Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What More Do We Need?

Revelation 1: 4-8
There is an old English Proverb that goes like this, “All things must come to an end”.  You’ve probably heard it like spoken that way or maybe with the addition of the word good.  “All good things must come to an end”!  The show, Les Miserable came to an end on Broadway when the stage lights darkened in 2003 and although it survived a revival it finally packed its costume trunks and moved over to the London Theatre.  All good things must come to an end.

The same is true for many other Broadway shows, books on the NY Times Best Sellers list, even television shows.  The soap opera, the Guiding Light, its suds vanished after 72 years of radio and television broadcasts.   Sports teams have winning streaks, bull markets disperse dividends, bottles of wine finally are emptied and boxes of chocolate covered strawberries are devoured leaving only the frilly paper cups with merely a hint of the summer’s sweet bounty.  Ah yes, all things must come to an end, even Cinderella had to go home at the stroke of midnight.

Today is one of those days in the liturgical calendar year.  It’s an ending, it’s The Reign of Christ Sunday, which concludes 52 weeks of readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and has taken us from Advent last year through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Ordinary Time.  It represents 52 weeks of hearing about Jesus life and learning about his ministry and then we wind up at the beginning.

Traversing the liturgical year is kind of like reading to a child her favorite book and just as soon as you say, ‘the end’, you’re your heart leaps for joy that it really is the end of this book that you have read umpty-nine times, the dear little one yells out, ‘again, again’ and of course you start all over from the beginning.  It was St. Benedict of Nursia who said in his monastic rule, “Always we begin again.”

For a Bible geek such as myself it’s fun and exciting to be able to change the color of my stole with the church seasons and to recognize the continuation of Christ’s life in mine.  Sometimes those changes come pretty quickly like, last week was green, this week white, the next two weeks purple, throw in a pink and a follow up purple back to white and then to green…all of this will happen by mid January. 

For those of us believers you see there really is a beginning when an ending occurs.  No liturgical season leaves us with a cliffhanger, they all evolve into something more beautiful, something more insightful or redeeming.  Always we begin again.  But before we flip the calendar to Advent let’s hover a few minutes on this Reign of Christ Sunday and what this awesome claim means for our lives.

It’s not too often that we read from the Book of Revelation.  Probably a good thing.  It’s rather scary with its images and predictions.   Yet there are some exquisite passages in this book.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I saw new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God...he will wipe away every tear…and death will be no more…for the first things have passed away”. (Rev 21:1-4)  So often this passage is of great comfort for people who are mourning the death of a loved one. 

Or another passage, “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  (Rev 22:2) 

So hopeful, so healing which is just what the early Christians living during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian for Christians living in Asia Minor. Now there is not much known about his short reign except to say he was a micro manager of the Empire’s economy and it was expected that the Roman Empire would be worshipped, and Domitian was "Lord."

You can begin to see the challenge for Christians who were trying to live out their faith in Jesus as ‘Lord’ and not the establishment’s vision of empire and kingdom.  They needed hope.  They needed to hear a voice of confident proclamation.

Hear now today’s passage from the first chapter:

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 for ever 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.   Amen.

Always Christians have had a difficult time living in the world because of the nature of Christ and our specific summons to obedience, to justice, to love, to truth that Jesus calls us to.  He, himself, did not have an easy time living in a world dominated by oppressive political systems.  When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate he was asked, ‘are you King of the Jews?’ to which Jesus answers, ‘my kingdom is not from this world’.  And again Pilate asks, ‘so, Jesus, are you a king?’ to which Jesus concedes, ‘you say that I am’.  Finally he did not deny his identity, who he really was.

Jesus tells the truth about himself at the end of his earthly life, not that he ever lied, he did not.  He chose to keep the truth shrouded until the right time to reveal his truth; that he is not from this world, that he is other worldly.   That his kingdom is not a dominating, tax-collecting, democracy starved kingdom, it is one in which peace and wholeness is dominant within us and within the forces of the world.  It is God’s peace, which passes all human understanding, that his reign and his kingdom is all about.  It is God’s kingdom that Jesus reveals in his truth telling moment.

So to answer the question must all good things come to an end?  Is this all there is?  Must the life and ministry of Christ end today with the triumphant reign of Christ?  The answer is no.  “As always we begin again.”  Revelation tells us that Christ is the Alpha and Omega.  When Jesus said that he was not suggesting that his life is finite -what he does mean is that there is totality and wholeness in him. 

His life and essence is a circuitous path that continually reminds us of the way in which God has intervened in the world and that the fullness of what life and death has to offer is accomplished in Jesus.  He who is, who was, and who is to come.  This is Christian Doctrine at its finest.

We can talk about doctrine but unless it doesn’t move you then so what?  Let’s talk about how you are spiritually moved by knowing Jesus, what are the ways that you would describe yourself being spiritually motivated as a Christian? How does your faith unearth and uplift you to feel a deeper connection to God for that is what spirituality means.

How do the stories and the life events of Jesus bring you closer to God and move you to a different place? 

When Mary heard that she was to bear a child in the direst of conditions might we not understand that God too will send a spark of life within us that will pull us up and out of the ominous places from our lives?  (Christmas)

When the Kings from the East followed that star might we not also understand that when we feel like we are completely outside and left behind that God will shine some light somewhere so that we can see clearly the path that we need to take to get home once again?  (Epiphany) 

When we put on the sackcloth and ashes and journey towards the Passion of Christ, that is his suffering and death might we not also understand that there will be times where we will have to deal with adversity, surrender our life and empty ourselves and our selfish ways in order to know that we are totally dependent on God for our every need?  (Lent) 

When Mary discovers an empty tomb and encounters the Risen Christ might we not see that our own spiritual suffering and possibly even death result in life once again, life renewed and infused with joy and God’s love.  (Easter)

When the disciples were gathered and locked up tight in that upper room and the wind of the spirit flew in and lighted upon their heads might not we understand that there is no where on earth that we can go that God will not also be and give us understanding to deal with the scariest circumstances of our lives? (Pentecost) 

When we hear the stories of blind Bartemaus or the Samaritan woman at the well, or the Parable of the Prodigal Son might we not believe that when we feel like we are the untouchables and that no one possibly cares for us we can believe that God is there to protect us and that healing will occur in the least probable places and times?  (Ordinary Time) 

All of these stories of Jesus, all 52 weeks of them enable our spirit to be lifted so that we can feel a connection with God and find truth and meaning in our lives.

Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the one who was, who is and who is to come.  He is the story of God’s love never ending.  Must all good things come to an end?  No!  “Always we begin again.”

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