FIRST LESSON: John 16:12-15
SECOND LESSON Ephesians 1:1-23
SERMON: “Living Resurrection - Grace”
A man who lived in Detroit decided to write a book about churches around the country. He started by flying to San Francisco and started working east to zigzag across the states from there. He went to a very large church and began taking pictures. He spotted a golden telephone on a wall and was intrigued by a sign that read: "$5,000 a minute." Seeking out the pastor he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that this golden phone was, in fact, a direct line to Heaven and if he were to pay the price he could talk directly to God. He thanked the pastor and continued on his way.
Visiting churches in Seattle, Boise, Denver, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, New York, and other places, he found more phones with the same sign. From each pastor he received the same answer.
Finally, he arrived back in Michigan. Upon entering a church, low and behold, he saw the usual golden telephone, but this time the sign read: "Calls: 35 cents."
Fascinated, he asked of the pastor, "Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this very same golden telephone, and I have been told it is a direct line to Heaven, and that I could talk to God. However, in the other churches, the cost was $5,000 a minute. Your sign reads 35 cents per call. Why is that?" The pastor, smiling benignly, replied: "Son, you're in Michigan now. It's a local call."
This thing called church. Last week we celebrated the birthday of the church on Pentecost Sunday, the day that God sent the Holy Spirit as comforter, teacher, guidance counselor, and cheer leader for the disciples. Almost two thousand years later we’re still figuring out what Church is meant to be and do.
In the introduction to his book Practice Resurrection Eugene Peterson (Presbyterian pastor, seminary professor and the scholar who gave us the Message – the Bible in contemporary language) tells about a friend he met when she was about 40 years old. After they had known each other for a while she told him that she had grown up in poverty in a harsh fundamentalist atmosphere in abusive circumstances. When she was 18 she became pregnant and was ecstatic. She said she had never felt more “herself.” Although she was not religious in any traditional way, she was absolutely convinced that God had given her this life that was within her.
Things didn’t go so well for her. She knew nothing about life or what to do and started drinking. She became an alcoholic and went on to using cocaine and became an addict. It wasn’t long before she was a prostitute. She spent 20 years on the streets of San Francisco trying to keep herself and her child alive. Then one day she wandered into a church, and she didn’t know exactly how it happened, but she became a Christian. She knew she was going to stop living hand-to-mouth and quit using alcohol and drugs. None of that was what she found most difficult. What she found most difficult was American churches. She was welcomed, all right, but she discovered that while American churches seemed to know about being born in Jesus’ name, they seemed neither interested nor competent in matter of growing up (maturing) in Christ. There were lots of doctrine and Bible studies, lots of moral and ethical concern, lots of projects, but the people were doing everything religious except following Jesus. It took her a while, but fortunately she eventually found a teacher, a pastor and companions with whom she could grow into Christian maturity.
Peterson comments, “We cannot overemphasize bringing men and women to new birth in Christ. Evangelism is essential, critically essential. (Can we forget the Great Commission?) But is it not obvious that growth in Christ is equally essential? . . . We turn matters of growing up over to Sunday school teachers, specialists in Christian education, committees to revise curricula, retreat centers and deeper life conferences. . . When we practice resurrection (a phrase Peterson says he got from author Wendell Berry) we keep company with Jesus, alive and present.”1
We get excited when we get new members in a church, but then what? I took at least three theology courses with Dr. John Burkhart at McCormick, and there are a handful of things he taught us that I will never forget. One of those was that in the early church those who wanted to become disciples were required to take three years of training before they could become a member of the church. Then, when the church needed someone in a leadership position, all they did was to look around, notice the person with the best leadership skills and ordain them in a matter of minutes. Today we do just the opposite. We welcome into membership anyone who says they want to join and when we need leadership we send them off to 3 years of training at a seminary. Dr. Burkhart was always making a case for us to consider getting back to the ways they did things in the early church.
