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Psalm 24   Of David. A Psalm.

1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
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“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations;  8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”Isaiah 25:6-9 

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“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;  4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 21:1-6 

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In our readings for today, Psalm 24 talks about God as the King of Glory, and it talks about the people who will ascend with God to the holy place. Isaiah talks about a mountain also, where the Lord of Hosts will make a feast for his people of rich food and well-aged wine, in a place where death is a thing of the past. And the author of Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth where death and tears and pain are no more.

Holy Mountain

It is appropriate and fitting for Scriptures like these to be read on All Saints Day, as we remember our loved ones who have passed this past year.

This year has been a very hard year. It’s been hard because we have lost so many, and it’s been hard because many of us haven’t been able to be with our loved ones as much as we would have liked. For those who have lost loved ones, there is nothing that can be said to ease the pain of loss. But it does matter to know that friends are close, standing in sympathy today.

At times of grief we may feel a confusing jumble of emotions, from sorrow to anger to longing to questioning to doubt to hope. And some days we may feel nothing at all, which can be even more upsetting. We may wish we could have just one more conversation with our loved one. We may have questions for God.

And then when the loss is no longer quite so immediate, it’s not unusual to find ourselves asking questions like: Do I really believe in life after death? What will heaven be like? How can I be sure we’ll get there? How can bodies that have died be reassembled? Will we really see our loved ones again? Will we see our pets again? What will it be like to meet God face to face? Will God really be able to forgive everything I’ve ever done wrong?

If Scripture teaches us anything, it’s that in order to live – or die – with confidence, we need to keep our eyes on God. God is the one who knows the way. God is the one with the power over and sin and death. God holds the key and knows the answers. And God loves us.

I don’t want to sugar-coat things. Life is tough. Death is tougher. It is hard to face mortality. It’s hard to keep on keeping on in a world where someone we love is missing and isn’t coming back.

For those of us who love Jesus, we believe that death is like a doorway: a portal we pass through. Or we may think of death as people did long ago, like a river that needs to be crossed – a river that’s so wide and so cold that we need help to get across it. We may remember the words of the old song:

Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin’ for to carry me home…

 I look over Jordan and what do I see? …
A band of angels comin’ after me…
Comin’ for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot…

Or maybe this song:

Michael, row the boat ashore…
River Jordan is deep and wide – alleluia
Milk and honey on the other side – alleluia
River Jordan is chilly and cold – alleluia
Chills the body but not the soul – alleluia
Michael, row the boat ashore – alleluia!

I like the analogy of the river. It’s like a river of time that sweeps everything away. Cold waters indeed. We don’t dare try to swim them because we don’t have the strength. We need a vessel, or an angel, or something, to guide us.

For those of us who love Jesus, we have promises from God that this life is not all there is. That we have a forever home and a future.

Our psalm today says: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…” (Psalm 24:1) And the psalmist goes on to say:

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?  4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.

What God requires is easy to understand but very difficult to do. How do we know if we’ve done enough? If we’ve been holy enough? Or if we have missed a few marks, how do we know if we’ve confessed enough?

This was the dilemma Martin Luther got himself caught on when he was a monk back in the 1600s. He was trying to say enough prayers and do enough penance to satisfy a perfect God – and he realized what he was trying to do was impossible. No level of perfection, no amount of indulgences, no amount of praying, would be able to assure him of a place in God’s heaven. And then he tripped over Romans 1:17 that speaks of “… a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”” Salvation by faith alone – God accepting us if we will only trust – believing in a God who can and does forgive – this became the foundational teaching of all the Protestant churches.

So it’s not about what we do or how much we do. Anything we do that is good, we do out of love and thanksgiving to God. What saves us is that Jesus has already done all that is necessary.

The reading in Isaiah echoes and confirms this thought: “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (ital. mine) (Isaiah 25:9)

The salvation God provides is the foundation for our hope.

