Monday, April 25, 2016

Rejoicing in Heaven

Revelation 7:9-17
The passage we have before us this morning is beautiful and, so very triumphant. It makes allusions to passages both the Old Testament and the Gospels. Last week we looked at the most important moment inside and outside of time and this week, we find ourselves in the middle of a giant victorious celebration.

Let me remind you everything that is going on is in the great sanctuary of Heaven. The four creatures are encircling the throne, as are the 24 elders and the vast number of angels. In the center of it all is the throne, on the throne is the Almighty-One and the Lamb (who is Jesus Christ). And it seems that everything that happens requires a song of praise.

Last week all Heaven was rejoicing because of the Lamb. In the chapters between, the Lamb has released the seals on the book, and some pretty terrifying things have a happened. It seems as if our focus has shifted. It seems that these events are what it important, its seems that plagues and horsemen, wars and famine, death and destruction are the focus. It surely draws our attention. We want to figure out exactly what is going on here. We ask, “When is this happening?” “Why is this happening?” “How is the is happening?” “Are these things that have already happened?” If so, “What events in history are they?”  “Are they the future?” If so, “How can I avoid them happening to me?”  We want to dissect each seal we want to figure out what each color means, we want to identify time and place. We what to know who, what, when, where and how.

But then John draws us back to the sanctuary. It is almost as if he says, “Hey, guys, eyes back over here, this is where the important things are going on.” It tells us John looks again and there is a great multitude of people. They are dressed in white and they are waving palm branches.

Does this remind you of anything? It was not too many weeks ago. When we ourselves marched around the sanctuary here, waving palm branches and singing praises to Jesus Christ, re-enacting Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But they all got it wrong somehow. They were rejoicing welcoming to Jerusalem one whom they believed was a victorious conqueror coming to oust the current regime and save them from their Roman oppression. They were welcoming an earthly king, who was entering the city to supplant the Roman puppet king who currently ruled them and establish a Godly kingship in the linage of David. They wanted a warrior, a conqueror, they wanted a Messiah they understood and fit into their expectations. And Jesus was not who they believed him to be. He was not who they wanted him to be. In all the ways that mattered they got it all wrong.

 And now here in the great sanctuary of Heaven we have an innumerable crowd of people clothed in white have entered, waving palm branches and singing praises to the Almighty-One and unto the Lamb. THIS is the victorious celebration that the triumphal entry was should have been. These people are not worshiping Jesus for who they want him to be, they are not worshipping their own understanding of who he should be, they are worshipping the Lamb, who was slain. They are worshiping Christ Crucified, resurrected and glorified, sitting on the throne of Heaven, along-side the Almighty-One. They are worshiping the one the only Triune God of the universe, Almighty Creator, Living Son and the Guiding Spirit, one God forever, living and reigning. THIS is the Palm Sunday celebration of which all other Palm Sunday celebrations are mere shadows, reflections; all the Palm Sunday’s, which have preceded this Palm Sunday, are but dress rehearsals, practice for the great Palm Sunday celebration of Heaven.

In the great throne room of Heaven there is an innumerable multitude of people. There are so many they cannot be counted. They are from every nation, every tribe, every people and speak every language. Somewhere Abraham is beaming. He sees the multitude in white and in them he sees the stars of the sky, the sands of the seashore. He sees they are from every nation, tribe, people and language and knows that all the nations have been blessed through him. The promise of God is before him waving palm branches and singing praises to the Lamb.

The creatures and the elders and the angels all join in and begin to sing a song of praise as well; beginning the song with an, “Amen” and ending a song with “Amen,” bookending that song with a statement attesting to the truth contained within.

It is at this point, one the elders asks John the question I am sure everyone wants to know. It is such a strange thing to do. There is a part of me that wants to make him some kind of jerk, “Hey, John, who are these people?” He rolls his eyes and laughs because he knows this is a trick question, he know John hasn’t got a clue. John’s response is great, “I don’t know but I am sure you do, so why don’t you just tell.”
The truth is the elder is taking on the role of teacher and allowing John to be his student. A common way for a teacher in the ancient middle-eastern world, to introduce a new topic to a student, was to ask the student a question to which the teacher knows the student does not have the answer. The student then admits ignorance on the subject and the teacher precedes to give the student the answer so that the student is no longer ignorant on the matter.

