"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

"What we do in life echoes in eternity." That sounds a bit like a quote from Holy Scripture, but many of you will recognize it as a line from a popular film, "Gladiator." This line may not be from the Bible, but I believe it resonates well with this morning's lesson from the Revelation to Saint John. For we see clearly in this reading from Revelation that what we do in life truly does echo in eternity. The white robed army of martyrs around the throne of God St John saw in a vision highlights the enduring effect of our earthly actions.

A countless multitude of brave men and women who once faithfully offered the last, full measure of devotion for their Savior and Lord in this life now basks eternally in the glory of God, freed from the discomforts and injuries of this fallen world and swallowed up in bliss. Doubtless many of the holy martyrs that St John envisioned had died with the very same praises on their lips that they now offer in eternity "to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb." The praises and prayers of the blessed martyrs do in fact echo forever in throne room of God.

Of course, it is unlikely that you or I will be tested to the same extreme that the members of that heaven choir have been. In our pluralistic, tolerant nation few now died for their religious beliefs. But sadly this is not true everywhere today. Two weeks ago, for example, three men were bound, beaten and slain by Turkish extremists simply for having the audacity to publish Christian Bibles in a Muslim country. And just a few days ago a prominent Anglican priest in Malawi was found poisoned to death, apparently because of his strong public defense of the Christian standard of fidelity in marriage and chastity in the single state. These examples could be easily multiplied. Almost half the world's population lives in places where it is not safe to practice the Christian faith openly. The threat of arrest, loss of property, beatings at the hands of neighbors and officials, even torture and death, are facts of life for many millions of Christians world-wide. The white-robed army of martyrs still gains new members daily, "from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues." Their blood has become the seed of a vibrant, growing Church in the developing world.

No, you and I will probably never be asked to renounce Christ at the point of a gun or be forced to worship in a hidden basement for fear of the secret police. Yet even here it is not always easy to remain a faithful witness to Christ. We have all been places where standing up for "the faith once delivered to the saints" would be seen as "unenlightened" or "uncool" or "impolite." Just try introducing traditional Christian moral standards around a seminar table at one of our elite universities and see what it gets you! At best you will be thought "misguided," at worst "an intolerant bigot." Of course, social disapproval and ostracism are a far cry from martyrdom. If the heavenly chorus of Revelation 7 could remain faithful in the face of the lions and burning crosses of Nero, the mass drownings of Tokugawa Japan, the guillotines of revolutionary France, and the gulags of Stalin, I am pretty sure you and I can withstand the disapproving glances of our relatives and co-workers. If we do stand firm for the faith of Christ, one day the blessed company in glory will make a little room for us to join their great song of praise resounding in eternity.

But we can get started right now. We need not wait until the hereafter to gaze upon the Lamb who sits upon the throne and sing His praises. He is here in Spirit right now and will be here in the most tangible of ways in just a few minutes. For it is not only what we do in this life that echoes in eternity, but what they do in eternity that echoes right here today! This entire worship service--what this building and this sanctuary look like, how the altar party is arranged, all of our actions around the altar--are a pale reflection of the throne room of God in the Revelation to St John. We are not all wearing white robes by random chance, after all! When we who are still in this world gather around the altar in the Holy Eucharist we join our voices "with angels, and archangels, and all the company of Heaven" in praise to God our Savior. We shall cluster around this Holy Table as it becomes the throne where the Lamb, who lives even though He has been slain, makes Himself specially present for us as a gift from God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, even as He eternally presents His flawless Life back to His Father as an offering for our sin.

For the altar is a place where time and eternity intersect, where the commonplace and the sacred meet, and the worship of Heaven becomes the worship of mortals. This is a singular place where time as we know it loses its meaning and the barrier between this world and the next becomes as thin as tissue paper. On this altar the whole of salvation history-all of our Lord's loving acts of deliverance from the dawn of time until the end of days--are brought to a point of radiant intensity and the most precious substance imaginable-the very blood of God-enters time and space. Hence, the very same sacred Blood in which the martyrs "have washed their robes and made them white" will be offered to us for our spiritual drink.

It is indeed fitting that we join together with the army of martyrs in worship today. After all, the martyrs are not the only ones "who have come out of the great Tribulation." For the Tribulation our worthy forebearers in faith have escaped is the common lot of the human race. We have all known the effects of the Fall, the inescapable outcome of separation from the Source of Life: pain and loss, sickness and death. We have all endured the temptations and the taunts of the devil and his fallen angels. We have all looked into the Void and sensed its hoplessness.

Yet all of us who have repented of our sin and turned to Christ in faith, being buried with our Lord in Holy Baptism and raised to new life in Him through His glorious resurrection, have passed out of that great Tribulation. We, too, have been washed white in the Blood of the Lamb, for salvation belongs to Him and to the One whose Image He perfectly reflects. We are sheep who know the voice of the Shepherd who stands in our midst here today. We have drunk from the springs of living water to which He leads us, and we shall never perish. Therefore a place is reserved for us "before the throne of God,” where we will “serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter [us] with his presence" as our praises echo in eternity: "Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Blogger Bobby J. Kennedy said...

Powerful stuff! Thanks for posting this.

4:04 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Thanks, sir. I have added your fine blog to my links on the side, btw. God bless.

7:36 PM  

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