Tag Archives: God’s steadfast love

God Never Gives Up on Us

Text:   Genesis 9:8-17

 I give up!!   I can’t take it anymore!   I’m out of here!!!.   These words, shouted in anger are a cause for many fears that arise in the minds of those who hear them.   It may be words shouted by a husband to a wife; or by a wife to her husband; or by parents to a child.   Whoever hears them will usually react with fear—-fear of abandonment.

            Fear of Abandonment is perhaps the greatest fear that stalks us from the time we are born until the time we die.    We see evidence of this fear in many different circumstances.   For example:

One of the fears that babies feel is probably that of being abandoned.   They are so helpless and so dependent upon parental figures to meet their needs.   Research has shown that babies who are abandoned in hospitals by their mothers and fathers, if not regularly held by nurses or other aides at the hospital may well die for no apparent physical reason.   Those who survive will be likely to have permanent psychotic problems the rest of their lives. All of us who have been parents recognize the cry of fear when a baby thinks its mother has left it. All who teach school or who are parents remember kindergarten or pre-school children who are going to be away from their mothers or fathers for the first time, clinging to the mothers and fathers-and crying—they are afraid that their parents won’t come back for them.   FEAR OF ABANDONMENT.

But fear is not confined to babies.   Adults have the same fears. Many men and women in our society will put up with both verbal and physical abuse and violence from their mates rather than face the fact that they might be abandoned.   It is a real fear that comes out when couples divorce—-what will I do without my spouse?   Why did he/she leave me?   I feel lost and rejected and ABANDONED!!!   I  have heard these words many times as a pastor.

Spouses who have lost loved ones by death often express the same fear —-why did he/she abandon me?   What will I do?  

One of the saddest experiences I’ve had is walking into a hospital room or nursing home room and seeing a patient in the midst of great suffering or actively dying-–AND THE PERSON WAS ALONE!!   For some reason no one was at the bedside.   At the same time it is always amazing to watch that person’s countenance change the minute myself or a loved one or a friend walks into the room.   Those who suffer are less anxious, and even have less pain when someone they love or care for deeply is willing to walk with them through the valley of the shadow.

As a hospice chaplain, I learned that one of the seven greatest fears that dying persons have is DYING ALONE!   Abandonment! They often feel abandoned by doctors who don’t see them as often; by friends who don’t know what to say so stay away; and even by family that doesn’t visit as much because they are uncomfortable and unable to handle the fact that their loved one is dying.   FEAR OF ABANDONMENT IS A REAL FEAR FOR MANY AT THE END F LIFE, AS WELL AS AT THE BEGINNING OF LIFE!!

One other fear we have is FEAR OF ABANDONMENT BY GOD.   In hospice we called this “SPIRITUAL PAIN” and it is the feeling that God has abandoned us because of our worthlessness or sinfulness.   Spiritual pain can result in great anger toward God, or great sorrow, and is difficult for the patient to overcome.   It can be a direct cause of death.  

NOW—-WHAT DOES ALL OF THE ABOVE HAVE TO DO WITH THE TEXT THAT WAS READ THIS MORNING ABOUT NOAH AND GOD’S COVENANT WITH HIM?

 According to the story of Noah,   God saw all the evil in humanity and his creation and threw up his hands and said—-O.K.   that’s it!   I’m out of here.   But he didn’t quite abandon all creation to destruction—-he found one righteous man—Noah—and saved him and his family and his creation through him.   The rest were destroyed by the Great Flood.  

 After the Great Flood that destroyed all creation but Noah and his family and the animals on the ark, , as the story goes, God saw what had happened and regretted it and changed his mind about his relationship with humankind and creation in the future.   So God made a covenant with Noah and with all future generations of his creation.  God vowed that never again would God be the destroyer.   From this time on God would be the forgiver, the sustainer of life.   Never again would God abandon his creation to chaos—symbolized by the Flood.  And to seal this decision with Noah he offered the covenant we read this morning.  

            God said:   This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you ad every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:   I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.   When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (9:12-15)

            The Hebrew word here for “bow” is “keshet” and it may be used to refer both to a weapon or a natural phenomenon—-to a “bow” (as in bow and arrow)   or to a “bow” (as in rainbow).   Some scholars think that the context here tells us in this passage that God is placing his “unstrung bow” in the clouds as a reminder of the covenant that God has made, not just with Israel but with all creation. Never again will God’s power be used to destroy mankind—-no matter how terrible the aggravation we may give God.   God is saying that his weapon—thought to be thunderbolts and rain from the sky by the ancient Hebrews—is no hanging “on the wall, unstrung” so to speak and will remain there forever.

