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Marks of Vitality: Spirit-Inspired Worship

Marks of Vitality   •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  19:42
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When God's people worship and praise with open hearts and joy, it is a taste of God's Reign among us on earth. We can embrace joy and wonder even as we face heartache and longing for redemption amidst disease, war, hunger, and pandemic.

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The River of Life

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Vital Congregations

Lifelong Discipleship. Authentic Evangelism. Outward Focus. Empowered Servant Leaders.

Spirit-Inspired Worship.

Does it seem odd to keep working through these signs of health for our congregation in the face of us being distant from each other because of a powerful virus sweeping through our community? Shouldn’t we be turning our focus to how God will deliver us from the plague, perhaps texts and teachings about the Israelites being set free from slavery or returning from exile? Don’t we need messages of hope that help us get through it?
Yes — and — when we recognize these marks of health, we begin to see that it is our health as a congregation, our vitality and vibrancy that allows us to journey through the difficult and make it out on the other side together.
And so we persist in studying these marks because they tell us something about how we can journey forward together. We ask questions about our own discipleship, evangelism, mission, leadership, and worship because we wish to hear God’s good word for us in these parts of our life together and wish to strengthen our resolve to keep the fire burning of God’s work in the world as we live out the life of faith.
I find this morning’s text so fitting for the current state of our world. Of course, through the power of God’s spirit, we have a text from the Revelation of John, the culminating passage of John’s apocalyptic vision, where all God’s people have gathered to rejoice in the City of God. This is the place of resolution, of the greatest hope. And it is a place that inspires us to worship and praise God in the hear and now, as well as long for what has not yet come to pass.

Prayer

Revelation Context

Before we unpack the good news of this text, it is generally important to give a bit of context, especially regarding a reading from the book of Revelation. Up front, I do not want us to get sucked into the easy line of thought that says we are living in the “end times” because our world is shifting and changing. Nor do I want to wear rosy-colored glasses and frame everything through this passage’s hopeful end. We must be wiser, more critical than this.
The Revelation of John was written while John was in exile, away from his community and people of faith, on the Island of Patmos. It is a book filled with rich imagery and many scholars have come to read it as a polemic and critique against the powers of empire. In the book, we have references to Babylon, a great enemy of God’s people for much of their story. But this is also a thinly-veiled reference to the powers of Imperial Roman — the great oppressor of the world when this book would have been written.
One really amazing and important way for us to consider how we read Revelation is this: How does the church persist and flourish and find the state of shalom, well-being, in the face of the empire? In the face of the oppressor? And not just the empire in the political sense…but the empires and powers of big business, corporate greed which subjugates the many for the sake of the few; the powers of pandemic and the feeble response of the empires of the world to care for the sick. How does the church worship in the face of these great evils?
While much of the book of Revelation can feel confusing, too saturated with imagery to make a lot of sense, when you step back and look at it as a whole, you see that it is a great, worshipful answer to these questions of what it means to live in the face of a world falling apart.
What does it look like to practice our faith in the face of a great shift? Seems like a very appropriate question, right?

Joyful Practice in the face of the apocalypse.

An ancient word for a great shift is apocalypse. One of the meanings for the word apocalypse is simply “unveiling”.
Apocalypse means unveiling, revealing — don’t be confused by the word or its “end of the world” connotations. If we pay attention, we are frequently given little apocalypses to open our eyes to a new way of being and to the ushering in of God’s Reign around us.
Haven’t we heard people talking in recent days about their hope that this global pandemic will be an opportunity to make a shift as a world? We’ve heard reports of increased air quality in cities, wildlife reappearing along shorelines, like the world is exhaling at this reprieve from the oppressive imperial powers of pollution and climate change. Is this not the hope of an unveiling, a revealing of another way forward?
I want to invite us into Joy and Worship in this season of unveiling. We’re experiencing it here, right now. 6 weeks ago, I would have laughed aloud at the thought that we would be so swiftly up and running with live and recorded services over the internet for our church. I would have not believed how many of us would be gathering like this — a good portion of our congregation and more each week! It would have seemed impossible, or at least impractical.
But that is what apocalyptic moments do to us — they show us an opportunity to shift and reimagine our life together.
Now, obviously, this new normal is not easy. I know many of you are itching with anxiety at the many more weeks we may need to spend in isolation. Especially for the social people among us, this is an incredibly difficult time — we want to BE together. We want to shake hands and hug and laugh in realtime, not over a tinny computer speaker.
But for now, as we look at vitality, we have to at least consider this — are we not persisting and worshipping and growing together in the face of some very difficult circumstances? And is something new rising from amongst us?

