Message: Elect From Every Nation
Scripture: Revelation 7: 9-17
Date: November 4, 2018 (All Saints Day)
How many of you are sick and tired of all of these political ads? Now I know that it is probably not any worse than it has been in previous election years, but it sure seems like it is. Perhaps it’s because it seems that all these candidates have to say are what or who they are against. If the goal of all these ads is to tell us why we should not vote for the other person or persons, then they have been pretty successful. But if the goal is to tell us why we should vote for them, well, not so much. I guess I am just tired of candidates who are against a lot of stuff, but who offer very little in the way of what they are for. The other day I heard a sad commentary on elections in general and the mayor’s race in particular. The commentator was lamenting a recent unscientific poll in which nearly as many people responded that they weren’t even aware there was a Mayor’s race, as there were in support of one candidate or the other. And the commentator predicted a light turnout of voters who would vote for mayor at all because there is no one to vote against. That, in general, both candidates are likable, and in recent years what has drawn people to the polls was not to vote for a candidate, but rather to vote against. Such has become the negative tone of our political conversation. Many candidates aim at enticing voters to the polls to vote against their opponent, rather than for them. Often times, in recent years, if we even go and vote, our choice comes down to what we describe as the “lesser of two evils”. And unfortunately that thinking has spilled over into other aspects of life. Karen and I eat out quite frequently. In fact, we come to dinner time and inevitably one will say: is it time for the talk? Which means picking the place where we are either going to go eat or more often where we are going to go through the drive thru and bring dinner home. And often our choice is made based upon the kind of food that we dislike the least, rather than that place that has the food we like the most.
And on a much more serious note, last week we witnessed three examples of people whose lives had become consumed by hatred to the point of acting out. My guess is that they really hate all people, including themselves, and so their choice of targets was not about who they hated, but rather who they hated the most. Prejudice and hatred really knows no limits once it gets a hold of a human heart and so decisions to act out against people in terrible ways are usually not about who they don’t hate but rather who they hate the most. It seems like so much of what we do in politics and foreign policy and immigration policy and elections – even in our day to day living is based on this hierarchy of who we dislike the least. And dare I say it – but that kind of attitude often creeps into the church. Sometimes churches make decisions about who they are going to reach out to – based not upon who we love, but rather (and I’ll be gentle here), who we love the least. You see, it’s easy to minister to and with, those whom we love the most. But it is in ministering to those who Jesus described as the least and the lost, when ministry gets really hard. And it is in those times, that the Saints of God, shine through.
The story is told of Clarence Jordan, the writer of the Cotton Patch Gospels, and founder of a community based upon justice and diversity in the deeply segregated south of the twentieth century, going to preach a revival in a fairly large church in the deep south. And when he got up to preach the first service, he was struck by the diversity of the congregation. Every ethnic group, every age group, every economic group, were there together to hear the word that Jordan would bring. And after the service, Jordan asked the preacher how the church had gotten that way. “What way?” the preacher asked. And Jordan said: “Integrated like this. Was it because of the recent Supreme Court decision?”
“Supreme Court?” the preacher responded. “Why would Christians need the Supreme Court to tell us that everyone should be welcome and all together in the church?”
And so Jordan responded: “That’s not usually the case, especially in the south. So how did it happen here.”
And the preacher continued: “Well there used to be about 20 people in the church and when the old preacher died, they couldn’t find a new preacher we could afford to hire. So after two months, I told the deacons I’d preach for free. And the next Sunday I got up to preach and opened my Bible and put my finger down on the verse that says: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus.” So I preached on that. I told them how Jesus makes all kinds of people one. When I was finished, the deacons said they wanted to talk to me in the back room and they told me they didn’t want to hear preaching like that anymore.”
“So what did you do,” Jordan asked.
And the preacher said: “I fired them. I figured that if a man wasn’t willing to be a deacon for all of God’s people, he ought to be fired. And since they never hired me, they couldn’t fire me. And once I found out that preaching like that bothered them, I gave it to them every week. You might say I put the knife in the same spot every Sunday and twisted a little.”
“And they put up with that?”
“Not really,” the preacher laughed. “I preached the church down to about 4 people. I learned that sometimes revival in the church happens not when people come in to church, but when people leave and that if people were going to stand in the way of the moving of the Spirit of God, it’s better if they leave. After that we decided to build the church on Saints who were left, who were actually serious about following Jesus. And that’s when we started to grow.”
It is the Saints who come from every nation and every walk of life and out of every circumstance of life, and whose only qualification for election is that they are serious about following Jesus, that build the church of God.
In the midst of his visions of great persecution and tribulation in the church, John pauses to give us a portrait of the saints. He writes:
And the Saints are those who lead others to God. The writer of Hebrews describes the Saints as “the great cloud of witnesses that surround us.”
John Bunyan, in writing his classic, Pilgrim’s Progress tells about Christian and Hopeful, who as the story unfolds, draw near to the river of death. As they reach the river they are met by two shining figures who Bunyan describes with raiments that shine like gold and whose faces are pure light. Bunyan says they lead the two pilgrims, Christian and Hopeful, as they move from the river of death into the heavenly city. And Bunyan makes it clear that these shining figures are not angels, who are messengers of God, but rather he says they are the saints of God, shining with God’s light in a world of darkness and sin and helping all pilgrims find their way home.
It is these whom we honor today.