Sermon Sunday January 1, 2011 Text & Podcast

Revelation 21:1-6

“Live The Beginning As If It’s The End.”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

 To hear this sermon, click HERE:  120101SermonPodcast

To watch a video of this sermon, go to:  http://youtu.be/cFsk0BAZpOU

I just love the fact that one of the designated texts for January 1 in the lectionary is from the book of the Revelation of John, the last book of the Bible and the ultimate book of “end times.”  John’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth appearing, and the City of God coming down from heaven, is such a grand image for the first day of the year.  It’s almost like God saying to us, “Don’t worry folks, I know the end of the story!”  There may be lots of trials and tribulations and uncertainties in the in-between time, but if you skip ahead to the last chapter of the book, you’ll know it all turns out all right in the end!

And then, as if to seal the deal, the text tells us that God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  God is the first letter of the alphabet and the last letter of the alphabet.  It’s like God saying, “I’m A and I’m Z and I’m everything in between!”

Because of this biblical and homiletical connecting of beginnings and endings, I’ve been doing a lot of connecting this week of starts and finishes, openings and closings, initiations and conclusions.  And, perhaps just because I was tired, I came back again and again to the tired old expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (1)  Boy, it feels that way sometimes, doesn’t it.

As we put to bed 2011 and welcome 2012, we all say to ourselves and each other, “May the new year be filled with better health, happier lives, more peace, greater prosperity… more… better… healthier…”  We say that, but don’t the voices in our minds say something like, “Oh, sure, you can wish that all you want, but didn’t you wish the very same thing last New Years?  And the one before that?  And before that?  And look where that got you!  Another day older and deeper in debt!

Groundhog Day with Bill Murray

It’s almost like we’re all Phil, the main character in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, (2) where he relives the exact same day again, and again, and again… perhaps for hundreds or even thousands of times, and then he wakes again to the exact same day… again!  The day repeats itself no matter how subtle and sublime, or outrageous and extreme his actions are.  He tries changing the inflection of his voice… and the day repeats itself.  He tries walking different paths, talking to different people, and then, finally, going to the extreme of killing himself and/or others!  He wakes up at exactly the same time for another try at the very same day.  If that movie isn’t a metaphor for how life feels, I don’t know what is.

But that’s not what John’s Revelation is all about.  Nor is it what God is all about.  See the old pass away and the new revealed here on the first day of the new year, January 1st 2012, isn’t about us repeating and repeating life as if in some kind of spiritual hamster cage with us running in that little wheel as fast and furious as we can, only to get nowhere.  Nor is God being the Alpha and the Omega some kind of joke to tell us that there’s nothing new nor different in God’s house… that the clear plastic on the divine sofa will ensure “nothing’s gonna change if I can help it!”

NO!  Things do change and people can change… but if we’re expecting this change to come in a certain way, then we’ll be frustrated and confused when they don’t.  That’s the trouble with the Bill Murray character in “Groundhog Day,” and with many of us, myself included.  We work our little butts off trying to change superficial or insignificant things.  We think losing a little weight, building a little muscle, finding a new boyfriend, moving to a new apartment, getting a new job, etc. etc. etc. will change the course of history for us.  And while it’s true that many of these things might be healthy, and part of a larger change in life, they aren’t the things that need to be changed the most.  It’s something deeper.  Some call it a change of heart.  Others talk about a soul-change.  Whatever it is is, it’s deep.

The difference between rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and bringing about a new heaven and a new earth, is this very understanding that change needs to go deep, and needs to be a change of perspective as much as anything.  Changing our hearts, our perspectives, our wills, our souls takes time, it takes focus, it has to be done in relationship with others around us, and it takes confronting inner demons, angels, and slugs.  But more than anything, it takes learning from the past.

This is why those who crafted the lectionary put this text at the beginning of the year, so that we would be led back to the first creation story, and reread the lives of our biblical ancestors of the faith, and learn from their triumphs and their tragedies, their mistakes, near-misses, and when they truly got it!  It’s why God dwells among us, wipes tears from our eyes, picks us up, dusts us off, and says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.”  Spanish American philosopher and novelist, George Santayana, said it famously, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (3)

More recently, country and western singer, Tim McGraw sang this ancient advice for renewal when he sang,

“Someday I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dying

Like tomorrow was a gift

And you’ve got eternity

To think about

What you’d do with it

What could you do with it

What did I do with it?

What would I do with it? (4)

But most eloquently, I believe, were the words of T.S. Eliot when he wrote in his famous book of poetry, Four Quartets, this poetic image of learning from the past so that the future, our future, might be better informed:

T. S. Eliot

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make and end is to make a beginning.

A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

Of timeless moments. (5)

And so, my beloved, on this, the very first day of the rest of our lives, let us look to the end of the story.  Let us be comforted by the fact that in the end, all things (ourselves included) are in God’s tender, loving hands.  But let us also be frustrated that too few things changed in the interim.  And, so comforted and so challenged, let us look at our lives, and the lives of those who have gone before us, and learn.  Learn deeply and profoundly about how we might live in such a way as to make a difference, in ourselves, in our communities, and in the course of history.

May it be so.

Amen.

Invitation To Discipleship

And now, on this, the first day of the new year according to one calendar, let us recommit ourselves to be the change we wish to see in the world. (6)  And one of the most sure and powerful and proven ways of doing that is to recommit ourselves to the cause of the Christ and the way of Jesus.  No other person, in my humble estimation, made more of a difference in the world and the course of history, than Jesus.  And no one else can make more of a difference in your life.  He has mine.  Jesus, who knew his people’s history as if it were his very own, who learned from it, lived it, and loves us all through it, invites you to come forward and offer your life to be changed this day.  Let us all sing and recommit ourselves to God. 

(1) “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061128215508AAmvH9v

The proverb is of French origin and was used by the French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-90). It also appears in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Revolutionist’s Handbook’ (1903). Listed in the 1946 ‘Macmillan (Home) Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases’ by Burton Stevenson and in the 1992 ‘Dictionary of American Proverbs’ by Wolfgang Mieder et al.” From “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings” by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

Source(s):

http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board…

(2) For more information on the movie, Groundhog Day, go to: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107048/

(3) “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090316001134AAnWQ7Y

CITES: George Santayana, The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress: Reason in Common Sense, p. 284 (2nd ed., Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, New York 1924

Spanish American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist.

(4) Live Like You Were Dying, sung by Tim McGraw, Writers: Nichols, Tim / Wiseman, Craig Michael found online at: http://www.lyrics007.com/Tim%20McGraw%20Lyrics/Live%20Like%20You%20Were%20Dying%20Lyrics.html

(5) T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “Little Giddings” (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. 1943 & 1971), pp. 58-59

Found online at: http://www.tristan.icom43.net/quartets/gidding.html

(6) “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” Attributed to Mohandas Ganhdi.  Found online at WikiQuotes http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mohandas_Karamchand_Gandhi:  “As quoted in “Arun Gandhi Shares the Mahatma’s Message” by Michel W. Potts, in India – West [San Leandro, California] Vol. XXVII, No. 13 (1 February 2002) p. A34; Arun Gandhi indirectly quoting his grandfather. See also. “Be the change you wish to see: An interview with Arun Gandhi” by Carmella B’Hahn, Reclaiming Children and Youth [Bloomington] Vol.10, No. 1 (Spring 2001) p. 6. No evidence he ever said this see: Morton, Brian (August 29, 2011). Falser Words Were Never Spoken. NY Times.”

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