 THIS RAINBOW IS A REFLECTION THAT GOD IS DETERMINED NEVER TO GIVE UP ON US.   GOD WILL NEVER ABANDON US TO CHAOS AGAIN.   From this moment on, God promises to never give up on us, no matter what we do or do not do. AND THE KEY WORDS ARE:   “I WILL REMEMBER”.   This is the heart of the gospel that Jesus brought—-God forgives and God’s remembers.

 When we are down and feeling like our life has reached an all time low, we have God’s rainbow to remind us that God will never abandon us.

When we have blown it and have totally messed up, God’s rainbow reminds us that we are redeemable in the eyes of God and worth saving.  

IT IS THE SAME GOD THAT SET THE RAINB OW IN THE SKY THAT REMINDS US THAT NEVER AGAIN WOULD CREATION BE ABANDONED—-AND HE SENT JESUS THE CHRIST TO US TO MAKE SURE WE UNDERSTAND.  

IT IS JESUS THE CHRIST,, WHO TELLS US THAT WHEN HE ASCENDS TO God he will send the Holy Spirit to us so that we may never be alone.   Jesus’ gift to us who are his disciples of the Holy Spirit is the new “bow”, the new “sign from God” that we will never be abandoned.

 AND WHAT IS TRUE FOR EACH OF US INDIVIDALLY IS TRUE FOR THE CHURCH AS THE BODY OF CHRIST ON EARTH.

 LISTEN TO THE WORDS OF JESUS PROMISES THAT WE WILL NEVER BE ABANDONED:

John 17:6-15   “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.

John 16:32-33The hour is coming when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.   I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution.   But take courage; I have conquered the world.

Matthew 28:16-20    All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth.   Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.   AND REMEMBER I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS….”

To the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his glory:   “Today you shall be with me in Paradise”

And Paul, thinking of all he had suffered in his work for Christ, writes in Romans 8:   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….No, convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Some of you may have, in the past, attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend.   One of the phrases they drum into the minds of those who are ther that I still remember is “GOD ISN’T THROUGH WORKING WITH YOU YET.”   “GOD ISN’T FINISHED WITH YOU!!”

 God sees us individually as a “work in progress.”   And he has promised us His love and grace will always be there for us, even when we screw up seriously.  

I believe that what God promises up individually, God also promises his church—the body of Christ on earth.   God will not abandon his church.   But I also believe that God calls us to recapture the vision of service to Him. \  

After the flood Noah began a new life in a new world.   Jesus came to show us a vision of a new world—the Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming was breaking in on earth. .   I think that God calls us to recapture the vision of that new world, the Kingdom of God that Jesus taught and lived, and to work for that in our community, our church, and our world.   We’ll talk more about that vision in next Sunday’s sermon.

            We as Christians and the church are facing difficult times.   The church is experiencing difficult times—but regardless of what happens, God promises us that he will not give up on us.   God will always be there for us.   GOD ISN’T FINISHED WITH US YET.

            I’d like to close with this story.   Dr. Martin, an evangelist was holding meetings at a church in Boston.   Large crowds attended and many people came to a belief in Jesus Christ.   His wife fell ill with the flu and was very, very ill.   She was so ill that Dr. Martin decided that he would cancel his evening evangelistic meeting so as to be with her.   Their son, who was about six years old, spoke up at that time.   The son told his father and mother—-you don’t have to worry about Mommy, God will take care of her.

            On the basis of that Dr. Martin and his son left to attend the revival meeting.   While he was gone, his wife got to feeling much better—the crisis was past—-and she got up and was waiting for them when they returned, feeling much better.   Thinking of the words that their son had spoken, she sat down during their absence and wrote these words, which were later put to music by her husband, Dr. Martin.   We now may have sung it as the gospel hymn:   God Will Take Care of You.

 

Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;

Beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

 

Through days of toil when heart doth fail, God will take care of you;

When dangers fierce your path assail, God will take care of you.

 

All you may need, He will provide, God will take care of you.

Nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.

 

No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you.

Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

 

God will take care of you, Through every day, O’er all the way;

He will take care of you.   God will take care of you!

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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The Candles of Advent—Love

 

“Do We Really Want This Baby?

