Holding on to the Righteousness of God
Happy New Year. Today is the first Sunday of the New Year in the calendar for the Church. The sermon for today will focus on some of the basics of Christianity and what that can mean for our life together.
There has been a real shift in our awareness of what it means to be a human being. In the time I grew up there was a real emphasis on the fact all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Even our prayer of confession at the beginning of the service proclaimed it. Listen to the beginning words. “Man is by nature, sinful and unclean.” For years we were told our basic identity made us messed up and unclean.
In recent years a new study of the scripture revealed our identity is first; we are children of God. And God does not make junk. Do we also sin and rebel from God? We most certainly do. The new words are “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
For those of us who are parents let me share this analogy. When our children were born, we celebrated they were here. We did not emphasize the fact that one day their only word would be “No”. We did not think by the time when they were teenagers, they would decide we were the dumbest people in the world.
We went through it and hopefully both parent and child survived. But central to my growth as a human being was the knowledge, no matter how much I messed up my parents loved me.
There was a connection there that made it possible for my father and I to be reconciled after he abandoned me as a 7-year-old. I will never forget us hugging in the San Diego airport when I was 31 and he said, “I am the prodigal father.” Then we both cried tears of sadness and joy.
So, a basic teaching of the church of today is “You are a beloved child of a righteous God, who brings order out of chaos and helps you experience forgiveness and new beginnings, over and over again.”
Jeremiah was a very unpopular prophet of his day. When King Nebuchadnezzar’s armies were at the walls of Jerusalem besieging the city, he was on the walls encouraging the soldiers of Judah to surrender, because being captured and taken off into exile was God’s punishment for being unfaithful.
The king finally put him in a cistern. From there he could cause no more trouble. Once the city fell Jeremiah caught a vision of a righteous branch that would one day arise from the fallen house of David.
When we lived in the Charlotte area, we had a treed lot. One of the most beautiful trees was a hickory tree. We were heating our house with a wood burning stove. We cut the tree down for its superior heating wood. I later grieved that decision. A branch grew out of the stump. By the time we moved to Greensboro that branch was 20 feet tall and as thick as my leg. The hickory tree out of the stump was renewing itself.
Jesus is the righteous branch that grew out of the stump of the House of David.
No matter how death dealing life can become, God has put the ability to bring back new life after the tree has been cut down. No matter what deaths or reverses we experience in life, trust God is there bringing new life, sometimes better than before.
A theme of Advent is Christ came, and he will come again when our world as we know it is being destroyed.
When I read these words in our gospel for today; “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” I think of the climate crisis the world is experiencing. As the glaciers of the North and South Poles melt the sea level is increasing. There are islands in the Pacific that are disappearing. Cities like Miami Florida are gradually being flooded. Hurricanes are more often, and we are now running out of the letters of the alphabet to name them. The earth is saying to us, shape up or you will die like the dinosaurs and after some centuries the earth will cleanse itself and start over. Let’s personally do whatever we can to at least slow down global warming.
But let’s not stop there. All of us are aging. Someday all of us will die. Death is already working on my wife and me. I have replaced my left knee, and right hip. I have had three heart attacks, and the lumbar portion of my back is injured. Now most days I don’t think about it, and you have made it possible for me to lead worship while sitting down and having lay people serve communion. But I also remember my time as a chaplain at Hospice. For the dying their whole world is ending. Members of their family and friends will soon be mourning their passing, but as they die, they are losing everything. But for the people of faith, they are not losing everything, they hold on to the righteousness of God. For the people of faith God gave them life and some years on this earth. But God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus gives to us in baptism, the gift of eternal life. No matter how the sun and moon are fading with the loss of eyesight; and no matter how the waves of death are threatening us, hang on to God’s righteousness and you will be brought back to your eternal home.
No matter what has happened on this side of eternity you are still God’s child, hang on no matter what you experience, and the Lord will give you a new start, and when this life ends, will give you eternal life.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen