SERMON FOR DECEMBER 2, 2018
JEREMIAH 29: 11`-12, PSALM 25: 4-9, LUKE 21: 25-31
(”IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY, BUT I GET THE GIFT”/ “DON’T WORRY…WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER”)
(Chaplain E. Lahti Rosensaft)
“Push me…pull me…lead me…guide me.” This has been my plaintiff cry to the Lord since He called my beloved Dad, mostly known as “Grandpa”, home on October 17, 2018. Although I had assumed most responsibilities of my Dad’s after his broken hip in 2013, it was scary to be left without the head of the family to attend to all of his final needs, his estate and other matters, without being able to bounce things off him. My Dad would always comfort me in times of trouble and say,” Don’t worry- we’ll get through this together.” Knowing that I wasn’t alone gave me great solace. But what to do now? I needed a plan, with instructions, from a patient Coach. God had pulled me out of stressful situations before and it was only natural I would immediately reach out to Him. Being someone who understands that the Lord can move mountains, but expects us to bring a shovel, I knew I was in for quite a bit of work, as well as heartache, but I was comforted in knowledge my Savior “Coach” would be right there with me for this journey too.
Today’s readings make clear the following promises:
- There is a plan for each of us and it is good.
- There will be instructions, “signs” and a Coach who prunes with love.
- A Great Reward is freely given: Hope, Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness of Sins and Everlasting Life.
1.THE PLAN: How do I know of this “plan”? For the Bible tells me so! Our first lesson of the day comes from Jeremiah 29- my Dad used to quote this to me frequently and it has become my go to verse. “For I know the plans I have for you…to prosper you…not to harm you…to give you hope and a future.” I don’t know about you, but when I am floundering with indecision or fear, it gives me peace to know there is a plan for my life, as there is a plan for yours, too. It’s like my Dad saying to me,”Don’t worry…we’ll get through this together.” God didn’t bring me this far to just drop me off, but it’s hard to be in the solution when you are mourning a loss. Many of us feel frozen in our grief. We can’t deal with anything else at the moment.
Everyone experiences some kind of loss at different stages in their life:
Loved ones - a parent, spouse, child (the worst), sibling, a friend or a dear pet?
Tangible loss- financial, a job or a home as many here in NJ experienced with Hurricane Sandy.
Physical loss- lack of mobility, sight or hearing changes, memory, inability to care for yourself, a health crisis.
Suddenly everything we know has changed – our plans are broken. Nothing is the same. The good news is that God is always the same- unchanging in His love and concern for us, his children. The Lord proclaims in Jeremiah, “Come and pray to me and I will listen.”
Later today at Zion we are celebrating Hilary King, beloved wife of Ken for 62 years, who went to glory on October 1st. The King family is now forever altered. Hilary was my Soprano Choir buddy and friend for many years. We supported each other in our ups and downs. I would get surprise books and cards from her in the mail that brightened my day. An incredibly humble servant of the Lord, she would be embarrassed when I would thank her for them. Hilary, the Zion official Uber, was picking up those for church who were unable to drive anymore. She was also entertainer of homeless children in our Family Promise program, who
came scared, hungry and without a clear view of their future, to our church – finding a comforting friend in Hilary who would put them at ease. Change is tough- loss is rough. I had a 3rd loss in this same two weeks in October- my friend, Mary Ann. She was part of my new found “cruise buddies” and one of the most giving individuals you ever wanted to meet. She constantly crocheted blankets and slippers for all of her friends AND the friends relatives! If you visited her house you left with a shopping bag full of crocheted items, dinners and home grown veggies in the summer. I have beautiful reminders of Mary Ann adorning my living room. I’m sure her husband Tom wonders what the plan is for his life now after over 40 years of marriage. Our Country lost a President this week, but the Bush family lost a Dad, a Grandpa, a Great Grandpa. Loss is a big common denominator. It was Hilary’s, Mary Ann’s, President Bush’s and my Dad’s time, but what about those who are left behind? What do we do now?
