24th Sunday After Trinity
November 15th/16th, 2015
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
There are certain sections of Scripture that can be confusing to read, none more so than the book of Revelation. Dragon, beasts covered in eyes, bowls of God’s wrath, symbolic trumpet blasts, and the rest of the imagery found within the book can be overwhelming and intimidating. But there is an incredible scene described near the beginning of the book, a scene I’d like to try to paint for you today. John was given a glimpse into the drama of heaven, allowed to see an event of cosmic significance that had taken place before the throne of God. Yes, there’s some confusing language about the 24 elders and an emerald rainbow and 4 living creatures covered with eyes and wings. But the drama, the plot, of what happens is what is so beautiful. You see, John is allowed to see into the heavenly throne room, and when he looks in he sees God on his throne holding a scroll, a parchment of paper. The scroll is sealed, unable to be opened. Now, we know that Revelation is a highly symbolic book, and in this particular case the scroll is the story of salvation. You might say that if the scroll were to be opened, on it would be a single word: forgiven. Or maybe: reconciled.
The point is, the scroll needs to be opened for the forgiveness or reconciliation to be released. It’s like a group of treasure hunters who have finally found the location of the treasure, but they can’t open the door to the treasure room. They need someone to crack the code, to figure out where to put the key, to open the safe so that the vastness of the treasure may be revealed. But who will open the door? Imagine the frustration and disappointment of being so close to your treasure, but having no one who could open the door. That is what is described in this scene from the book of Revelation: no one in heaven is able to open the scroll. No one is worthy. God wants to be reconciled to his people, but no one is able to make that happen, not the 24 elders, not the eye-covered creatures, not the angels around his throne.
Except just at that moment where John is crying out in disappointment, his angelic tour guide tells him to dry his tears. “Behold,” he says, “here comes the one who can open the scroll!” And John raises his eyes and sees on the throne the Lamb who had been slain, still bearing in his body the marks of sacrifice. When the bloody Lamb walks over and takes the scroll and opens it for all to see, releasing the treasure of reconciliation, heaven cannot contain its joy. The whole company breaks forth into song: “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain! By his blood he ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and made them into a kingdom for God!” The death and resurrection of Jesus made him and him alone worthy to open the scroll, to reveal to us the story of our salvation, to give us the treasures of God. And heaven and earth rejoice.
It’s an interesting word, “worthy.” It has the same root as our English word “worth.” “What’s it worth to you?” means “What would you consider an appropriate cost for this thing?” Worthiness has to do with what’s appropriate, or with what’s deserving of something. Are you worthy to open the scroll? Are you worthy to win salvation for yourself or anyone else? No, only Christ is worthy for that. But just because we’re unworthy to open the scroll of salvation doesn’t mean we’re totally worthless. So what are you worthy for? What am I worthy for? In today’s epistle reading Paul encourages us to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” What does it mean to be “worthy of the Lord?” Where do we find and how do we get this worthiness that Paul encourages from us?
If we are going to attempt to understand worthiness, we must first note what Paul says about the source of this worthiness. In verse 9 of today’s reading he writes that he had been praying for the Colossians so that they would be “filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” with the result that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. Paul says that we are worthy when we know God’s will. God’s will, simply put, is that people would go to heaven. We live amid much confusion regarding the will of God. People are constantly trying to decode God’s will for their lives. But the confusion often comes from a faulty understanding of what exactly we do or don’t know about God’s will. Here’s what we know for certain: God desires that all would be saved and would come to the knowledge of the truth. We often run into problems when we try to figure out God’s will for our career, or what college we should go to, or whom we should marry. We often treat God’s will as if our Heavenly Father holds in his hand a checklist for our lives on which he has predetermined which choices he will bless and which he will not.
But that’s not how God’s will works. Rather, God’s will for you is that you spend eternity with him in paradise. In order to accomplish that, he sent his own Son to do for you what you could never do for yourself. That knowledge, according to Paul, is the first and most necessary step to walking in a manner worthy of the Lord. Knowledge of my sin as revealed to me in the Word of God silences any efforts on my part to justify or save myself. It stops me from trying to open the scroll for myself. No one is worthy to open that scroll except the Lamb who was slain. I’m not worthy, and neither are you. None of us is. We are all unworthy. Knowing and trusting that particular Word from God is the first ingredient in worthiness, for when we confess our sin we receive the gift of forgiveness. Every time. It’s that simple. Christ has already died. Your salvation is already won. You were made right with God when you were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. This knowledge and spiritual understanding are the foundation of walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.