Text:  Luke 1:26-38

            Do We Really Want this Baby??    Due to the invention of the birth control pill and the legalization of abortion, that is a question often asked in our country these days.   Our discussions about abortion often generate a lot more heat than they do light on the subject.   Listening to the arguments, that can be vicious on either side of the question, you would think that in the U.S. children are very important!!

            I’m not saying that children are not important.  I am saying that sometimes we have mixed emotions in the United States as well as the rest of the world about children.

            On the one hand, we have couples who spend thousands of dollars at fertility clinics trying to have a child.  On the other hand, we have couples who want to abort their prospective children if they are the wrong sex, have some physical disability, or if they think they are “not ready yet.”   So what do we really think about having children.    In truth, when we look at it statistically in the U.S., Germany, and Japan we see a we see a baby bust, not a baby boom.   People are having fewer and fewer babies.   In the U.S., the total birth rate has dropped from 3.2 children per woman in 1920 to 2.1 children today.   In Europe, the birth rate is even more changed—from 2.8 children to 1.5 over the period of 1970 to 2000.  WHY?  Lots of “experts” give lots of reasons that vary from:

The cost of children in the U.S.—that exceeds $200,000 per child, not including college.

The fact that we have good retirement insurance and don’t need children to take care of us in our old age.

The shift from an agricultural/non-industrial culture which needed lots of children to help do the work and keep the family alive, to a technical/industrial culture which needs less children.

A world dominated by terrorism threats causes parents to hesitate to bring children into such a world.

Whatever the reason might be, these statistics raise the question as to whether we as a nation are less welcoming to children, less willing to bring them into the world than we once were.   

“Do we really want this baby?”   the sermon title asks.   That is a question that Mary might well have asked as we look at our text this morning.  In that text we heard how the angel Gabriel visited a young peasant woman named Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, a carpenter in her hometown of Nazareth.

            We often don’t realize how alarming what the angel said to Mary must have been to her!    “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

            That wasn’t necessarily good news to a young woman getting ready for her wedding night to find out that she was going to be pregnant although she had not yet been with her husband Joseph.  !    Her first question was:   “How can this be?”   It might well have been  “What am I supposed to tell Joseph?”

            In  first century Jewish culture what she had just learned would be seen by her religious neighbors as adultery and was grounds for stoning and not just grounds for divorce or breaking the engagement!   An engagement or betrothal was as binding as marriage.   Mary’s life was endangered by this news!

            Mary questioned the news saying:  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” and the angel answered her:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the son of God.”   WOW!!  And the angel told her that the child’s name would be “Jesus”—the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Joshua” that means “He will save” in the Hebrew.   WOW!!!

            Mary could have said:  “No way, Gabriel!   I’m not going to touch this baby thing with a 10 foot pole!   Way too much at risk here—my marriage, my very life is at risk.   Sorry—find someone else.  I don’t need this kind of a burden at this time of my life!

            What Mary said was“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!”  In other words:  “Yes, Gabriel, I want this baby if that is God’s will for me!”

The same question comes to us this Advent Season as we read the announcement of the angel Gabriel– The question is:  Do we really want this baby Jesus? Are we really ready to birth and cradle this Christ child in our own lives?   Are we really ready to welcome the adult Jesus that he will grow into as a part of our world today?    Are we??

            Or are we more inclined upon hearing the claims and risks involved with accepting this Jesus into our world to hit the road and get outta town?   Because when we birth and cradle this Christ Child in our lives we will find that this baby grew up and that the Christ will challenges us to be transformed as a member of God’s kingdom on earth that he came to proclaim.  He will challenge us to also reach out our arms to others who will need our love and and the God of love that Christ proclaimed  in their lives.  And that might be inconvenient!   That might be risky!   That might we dangerous!  That might make demands on us we don’t want to meet!

            You see, if we truly welcome this Christ into our lives, our lives are going to be changed in a significant and total way, just as Mary’s life was changed significantly and totally!  

            It is significant that Mary said “yes” to the angel and to God and was willing to risk her reputation, her marriage, her very life, in order for the Son of God to enter the world.   She didn’t worry about her engagement, her social standing, her health, or her long-term financial security.   She didn’t spend a minute thinking about retirement benefits or whether she could use a child to take care of her in her old age.   Instead she said “yes” to a baby who would grow up to be called Jesus of Nazareth, and be called the Son of God who would proclaim the good news that God’s kingdom and rule had entered the world and who would reveal God to us in a new and wonderful way as a God of love.   Are we receptive to this rule of God in our lives?   Are we hearing the call of God through Jesus to be transformed?   Are we willing to embrace the Christ Child and the man, Jesus of Nazareth and allow his proclamation and his teachings and his example to make a difference in our lives?