2.) INSTRUCTIONS: My Dad had a sign in his house in the entry way “GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR WHIMPS.” (I used to think that was funny.) It was hard for my Dad to go from running 2 ½ miles a day before he opened the doors of his business 6 days a week, chopping wood in the evening for his woodstove to being in a wheelchair. He learned to find the little joys in each day- reading Scripture and over-feeding Ritz Crackers to the birds on his deck. Change is a part of life and most of us humans don’t like it one bit. I know I don’t. But God has PROMISED each of us a plan and I know He will make good on it. Adjusting our sails to accommodate the winds of God is easier said than done. Acceptance is the key but no one said it would be easy.
My Dad, a usually positive person, once bemoaned the fact that the list of the “couldn’t do’s” was getting bigger than the “could do’s”. His bookkeeper, Ann, told him he had the most important job now and that was to pray for us all. My Dad took that to heart and kept a list of everyone who asked him to pray for in his Bible- there were hundreds of people on that ever expanding list he prayed for each day. We all have ways to give of ourselves even as our skill sets change over the years. Prayer will help guide us towards the next leg when we come to those forks in the road. (Or perhaps a discussion with a trusted friend- like the Pastor?) I have found that in my darkest moments, helping someone else ALWAYS helps raise my spirits and gets “me out of me”. Doesn’t St. Francis tell us that in giving we receive?
Our second reading today from the 25th Psalm directs us to be proactive in discovery of God’s instructions. “Show me your ways, Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.” How do we do this? My simplistic “Push me, pull me, lead me, guide me” works for me. In quiet meditation ask God to show you where you should go, what is the right plan? How should you proceed? God loves to hear from us… First Thessalonians tells us to “Pray without ceasing”. God loves to hear from His children. We don’t need big fancy prayers just short heartfelt concerns. God is more than just a Sunday God- He’s a 7 days a week God! You know how you might shoot your friends a text throughout the day? Do that with the Lord! Keep that connection alive. And I can’t stress this next part enough – as you see things start to take shape in your life- THANK HIM! I say “Thank you, Jesus” all the time. I never could have gotten through the last 5 years, or especially the last month, without constant hand holding from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some say trials in our lives give us more opportunities to be closer to God. Do you visit the dealership’s service department or the Doctor’s office to tell them how great things are? Probably not…
I believe the more anxious I am during these “trials”, shows how little I am trusting in the power of God. That Psalm reads, “My hope is in you all day long.” That means God is always with as we go through the tough things (and the good things) in life. I love the humor in this Psalm where David, a Bible hero with clay feet, cries,” Do not remember the sins of my youth (Bathsheba!)…for you Lord are good.” It seems that David, a once Bible bad boy, is feeling unworthy. The cool thing about God is He knows us inside and out, good and bad, and STILL loves us! Jesus died for our sins to be forgiven- washed away as we saw in the Children’s sermon demonstration. All of us have an enormous need for grace and mercy – David was no different. He went on to do great things. It only shows us
God does not call the prepared, He prepares the called. This draws attention to how great and infinite God’s power is.
Jesus, our teacher, has been known to use parables and it seems the fig tree was one of his favorites. As we go through life, trying to adhere to what seems to be the plan, oftentimes things go awry and not the way we had hoped. God may have to prune us into obedience here and there (like Israel) to go the right route. It’s like the parent who says they are “doing this for your own good”. Another tricky element here is that in asking for the plan, and also the guidance, we must remain teachable. This can be a very humbling and revealing phase.
