2018 NOV 25 “Omega”

CALL TO WORSHIP 

Who’s that writin’?   John the Revelator
Tell me who’s that writin’?  John the Revelator
Tell me who’s that writin’?  John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals.

Christ came on Easter morning
Mary and Martha went down to see
He said, “Go tell my disciples
To meet me in Galilee.

Who’s that writin’?   John the Revelator
Tell me who’s that writin’?  John the Revelator
Tell me who’s that writin’?  John the Revelator
Wrote the book of the seven seals.  Amen!

NOTE:   “John the Revelator” was composed and recorded by Blind Willie Johnson in 1930.  Other verses were added later, including the verse shown above, by Son House, a Delta Blues musician who was rediscovered in the late 1960’s living in Rochester, New York.

 

PRAYER OF CONFESSSION  Dear God, some of  what we read or hear in Scripture is direct and to the point.  Like “feed the hungry” or “love your enemy”.  Putting those teachings into practice may be challenging, yet the lessons are very clear.  But some other parts of Scripture always seem elusive; what do they mean?  Like “I am the Alpha and the Omega”. Or “the book of seen seals”.  What does that mean?  And if we cannot discern the meaning, what practical instructions for living are to be learned?  The entire Book of  Revelation, written by “John the Revelator”,  often seems to have far more mysteries  than answers, yet we look to it today to help us measure the past year in the life of our church, and to prepare for the next.   So, yes, we confess to confusion about many things in the Bible, but we also confess to a desire to learn more about you and about ourselves as we follow your Word.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 THE WORD               Revelation 1:4b-8

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.

MESSAGE       “Omega”             Rev. James Renfrew

There are a lot of ways that I could offer this Sunday message based on this text from the Book of Revelation.

I could start by telling you what I know about the Book of Revelation and John who is credited with writing it.  Some say it was written by John the disciple, but since it seems that the book was written as much as 60 years later than the time of John, it might have been someone else.  It could have been any follower of Jesus named John.  Some call him “John of Patmos”, because according to the first chapter he had been imprisoned on an island named Patmos.

I think I prefer Blind Willie Johnson’s name for the author, “John the Revelator”, and he certainly did like to write.  The story is that he was imprisoned as a persecuted Christian on an isolated island surrounded by the impassable sea for the purpose of breaking his spirit.  Each day the guards would ridicule him for his faith and Christ’s apparent powerlessness to rescue him.  But at night John would have these fantastic dreams, dreams that may be difficult for you or me to interpret all these years later, but it is the power of the writing that carries the day for me.  They thought they were crushing his Spirit, but the real truth was that as John dreamed and wrote his Spirit soared in hope and joy.  And he wrote his story so that your Spirit will soar as well.

So many things in our world, even in peaceful Byron, are designed to make us feel discouraged and powerless, but this is the exact reason I love the “Revelator’s” book, because it never settles for what is, but launches our Spirit again and again so that we are soaring in hope and possibility.

I also could have started this sermon by teaching you the letters of the Greek alphabet, and in fact they are included in the bulletin.  You should study these, because – who knows? – there may be a test!  The English alphabet you know:  ABC, etc.  You might even know the Spanish alphabet: ABC, etc.  I think my wife could tell you the Russian alphabet: ah, beh, veh, geh, deh, yeh, etc.  The Greek alphabet begins with alpha, beta, gamma delta, all the way to omega, the final letter.  While in seminary I stayed up late many nights learning these letters for my class in Greek.  But for the purposes of my message today, all you really need to know is the name of the first and last letters, alpha and omega, because those are the letters that John the Revelator uses to describe the nature, purpose and power of God.  God is our creator, God walks with us this very day, and God will be with us until the end of time, from the alpha to the omega, from start to finish, from the beginning to the end, from Genesis to Revelation, in the lowest valleys and the highest peaks of your life, God is right there with you, offering you hope and healing, justice and peace.

There’s another approach I thought of using.  When I was in high school and my first years of college my church had a student pastor, Bruce.  He drove an old car that constantly needed work.  On the back window he had pasted a decal, the Greek letter omega.  Many cars can be seen with three Greek letters that give their fraternity or sorority affiliation.  Ones around my college were fraternities like Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Delta Zeta, Kappa Delta Rho, Sigma Chi Alpha.  Most of these fraternities may have had lofty statements of purpose, but as far as I could tell their only real reason for their existence was keeping the Utica Club brewery open.  I can tell you a lot more about that, but since it’s a sermon, let me move on.

But there were no fraternities named Omega that I ever heard about.  Bruce told me that when he was a student at college in Ohio that he had found one of those decals and trimmed it so only the omega remained.  “Why omega?” I wondered, and he told me that it represents the fact that God always has the last word, each hour, each day, all the way to eternity.  So whenever I hear the letter “omega” mentioned it reminds me of Bruce and his optimism about God.

Or maybe I should keep today’s message as simple as our “Thanksgiving A to Z” quiz that we did with children.  Forget the Greek, we’ll stick with English. Whether it’s apple pie or zucchini or anything else in-between, Thanksgiving is all about God, giving thanks for the harvest, giving thanks for farms and farmworkers, giving thanks for Mark and Kim’s trucks that ship the produce to where it is needed, giving thanks for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance that I am sure is finding ways to deliver food to devastated communities in California, giving thanks for family reunions, giving thanks for circles of friends, giving thanks for new generations, giving thanks for our lives in a peaceful town, giving thanks for anything that you can think of.

You can give thanks in large multi-syllable theological terms, but you can also keep it as simple as a child’s smile.  We had a expandable tunnel that we brought out of the basement for my one and a half year old grandson to enjoy.  He got the idea right away and crawled from one end to the other with a big smile on his face.  If you ask me, I’ll even show you a picture of him in the tunnel after the service.

Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  Another point I could make is that this text is suggested for reading on the last Sunday of the Church Year before Advent begins.  It’s a way of explaining the church year.  It began a year ago on the first Sunday of Advent, with the hope of Christ breaking into our lives, then Epiphany as the light of his star begins to spread, then Lent as his hope clashes with the powers and principalities leading to what seems to be defeat, and then the unexpected story of resurrection, just as Blind Willie Johnson tells in his song about John the Revelator:  Christ came on Easter morning, Mary and Martha went down to see, He said, “Go tell my disciples, To meet me in Galilee.  And now the year is concluding.  And what a year it has been, from first to last, with all kinds of building repairs and improvements, music, testimony, prayers, and mission,  leading us through special anniversary events in our 200th year.

You can use this text from John the Revelator to take the measure of your last year, the challenges and successes you have seen, to assess what the world needs and how you might contribute to it in the next year.

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