The Elder then tells John, these are the people who have come out of the struggles and trials of life and are washed in the blood of the lamb.  These are those who are redeemed, these are the people whose salvation was won through the death and resurrection of the Lamb.  This is US, God’s Church, Christians who now live again.  On Easter Sunday I spoke of the hope of the resurrection to come. How Christ’s resurrection is the promise of our resurrection. This right here is a snapshot of the resurrection that will one day be. The saints of God alive, waving palm branches singing praises to God, giving thanks and praise for our salvation.  And all Heaven joining in and praising God the creator and Jesus Christ for our salvation; celebrating that we are alive, that we belong to God and that we are joining them in worship of the Almighty-One and the Lamb who sit on the throne.

Luke chapter 15, which is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, three times we are told that there is rejoicing in heaven over one lost sinner who repents.  Here we have not just One sinner washed clean, not just one repentant sinner, but all of them.  Myriads and myriads, of us, multitudes and multitudes, gathered together.  We know there is rejoicing in Heaven when just one of us is found, when just one of us repents, when we are all gathered together, when we all stand surrounding the throne of Heaven, then a great victorious cry is heard, there is a victory celebration that cannot be found anywhere else on earth! 

Here at this point all heaven is rejoicing BECAUSE of us;  because the Church lives victorious; because we too have gathered and we have joined all of Heaven, around the throne.  We are alive, we are washed clean, we are redeemed and the angels and the elders and the creatures, cannot help but rejoice. Our redemption, our salvation, our living and joining them in eternity is HUGE. It is something worth celebrating.  You are worth celebrating, I am worth celebrating, WE are worth celebrating and all Heaven rejoices because of us!  And one day, we will have the privilege of joining them in that celebration, one day we will stand clad in white, palm branches in hand singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb.”  We will hear the multitudes of Heaven sing, “Praise and Glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. AMEN!!!

All heaven rejoices over us, all Heaven sings because we are redeemed. That is exciting.  That is amazing.  Heaven worships God, worships the Lamb because God brings salvation to us, because we are washed clean by the blood of the lamb, because we are redeemed. 

As Christians we are called to live here on this earth the way Christ lived when he was here on this earth.  We are to bring peace like he brought peace.  We are to speak words of loving kindness just as Christ did.  Our actions toward others are to be God’s love in motion, just as Christ’s actions were.  This is what it means to be Christians. This is what it means for us to be redeemed.  When we live as Christ calls us to live, we are being washed in Christ blood, we are being made clean our lives are being conformed to that of Christ. This is what it means to be holy as Christ is holy, and this is what it means to live out our resurrection here on earth.  And this passage is a snapshot of the culmination of our salvation, redemption.  We stand in Heaven a holy multitude, being rejoiced over and rejoicing.

One day we will stand reborn, alive once more, before the throne, but today we are living here and now.  Each time we live, act, speak in the ways Christ did while here on earth we are living into that resurrection.  We are becoming the people who will one day surround the Almighty-One and the Lamb; we are being transformed into the white clad multitude, here and now.

Living right, living God’s love here and now; being a person of peace and grace who shares the love of Christ with those around us, being holy as Christ is holy, we are becoming, daily being transformed into this multitude. Being holy, being people of integrity, grace, peace and justice, is what we do because we are Christians.  It is how we live because we love God.  It is who we are.  Knowing the multitude in this scene is who we are becoming show us that living and being the people of God is exciting. What we do now, how we live now, who we are now, is than THIS. Think about it. When we live into our resurrection, when we live as Christ lived then we are those for whom all Heaven rejoices. Our lives bring joy to Heaven.  Whenever you or I share the love of Christ in our daily lives, through words, or actions we are the reason Heaven celebrates.  Whenever we do something, say something, act or react in a way that makes us the hands, feet or voice of Christ bringing the love of God to this world THEN we are the celebration of Heaven.  That is kind of amazing. And is an incentive to think about the things I do each and every day.  Are my words worthy of all heaven rejoicing?  Are the ways I acted today, yesterday or plan to act tomorrow worthy of celestial celebration? It makes me want to rely on God more. I makes me want to trust Christ more. It spurs me on to be the Holy person I know Christ calls me to be, so that I can be the joy of Heaven. Let us all be challenged to be the joy of Heaven and, let us rest assured that when we live as Christ calls us to live, when we are holy as he is holy, THEN we ARE the joy of Heaven and all Heaven rejoices because of us; because of our actions; because we are being redeemed daily, made holy so we can live Christ’s holiness here and now.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Revelation!

