5/2/04 , E4C
of the Great Ordeal
ach of us can identify with the phrase in the sermon title, “Great Ordeal.” All of us have suffered. Of course some folks suffer greatly even over the small stuff; like another tiny ding in the car door. I have been a little bit that way about my own car doors, but I prayed about it and the Lord must have heard my cry, because I got a bigger ding on my car door and now I don't worry about the small ones. We are kind of hard wired this way. When we have heart trouble, or think we may have it, it's all consuming and we block other problems out. The greater ordeal, or fear of a greater affliction, makes the smaller stuff seem somehow manageable.
Often, it is not the problem that is our main problem, but it is the way in which we face the problem that is our problem.
Let us take C. S. Lewis' often repeated statement about adversity, “Pain is God's megaphone to get our attention,” and tweak it just a bit. We might say, “Ordeals can sometimes be used by God to enable us to see the big picture.”
Roy Campanella, the Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, was in a career ending automobile accident in 1958 that left him partially paralyzed. In his autobiography, It's Good to Be Alive , written in 1959, Campy talks about the many nights he cried himself to sleep, the pain that racked his body, his sinking into deep depression. He writes, "All my life whenever I was in trouble, I had turned to God for help. I remembered my Bible and asked the nurse to get it from the drawer in the night table. I opened it to the 23rd Psalm and read: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me...” "From that moment on, I was on my way back. I knew I was going to make it!" The beloved backbone of the Dodgers became an even greater role model during his thirty-five years of paralysis than he was during his ten-year baseball career. Today, the Roy and Roxy Campanella Physical Therapy Scholarship Foundation continues in his memory. He turned agony into victory!
Our dear emeritus professor of preaching at Emory's Candler School of Theology, Dr. Fred Craddock, shares this thought out of his long life of bane and blessing. “To be a Christian is to cease saying, ‘Where the Messiah is there is no misery, and to begin to say, ‘Where there is misery there is the Messiah.' The former statement makes no demands; the latter is an assignment. God promises to join us in our journey. Ours is to look for Him who bore our pain on the Cross, and he will help us survive.
It might help put pain in its proper perspective by realizing that out text is talking about the Apocalyptic, end of time. It's called, “The Great Ordeal,” (NRSV) or “The Great Tribulation,” in most other translations. The Revelation to the Apostle John is often hard to interpret. Some parts seem figurative and symbolic, and others parts seem to refer to events that are literally going to happen. This text seems to be clearly one that is meant to be a future reality. John is speaking about what the future holds for us.
“After this I saw a vast crowd, to great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a mighty shout, ‘Salvation comes from our God on the throne, and from the Lamb.” (v.9-10, NLT)
This is the crowd that we want to be with. This includes all of us who have overcome the ordeals of life, not so much through our own power and cunning, but through the Lamb, the Christ of Calvary, we have overcome the great tribulations of life. The Good News is that there will be millions of us from all nationalities and generations. All will revel in the joy of standing before the Lamb of God who has made it possible.
the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd.
Doesn't this vision of Glory make all of the trivial things of life seem small? Things that frighten us now, but that will seem less dangerous when we gather in Heaven with our family and friends in the great reunion.
Is not our gathering together with friends for the joy of worship and fellowship a glimpse of glory? Our family gatherings take on a heavenly caress when we feel eternity showing itself in our fellowship. Perhaps this is something, even a small shadow, of what it will be like then.
Marilyn and I will meet our wonderful daughters and their fine husbands next week at Turner Field for a Braves game. We always gather at the Sky Pavilion around the picnic tables and feast on pimento cheese sandwiches, chicken, chips and Cokes. Someday, when God begins to call us home we will recall these good times as a memory that points to our hope of gathering again in glory.
Through your generosity in our communion offering, I was able to take a check for one-thousand dollars to the bereaved family of eight year old Amy Yates who was murdered near our town last week. It was a tragic ordeal for them, and for all of Metro-Atlanta. Yet the family was bearing up because of one thing: They have the hope of seeing their precious child again. I wept with them. Could it be that one day God will really wipe every tear from our eyes and give us an understanding of how all things have worked together so that we will have no reason to weep? Yes, for God has made a way for us to arise victorious “Out of the Great Ordeal.”
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor