First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
November 5, 2017 – All Saints Sunday
Scripture: Revelation 7:9-12
Sermon: “Symphony of Saints”
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Yes—the exciting book of Revelation! In the Bible, the Book of Revelation evokes many emotions. Referred to as apocalyptic literature—a story that interprets events here on earth in the present, thinking about the future, from a Divine perspective. In other words, if we think of the Bible as a Divine Library, then Revelation would be in the science fiction section. Just like great science fiction stories such as Star Wars or The Matrix, the book of Revelation merges two worlds together—the world we live in, and the Kingdom of God.
The book of Revelation was written to evoke hope and inspiration through an imaginative experience using symbols that people living in the first century would understand. In the first century, Christians living in the Roman Empire were being persecuted. They were dealing with life and death decisions every day. As distinguished teacher of homiletics, Thomas Long notes, apocalyptic literature speaks to times of ultimate despair, “When the police dogs are being released toward the marchers on the bridge into Selma, when the knock of the secret police is heard at the door and the church is hiding an attic full of Jews, when the diagnosis is melanoma and there is nothing more that the physicians can do.”
This past year, many here lost loved ones—and maybe lost isn’t the best term. We just do not see them in the flesh anymore. We still carry the memories. I am reminded of a quote by Khalil Gibran: “In the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.”
A memory I carry with me about my mom, who died in February, reminds me of how music speaks to our soul. When I was about five or six, she took me to a performance of Peter and the Wolf. Written by Sergei Prokofiev, the concept of telling a story through music reminds me of apocalyptic literature. The use of symbols and music can speak to us as we think about the world we live in and the world that follows this life. I invite you to enjoy the music of the seven characters:
The story of Peter and the Wolf is not very complicated. A six-year-old boy, Peter, (depicted by strings) hears that the hunters (timpani drums) are trying to catch a wolf (french horn). But they are unable to. Peter decides he needs to catch the wolf, and out he goes. Peter’s grandfather (bassoon) becomes upset with Peter since young boys should not go out alone hunting wolves, and orders Peter to his room. His grandfather falls asleep, and Peter sneaks back outside. He encounters a duck (oboe), a bird (flute), and a cat (clarinet). The cat tries to catch the bird. And that is when the wolf arrives on the scene. The wolf gulps down the duck and then threatens the bird and cat. Determined to catch the wolf, Peter climbs up a tree and with the help of the bird, snags the wolf with a rope. When the hunters arrive on the scene, anxious to kill the wolf, Peter urges them to instead take the wolf to the zoo. As they all head off in happy procession, the duck can be heard quacking inside the wolf’s stomach, “for, in his hurry, the wolf had swallowed her whole.” The End.
Music evokes emotions and captures the essence of humanity—music can define a character. In our reading from the book of Revelation, we hear about people dressed in robes who are in a similar state as the swallowed-whole-by-the-wolf-duck—alive but not seen. People who no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, the symbol for Jesus. What do these people in heaven have that we don’t? No barriers. No division. Unity. This passage challenges our addiction to division. The real question is… if not in heaven, then why not here? Maybe when we are closer to God, we get closer to one another. In Heaven there is no wall, no flags, no borders, no nationalism. No more using the name of God to justify hatred.
When you hear the word saint—maybe you think about Mother Teresa, or a loved one, or Saint Francis. But today I want you to think about the possibility of saints being those who have helped make this church. Those who have died, and those who here right now. I am talking about you.
I think a saint is someone who manages to live in two worlds, who hears the voice of God in who they were created to be.
If music depicted the character of a saint, what would it sound like? Seven characteristics I think saints have, and the music that accompanies….
1. Saints grasp a large observation of God, free from the addiction of division, and soar with wings of love and are free to explore the journey of life without the constraints of culture or human constructs. (Bird-Flute music)
2. Saints dedicate themselves to making other people’s lives better off… even if it results in their life being worse off. (Duck-Oboe)
3. Saints are those who struggle and suffer, for suffering is necessary to teach us how to love and care for one another. (Wolf-French Horns)
4. Saints don’t go around speaking about God, but by loving other people. They are relational. (Peter-strings)
5. Saints are the most unlikely candidates. Think about the unruly child whom we subconsciously are thankful they are not our kid. And yet, think about the saints of the church. Who were they as kids? Think of the children in our congregation today…One day will they be honored as saints of the church? (Cat-clarinet).
6. 6. Saints are not afraid of being vulnerable, for inside they are comfortable with who they are in order to care for others. Even if they have nothing, saints find someone needier for whom to care. (Grandfather-bassoon)
7. Saints grow our faith, wake us up, deepen our hope, strengthen our love and hope in what should be rather than what hope is. (Hunters—drums)
The church is the ongoing story of saints who are baptized, who take Communion, who go on to another world we do not see. Look at your insert, at the faces of First United Methodist Church saints. I asked many of you who knew them this side of death about them and there was a common theme—the closing character aspect of a saint:
Saints believe in community and in a future they will not participate. And so today we honor our church saints with another instrument, the Zimbelstern.
Music helps us to break free from our vision and see the promise of what is yet to come, for beyond death there is more. But we live here. So what do we do? Hopefully, when we encounter struggle in our lives, we see the possibilities in our own lives and the call to living as a saint. In the words of the poet Mary Oliver:
Tell me what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me what is it you plan to do?
With your one wild and precious life?
Music bridges the two worlds in which we live and connects us to God in ways words cannot capture. Each of you lives to a melody, and when we come together we become a symphony of saints.