When I was in seminary, one of my professors was a pastor named Craig Barnes. He once wrote a book called, When God Interrupts, and in the opening lines of his Introduction, he made a very interesting observation. He wrote, “We just keep losing things: wives, husbands, friends, health, the dreams and securities of the past. Nothing stays the way it was.” There was a great deal of truth in what he wrote. After all, we know that our lives do not stay the same. We know that as we grow older, we have to slowly let go of the things that are dear to us. Children grow up and leave the home. The time for work comes to an end. Our health finds new and different ways of letting us down. Sometimes we must give back to God the precious gifts he has given us, our parents, our spouses, our friends. We know the truth from pastor Barnes that, “Nothing stays the way it was.” And in the face of this truth we can become defeated and discouraged. Or, we can hold onto the one hope that we have, a hope that runs like a silver thread throughout the Scriptures. It is the hope of God’s wonderful promise, “I am with you.” There was a young man by the name of Jacob, who was a real scoundrel. From the moment of his birth, he was always looking out for himself. He was never one to let pass the opportunity to gain at the expense of others around him, especially at the expense of his brother. When Jacob’s father was old, and beyond the ability to see, Jacob found an opportunity to play the trickster once again. Disguising himself like his brother Esau, he proceeded to steal a blessing from his Father, Isaac. In the aftermath, he was force to flee for his life, but he had gained what he wanted. Yet, for all his treachery, Jacob was not beyond the promise of God. For, one night while sleeping in the desert with a stone for a pillow, Jacob had a dream. A ladder was there in front of him with angels ascending and descending. And, there at the top of that ladder was the Lord God who spoke to Jacob saying, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for, I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” Jacob learned that despite who he was, despite what he had done with his life, God’s promise was real and true, and God’s promise sustained Jacob throughout his days. The good news is that, despite the things that we sometimes do in our lives, God’s promise is always with us because God is always with us. Of course, sometimes, the reality of life can seem overwhelming, when we are faced with tasks that are bigger than ourselves. Such was the case for a man named Joshua. Following the death of his friend and mentor, Joshua had to assume the role of leader to a rag tag band of nomads, who were as fickle as they were stubborn. More than just being their leader, Joshua had the task of leading these people against superior forces in an effort to fulfill an old promise, a promise of land, made to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Against such overwhelming odds, Joshua could have simply given up, retreated from the task that lay before him. But, Joshua did not turn back from his responsibility because he had a promise. Joshua had with him the promise of God who said to Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and of good courage; for I shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The good news is that even when life seems to get bigger than we can handle, we have the promise of God to hold onto because God is with us
I mentioned earlier that we are acquainted with the truth that life is never the same, but sometimes that change comes without warning, and that can be difficult because we look back and yearn for days gone by. We want to return to the good old days, or at least what we thought of as the good old days. This certainly was true for a group of people called Israel. Israel had been in exile, but the time of their exile was over and they were given the opportunity to return to their home. So, Israel returned, rebuilt, and then wept. Israel looked around at this rebuilt city, with rebuilt homes, and even a rebuilt temple and they wept for it was all but a shadow of its former glory. The thrill was gone. What could possibly restore hope in such a time as this? Only the promise of God could restore such hope. That is exactly what the people of Israel received. “Take courage all you people of the land,” said the Lord of Hosts, “work, for I am with you, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not. I will fill this house with glory,” said the Lord. “The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, and in this place, I will give you peace,” said the Lord of hosts. The good news is that our longing for better days, will be fulfilled by the promise of God, because God is with us. Of course, just as change is hard because it often comes without warning, so it is also hard, because sometimes it comes without a compass, and we are left wondering where we are headed. Sometimes in life, we find ourselves moving in a direction that we had not anticipated, like finding ourselves going it alone when we expected lifetime companionship. Or, finding that a door has closed, forcing us to look for the open window. These directional changes can be scary, forcing us to find something secure to hold onto, as we see where our journey will take us. This was certainly true for a man named Paul. Paul was a man with a mission. He had a message that he wanted to share with others. It was a message of reconciliation, a message of salvation, and it was a message that he wanted to share with all his fellow brothers and sisters, but they did not want to listen to what Paul had to say. They reviled him and opposed him. So, Paul experienced one of those directional changes, and discovered that there were other brothers and sisters with whom he could share his message, those who were ready to hear and believe. Paul made the change necessary to continue in his work; he did not back down from it, or turn away from it, because he had a promise. “Do not be afraid,” said God, “but speak, and do not be silent; for, I am with you.” The good news that no matter what direction life takes us, we have the promise of God with us, because God is with us. The promise of God, “I will be with you,” is a promise that runs like a silver thread throughout the whole of Scripture, and the good news which we celebrated today is that this promise was made not just to those men and women in the Bible, but that promise has also been made to us. When Jesus met with his disciples in Galilee after his resurrection, Jesus made a promise saying, “Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age.” And, that promise which Jesus made, was a promise he made to the whole church. It was the promise of God to you and me, and to all who follow Christ. This means that no matter what comes our way, no matter how life changes on us, God, in Christ will always be with us. God’s promise is good news when we feel that life has become more than we can handle, when it seems that we are confronted with insurmountable obstacles, like raising children and grandchildren in a world that is growing increasingly hostile and dangerous, or when we are battling a disease that has attacked our bodies. There is hope in God, because God is with us.
God’s promise is good news when we look back and wish that we could return to better days, when we were stronger and our abilities did not give out so easily. I have a friend, who, as she is getting older, is discovering that her mind just does not work as well as it used to, and seems to be getting worse by the day. It is hard for her, and for those who are watching this happen to her. Yet, the hope for better days, for restoration is still there, because God is with her. God’s promise is there as life changes and takes new directions. This week we will celebrate change in the lives of some of our own members. In just a few weeks some of our children will be graduating from High School, and moving on to college. Such changes in life bring new opportunities which can be a bit scary, but, God’s promise is with them, because God is with them. As we think about God being with us, no matter what we face in life, an ideal metaphor comes to mind, to help us understand the promise of God; and, that is the metaphor of marriage. Marriage is the image that is used frequently in the Bible to describe his relationship between God and God’s people. God’s promise to always be with us, is very much like a wedding vow. God promises to be with us always, in good times and bad, sickness and health, in joy and in sorrow, at the moment of our birth and when we walk through the valley of death. God will never leave us or forsake us. That is the one certainty we have when we get married and raise our kids, when we pursue our callings and earn our bread. That is the sure promise that is with us still when our hair turns gray and our limbs become feeble. But through all of the joys and agonies of this life, and the days of eternity to come, God’s word, “I am with you,” is our promise, and our hope.
Pastor Jim's past sermons:
The Silver Thread
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.