Jeff Garrison Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church Revelation 1:4-8 August 17, 2014
I am humbled and a little nervous to stand up here for first time to proclaim God’s good news to you and to this community. I am thankful for the good work Sam did as interim pastor. Someone told me about a sermon he gave a few months ago on there being no perfect pastors. I’m glad he lowered the bar. I would say that I hope to preach like Paul, but if you remember he could be longwinded and boring and once a man sitting in a window listening to him fell asleep and tumbled out of the window. I’ll try to do better and just in case, we’ll keep the windows closed. I have my faults and will begin today with some simple confessions. From time to time it is good for me to remind of you of my imperfections. I struggle with names and I pray that you will bear with me as I strive to learn your names. Keep reminding me, sooner or later your name will make its way through my thick skull and be recorded in my brain. My second confession today may seem trivial to most of you, unless you happen to be or have been and English teacher or a librarian. Then it’s serious business. That is, I have a tendency to jump to the back of the book when I am reading and that’s what I am going to do this morning as we begin our tour through this book of books that we love, God’s word. The study of scripture is an incredible adventure as we learn not only about God, but also about ourselves. Today, we’ll explore the opening section of the last book in Scripture, the Book of Revelation. Read Revelation 1:4-8
One thing you’ll learn about me is that I love trains! I have taken five trips across our country on train, I’ve ridden trains in Canada, Korea and Japan, and once was blessed to travel (mostly by train) overland from Singapore to Europe. There is something about being on a train and watching the landscape change. People on trains are not as hurried as they are on airplanes. It’s a good place to look, to read, to write and to meet new people. Trains have often been used as a metaphor for the Christian journey. There are many gospel songs that express this. “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad” has the refrain: “Keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail. Blessed Savior, thou wilt guide us till we reach the blissful shore…” Or the Peter, Paul and Mary song, “This train is bound for glory, don’t ride nothin’ but he righteous and the holy…” I’ve often thought about how a long-haul train is similar to our Christian lives. In the winter, trains with cars filled with produce are put together in Southern California and three or four days later that produce is being served up in restaurants and sold in the produce aisles of grocery stores in the Midwest and East. There is no one engineer that takes that train from its source to its destination. Instead, every eight or ten hours, a new crew takes over, so that by the time the train has covered the three thousand or so miles, it’s had a dozen crews manning it. Christ’s Church operates in a similar way. Pastors come and go, so do Elders, so do members. Sometimes the tracks are smooth and the train makes good time, but other times there are curves and hills or even mudslides and washed out ballast and the going is slow. Likewise, with the church, there are times things go well and other times we struggle. But we’re to continue on. When we take over the throttle, we must ask ourselves, “Are we being faithful to Jesus Christ?” Are we doing our best to safely move the train a little further down the track, knowing that we’re a part of something so much bigger than ourselves? We’re part of something that is eternal, as we see in our morning reading from the opening of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. Our passage begins with John making it clear that this letter to the seven churches is not from him but from a divine source. The seven churches are in Asia which was a Roman providence in what’s today the country of Turkey. John begins with the words, grace and peace, a greeting found throughout the New Testament and has been used by Christians throughout the centuries. I used it at the beginning of our time together this morning. It has been pointed out that the ordering is important. Grace, which comes from God, is always first and a prerequisite for peace. Without God’s grace, we’d be lost! Without grace, there can be no peace. John indicates three sources for this grace and peace. First, it comes from the “Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This is a paraphrase of the God of the Exodus, who revealed himself to Moses as the great “I am who I am.” God is revealed as the eternal one, the one beyond our comprehension. God is creator and present throughout history. The second source comes from the seven spirits. There are some debate over the meaning of this, but I think there is much merit in the ancient belief that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Book of Revelation, seven is considered the number of perfection and the seven spirits imply the Spirit’s fullness.  