Monday, October 22, 2012

But Blood Stains! (Sermon on Revelation 7:9-17)

            Blood does not make white. Blood stains. But we hear the words again from Revelation 7:14, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

            In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. In the Hromowyk household it is not uncommon to hear resounding from the depths of the basement, “HEY!” whenever my father attempts to remove a strain from his shirt with a bottle of Shout, that ever-popular household stain remover. But the act of verbal shouting isn’t what absolves the stain is it? It’s the contents inside the bottle that remove the stain.

            Our human flesh functions much like my Dad shouting, “HEY!” with the bottle of shout. We make mistakes and we try to fix them. We break something; we try to put it back together. And if we can’t do it, we pay someone to do it for us. This self-reliance and self-invested interest gets us into trouble just like it got our first parents in the garden in trouble. Adam and Eve thought they could “be just like God, knowing good and evil”. When we put ourselves in a position to fix what we’ve broken, we walk a very fine line with works righteousness. Of course, we must make a distinction between earthly mistakes and sins against God’s command. If we screw something up on a job; we must do what we can to fix it. If we use poor grammar on a paper we hand in at the seminary; we correct it, hopefully. We get a stain on a shirt, we grab our bottle of Shout, spray some on it, wash the shirt, and hopefully the stain is gone. In our lives we are constantly working to make things right. And that’s why this text is so applicable for us here at the seminary to listen to. Our reading from Revelation Ch. 7 has a lot of Gospel in it; a lot of good news about God’s salvation prepared for his saints. The text is about the saints in heaven. But how did they get there?

            In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the Seminary is not heaven. The seminary isn’t even Gospel. The seminary is Law. All law. In fact, the only Gospel here is during Chapel. And even then we know that there are elements of sacrifice – what we do for God –  in each service. What’s my point? This isn’t a shot or a jab at the seminary. This is a fact. We are here to train to be pastors. Or we are here because this is our day job. Or we are here because we are to train the trainees. Law. Law. Law. Do this and you pass. Don’t do this or you’ll flunk. Do this and you won’t get in trouble. Do this and you keep your job. “Put up and shut-up until you graduate.” It’s no surprise that by the first week of November, everyone starts getting on each other’s nerves. If you don’t believe me sit at the lunch table during those final weeks of the semester and see how friendly we are to each other. Everyone starts cracking down because the heavy hand of the law is upon them. Due dates, deadlines, exams…. Greek quizzes! It’s happened every year since I’ve been a student here.

On our way home from the Seminary on Monday, when Kurt and I were at customs, the agent asked us where we were coming from. Kurt said, “The seminary” to which the agent said, “Where?” Kurt replied back, “The Seminary” to which the agent said, “Ahh, I thought you said cemetery.” You’ve probably heard that as a joke before, but it can – shouldn’t be – but sure can be true. We sometimes forget the Gospel as we get caught up in our work. And where there is no Gospel there is no life… how much life is in a cemetery? Maybe the agent heard Kurt correctly after all…

But you see that’s why we come to Chapel; because in the midst of our work week, we don’t have any Gospel outside of Chapel. And we need that sweet message of Christ’s forgiveness now more than ever. Our seminary training toughens us up for what we will face in the parish. But when legalism rules the day, it becomes all too easy for us to get caught up in an “I can fix this” attitude. Spray enough “shout” on it and the stains will go away. Even then sometimes we get overwhelmed and just wanted to “shout” period. Pun intended.

            Don’t forget the Gospel. Remember what the saints in heaven are “shouting” with a loud voice in heaven in v. 10, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” Let our shouts of angst turn to shouts of joy. Salvation belongs to God. The text omits the verb. We supply it. Salvation is to our God and the Lamb, which is Christ. God and the Lamb are salvation; its very essence. That’s a pretty comforting thought. God is love. God is salvation. God is our salvation. We know what awaits us after this life. The text tells us. There will be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more sun striking us, nor any scorching heat. The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be our shepherd; and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

The Lamb is our Shepherd. That fits well with our seminary’s theme this year. The Lord is my Shepherd. But here the text reminds us that the Lamb is our Shepherd. That’s not the kind of Shepherd we would hand pick for ourselves is it? Just like a sports team wouldn’t pick the shy, quiet athlete to be their captain, we wouldn’t think to pick a lamb to be our Shepherd. As we heard Dr. Winger gives us the run down on sheep at the retreat at Mount Carmel, sheep and lambs need to be led. We are the sheep. But Christ became a lamb –  better – THE Lamb for us. He became the Lamb led to the slaughter on behalf of our sins. If having a Lamb be the Shepherd sounds seemingly impossible, or perhaps even foolish to our reason, what we hear in v. 14 is even more so. “These (in white robes) 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.” If it isn’t enough good news already that Christ became a Lamb for us, this point drives the Gospel home even more. Blood cannot wash. Well I suppose it can wash in the sense of make wet, but blood stains. Do you know what color blood stains on clothes? It’s not red. It’s BLACK. Blood stains black- the complete opposite of white. Yet the saints in heaven have washed their robes, Greek στολὰς, and made them white. This cleansing of the robes is certainly only an act of God. For blood only stains. Therefore our robes are washed and made white by faith. The blood of the Lamb of God, the death of our Lord on behalf of our sins makes our garments pure; makes our stoles white. Just like our reason can’t comprehend how blood can make white, our reason can’t understand how Christ can become sin for us, how Christ can become a Lamb for us, and take all our sins upon himself, and give us His righteousness.

When we take a bottle of Shout and spray it on our clothes, we trust that the stain will be removed. In the same way, when God says that you are forgiven of your sins, you grasp that promise and hold on to it and trust that God in fact has forgiven your sins. The difference is that using a household cleaner product fits within our scheme of reason. God’s declaration of forgiveness is a stumbling block and a rock of offense. And in a Law dominated world, the freely given forgiveness of sins seems almost too good to be true. But nevertheless God makes this promise and it is given to everyone. He shows no partiality. John writes that he saw, “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” A great multitude which no man could number. I guess John didn’t mean only 120,000 people were in heaven after all.

Christ became the Lamb for us. Christ is our Good Shepherd. Even if we try to fix the broken relationship we have with God on our own, we can’t. It’s like shouting in the basement of your home at the stains on your clothes because the bottle says, “Shout!” Rather we put our trust in the One who has already removed the stain from our robes. And having been declared free from our trespasses, we can shout with the saints in heaven knowing that eternal life awaits us, because our God IS salvation. Our God alone possesses the gift of eternal life. And He has promised to give it to you. You can know this for certain because Christ has forgiven you of all your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.




1 comment:

Wesley Hromowyk said...

I apologize for not editing this sermon before posting it. I realize how obnoxious "seminary" and "Seminary" appears in the manuscript. It's a good thing hearers can't discern the difference.