Sermons

Sun, Nov 05, 2017

For all the saints...

Series:Sermons

In September last year... 

Tadjadine Mahamat Babouri posted some videos online. 

In those videos he accused his government-- 

the government of Chad--

of widespread corruption and misuse of public finances.

The central African country of Chad is internationally listed as a "Failed State";

while the United Nations ranks it as the seventh poorest country in the world...

with eighty percent of its population--

who engage in subsistence farming and herding--

living below the poverty line.

And that's despite the country having large oil deposits.

Posting those videos was a risky move.

Within days of doing so, Tadjadine was grabbed in broad daylight.

Beaten, electrocuted, and chained up--

allegedly by Government security forces--

it was weeks before his wife was able to locate him.

He's facing charges of threatening national security...

which could result in a life sentence...

if the tuberculosis--

which he contracted while in captivity--

doesn't kill him first.

In many parts of the world, 'speaking truth to power' requires great courage...

and involves great risk.

 

 

This morning's reading from the Book of Revelation presents a symbolic vision--

a vision of a vast multitude of people of every nation and race...

standing before the throne of God...

robed in white and singing their praises.

And, we're told:

"These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb".

Despite how that might seem at first glance, it's not referring to martyrs--

at least, not in the "classical sense"--

certainly not at the time when the Book of Revelation was written.

Indeed, it would be a number of decades before Christians were systematically put to death for their faith. 

As always with the Book of Revelation, the imagery of the visions is complex.

The "great ordeal", here, probably refers to some specific time of testing--

although laced with a certain degree of hyperbole--

while being robed in white simply symbolises them as having been faithful witnesses.

In the context of the time it was written, all that this means... 

is that they had endured some sort of pressure...

some sort of oppression...

some sort of suffering...

but they hadn't given in.

In particular, they had resisted the power and ideology of Rome--

especially its totalitarian claims...

especially its demand for absolute, unwavering allegiance.

They had refused to accommodate to Roman social and religious practices;

they had refused to bow down to the Emperor;

they had resisted the pressure to conform to their society's and their culture's values--

insofar as those values clashed with what they understood to be God's values and God's intention for creation.

So, according to this vision, saints are not those who confess orthodox belief...

nor those whose religious practices are "proper".

Rather, saints are those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus--

in particular, those who follow in the way of the cross...

in the way of self-giving and self-sacrifice.

According to this vision, saints are those who are willing to suffer-- 

as Jesus did--

for daring to 'speak truth to power'.

People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer...

Martin Luther King JR...

Oscar Romero...

Rosa Parks...

Christopher Senyojo...

or Desmond Tutu.

 

And yet, preceding this vision of John's...

and following it... 

are other visions--

visions of chaos and destruction...

of famines, plagues, and natural disasters...

of wars...

and of economic and political oppression.

Within this vision, however, there is a remarkable promise...

made to those who similarly resist and endure, and who bear faithful witness--

that "they will hunger no more, and thirst no more... and God will wipe every tear from their eyes".

Through this vision the author is trying to offer a sense of hope...

in a world seemingly consumed with violence and injustice...

where evil seems to triumph...

and where good people do, indeed, suffer.

The author is trying to reassure them that if they endure...

if they resist...

then they will be vindicated because God is ultimately in control--

not the powers of this world-- 

and God will have the last say.

 

Now that sort of image of God makes sense within the world-view of the first century--

a world where some sort of divine being was responsible for any exercise of power...

and a world that lacked a sense of impersonal causality...

where nothing "just happened"...

but someone, usually a divine being, was ultimately responsible for everything.

And that sort of image of God would have been very attractive--

under those circumstances--

to those who were suffering.

Ultimately, however, it's an image of God that ought to be very unsatisfying for us...

in the light of our more sophisticated understanding of the world and the laws of nature;

and it's an image that's potentially dangerous.

After all, it's the sort of image that seems to feed so much terrorist ideology.

Perhaps, more helpfully... 

the image that we have here of Jesus is of the Lamb who was slaughtered...

of the one who gave his life--

not in violent retaliation or retribution...

but in faith and faithfulness.

It's the image of the one who gave his life sacrificially--

not as some act of appeasement...

but simply in doing what was right...

in trying to make a difference...

and, in the very act of doing so, precipitating change.

In that context, the vindication of the faithful...

is the vindication of those who follow in the way of the cross...

because, in their willingness to take a stand...

in their willingness to suffer...

in their willingness to 'speak truth to power'...

not only do they emulate the example of Jesus...

but they, too, have precipitated change...

and provided an example for us all to follow.

 

And that, in the end, is the point of "All Saints Day".

It's a time to remember all those who-- 

through their faith and faithfulness...

through their hopes and dreams...

through their courage and endurance--

have made this a better world...

have brought it one step closer to the world as God would have it be.

'All Saints Day' is a time to remember those who have been an example to us...

who have confronted and challenged...

who have inspired us...

who have pointed us ever more clearly and closely to the purposes of God--

revealed and made manifest in Jesus Christ.

'All Saints Day' is an encouragement to each one of us--

to learn from their example...

to imitate them...

to take our place in their company...

and, similarly, to be a saint for others.

 

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