May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
What is your response to good news? Let's play around with some scenarios here….
Pretend that you are part of a community that has been enslaved for hundreds of years by a foreign super power. They keep you captive not only by threats, but by violence and killing of anyone who dares to cross them. For many, many years your God has been promising to deliver you to freedom, to a “promised land, flowing with milk and honey.” And yet, there is no end in sight to their control over your life…. until one day someone comes on the scene; someone who was once a son of the king of the super power. He had been driven out, and now he is returned and is claiming a birthright as one of your people. He has talked with God who has said that he is ready to rescue you. It is not easy – over the span of months or years things happen in this land: the water in the main river turns to blood; there are plagues of locusts and boils, frogs and fire from the sky. Finally all of the first born of the land are killed – all except those from your own people who had blood painted across the lintel on your front door. The king, whose own son was among those killed, says to get out of his sight, out of his land, but before you and the many people who are with you can escape, he changes his mind and sends his armies of chariots after you to slaughter you. Your leader throws out his hands and his staff and the waters that are before you in the sea part to the sides, the land on the bottom of the sea becomes dry enough for you to walk across. You reach the other side just as the chariots are hot in pursuit. The leader again reaches out his hands and his staff and the waters crash upon each other, drowning all of the charioteers and soldiers under its weight. After all of this, how would you respond?
Consider this – a preacher came through your part of the world sharing good news about how God sent his own son to the world while it is still deep in sin in order to forgive those sins and save our very lives. He tells the stories of this Son of God's life, and explains how loving and merciful God is, gracious enough to make life right again to all who have faith. He has told you about those in Jerusalem, the very city where the Son of God lived much of his life and was killed on a cross – that they are in need of financial assistance in order that their church might grow. He says that he has used your example of generosity for others who believe in the Son of God in other cities, and it is time for you to prove your generosity now. How do you respond?
Consider this … you are a disciple of the Son of God and you are concerned about how this existence will end so you ask him about it. He says that no one knows the time or the manner. He also says that there will be some pretty awful things happen in this world, but these things don't necessarily mean that the end is coming. As a matter of fact, it won't be the end at all, since they are more like labor pains of a woman giving birth to new life. He tells you that there will be plenty of opportunity to work for peace in the midst of war and conflict, to work to heal in the midst of disaster, to feed those who are hungry because of famine. How would you respond?
You probably recognized those scenarios I presented to you as the contexts for our three scripture readings today. You may not be able to fully connect with these, since we live in the super power and are not enslaved by one, and we have never seen the likes of Paul or Jesus in our personal lives. But I do believe that there are plenty of scenarios that we connect with very closely.
Consider this – you have lived a long fulfilling life with a loving family and recognize the blessings that you have received from God with no merit of your own. Or, you have come through a health scare and thanks to surgery or medicine or something, you have been restored to the place where you can once again function well on your own. Or, after a painful break-up or divorce, you have found someone with whom you once again find connection, or you are once again connecting with someone that you never thought you'd feel love for again.
Consider this – your loneliness has been visited by friends in Christ; your unemployment has been a time to reevaluate your vocational goals; your children and grandchildren find a Christian congregation with which to worship and serve; you experience joy where you once only knew sorrow; you find peace in life again. How, oh how, do you respond to those many gifts from God?
If you are like Moses and the Israelites, you sing! That was the heart of our first lesson from Exodus this morning. You sing a song recounting the wonderful acts of God to save your lives and defeat your enemies. If you are like the Christians in Corinth, you take up a collection and send it on to the saints in Jerusalem so that they can continue their work in that Holy City. If you are like the disciples, you proclaim your faith wherever you can in words and actions to those in prison, the blind, the lame, the poor, the rich, the healthy, Jews, Gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and whomever God has called you to proclaim it to! When something like the terrorist attacks in Paris happens, we have something upon which to base our responses – that in the midst of wars and rumors of wars and things that cause us grief and confusion, when nation rises up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, the one true Kingdom of God will eventually win the battle and like the Israelites, all those held under oppression or in the middle of conflict will be delivered and true peace will be known by all.
We all have scenarios in our lives that we look upon and say, “God rescued me; God healed me; God provided and cared for me and I didn't even deserve it!” How DO you respond to that news? Do you sing? I know many of us do, and I find a lot of joy joining voices with you and especially with our choir to sing in response to the good things God has done for me and for us. Do you reach out in love to the hurting? Do you pray not only for the victims of terror, but for the terrorists, that they may somehow come to the realization that their tactics are not holy, nor are they conducive to achieving the goals that they purport to have. We have many folks in this very congregation, synod and the ELCA who give of their time and their efforts to work for peace, healing and feeding along with so many other things in Jesus' name in response to God's love. Do you share your financial resources? Our congregation has been a place of balance, I think – we often respond to needs that arise, while we tend to coast along when the need isn't so great. I think that we are like a lot of congregations in this manner: special appeals get our attention, but everyday stewardship of our finances don't always get our priorities.
Today I want you to consider what your own personal response is to the Good News that we share so regularly here in worship, education, service and fellowship – news that Jesus loves us and promises unconditionally to accompany us along our paths, healing us and saving us when we need it most. Remember Helen's words about how important her church family has been to her these many years, and think about her witness as one who has supported the many ministries of this congregation through giving time, talent and treasure.
Finally, I hope that each family will take home your response card that was in your bulletins this morning and pray together about what your personal response to God's goodness will be in 2016. I know you have other places where your gifts and your time go, but for our purposes I invite you to pray about your response to Clinton Heights Lutheran Church. You notice there is something about dedicating two hours a week outside of worship to the ministries here – I hope that you will seriously consider this, and if you need help finding a place to connect please call, text email or stop me and I will help you!
Keep this card with your monthly financial commitments – right along with the electric and gas bill, insurance payment and rent. And each week, month or regular interval when you make out a check or put cash in an envelope, or when you see that the automatic deduction has been withdrawn from your account repeat the final words on that card: I trust that God will care for me abundantly as I share cheerfully and abundantly with God through my church. Amen!