We hear a lot of talk about the early (first century) church as something we should get back to. We read the accounts in Acts of the birth of the church and its initial development. But then again, suggests Peterson, maybe not – “These churches were a mess and Paul wrote his letters to them to try to clean up the mess.” (p. 16) There are fifteen churches named in the New Testament. All but two (Antioch and Jerusalem) had letters addressed to them. The Ephesian letter is unique in that it is the only one that is not provoked by some problem, either of behavior or of belief. Rather than trying to emulate those early churches perhaps we should simply heed Paul’s instructions and advice.
Why church? Because for whatever reason, it is the vehicle God chose to establish a right relationship between people and between people and God. Lest you think conflict in churches is something unique or new, read through the letters to the church at Thessalonica where some of the people believed Jesus was coming for them so soon that they quit working and spent their time debating what kind of cloud he would come on, leaving the work of the community for others to do. The Corinthians were a cantankerous lot, arguing over behavior having to do with diet and sex and worship. The Galatians were regressing into some tired old legalisms and the Romans were a mixed congregation of Jews and Gentiles who found it difficult to find common ground.
Even with their squabbles and troubles, the church remained, and remains to this day God’s chosen instrument for disciple-making and discipleship development. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a person cannot come to Christ outside of the church. And a great many people do a great deal of important Christian work without the help of or official sanction of the church.
Someone told me many years ago that the reason the children of Israel became God’s chosen people was not that God loved them more than other earthlings, but that God established his covenant with them so that others would see how good it was to be in a right relationship with God and would want to become a part of the Hebrew people. The same is said to be the hope for the Church, that people would know we are Christians by our love, and would see the good and kind, the loving and healing things that we do and would want to be a part of what we have. When they saw how our faith strengthens us and how we are helpful and kind and doing all kinds of good, they would want to join us. For a multitude of reasons it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. In today’s world people are not flocking to church doors to get in.
To practice resurrection, we do need to recapture some of what the early church had. Not the squabbles or cantankerous divisions, but the clear Good News message that Paul wrote:
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he
is working out in everything and everyone.
This is grace – God’s sacrificial gift in Christ not because we are good, but because God is good. And what’s more there is plenty of grace to go around. Practicing resurrection, among other things means practicing grace – receiving and enjoying God’s favor, and extending grace to others.
First, if you were to choose one or two things this church could do, should do, to practice resurrection grace, what would that be? Second, what are you willing to do to make that happen?
Writing on the Alban Institute Web site, Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon, authors of Pathway to Renewal: Practical Steps for Congregations (Alban Institute, 2008), make this important observation: “Your congregation is what it is today not because of what a bad pastor did to it, or because the neighborhood has changed or because our culture is going to hell in a handbasket. Although those occurrences and many others have had an impact, your congregation is what it is today because of how it responded, or failed to respond, to the realities it faced. What your congregation will be in the future is up to you and the other members and how you work together to create something new from the realities you face. What you do or don’t do now will make the difference. Your actions will either reinforce the patterns that have become established in your congregation or start to counter and shift them. The leadership provided by your pastor can help or hinder, but it cannot make your congregation succeed or keep it from ultimately achieving the goals you set for yourselves.”
What kind of church does God want North Kent to be? The kind Peterson’s friend found so many of that were doing everything religious except following Jesus? Or do you hear God calling us to be the kind of church that daily practices resurrection, helping people to grow in grace?
1Peterson, Eugene H., Practice Resurrection, William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2010.
FIRST LESSON: Romans 8:18-28
SECOND LESSON Acts 2:1-21
CHILDREN’S MESSAGE: “Pentecost Party
SERMON: “The Great Re-Charging”
Wouldn’t it be great if we never had to worry about putting gas in our cars? One of the last things I want to have happen is to run out of gas on the road, so I’m pretty good about getting to the gas station whenever the needle drops below a quarter. I read about a guy who was notorious for waiting until the needle was on empty before filling his gas tank. Finally one day his car died on him and he and his passenger had to take a walk to the nearest filling station. After they got a gallon of gas and put it in the car they drove back to the gas station and filled the tank. The station attendant who had “loaned” them a can to carry the gallon of gas asked the guy if he’d learned anything.
