"The Lord Had Blessed Us Reeeaaaal Good!"
Text: Revelation 5:1-14
Brother Dave Lombardi, pastor of Trinity Gospel Temple in Canton, ends all his radio broad- casts with these words: “The Lord has blessed us reeeeaaaal good! Amen, and amen!” While Brother Dave and I have our theological differences, on this Founder’s Day 2017, I must echo his words and sentiments: “The Lord has blessed Central Presbyterian Church reeeeaaaal good!” And to that, we can all add a hearty “Amen!”
The centerpiece of this morning’s celebration of Founder’s Day is our honoring those women and men who have been members of this church family for fifty or more years [50 of them in total, with one being added this year to that distinguished group]. These longtime Central Presbyterians provide us a link with the past of this great congregation, while at the same time inspiring our devotion and faithfulness as we together move forward into the future; a future unseen, but a future we esteem vouchsafe in the hands of the One whom we proclaim in song to be “the church’s one foundation.” And looking at ourselves in 2017, we do have much to celebrate!
We celebrate provision of this beautiful and functional sanctuary which so inspires worship of the Almighty, and which we hope to make even more beautiful and functional through our Vision 21.1 initiative. We celebrate the gift of magnificent instruments of praise in our organ and piano, and give thanks for Leigh Conti’s skilled hands and feet which offer ministry through these instruments’ keys, pedals and stops. We celebrate the sounds of praise which our Chancel Choir and Bell Choir provide week after week, giving thanks for the skilled direction of Doug Beery and Jacquie Ferrel who bring out the best in our musicians. We celebrate the fact that we’ve managed to maintain this century-old edifice which has so long stood as a light to the city of Massillon, and as a testimony to the steady faith of those who have ministered in it and from it. We celebrate our identity as a center of mission in the heart of the city, shining as a beacon of hope for those in need of its shelter and nurture. We celebrate growth: the many persons of all ages who have joined themselves to Central’s ministries; even more importantly, the spiritual growth evident in the lives of all of us, regardless of our age or length of membership. We celebrate the sounds of children which can be heard throughout this place on any given Sunday, and that they carry the promise of perhaps someday being counted among new classes of fifty-year members. We celebrate the wealth of godly leadership which has sustained the ministries of Central over these past 166 years. I could go on, and you could add other reasons to celebrate today. Suffice to say that in looking at ourselves on this Founder’s Day 2017, we can say without reservation that “the Lord has blessed us reeeeaaaal good!” Can I get an “Amen?”
This morning also gives us opportunity to affirm our faith in the future which lies in God’s hands, believing that whatever the future may hold, the Lord will continue to bless us real good; not to our glory, but to God’s. We can go forward in confidence knowing that all this church has done yesterday, and all this church is doing today, is directing us toward carrying out God’s good purposes tomorrow. Perhaps that, in part, is one reason God is blessing us with so many children; that this would be a time of building up, or ramping up, or gearing up – however you’d like to say it – for the future generations of ministries in the heart of this city; through a home church we’re proud to call Central, and Presbyterian.
There can be no argument that we are living in much different days than those of our forebears here at Central; much different days than those in which our fifty-year members were raised and first came to be confirmed as members of this congregation. With regard to the future of our culture, our society, even our very civilization, questions are being asked today which fifty years ago were not yet imagined! There is even much angst among Presbyterians about the future of our denomination – once great and proud; now struggling with dwindling membership, infighting over political, social and theological issues, threats of churches wanting to sever ties. Some would say that in every respect, we stand upon the threshold of a future both uncertain, and ominous.
John the revelator, who brings us in his visionary journey to the future which lies in the Lord’s hands, stood upon much the same threshold as we do. The seven churches to which John was writing were all – in their own ways – struggling with internal strife; trying to define who they were and how they would live out their faith in the milieu of an unstable and volatile age, both outside and inside the fledgling church. At the time of the writing of The Revelation, the holy city of Jerusalem had been ransacked, and its temple reduced to rubble. The storm clouds of Roman domination were spreading all over Asia Minor. Christians throughout the civilized world would soon be forced to declare their allegiance to either the emperor, or to Jesus Christ. The choice of the latter would mean certain persecution and tribulation. John, who was imprisoned on an island called Patmos as a consequence of his choice, stood upon that threshold, uncertain and ominous.
In our passage this morning, we join John awaiting God’s promised revelation of “what is, and what is to take place thereafter.” He would be granted the privilege of having a peek into that unknown future. In John’s vision, the fullness of the future would be revealed in the opening of a scroll which was sealed with seven seals. Here’s what he relates of that vision: “….and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.”
At this, John was much distressed. He wanted to know more than anything else what was writ- ten on that scroll. As much as anyone else then or now, John was obsessed with the question: What does the future hold? He tells us that he “began to weep bitterly,” lamenting that there was no one worthy or capable of opening this scroll. His spirit was crushed as it seemed to him that the promised revelation would never be given to his eyes to see, and that the future would remain a closed book. But an elder – who is representative of the church – gives John some consolation: “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Perhaps before he can take another breath, John’s attention is drawn to One who stands among the elders of the church—a Lamb it was; a Lamb bearing the scars of sacrifice, yet standing tall and alive; knowing all; seeing all; being known and seen by all. As the Lamb steps to the throne to receive the scroll of “the things that are and the things that are to come,” there begins a festive celebration – a celestial Founder’s Day of sorts – as the church’s one foundation is pro- claimed in song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom of priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.” In the following three chapters, the seals are opened, and through a series of strange and sometimes scary images, the plan of God for the end of time is unfolded; the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ Himself -- ultimately victorious.
For our purposes this morning, we note that John’s vision for the future is centered in and inextricably bound to celebration of the past. Through the already-accomplished yet ever-saving work 5 of Christ, brought to pass by His life, death and resurrection, the future is vouchsafe...guaranteed… well in hand; in God’s hand. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, stands tall as the central figure of both celebration of the past, and vision of the future. John’s vision is delivered to us so that instead of living in fear of the future - uncertain and ominous as it appears from our point of view - the people of God can rejoice in a future which is in control of the only One in heaven or on earth who is worthy to open it. That is the one who loves us, and saves us as a demonstration of that love. Now if that’s not God blessing us reeeeaaaal good, I don’t know what is.
Then John looked, and he heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels numbering “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” And John heard – and may we all hear today on this Founder’s Day 2017 – every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein saying, “’To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” The living creatures could just have very well said: “The Lord has blessed us reeeeaaaal good!” Amen, and amen!”