Sunday, February 11, 2007

Struggle and Hope

Luke 6:17-36; Jeremiah 17:5-10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20


“Woe to you who are rich, Woe to you who are full now, Woe to you who are laughing now, and Woe to you when people speak well of you.” I have struggled with these words all week long. I’ve wondered how I’m going to preach these words to you. In some way, they should be very easy words to preach. They would fit very easily into a sermon where I could get into a fervor pounding my fists onto the pulpit, using a loud voice, and shaming all of you for what you are doing in your lives. But I struggle with these words. For me they are very hard to hear. They are hard to hear, because I see them pointing directly at me and all of the good things that I think I have going for myself in my life. I live very comfortably. I have never known hunger. And I think as you have gotten to know me, I believe that I’m a fairly jovial person. I’m quick to smile and quick to laugh. Surely these aren’t bad things, right? But still I hear those words ringing in my ears.

Is there only woe for me in my life? I have so much. I have good friends, family, and a job that I feel that I am called to do. Why do I deserve such hard words that seem to be pointing directly at me? What I have done to deserve such harshness? I come to these scriptures looking to receive God in to my life. I come looking to find God, and all God has to tell me is woe and woe and woe. Where is the hope for me? Where is God’s abundant grace for my life? But still I hear these words. But do you know what? Maybe this message isn’t for me. I have hope. I have an expectation that things will go well for me. I believe that I will laugh. I believe that I will continue into a life of ministry. I believe, nay know, that will not be hungry tomorrow. I know that I will not know the pain and anguish that comes with extreme hunger.

However, there are people in this world who have on reasonable expectation to laugh in their lives. There are people who have no reasonable expectation to have food to eat today. There are people who have no reasonable expectation to find work. In some ways, I look at their situation and wonder if they have any hope for anything in their lives. How then are they supposed to hear the promises that Jesus makes? History tells us that those promises all too often do not come true for them in their lives. In some ways you could stand up and tell Jesus that is all just a bunch of malarkey. These people come face to face with their most very basic needs everyday of their lives. I can almost see why the people of Nazareth would want to throw Jesus off that cliff after saying similar things in the synagogue their synagogue.

But what is amazing, is that these words to bring hope for the future for so many people. These people feel abandoned by almost everything in their lives, yet Jesus is saying to them that he will not abandon them and will be with them through their struggle. He is telling them that they are not to be discarded and given up on simply because their situation seems to be too hopeless. He is telling them that the crap of this world is not all that there is for them. He says, “You will not know only hunger. You will not know only poverty. You will not only know sorrow.”

It’s funny in that their faith in God is only thing that they can hold to. Their faith is the only thing that cannot be taken away. They see their need for God as plain as day. Maybe that’s why those woes cause me to struggle so much. I have so much that I am not always confronted with my need for God. I do desperately have a need for God in my life, but I don’t see it though, because I’m too wrapped up in all the things that I can do for my life. I’m too wrapped up the happiness I’ve acquired that I forget that it is all for but a fleeting moment in the fullness of time.

In some ways I am like that shrub in the desert we heard about in Jeremiah. My trust, my faith is in what I can do and what others do for me so much that I could very well not see when relief comes for me. In other words, not be able to see God at work in my life.

Consider that imagery of a tree that gets played out in these words from Jeremiah. A tree, in a lot of ways, is a 100% receptor of all the things it needs to survive. A tree must get planted in place. Once it is planted, the tree cannot move. It is dependant on good soil that is full of nutrients. It must receive water, or it will dry up. It must get sunlight to be able to make the sugars that make it possible to grow. It must take in air to complete that chemical process called “photosynthesis.” In short, the tree must receive all of these if it is going to bear any fruit, seeds, or nuts.

I believe that that’s kind of what faith is. Faith is trusting in God and receiving God’s abounding grace. Faith is what happens when we receive God’s gracious love for us in our lives. You know what? I find it to be amazing when we receive this grace we start to bear its fruit in response to the nourishment it gives us. What’s even more amazing is the fact that this grace, this love is there for us even when we put our trust into other things that don’t give us the nourishment that we need. We try to take this or take that and forget about just receiving the God who loves, creates, and gives us life. God is life giving. Life giving in abundance.

This is what we believe about Jesus and what he does for us. And Paul reminds us that this grace, love and mercy extend even beyond our present lives. He reminds us that the reason that we can trust that God gives us life, is because Jesus rose from the dead. His resurrection gives us the hope that we will too will be raised from the dead. As Paul states, “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Christ is hope for the future. Jesus is hope that the hungry will be fed. He is the hope that there is more to this life than what we live. This is ultimate promise that is made to us.

I think those woes do apply to my life. They apply, because in some way, they separate me from seeing my absolute need for God in my life. I will die, and without God there would be no hope for any future. But I say, “Thanks be to God” that God’s grace and love and mercy extends even to me. I have been watered through those life giving waters of baptism in which I am given the nourishment I need to grow and have the faith that I have today.

Remember that you too have been nourished by those life giving waters, and come to this Holy Supper to receive the grace that God gives you to grow. For in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we are nourished and strengthened to grow and bear fruit.

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