The River of Life

Back to this morning’s text: Let’s look at what is happening at the River of God, which the angel reveals to John at the closing of his apocalyptic vision.
The River flows with life (remember that living water Jesus offered the Samaritan woman a few weeks back, which would open wide the Reign of God to Gentiles and all people — this is THAT water!) The River flows with life out from God’s throne in the center of the city of God. And beside the River grows the Tree of Life life, which sprouts forth 12 kinds of fruit that produces all year round and the leaves of the tree heal the nations. Out of God’s throne come the fullness of God’s people (12 tribes, the church, the fullness of God’s people realized) and they produce good fruit, life giving sustenance for ALL people (the nations).
All people worship God here (because…how could you not)! And no longer is there the division of light and dark — all is illuminated by the Light of God.
These are trustworthy images, says the angel — trust in this picture. And we long for all of this to be.
What a beautiful picture of what can only be described as Shalom - the Hebrew word for the state of peace and well-being. Perfect Shalom. What we long for.
People who proclaim God’s goodness in the face of an apocalypse do it with this Shalom in mind. What else could produce such vitality, vibrancy, aliveness, awakeness other than this Shalom.
Worship is a picture of God’s Reign — the people gathered together from all the nations, for healing and joyful light. The people of God, gathered in worship, produce fruit and leaves from their trees which are meant for the healing of all the nations.

Spirit-Inspired Worship, Joyful Practice — Unto this Shalom

This is the “end” of our worship. This is why we worship God — to proclaim the hope of this picture of Perfect Shalom. The Spirit of God moves in us and inspires us to respond in praise together through this longing for Shalom, the longing for what is being unveiled and revealed in the gathering of God’s people.
Let me leave you with a few concrete things today.
First, the Church is a people group who has to always wrestle with what is already happening amongst us, but is not yet fully realized. And so we worship together in the Spirit of God, in our gatherings, over the internet or in person, and we worship trusting that what we do is not the fully realized version of what will be. And yet, we do it anyways, because we believe that in worshipping together, in singing and fellowshipping and forgiving and healing each other, we are pointing to what will one day be fully realized. Shalom.
Second, I want you to scan through the lists of comments and people you see in your online forums right now. God has called each of us together from the corners of our town, the study nooks in our homes, through screens and phones, to worship. We feel lament in what this gathering is NOT — it is not the personal, intimate, close connection we feel when we gather at church. It is not the sound of laughter and song that we normally experience. And in this, I want to ask you to feel that lament as a taste of the longing for Shalom. We know what we long for, deep in us. Experience that now, not as a way deeper into depression and isolation, but as your heart’s longing for what the fullness of God’s Reign on earth actually looks like — many people, gathered together, praising God, being healed. We taste that here, now. And we long for the more.
Finally, I hope you are seeing vitality in this act of resistance we are engaging in right now. Gathering in our own way, in the face of pandemic, in protest of the evils of the empire, in active response to a world on the brink — we are proclaiming the hope of Shalom by our gathering. So let’s keep doing it. Let’s keep with each other. Let’s keep rising up against all that would hold us back from connecting. Let’s be creative and imaginative about the way this unveiling is offering us a chance to see the world with new eyes.
And may we continue to long for Christ’s coming amongst us…Lord, come quickly to our aid.
Amen.
Let’s pray.
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