He said, “Yeah. I learned that I have a 15-gallon tank.”
There are hybrids that use a lot less gas, and I hear they’re working on electric cars that don’t need any gas, but even those have to be recharged. Running out of electricity isn’t any better than running out of gas.
Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to worry about batteries in flashlights, smoke alarms, remote controls, iPads, laptops and cell phones dying?
Today is Pentecost, the old Greek and Latin name for the Jewish harvest festival Shavuot, occurring 50 days after Passover, originally commemorating God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. For Christians the holy day is significant as a celebration of the day that God sent the Holy Spirit into a room full of the first followers of Christ. The book of Acts tells us that “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
What a recharge to the disciples! Later, the apostle Paul spoke of the high charge of this Spirit in his letter to the Romans. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” he observes (Romans 8:22).
They must have had moments of doubt and discouragement, even though they had seen the resurrected Lord. God was making all things new, but it was taking some time. Paul wrote that we still “groan inwardly” because God’s work in us has not yet been completed. We still wait for the day when we will gain the resurrection body of Jesus, one in which there is no more pain or crying, illness or dying. Those first disciples believed it was coming very soon, but we have 2,000 years of hindsight, and can’t help but wonder not only when, but if Christ will come and take us to be where he is.
Paul encourages us to wait patiently and reassures us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us . . . the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (vv. 26-27)
Where’s your spiritual gas gauge today?
Sometimes it seems that life doesn’t take us where we want to go.
A woman named Trudy Rosenfield left England in good spirits, looking forward to landing in sunny San Jose, California, after an all-day flight. Little did Ms. Rosenfield know that her travel agent had made a computer error in booking her flight. The travel agent had accidentally put the seventy-year-old woman on a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.
Ms. Rosenfield fell asleep on the plane, blissfully unaware that she was headed for the wrong destination. When she never arrived at the California airport, her cousin, Alan, alerted the airline, which quickly discovered the problem. The airline sent a representative to meet Ms. Rosenfield’s plane. Imagine her surprise when she was greeted at her destination with the words, “Ma’am, you think you are in California, but you are actually in Costa Rica.” The airline arranged to fly Ms. Rosenfield back to California to meet her cousin.
Headed for California; arriving in Costa Rica. Doesn’t seem like a bad exchange. A person could do worse. But it does seem like a reflection of how life works out for many of us. Headed for living happily ever-after; arriving in divorce court.
Headed for a much-deserved retirement as a couple; sitting beside a grave as the minister reads the funeral meditation for your life’s partner.
Headed for a life of wonderful opportunities as a young person; flat on
your back in a hospital bed with nurses searching for a vein to receive an IV.
Headed for California; arriving in Costa Rica.
Then we come to the words of St. Paul, some of the most comforting words ever penned, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . .” (NIV)
Really? we ask. “In all things God works for the good . . . ?” Does God know my situation? I got on a plane to go to California, and here I am in Costa Rica. Or maybe worse, a hell hole in Calcutta. How can we say that God is working for my good? And yet this is a central teaching of our faith. God is always working to our best good.
Whatever challenges you or your loved ones face, God did not cause you pain to punish you for some misdeed. Whatever obstacles, sorrow or troubles you are dealing with, God’ s Spirit will lead you over, under around or through and bring you to the other side with faith strengthened and hope renewed.
The more skeptical among us may ask, so just what does hope do for me? I’m still in this mess and I’m not sure I can make it through. In Think on These Things John Maxwell wrote:
What Does Hope Do For Mankind?
Hope shines brightest when the hour is darkest.
Hope motivates when discouragement comes.
Hope energizes when the body is tired.
Hope sweetens while bitterness bites.
Hope sings when all melodies are gone.
Hope believes when evidence is eliminated.
Hope listens for answers when no one is talking.
Hope climbs over obstacles when no one is helping.
Hope endures hardship when no one is caring.
