The Uncountable

A sermon for All Saints

Revelation 7:9-17, Psalm 34:1-10, 22, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

Our name honors St. Stephen the Church’s first martyr. He is among the many Saints we honor throughout our church year. They are so honored because they represent to us some special attribute that reflects Jesus’ presence in our lives, or because they are an example of how we are stewards of Jesus’ ministry to proclaim the Kingdom of God. I am certain they are among the 144,000 the Left Behind series would include among the raptured. However, they are not the saints today’s readings, specifically the reading from Revelation, point us towards.

Today’s saints are so many they cannot be counted. They are also remarkably inclusive including people from every: nation tribe, people, and language. If John were writing today, that list would include gender and sexual orientation or any other way we’ve dreamed up to divide humanity. What they have in common is that they come through the great ordeal, and that Jesus died for them. Christopher Rowland writes:

The great multitude includes many who never “named the name” of Jesus but who lived lives that continued in the way of the Lamb. (Rowland 68,563)

I meet a couple of Rowland’s saints several years ago in San Francisco. At the time I was Arkansas’ coordinator for Living Stones. Two other team members and I decided to go to the Warf for our evening off. The trip down, in a cab, was no problem. After our evening out we decide to take the BART back, my colleagues had never ridden a sub-way before. I was certain it would not be problem, after all we had gotten all the way from Little Rock to San Francisco, and found our conference center, neatly tucked away as it was. Surely we can get from the Warf back to our conference center.

Well ~ it turns out we can buy a year’s pass, a month’s pass, any round trip you can imagine; but, we can’t figure out how to buy a one way ticket to get us two stations up the line. Suddenly, a grey- white haired lady, wearing a dingy raincoat pops up asking what we need; she takes our money feeds it into the machine effortlessly pushes all the right buttons and hands us our tickets. Leaving her with appropriate change, we thank our saintly knight in shining armor I mean our saintly dame in dingy overcoat and head off. We were very aware and very thankful, we have encountered a saint. It is not our last encounter.

Somehow we manage to get off at the wrong station, so much for counting to ‘2.’ We quickly discover the error, and seek help at the ticket Kiosk. The attendant listens to our tale of woe, and informs us, that we were pretty much out of luck. As we despondently turn away he calls out “Wait!” then he scraps up three tickets that will get us the one station we need to go. After we get off at the proper station, we call the cabbie who’d taken to the Warf, only to be informed he can’t pick us up in the station, something about exclusive contracts. We try the posted cab companies, but no one answers the phone, may be because the station is closed. We call our cabbie back, tell him our tale of woe and he agrees to call us when he gets around the corner, then we can come and hail him from the street.

A street lady, a kiosk attendant, and a cabbie all of them saints. I’ve no idea their religious convictions, if they have any at all; I do know we experienced caring for others that mirrors God’s care for everyone, indeed for all creation.

If everyone is a saint, then what is the 144 thousand about? In the ancient world, numbers had meaning beyond counting. The number twelve and its multiples, pointed to unity, completeness and Divine election. (Orr) So if twelve is divinely intended complete unity, then twelve thousand is absolute divinely intended complete unity and 144 thousand, 12, the tribes of Israel, times 12,000 is perfect divinely intended complete unity. How complete? How perfect? So completely perfect as to be beyond counting, meaning everyone is included.

The Left Behind books and movies give us the impression The Revelation to John is a prediction for the future. The notion of rapture; however, is a nineteenth century idea of John Nelson Darby’s teaching from 1 Thessalonians. (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa) That being so, who and when is John’s vision about? For many years scholars taught Revelation was a vision of comfort, hope and encouragement, (Sermon Brain Wave) to Christian being persecuted by Roman Emperors. (Harrelson) Recently research has revealed there were no persecutions at the time Revelation was written. There were occasional local harassments that may have led to some martyrs. (Harrelson) Walter Harrelson writes Revelation was written:

… primarily, to address complacent church members who saw no great contrast between their Christian commitment and the surrounding culture, to make them aware of the critical situation in which they lived and the threat they faced. (Harrelson)

In short, your Christian Commitment your baptism calls you to live life by different standards.

Sometimes we are reminded of those standards by memorable lives like Stephen etc. Sometimes we are reminded of those standards by a street lady, a kiosk attendant, or a cabbie. Sometimes we are reminded by those we loved but see no more.

In the past year, we have grieved the deaths of, neighbors, friends, parents, siblings, and children. In ways writ large and small each of them has shown us how to live life by that Christian standard, that is all to elusive; perhaps not all time; perhaps only every now and again. But still, we remember them today because they have passed through the great ordeal, better known as life, and by Jesus’ gift of grace live forever in God’s presence. Their presence in that multitude of perfect divinely intended complete unity is the source of comfort, hope and encouragement for all of us, no matter the ordeal we face, or the capriciousness of life. For by them we know we are the blessed children of God.

References

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 19 10 2014.

Orr, James, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. WORDsearch, 2004.

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.

Rowland, Christopher C. New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. The Book of Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

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