Revelation 5:11-14
The heart of the book of Revelation is a box of photographs.  Each photograph is vivid in its detail. Each one tells a story. Each one lets you catch a glimpse of a moment in a person’s life.  But that box of photographs is not very well organized. They have been all gathered together in a box.  We found that box, alone, lost in an ancient attic.  We dusted it off and peeked inside.  The photos are worn and faded, but we can tell, even in the dim light, they are amazing. So, we carried it down the stairs to get a better look at them. But, just before reaching the bottom of the stairs, the box is dropped. All the photos fall out. There they are in a jumbled mess at the bottom of the landing. 

One by one, we pick them up, and examine them. Each one tells a story.  Each one reveals to us a moment in a person’s life. A child standing next to a birthday cake, a graduation, a wedding, a date with future spouse, a crazy bunch of 20 somethings in crowded dorm room, all of the moments jumbled together there on the floor; none of them in any order. The pictures do give a glimpse into a person’s life. We would have a grasp of the scope of the life of a person those pictures portray.  But, we would probably have a hard time knowing much less explaining what happened when.  We could be sure of some things.  A spouse is met before a marriage.  Graduation from high school generally precedes attending college.  We COULD attempt to build a sequence of events of this person’s life, but in many cases, we would never know if they were in the right order.  But, the timeline does not really matter better than an understanding of the timeline of a person’s life we would have an understanding of the person and their life, what was important to them, the life changing events in their life, as well as some very telling mundane ones. 

If we attempted to fit them into a sequence of events we would not do the story the pictures tell any justice, and if what we were trying to understand was the person themselves it would be a pointless measure.  The pictures do not need to be in order for to “uncover” who the person they portray is.  

The vision John receives in book of Revelation is just that it is a photobox, all out of order spilled on the floor and we have inherited that photobox.  We will never know exactly what all the individual pictures mean.  We will never definitively know what happens when, but as we go through the pictures we will come to understand the person who is in those pictures, because the pictures are not telling us about time, they are not telling us about events, what they are really revealing to us is a person.

It is in chapter five when that person is first introduced.  John’s revelation begins with the opening that we covered two weeks ago and then moves into several chapters in which he directly addresses each of the seven churches to whom he is sending this book/letter upon its completion. It is not until chapter four that John begins to actually tell us about the vision God gave to him. The vision begins by describing Heaven, the glory and the splendor. And at the center of it all is the throne and on that throne is The Almighty-One.

Everything in Heaven has one organizational pattern and that is that everything forms concentric rings around the throne. Nothing goes on in the sanctuary of Heaven that is not in some way centered around the throne. Like a pebble dropped in pool, of water, all things ripple out from the center and that center is the Throne on which the Almighty-One is seated. The Almighty-One is seated at the center of everything and everything in all of Heaven is described by its relationship to the throne.

The throne is surrounded by four creatures who seem to represent the quadrants of creation. The Almighty-One, who is the creator of all, is surrounded by four creatures, which symbolically speak of the Almighty-One’s creative power. God is surrounded by creatures symbolizing God’s creative power. Surrounding the four creatures are the twenty-four elders, which are the priests of the heavenly temple they offer up the prayers of all the saints and perform several other priestly tasks in the great sanctuary of Heaven. Outside of the ring of elders are the multitudes and myriads of angels.  Surrounding the angels and emanating out from Almighty-One is the splendor of God which is at one point described as a rainbow surrounding everything and at another as being like an emerald, for the splendor of God is indescribable and incomprehensible. But, the fact that the splendor emanates out from God and in some ways separates us from truly seeing, and comprehending God. 

It is on the other side of this emerald/rainbow ring of splendor, which ALL the creatures of the earth are.  And when John says all, he tells us that all the creatures on the earth, above the earth, as well as under the earth, and all creatures on the sea and in the sea, that is all creatures.  Slugs, and bugs, fish and birds, humans and ants, single celled creatures and the largest whale; all the creatures of the earth are outside the ring of splendor.  It is important to note when it comes to centricity of Heaven humans are on the periphery.  Our perspective is from the outer rim, the edges looking in.  Some will go so far to say that one of the reasons that John’s descriptions of what he sees are so hard to understand is that he is seeing the events of the cosmos from the nosebleed seats.  He can see everything that is going on but he does not have a very good view, his perspective is of one seeing it all but from a considerable distance.

