Preached by Michael Cheuk, November 22, 2015
Taken from Revelation 1:4b-8
We are living in tumultuous and uncertain times. There is drama in our world and in our lives. We see and hear and feel it all around us. Fears about terrorist attacks, bombings, the refugee crisis. Worries about tensions and violence between groups of people in our country. Anxiety about relationships, our classes and grades, our jobs, our health, our future.
In the midst of these times, in the midst of the dramatic events unfolding in our world and in our lives, what are we called to be and to do as the people of God?
This isn’t the only time that God’s people have faced such challenges. The book of Revelation was a letter to seven churches. It was both a word of encouragement in the midst of tumultuous and dramatic times, and a word of challenge to hold fast to the faith. This letter took what was going in the lives of those believers and framed and situated it inside the big picture of the on-going, unfolding divine drama of God. And it gave a glimpse, a vision, a preview if you will, of how it will all end.
Perhaps all of us have experienced times when we were so hemmed in by the challenges and worries of life that we couldn’t see beyond those concerns? When we were so enmeshed in the thicket of the trees that we couldn’t see the forest? During times like these, we need a revelation that gives us a vision of the big picture. During times like these, it is helpful to hear these words: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
As you know, “alpha” is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and “omega” is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. In other words, we have a vision of God who in Christ is active and at work from the very beginning, and will be at work to the very end. God, who is present with us in the present, is the same God who was always present in the past, and will be present in the future. In fact, God in Christ IS the beginning and the end.
“I hope you recognize what this means,” writes theologian Richard Rohr. “It means that you are inside something very sacred, very beautiful, and inherently holy. We ourselves don’t make it holy because it already is. You are the in-between of the Alpha and the Omega, you are the becoming-in-time of the eternal Christ. In other words, Christ is indeed the pattern of the universe. Life has meaning and direction and purpose!”
Isn’t that amazing? We are a part of the on-going divine story of how God in Christ is at work in our lives and in the world, from beginning to the end, between the alpha and omega. Every moment in time is saturated with Jesus Christ, who loves us and desires to free us from our sins. Every moment in time, the offer of grace, God’s unmerited favor and loving-kindness, and the offer of peace, God’s tranquility and wholeness, is available to us. Every moment in time, we as God’s people, a royal priesthood, are called to immerse ourselves in this sacred, beautiful, and inherently holy story so that others may experience God’s love, grace and peace. I now call on Jocelyn, our newly baptized, to share her story.
Two and a half years ago, I was lost. The summer after my fourth year at UVA, I didn’t know where to turn next. I wasn’t speaking with my family. I didn’t have a job. I hadn’t graduated with my class, and I didn’t feel like I could or even wanted to continue with my studies. I didn’t know who I was anymore because my whole life I had been a star student, an outspoken leader, a hard worker, and I felt like I had lost all of that. And then, one Sunday morning I wandered to the Corner – early, because I wasn’t sleeping much. I’d been to the Corner countless times during my UVA career, and I joylessly checked in to my regular haunts, but they were largely deserted on a summer morning. Finally, I reached the end of the familiar storefronts. And there I found a church.
My family isn’t religious, not even Christmas-and-Easter-only religious. We were Christmas-if-grandma-made-us-maybe church-goers, and my only real exposure to the church experience was a high school boyfriend whose dad was a music minister. But that Sunday morning, I wandered into University Baptist and sat in the back, and all that started to change. The sermon that Michael preached that morning was about God’s love for us. And isn’t that really what all sermons are about? But during this sermon, Michael was specifically speaking about conditional love. Now, I know parents’ love for their children is unconditional, and even a friend’s love can be unconditional, but that summer I felt so undeserving of love. I was no longer this person, this high-achiever that my friends and family once knew, so how could they still love me? But Michael’s message that morning was that, no matter what we do, no matter who we become, no matter who is angry with us or heartbroken by our words or actions, God’s love for us is always there and will always be there. God’s love for us is so big that we cannot do anything to thwart it. God wanted so badly to prove this to us that He sacrificed His only son to prove to us that the depth and breadth of His love and its absolute conditionless-ness could not be fathomed. And so that morning I was shown a new measure of my worth – not grades or accolades or even the love of my family, but God’s love for me.
As I filed out of the church at noon, feeling uplifted and, for the first time in months, hopeful, a man in a black robe with a bushy moustache reached out his hand to me. “Are you a college student?” he asked. “Do you sing?” And thus, I met Alba. “I’m a musician, but I don’t really sing,” I mumbled, taken aback. “Well, we have a college choir and we’re looking for anyone who can carry a tune,” said Alba. “We rehearse on Sunday nights once the school year starts, starting with dinner at six. Please stop by.” And just like that, UBC became a part of my life.
Sometimes, we must be torn down in order to be built up. Some of the people who have known me since I was a kid think that my depression and my anxiety cast a shadow over me, over who I was and who I am, and when I fight back those particular demons I reemerge, the same person I’ve always been, shining more brightly into the world. I disagree with them. I think that, as I’ve grown and matured over the last few years, as 20-somethings are wont to do, I’ve been built back up into a new person. Sure, I’m still competitive and high-achieving, and I can definitely be just as impulsive and bossy as I was at ten and at sixteen and at twenty-two. But the person I am now has been built by Christ’s love for me, and the love and support of this church family. Thank you so much to UBC for your wonderful members and your wonderful ministries. You took a broken young woman and showed her that there was so much more to this life and this world than she had ever known. In Jesus’ name, AMEN
Jocelyn is a joyous example of the transforming power of God’s love in Christ here and now. In her baptism, Jocelyn is immersed into a divine drama that was begun by God at the beginning of creation. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, her hope and her future is built on this Christ who will come again in the future to make all things new.
This saving and transforming work of God does not take place in isolation, but in the context of a community, a church. Jocelyn has a hope and a future in Christ, because of the faithful gifts of this congregation, by the cooking and sharing of meals on Sunday nights, by the investment of your time, your care, and your prayers to members of Jubilate. Your gifts made it possible for members of Jubilate to love and minister with Jocelyn in ways that we old folks never could. In turn, Jubilate continues to bless us with their music and their presence, and we give thanks to God for all of their gifts. Jubilate is just one example of how our gifts support ministries that help us and others, like Jocelyn, live into the plans that God has for us, plans that give us hope and a future.
We are now coming to the climax of our stewardship season. Today, we give thanks to God for God’s bounty and blessings. Today, we give thanks to God for Jocelyn’s new life in Christ. Today, we give thanks to God for placing us inside something very sacred, very beautiful, and inherently holy . . . of living out the on-going divine story of God’s redeeming work between the alpha and the omega. Today, we give out of our need to express our thanks to this gracious God.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” In this time between the alpha and omega, may the response of our lives and our gifts express our thanksgiving and faith in God’s hope and future.
 Richard Rohr, “I am the Alpha and Omega,” in Sick and You Cared for Me, p. 315.