            If we say “yes” to these questions,  we’ll find ourselves changed.   If our lives are not changed by saying “yes” then we really haven’t said it with honesty.   Because if we say “yes” then we will become a person who has Christ at the very center of who we are, just as Mary received the life of Jesus into the deepest and most intimate part of herself.   We’ll turn into a person who can say along with Mary:   “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will!!   Are we willing to say that?

What we are talking about in this sermon is the word that we don’t find in the Bible but that the church invented to describe the mystery of Jesus’ birth—-INCARNATION.    John’s gospel tries to describe it as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the word as “Immanuel”—God with us.”     The incarnation means that our God, who stands outside of time—who is infinite (without ending)—-becomes finite (ending).   The God who is all powerful becomes all-vulnerable.   The God who brought the world into being now is born of Mary’s womb to bear the good news of God’s love for the world.  

This is the gift of Christmas—the gift of God’s love for the world that came as a flesh and blood baby—Jesus.    This Jesus was not some glow-in-the-dark-Christ- Child        Jesus, the very God incarnate, was a real, live, ordinary, crying, cooing, sleeping, eating, wetting baby.   And just as with all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms, touched by human hands, soothed by human words of love and reassurance.              

He in turn, as we was brought up with love by Joseph and Mary, would reach out in love and show us that God was a God of love.   That God cares for us.   That God is with us at all times.   And that challenges us, because as God seeks us through the incarnation, God’s love demands that we answer this question:   DO WE WANT THIS JESUS IN OUR LIVES?

            If we do, we will be forever changed, just as Mary was forever changed—-and we, in turn, will reach out to others,   not just in this season of advent, but in all seasons, saying:   “HERE WE ARE, SERVANTS OF THE LORD.   LET IT BE ACCORDING TO YOUR WILL!    ARE WE WILLING TO DO THAT?

            Let me close with a story that took place during World War II:   

            A soldier was concluding sentry duty on Christmas morning outside London.  It had been his custom in other years to attend worship in his home church on Christmas Day, but here in the outlying areas of London it was not possible.   And so, with some of his buddies, the soldier walked down the road that led into the city just as dawn was breaking.    Soon the soldiers came upon an old greystone building over whose entrance was carved the words:   “Queen Anne’s Orphanage.”   They decided to check and see what kind of celebration was taking place inside.   In response to their knock, a matron came and explained that the children were war orphans whose parents had been killed in the London bombings.

            The soldiers went inside just as the children were tumbling out of their beds.   There was no Christmas Tree in the corner and no presents.   The soldiers moved around the room, wishing the children a Merry Christmas and giving as gifts whatever they had in their pockets; a stick of gum, a Life Saver, a nickel or a dime, a pencil, a knife, a good luck charm.   The soldier noticed a little fellow standing alone in the corner.   He looked a lot like his own nephew back home, so he approached and asked,  And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?   The boy replied,  “Will you hold me?”   The soldier, with tears in his eyes, picked up the boy, nestled him in his arms and held him close.” 

That’s what Emmanuel, God with us, means.   .  That’s what Jesus taught us:  God does not keep us at arms length, but reaches out lovingly to us and hold us as the soldier held the little boy.  

            IF CHRIST IS BORN IN US THIS CHRISTMAS, WE TOO WILL REACH OUT WITH OPEN AND LOVING ARMS TO THOSE IN NEED—WE TOO WILL HAVE A HANDS-ON LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH ALL AROUND US.   WE WILL SHOW BY OUR CHANGED LIVES THAT WE REALLY DO WANT THIS BABY JESUS!   Amen.

          Today we light the 4th Candle of Advent—the Candle of Love. And the birth of Jesus tells us:    IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE!!    God so loved the world that he sent his only Son!    Jesus—that Son, told us that all the law and commandments and the prophets were summed up in this simple yet profound statement—-“You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—-and your neighbor as yourself!”   

Jesus  didn’t say just at Christmas time!    He didn’t put any limits on how much or how often!   And when he said “love”  he said  “love as I have loved you!”    Amen.