But the event he is about to see is the most important event in all creation.  The event that is described right before our passage this morning, is the most important event in all of history (or a-history because nothing in this book takes place in history so to speak – it is a-historical in that it happens outside of time.  But the events are more real and truer than any historical event that will ever happen within time). 

John sets the stage.  All the creatures (that includes us); the multitude of angels, the twenty-four elders the seven creatures and at the center is the throne on which the Almighty-One is seated.  Everyone is singing. Everyone has a song; it is a song of worship, a song of praise, a song that speaks of the glory and the wonder the honor and power of the Almighty-One. Then everything changes.  There is a scroll; it must be opened.  No one can open it.  Not one of the four creatures, or the elders, or the angels, not one of the creatures of all creation can open it.  The assembly falls into despair.  John weeps.  It is important that the scroll be opened.  And then the Almighty-One speaks.  The Lion of Judah can open it.  All Heaven and Earth breaths a collective sigh.  The Lion will open it.  This is when the most important moment ever happens.  The revealed one enters.  The Lamb, which looks as if it was slain, enters.  And Heaven takes a collective gasp. This is THE moment, the only moment that ever was that ever mattered.  This is the moment when the Lamb that was slain, who is none other than Jesus Christ, is revealed to all creation, to all that is, was, and ever will be. This is the revelation.

The book begins, The Revelation of Jesus Christ.  This is the revelation of Jesus Christ.  The Lamb enters and is seated on the throne with the Almighty-One. If there was ever a visual way describe what it means for Christ to be co-equal with the Father; if there was ever a way to wrap our minds around what it means for Jesus to be God.  Having him step into the great sanctuary of Heaven and take a seat right there on the throne along with the Almighty-One, is it.

And then in case we did not completely understand the place that Jesus holds on the cosmic stage, then all who are there, the creatures and the elders and the angels and creature of the earth join together and sing a song of worship and praise extoling the virtues and gifts the Lamb possesses. Minutes ago, they were worshiping the Almighty-One and now they focus their worshipful attention on the Lamb.  The Lamb is God and because the Lamb is God, co-equal to the Almighty-One, he is worshipped and praised in the same way.  And then when they finish they say, “Amen,” which is a declaration of truth. The ancient way of putting a stamp of authenticity on the words, which were, just sang and then they all bow down and worship the Lamb.

This is the most exciting moment in all the cosmos.  This is the moment when all things great and small, all of Heaven and all of Earth see Jesus Christ, recognize who he is and fall down and worship.  This is a cosmic event, happening on a cosmic stage, all things everywhere bear witness to the divinity of Jesus the Christ and there is only one response worship and praise.

This is what it is all about. When we see the splendor of God, when we see the reality of who Jesus truly is, when we catch a glimpse of the glory of Heaven, there is only one thing to do, to bow down and worship.  And realize who is truly at the center of it all.  The great revelation of John is the person of Jesus Christ. Who he really is, what his purpose is and what his life, death and resurrection mean to the cosmos.  The pictures in the box are pictures of Jesus the Christ the life we see represented in the jumble mess of pictures is the “life” (as much as we can talk of the “life” of one who is and was and every will be).  The events we see, like the one we see described here in chapter five are comic events that we are seeing from the periphery, from a distance.  They are things that happen, or have happened or will happen.  They are events that are filtered through the aura of splendor, see through a glass darkly, so to speak.  But they important thing they are revealing to us, the take away is not the events themselves, but the ONE who is at the center of it all.  The visionary revelation told to us by John is the Revelation of Jesus Christ!  And when Jesus Christ is finally reveled to us, the only thing there is to do is to fall down on our knees and join the four creatures and the twenty-four elders, the angels and all the rest of creation in Worship and Praise. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Psalm 121 - Help!

I lift my eyes to the hills. We have all been there. We are in a place and we don't know how to get out.  We don't know how we are going to make it though.