Hope smiles confidently when no one is laughing.
Hope reaches for answers when no one is asking.
Hope presses toward victory when no one is encouraging.
Hope dares to give when no one is sharing.
Hope brings the victory when no one is winning.
When you run out of gas, you might shout out in frustration: What is wrong with this car?
When you run into suffering or adversity, you might wonder: What is wrong with my life?
The answer is nothing. Nothing, that is, that cannot be improved by the re-charging power of God’s Spirit. You can strengthen your spiritual circuits by turning regularly to God in prayer. You can take your weakness, pain, sadness and conflicts to God, and the Holy Spirit will surely assist you. The Spirit will intercede for you according to the will of God, and shape you into the strong and loving and faithful person that God wants you to be.
Thanks be to God who comes to us and fills us with his highly-charged Spirit.
1-adapted from - "fill 'er up," Russell Hylton Blog, August 15, 2011, http://russellhylton.blogspot.com.
FIRST LESSON: Isaiah 58:1-9a
SECOND LESSON John 14:11-27
SERMON: “When God Is Silent”
Today I’m remembering a story Laura Bush told when she was First Lady and went with her husband George W. to the home of his parents, the former president and Mrs. Bush. According to Laura Bush, on this visit her husband, perhaps the most powerful man on earth, woke up at 6:00 a.m. as usual and went downstairs to get a cup of coffee. As he sat down on the sofa, he put his feet up on the coffee table. All of a sudden, his mother yelled out, "Put your feet down!"
His father said, "For goodness' sake, Barbara, he's the president of the United States."
And Barbara said, "I don't care. I don't want his feet on my table."
The president promptly did as he was told, for as Mrs. Bush observes: "Even presidents have to listen to their mothers."
Today we honor our mothers as we conclude a series informed by Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Gospel Medicine. She begins the third section of her book with some questions about why it is we pray and pray and pray, when so often it seems that there is no answer. Why do we pray every week for peace and health and safety and every time we come back to worship we ask for the same things, perhaps in different ways and different words. We begin to wonder if God is even listening, and if God is listening, then why doesn’t he answer? Surely God must want peace among his creatures. Surely God wants us safe and healed of our injuries and illness. If healing and health and peace and safety aren’t God’s will for us, what does that mean? What does that tell us about God?
It is difficult, after praying repeatedly and not getting the results we want, or any results at all, not to wonder if God is even listening, or maybe God just isn’t there anymore. When I was a college student there was an issue of Time magazine that asked on its cover, “Is God Dead?” and included an article that dealt with the rise of atheism in America. It is difficult living in a culture that devalues faith in God, not to become disillusioned when prayers seemingly go unanswered.
Taylor suggests that being disillusioned may not be such a bad thing, breaking the word down into its parts dis – illusionment, the lost of illusions. Disillusionment may help us realize that God’s job is not to take orders from us. The point was raised in adult education several weeks ago, that it seems as if our prayers are always us telling God what to do: God, heal my child; God, give our government leaders wisdom; God, comfort the grieving. Sometimes we make it a bit nicer, and stick a ‘please’ in there. God, ‘please’ grant us peace. Sometimes we try even harder to line up our prayers with what God wants, adding the phrase, “if it be your will.” Still, whatever we pray comes out giving God orders.
It is not God’s job to take orders from us, or to reward us for our devotion. God’s presence is not something we can command.
God responds to the people through the prophet Isaiah who notes their frustration as they ask, “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” The big dis-illusionment for the chosen people was that God wasn’t made known to them where they expected. “They thought God was supposed to be with them when they prayed and fasted and studied the scriptures. They thought nothing pleased God more than to find them on their knees, dressed in sackcloth and covered with ashes. But they were wrong.”1
God’s job is not to reward us for our piety, and while most theologians would say that God is everywhere -- omnipresent -- , God is not so much about being present with us in the sanctuary for an hour or so on Sunday mornings. God is out there with the homeless, delivering food to the hungry, in the emergency room comforting the scared and the grieving. Through Isaiah God rebukes the people for fasting and at the same time exploiting their workers, for fasting that ends in quarreling and fights. If they think that kind of fast is going to get their prayers fast-tracked to heaven, they had better think again. “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?”
