Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
(Proper 29)

Text: Revelation 1:8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”


Safe until the end

During this past week or so, we have seen our world take on a new sense of uneasiness.  The events in Paris have seen innocent lives lost at the hands of misguided radicals.  It’s true this happened on the other side of world but with the instant reporting of the media we get these days, these events and how they affect the lives of ordinary people, have been beamed across our TV screens.  The inevitable question has been raised in homes around the world, including right here in Australia as remote as we are from the European scene, “Can this kind of evil just as easily happen right here in our own country?”

As the Australian reporters have struggled to pronounce the names of French suburbs and towns, we have struggled with our own fears and perhaps have wondered how we would deal with an attack like this right here in our own country.

We know this recent event isn’t an isolated one.  There have been many of these atrocities, most of which barely rate a mention in our news broadcasts.  We only hear about them now through incidental comments by the media.  We are told that there are many thousands of people in the Middle East and elsewhere whose lives have been brutally torn apart by similar horrible attacks.  Innocent people have been killed and maimed as they have gone about their everyday lives.  Suddenly in an instant, without warning, death and injury erupt to change people forever.

We are told that one of the greatest dangers we are facing now is not the danger from outside our country, but from people who live here and have taken on a radical position that has no respect for our country and its people.  The message of these people is clear – no-one is safe anywhere.

How does that make you feel?  Angry?  Afraid?  Powerless?  Defiant – “how dare they”?  Anxious for the future generations?  Cautious?  Suspicious?  These, and any other feelings that we have, are perfectly normal.  It’s what we do with these feelings is what counts.  They will always be a part of us because that’s the way God made us.  He gave us these feelings.  But he didn’t intend that these feelings control us and take over our lives to the point that we are no longer able to function reasonably and sensibly.  This was expressed recently, “I’m afraid to go into a place where there’s a lot of people.  Who knows what one of them might do?” 

Of course these kinds of feelings of fear, anxiety, powerlessness will crop up constantly in our lives – we don’t have to watch the news. 
What is it that fills you with fear or powerlessness?   
The path a child or grandchild is taking?
A health problem that’s wearing you down or will finally bring your earthly life to an end? 
Too many bills and not enough money? 

One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mummy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.”
A long silence followed as the little boy thought about this. Finally he said, “The big sissy!”

Apart from the comment about the courage of his father, the little boy’s request to have his mother near him all night, touches on a very important fact.  The little boy knew that if his mum was able to stay close to him during the storm, he would feel a lot safer and would not be afraid of the thunder and lightning outside.  Maybe you can remember the safe feeling you had as a child when you were afraid and one of your parents held you close. 
Or maybe you have done that for your own children. 
Or maybe you’ve been through a storm (not necessarily a weather event) and it’s been so good to have your husband or wife close by to support and encourage you through it. It’s nice to have someone close by who you can trust to take care of you.

The message of the Bible reminds us again and again that we have a heavenly Father who will do just that for us.  He will stand right by us in those times when we are the most afraid. When the unexpected happens, we have a God who is right there with us reassuring us of his presence and reminding us that he loves us with a love that is beyond human words to describe. 

The reading from the Book of Revelation is very helpful when we are wondering about the future and what the future will bring.  Whether it fills us with anxiety for ourselves or those we love or we are feeling powerless as we are swept along by the tide of events over which we don’t have any control.

The early readers of the Book of Revelation were in exactly that situation.  The Roman Emperor had waged an all-out attack on the Christians and persecuted them mercilessly. 
How could they withstand such terrible times? 
Could they remain faithful to Christ when the lives of their families and friends were at stake? 
Could they hang on ‘til death or until Jesus comes again?

What follows in the Book of Revelation are words of reassurance and hope; they are reminders to the early Christians and us that we are not alone as we face everything that will happen between now and the time Jesus returns.

When we are fearful, uncertain, worried about the dangers that are lurking ahead, anxious about those who want to threaten and hurt us, there is nothing like knowing that there is someone who has control over all the events of history, who even has control over those things and people that are menacing us, in the case of the early Christians, the emperor and his cronies.  John writes, “Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come, … and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first to be raised from death and who is also the ruler of the kings of the world.” 

John is starting with the mother of all assurances. Let me restate what he is saying. May the never ending overflowing love of God and his overwhelming and all-encompassing peace surround you – God is the God of the ages past, the God of everything that is happening at the moment and he is the God of all that will happen in the future. The emperor of Rome might think he is “lord and king” but Jesus Christ is the supreme emperor over all history, over life and death and over all rulers and kings of this world. There is no need to be afraid!

This is a powerful start to this book of comfort to those who are facing uncertain times.  Then John records a little hymn of praise which celebrates what the risen Christ has done for us.  He writes,
“All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 1:5b-6 NLT).

Then our reading today concludes,
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One” (Rev 1:8).

A bit further on Jesus emphatically adds, “Don’t be afraid!” (Rev 1:17). Even if our worst enemy attacks us, death itself, he holds the keys that unlock the grave and open the way to eternal life. 

Our journey in this world will never be without pain, anxiety or uncertainty.  We have to deal with it almost on a daily basis – sometimes these anxieties are small things and other times they are so consuming.  The things that are happening in our lives right now and in our world don’t make it any easier.  Just because we worship Jesus as our Lord and King and follow God’s ways as best as we can, it doesn’t mean that our road will be easy. 

The message of God’s love for us is spoken loudly and clearly in the pages of the Scriptures; 
the love of God is shown on the cross as his Son hung dying there for us;
the victorious Christ embraces us all with life at our Baptism and at Holy Communion, reviving us with forgiveness and refreshing us with new life;
the King of love, more powerful than any trial and trouble that we can face in this life, walks beside us, comforting us, strengthening us and enabling us to endure;
this is what will give us the courage and confidence to face anything.

John greets his troubled and burdened readers, “Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come” (Rev 1:4b).  Trusting in the Lord of heaven and earth, the One who loves us so wonderfully and unconditionally, the God who shelters us and cares for us in every way, calms all crippling fear and gives us peace.   Those who have sat with the dying will know what sweet comfort it is to know that when there is nothing else to cling to and hold on to, Jesus is there and he holds on to us and embraces us.
The apostle Paul sums up all this nicely by saying,
“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?  Nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 8:31,39).

I started by talking about the fear and the uncertainty that the events of these past weeks can bring into our lives.  That’s a normal feeling.  It’s a feeling that God has given us to protect ourselves from harm but it’s an emotion that’s not intended to cripple us. 

Our confidence is in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Our three readings are well worth reading again during the week because each of them express the confidence that we can have, even though the events in the world terrify us or our future in this life for some reason is uncertain. 

Our Lord and King says, “Don't be afraid!  I am the first and the last.  I am the living one!” (Rev 1:17).  There is no power that can arise between the beginning and the end that can challenge the living one or harm those whom he loves.  Our future is safe trusting in his loving hands.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd November 2015

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