Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
December 7, 2014
“Hope: Past, Present, and Future”
There are many who would say that we can learn from the past, but we can’t change it. We can set expectations for the future and make plans but we can’t live in the future. The only place in time, the only day we can do anything that makes a real difference is in how we live our lives today! We can learn from the past with great hope for the future; but it’s how we live today that makes all the difference!
Today, we look to this ancient writing from the book of Isaiah, and when we look back at what was: the early years, the prophet Isaiah was warning the people that if they did not change their ways God would punish them. Their only hope was to listen to this prophet and do as Isaiah suggested. However, we know that history moved on and they did not change. Was it anger, fear or arrogance and disrespect that caused them to disregard the warning from Isaiah? We don’t know for sure. But we do know that the conquering army came and took over their homeland. Their enemies drove them from their homes and they went into bondage in a foreign land.
Years later the prophet Isaiah began once again to share his insights, his prediction, he prophesied again saying: “There’s hope; turn to God and in the present time God will save you.” Isaiah was telling them that they must turn to God, if they hoped to be freed from there slavery, their bondage. Isaiah was telling the people of Israel that God would release them, God would rescue them! He was offering them hope, as they looked to their future. They simply needed to have the ability, the willingness to look past their present circumstances, and trust in God. As they looked to their future, there was much that they had to hope for, if they could come to believe.
History tells us clearly that those of ancient Israel, during the early years of Isaiah’s prophetic voice, had not been faithful; they had forgotten their past and the exodus from Egypt; the miracles and the mighty arm of God. Hope for the future was to be for those who turned to God, and the promise the prophecy of Isaiah, would come true. Yes, God would come to them and rescue them; that’s where their hope lived, in their willingness to believe! In the hearts of the men and women who came to understand what God would and would not do for them was born true hope.
Moving into this present-day, today, December the 7th in the year 2014, we celebrate the 125th anniversary of this faith community. As we do so we stand in the existing and current time. History has revealed itself and the future is but a promise, as it is yet to come. The hope that was dreamed of, when our founders created this church so many years ago, was that they could build a church; a church to serve the people of God. They also had hope and plan’s to find a permanent home for this their church and that it would continue to serve the people; it would be a place of worship, and children would learn about the promises of God. History tells us how that worked out and here we find ourselves in this contemporary Twenty-First Century period of time.
Grounded in the present time we must embrace the hope that this church was built on, the faith, the tenacity, the willingness and the skills that it took to get this community started. We must also acknowledge: that every member, every pastor, every leader and every contributor of this faith community helped create this church as it now stands! We must look to the historical ups and downs in the past as a learning curve. From these learning’s are the opportunities to grow and strengthen, thus fully appreciating and understanding all that has been passed to us.
This faith community has not only moved and changed locations three times; it has moved forward into this existing and present-day time period, preparing to embark on its future! This church has moved forward into deeper and broader understandings of theology and deeper understandings of what God is saying to us and what the scriptures say to us. This movement has brought this church to be what it is today: a church that invites all and welcomes all openly; a church that cares about the marginalized and the needy; a church that cares enough to feed the hungry! This church looks to God for direction and guidance through the teachings and examples of Christ and the early followers of Christ; and acknowledges that God is still speaking to us as we gain deeper understandings of God’s will for us, as a church, and as individuals!
If we want this church to continue to grow, embracing all that advent means, while celebrating this 125th anniversary of this church, this faith community, while moving forward into its future, our future and acknowledging what God is calling us to be and do, then we must bring the hope of those that came before us into our present time. We must, we must search our hearts just as the people of Israel were called to do by the prophet Isaiah. We must believe that God is with us and that God has not abandoned us! God has not forgotten us and that indeed we will be able to move into the future and continue to do the work that was envisioned for this church, work that we are called to do; now and in the future!
Isaiah cries out to us, from the ancient past, the prophet calls out to us that we have to, we must, continue to turn to God, in all things, at all times, trusting in God. God, through the voice of the prophet calls upon us this very day. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” For 125 years this fellowship of faith has been doing exactly that: preparing the way. Today we stand at the threshold of our future. We can continue forward, always trusting in the promise of God, trusting that there will be a fruitful future, trusting that this church will be here for those that are faithful, and for those that come here seeking to worship the God that comes to us through the Baby Jesus; The Prince of Peace. This church will be here for those that want to be renewed and refreshed by the Spirit, as they continue their journeys of faith, seeking to reach out and do the will of God!
To truly celebrate this anniversary today we must truly embrace the present. Then we can take and propel this church into the future. We can be a church within this community, a church that passes the gospel message onto generation after generation. We can be a church that stands in this society as a pillar of God’s love; a fellowship that reaches out just like Jesus reached out to the people. When we do this then we can have peace, the peace that we long for; a peace that comes from hope that leads to trust and ultimately doing the will of God. This peace can only be had when we embrace the full message of Isaiah, embracing God’s guidance and following God’s will. We can move from rejoicing over history to rejoicing over our present church and rejoicing in God’s love. Then we can look to the future with peace in our hearts knowing that God will be there for us and for our children and for this faith community!
We will continue to be a church that stands for the social justice principles that have been brought to bear in the journey, in the history of this church. This is and will continue to be a church that reaches out to young families preparing them for their personal faith journeys. This is and will be a church that embraces traditional values, old-fashioned Christian and Christmas values. This shall continue to be a church that welcomes all, no matter where they’ve been, and no matter how they’re living their lives, and we will continue to welcome them with the arms and the compassion and the love of Jesus, the Christ Child. Isaiah proclaims: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” This is what this church has done throughout its history! We have come here today prepared to celebrate what has already come. The promise has already been given to us, all we need to do is grasp it and feel the fullness of God’s peace, as we move into the future rejoicing in the past, gleaning all that can be learned from it. Let us give praise and thanks to God for these past 125 years!
Let us now hear and receive the words of Jesus, found in these verses of scripture, from the Old Testament, the writings of Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 1-11.
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.