SUNDAY SCHEDULE
9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

2203 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78705

The Great Benediction

John Leedy

November 25, 2012
Revelation 1:4b-8

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A reading from Revelation…

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, 5and 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, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

7Look! 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. 8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

The word of the Lord – thanks be to God

And now a reading from the book of Chicken Little:

Narrator:   Chicken Little was in the woods one day when an acorn fell on her head.  It scared her so much she trembled all over.  She shook so hard, half her feathers fell out.

Chicken Little:   “Help! Help!  The sky is falling!  I have to go tell the king!”

Narrator:   So she ran in great fright to tell the king.  Along the way she met Henny Penny.

Henny Penny:  “Where are you going, Chicken Little?”

Chicken Little:   “Oh, help!  The sky is falling!”

Henny Penny:   “How do you know?”

Chicken Little:   “I saw it with  my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!”

Henny Penny:  “This is terrible, just terrible!  We’d better hurry up.”

Narrator:  So they both ran away as fast as they could.  Soon they met Ducky Lucky.

Ducky Lucky:   “Where are you going, Chicken Little and Henny Penny?”

Chicken Little & Henny Penny:  “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!  We’re going to tell the king!”

Ducky Lucky:  “How do you know?”

Chicken Little:  “I saw it with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head.”

Ducky Lucky:   “Oh dear, oh dear!  We’d better run!”

Narrator:   So they all ran down the road as fast as they could.  Soon they met Goosey Loosey walking down the roadside.

Goosey Loosey    “Hello there.  Where are you all going in such a hurry?”

Chicken Little:   “We’re running for our lives!”

Henny Penny:  “The sky is falling!”

Ducky Lucky:   “And we’re running to tell the king!”

Goosey Loosey:  “How do you know the sky is falling?”

Chicken Little:  “I saw it with  my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!”

Goosey Loosey:    “Goodness!  Then I’d better run with you.”

Narrator:   And they all ran in great fright across a field.  Before long they met Turkey Lurkey strutting back and forth..

Turkey Lurkey:    “Hello there, Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, and Goosey Loosey.  Where are you all going in such a hurry?”

Chicken Little:   “Help!  Help!”

Henny Penny:   “We’re running for our lives!”

Ducky Lucky:   “The sky is falling!”

Goosey Loosey:   “And we’re running to tell the king!”

Turkey Lurkey:   “How do you know the sky is falling?”

Chicken Little:   “I saw it with  my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head!”

Turkey Lurkey:   “Oh dear! I always suspected the sky would fall someday.  I’d better run with you.”

The word of Chicken Little – thanks be to Chicken little.

Tikvah sat in sorrow on the hard earth.  News had come from the village that morning – three more had been arrested.  Tikvah had not known them by name, but their faces were familiar.  She had seen them in the hazy gloom of the small, secreted-away church that her family worshiped in, alongside a few dozen other families in the Roman province of Smyrna.

A young girl, Tikvah had already seen her fair share of the troubles of this world, compounded by the fact that her faith and the faith of her family made them easy targets of the punishing persecution at the hands of those in power.

Peasants all, the worshiping community was a hard scrabble lot who toiled for their meager bread and gave what little they could to those in their midst who could not work.  Although they were poor in material things, the church at Smyrna was rich in Spirit – continuing to meet and witness to the risen Christ despite the constant threat of arrest, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

However, despite the boldness of her little community, there were times when the troubles of the world got the best of young Tikvah, and today, surrounded by poverty and the sad news of more arrests, she sat dejected upon her family’s cold hearth.  She looked out the solitary window of her home with tears in her eyes.

The sky was so blue and beautiful today.  She imagined God up in heaven, surrounded by angels, and wished with all her might that she could see but a glimpse of that glory, of that freedom, of that peace.  It was then that she heard the sound of pounding hooves as a horseman drew up to her home.

Hope sat in sorrow at the corner of 24th and Guadalupe Street.  News had come that morning from the header of a discarded newspaper – a cold front was descending upon the Texas Hill Country tonight.

As a homeless street youth, Hope had already seen her fair share of the troubles of this world, compounded by the fact that the worshiping community she had grown up in and her own family had turned their backs on her when she came out to them.  The damage had been done, and she fell into a depression which made it difficult to hold down a steady job.  Her hopelessness lead her to drugs, which lead her to the streets.

