Sunday, June 12, 2011

“God Awaits” - Jeremiah 29:11-14 - June 12, 2011

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  NIV

In our worship model, the whole of the worship experience is built to interpret the focal passage. But the sermon occurs this week in a very specific interpretative context where a a the missions commission of a young adult for a medical mission rip to Haiti, a testimony, and the surrounding music serve in effect as the first part of the sermon. The mission commissioning will be following by the chorus of “All of My Heart.” A testimony follows. The testimony tells the faith story of a woman in our church that faced two profoundly painful encounters with grief and loss of her marriage, but found God faithful to sustain and restore her. The church will again respond with the chorus of “With All of My Heart.” Our Sanctuary Choir then answers with “I Will Trust You” by Bruce Greer. It is a song that is based on the focal passage and brings its own testimonial nature. This shorter sermon follows.

There are moments in our life when we stand on the edge and wonder what awaits us. Sometimes what carry us to the edge are moments of excitement and anticipation. These are the moments like when we head to college, start a new job, move to a new place, begin a new life as husband and wife. We come to those moments with joy, but also a sense of uncertainty. We wonder what awaits us. Will it be all we hope? Will it work out? Will we succeed? Will we be OK? We come to this moments knowing our lives will be forever shaped by the step we now take. We know the future awaits us but we can hardly imagine what it will look like. We stand on the edge and…..

Sometimes what carries to the edge are moments born in pain. Something happens to you or someone you love that stops you in your tracks and pushes you to the edge. You do not know how you can move forward from there. We come to this moment with uncertainty. How can we move on? Will we be OK? Can we find joy again? There is a part of us that wonder what our future will hold. There is a part of us that wonders if we can even bear stepping into our future. We stand on the edge and…..

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah writes to those who like us, found themselves living on the edge. They are in a setting that was foreign to them. They were being stretch to their limits. Some of them hoped for something more. Some of them were looking for any sign of hope. Some of them were ready to give up and sit down in despair. They were standing on the edge – uncertain of the future that awaited them. The wondered if they would be OK. They wondered and needed a word. The word given for them is also the word for us. It begins, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

When we find ourselves standing on the edge God wants us to know that He has a plan and that plan is not intended to bring us despair, but hope – not to mire us down in the pain of today but to free us for a future full of hope. It is not a promise of that everything will be practically perfect in every way, but it is a promise that hope and the hand of God will prevail in our lives. Sometimes when our spirit is shaken and fear finds its way into the depths of our being the edge looks scary. It is easy to stay where we are –to hunker down – to freeze. God wants it clear when we come to edge we are not stepping off into a dark precipice but rather stepping into the future that God has created and shaped us for.

But be clear, this is not about trusting our own instincts and striking out on our own. This is not about living out of our plan but instead living out of God’s plan. But to claim that hope and future we have to tune in. The word Jeremiah brings continues; Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. The when we find ourselves on the edge – when our world is shaken – when the are trying to get our hands around our future –when we wonder what awaits us – our task is seek God’s way. The passage uses some great words: call, come, pray and tells us when we do these things that God is listening. We hear that when we seek God with the very depths of who we are that God will be found. God is not playing hide and seek with us. God is there waiting for us – ready for us to come, ready for us to call, ready for us to pray – ready to point the way.

Sara’s testimony is that she believed that God was calling her to serve in missions. She called and prayed and now we send her to Haiti in mission with Kimberly Anno in a place where she is needed and where God has prepared the way for her. Susan’s testimony is that in the midst of pain and grief, she called out and God listened and responded and lead her to a place of peace. Their testimonies join countless others that when we call out to God -when we come to God - when we pray to God - when we seek God with all of heart - that God hears and responds and carries into a future full of hope. This is more than spiritual platitudes and religious jargon, it is the promise that God is ready to work in our lives when we seek God with all that we are. God awaits!

There is one more word we need to hear. It was the word that the exiles longed to hear. It was a promise to change their todays and give them a tomorrow with Him. They heard, "I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” God knew that they were in a dark place – an uncertain place – as a result of their choices to claim their own directions – their own paths – instead of following God’s way. The word comes to them that there is a way back – back to where they were with God – back to where their songs of faith would sing out in joy. When some of you in this room stand on the edge you hesitate to call out to God because God seems a long way away. It is not that God moved but some of the choices you have made have taken you way from that place where you first heard God’s voice. You find yourself on the edge alone. This is not what God intends for you. God has made the way back for you. Through faith in Christ you can find the forgiveness and redemption you need. God awaits you as well. Call out, come to Christ, and pray – and God will listen – seek God and you will find him. God awaits!

We find ourselves standing on the edge, wondering and waiting. Some come to the edge in excitement and anticipation. Others come burdened with fear, pain and loss. The word of God speaks, “It’s OK, take the step, I have a plan for you- it is a good plan full of hope. I have a future for you. Call out to me. I am here, ready to respond. You do not have to stand there paralyzed. Come and go with me.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

“Whole” I Thessalonians 5:23-25 NIV and the Message June 5, 2011

NIV May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

My favorite toy when I was small was my big metal yellow Tonka truck. I loved it because it was indestructible. Recently I saw a version of it on sell on E-bay for $60. A fully restored one of that era now goes for several hundred dollars. I have learned that the selling of restored toys and other items from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s is big business. It seems that my generation is buying up items that remind them of their childhood. I think that part of the reason is that people are looking for something that pulls them back to another time in their life - a time before they experienced the twists and turns of life - time when they felt full of hope and optimism – a time before they felt broken.

