Friday, 5 February 2010

2nd Sunday before Lent: Resonance

Rev.4 and Luke 8:22-25

The Readings
Revelation 4
The Heavenly Worship
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.’

Luke 8:22-25
Jesus Calms a Storm
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

The Sermon
What I would like to do today is simply to take this picture of heaven in Revelation and ask what is going on there. From that we will then have a look at how what takes place in heaven affects, or does not affect, what is taking place around us right now, here in church in this service, and then what we do when we leave, because I believe that this passage has a direct relevance to what we are doing right now.

But to get to that we need first to understand, in so far as we can, the passage from Revelation. To do that it is vital that we remember that this is a work of Jewish apocalyptic writing in the same tradition as books like Daniel and Ezekiel. In those two Old Testament books you get amazing imagery of living creatures covered in eyes, and moving in wheels; of dry bones being covered with flesh, of huge statues made of different materials, and the Son of Man in glory on a cloud.

These are pictures, images, which we need to understand as representative rather than descriptive. Psychologically, we dwell in a scientific culture in which we are analysing the world around us in a very ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of way. We cannot do that with the book of Revelation. You have to read it more as a story with pictures where it is the pictures that mean something. John, the writer, is trying to describe the indescribable.

The passage is huge and the temptation, when writing this, was to try and describe everything and what it means, and it’s certainly worth having the passage open while I take us through this, explaining it as edited highlights.

John has been invited through a door into heaven so that he can see what is happening in heaven. It’s my belief that the vast majority of what follows in the entire book is describing what is happening right now. Very little of Revelation is about the future. Instead it is about the link between events on earth and events in heaven.

The first thing that John sees is quite simply God, except God is almost beyond description, so John uses precious stones which were quite possibly what we now call diamond and ruby. The rainbow might be indicating God’s covenant with us, although if you want to do a little creative thinking for yourselves, have a read about what I say concerning purity, white and rainbow colours in the monthly news.

So far, so predictable. But then we get the more peculiar images. Who is it that is seated on the twenty four thrones, and why twenty four? I’m not sure we can answer exactly who they are, but the reason for twenty four is probably that they represent the twelve tribes of Israel from the old Covenant plus the twelve disciples given the new Covenant in Christ.

In other words these twelve elders represent the entire worshipping community of all God’s people. Hold on to that because understanding that is key to everything I want to say. The twenty four represent the entire worshipping community of God’s people.

Don’t worry about the seven spirits of God too much. This is an early book that predates our better understanding of the Trinity, and John never uses the word Holy Spirit in this book. But seven spirits, or the Sevenfold Spirit of God, is meant to indicate completeness where seven is God’s number. Remember we’re thinking in images here, not seeing reality.

The Four living creatures, which clearly resemble Ezekiel’s vision, have aspects to them which indicate that they are angels who represent the very best of nature, again in worship before God. So we have twenty four elders, representing all of God’s people, and we have four living creatures representing all of nature, and what are they doing?

They are caught up in who God is. In the presence of God they have are drawn to bow down, and from within the depths of their being comes love and acknowledgement of who God is as they cry out
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.’

So this image is simply about the worship of heaven which is going on, right now as I stand here speaking. This is not a picture of what is to come. This is a picture of the present, of the representatives of all God’s people and of the whole created order bowing down in worship. So given that, what does it say to us? To explain that I need to tell you a story.

One of the best campsites I’ve ever been to is Big Sands just outside Gairloch, right up on the north west coast of Scotland. It has its own beach, and you camp behind the sand dunes. It’s so far north that when you stand on the beach you look down on to the north east coast of the Isle of Skye. And standing there, if you look to the right you can see the outer Hebrides, and if you look to the left you can see the Torridon mountain range.

When we go up there we usually go in May or June, and that means that the Sun begins to light up the land at about 4.00am and sets somewhere around 10.30pm, with about an hour or so of twilight, which means you have really long days. For Ali and I the advantage of that is that we can get into our usual holiday routine of going to bed late and getting up late, knowing that there’s plenty of daylight.

So it was, one late lazy afternoon, about 6.00pm, that we were sat on the beach in the sunshine and I looked across at the Torridon mountains in the distance and said to Ali, ‘Fancy a climb?’

And so we gathered up all of our gear and drove for forty five minutes to Ben Ai where there is a scramble/climb that is suitable for inexperienced but enthusiastic climbers. It doesn’t take you to the main peak, but to a high plateau. And so we began to climb. Half way up there was a huge roar and we looked down to see an RAF jet hurtling through the glen below us. Amazing!

