An Open Table where Love knows no borders

The Game-Changer

A sermon on Revelation 1: 4-8 by Nathan Nettleton

As many of you know, when it comes to computers, I am an Apple devotee, and so I have, of course, been following the publicity around the release of the new Apple iPad. No, I haven’t got one yet, and I don’t expect to get one in the near future, but it is probably on the cards down the track a year or so. There’s a word, or a concept, that has been used a lot in the coverage that got me thinking and came back to mind as I studied the Bible readings we heard read tonight. Numerous commentators have described the product as a “game-changer”. In the world of consumer products, the game-changer is the new product that doesn’t simply take us another step down a predictable road of development, but which significantly changes the way we think about these products and the way we use them. They take us all by surprise, because they break out from the expected and set things running on a track we hadn’t even thought of before.

Now the reason this concept came back to me when I was reflecting on our Bible readings was that, in a way, what they are saying is that the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah is one almighty game-changer. We might have thought that the only things that were certain in this terribly uncertain world were death and taxes, and all of a sudden we are being confronted with the game-changing reality that death is not half as certain as we thought it was. Thomas thought it was. He wasn’t about to fall for this Jesus-is-back stuff unless he could put his fingers in the nail holes. Death is for keeps, and he’d seen Jesus well and truly dead. But when Jesus appears and holds out his hands, Thomas doesn’t need to touch the holes at all. He recognises a game-changer when he sees one, and he falls to his knees crying, “My Lord and my God.”

If we turn over to our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we’re again talking game-changer. Peter and John are dragged before the Council who demand to know what they are doing continuing to preach Christ when they had been strictly instructed not to do so and, to paraphrase, Peter says, “Well, the game has changed. It did used to be the case that if you gave an order, that settled it. You were the law. But as the law you had Jesus executed, and then in a real game-changer, God raised him to life again and exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour. So now it’s a whole new ball game and we obey him, no matter what you say.”

It is the reading from the Apocalypse, the Revelation to John, that perhaps sheds the most light on this idea of the resurrection being a game-changer, because it deals a bit more directly with the nature of the change that is wrought. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come. Alpha and Omega; they’re the Greek letters on our candle here, Greek for A to Z, the whole story. That’s actually a pretty big and pretty important statement. Sometimes the nature of a game-changer is that it makes us realise that the whole game is a whole lot bigger than we realised and that what’s really going on was unable to be guessed from the tiny little bit of it that we could see from our vantage point. You know the old saying about winning the battle but losing the war? Or vice verse? That’s one of those kind of things. In the midst of your little battle, it looks like it is everything, but if you were to suddenly get the big picture, the overall war, it would be a real game-changer, and the details of your one little battle might not seem nearly so all-important. “I am the big picture. I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come. “I am the big game-changer.”

Understandably and inevitably, we spend most of our time caught up in the details of our own current stories, the day to day dramas of our own lives. Hassles with the boss at work. How the kids are getting on at school. That ongoing unresolved dispute with a loved one. The anxious wait for the results of a medical test. These are our world. These are the dramas of our stories. And when we talk big-picture, we mostly mean trying to get it all into balance. Or if we think more globally, maybe we are thinking about our personal carbon footprint or whether we are buying products from ethical manufacturers. And for the most part, these questions and dramas provide us with challenges aplenty, and we’re in no hurry to stretch our horizons any further. The A to Z of our own lives seems more than enough to cope with, thank you very much. And if God thinks, “that’s not an A to Z; more like an M to P!”, well, we don’t reckon we need to know about it, thanks.

But actually, we’re missing the point there. You see, we’re imagining that if we were to see a bigger picture, it would just be more of the same; some kind of unwelcome expansion of what we already know about. We figure that life is complicated enough already without discovering that we didn’t know the half of it and we can multiply the complications we knew about by a factor of one hundred. But such is not the nature of the game-changer. When a game-changer gives us a bigger perspective, it is not revealing that things are as we thought, only bigger. That would not be a game-changer. If Apple announces a new desktop computer with a bigger hard-drive, more RAM and a faster processor, nobody talks about a game-changer. That’s just a bigger version of the sort of thing we already knew. When a game-changer gives us a bigger perspective, it is a perspective that sheds a whole new light on the little that we knew.

The whole book of Revelation is a game-changing perspective lifter. Written to a struggling persecuted little Christian minority, it tells them that their present sufferings are not the whole story and do not mean that they are failures and are letting down the gospel. And the big picture is not that others are even worse off, so don’t feel so bad. That wouldn’t be a game-changer. Instead their present sufferings, like the sufferings of Jesus before them, are part of the birth pains of a new age of love and justice and peace. As painful as they may be, they do have meaning and they are held safely within the purposes of God, who is and who was and who is to come. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens is what God wants, or is part of God’s intended plan, but it does mean that God’s story is big enough and secure enough to cope with whatever we stuff up and still ensure that the story comes out right in the end.

God is the Alpha and the Omega. God has brought all things into being, and will bring all things safely to their ultimate redemption and fulfilment. God holds the whole span of the universe’s story together, from go to whoa, and the main place that story can be seen in summary is in the story of Jesus. Birth, death, resurrection, exaltation, are all there, condensed into one human lifespan, and the Revelation sets this in its context of the cosmic struggle between the God of life and the powers of death and degradation. And when we grasp that game-changing picture, we catch a glimpse of the truth that no matter how much the forces of death may seem to have the upper hand in our lives at any given moment, the real upper hand belongs to the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, and God’s purposes will triumph. Death and degradation may seem to have us in their grip, but they did to Jesus at times too. He too cried out in terror and begged for the cup to be taken away without him having to drink it, but now, as Alpha and Omega, he is able to meet us here at this table and offer us his own brokenness, the signs of his own fear and suffering, to be meat and drink for our souls to strengthen us as we too face sufferings which, as terrible as they doubtless are, are nevertheless being drawn into God’s game-changing story that ends in life and love and joy for all.

This is not to minimise evil and pain and suffering at all. There is much that is awful. The world is in a hell of a mess, and many of our own little worlds are a hell of a mess too. Our church is barely struggling back to its feet, half the size it was two years ago. Elsewhere, senseless wars drag on and on. Those who flee find no place of welcome. We try to improve things by changing governments or the like, only to be betrayed again and again as they sell out on water management, climate change, indigenous affairs, and now refugees. All looks bleak and hopeless. But “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come. “I am the big game-changer.” None of these horrors will have the last word. Even when Government and Opposition unite in scapegoating some of the most vulnerable people you can imagine. Even where the powers of death most seem to rule unchallenged, death will not be the Omega; it will not have the last say. Death will be swallowed up and God will Omega, just as God was Alpha. The final story will not be of love and justice lost and destroyed, but love and justice created, torn down, but then raised up gain in Christ, redeemed and restored and finally established to reign forever.


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