Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Alpha and Omega"

Message preached November 23, 2003
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Revelation 1:4b-8
(note - this is approximately what was said. The message was composed in the head
and delivered by memory in "amble and ramble" style. See below for some expository comments.)

Order of Worship

I am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." (Revelation 1:8)

            Yesterday, some of us traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the annual "Walk for the Homeless" on the Mall. We were there specifically to support (and raise money for) the Brethren Nutrition Program based at the Washington City COB on Capital Hill, a soup kitchen with an assortment of other ministries connected to it.

            We caught the subway in Greenbelt, and when we finally stepped out of the bowels of the earth in front of the Smithsonian, we were surrounded by thousands of people. It was a bit confusing at first, but we made our way through registration, where we were given a bright orange shirt to wear, and we managed to connect up with other Brethren - specifically other district youth. This was a district youth activity.

            The walk had a very definite beginning but, Iíve got to tell you, I had no idea exactly where we were heading. Iíd never done this before. Didnít matter, though. It was hard to see the way. Thousands of orange shirts is a hard thing to miss. Keeping together as a group was made easier by a couple sign passed around as we walked. As long as I kept an eye upon the "Soup Kitchen - Church of the Brethren," I knew we were still walking together.

            I could see some things off in the distance ahead, like the arches of the Department of Agriculture where my Dad used to work, which we eventually passed under. Rounding the Tidal Basin next to the Jefferson Memorial, I could see - way far ahead - a sea of orange shirts off in the distance, so I had some inkling of what was to come. Still, it wasnít the "getting there" which involved me. It was walking beside some friends I hadnít connected up with for a while. Before I knew it we were at the finish line.

I am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." (Revelation 1:8)

            Next Sunday, a bundle of joy will be brought before us during worship, and weíll celebrate the starting line represented by her birth two months ago. Together we will dedicate her and her parents for the journey which lies ahead, making vows along the way. We donít know the twists and turns which her life will take, but we trust in Godís protection, providence, and guidance.

            Only a few weeks later, on the Sunday before Christmas, weíll fill the baptismal pool and a few persons will step into the water. Together we will baptize them, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and theyíll cross the starting line to a life in Christ, making their vows of faith along the way. Now, again, we donít all know the twists and turns which may lie ahead. We simply trust in Godís protection, providence, and guidance, and keep our eyes on the prize - the destination of this journey of faith.

            A week ago yesterday, many of us headed to Fallston to gather with other Christians to remember to life of a friend, someone who was husband, father, and grandfather to people in this room. We laughed. We cried. As we said goodbye, we celebrated not only his earthly life, but his life to come. Now, I know none of us looks forward to a memorial service or funeral, but such occasions are times when our faith truly flowers. Such services can provide inspiration unlike any other, as we have a language to talk about the mystery of death. "I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said, words that take on new meaning.... Beginning and ending times such as these are times for celebration, moments we remember, and hold onto through all our days.

I am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." (Revelation 1:8)

            Believe it or not, this is an ending time. Just ask a nearby farmer, if youíre lucky enough to know one. The time for harvesting has come and gone, for the most part. The season of growth is over. Winter is on its way. The holiday we call "Thanksgiving" originated in this ending time. It started out as a celebration of the harvest, being thankful for the fruit of the land, which has now been gathered in. A new season is coming, with colder weather and shorter days. Therefore, end the old and begin the new with a grateful heart - thatís what Thanksgiving is all about.

            Yes, this is an ending time, but in more ways than one. For those of us in tune with the Christian year (which is different from the calendar year), today is the last Sunday before we start all over again. One year ends, another begins. Next week we inaugurate it with the season of Advent. After that comes Epiphany, then Lent, then the season of Easter, and finally Pentecost - a season which lasts nearly half a year.

