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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Amen (1 Chronicles 16, Revelation 5,7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 6, 2015
Text: 1 Chronicles 16:34-36; Revelation 5:11-14; 7:9-12; Psalm 72:18-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used ::
Gathering Music: Turkish March, Walker Austell, piano (Mozart)

Hymn of Praise: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (vv. 1-2) (LOBE DEN HERREN)
Offering of Music: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331, Walker Austell, piano (Mozart)
Communion Music: Piano Reflection, Walker Austell, piano (W. Austell)
Song of Sending: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (vv. 3-4) (LOBE DEN HERREN)
"Amen" Response throughout: Amen (Marty Haugen)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

I have this distinct memory of sitting in church, tired. The people up front just seemed to talk and sing and go on forever. But I wasn’t allowed to sleep; it would be appropriate to shut my eyes for a short nap. Everyone would see that. So finally, when it came time for the preacher to pray – you know, that longer prayer that comes toward the end of the service – I was relieved to get to close my eyes. It was for a holy reason; everyone was praying after all. But it just felt good to close those eyes and relax… if I didn’t lose my balance and fall over into the person next to me, I could almost get a short power nap. But there was a part of my mind tuned in, waiting for the signal. At some point I would hear it and know: it is time to wake from slumber, to once again look alert and sit up. Somewhere in there, and only at the end, the person praying would say it: “Amen.”

I’d like to tell you that was only a story from my childhood, but it has happened more recently than that… and more than once.  Maybe you can relate.

Having said that, my hope is that today you will come to understand that word in a far more meaningful way. It’s a powerful word, one that Jesus used over 100 times in the Gospel accounts of his ministry. In fact, he typically STARTED with the word, Amen. So, I want to look at that. And then, I want to look at what it means to say, “Amen,” and when and how we might say it the way scripture instructs us to say it.

Today we come to the end of our summer series on the Lord’s Prayer. And we are looking at the final word of the prayer: Amen.

“Amen” is a Hebrew word; in other words, it is not a translation, but an actual Hebrew word from ancient times. It is one of those words that carries such meaning that it passed on into other languages untranslated, but understood. Jesus spoke a local dialect of Hebrew called Aramaic and he said, “Amen.” When his words were written down in Greek by his followers, they translated his teaching into Greek, but left some of the words in the original, like “Amen” and “Abba.” Even thousands of years later, when scripture was translated into English and many other languages, one word continues to stay in the original language: Amen. Let’s look more closely at some of the ways it is used in scripture.

Amen as YES

“Amen” is found throughout the Old Testament in just the kind of way we might imagine. Today’s first reading came from 1 Chronicles 16, which describes bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the new tabernacle that David had built for it in Jerusalem. After the Ark was put in place Chronicles records an extended time of praise and worship, with large portions of several Psalms (Pss. 105, 96, 106, 72) recited or sung back to back. The first reading you heard today catches the very end of that with a portion of Psalm 72: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting.” Then we read that all the people said, “Amen,” and praised the Lord.

In the Old Testament, as in the New Testament and today, “Amen” is a way of saying “Yes” to what has been declared. It is particularly used after hearing scripture read or declared – that is, God’s Word or truth. It means “Yes, that’s true!” and “Yes, I agree!” In this passage God’s people had just finished hearing multiple declarations from the Psalms about who God is and what God had done. And they responded and participated by saying, “Yes, that is true!”  Amen!

That may sound strange, but we do it all the time. Think about watching your favorite team. When there is a great play you cheer. And how like worship it is – it’s better when you are with a group, with a community of people that are focused on the same thing. You don’t have to script it or tell people to cheer when their team scores or catches a great pass – we do it naturally.  “Yes!”

And it’s very different than the signal to wake up and pay attention. It’s actually the signal that you have been paying attention and something has grabbed hold of you.

In fact, sometimes after the choir or a soloist sings you’ll hear someone say “Amen.” Or you’ll hear it in the middle of a sermon or testimony. It is saying, “Yes, that’s true – what you sang to us is true and good… the Word you preached is true. I agree! Yes!” And I invite and welcome those responses! It’s a way of participating in what’s going on in the room. 

Amen as TRUTH

As with many things in scripture, Jesus took that concept of “Amen” as ‘yes to something true’ and took it higher and deeper than anyone could have imagined. Instead of reading or teaching Old Testament scripture and ending with “Amen,” Jesus STARTED his teaching with “Amen.” In fact, he started with a double-Amen, which is how people emphasized things in his day.

You’ll recognize it when you hear it – recorded over 100 times in the Gospels:

“Truly, truly I say to you…” or “Verily, verily.”  What he actually said – the sound that came out of his mouth – was “Amen, Amen.” And then he would lay some truth on them. This was another one of the ways he claimed to be God. He was not just repeating the scripture they all knew. And to be clear, he wasn’t doing away with any bit of it. But, as he said in Matthew 5, he came to fulfill or complete God’s Law.

In fact, several New Testament writers make it even clearer for us: Jesus wasn’t just teaching God’s true Word; Jesus WAS God’s true Word. In John 1, Jesus is the Word who was with God and the Word who was God. In an even more mind-boggling passage at the end of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul tells us:
…all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20-21, ESV)
In fact, in Revelation 3, in the letter to the church of Laodicea, Jesus introduces himself as “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God.” (Revelation 3:14)

We are not Jesus, however, so why would I focus on this? It’s because Jesus’ use of “Amen” brings into focus just what we would say “Amen” to. It is not just saying “Yes, I agree” it also declares, “True, this is true!” And no one and nothing is more true than Jesus, God’s living and true Word.


“Amen” has one more crucial component. It is more than saying “Yes” and it is more than saying “True” – it is tied to worship. That is what is going on in the passages in Revelation. It was actually there in Chronicles as well. After the Psalm-singing around the Ark having a home, the people said “Amen” and praised the Lord. In Revelation 5, as the four living creatures say, “Amen,” the elders “fell down and worshiped.” In Revelation 7, those gathered around the throne “fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

That “falling down” describes one of the key components of worship: yielding our wills to God’s. Said simply, the point of saying “Amen” is not to just give lip-service to God, “Yes, yes, God is true.” It is to bow down and offer worship to God. “Yes! Jesus is God’s true Word and I yield my life and my will to Him!”

That’s the full extent of “Amen” – it’s YES, TRUTH, and WORSHIP all together. Ponder that when you say it at the end of the Prayer. Or as you hear something sung or spoken in worship that invites your yielding response of faith.

I get that none of us is that tuned in and mature and focused all the time. But now you know. Now you know what a powerful word and invitation it is. Let it invite your attention and participation and worship: “Your Kingdom come… into my life… Amen!”  “Forgive my debts as I forgive others… Amen.” You can hear why participation is necessary; I’ve already prayed things that involve my will and my life. The Amen is a final reminder of just how important this truth is!

Also take heart that as with all our shortcomings, Jesus is our righteousness. We can’t be good enough or holy enough or attentive enough. We can only put our trust in Jesus. So if you hear nothing else, hear this: Jesus is our “Amen” to God. If you follow after him, you’ve got it right.

And all God’s people said…. AMEN!

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