out what they mean for us today. But rather we have generations of Christians who have come before, who have paved the way, who have laid that foundation, who have built upon and built upon so that we too, perched upon their shoulders can look out and see this is what God is doing in our world. This is what Jesus Christ came to be and to do for the sake of all.

So we turn to this text this morning, in Revelation, a book of the Bible that is challenging to say the least. A book that inspired a lot of debate and a lot of arguments and even some confusion at times about what's going on. This text for this morning though is one that seems so fitting for this day. Because Revelation does have a lot of stories, of unpleasantness, of the unfolding of these judgments, of the breaking of these seals, of the wrath of God. It's one that makes you want to step back and say, 'Whoa, wait a minute.' But in the middle of this story prior to the breaking of this seventh seal, we have this story of promise. This glimpse of what will be or possibly even a glimpse of what is in the midst of all that's going on.

In verse 9, it begins by saying, "I looked and there was a great multitude that no one could count." This is the Heavenly throne room. This is in God's court. God is enthroned and the lamb, Jesus Christ, is at his side. And gathered are a multitude, too numerous to count: an eclectic, inclusive group of people it says, 'gathered from every nation, from all tribes, all people, all languages standing before the throne. And they were crying out in a loud voice saying salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the lamb. And the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and four living creatures.' It talks about this mighty awesome scene of God being worshiped. They offer the seven-fold praise of saying, "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might to our God forever and ever."

It's a scene of wonder. It's a scene of those who have gathered praising God for the salvation that has come from God. Their first praise was, 'Salvation belongs to God and to the lamb.' They know and recognize that their presence there was not because of their own doing. But rather because it was the gracious gift of God that they received salvation. John in this vision is watching and taking this in. One of the elders we're told comes over to him and says, 'hey, who are all these people dressed in white gathered here?' john was able to find words and humbly says, 'Sir, how should I know? You'd know better than I.' I think the elder was trying to get his attention and say, 'Do you see this? Do you see what is going on here? Do you see all who have gathered? Do you see all who have found and receive the blessing and mercy of God who is sitting on that throne that is salvation? They are the ones who have entered into it.' So then he continues by telling him, 'These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'

These are they. Now again, there's so much speculation, so much different interpretation. So many nuances to what this means. But I'm going to give you what I think is an accurate and possible understanding of what is going on here. These are they: these people that you see gathered before you dressed in white and worshiping God and praising his name. These are they who have come out of the ordeal. Some Bibles will say, "These are they that have come out of the tribulation.' And there's no clarification necessarily about what this tribulation or what this ordeal is but I want to suggest that the tribulation or the ordeal that every soul that ever has, or ever will live goes through living this life. Think about it. Life is an ordeal. Now not all ordeals are bad. Tribulation gives you a sense of things being unsettled and difficult. Life can present us with that. We experience hardships. We go through loss. We experience heartbreak and grief. But we also experience joys, love, laughter, success, and all of those things together comprise the life that we live.

So what is the common ordeal that every human being that has ever lived, or ever will live, experiences? It's living life. These are the ones who have come through life and now have entered into glory because of the Lamb. They've been washed white through the blood of the Lamb. Not a literal statement for sure. We all know that if you wash something white and red, it's not going to come out white. But like the prophet Isaiah said, 'Though their sins are like scarlet they shall be white as snow.' It's that mercy. It's that grace. It's that forgiveness. It says salvation that God offers to us that makes us pure, makes us white.

So these are they who have lived life and entered into glory because of their faith, the hope, and the trust that they found in the Lamb, in Jesus Christ. Those are the saints who have gone before. Those are the ones who have entered in. These are they that we remember today. These are they who have taught your Sunday School. These are they who have prayed for you and visited you in the hospital. These are they who have shown you, taught you, and lived a life that helps you to know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. These are they who have gone before. And these are they upon whose shoulders you now stand so that you can see further as well so that you can better understand this love that God has. So that you can be a part of this communion of saints, this cloud of witnesses. When we talk about saints, we're not talking about those people like Mother Teresa that have been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Yes her example is one that we point to and one that we can learn from. But in the New Testament when we encounter that word saints, it's always a lowercase 's'. It's always a plural. That to be a saint is to belong and to be a part of a community that has been called by God, to be the living embodiment of Jesus Christ in this world and into the next. Some saints are still breathing. Some saints are gathered around the throne of God. But these are they whom God has called to be his people. So may we honor the saints that have gone before us. May we live as the saints here and now, sharing the Good News and proclaiming God's love to this world.


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