Toorak Uniting Church

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Life is not a dress rehearsal

Psalm 118: 14 – 29     Acts 5: 27 – 32     Revelation 1: 4 – 8
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
18 April 2004, 10:15am

I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come.

That is just about everything isn’t it? From A to Z, now, in the past and in the future, God surrounding, embracing the world.

A powerful image painted by a man that was, at the time, surrounded by something completely different. A man living in the Roman Empire under the reign of an emperor who had sheer unlimited powers. The Pax Romana, the "Roman Peace", embracing the world of his day, not with peace mind you, but with the iron grip of a mighty army that would put down insurrections as soon as there was even the slightest rumour about one starting.

An empire where only very few, that is about 5% of the population lived in freedom and relative wealth and the other 95% had to scramble to make their living and keep out of harms way. Most people in allegiance to somebody else in one way or another and dependent on that relationship for their lives, their livelihoods, their futures and the well being of their families.

John exiled by these powers to Patmos, probably not sure of his life or his future, suspected of subversive activities, threatened on all sides.

It is this John who writes 7 letters to 7 congregations in Asia full of references to the political situation of his day, testifying to the might and power of another Emperor than that of Rome. A very subversive and politically charged letter indeed.

A very risky undertaking, but something he apparently deems to be more important and stronger than his own safety and his own life.

His allegiance is to another King than the one who holds his life in his hands.
His allegiance is to the God who always is and always will be, everywhere.
A God therefore with a jurisdiction that reaches a lot further than that of the Roman emperor. But one that has, apart from that, also a few other characteristics.

It was in the life and witness of Jesus Christ that this God revealed himself as a God of love, peace and commitment to his people.
As a God who does not give up but brings new and inspiring life to birth against all odds.
As a God that changes the shedding of the blood of his loved one from disaster into something new and exiting.
As a God that appoints as King to his Kingdom this very person that had been rejected by the authorities of the day.
A King that brings his people freedom and invites them to become part of his Kingdom rather than pressuring them into it.

That is quite something when we contrast it with the way in which Kings were used to reign in John’s day. Kings did not normally bring freedom to the many and there were only very few people who could say what they wanted, make their own choices in life and live a life independent of others.
A King offering all his subjects freedom was unheard of and difficult to imagine. Kings wanted power, and people in their allegiance, Kings wanted to rule and subject people to their rule. Kings did grant favours, but made sure they kept the right to withdraw them at any minute.
A King that has the freeing of his subject as his priority is not quite a King to antiquities’ standards.

Now thankfully we live in another era, under quite different circumstances. Most of us are free, aren’t we? Free to make our own choices, free to say what we want, free to live in whatever way we want to.

So I guess that part of John’s message, that must have sounded revolutionary in his time does not apply to our situation. We are free. We can chose, can’t we? There is nobody going to send us into exile for testifying that God is the beginning and end of everything for us. We live in a permissive society and what we do or what we think is largely our own affair, as long as we don’t hurt others in the process.

However with this increased freedom of choice we are increasingly responsible for our choices. Who do we pay allegiance to? Who is it that is King of our life?

But before we get to that question, let us first look at the other passages we read today.

We find the psalmist in psalm 118 testifying to the same God as John hundreds of years later.
A good God with a love that endures forever.
A great God who saves his people when they are in trouble. A God that takes what others would consider to be misfits and finds a place of importance for them in his Kingdom.
A God of joy and gracious living, a God who catches those who fall and supports those in need.

It is the same God we find the disciples talking about in Acts. The God who raised Jesus Christ who had been crucified, rejected by the people and authorities of his day, paying allegiance to expediency and what they perceived as staying away from trouble with the powers of the moment. Putting the righteous to death to their mind a small price to pay for relative peace and security.

These disciples have been in prison, they have been told off several times by the Jewish authorities who are afraid they might bring blood upon themselves and the people. What if the Romans hear of this? What if we get into trouble over this man?

But with all their might they cannot put a stop to these people preaching the gospel. As with John, in exile on the isle of Patmos, the Roman emperor cannot seem to put a stop to him witnessing and prophesying either.

Their allegiance is to another King, not out of fear, not because they owe him something, but because they make a choice. A choice that could cost them their lives.

Now for us the choice may not have such grave consequences as it had for those very first followers of Jesus, but the choice is still there. Who do we, in the end pay allegiance to?

It is not your ordinary King you see that is asking for it. It is a king of rejects and misfits, a King that emptied himself of all power and became an equal to the lowliest of his subjects, a King that does not rule with very visible power and might, doesn’t dazzle with glitter and glory, but is to be found where the misfits are, the rejects, and identifies with them.

It is a King who will never use any pressure, who will not lord it over us, who invites us to become part of his Kingdom as priests, as servants of God and his people. A King who is not into favours for the few but into shared equally between all, especially those who, in the eyes of the world, don’t deserve any sharing at all.

It is the God that lets people walk all over him and does not rise up to punish them but comes back from the dead with even more grace and mercy than before trying to put things right from his side. Salvation a hard gained surprise after all else has failed rather than a triumphant event surrounded by the sound of trumpets and hosanna’s.
Make no mistake.

When we chose to serve this God we are in the company of losers and misfits rather than of the power brokers. And still:

The Alpha and the Omega writes John, past, present and future. My world may be reigned by the Roman Emperor, my existence in precarious balance, but I know myself to be free and part of another order, another Kingdom, subject to another rule.
And the disciples testify to the same in Acts: We obey higher orders is what they say.

There is another reality under the surface of this reality they say, a reality that is more important than the whims of those who are in authority today. Another power that in the end, ultimately, rules the world.

Would we dare believe that? That the God who raised Jesus Christ and to whom we sang our Alleluia’s a week ago, is more powerful than the powers that have the world in their grip today? More powerful than international terrorism, more powerful than the laws of the world economy, more powerful than the price of oil, more powerful than the hole in the Ozone layer, more powerful than climate change, more powerful than international politics, more powerful than the desperate mess in the middle East?

Can we make the choice and say that we serve a power who is not subject to the laws of the survival of the fittest, operates on completely different conditions?
Do we dare to be free from the laws of self-preservation and the fear of losing what we’ve got and live with allegiance only to only God and a life of righteousness and love, following in the footsteps of Jesus?

Can we make that choice? Will we put all we are, all we have on that King?
Or do we watch from afar, keeping our distance, not quite sure yet where our loyalties lie?


© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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