December 31, 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

The following are reflections from our “Watch Night Service” held on New Year’s Eve, and finishing up in the early morning of New Year’s Day 2017.

Reflection #1 –

I want to begin with a reading from the Book of Lamentations. Yes, it is part of a book of laments – people crying out to God with their complaints and struggles. I think it makes sense because I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting about 2016: “It was such a terrible year! So many bad things happened! I just wish it could be over! Good riddance to 2016!”

And I guess quite a few hard things happened in the world this year. People noticed that lots of celebrities died. But, of course, there were very serious things happening in Syria and other places too, and there was the terrible result in the American election too.

And maybe some of us had some hard things happen in our personal lives too… deaths of loved ones, illness, injury, plans that didn’t work out, difficulties in our relationships, mistakes that we made and couldn’t correct…

Well, the author of Lamentations can relate. In the section before our reading, he is lamenting and wailing and crying about all his troubles. And then he says this:

Lamentations 3:19-26

I don’t think our troubles can be any worse than the problems of the author of Lamentations. So, we are invited to do what he did – call to mind the truth that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. We are invited to wait and to hope in God, trusting that even if we have troubles for a little while, that in the end, God will help us.

The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to wait and hope, even though he was going through a terrible time. He suffered from criticism and persecution, and even got thrown in jail sometimes. But while he was in prison, he kept on writing letters of instruction and encouragement to the Christian Churches that he had started.

Even though they had difficult challenges to face, he gave them good advice for how to keep living faithful and fruitful lives in the meantime… before the return of Jesus, the Lord.

Philippians 4:4-9

Paul’s words remind me of something that Jesus said also… at the end of the Beatitudes in his “Sermon on the Mount.” He said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Paul says is twice… in every circumstance, we are called to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We need to stop worrying, and start praying instead. And not only asking God for what we want or think we need, but remembering to keep on giving thanks for God’s blessings. And that’s when we’ll receive the gift of peace.

We won’t get peace because everything is perfect. We won’t get peace because all our troubles have melted away. We won’t get peace because the world around us is actually peaceful. We’ll get peace because we remember God’s faithfulness and love, we see God’s blessings and gifts to us, and we entrust all our troubles and trials to God who will help us to carry them.

Paul says that it’s a peace that “surpasses all understanding.” It’s a peace that won’t make sense to anyone who sees us. It’s a peace that even WE won’t understand, but it will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Then Paul says, “Think about the good stuff.” Don’t get bogged down by the problems, the struggles, and the failures. Don’t remember 2016 as a year full of terrible events. Remember the good stuff too… because there was lots of good stuff!

On Facebook the other day, I saw a little video titled, “Good Stuff You Maybe Didn’t Know (or forgot) Happened in 2016.” These were just some of the good things they mentioned…

  • Volunteers in India planted nearly 50 million trees in 24 hours.
  • Global child mortality rates declined and continue to decline.
  • Funding from the Ice Bucket Challenge helped researchers identify a new ALS gene.
  • The Antarctic ozone layer began healing itself thanks to environmental efforts.
  • 250 elephants were move to protect them from poachers and habitat loss.
  • Pandas were taken off the Endangered list.

And we have already heard tonight that there were lots of good things that happened in our lives in 2016. We saw God working among us, in our lives, in our families, in our church, and in our community. We have been blessed in so many ways, and God has helped us through our struggles too.

Paul says, “Think about these things,” and “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

One of the things that Paul taught the Philippians to do, of course, was to pray – to pray in all circumstances, with thanksgiving, with supplication, talking to God about our every need and hope. We have to keep on gathering together, both to worship God and to pray for one another and for the world in which we live.

And we must remember that it is not only us – we are not the only ones who are praying. Jesus himself is interceding for us, praying for our well-being an for our joy.

In John 17, we read about Jesus praying for his disciples before he died. And not only for them, but for all of us who would come to believe in him through their words.

John 17:11-17

As we continue our lives in this world into 2017, we must remember that Jesus is praying for us – praying that we may have joy in knowing God through Jesus Christ and following him with our lives. God has given us the gift of God’s Word (in the Scriptures and in Jesus – the Word made flesh) to guide us, correct us, and encourage us in our lives. And Jesus is praying for our protection from all evil.

May 2017 be a year in which we remember Jesus’ prayers for us, in which we delve deeply into God’s Word, and in which we have courage to follow Christ faithfully and boldly, serving God and God’s purposes in all our decisions, our work, our play, our daily lives, and our plans for the future.

Reflection #2 –

For our final reading and reflection tonight, or perhaps I should say for our first Scripture reading and reflection for 2017, I have chosen a parable of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel – the Parable of the Talents.

I know we’ve all heard this parable before, in which a Master entrusts some fairly large sums of money to his servants, and expects them not only to guard it, but to multiply it while he is away.

The parable is about what we do with our money, but it’s also about what we do with every good gift, talent, ability, and resource that God gives to us. As we hear the parable again tonight, I invite you to consider the gifts that God has given to you and what you plan to do with them in 2017.

Matthew 25:14-30

Okay now, don’t star to worry about being thrown into the outer darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. The point is that God really, really, really wants us to make good use of the gifts we have been given.

So, what are those gifts? What talents, abilities, resources, and gifts have we been given to use for God’s glory, for building up the church, for sharing God’s love with the world, for preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth, for enacting God’s care and compassion for his children?

(Invite people to call out some of those gifts…)

Now, how are we going to use these gifts this year? If you make a New Year’s resolution this year, let it be something that continually calls you to have courage and boldness to use your gifts for God’s work in the world.

There is a great song by the Christian singer and songwriter Carolyn Arends about using our gifts. The words go like this:

Hey you, with the time why don’t you spend it
If you’ve got a dime why don’t you lend it
If you’ve got hands then get them reaching out
If you’ve got feet then get up off the couch

There’s nothing so rude
As a gift you don’t use
Or a life that you choose not to live
‘Cause you’re blessed to bless
And the best of possessions is
Having something to give

Hey you, with the song, why don’t you sing it
If you’ve got a lunch why don’t you bring it
And if you’ve got a dream don’t let it die
If you’ve got a will come on and try

There’s nothing so rude
As a gift you don’t use
Or a life that you choose not to live
‘Cause you’re blessed to bless
And the best of possessions is
Having something to give

Strength that’s wasted always wastes away
But love that’s lived gets stronger every day

There’s nothing so rude
As a gift you don’t use
Or a life that you choose not to live
‘Cause you’re blessed to bless
And the best of possessions is
Having something …
You’ve got something to give

As we sing “Lord of all power” I invite you to think about that “something” and how you will give it and share it in 2017 for God’s glory.