Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Waiting in Hope Psalm 25:1-10 Jeremiah 33:14-16

If I could offer someone in difficult circumstances any two gifts I'd give them hope and joy.

And as Christmas comes this year the two gifts I would like to give any and everyone are hope and joy. I haven't seen these gifts on sale in any local stores or online--but I understand God gives these gifts away freely along with the promise of new life in Jesus.

Hope is at the very heart of following Jesus. The simple truth is we live--on this side of eternity--in hope of seeing God's kingdom come. And we live with joy knowing someway and somehow that is with us. Hope is a gift for us while we pray and live, not just watching time pass, but yearning for signs and glimpses of God moving--of God's will being done among us. Psalm 25:3 speaks of this kind of hopeful waiting. Rolf Jacobson writes

The term “wait” here translates the Hebrew word qawah, which means both to “wait” and to “hope.” The waiting described here isn’t just waiting, like one waits for a meeting to start. It means more to wait and hope, like the sort of waiting one does in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is undergoing surgery, or perhaps the sort of waiting one does while waiting for a verdict to be handed down, or again, perhaps the kind of waiting one does after one has put in an offer to buy a home.
Hoping and waiting is part of daily walking with Jesus and living into our identity as his followers. Sometimes it's uncomfortable--but here's where the promise of hope is like a spring of joy in our lives. Hope look even at an apparently dead branch and sees something new. Jeremiah said as much to the people in Jeremiah 33:14-16. He looked ahead and saw the promise of new life for an ancient line. Joy is found in our identity as God's people. The circumstances might look dire--but the identity as God's people, as people of promise and hope--that's the source of joy.

May the promise of God's kingdom and the hope to see His salvation fill us with joy. AMEN.
Peace and thanks for reading, John.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Hope-Giving Joel 2:21-27

I've been contemplating thanksgiving and what I want to say this year as a preacher. Over the years I've encouraged people to look backwards in November and remember the blessings they've seen over the past year. But then I started to read Psalm 126 and the first few chapters of Joel.  Psalm 126 speaks of people going out in hope to plant a new crop even with tears in their eyes. And this year at thanksgiving I want to give thanks not only for the past but for the future too.

I want to start with an ancient prayer song asking God to move in the future,

4 Restore our fortunes (Or Bring back our captives), O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:4-6 NIV
Even with tears over our current circumstances we, as people of faith, can go out with hope at planting time. Maybe I think of thanksgiving as a harvest festival because it comes at fall. And maybe I miss gift of God that comes at planting time--every seed has a plant hidden inside. Every oak tree was once an acorn--every field corn ready for harvest was once just seed in the hopper. Saying thanks to God for the future--for the gift of hope--for the year to come--that's a blessing for me this year. Saying thanks for the hope of a better day even when times are tough--that's a blessing for me today.

The prophet Joel spoke words of great hope to the people--he promised them vindication. But before the promise of restoration there's a word about all the tough times. Joel names some of tough times out-loud. His early words are cold and chilling.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten. Joel 1:4 NRSV
It just sounds awful. Everything eaten away--nothing left. It honestly sounds like a hopeless situation illness, divorce, jobloss, crime, terrorism, war--we know loss and grief. My temptation, in the face of painful reality, is to deny it is there. I don't want to grieve or face what hurts. I want to skip past it just as fast as I possibly can--the grief is too real and the pain unfortunately is too real. And I don't think I'm alone. God's people have long known the pains of this world. The ancient people Israel knew what grief was like because they knew first hand what exile was like. The people knew the pain. And Joel doesn't let up. He names the loss and the pain boldly...
The fields are devastated,
the ground mourns;
for the grain is destroyed,
the wine dries up,
the oil fails. Joel 1:10 NRSV
After a few years of life we can find out, very often the hard way, about the pain and the struggle of life. And the promise of scripture isn't that we will have no pain or grief--quite the opposite. The promise is that God will meet us in this world--in this life with all of our struggles and pains, with joy and with hope. The promise is that God will be with us at every step. This is where I find hope this year--not in looking back--rather I see hope when I look ahead. It takes hope to plant and think ahead. This year I give thanks not only for the year gone by--but for the blessed year to come.
Peace and thanks for reading, John