July 12, 2020


Call to Worship

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Opening Hymn

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord Thou my great Father, I Thy true son Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise Thou mine Inheritance, now and always Thou and Thou only, first in my heart

High King of Heaven,my victory won May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heav'n's Sun Heart of my own heart, whate'er befall Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all

Prayer of Confession

Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name, what our hearts can no longer bear, and what has become for us a consuming fire of judgement. Set us free from a past that we cannot change; open to us a future in which we can be changed; and grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image; through Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

Words of Assurance: (Pastor)

Hear the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia. Amen.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Almighty God, in Jesus Christ you taught us to pray, and to offer our petitions to you in his name. Guide us by your Holy Spirit, that our prayers for others may serve your will and show your steadfast love; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord:

  • Let us pray for the world.

  • Let us pray for the church.

  • Let us pray for those who govern us.

  • Let us pray for world leaders.

  • Let us pray for the sick.

God of compassion, bless us and those we love, our friends and families that, drawing close to you, though we are apart, we may be drawn closer to each other, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offertory

What does it mean for God to be in control of your life?

Scripture Reading

Revelation 1: 1-8, 22: 6-21

Prologue

1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

Greetings and Doxology

4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, 5 and 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, 6 and 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,”[b] and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c] 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.”

John and the Angel

6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

10 Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. 11 Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”

Epilogue: Invitation and Warning

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Sermon “”The Eve of Destruction” The Alpha and the Omega”

Alan: Good morning. The title of our sermon this morning is borrowed from a famous—or infamous—protest song from 1965. The version that most people know was recorded by Barry McGuire and it spoke about a lot of social turmoil in the United States in the 1960s. It was a polarizing song—if you were alive at the time, you either loved it or you hated it—there was no in between. Whether you loved it or hated it, the refrain is unforgettable: “You tell me, over and over again, my friend, how you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”

“Eve of Destruction” was a big hit and it was despised at exactly the same time. Some people hated it so much, they wrote and recorded counter-protest songs, responses to “Eve of Destruction.” A typical response was “A Song of Hope” by the Back Porch Majority. It was happy, peppy, folky song and its refrain said, “I tell you over and over and over again, we’re gonna make it, if we try!”

I don’t know how “A Song of Hope” sounded in 1965, but it sounds really hokey and corny now. It sounds like it was written by someone who wasn’t paying attention to what was going on in the world. On the other hand, “Eve of Destruction” sounds hokey and bombastic to me. The song doesn’t make for good poetry and, well, it’s been 55 years since the song was released and the world hasn’t ended. Yet. Still, it’s memorable.

I think the Book of Revelation is polarizing in much the same way as the song “Eve of Destruction” was. A few people really love Revelation. The rest of us, not so much. Some are scared off by the nightmarish visions. Many more are confused and have trouble figuring out what the writer, John of Patmos, is trying to say. I have avoided preaching on Revelation in my four years in ministry. Frankly, I didn’t want to preach a sermon on sorcerers, fornicators, and idolaters. Verses like that are usually used to condemn people. Such verses let the pastor condemn his or her enemies, claiming that they are God’s enemies. I don’t want to go there.

But the weird and oddly-specific prophecies seem to speak into our troubled times. In the last couple months, more than person has asked me, “Pastor, do you think all this stuff that’s going on in our world was predicted in Revelation?” My friends Alan and Charissa have also been hearing this question. So, we decided that we needed to spend some more time with Revelation. We saw a teachable moment, because the images in Revelation won’t let us go. And the prophecies are relevant to our time—as they are to all times.

The short answer is, no, Revelation is not a code to be unraveled. It doesn’t point to any hidden conclusions or secret codes. Revelation does contain prophecy that points us toward a faithful response to God’s love in a broken world.

Charissa: Revelation is such a complicated book that just the second word of it is problematic. The first word, “the,” isn’t actually used in the Greek. So technically, the first word of the text is problematic. No wonder this is such a hard book to get a handle on. We can’t even get past the first word without things getting murky.

Here’s what’s murky about it: The way we use the word: ἀποκάλυψις (apocalypse in English) is very different than the scriptural use. When we think “apocalypse,” many of our minds go to wars and destruction and death and zombies. And that is not at all what John of Patmos is doing. John is not predicting the end of the world.