And with that foundation in place, we turn to our reading from Revelation. Revelation is a book that is rarely preached and often misinterpreted. Revelation is not a game plan or a strategy or a playbook for the end times. I know people who have spent hours trying to figure out which nations and which world leaders are being hinted at in Revelation. I’ve known people who have spent hours looking at Revelation as if it’s a timeline: “1000 years till this happens, and 500 years till that happens…”

Revelation

“Misunderstood Revelation is really a story of hope.” — the Catholic Register

Revelation isn’t meant to be read this way. Revelation was written for the believers in the early church as an encouragement. The early church, after the initial explosion of people coming to faith by the thousands, went through some very difficult times. In the year 70AD the political leaders of Jerusalem rebelled against Rome and Jerusalem was crushed – burned to the ground. So the center of the Christian faith – the believers in and around Jerusalem – were scattered throughout the Roman empire: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. As they were scattered, they started to face persecution – partly because they were foreigners and refugees, and partly because they preached a religion that did not acknowledge the deity of Caesar. Caesar thought he was a god. Caesar thought he was the ‘king of kings’ – but Christians knew better. And they were persecuted for saying so.

So Revelation was written to comfort and encourage people who were suffering great losses. Which makes it appropriate for us, especially on All Saints Sunday, and especially during this time of social and economic and political upheaval. These words are for us.

God tells us in Revelation there will be a new heaven and a new earth, that the old heaven and the old earth will pass away. Does this mean that all of our efforts at conservation and mitigating climate change are in vain? NO. This creation, this earth we live in, was given to human beings by God, and we were commanded to take care of it – and that is still our job.

But Revelation is talking about something different. The writer says in verse one “and the sea was no more”. In Bible times the Sea was a metaphor for whatever brings evil into the world. The sea is where storms come from, and there were mysterious creatures in the deep, and it was a place where ships sank and people died… it was a dangerous place to be. It was a metaphor for tragedy. So Revelation is saying that the powers of evil and all of the hardships in this world will be done away with. The earth will be remade in such a way that the effects of sin and death will be gone.

And then we see the New Jerusalem, the holy city, coming out of heaven ‘prepared as a bride’. This echoes back to Psalm 45 which we read earlier this year, which was written for the wedding of Solomon but also foretells the wedding of the Messiah – the heavenly wedding we now see in Revelation.

And the groom, God, loves us. In verse three, where it talks about God ‘dwelling’ with us, the Greek actually says he ‘pitches his tent with us’ (and as I read this, I’m imagining the kind of tents they had in the Harry Potter movies, the ones that grow to fit all the people, and have all the modern conveniences). God will be with us, living with us. God will wipe away every tear from every eye. God will make us whole. God will make us holy – because God is able to do so. And death will be a thing of the past. Pain and grief will never come again, because “the first things have passed away”.

No Death

This world we live in now belongs to the ‘first things’. The life we know, the grief we experience, the fears we know, the insecurities we know – these all belong to the ‘first things’. And the first things are passing away. In this life we still deal with all these things. But Revelation means suffering is a temporary thing, so we don’t have to compromise with the wrongs of this world just to try to make life a little easier.

A new world is coming. God says, “I am making all things new.”

And then he says “It is done!”

At the crucifixion, we heard Jesus say “it is finished” but this is not the same thing. The Cross was about salvation. The word Jesus cried out then – tetelstai – basically means ‘paid in full’.

Here in Revelation the Greek word translates into ‘it is created’ or ‘it is made’. The creation is complete. Something totally new is here: “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

When the new things come, what was in the past will pass away. It’s difficult for us to try to imagine something we’ve never seen before, because this life is all we know.  But maybe this will help make some sense: I think it might be similar to being born. When our mothers were pregnant with us, if we had been able to verbalize our experience in the womb, we might have said: “this is a nice place. It’s always warm, and I feel safe, and I have as much to eat as I want, and I can hear pleasant sounds around me. I think I’ll stay.”

