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The Second Sunday of Easter
April 3, 2016
The New Testament: Revelation 1: 4-8
Sermon: "From A to Z"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
The New Testament:
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
From A to Z
It’s the little things that trip us up. A tragic example of that was a crash of a jumbo jet several years ago. The plane was the infamous Flight 401, bound from New York to Miami with a heavy load of holiday passengers. As the plane approached the Miami airport for landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on. The pilots set the plane to fly in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades so that they, with the rest of the cockpit crew, could try to see if the gear had actually not deployed, or if instead the bulb in the signal light was defective.
When the flight engineer tried to remove the light bulb, it wouldn’t budge. So the other members of the crew tried various ways to help him. As they struggled with the bulb, no one noticed that the auto-pilot had disengaged. The aircraft began a gradual loss of altitude until it simply flew right into the swamp. While an experienced crew fumbled with a seventy-five-cent bulb, the entire plane and its passengers flew right into the ground. Now there’s a parable for life. We can be so wrapped up in minute matters that the really important things go unnoticed.
This morning, we are going to deal with one of the most important things of all: the ever-faithful nature of God. Our passage is drawn from that climactic book of Scripture that we know as The Revelation to John; or, the Apocalypse. If you do read on in this chapter, don’t get put-off by the cherubim and the seraphim and the golden lampstands and the two-edged sword. This revelatory vision to John is a lofty work, with many beautiful, and some terrifying, word-pictures, and even more important truths about our faith. This morning, we look into one of the loftiest of these important truths.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha and Omega; Alpha is of course the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the twenty-fourth and last letter. I am the “A” and the “Z” we might say, but it just lacks the grandeur of the Greek. “I am the beginning and the end, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” In other words, we are being told here, God is God of the past, God of the present, and God of the future. God is the great “I Am.” His reign has been and will be forever and ever. Before existence, before matter came to have mass, and a universe exploded into being, God was. And, if matter should cease to have mass, and all known existence cease, God will still be.
The point of all this “A to Z” is how it points to the permanence of God’s existence; and the assurance we can take from the permanence of God’s faithfulness. The Old Testament writers gloried in that assurance. Consider these references to it from Psalms 89 and 90: “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and to eternity you are God…For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday that is gone. I will sing of your steadfast love, O lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever.”
What this permanence of God and of God’s faithfulness tells us first, is this: God is the faithful God of the past. For ancient Israel, it was critical to the people to recall God’s saving acts in their past. The father in the Jewish family bore a particular responsibility for burning the history of Israel’s walk with God into the minds and hearts of his children. None were ever to forget that God had brought them with a strong hand out of Egypt. They were never to forget the Passover Lamb, or the opening and crossing of the sea. They were to keep the lessons of the forty-year wandering in the wilderness close, and remember their entrance into the Promised Land. The Old Testament was written as a chronicle of God’s saving acts in the life of the people of Israel. The overall theme of that chronicle is the faithfulness of God. By recalling their past, and seeing God’s action in it through the lives of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and on, they would be able to see what God’s faithfulness had been for those lifetimes, and be assured that God’s faithfulness to his people would be for all time. In that assurance they could face anything.
Recalling God’s loving care of us in our own lives, and among us as a people, can bring us needed assurance too. In moments of struggle, or challenge, or fear, or hardship, or even despair, remembering God’s past help can transfuse us with courage to face anything.
This is also true because the permanence of God and God’s faithfulness also tells us this: God is the faithful God of the present. It’s important to see God’s hand in our past, because that reassures us that God’s hand is with us in our present. I conducted a funeral service for a woman who had just turned eighty. Only two weeks previous as she lay dying, had she finally given herself to Jesus. As she poured out the story of her life to me, one clear awareness kept presenting itself. All her life Jesus had been with her. She had seen the evidence of his presence. Others had told her his word, yet she had made no decision to follow him. Her past was full of his care, and her future she now knew would somehow be decided at his determination. Yet, for all those present moments, there had been no real desire to walk with him. Until, those two weeks before her death.