The third source of this greeting is from Jesus Christ. The three sources of the greetings, from the God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ the Son provides us with a Trinitarian view of the Godhead. It is a little strange to have the Spirit ahead of the Son (we usually think of Father, Son and Spirit), but this construct allows for John to slip seamlessly into much detail about Jesus Christ, God’s revelation to us. We’re given more information about Jesus Christ. He is God’s faithful witness. He reveals God to us and by knowing him, we can know the God the Father. We should remember that the book we know as Revelation was addressed to churches about to experience persecution. Many Christians would die, and many more would die over the next two thousand years for their faith (and some continue to die today such as the Iraqi and Syrian Christians who have been recently executed for their faith by the fanatical ISIS militia). Jesus, as “firstborn on the dead,” is a designation that encourages those about to face martyrdom, reminding them (and us) that life on earth is temporary. We have eternity to which to look forward. Furthermore, Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. We may live in fear of earthly kings and terrorists, but we should never forget that one day all will be called to account and just because one has the power of a king or queen and can seemingly do what he or she wants doesn’t mean that they will not be held accountable for their actions. John’s description of our Lord continues on a personal level as he reminds his readers (and us) what Jesus has done. We’re loved, we’re freed from our sin, and we’ve been brought into a kingdom, into a family, where we’re established as priests who serve God forever. One of our most important Protestant doctrines is the Priesthood of All Believers. As priests, all glory should flow from us to the eternal God. In verse seven, John refers to Jesus’ return. Going back to his reminder that Jesus is “King of kings,” we are further reminded that upon his return everyone (including those who persecuted Jesus) will see Jesus which, of course, will cause many a great deal of concern and there will be wailing and weeping from those who nailed Jesus to the cross or who harmed his followers.. Revelation is written as a letter and today we’re look at the salutation section. This section ends at verse eight, reflecting back on verse four where the section began, with a reminder that Jesus is co-eternal with the Father. “I am the Alpha and the Omega (the A and the Z, we might translate it), who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty!” We are called as followers of Jesus Christ, the eternal one. During our tenure on his metaphorical railroad, we are to be faithful to him and him alone! Let me tell you a story. Once I took the train out west, getting off in Las Vegas and renting a car and exploring places like Pioche, Nevada along with Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon. I picked up the train one evening in Las Vegas to head back East, where I was living at the time. It was already late and went to bed, exhausted from my travels. In the early morning hours, around 4 AM, I notice we were not moving. I assumed we were on a siding, waiting for a freight train to pass. At 6, I got up and we were still stopped. I made my way to the coffee and ran into the car attendant and asked what was going on. He said we’d “died on the line.” I didn’t know what he meant, but it didn’t sound good. The term refers to the operating crew (the engineers and the conductors) exceeding their allowed hours to run the train. When this happens, standing orders require they stop the train at the nearest siding and wait for replacements. We were in the middle of the desert, near Black Rock, Utah. It took them over four hours to get a new crew to the train. By then we were so late that I missed my connection the next day, after we finally arrived in Chicago. I can assure you the faith of the passengers were running a little thin on that train. But the car attendants did their best to make the journey pleasant and we eventually arrived at our designations. When the dining car ran out of food, we stopped at a small town in Iowa where a van was waiting and received hundreds of boxes of KFC, which were passed around to hungry passengers. They did what they could do to prepare us for making alternate travel arrangements and keep assuring us that we’d be taken care of once we arrived. On top of it all, the remained incredibly calm and pleasant during what was a trying situation. We need to be like those attendants on that train, keeping a positive outlook and encouraging one another as we focus on our eyes Jesus. We need to remember that he has all things under control. Jesus is our reason for being here this morning. He is the reason for this organization known as the church. He is the eternal one, who has freed us from our sin and who draws us together. He is the one we worship and serve. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. It is my plan and my hope that in my sermons and as your pastor, his name will always be praised. I’m looking forward to this exciting journey. Today, instead of using the Apostle’s Creed as an affirmation of faith, I’m going to draw upon another of our creeds in the Book of Confessions. I am going to ask the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism, and I will let you answer it with words found in your bulletin which nicely summarizes this passage. Leader: What is your only comfort, in life and death? People: That I belong—body and soul, in life and death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of His own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that He protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit His purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for Him.