There were days where Hope thought that she couldn’t go on any longer, and perhaps tonight, with the chilling wind and rain, she might not have to.  She looked out over the tops of the low buildings of the Drag with tears in her eyes.  The sky was so cloudy and gray.  She thought for a moment back to the stories she had heard throughout her childhood.

She imagined God up in heaven, surrounded by angels, and wished with all her might that she could see but a glimpse of that glory, of that freedom, of that peace.  It was then that she heard the first sounds of rain falling from the cold winter sky.

Yes indeed, there are times when it seems as though the sky is falling all around us.  We have seen it with our own eyes, heard it with our own ears, and for some of us, have even felt it smack us on the tops of our heads.  Many of us here this morning have just come from our Thanksgiving celebrations.

Warm homes, tables that strain under the weigh of turkeys and pies, embraces from family and friends.  We gather together this time of year to give thanks for all God has blessed us with. However, our thanksgivings are always double-edged as we remember those in our world and in our community that cannot give thanks for the abundance we enjoy.  We give thanks with joy and with sorrow.

It is the practice of Mission Presbytery to open every presbytery gathering with worship and communion.  At our last gathering held in McAllen Texas, I was struck by a peculiar incident that happened after the bread was broken, the cup was poured, thanks was given, and the people had eaten together at the Lord’s Table.  After the elements were returned to the table, the presiding pastor asked the gathered assembly if all had been fed.  After a moment or two of silence, a woman in the front pew shouted “No!”

I was surprised, knowing that this woman had gone to the table, and that all in attendance had been served.  The pastor at the table, without missing a beat replied to the crowd “Indeed, not all in this world have been fed yet.”  Each time we gather together in worship to pray and to sing, to hear the word of the Lord, and to celebrate the sacraments, we remember that there are those outside our walls that have not heard, that have not known, and have no bread to eat.

Even if all seems right in our world, it doesn’t take too much attention to realize that for many in our community, the sky is falling all around them.  Nations at war, children hungry, people marginalized, churches and families torn apart.  It seems as though Chicken Little was on to something – perhaps the sky is falling.

Like the unnamed King in the story of Chicken Little, we too have a king that we can bring our fears and troubles to.  We come to church and pray, pray with all our might that God would hear our concerns and our worries.  Yet unlike the King in the tale of Chicken Little, our King knows of our problems.  For our King experienced them alongside us.

As a baby, Jesus was born into the same world as you and I, flesh and blood, body and soul.

As a boy, Jesus would have known the troubles of his neighbors.

As a teacher, Jesus encountered the sick, the outcast, the widow, and the dying.

As the leader of a movement, Jesus overturned the tables of the corrupt and spoke truth to those who sought to ensnare him through religious strictures.

As the Son of Man, Jesus wept in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest.

As the Messiah, Jesus staggered toward Golgotha with the weight of the cross on his shoulders.

As the Risen Christ, Jesus shone new light into the world at his resurrection on Easter.

And as our king, Jesus reigns beyond the scope of time and material.

“Grace to you and peace” writes John of Patmos, “from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and 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, 6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

In John’s opening address to the Seven Churches of Asia in the book of Revelation, John reminds the faithful of what Christ has already done in this world.  John paints a picture of the heavenly seat, the throne of eternity surround by the spirits of the saints who in victory forever sing the worship of God.  It seems a far off place, a kin to how fairy tales start.  “A long, long time ago in kingdom far, far away.”

On this Christ the King Sunday, we gather to remember those long, long ago and far, far away events that shape the reality of our faith in the present.  These are the stories of our faith, the traditions handed down to us from our ancestors.  We tell them to our children, we teach them to our youth, we enact them at the font and around the table, and sing them at Christmas and Easter.

Yet these stories can easily become just that, stories, fables, fairy tales.  What truth do these ancient stories of the early church hold in the troubled world of today?  How do these stories affect our “real” lives in our homes, offices, schools, and families?  What comfort are they to us when the sky is falling?

