February 5, 2017
The last two weeks have been very centered on how we are to live out our faith. There was Judy's sermon with the three points that living out our faith entails: repentance, following Jesus and making disciples. Last week, from the Prophet Micah we got the three points: to walk humbly with God and then be kind and do justice. Today's gospel suggested more of the same. What would it look like if we lived our lives as salt and light in the name of Jesus? And it might have included another list of three or more things we do in our lives to be faithful to God's call. But I was drawn in a different direction. Perhaps you could say a more spiritual direction as opposed to a hands-on message. And my key verse come from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, “But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” It is often taken as the promise of heaven...which is part of the message. But it also must be read as how we recognize the reality of God's love in our lives here and now.
Saying that, it's easy to look at the events of each day and wonder if God is blessing us or not. Many days it is difficult to discover God's blessings. You have all heard of Murphy's law? Too often life seems to be going Murphy's way instead of God's. “If anything can go wrong it will. If nothing can go wrong, it will anyway.” That's Murphy's law, but there are subsets to it. “The other line always moves faster. When one wishes to unlock a door but only has one hand free, the keys are in the opposite pocket. After discarding something not used for years, you will need it one week later. And if you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you will get it wrong.”
I'm going to suggest we need to change our understanding of the workings of this world...and beyond. Murphy doesn't have the final say! God can open the eyes of our hearts to recognize the blessings in the here and now that God has for those who love him, as well as live in hope for the promises of a heavenly reward.
We are living in an age where the basic doctrines of faith are under attack. That sounded ultra conservative. But it is true. And the doctrine of heaven and hell are under attack; are questioned. Many modernist, liberal theologians will deny the truth of them. The scriptures are clear in their teachings, Jesus spoke often of eternity. Just last week at the end of the beatitudes, he said this to those who are suffering for the faith, “Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven.” We have verses of scripture hanging in the choir loft right now taken from Revelation; words of promise of the blessings we will see when we reach heaven, “No more tears, death, sorrow or crying...God shall wipe away all our tears”. In today's world of sophistication and science, it is popular to point out that it just doesn't make sense that everything will be better in the sweet by and by. But what have we been reading from Paul these last two weeks? “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” Paul realized, even in his time that the claims of the gospel do not mesh very well with the wisdom of this world. From today's reading he expands it further, “though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age--who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” And so we look not to the wisdom of the world but to the wisdom of God to determine our vision.
Our final line suggests that we can see what God has prepared in the here and now, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Gifts bestowed on us by God. What kinds of gifts that are so special could Paul be writing about? My first thought was grandchildren because I was not prepared for the wonder of those blessings... I consider this opportunity to be your pastor as a blessing that God prepared for me that my mind had not really conceived. You have your own list, and we each may be surprised by special signs of God's love and care; a sunset, a visit from a friend, the love of a mate, the notes of a song or hymn that touch us deeply, the fellowship we share in the bread and the cup. Julie has challenged us all to consider each day what blessings we are particularly thankful for with a thankfulness jar. We don't always anticipate where and how we will recognize God's love. Paul is assuring us that God has some wonderful things in store for us. Look for them and rejoice in them.
But what about those times when there are no blessings evident in our life? The lose of a spouse, a divorce, loneliness, an empty womb, a prodigal child, illness. We'd like to think a promise like this assures us that those things aren't part of the plan for our lives. But we've seen too much, experienced too much to believe that bad things don't happen. And it is easy for me to stand up here and say, “Have patience, the blessings are coming.” It is much harder to live through those times of doubt and fear and anger. But we hold on to this promise...
In my thoughts on this topic, I kept coming back to the African-Americans in the slave fields in the early history of our country. They had very little to hope for in this life. And their religion and their music reflected that. They took words like these of St. Paul and sang of their hope for freedom. In words, they'd sing “Swing low Sweet Chariot” and we'd hear the yearning for freedom in the here and now but the promise of heaven was there too. Many of their spirituals had this double meaning. We recognize hopelessness lived out in hope because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Because they trusted in God's love for them. None of us can deny, here on this first Sunday in Black History Month, that our opportunities in this life are much better than theirs. And yet too often we let our fears and doubts, and yes our troubles and losses, stop us from recognizing the gifts we have received and are promised to be yet coming through the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can we live with less hope than those doomed to a life of slavery had?
You all know that I often listen to Pastor David Jeremiah preach on the radio while I'm on my mail route. This week he shared some definitions of love given by young children. He used it as a humorous introduction to his message. But I found these childish definitions extremely deep and meaningful And if you'll indulge me I will share some of them and try to show how they represent the love of God which leads to our hope for what God has prepared and is preparing for us.
Billy, age 4 says, “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know your name is safe in their mouth.” Jesus knows each of our names, he knows you by name and loves you. Your name is safe in his mouth, you are safe because Jesus loves you...this we know because the bible tells us so.
Bobby age 7, “Love is what's in the room at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen.” Love is all around us; here in our fellowship, in nature, in our world. Stop “opening presents”; be still and know the Lord. Look and listen so you don't miss the gifts that God gives us each day.
Tommy, 6, “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other very well.” God knew you before you were born, he knows your coming in and your going out, and God loves you despite all he knows about you.
Cindy, age 8: “During my piano recital I was on stage and I was scared and I looked at all the people watching me and I saw my daddy waving and smiling--and I wasn't scared anymore. That is love.” There are a lot of scary things in this world. But if we can look and see our heavenly daddy waving and smiling—if we are aware that he's there—if we are spending time looking, God will give you the courage, the faith to face whatever you may come up against. Know that God is there with you, loving you.
And my favorite, Rebekah aged 8: “When my grandmother got arthritis she couldn't bend over and paint her toes anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time even with his hands having arthritis. That's love.” When we were lost in sin and couldn't save ourselves, Jesus came down to earth to do what we couldn't do for ourselves. Out of his great love for us, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That's love. And that's why we can face whatever tomorrow might bring. Because Jesus didn't stay dead. He rose again, he is in heaven interceding on our behalf today. And he has prepared a place for us for eternity. That's love.
Our gospel reading and our call to worship and the prayer of confession all remind us of the Christian's call to be salt and light; to live out our faith in practical, personal, real ways in this world. But it is also important to just be still and know God's love for us. Paul explained about this love--no eye has seen, no ear heard and no heart conceived what God has prepared for us whom he loves...in other words, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Amen
Hymn: Because He Lives