But notice what comes next. Notice the way Paul defines this worthiness in verse 10. He says that this worthiness consists of being pleasing to God by increasing in knowledge of him, and bearing fruit in every good work. We already know what it means to increase in knowledge of God. It means to continually return to the knowledge that I am a sinner and God is my Savior. It is repentance and forgiveness. It is Law and Gospel. But what does it mean to bear fruit in every good work? This question takes us back to the will of God again. What is God’s will for your life? Where does he want you to go to college? What career does he want you to have? Whom does he want you to marry? The freedom of the Gospel is that we don’t have to be weighed down with questions like these. As the Apostle Paul says elsewhere, all things are lawful, but not all are helpful. Or again Paul says: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” How exactly did God create good works in advance for us to do? Does this refer again to some cosmic checklist?
No. Paul is writing here about the gift of vocation. When our Lord created this world, he created different vocations, callings, roles and relationships through which he would continue to uphold what he had made. He created the vocation of father and mother, of son and daughter, of employer and employee, of student and teacher. He created these different vocations beforehand, and each one serves a specific purpose in this world; each one carries with it specific responsibilities. The good works prepared in advance are the things we are called to do within the vocations God has given us. Are you a father or mother? Then provide for your children, raise them in the knowledge of the Lord and of his Word, and teach them how to survive in this world. When done in faith, these are good works to our Father in Heaven. Are you a student? Then apply yourself to your studies that you may one day be a benefit to the society at large. When done in faith, these are good works to our Father in Heaven. Are you an employer? Then treat your employees well, pay them a fair wage, and see to it that the goods or services produced in your company are well made. When done in faith, these are good works to our Father in Heaven. Each vocation has a shape of its own; each one has built into it good works that God has prepared in advance for us to walk in them.
So what does this have to do with worthiness? To go back to the story from Revelation again, only Christ is worthy to open the scroll because only Jesus was given the vocation of Savior. Our vocations are different, but our worthiness is still found in them. To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord is to walk in our vocations. To be fully pleasing to God and bearing fruit in every good work is to live in the callings God has given us. Don’t try to figure out which specific job God wants you to have. Simply use the talents and abilities he has given you to serve others. The same is true for finding your soul-mate. Don’t wait for that one single person God has prepared for you from eternity. He has never promised that. Instead, find someone you can love, and then love that person. Sacrifice your wants and desires and devote yourself to them. Love them with the sacrificial love of Christ. Forgive them at all costs. Remain faithful to them in body and spirit. In these things we find a life worthy of the Lord.
Certainly living in our vocations is not easy. That’s why Paul prays that the Colossians would be “strengthened with all power…for endurance and patience.” The temptation is always there to look at someone else’s vocation, to look at someone else’s life, to look at someone else’s spouse, or children, or car, or career and desire them for ourselves. We know firsthand the struggles of our own lives, but see only the outside layers of the lives around us. We might think we would be better off somewhere else, but we are called to endurance and patience. This is our worthiness before the Lord, bearing fruit by doing every good work he has built into our vocations. Increasing in knowledge of him through continued study of his Word, through which he shows us our sin and our salvation. Living in the gift of baptism by having our sins forgiven in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. Feasting on the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our souls. And then stepping out into the vocations we have been given to love and serve God by loving and serving the people he puts in our lives.
And so with the Apostle Paul, my prayer for us is that we may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will for our salvation in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work of our vocations and increasing in the knowledge of God. May we be strengthened for this task with the power of God given through his Word and Sacraments, to give us endurance and patience with joy, as we give thanks to the Father who has qualified us through his forgiveness to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For he has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In this is our worthiness before him.
 Revelation 4-5
 Colossians 1:10
 Colossians 1:9
 1 Timothy 2:4
 1 Corinthians 10:23
 Ephesians 2:10
 Colossians 1:11