As she lay in a hospital bed, knowing that she was not far from death, she began to call upon the Lord in that present moment. He came to her side through Christian friends and family members. I remember the day she confessed her sins and her faith. After giving her the assurance of her salvation from Scripture, I baptized her as those friends and family stood at her bedside. At her funeral, I read a statement she had written about her faith that she had composed in her last fully conscious moments. In it she told of how, from that moment in the hospital she had come to know a wonderful peace and sureness in each present moment. God was with her, and fear was gone.
A few months ago, I received a letter. It was from a young woman who is a member of another congregation, and lives in another community. The letter, though, was a thank you to you the people of this congregation. She had come here at a time when her faith was thin and her awareness of God faint. But, because of the love she felt from you, and the messages from Scripture she heard here, her faith was renewed. Her life had become centered and focused again in each present moment; even in the midst of the everyday rush of life.
“This is the day that the Lord has made!” God is alive and at work in our world. He is the God of the now. He is a God of faithfulness, patience and infinite love. Regardless of any burden or challenge you or I may be facing, we can find real strength in him; for he is the God of the present, and his faithfulness will be present with you and me.
God is God of the past, and the God of the present. And, of course, one thing more; God is the faithful God of the future, your future and mine. We can be so fearful of the future. We can be a bundle of anxieties over our health, our finances, our children and grandchildren, the safety of our country and the world. Our constant anxiety reminds me of a story that Mark Twain once told about a friend of his who came to him at the races one day. The friend said, “I’m broke. I wish you’d buy me a ticket back to town.”
Twain said, “Well, I’m pretty broke myself but, I’ll tell you what to do. You hide under my seat, and I’ll cover you with my legs.” It was agreed and Twain then went to the ticket office and actually bought two tickets, without saying anything about it to his friend. When the train was under way, and the supposed stow-away was snug and hidden under Twain’s seat, the conductor came by and Twain gave him both of the tickets.
Where’s the other passenger?” asked the conductor. Twain tapped on his forehead and said in a loud voice, “That’s my friend’s ticket. He’s a little eccentric and likes to ride under the seat.”
That’s something of the vision that presents itself as we go riding into the future, hiding with our anxieties under a seat. But, the God who has loved us and sustained us to this point is not going to suddenly forget us. He is the faithful God of the future.
You may or may not know the courageous story of Patricia Neal. She was a famous actress who starred across the silver screen with most of Hollywood’s leading men. Notably, she had been in “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Fountainhead,” and “Hud,” for which she won the Oscar for best actress. She was also a Tony Award winning Broadway Star. Along with the acclaim and success she also managed to have a home life with a noted British writer and four children. Then her life fell apart. One day, as her baby son was being wheeled across a busy New York City street, the baby’s carriage was struck by a careless car, then crushed between a truck and a bus with her baby son still in it. Two years later Patricia’s youngest daughter caught the measles and died. Shortly after that, in 1965, Patricia herself almost died of three massive brain hemorrhages. Her speech, vision, and mind were all impaired. Her husband nursed her faithfully for some time, but then left her for another woman.
She was at absolute rock bottom. It was then that she called out to God, and she found the strength to fight. She relearned to walk and to talk. Though she never fully recovered everything, she did go on to star again on the silver screen. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in “The Subject Was Roses.” She also went on to star in television, seen frequently as a recurring character in “Little House On The Prairie,” and originating the part of Olivia Walton in the Walton’s series pilot, for which she won the Golden Globe. Just a few years prior to her death, a Hollywood reporter pressed her to explain the key to her courage. She pointed to a plaque in the room which read, “Fear knocked at the door. Faith in God answered. Fear knocked no more, For Fear had fled.” When she died in 2010, her last words were, “I’ve had a lovely time.”
There is the secret to facing an uncertain future; faith in God’s faithfulness. God will be with us. He is with us now. He has always been with us. He will never forsake us. He is the God who is, who was, and who is to come. The Alpha and the Omega. Faithful from A to Z.