September 9, 2018 Series: Summer Sermons
Topic: Christ & Hope Scripture: Revelation 1:1–1:20
Medgar Evers was a civil rights leader who fought to desegregate the University of Mississippi. In the early 1960’s, such efforts were not widely appreciated in that part of the world, to say the least. Yet this young leader in his 30’s—with a wife and three kids—persisted, knowing beyond a doubt that he could lose his life, which he did. One night he was shot in the back in his own driveway. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington national cemetery. His death moved Pres. Kennedy to seek passage of the Civil Rights Act, which became a law in 1964. Edgar’s wife Myrlie, now a single mom with three children, continued the cause. She put herself through Pomona College and worked for equality and civil rights for all. Myrlie, still living, was the first woman and the first layperson to give the invocation at a presidential inaugural ceremony. Here is part of that invocation: “There’s something within me that holds the reins. There’s something within me that banishes pain. There’s something within me I cannot explain. But all I know is, there is something within. There is something within.”
What motivates people to persist in the face of such odds? What is that “something within”? I think of our missionaries, Jeff and Christie Boyd in Congo, and Bob and Kristi Rice in South Sudan. When I learned that the Rices were going to South Sudan, I was amazed at their courage. As a pastor, I am continually inspired by our own people and their ability to carry on in the face of difficulty.
The thought at the heart of our passage today contains a key to our witness, and it is focused on the eternal power and love of God.
The book of Revelation is sometimes thought of as completely devoted to the end times, full of powerful and scary images. It has plenty of those, but in the opening chapters, we see a concern for faithful living in this world. There are seven real churches in towns near the coast of what we now call Turkey. Each congregation is assigned its own angel to watch over it. Each receives specific word from the Lord about how they’re doing, meant to encourage and to correct. While the “revelation” of this book does include visions of how it all ends, there’s more. It has a very practical guidance for the everyday life of Christians: how we relate, what we believe, works of charity, and level of enthusiasm.
In the opening chapter, we find an even more basic element, and it is one that can sustain us throughout our lives. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God Almighty, who is, who was, and who is to come.” Later in this chapter, the same message is stated in slightly different words: “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” This verse is sometimes shared at the graveside service—offering a word of hope as we commit our loved one to God.
In the final chapter of the book, the third version of this statement is put together with the first two: “I am the beginning and the end.” Thus the book starts and ends with the “forever” nature of God and Christ. As we reflect on this great biblical truth, what does it mean for us?
I believe that it can give us perspective on our lives: our hopes and dreams, our sufferings, our triumphs, and tragedies. Long before we were born, before anyone or anything existed, there is God. Long after we are gone from earth, there is God. Our troubles—sometimes severe—can be not quite so overwhelming when we cherish the knowledge of God’s greatness and goodness and eternal care. The One who calls all things into existence also calls us into existence. The One who will call each of us forth from this world to the next will be there for us then as well. The Eternal one promises to guide each step we take. So we are forever surrounded. We are, as the New Testament tells us, filled with God. The German theologian, Meister Eckhart wrote, “I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my very existence depends on the nearness and presence of God.”
This is a reality worth thinking about every day. Is there something making me afraid? Jesus says, “Fear not. I am the first and the last.” Am I frustrated or in pain? The Lord declares, “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the A to Z—of all things. I love you with an everlasting love.” Sometimes we wonder, with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord? When will the suffering end?” The Lord declares, “I am the beginning, and I am the end.” All suffering is taken up in the everlasting arms.
This one outstanding truth of existence - shapes the rest of the message of Revelation. It influenced the life of the seven churches. It was to inform the people’s response to the most severe persecution when it arrived. It can sustain each of us in the love of God, in good times and bad, and everything in between.
I close with a prayer from 8th century France—a prayer that seems to express the “foreverness” of God. Let us pray:
Eternal Light, shine into our hearts. Eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil. Eternal Power, be our support. Eternal Wisdom, scatter the darkness of ignorance. Eternal Compassion, have mercy on us, so that with heart and mind and strength we may seek your face, and be brought by your infinite mercy to your holy presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.