But at the end of nine months, ‘staying’ is no longer an option. We are born into a world we had no idea existed – something we could never have imagined – and yet it’s the same world we were always in. We just didn’t know it. We couldn’t perceive it from inside the womb. When we passed through the portal, all of a sudden we could see what we couldn’t see before, and the womb became a thing of the past, at least as far as we were concerned. We all know where we came from, but in terms of everyday life our prior existence in the womb is gone and forgotten.

I think entering God’s kingdom will be something like that. It’s not that we’re going to leave earth and go somewhere else. Scripture says “in Him (in God) we live and move and have our being.” So God’s world is with us already – surrounding us, nurturing us, womb-like. But we can’t fully perceive it yet. There are realities – spiritual realities, physical realities, God-realities – all around us that we can’t see just yet. When we pass through death’s portal we will be able to see and know God’s world, where death and sorrow and tears don’t happen any more. The reality we knew – what we know now – will be completely a thing of the past, like a womb that we no longer live in.

And somehow we will know – or God will point out to us – our loved ones: our ancestors, our ‘tribe’, who have been waiting for us.  We will be home in every sense of the word.

It really is beyond our imagining. But God promises it will be good, and safe, and free of danger, and free of sin, and free of tears. We will enjoy God. And God will enjoy our enjoyment and be pleased with our pleasure.

So we call to mind all these promises of God as we remember our loved ones today. And let us also share these promises and this hope with others as God gives us opportunity.

May God bless to us and to others a deep and lasting knowledge of God’s word and God’s promises. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, November 7, 2021

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Psalm 45
<To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.>
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your glory and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right;
let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.
Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;
forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
13 with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber
with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king;
behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons;
you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

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As it works out, the last Psalm in our summer series, Psalm 45, is one of my all-time favorites. It gives us such a beautiful picture of Jesus and such an amazing vision of the Kingdom of God – and what the future will hold for those of us who love and follow Jesus. And especially for anyone who may be feeling down or discouraged today, this song’s for you.

Psalm 45 has been set to music many times. Verse 8 inspired the hymn Ivory Palaces, and the whole psalm has been set to music by Graham Kendrick, who’s probably best known for Shine Jesus Shine. Kendrick’s version of Psalm 45 was sung by my choir as I came down the aisle to marry my husband Neil, so this psalm has a very special place in my heart.

(lyrics for the above song)

All The Glory

My heart is full of admiration
For you, my Lord, my God and King
Your excellence, my inspiration
Your words of grace have made my spirit sing.

All the glory, honour and power
Belong to you, belong to you.
Jesus, saviour, anointed one,
I worship you, I worship you.

You love what’s right and hate what’s evil
Therefore your God sets you on high.
And on your head pours oil of gladness
While fragrance fills your royal palaces

Your throne, O God, will last forever
Justice will be your royal decree
In majesty, ride out victorious
For righteousness, truth and humility.

Graham Kendrick, Copyright © 1991 Graham Kendrick, http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk

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Starting out with the notations at the top of the Psalm: To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song. “To the leader” means for the music director; “the Lilies” would have been a melody or a tune; “the Korahites” were the songwriters. They were descendants of Moses’ cousin Korah, and they worked as temple musicians. A “maskil” is a type of composition; and then it says “a love song” – or in some versions of the Bible it says “a wedding song”, which is actually more accurate.

Psalm 45 was originally written for a royal wedding that took place in the temple in Jerusalem around 3000 years ago. We don’t know for certain exactly whose wedding it was; but some scholars guess it was King Solomon’s wedding to Pharaoh’s daughter, the Princess of Egypt. Whether that’s accurate or not, I think it’s helpful to think of it that way, because this wedding would have brought together two very important families, and it would have been a lavish royal wedding.

We Americans don’t have a lot of experience with royalty, except for occasionally when one of the British royal family gets married, and even then not everybody gets into that… but you gotta admit ‘nobody does it better’. I’ve never lucky enough to be invited to one of the royal weddings (tho I still want to know where they get those hats).