We look around, we seek, we search. We grasp, we claw. We know it can be found, so we keep working to find the relief we need; the help; the strength; the way out. We go to our friends. We go to our pastor. We go to our spouse. We seek help, relief, where ever we think we might possibly find it.
Or perhaps we are even more desperate than that. We are paralyzed, we are unable to move. And all we can do it look. We plead with our eyes, "where is the help I need." There is obviously no help at hand, so we look to the horizon, to the furthest place we can see, the point where the the top of the hill touches the sky.  Is there help somewhere? I can't go look for it. I can't search beyond that point.  But I seek it in the only way I know. I look, and my heart cries out for relief, for help, for strength, for light.

How long did I wait there? How long did I cry out? I felt alone, scared abandoned. And there seemed to be no hope.

But somehow, somewhere I know where from where my help comes. I might not see it around me.  It might not be coming up over the horizon, but my help comes from the LORD.

I know this because God is the one who made all things. The earth and the sky, the stars and the planets and the vast beyond that is so incomprehensible. While I ache, while I groan, my God does not slumber.  God is with me. I know the verse says that God keeps me from all evil. But I know about poetic liberty; and I know although God can not keep me from being here ,where there evil surrounds me; I know when the darkness closes in, God is there.  God hears me when I cry out, God hears me when I weep. God is there when the sun is to high and too hot and God is there when the night is too cold and too dark. My constant companion. No matter how alone I feel, no matter how overwhelmed and out of control. My God does not leave me, does not forsake me, does not allow me to be devoured by the sun or the darkness. The Lord will keep me - no matter how I feel, no matter what is going on, no matter how dark the darkness, no matter how hot the sun. No matter what, I belong to God. God will never give me up, toss me aside, walk away from me. No matter what. God will keep me. I am never too much. I am never too broken; too needy, too afraid, too anything.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Worshiping God