            Now, as "low-church" Brethren we donít jump up and down over all these religious holidays. We do, however, pay attention to some especially the special moments within them, like Christmas (celebrating the birth of Jesus, a beginning), Easter (rejoicing over his death and resurrection, both an ending and a beginning), and Pentecost (the birth of the church). The season of Pentecost is also called "ordinary time," which lasts - as I said - almost half a year. That should make sense, since most of our days are filled with the "ordinary." As much as we love special occasions, itís the ordinary living out of our faith which composes most of our days.

I am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." (Revelation 1:8)

            You probably knew that "Alpha" is the first letter in the Greek alphabet (which is where we get the word), and that "Omega" is the last. The Lord God, this is saying, is our beginning point. God is at the starting line, so to speak. The Lord launches us forth on this journey of faith. God is also our ending. The Lord stands at the finish line, with arms outstretched drawing us forward. This is one reason these moments of beginning and ending are so special. Itís easy (that is, when we are able to push aside the tears and other things that cloud our vision) to see God being part of such occasions.

            However, itís within all the ordinary time that we struggle most to see God. A dedication lasts but a few minutes. Raising this child is a full-time job that lasts eighteen years or more. A baptism is over before you know it. Then comes the walk of faith, which lasts a lifetime. A Memorial service may encompass an hour or so (or less), but the process of grief is long-term. Seeing God amid the rest of the time, the "ordinary" time, is just as important as the glimpses of glory we find in the high moments.

            When God says "I am the alpha and the Omega," God doesnít mean, "I am only the Alpha" or "only the Omega." As if the Almighty is found only in those ending and beginning times. No, God is there at every step along the way. From Alpha to Omega, from A to Z, God walks the path of our "ordinary time" with us.

            "ĎI am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." The latter part of this verse underscores Godís involvement in our ordinary time. Again, please note what it doesnít say. The order is important. It doesnít say "the Lord God, who was, who is, and who is to come," as if what matters most is our past. Nor does it say "the Lord God, who is to come, who is and who was," as if the future is our major Concern.

            No, it says "the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." What comes first is the present tense. We are not enslaved by the present, and the struggles we may face along the way. We have out past and our future in Christ. However, God is very present in our present. With our Alpha and Omega walking the path with us, we live eternity now. Every ordinary moment is overflowing with the One who said, "Look, I am coming." (Again, this is in the present tense - "I am," not "I will.")

I am the Alpha and the Omegasays the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come." (Revelation 1:8)

            This last Sunday of the Christian year has come to be known as the feast of "Christ the King." This designation only goes back three quarters of a century to when Pope Pius XI established it in 1925. His reasons for it had to do with a rapidly changing world and the need to remind the earthís human rulers of who was really in charge. That made sense, especially in those years after what was then thought to be the Ďwar to end all wars.í "Kaisers and Prime Ministers and Presidents, take note," this holy day proclaimed, "Christ is the real King!" Maybe the message didnít get across very well. Hitlerís armies would soon blitzkrieg across Europe while the church, Roman Catholic and Protestant, for the most part kept silent.

            We donít have to be Catholic to remind ourselves that, when all is said and done, there is a greater power at work in this world than any earthly mover and shaker. And today, whether or not we buy into any of this Christian calendar rigamarole, is as good a day as any to get it straight in our own hearts and minds. "Rejoice, the Lord is King.... lift up your heart, lift up your voice, rejoice, again I say, Ďrejoice.í"

Extra Exposition
(actually the above was composed on Sunday morning, after the original
message - which included the below - was tossed. This passage
may not be suited for an expository approach.)

            This morningís scripture lesson from the from the beginning of the last book of the Bible, helps us to get it straight. In these verses we are given a threefold blessing (1:4b-5a), a word of praise (1:5b-6), and an encouragement to open our eyes and see what is really real in this world (1:7-8). "Grace and peace," it begins, from God, from the Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ. Recognize the Trinity? Now, I know it says, "from the seven spirits," instead of the Holy Spirit, but in the Bible, seven is a number which signifies completeness. This is referring to the fullness of the Spirit. We experience this presence of God in a multitude of ways - an inner fire, our living water, the wind beneath our wings, Godís very breath, a dynamic power, the still small voice, a dove of peace - but it is still one and the same Spirit. From this Trinity (God, Spirit, Christ) comes "grace and peace." Lord knows we could use more of both!