But I got a small taste of British royalty a number of years ago when I was overseas. I had taken a week-long class up at Oxford and was coming back into London on a Saturday morning. I caught a taxi at the train station and immediately we found we were in a massive traffic jam. I looked at the cabbie and asked, “what’s going on?” and he said, “it’s the Queen’s birthday.”

Really?  “I thought her birthday was in April?” I asked. He answered: “That’s her real birthday. This is her official birthday. She’ll be attending a special church service about a mile from the palace and if you hurry to Pall Mall you might catch a glimpse of the carriage.”

Really?!?!  When he got me to my hotel I threw my bags in the lobby, dashed out the door, and following his directions quickly found Pall Mall. Dashing up to the street, I found about a half-dozen rows of British citizens waving flags; and beyond them, on the street facing us, a row of soldiers in red uniforms and those tall black fuzzy hats sitting on huge black horses, with long swords attached to their hips. And they did not look amused. (I tell ya, these guys can be scarier than Secret Service.)

So I struck up a conversation with the people near me and gathered I hadn’t missed anything yet, and one couple kindly invited me to sit down on the pavement and join their family in a picnic lunch, which was lovely.

About a half-hour later we saw some motion down the street to the left, and along came more soldiers on black horses moving in absolute precision.

PhotosThru080513 641

And then a marching band – all playing from memory, absolutely flawlessly. And then a carriage: Prince William and Kate! And then more horses. And then another carriage: Prince Harry (he hadn’t married yet at that point) and Prince Charles and Camilla. And then more horses, and then men on horses with trumpets, all in perfect precision, and then a massive gold-trimmed carriage with the Queen and Prince Philip inside, waving. And more horses. And then they were gone.

And I said, “well now, that’s something you don’t see every day.”

And my friends with the sandwiches said, “sit down, join us.” And I looked at them kind of quizzically and they said, “Well the royal family do have to come home, you know.”

Good point. So we sat down again for a little over an hour, and the procession came back, every bit as perfect as the first time.

PhotosThru080513 712

And then something unexpected happened. You and I have seen these processions on TV before, but I’ve never seen what happens afterwards. After the royal company had passed by, the soldiers that had been lining the street watching us from horseback turned and make this beautiful pivot into the street (around every 200 feet or so) and started moving toward Buckingham Palace, and the crowd filed in behind them.

And all of a sudden we were part of the procession!  We were part of the celebration! And we walked down the street, following those horses, all the way to Buckingham Palace. And when we got there we sang “God Save the Queen” while she waved from the balcony. And that was it.

All of this by way of describing something of what it’s like to step inside Psalm 45 and live it.

Because this is us. This Psalm has a dual meaning, and this comes from Jewish scholars as well as Christian theologians:

The first meaning of the psalm is the royal wedding that happened in ancient Jerusalem.

The second meaning is a prophecy of the Messiah with God’s faithful people.

The Christian faith teaches that this king is Jesus, and Psalm 45 is a vision and a prophecy of the future. On that day we will be there. Not just faces in the crowd but taking part in the events of the day!

There are scriptures all through the Old and New Testaments that tie into Psalm 45 and add depth and detail to its meaning, so I’d like to take this psalm line by line and invite you to join me in this royal procession …

Verse one: the heart of the songwriter is full to overflowing, both at the joy of the occasion, and at the worthiness and beauty of the King. The writer describes Jesus as handsome, full of grace, and blessed by God.

This stands in contrast to Jesus’ life here on Earth 2000 years ago. Back then he was, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “despised and rejected… a man of suffering and acquainted with… grief.” (Is 53:3) Jesus has entered into our pain and our suffering in every way. And now, at last, God is restoring all things. The injustices Jesus suffered are being set right – and here he stands, the king, in all his majesty.

In verse two the writer says of the king, “grace is poured upon your lips.” Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was here on earth, people used to remark about how full of grace his speech was. Luke tells us: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Lk 4:22)  The King’s majesty and blessing does not have its roots in conquest or in force, but in truth, humility, and righteousness.[1]

The songwriter then says: “put on your sword, mighty one, in glory and majesty.”  This is not a prayer for war. It’s more like the swords those British horsemen carried: they never came out of the scabbards. They didn’t need to. And the Bible adds one other interpretation: Scripture speaks of “the sword of the Lord” as “the word of God”, and the songwriter is praying on behalf of us all that “that all the nations on earth would come under the command of the justice, peace, and love of Jesus.”[2]

The songwriter continues: “In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right.”  Isn’t this what we pray for: that lies would be silenced, that misinformation would be done away with, that injustice would be defeated? Here, today, in this psalm, God answers our prayers with a resounding “YES”!!

And yet the next verse and a half sound almost violent. Will Jesus really kill his enemies? John Wesley gives us an explanation that is as British as it is accurate: “[both the] arrows [and] the sword, are none other than [Jesus’] word, which is sharp and powerful, and pierces [human] hearts.” The people fall, Wesley says, in the same way that a conquered people might fall to their knees in front of a king to ask for mercy.[3]

If there are any who perish, it’s because they reject God and in doing so reject life. There are those who (as Dante put it) would rather “rule in hell than serve in heaven”; but the choice is theirs. God will not force anyone who hates Him to be with Him.

In verse six the songwriter continues: “Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.” Every Sunday we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – and at last this prayer is answered YES!!

By the way this passage is quoted in the New Testament book of Hebrews, where the writer makes the connection between this prophecy and Jesus. Hebrews 1:7-9 says:

Hebrews 1:7-9   7 Of the angels [God] says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”  8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.  9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

Then in verse seven the scene changes: and we are in the royal palace. The battles are over, God’s word has won the day… AND won the hearts of the King’s subjects. The songwriter can hardly find the words to express his joy. The king has been perfumed (and he smells good), and the royal palace is gorgeous, and there stringed instruments scattered throughout the palace playing beautiful music, and the ladies in waiting are princesses from various nations.

And then the scene shifts again to the wedding day. The bride – the queen – is robed in golden robes. And the songwriter turns and speaks to her. He says:

“Hear, O daughter; forget your people and your father’s house; the king desires your beauty.”

The bride in this psalm is a union of God’s faithful people throughout the centuries – all of us, together – and the king finds us beautiful: in part because his mercy has made us that way. Charles Simeon, a friend of John Wesley’s, said that: [God’s people have] “by adoption, by regeneration, and especially by [our] union with the Lord Jesus Christ, become the “daughter of Almighty God”… [and we are] addressed by him under that affectionate name.” “The direction is given to every individual [among God’s people]… to give up all earthly attachments… and unite ourselves to Christ. “The interests of the world, and of Christ, are altogether opposite” – and the world must be left behind. Simeon warns: “Remember Lot’s wife” and don’t look back.[4]

Jesus, the King, is delighted with us: because we have been changed “from glory to glory” by the Spirit of the Lord.

Royal wedding

I mean, really, how on earth can one draw this scene? But all the people becoming the Bride… that’s the idea.

So the bride (that is, us) has been decked out in gold and multicolored robes with the richest of jewels. The apostle Paul says: “having put on Christ (Rom 8:14)” “she walks as he walked.” (I John 2:6)  John Wesley says the “people of Tyre” represent the Gentiles, who are also included. And the apostle John says, “blessed are they who are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:6-9)

The songwriter adds a mysterious postscript in verse 16, and I’m not going to speculate on the details, but his words promise a glorious eternity ahead.

So as we struggle through these dark days, let this prophecy and this vision lift our spirits and remind us of who we are and whose we are.

This will be our royal wedding song in the Kingdom of God. AMEN.

Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church and Spencer United Methodist Church, 8/29/21

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[1] David Guzik commentary

[2] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible

[3] John Wesley, Commentary

[4] Charles Simeon, Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible

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