Revelation 1:4-8
What is your favorite book of the Bible? What is your least favorite book? Which book would you say is the hardest to understand?
When most pastors ask the members of their congregations, none of them would say that Revelation is their favorite book of the Bible, some of them would say that it is their least favorite and many, along with Daniel or Ezekiel will say that Revelation is one of the hardest books to understand.
Generally, the book of Revelation is the least understood book of the entire Bible. Since this book more any else is full of metaphor and imagery that captivates our imaginations and seems to defy an simple or plain reading of the text it becomes difficult outside of its’ original context to nail down the meanings of all the imagery used in the book. Over the centuries, much ink and many words have been spoken and spilled out over this book.
Although it is, probably, among the least read books, that does not mean that in some way it manages to captivate our imagination and peaks our curiosity, when someone comes to us saying they have the answers to unlocking its mysteries. There are several theories of how to interpret this book, each one more complex that the last. Each one has its own way of understanding and de-codifying the various forms of imagery found in the book. During the course of my lifetime, it seems that the most complicated, and dark interpretations have been the most popular.
I can remember being frightened, as a young teen, watching “The Thief in the Night” films, and then later anticipating the destruction of the Earth as I read Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the others that followed.  I can remember my much more jaded approach to Tim Laheye’s “Left Behind” series. I did not even bother watching the movie, starring Kirk Cameron. And I have to admit if anything on this subject has captivated the imagination popular Christianity since then, I have remained completely unaware of its existence.
The book of Revelation actually begins like many other books.  From John to the seven Churches in Asia (which is currently where the modern nation of Turkey is located). This, like so many other writings of the New Testament, is a letter, a letter from a pastor to several of the Churches in his care. This was a pastor offering instruction, guidance, encouragement and teaching to his parishioners. The message this book contained was a message that was accessible to the people in his churches.  It was not a message they could not grasp or understand, that would render the letter worthless. John wrote this letter to his people and it contained a message, which was meaningful to them in their time, and in their context.  All though the book may contain some elements of foretelling, giving them a picture of a world that had not yet come, the message of the book, was not to give them a road map to some future they could not, and would not ever see, but the message of the book was something that had meaning to them in their day to day struggles as Christians in their particular time and place.  Understanding the heart of John’s message to his people is probably the most valuable message we can gain, as Christians who are also struggling to live our day-to-day lives today.
This letter was understandable to the normal people in seven normal congregations. It was originally addressed to the seven churches along the great circular road that made its way through Asia.  It would have been understood that each church would receive the letter, read it and then pass it on to the next one down the road. From there it was passed on to other churches in John’s care and eventually after it had made its way through all of John’s congregations, it was then passed on to other churches in making its way through all the churches the ancient world.  And over time, it was eventually considered to be a part of the Biblical canon, being read in churches alongside the various letters of Paul and the gospel writings.  And now, across the centuries, it has now come to our church.
John may not be our pastor, but John wrote to churches not all that dissimilar to ours.  He wrote to churches who were struggling with who they were. They were living in a society that did not understand them.  They were living under government, which did not always have their best interests at heart.  They were struggling to understand their place in their world and their society, which did not always understand them or welcome them. The world around them did not value the same things they did, and it was hard to live peaceably while still upholding their values.  In many cases, the cultural norm was directly contrary to their faith.  What seemed to be the most intuitive way to move, work, act and think because of the world in which they lived, often times went directly against their faith and the ways in which Jesus instructed them.  They were struggling with their identity as Christians in their world, in their culture and in their society. What does it mean to be a Christian in this time and place? What does it mean to be the Church in a society whose values are so very different from our own? Their struggle and the questions they were asking themselves are really not all that different from our own.
The book is often called the Revelation of John, or the Apocalypse of John, which are just the first three words of the book. The book of John is considered to be a particular form of Biblical writing, which is in the same category of Biblical writings as Daniel and Ezekiel and a handful of others, called Apocalyptic Literature. Which sounds somewhat scary and perhaps a little too much like the un-relatable nonsense you would hear when you get a bunch of Bible Scholars and theologians together for afternoon tea, 'Oh the exegesis of apocalyptic literature in light of a soteriological understanding of the eschaton.’ 
In truth the word Apocalypse in the original language, does not mean anything high-headed or scary at all. At its root, it means, “to uncover”, which is a very similar idea as “to reveal,” which brings us to the common name of the book, Revelation. But perhaps the idea of “uncovering” something is a little more relatable than “revelation” simply because the name of the book is so loaded.
I want you to imagine with me for a moment. You have come into a house out of the chill of a winter evening. The house is warm and inviting. As you enter, you can hear the casual chatter of friends and family, which indicates to you that you are not the only one who has been invited to dinner.  A small child runs up to you, arms and legs wrapped around one of yours.  You lift the child up, and spin around, feet spread out into the air.  You come to a stop just before you become dizzy, giggles erupt all around before you place the child on the ground, feet are barely on the ground before they scurry off.  You stand and notice the house is full of a warm inviting smell.  You make your way across the living room and into the kitchen.  The moist aroma is coming from a pot on the stove.  You can hear the rattle of the pot lid as steam escapes filling the room with the fragrance of what is held within.  You catch the scent of garlic, and basil, maybe the sweetness of carrots but with lid on top, you can only guess at the contents.  You get a nod as you wordless ask if you can peak inside, your uncover the stew, revealing what is held inside, there is a bay leaf floating around, carrots potatoes and onions.  You are handed a tasting spoon and encouraged to try some, now the fullness of the soup, its flavors and contents are revealed to you.  What was once hidden and only guessed at is now uncovered you can see clearly now. This is apocalypse, this is revelation. It is not about hidden secrets that can only be guessed at and implied, it is about revelation, it is uncovering what was previously unknown or only hinted at.  It is knowing the truth, it is a message given, a message heard and received.
