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

Text: Revelation 1:8
“I am the first and the last,” says the Lord God Almighty, who is, who was, and who is to come. 

The unpredictable

Have you ever watched a movie and about half way through you’ve thought to yourself, “Why am I sitting here?  I have no idea what this story is about?”  I recall going to see a movie someone had recommended.  It was quite a long police action film and about halfway through I was beginning to wonder what the story was all about.  There were three main characters and three different stories going on at the same time and the movie kept flicking between the three stories.  It was one of those multi-layered stories that easily confused the watcher if you lost focus for just a short while.

Well, I got to the point of thinking, “This is crazy.  I don’t get it.  Is it worth sitting through the rest?”

Anyway I had paid for a ticket so I was determined to see it through.  And of course in the last half hour the plot of the film all came together – but I had to sit through two hours before it started to make any sense.  In the middle of the film the story didn’t make any sense at all.

For most of us that’s what our journey through life is like.  We don’t know what twists and turns there will be in the story and what will turn up around the next corner. For some of us the story of our lives is causing us to ask more questions than we have answers as we wonder how our story will unfold in the future.  In the middle of our life story some of the events don’t make much sense at all.

What is ahead of us in the future? 
Would you like to know?  
We may know where we would like to be and what we would like to do in the future, but there is no guarantee that our plans will be fulfilled.  If we look back over the past year I’m sure we would be able to say that things happened that we hadn’t planned. 
a sickness,
a death,
an accident,
or just small things – like a dent in the car, a flat tyre, a disagreement with a neighbour, an unexpected visitor.  Some of these events might be small things but added together with other circumstances they were enough to put us off balance.  The unpredictable and unforeseen events that happen in our lives have the ability to shake the very core of our being and destabilise us and even cause us to question our own self-worth and the goodness of God. 

The Bible is full of people who were caught up in the unforeseen and unpredictable.  Moses was very happy looking after sheep until God turned his life upside down with the command to go to the Egyptian king and demand that he let all his Hebrew slaves go free.  To Moses that idea defied all reason.

And then there was Mary and her unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.  That had not been part of the plan she had for her life at that moment.  Sometime in the future, yes, but right then and there, with no husband; no way.  And Joseph, his plans for a happy wedding with Mary are suddenly out the window.  He is shocked and confused.

Many of you know what it means to be shocked and upset by the unexpected things that come your way.  And sometimes when you find yourself thinking about the future and it’s unpredictability it’s not unusual to have a moment of panic or anxiety or concern.  And the hard thing about this is that we don’t have any control over the future.  We can do something now that might influence the outcomes of the future but there are no guarantees. 

The great thing about the Christian faith is that we have a God who is always there in the middle of the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unforeseen and the surprises that come our way.  When we are totally confused about why something has happened and we are inclined to question God's wisdom and love, he is by our side assuring us that he has not abandoned us.  When we think that God hasn’t heard a single word of our prayers, God's love will not let us go. 

Again and again in the Bible we hear God saying to people confused and troubled by the unpredictable and unforeseen, “I will be with you”. He said to Moses when he told him to tell the king of Egypt to free all his slaves, “I will be with you”. 
He said to Joshua as he was about to lead the people into the Promised Land, “I will be with you”.
He said to the people taken captive to Babylon, “Do not be afraid.  I am with you”.
Jesus said to his disciples who would soon face trouble and persecution, “I will be with you”.
In Revelation where the beauty of heaven is described the statement is made, “Now God's home is with people! … God himself will be with them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes”.  His presence is certain, comforting and encouraging.

There can be no doubt about it.  The words, “I will be with you”, form a theme throughout the Bible and I haven’t even mentioned the many times these words are repeated in the Book of Psalms nor have I mentioned the Old Testament name for the Messiah – ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God is with us’.  God promises again and again that he will always be with his people. 

Today’s readings highlight that Jesus is coming again.  In the lead up to Christ’s return some pretty scary stuff will happen.  Peter says in his second letter, On that day the heavens will disappear with a shrill noise, the heavenly bodies will burn up and be destroyed and the earth and everything in it will vanish” (2 Peter 3:10). 
Jesus said, “In those days ... the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken”  (Mark 13:24).
Jesus also talks about wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution as signs that the end is getting closer.  Pretty scary stuff. 

It is just when we think about these kinds of scary things or other things that fill our hearts with dread that the promises of God throughout the centuries and of Jesus himself become ever so meaningful.  They are simple words but behind them there is the power and strength of almighty God himself.  “I will be with you!”  Simple yet effective in helping us get through the toughest times.

I started by talking about not making sense of events as they are unfolding.  We are caught out by something that really catches us off guard.  Largely we are able to coast along happily with what happens every day.  We have our routines.  We have people around us who care for us and for whom we care.  And it’s just when everything is going along nicely that the unpredictable knocks us for a six*. 

I recall sitting with the parents of a 19 year old lad, an only child who loved AFL footy, pulling apart and rebuilding motor bikes and riding with his mates, enjoying the company of his first real girlfriend, really well liked in the small town he lived. 

He was an asthmatic but it didn’t bother him too much until he had an asthma attack in the middle of the night and died. 

When the family went to bed that night none of this was expected.  By morning their world was torn apart.  You can imagine the shock, the disbelief, the questions, the ‘what ifs’, the ‘whys’.  The unpredictable, the unforeseen had done its worst.  That day changed their lives forever and it took a long time for their grief to diminish to a point where they could again see the love their God has for them.  It is the intense love that God has for them that has helped them deal with the pain that they feel because of their intense love for their son. 

We never know what’s around the bend of the windy road that we call life.  If only we could see around the corners and catch a glimpse of what’s ahead we might be more prepared but that’s not the case.  We can’t see around the corners. We can’t see whatever unforeseen event might be hiding around that bend in the road but we know who is around the next corner – the One who says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega”.  The Book of Revelation records the words of Christ returning in glory.  He says, “Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last.  I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever” (Revelation 1:17-18).

Those words are spoken by the risen king of heaven and earth, the Lord of lords, the King of kings, who rules over all things and whose power knows no limits.  He is the one who says to us today, “Don’t be afraid!”  There is nothing that can come between us and God's love for us.  Paul says it so well, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below—there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  There is nothing more powerful than God's love for us.  There is nothing that can come between us and the God who says to each of us personally in our Baptism and every time we receive Jesus body and blood in Holy Communion, “I am with you always”.

Even when we are feeling totally unworthy of God's love because of our failure to follow his ways, he says to us when we come in repentance seeking his forgiveness, “Because of your baptism you are mine and I am with you always”.  “I died for you.  I gave my body and blood for you on the cross.  I forgive you all your sins”. 

When we are feeling threatened by the unpredictable nature of life and what lies around the next bend along life’s journey, keep your eyes fixed on the one who had you in mind as he hung bleeding, dying on the cross. 
Think of your baptism and the mark of his love and commitment that was made over you – the mark of the cross – the mark that went with his promise of “I will be with you always”.
When the unforeseen has left you reeling take in your hands once again the love of Jesus – his body and blood – swallow it, take it within and be assured that he is with you always.  When you are afraid, remember that it is the One who says, “I am the first the last, who is and who was and who is to come” who also says with power, “Don’t be afraid. … I am with you!”


* Idiom from the game of cricket meaning to be really surprised and overwhelmed

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th November 2012

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