Sermon preached on Revelation 4: 6b-11
By Dr. Susan K. Hedahl
Gettysburg, PA. April 15, 2011
On reading this text from the Book of Revelation, I have to be honest with you. The first thing that came to my mind was the cantina or bar scene in the Star Wars IV movie. Brief as that scene is, the camera eye pans over those present and every odd, strange and unique entity in the universe seems to be there (with the exception of droids who are not allowed in ). Today’s text is the same. One could well expect to meet in the Star Wars’ cantina the four creatures this text brings before us.
As those of you in preaching classes know, the first step in sermon preparation is to develop a Focus statement. So - what focus statement might one craft if the text deals primarily with creatures having different types of heads and multiple eyes inside and outside their bodies? This Revelation text has indeed invited us in to view its own particular cantina’s occupants.
What exactly are these creatures and what do they do that we should consider them? Mark Allen Powell’s Introduction to the New Testament identifies this text as situated within the larger apocalyptic text of the Book of Revelation; one feature of this kind of literature is that it emphasizes worship. And that is what we have here; creatures whose primary activity is that of singing praise to God, fixing on God their unlimited numbers of eyes, vigilant, all-seeing. This text hums with their wild energy and praise. It is what they are made for these creatures – to do nothing but look at God and happily worship.
What is it with these creatures? If you are taking the Ezekiel class, you will recognize in John’s imagery, the imagery of Ezekiel. You will also recognize the apocalyptic tradition found in I and 2 Enoch. There have been many attempts to define what these four creatures symbolize. Some have speculated that these are perhaps signs of the zodiac. One explanation of the four creatures comes from ancient document MIDRACH SHEMOTH,which says “Humanity is exalted of all the creatures, the eagle among the birds, the ox among domestic animals, the lion among wild beats, all of them have received dominion.” Other claims that these four creatures are the four angels responsible for directing the physical world and thus symbolize the entire created cosmos.
Whatever definition pleases us the most, the noteworthy part of these creatures is mentioned twice in vv. 6 and 8; they are full of eyes all aroundand inside. What is it with these eyes? One might say in true business meeting fashion, as far as this passage goes – the eyes have it. It would seem one thing this text intends in terms of describing the eyes is that these creatures’ eyes are totally and continually focused on God. This focus leads to a singular outcome and that is praise, which John tells us they do “Day and night without ceasing…” Indeed when they praise God, the representives of the holy groups of Israel and the church, so-called 24-elders are prompted to also worship. This passage contains both cries of worship; the creatures praise God in the liturgically familiar three-fold holy, holy, holy, what we call the Trisagion, and the responses of the elders echoes back.
But here is the most critically question of all: Why this text just two days before Passion Sunday?
I would say that this text forces us to ask on whom we are focused? Who do we praise? This text also serves as a paradoxical lens. Before this appealing and lovely final version of the heavenly worship of God; the king enthroned, we must first see other signs and sights of royalty – ones which are painful, confusing, frightening.
Our eyes are drawn towards Jerusalem. There we witness crowd hailing a king; a king on a donkey entering Jerusalem; beyond that we see the mocking purple robe and staff and the soldiers laughingly saying – Hail, King of the Jews! We witness a Roman governor asking that a sign be written – This is the king of the Jews. The language of royalty is everywhere. Can we make the connections between this passage and what lies ahead in Holy Week?
We return to the creatures of this text who point to an appropriate response from us: there is only one vision that this passage offers us. It is the call to ceaseless worship, to look on the one who has created and redeemed and sustains and inspires everything. The call of this passage is not to repentance, it is not to petition for daily goods and needs, it is not over issues of spiritual struggle; it is only one thing – an invitation to praise God - and like the creatures symbolically described in this text, we are to be all eyes, focused on God.
As those ever watchful creatures, let us keep the eyes of our hearts open, for then we will see something else, the throne of God intersected by the Cross. And in seeing that, we know that like those creatures offering perpetual praise and adoration we, too, are invited to an eternity of praise to the one who suffered and saved us for a life of eternal praise and joy before God.
Posted: 4/18/2011 8:00:55 PM
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Sermons, devotional thoughts, and poetic and prosaic offerings heard and offered up in the Seminary Chapel life including some offered off campus by seminary voices.
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