God’s Great Rescue Plan, Revelation 7:9-17, Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 12, 2019

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, this morning. On this Mother’s Day I can’t help but think all the kids in foster care that, for all practical purposes, have never know what it’s like to have a real mother. I think one aspect, of Ellen and I personally getting involved in foster care, and one thing I never expected, and the one thing that has been the most difficult for me is the number of tragic stories that these kids have had to endure.

Ellen and I are privileged to meet other foster parents who walk along side of some of these kids and hear their stories. We pray daily that God would raise up people throughout our city, state, and country in ministries for orphans and foster children, and that many of these ministries would, as part of their mission, become engaged with the child welfare system for the good of the children.

At the end of this month, the Mississippi Heart Gallery will set up a static display here at Good Shepherd featuring many of the children that are available for adoption in Mississippi. I don’t suspect many, if any, in our congregation will adopt a lot of these kids. However I do hope that many of you will join me in praying for these kids.

As many as half a million children are a part of the foster care system at any given time, with an average stay of two years. Most commonly, these children are placed in a non-relative home. Other times they will live in a relative’s home, a group home setting, or, rarely, supervised independent living. Although each situation is different, there are a few common reasons children enter the foster system. Child safety and welfare is always at the root.

Physical abuse is probably the first thing people think of when discussing foster care. Despite what many believe, it is not the most common reason children enter the foster system. Neglect is when a child goes without basic needs. This is the number one cause for the courts to remove the child from the home. Neglect includes leaving a child alone for an extended period, lack of food or clean living, or lack of necessary medical care. Neglect is the most common form of abuse.

What happens to a child who grows up with virtually no parenting, love, affection or human touch? Nearly everything we learn about being human, how to speak, how to walk, everything comes from the people who raise us.

In March 2008, a Honduran boy named Jason was rescued from a small, dark room where he was kept for years. At just 15 pounds, he was the size of an average 2 year old, but shockingly, he was 9 years old.

Yet these incidents also happen close to home. In 1997, Texas authorities discovered a 9-year-old girl living in squalor. Her name was Victoria, and she couldn’t speak or make eye contact. At the time, she hated wearing clothes and feared cars, doorways and toilets.

Victoria was taken in by a foster family, and since then, she’s learned to use the bathroom, dress herself and communicate using simple sign language.

While extreme cases of child neglect often are the ones that make headlines, Dr. Bruce Perry, a world-renowned child psychiatrist and author of the foremost books on extreme child abuse, says these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. “Most people don’t realize this, but there are twice as many neglected children in the United States as there are physically and sexually abused combined,” he says.

Dr. Perry says at least 500,000 children every year are neglected by their caregivers. “It’s like a silent epidemic,” he says. “From a functional perspective for the developing child, neglect is the absence of necessary stimulation required to build a certain part of the brain so it can function normally.”

When a child doesn’t get enough stimulation early in life, Dr. Perry says the brain may develop differently. “That changes all kinds of functions, including the ability to form and maintain relationships.” (Extreme Cases of Child Neglect – Danielle’s Story – Oprah.com)

Amidst all the other terrible things in the world, it’s enough to break your heart. All the pain, heartache and suffering in the world, just hurts my heart and frankly just exhausts me. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus and come quickly. But this is nothing new. People, Christians in particular, have been suffering for ages.

St. John writes the Book of Revelation to a people who were being put through a terrible experience, a real meat grinder. They were looking at the brutality of persecution and death. John, in a vision, goes to heaven and has a conversation with one of the 24 elders who are constantly worshiping near the throne of the Almighty. From that perspective he sees the whole world through new eyes. In the first part of the chapter he has seen the church militant, but here in this part of chapter seven we get a vision of the church at rest, the church triumphant.

For the people of John’s day, and for us, this is comfort. There is an end to suffering. Jesus wipes away every tear. That does something to my suffering. The terror of pain is often found in the fear that this will never end. John stands at the end and gives us a picture of it.

Many of us are aging to the point of being exhausted. We are all actively dying, and rest seems to be something we all long for. Dying is hard work. Suffering in this world is long and tedious.

Yet John paints a picture of the church at rest. God’s people join in a new song in which the whole creation sings in response to the Lamb who was slain. The whole brutal history of the world has unfolded with all the painful debris of sin. Before the end of the world, John wants us to see this picture, this image of what God has in mind for the people who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, who have been baptized.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (v15)

In the prior scene the enumeration of these people was at the edge, before the throne were the elders, the strange angels, the myriads of other angels, and the lampstands. But now, before the Lamb and the throne, lounging around the great crystal sea are these precious ones of God. They are always before Him. They are protected by His presence. No harm can befall them here.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. (16)

We live in South Mississippi, we know about scorching heat. The Mediterranean sun is brutal. For people who are being forced into refugee situations, perhaps by persecution in the ancient world, the sun would have been a real enemy. A home meant a place to get out of the sun and into the shade. There you would have had resources. A persecuted person would have been forced to leave all that.

The hunger and thirst as suffering might seem pretty self-evident, but imagine facing hunger and thirst. Not many of us do that or perhaps have ever done so, at least not real hunger or real thirst. The first pang of hunger, if we even get to that point, sends us to the refrigerator. We carry our water bottles around with us and drink whenever we want.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (17)

The image shifts here to a shepherd who leads the sheep to a spring of living water. It is the final image which makes this text so applicable to any time and place, and especially to our time and place. Jesus wipes away the tears. We all shed them. If you connected with people at all, you have cause to remember the tears, perhaps shed a few, and Jesus comes to wipe them all away. That’s Good news!

Our text this morning is beautiful in that it speaks of a place where God wipes the tears away, the green pastures and the still waters are ours. We will with a loud voice not cry out in fear but in praise. There will be a new normal in our lives. We are so used to the pain, we think it is normal, but it is not.

One day, there will no longer be a need for any foster and adoptive moms and dads. One day we will no longer suffer the pangs of old age. One day all of the folks who hear this sermon this morning will be at rest. They will be part of the great multitude. They will sing this song with a palm branches in hand and they will rejoice with a holy and beautiful joy.

We are partakers of this life; the Spirit of God has united us to them and to this Lamb who sits on the throne. He shepherds us now, guiding, healing, and eventually carrying our broken and dead selves to this scene where, raised to new life, we sing this song.

The good news is God has had this great rescue plan from the very beginning. The fact is the One who has gone to the grave ahead of us is brought us all to this place. He shepherds us there. He leads, He guides, and He brings us.

Jesus guidance in our life is not just sort of aimlessly walking along with us and befriending us in all the sorrow we endure. He actually is bringing us somewhere, and we will like that somewhere! He is not just being miserable with us; He is doing something about it, leading us to say, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (v12)