When I was little, my Dad would take me to a family property on Spec Pond during the winter to let me ice skate. I enjoyed this time with my Dad and would twirl away on the pond in my little 5 year old world. On one occasion, my Dad noticed an area where the ice looked dark and appeared to have a hole. If I skated too close I could have fallen in and died. My Dad would not have been able to save me had I gone under the ice. He calmly called my name and asked me to come to the shoreline where he was standing. I was having fun and really didn’t want to go back to the shoreline, but being the obedient child, I did as I was told. (If I was 14 in this story, there may have been a different outcome.) I remember skating back and my Dad giving me an extra big hug. He told me there was danger out there – a hole near where I was skating and I could have fallen into the icy water. I shivered, even today, thinking about what might have happened. I put my trust in my earthly father to guide my path and keep me safe. In the same way, we need to put our trust in our Heavenly Father for guidance.
God often puts things in our path to change the progression of something that might be harmful- to give us a moment to reconsider what we are doing. I know one individual who struggled with alcohol. He was trying to stay sober, had some clean time but decided this day his problems were too big. He had a bottle of liquor out and was about to open the bottle. The phone suddenly rang and startled him- the long conversation that ensued kept that man from taking a drink that day. That was many years ago and he is still sober today. Have you ever been about to do something you didn’t think you should and the phone rang or perhaps someone knocked at the door? Or maybe you got upset to be caught in traffic but later found out there was a bad accident ahead that you might have been involved in? I believe that’s one of those pruning moments of the Lord’s to make us grow in the right way like the fig tree. When we ask God for a plan and help to guide our lives, we shouldn’t be surprised when HE gets involved.
As a 100% Viking woman, asking for help is hard, but God puts His Special Angels all around to guide us in times of need. Some of us need more help than others. Maybe you need help shoveling your walkway, going to the grocery store or taking care of a loved one? Taking care of my Dad long distance, I had to put my faith and trust in others (Special Angels- Nurse Lisa and Joann) to do the right thing for my father in MA when I was in NJ. It was a tough but necessary lesson to learn. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” In prayer, I try not to ask for specifics – wisdom, guidance and acceptance for God’s will. (That last part is often the hardest, most humbling and revealing of our own character.)
3.)THE GREAT REWARDS: Our last reading from Luke is Apocalyptic. It talks about end times and “signs”. This particular verse states “When they (fig trees) sprout leaves…you know that the summer is near.” Luke is likely referring to Jesus’s second coming but we don’t know when that is. “The Kingdom of God is near.” Patience is the watch word and we must have our “heads up” in alert. Advent is coming and that is where we find ourselves in the church calendar. We see the promise of the birth of Baby Jesus - God’s only Son given, to later take our sins. What an incredible gift! My Dad always referred to March 8th (my birthday) in this way, “It’s your Birthday but I get the gift.” (Meaning me!) How appropriate to look at Jesus’ birthday in this way- we are the ones who get “the gift”- Hope in a future, Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness of sins and Everlasting Life? These are the best presents under the tree.
As a Chaplain, I see a lot of sadness, but none so sad as those who have no faith. It’s awfully hard pushing water uphill alone. Those folks have no trusted friend in Jesus. I’ve had patients and their families angry with God and I tell them- “That’s OK. He can take it.” We talk- a lot. They look shocked but it shows them I’m open to conversation and it usually turns out they do have some faith, it’s just that their grief is just too much for them to carry anymore alone.
The Head of our JSUMC Pastoral Care Department, Rev. Cotton, shared a moving story at the Staff meeting Thursday. It seems there was a terminal patient, a Dad, who resisted any faith, even though his family did. Rev. Cotton visited many times and was beginning to think this was a lost cause. Suddenly the man’s wife phoned Rev. Cotton, explaining her husband really enjoyed their visits and encouraged Rev. Cotton to come back. The man accepted Christ an hour before he died. Tears welled in my eyes to hear such a tale for I knew God had moved a mountain in this man’s heart allowing Rev. Cotton to come in.
God has a hopeful plan for each and every one of us. He never tells us that our lives will be easy, but He does promise (John 16:33) to be with us and that He has overcome the world. God only asks that we reach out to Him, like a child to his earthly Dad.
God will instruct us in all of our ways and keep us from falling through the thin ice. It’s like He says,” Don’t worry…we’ll get through this together.”