            Three things are said of both God and Jesus Christ in this blessing. I will return later to the threefold statement about God, for it is repeated. Turning to Jesus, now, he is called these three things - 1) "the faithful witness, 2) the first-born of the dead, and 3) the ruler of kings on earth." Itís this third statement about Jesus being "the ruler of kings on earth" that grabs our attention this morning, as one year ends and another begins.

            Can you imagine what this affirmation must have meant to those who first received this letter? After all, this "revelation of Jesus Christ" was passed on by someone who was forced into exile by the current powers-that-be. The island of Patmos was Johnís prison, separating him from the churches whom God had called him to oversee. Like those whom he had been called to serve, to whom he was writing because he couldnít be with them face-to-face, John was persecuted for his faith by the current "king." Now, for him to give voice to the truth that Christ is "the ruler of kings on earth," is indeed a revelation - an eye-opener that sets people free.

            Think about it. Jesus is not some Roman Emperor with a huge war machine to back him up. He is, it says, but "the faithful witness." Literally, he is the "faithful martyr," thatís the word in Greek. Now, before you start thinking of how this word, "martyr," has been abused down through the ages, to the point where a terrorist who blows himself and many innocent people up, all for a cause, can be called a "martyr," remember the pattern set by this "faithful witness."

            Jesus submitted himself to the powers-that-be and was crucified on a cross. Now, that may be a noble thing to do, many folks think, but itís hardly a way of getting ahead in a world thatís based upon the survival of the fittest. Itís the powerful who rule, after all. History is written by those who win. Right? Well, yes and no. As we count our blessings on a day such as today, it might be interesting to try and count all the kings and other rulers who have come and gone since Jesus walked this earth as a man? How many of them are remembered like he is?

            Take the emperor Domitian, for example. He may have been the big cheese when John was exiled on Patmos, but who do you think has had a bigger impact upon this world, him or his prisoner, John? I doubt Domitian even knew who John was. Guess what? Few today know who Domitian was. Thatís the truth behind all kings, all earthly rulers, whether they are bad or good.

            Jesus, it says, is "the first-born of the dead," which is not so much a title filled with the sorts of fancy honors that kings like to receive from their subjects - "all hail to the chief!" Rather, if Christ is the first to rise from death, others will follow - people like the original recipients of this letter. Many of them really struggled to live out their faith, to simply follow Jesus. Some were arrested for what they believed, perhaps even killed. Some still are. It might be helpful to remember that, when we talk about this American holiday called Thanksgiving, the foundational story involves a group of religious refugees. Are you seeking to follow Jesus today, even if doing so is not the popular thing to do, the path to big money or power?

            In the doxology that follows the blessing in this morningís scripture, Jesus is praised for how he has set people free by his death. In truth, Love was and is more effective than any weapon ever devised by any earthly king. Christ the King is praised here not for lording it over everybody, which is what we expect of earthly rulers. After all, things are sometimes done "in the national interest," for the sake of "security," which really serve to make the powerful more powerful, and the rich richer. Thatís always been the case. King Jesus, however, shares his power - according to this word of praise. In the process, all of Godís children become royalty, not just some - his is a kingdom of priests. The last shall be first. The first shall be last.

            Now, I know, thatís not the way things are seen by most people at the present moment. We live in the "real world," after all. Whatís really real from the perspective of our faith - the upside-down (or is it right-side up?) nature of the kingdom of God - seems a bit hazy. It takes imagination to get past the fog which clouds over our ability to really see. This last book of the Bible is nothing, if not a word from God that sets the praying imagination free.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Revelation.

©2003 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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