If we listen to someone’s life story long enough we can hear their stories of brokenness. You hear it when they begin a sentence with “I wish I would have….”or “I wish I could have….”or “I had always hoped to….”or “I always thought we would…” The stories that follow are filled with tales of broken hearts, broken hopes, broken dreams, broken homes, broken families, broken relationships, broken careers, broken bodies and broken souls. These stories are rife with sadness, frustration, disappointment and regret.

We know that we were not created for brokenness so we try to make ourselves whole. We hope if we find the right person, have a baby, make a strategic career move, or buy a new home or car we will feel something – we will feel right – we will feel fulfilled. Then, when we find ourselves with everything we thought would make it right, but still feeling broken, and it shakes us to our core.

Our spiritual yearning was right. We are not created for brokenness – we were created to be whole. But it is not about buying something else, loving someone else, or becoming someone new. It is about letting God work in our lives and becoming who we were created to be.

Earlier we heard Armando Pena read our focal passage to us using the New International Version. Now I want you to hear the same passage through the lenses of Eugene Peterson’s interpretative translations, The Message. Hear his take on I Thessalonians 5:23-25. It reads; May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together-spirit, soul, and body-and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it!

Paul wanted the hearers of this passage to understand that wholeness begins with an act of God. He tells them that it is God who makes everything holy and whole that will make them holy and whole. When we hear the story of Naaman in 2 Kings, we hear he goes to the prophet Elisha to be asked to be healed from his leprosy, the prophet tells him to dip himself in the Jordan River and that “your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” The prophet wanted him to understand that the healing God would bring would not only change his skin condition, but would change his heart as well. We hear this same theme resounding in the healing stories of Jesus. It is God’s desire that we know the power of restoration and redemption. The redemption means that we are forgiven – we are made holy – we are made whole by God. In Isaiah 44:22 we hear God declare; “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” We hear in I Peter 1; For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. God knows what we have done and what has been done to us and makes the way to redeem us and make us whole.

This redemption is intended to be complete – reaching into the depths of who we are and restores us to who we were created to be. Paul writes that the God who makes us holy and whole, will put you together-spirit, soul, and body. So often we talk about God’s restoring and redeeming us spiritually. But Paul speaks about God restoring every part of our lives – spirit, soul, and body. This is a wholeness that ripples across every aspect of our lives – our hopes and dreams, our way and our work, our relationships with one another and our relationship with God. But often we create boundaries in our relationship with God. We hold back part of lives from God. We hesitate trusting God with our careers, our resources, and our relationships. We want God to live and work in the religious domain, but we retain complete control of the rest of our lives. Then we wonder why we live in brokenness. God’s redemptive work in our lives is intended to be comprehensive, putting us together – making us holy and whole in every aspect of our lives. But this means we need to let go of our hands on the controls and truly trust God to lead and work in every aspect of our lives. It means that we turn over our relationships, our marriages, our families, our careers, and our future into God’s hands. It is not laying these things at the feet of God in times of crisis and then taking them back up – claiming them again as our own as soon as the way seems clear. It is about laying them at the feet of God and trusting God with them forever. This act of trust openness us to God’s great restoring and redeeming work. Our old ways and our old patterns are not good enough. The only way to know what it is to be holy and whole is to give ourselves wholly to God.

The promise is not pop psychology intended to make you feel better for a moment. It is an invitation to wholeness that is promised and purposeful. Paul writes that we are being put together – spirit, soul and body for the coming of Jesus Christ. News channels were filled for weeks with stories about a fringe pastor’s prediction of the Second Coming. Some sold everything to get ready. May 21st came and went and nothing happened. Some outside the Christian community laughed with scorn. This false prophet’s pathetic prediction casted a shadow of doubt on the legitimate people of faith. I will have to tell you that I did not worry about what was going to happen on May 21st because Jesus told us that we would know not the day nor the hour, so I assume if someone predicts a specific day and hour I can be pretty confident that this is not the moment. Paul was not talking about God making us whole for the future Kingdom of God. Instead it is about being put together –spirit, soul, and body to live as the people who live between the first coming of Christ that changed everything now – and the second coming that will change everything forever. It is about authentically and wholly living as the people of God in this moment and in this place. It wraps our hopes and dreams into the will of God, not our own.

So can we actually believe that our broken lives can be made whole by God? Paul answers an unequivocal “Yes!” We hear pronounce with passion, The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it! We can trust God, who knows everything about us, to redeem us – to restore us – and make us whole. It is time to let go of our brokenness and lay it at the feet of God. You do not have to feel broken any longer. Nothing else and no one else can do it for you. You do not have to be filled with regret a moment longer. God is ready to put your heart and your soul together again. God is ready to redeem and restore you – to make you holy and whole.