Hope sat huddled against the cold brick wall of the Co-Op garage.  Rain was pouring all around her and the temperature was dropping so fast that she was startled when her warm breath suddenly became foggy in the cold air.

Then she remembered something.  She pulled from her dirty backpack a simple fleece blanket that she had received last Tuesday morning at that church across the street.  The fleece was blue with pictures of dolphins on it.  The edges had been cut in a fringe.  She looked at the blanket in her hands for a moment and thought about the person who had given it to the church, the hands that had cut the edges, and the kind woman who had given it to her, along with some cinnamon toast and a cup of coffee.

As she wrapped it around her shivering shoulders, she felt, just for a moment, that there were Christians out there who were different, who cared about her, no matter who she was and what demons she carried with her.  As her body warmed, she found herself thankful. She had not felt so in a very long time.

Tikvah sat huddled on the bare earth of her home in Smyrna.  The sound of galloping hooves slowed to a trot as the horse slowed outside her home.  A man entered the home. Tikvah had expected a soldier, or at the very least a man with rope and sword.  Instead, the man came carrying a scroll.  “A letter has come Tikvah. A letter from Patmos. A letter from the apostle John to our church.”  Tikvah sat up.  This was indeed a different sort of news.  “Come quickly, we are gathering,” the man said.

She stood and ran behind the horseman to the house where the church met.  Once inside, those gathered fell silent to hear the letter read aloud to them.  As the man read, she felt amazed.  “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.

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  The letter, in its essence, was just that, words on a page.  It did nothing to put bread on the table or allay the constant fear of arrest and persecution.  But the words struck her in a strange way.

They were words of hope, words that spoke of heaven – that glorious place she had dreamt of but moments ago, coming to earth – that the work of Jesus, her savior, was not yet finished on this earth.  As her body relaxed, she found herself thankful.  She had not felt so in a very long time.

John’s vision of the heavenly throne are of little comfort when the sky is falling all around us.  But the apostle doesn’t stop there.  “Look!” He writes. “He is coming with the clouds!”  The tense of verbs changes here – past to present.  Christ came and is coming!

As we sit in this earthly realm, it is easy to imagine two separate parallel tracks – the track of this world and the track of heaven.  In this final book of Scripture, we see those two tracks merging – colliding.  We see the reign of Christ as not some far away event, but as a phenomenon that is happening, here, now, in the present.

Indeed, the sky is falling, but not in the way we usually think.  All is not as it seems.  Perhaps it isn’t the sky that is falling to earth signaling the end, but pieces of heaven itself signaling a new beginning.  What if we lived as though heaven were breaking into the here and now?  What if paradise were being reestablished here, in the midst of the tremors and birthing pains of creation?  What if the shimmers of light in the darkness were all it took to give us hope that God is not yet finished with this world?

The good news of John’s letter is this, God is not finished with this world, and the powers of this world, as mighty and terrible as they appear, do not have the final word.  And we are called to be a part of what that final word will be – to be active participants in the reign of Christ on earth.

Not in big cataclysmic ways, but in small, subversive ways.  By handing out blankets and food, by defying powers of fear and intimidation with prayer and acts of listening, justice, and reconciliation, through civility and peacemaking, by being, as Gandhi puts it, the change we want to see in this world.  Christ’s reign on earth does not mean that we can now relax and passively go about our lives, waiting for the day when all magically is righted in the world.

We submit joyfully to Christ, we bear his witness and his call to serve.

We submit joyfully to Christ, because we too are among those being made new.

We submit joyfully to Christ our king, not out of fear, for Christ is not a tyrant king or dictator. Rather, Christ is a lover who gave his life for the people he loved.

This image of Christ as our King serves as the great benediction, the last good words that we hear before we draw this year of the church’s life to a close.  It is an image of peace, of hope, of reassurance, and purpose.

As the liturgical cycle of the church begins again next Sunday and we prepare ourselves in the coming season of Advent for the birth of the Christ Child, we pause to give thanks – not for turkeys and roofs over our heads, but for a heaven that is falling to earth.  We give thanks for the opportunity to witness, to bear forth the good news, to break and share our bread, to sing out with joy, to welcome the stranger, and to pray without ceasing.  We give thanks that Christ is our King, and is not finished with us yet.  Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.  Amen.