Then the prophet makes clear what does matter to God:
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?(U) 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
This should not be news to us. Jesus told us the same thing as recorded in the 25th chapter of Matthew:
7“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
When asked by one of the legal experts what was required to gain eternal life, Jesus didn’t say, pray harder, fast longer. He didn’t say sing louder, faster, harder. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And when his questioner, wanting to justify himself asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response was the parable of the Good Samaritan. – (The Jews hated the Samaritans (implies) everyone, even those you hate, are your neighbor.) We cannot serve God without serving our neighbor.
Have you ever been out walking with someone, you’re having a great conversation, but for some reason your walking companion gets a few steps ahead of you. Their voice projects forward and you know they are still talking, but you can’t hear what they are saying. When it seems that God is silent – it may just be that we are too far behind to hear him.
Where do you imagine God is active now? With the jobless, the sick, the hungry, the abused, the hurting and the grieving.
Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And what did he command? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind be as good to your hated Samaritan enemy neighbor as you are to yourself. Isaiah is pretty clear that when we partner with God to loose the chains of injustice, share our food with the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, clothe those who need clothing, that’s when our healing will appear – as a nation, as a church, as individuals, as the people of God.
These are the things that are pleasing to God.
As I said to the children earlier, if they want to give mom a great gift today – just do the things she asks. Want to please God? Step up and follow God’s lead in caring for others. As we do that we will get closer and closer until it no longer seems that God is silent, but instead you will hear God clearly saying, “Yes. Hello. Welcome home.”
1Taylor, Barbara Brown, Gospel Medicine, Cowley Publications, 1995, p. 68.
FIRST LESSON: Genesis 9:8-17
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:17-30
SERMON: “God, Keeper of Promises”
Even if you’re not Irish, and the most Irish thing you’ve ever done is eat Lucky Charms, you probably know something about leprechauns. First of all, leprechauns are mischievous creatures who love gold, which they store in pots at the “end of the rainbow.” At the end of every rainbow, guarded by a leprechaun, is a legendary “pot of gold.”
Sounds like easy pickings, right? Except for one teeny, tiny flaw in that equation no one can ever find the end of a rainbow. Ever try to follow a rainbow from one end to the other? The “end” always “moves,” shifting onward, westward, eastward, somewhere. As you come closer and closer to what looks like is going to be the end point, that shiny endpoint keeps shifting. No one ever finds leprechaun gold, because no one can ever find the end of the rainbow.
Still, you can hardly see a rainbow and not somehow feel better, perhaps because they only occur in the presence of sunshine; perhaps because they are so colorful; or possibly they trigger in you a memory of a time when a rainbow signified that things were going to work out all right. Or maybe a rainbow makes you feel better because you know the story of Noah and the flood and the promise of God to all living creatures never again to destroy them by flooding the earth.
The fourth question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, one of the Reformation era documents in Part 1 of our constitution, asks, “What is God?” And the answer says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” The one adjective in that answer that troubles me is “unchangeable.” The Book of Confessions notes Malachi 3:6 as the support: “I the LORD do not change. If the adjective is applied to the character and nature of God, the catechetical answer is solid. If we interpret it to mean that God never changes his mind about anything, we’ve got a problem because reading just through the first few chapters of Genesis, we learn that clearly God can change his mind.
In Genesis 1:31 God looks over everything he has created and
pronounces it all “very good.” God has created a paradise for his earthlings with only one restriction, but it doesn’t take them long to disobey and snatch and snack on the forbidden fruit. They are banished from the garden. By chapter 4, firstborn son Cain murders his younger brother Abel, and by chapter 6, “5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” That’s a pretty quick move from “all is very good” to “I regret that I have made them.”
