The week is getting away from me! Here was last Sunday’s sermon …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 20, 2014
Bearing Witness to God’s Hope
Last Sunday, I got on a plane. I checked my luggage, went through security and headed to my gate. I boarded the plane, buckled my seatbelt and put my headphones in. Three hours and two episodes of Chopped: Teen Invasion later, I landed in Florida. An hour after that, my nine-day-old nephew was in my arms.
That was the way that my trip was supposed to end.
For the 298 people aboard Malaysia Flight 167 last Thursday night, things did not end the way that they were supposed to.
And as more details of the crash emerged over the weekend, I think we all realized once again just how scary this world that we live in can be.
The community of people that Paul was writing to in Rome also lived in a scary world. They lived in a world where stability was gone. They lived in a world where Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and where they anticipated his immediate return and the fast-approaching end-time. They lived in a world where their stable Jewish traditions and structures were being rocked, leaving them vulnerable and scared. They lived in a world full of uncertainty. They lived in a world where they did not know what was going to happen next. They lived in a world that Paul described using worlds and phrases such as “slavery,” “suffering,” “longing” and “groan inwardly.”
Hear what one commentator had to say about this passage from Romans:
One of the major themes of Romans 8:12-25 is that of identity. Who are we, now that we have accepted God’s gracious gift of Jesus the Messiah, and what will our life look like? Further, what are the tensions inherent in living in a period between the already of his death and resurrection and the not-yet of his coming in glory to complete God’s redemption of the creation? God has raised Jesus from the dead, demonstrating definitely that nothing can separate us from God’s love, companionship, and community. We have experienced the inbreaking of God’s kingdom or reign, the inauguration of a new era of hope and possibility in which we, Jesus’ followers, are to be a sign, witness, and foretaste of what is to come.
At the same time, we live in the “not yet.” While God has broken into our lives and creation and bridged the gulf of estrangement between us, God’s reign is not fully manifest. Sin or separation from God is evident in our world in so many ways, and it is often easier to focus on the disturbing events in the daily paper than on the ways God is working, through the Spirit, in our lives and world. It is easy to become discouraged.(1)
It is easy to become discouraged in our lives, isn’t it?
The truth is, we live in a world where planes get shot down. We live in a world where communities are divided. We live in a world where tragedies strike, where illnesses take control and where real people are hurting in real ways. We, too, live in a world of “not yet.” We, too, do not always know what is going to happen next.
The main reason that I went to Florida last weekend was to help my sister drive my sweet little nephew home to Connecticut. At one point during our trip I was sitting at a rest stop in Maryland giving him a bottle and he looked at me with his big brown eyes and I almost started to cry. And not because I had been sitting in a compact car for two days and still had 400 miles to go before I reached my destination, either. No; I almost cried because of this little boy’s innocence and vulnerability. The world is so new to him and he doesn’t know how scary and confusing and frustrating and dangerous is can be.
And in that moment, I wanted to shield him from it forever.
In this passage from the Book of Isaiah, the city of Jerusalem was also kind of a scary and confusing and frustrating and dangerous place to live. It had been attacked by Babylon. It was unstable. The Jerusalem people were starting to question YHWH, God. They were looking to and worshipping other Gods, hoping that these other Gods would make things better, offer them some sort of instant hope and reassurance that better times were coming.
God was speaking through the prophet Isaiah, reminding the people of Jerusalem that he – and he alone – was their God. “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God,” the prophet said. “Do not fear, or be afraid.”
Through this prophecy, God was boldly proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that despite the uncertainty that they were feeling, he was in their midst and he was actively shielding them, protecting them, healing them, guiding them and loving them. God was boldly proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that even through the tough times, he was not going to turn his back on them.
These were words of hope that the people of Jerusalem so desperately needed to hear.
And, truth be told, every time I look at the news, I am reminded that these are words of hope that our world so desperately needs to hear as well.
“For in hope we were saved,” Paul wrote to the Romans. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
I think that people in our world today desperately need to hear that even though they cannot see him, God is in their midst. People need to hear that they are not alone. They need to hear that even though bad things happen, there is still hope. They need to be reassured in their patience that something good will happen.
And we are the ones who need to tell them.
“You are my witnesses,” the prophet said.
We are God’s witnesses.
Thousands of years ago, God called the people of Jerusalem to be his witnesses throughout the world, to bear witness to the hope that God’s love gives to the world. And today, God is calling us to do the same thing.
People need to know that there is hope in this world. They need to know that there is something beyond the scary and confusing and frustrating and dangerous world that they are living in. They need to know that God has not turned his back on their pain and their hurt and their vulnerability. They need to know that they are not alone.
Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” People need reassurance of this great glory. They need to know that better times are coming. They need to know that their God is a God of hope and that their God has not abandoned them. They need to know that there is more to our world than plane crashes, senseless violence, illness that takes lives too soon and divided communities.
They need to have a reason to keep going when they look around and that is all that they see.
We give them that reason.
We, as disciples of Christ, give them that reason. We, as followers of the Gospel, give them that reason. We, as proclaimers of the Good News, give them that reason. We, as children of God, give them that reason. We, as people filled with the Spirit and living out the still speaking word of God, give them that reason.
Paul said that, “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” We need to allow that Spirit to bear witness to who we are as children of God. We need to be a witness to God’s all-encompassing love. Because if we do not let that happen, no one around us will ever see what it means to be a child of God – a child of hope.
The world that we live in is fast paced and hectic. It is hard to keep up, to find balance and to not feel like you are losing control and sometimes – most of the time, in fact – we need a little bit of reassurance that it is going to be okay. The Jerusalem people needed this reassurance; the Roman people needed this reassurance; and people today need this reassurance.
We are witnesses. We are witnesses to precious newborns who still believe that the world is good and we are witnesses to adults who are no longer naïve. We are witnesses to a world of people living in the “not yet” that so desperately want and need to hear the good news that God is in their midst.
And so we tell them. We tell them in our words and in our actions. We tell them with the things that we say and with the things that we do. We tell them inside the walls of the church and – perhaps more importantly – outside the walls of the church. We tell them in ways that are relatable and accessible. We tell them in ways that will give them reassurance. We tell them in ways that will give them hope. We tell them with love, but also with great confidence.
Let us go now and be witnesses to God’s great glory in our midst!
Thanks be to God!
(1) Pogue, Blair Alison. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3, Page 255