Is, and Was, and Is to Come

Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
November 25, 2018
Christ the King Sunday

Revelation 1: 4b-8 (NIV)
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

A few years ago, I had an eye-opening conversation with a gentleman who was a member of the congregation I served at the time. The man was middle-aged, nearing retirement, but not quite there. We were talking because just a day before, he had learned from his doctor that he had a degenerative disease. The prognosis was not terrible, but it was not great, either. The doctor had told him that he may have at least a couple more decades of life, but that over time the disease would progress and his abilities to carry on as he did at that point would diminish. The doctor even warned the man that it was likely that he would reach a point where he would be wheelchair bound, and perhaps even unable to chew or swallow. Unless you have received such news in your own life, it’s difficult to imagine the gravity of such a diagnosis. To be faced with the reality that life as you know it will come to an end, and what lies before you is a road full of difficulty and pain; such news would be unbearable for all of us, I have no doubt.

That is why I was talking to this man. He was trying to process what the doctor had told him; to bring his faith to bear in light of the diagnosis he was facing. I’ve had many such conversations in my years of ministry, but this one was different. Usually, these conversations happen at a later stage in life. Most of the time, folks are able to reflect on a life well-lived, be thankful for grace, and faith, and family. They are able to find peace in the promise of eternal life with God. This man was trying to do that, but it wasn’t as easy for him. His death was not yet imminent, a life of eternal peace and rest with God was still some ways in the distance. And between the here and now and the yet to be was complete life upheaval; the loss of health, of ability, of power or control, maybe even the loss of purpose. You know, it’s not very easy to find peace with that; to just be “okay” with such tough realities. He was grasping on to anything he could think of; trying to maintain some semblance of control knowing in the back of his mind that he was going to lose it. He was trying to maintain a sense of purpose knowing that his body would not serve him to such an end for much longer. It was a terrible, heart-breaking conversation, and we cried many times in the two or so hours we sat there talking.

I remember that conversation well for a lot of reasons, but I share it with you today because of a revelation I had a few days after that man and I spoke. It occurred to me that in our lives, from time to time, we all face some sort of crisis. It may not be of the magnitude this man was facing, but they exist nonetheless, these events that force some fundamental change. That’s what it comes down to: change, and we humans just don’t deal with change well at all. It is that reality that brought this conversation to my mind again last week; because our world is changing a lot right now, and it’s changing really fast. Aside from whatever we might be dealing with in our own lives, things are in upheaval in the world around us, too; in our church, our country, everywhere.

The technological revolution of the modern age has been likened to the Industrial Revolution around the turn of the 18th century. Even though we aren’t calling it the Technological Revolution yet, I can guarantee you that history will label this moment as such at some point. I read just last week that the amount of data that is generated and stored around this world is doubling every two years right now. We have data on everything, and computers are constantly collecting, storing, and processing that data in order to improve (theoretically) our lives. We have access to information about everything. The car companies are building cars that drive themselves. Doctors are performing surgeries with robots. Manufacturers are trying to figure out how to use artificial intelligence to improve manufacturing process. In the meantime, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more powerful, sex-trafficking is rapidly increasing, and wars are creating extreme conditions of man-made famine in Africa and the Middle East. It is all overwhelming, sometimes it seems chaotic. Then there is the stuff that is so despairing, so troubling. Ken and I sometimes lament the world we will (or may not even) pass on to our children. I can’t count the number of times in the last year that the news has brought me to tears.

When things are going like this, it’s really hard NOT to get caught up in it, isn’t it? When our life is changing before our eyes and everything that is familiar is disappearing; when we are in crisis and chaos, how does that NOT affect us deeply? How does that not take us to the point of a crisis, maybe even a crisis of faith?

“I am the Alpha and the Omega…”

Today, Christians around the world observe what is called Christ the King Sunday. Today is the day we consider what it means that Christ is enthroned in heaven, sitting at the right hand of the Father. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Everlasting God. The same yesterday, today, and forever.

Friends, life is crazy. It’s 100% nuts. Life is complicated and chaotic. We have to deal with realities we don’t want to deal with. We have to face situations that we are not prepared to face. Sometimes, we find ourselves in the midst of a total crisis, our lives in turmoil. But today, we declare that Christ is here with us. Today, we celebrate that in the midst of crisis, and turmoil, and upheaval, Christ is our King—constant, unchanging, “who was, and who is, and who is to come.”

You know, what I realized as I talked to that man a few years ago was that he was dealing with a crisis of faith. In the midst of this medical diagnosis and life upheaval, his faith was failing him too. He was trying to lean upon the promises of abundant life, but not able to reconcile that with the years of degeneration he knew he would face. He was trying to trust that God is good, that God loved him, but he couldn’t understand how a loving God could cause or even allow such a tragic illness. Everything was unraveling before him. I wish I could tell you that I had answers for that man, but I didn’t. I listened, I cried with him, I prayed with him. He’s still alive, still active at the church—served by a different minister now, so I don’t have any direct contact with him. He is doing okay, not as well as a few years ago, but not badly either. It’s my understanding that he is able to travel some with his wife, and he’s working hard to maintain his faculties for as long as he possibly can.

I share his story with you today because he came to mind as I read this passage from Revelation last week. It occurred to me that maybe sometimes we try to turn our faith into something it cannot be. Here is Christ, enthroned before the world, declaring, “I am the beginning and the end.” I AM. I always HAVE BEEN. I always WILL BE. There’s song by a Caedmon’s Call, and the chorus says, “My faith is like shifting sand, changed by every wave.” If we believe that our faith is a shield that will protect us from everything that life throws at us, then we will be disappointed. But what if our faith was simpler than that? What if faith was just believing in God? What if faith was just trusting in Christ’s constant, unchanging presence in us and in our world?

Doesn’t that change things? Doesn’t that make things different? Instead of trying to manage the chaos; instead of trying to deal with the crisis; instead of trying to draw out of our faith answers that sometimes are not there; what if faith was simply about believing in Christ, just trusting God? Do you see the difference? Our Lord is everlasting. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, “who was, and who is, and who is to come.” God is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. The Lord is our constant, unchanging presence. We just have to have faith that if we can put all our chaos, all our crisis in God’s hands, then God will handle it.

I know it sounds too easy. Or maybe it’s too difficult. I’m not sure. To just trust in God’s constancy, God’s consistency; to believe in Christ’s reign over our lives and over this earth even in the midst of the chaos—it’s both comforting and challenging. But you know what? Isn’t that what it means to believe in Christ as King? That we let go of everything in our own lives and submit ourselves to our Lord; that we surrender our lives completely to God’s control, to Christ’s reign. Such total surrender is not easy—that was the struggle of my former parishioner in the face of his diagnosis. But if we can worship Christ as King, if we can surrender totally to Christ’s reign in our lives, then we will see that even in the midst of all the chaos of our lives there is peace, because…Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, who was, and who is, and who is to come. And because he lives, we shall live also.

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