For those who believe all the grace in the Bible is in the New Testament, hear verse 8: 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. And so we get the ark that provides safety for Noah, his three sons, and their wives and 2 of every creature. Naturally we focus on the ark and the saving of its inhabitants, but make no mistake, what went on outside was violent destruction, as if hurricane Sandy had enveloped the whole earth. For forty days and nights the rain fell.
“23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. 24 The waters flooded the
earth for a hundred and fifty days. (Genesis 7:23-24.)
It’s the greatest do-over ever done. Once again the earthlings and the animals are to go forth and multiply, and God, who loves the creatures he has made, vows never to will such destruction upon the earth again. He places his bow in the sky to remind himself of his promise, of his covenant between God and the earth, between God and every living creature. We might anticipate an “if” at the end of the promise . . . if you are good, if you obey my commandments, if you obey my laws, if you sell all that you have and follow my. But there is no “if.” Barbara Brown Taylor says God makes covenant with the most ornery, most stubborn, most stiff-necked partners a deity ever had.
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Writes Taylor, “From now on, God will not repay betrayal with betrayal. From now on, God will not let his sorrow lead him to kill. He will bind himself to his creation in peace, promising himself to it although he knows how it will wound him. So God will be wounded. So be it. . . God chooses to ally himself with his cantankerous creation whatever the cost. If there is to be pain the world, then God will share it. Never again will he protect himself from it by killing off those who have caused it. God’s promise to them is life, not death, ‘an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
We humans make promises, and some of us do a better job than others of keeping them. I read a story some time back, about a rich young man who had been taken to the hospital, critically ill. His condition worsened, and he was confined there for quite a few weeks. His doctor even had told him that he wasn’t sure if he’d recover, but that they would continue to do all they could. The man was obviously scared to death, and said to the doctor, “please, doctor, do everything you can, I don’t want to die, I have so much to do yet in life, and if you can help me get better, I’ll even donate $10,000 to the fund for the new hospital. The young man happily began to improve and recovered, and a few weeks later was released and went home.
Several months later, while he was out in the town, he saw the doctor on the street, and the doctor asked him how he felt. The young man said, Doc, I haven’t felt better any time in my life. The doctor said that’s great, because I wanted to ask you about the money you said you wanted to donate to the new hospital fund. You remember you said if you got well, you’d like to donate $10,000, and we could really use that now. The young man said, Man, “If I said that, I must have been really sick.”
For some people, keeping promises seems to be a really tough issue. Fortunately for us, God’s promises are always kept.
It still rains sometimes. When it does, too easily we forget that we are covenant partners with God. We forget that when it rains we are called to bail out water and hand out life vests as quickly as we can so that every living creature who rides on this ark called earth can share the joy of God’s creature-loving covenant.
Since the days of our first parents, we earthlings have continued from time to time to be stubborn, stiff-necked people. In God’s mercy he has provided for that. Every time we come to the Table, we are reminded that in spite of our stubbornness, in spite of our disobedience, in spite of being mostly self-centered instead of God-centered, God has made good on his eternal covenant through the life, death and resurrection of Christ,
One last story for you this morning -- of a rice farmer who saved an entire village from destruction. From his hilltop farm he felt the quake and saw the distant ocean swiftly withdraw from the old shoreline, like some enormous animal crouching back for a leap. He knew that the leap would be a tidal wave.
In the valley below, he saw his neighbors working low-lying fields that would soon be flooded. They must run quickly to his hilltop or they would all die. His rice barns were dry as tinder. So with a torch he set fire to his barns and soon the fire gong started ringing. His neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to help him. Then from their safe perch they saw the tidal wave wash over the fields they had just left. In a flash they knew not only who had saved them but what their salvation had cost their benefactor. They later erected a monument to his memory bearing the motto, “He gave us all he had, and gave gladly.”
Could not the same words be said of our heavenly Father and the gift of his only begotten Son? You and I are the field workers saved from the tsunami. We are the beneficiaries of God’s unconditional love-covenant, a love that will not let us go. Thanks be to God.