But not as amazing as when we reached the top. I have never forgotten the view because it was breathtaking. In the late evening sunshine, as we reached the plateau, we saw the most beautiful sight of the holiday; one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, which has always remained with me. Surrounding us on every side, stretching out into the evening haze, was peak after peak.

It was as if we stood on the top of the world. The sense of elation filled me and was overwhelming. It was that kind of vista that leaves you with your mouth wide open like an idiot, incapable of saying anything except, ‘Wow... Wow...’

What was going on there? Why was it literally so breathtaking? It’s because of this; for a few brief moments something within me resonated with the beauty around me. The beauty was not within me, it was in what I perceived. The beauty was outside of me, but for a few brief moments I, a natural creature, resonated with the beauty of the natural world around me. The creature and creation were in harmony. That word, ‘resonance’ is the key to this whole thing.

Why? Because resonance is at the heart of worship. This passage tells us what was happening in Heaven. Of course it’s filled with metaphor, but it gives us a picture of worship in heaven that is going on the whole time. Right now as we are sitting here, worship like this is going on in heaven. So what, then, is worship here on earth? I believe it is this; it is when our spirits resonate with the worship of heaven, in much the same way as my self resonated with the beauty of the mountain peaks of Torridon.

Let me show you what I mean. I have here a guitar and a tuning fork. On its own the guitar is silent. But let me strike the tuning fork and hold it against the guitar, and what happens? The guitar resonates, not with its own frequency, but with the resonance set up within it from the tuning fork. That’s why I was caught up with the elation on the mountaintop; I resonated with nature’s beauty.

But more importantly, that’s what worship is on earth. All of our singing, all of our silences, all of our praying are to one end; that we would resonate with the worship of heaven, that the veil would be thinner and that we would draw closer to God, and that our spirits would resonate with the voices worshipping in heaven.

This worship that is described by John is worship that is taking place this very moment in heaven. So when we come together as a church it is to one end, to find that place where we can hear the worship of heaven so that we can resonate with it and add our earthly voices to what is going on.

For you members of the choir, this passage from Revelation begins to show just how much of a responsibility you carry amongst us. Music is such a huge part of worship, and I believe it was Augustine who said, ‘The one who sings prays twice’. In leading us in song, and in singing to us, you have a huge responsibility in terms of listening to the songs of heaven, and then resonating with them. Sometimes I think I ask a lot of you, and of Anne, but this is why.

Of course it is not just about the choir, or about the other musicians we have in church. As I speak here there is fun, laughter, story and music going on in Splash! And we will have prayers and silences in this service. They are all in different styles because we are all different people, but they are to one end, that we become caught up in the worship of heaven, resonating with that worship here on earth. They sing better than we do, but we can be caught up in and resonate.

Finally, what effect does this have in the real world? I think it is this: If in our worship we are learning to listen to heaven worshipping, and if we are beginning to resonate with that worship, then we will carry that life of heaven out through the doors of church when we leave. We will start to resonate with heaven here on earth.

We already have one foot in each camp, but we belong to the kingdom of heaven. We may live on earth, but we are part of God’s kingdom. By learning to listen, and learning to be caught up in the vision of God that those in heaven have continually before them, we will gradually begin to make a difference to the lives around us, simply because you cannot miss an earthly being who is resonating with heaven.

Remember some of those saints you have met in the past, whose lives were drenched in prayer and lived in the presence of God. Remember how they shone with the beauty of God. That’s because they resonated with the worship of heaven. They were caught up with it.

I feel this especially as a musician because of the effect that music has on me, in helping me to hear that other place where my heart really belongs, but it is not just in music. We have painters here whose brushes can resonate with heaven. We have coffee and tea makers here whose service can resonate with heaven. We have administrators, bankers and lovers, all of which activities can resonate with heaven.

If we become caught up in the worship of heaven, then everything we do will resonate with it. I take what we do in church very seriously indeed, and here’s why. The heart of who we are is found in worship, and worship is when we resonate with the worship of heaven, and if we do that here, then it will carry out into everything we do in the world. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! As a musician I entirely concurr. I especially like the quote from Augustine ‘The one who sings prays twice’. My songs often have double meanings...and one of those meanings is effectively prayer for those with ears to hear.