As I have worked through the book of Revelation in preparation for this sermon series, I have become aware in a way I had not realized before, how, like the stew pot metaphor I gave just now, John through the written word works to engage ALL the senses through his writing.  John begins by not only addressing those who will read this book but also those who hear it.  As with most letter and books at this time, they were read aloud to the congregations (much as we read scripture each week here).  The book itself is something that should be heard.  As much as it is important to read and study scripture, to gain understanding and insight, this book was first meant to be read and to be heard. The words are written to be heard, the imagery, metaphor and allegory of the book are best understood when heard.
The book engages our sense of touch throughout by numbering everything.  Numbering thing is ultimately a tactile thing, whether it is simply counting things on our fingers, or actually handling the objects we that are numbered.  The book is full of 3s, 4s, 7s and 6s. The churches are number, the angels are numbered, and the people are numbered. And when there are not just numbers to count, there are multitudes and myriads.  Rooms full of people, jostling about; bumping into each other, the idea of crowd in itself is a very tactile thing.
 Our world smells.  Every moment of our lives is scented, everything we do and everywhere we go, we are breathing in our environment.  In addition, in fact a scent can bring back a long lost or forgotten memory better and more powerfully than anything else.   The book like our life is also full of smells.  The most obvious example in the book is the bowls of incense, which encourages reaches into the least thought of and most permeating of all our senses. The fragrance of incense wafts through the heavenly sanctuary and fills the book. Each time the hearer finds herself in the Heavenly sanctuary we are to imagine the room filled with the fragrance of incense filling the room an indeed all of Heaven itself. 
A more subtle way the scent of incense is found, which would have been picked up on by the original readers but not so much by evangelicals in this day and age, is that in the mind of early Christian’s prayer was thought of like incense.  Prayers wafted up, like the smoke trails of incense and found their way to the ear of God by riding the air currents to the Heavenly sanctuary where God was enthroned.  Since prayer was so closely linked in their minds and their imaginations with the image and scent of incense, each time there is a prayer in this book that prayer carries with it the memory of incense.
As I have mentioned before, this book more than any other, involves imagery.  John created a world that can been seen.  Everything is described in vivid detail.  The words capture our imagination and calls for us to not simply hear what is being read to us but to also see what is happening.
Lastly, the book is filled with words that speak of taste.  There is the tepid congregation, which is spewed out of the mouth.  There is a potent mixed drink of the judgement.  And also the marriage supper of the Lamb.  The book draws engages our taste buds whenever it can.
For the early Christians worship was something that engaged all five senses, scripture was heard, incense was burned, the bread and wine were felt with one’s hands and tasted.  Worship was a full-bodied experience so that worship could be an offering of our entire selves. But why does the book work to engage our senses at all?  Why is this important?  Well the book wants to place all the activity all the imagery all the movement and all that is occurs smack dab in the middle of a sacramental worship service. 
The book begins by inviting us to see the Trinity.  Worship revolves around God and our worship begins by remembering that God is Triune.  Once John has finished his introductions, he launches right into a world in which the Triune God is at its center.  John begins by offering grace and peace to us on behalf of all three persons of the Trinity. First, “the one who s and was and is to come,” that is God the Father. And then also from the seven-spirits around the throne.  Although, it seems odd to us, John’s readers would have immediately known that the seven-spirits was not seven actual spirits, but was a common way of speaking of the Holy Spirit.  The number seven was the number of completeness, wholeness and perfection.  The seven-spirits was the perfect Holy Spirit who is whole, complete in all things. And lastly it is offered by Jesus Christ himself.
We are reminded who exactly Jesus Christ is.  He sums up Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ultimate purpose in the next few phrases. It is Jesus Christ who bears witness and also the first born of the dead.  Jesus, as we discussed last week, himself is our hope.  We know that because Christ was raised from the dead, and is the first fruits of what is to come, we know that someday we too will join Jesus, in the Heavenly sanctuary and join in the ultimate worship service. Not only Jesus is our hope for the life to come, but Jesus is also the one who will return.  He is the one who loves us, frees us and made us. He is the one who allows us to live in relationship with God. John reminds us that he left into the clouds and will once again return into the clouds.  But not like he left, which was only seen by a few, who so happened to be in at the time and place it happened, but his return will not be a quiet, private affair. All the world will see and know of his return.  It will be something that will be seen and known the world over.
And the Triune God speaks, “I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  I am God. Although John begins his letter as almost every other letter is begun, with a greeting from himself to the churches to whom he was writing, John’s introduction takes a dramatic turn.  We are not merely greeted by John, but we are greeted by God, Almighty. John is a prophet like none other and like none other; he has his own way of saying, “This is the word of the Lord,” which is the typical way the prophets of old began.  Instead, John, who wants us to fill our senses with his words, begins his book by letting us HEAR the words of the Lord, “I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  It is none other than God who is speaking to and the message we are about to hear is not only the message of John, but it is the message of God to us.
Through the book of Revelation God is calling out to us, inviting us into the great sanctuary of Heaven, beckoning us to join in eternal worship before the throne of God. Before we begin to understand who we are in relation to our world, and our culture we must first understand what it is we are called to.  We are called to gather and worship the One who is, and was and is to come.  We are called to hear the word of the Almighty.  Let us first and foremost remember who we are in relation to our God.
We are loved, we are freed, we are made - remade to be the people we were created to be – in Christ, through Christ and by Christ so that we can come together to worship God and God alone.