Most of our modern translations of the text use the word “Revelation”—which is where the book got its title—to try to clear up this confusion, but the cat is all the way out of the bag either way and shoving cats back in bags never goes well. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Anyway, “apocalypse” does not mean “end of the world”. At no point in the book of Revelation does our dear saint, John, say “this is how the world ends.” What he says is “this is the end of the world as we know it.”

The Bible does not talk about the end of the world. It never does. There is no talk about the whole thing exploding or imploding or going poof. It talks so much, though, about the end of the way things are.

If apocalypse doesn’t mean “end of the world,” what DOES it mean? It just means, uncover or reveal. But it doesn’t mean necessarily a revealing of the end of times or even of the future. There is no sense of prediction associated with this word at all ever in the Greek. It’s a revealing of the truth. It’s a time when we are opened up, unburdened, unblinded from the things that are holding us back from seeing things in a new way. And it’s something that is done to us, not by us. Think about the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. That was a revelation—an apocalypse.

I know that I am not the only person in the world right now who feels like we are seeing the end of the world as we know it. And we sorta are. This isn’t the end of the world. But we are at a time when so many things are being brought to light by this pandemic that we can’t possibly go back to how things were. The world will and should come out of this different. The pandemic is an apocalypse—it’s forcing us to see things in new ways. It’s bringing to light how much we need to slow down. It’s forcing us to retool church—something that the American church has been in desperate need of for decades. It’s brought to light the inequities of systemic poverty and structural racism that we prefer to avoid confronting when possible. So many things are being revealed—good and bad right now.

So, yeah. We’re living in an apocalyptic time. Not in the “it’s all ending, Jesus is coming back with a trumpet blast tomorrow” way. But in the “Paul on the road to Damascus in need of a serious conversion” way.

Take a deep breath—that doesn’t mean we’re headed to Hell in a handbasket or that halfway through this sermon, Apocalypse isn’t all bad.

Rebecca- I think the good news our Scripture reading for today offers us is that revelation is ultimately a book about Jesus. About who Jesus is, about how Jesus relates to creation, and about how we are to respond to Jesus’ action in our own lives. Revelation is not about how to predict when the world is going to end. We did not choose to preach on this text this summer because we think the coronavirus pandemic is a sign of the end of the world. Instead we think that Revelation is a profoundly hopeful book. It is a book that bears witness, though albeit strange signs and metaphors, to God’s sovereignty over all of creation.

Revelation teaches us that God, made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, is in absolute control of all things. While we will face trials and tribulations, God will ultimately be victorious. God is actively working to restore creation to its intended glory. Because of God’s love for all of humanity, God has the first, and God has the final, say in all of creation. We hope that when life feels overwhelming this summer, we too can find comfort in God’s sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty.

If the good news of Revelation is that God is in absolute control of all things, this gives us great freedom to be flexible in the midst of trials and tribulations. One area where we find ourselves being flexible right now is in the way we “do church.” My small churches have resumed in-person worship. Alan’s church is experimenting with a hybrid model of virtual and outdoor worship services. Charissa’s churches are continuing to meet virtually. Freed from the constraints of the way we’ve always done things, the three of us are able to collaborate to breathe new life into our virtual worship services. We each bring different gifts to the table. Alan challenges us to look at the text in new ways. Charissa produces our videos. I make sure that we meet regularly and get our information to each other on time.

This pandemic has taught us that the church isn’t the building. But the church is her people supporting one another in whatever is going on in the world around them. As we prepare to go from this place, I encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on what it means for God to be in control of your life. Here is what I found when during my reflection time: If God is in control, then…

  1. I can be flexible with how I worship.

  2. I can embrace opportunities for virtual connection and collaboration.

  3. I can clarify essentials routines and rituals from inessentials.

  4. I can be open to the movement of the Spirit in my life and community.

  5. I can let go of the things that exist outside of my control.

Friends, Charissa, Alan and I are excited to collaborate with you this summer as we do a deep dive into Revelation. We hope that you will follow along with the Revelation reading plans I have (printed in the back of the sanctuary/delivered electronically). If you have questions about what you’ve read, we encourage you to bring your questions with you to Thursday afternoon Bible Study. We’re looking forward to learning what Revelation has to teach us during this strange and unique moment in our history.

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Closing Hymn

“Let all Who Are Thirsty Come”

Let all who are thirsty come, let all who wish receive the water of life, freely.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Amen. Come Lord Jesus

Blessing

You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a plan and a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do, through you, wherever you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power, Amen.

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