Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hope that Will Not Disappoint

"Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus." Mark 9:8
More than 100 men from the Dassel-Cokato area are up at Motley for a three day men's retreat. I went up earlier today and came back earlier this evening, bringing a friend who couldn't stay overnight. I'm getting ready to preach now and I'll share my prep below.

Tomorrow is a "mountaintop" Sunday called Transfiguration. We'll read Mark 9:2-9, the time when Jesus stepped out from behind his veil of ordinary humanity so the disciples could see who he really was.

Because life is hard for those who follow our Lord, he gives us experiences when we can, for a few moments, clearly know that it's all going to be okay in the end. Going on a Christ-centered retreat, summer camp, mission trip or even participating in worship can give us that clarity, if only for a short time. Those moments can help us when we go through the valley of pain and trouble once again.

Right after Transfiguration, we'll get ready for Ash Wednesday and Lent. From the high of seeing Christ in his glory we go to the cross. It's good to remember the joy and promise so when we suffer we know God is ultimately in control, and will work good for all who love him in the end.

Here's my preparation for tomorrow's sermon:

When you go with God, you don’t escape trouble. In fact, when you go with Jesus, you often find more trouble than you had before.

We’ve been following Jesus over the past few weeks. Beginning with that day in the synagogue where he met a demon possessed man, Jesus has been surrounded by sick people and lost people.

If you go past chapter 1—we’ve been following Jesus through Mark’s Gospel—if you go past chapter 1 you’ll see Jesus with more troubled people—and with some enemies too.

One day, in chapter 3, Jesus cured a man with a crippled hand… some powerful people were there to check up on him… they must have heard that Jesus didn’t care about the religious rules. So, right there in front of everyone, without hiding, he cured a man on the Sabbath day.

What happened because of that? Verse 6 of Mark 3 says that this was when they started their plan to get-rid-of-him. To have him legally, properly and oh-so-cruelly put to death.

When you go with God, don’t expect an easy life. Like Jesus, you will face trouble, pain, sickness and enemies, and some of those enemies will be very respectable.

On the other hand, when you go with God, people will be healed, rejected people will be welcomed, sinners will be forgiven and taught a new way of life. The hungry will be fed.

When you go with God, there will be such joy! People will discover there is a love that does not give up, a hope that does not disappoint. There will even be a time, like at the end of chapter 5, beginning with verse 35—there will be a time when the dead are brought back to life. Nothing can stop the unconditional love of God.

So, when we go with God, attracted by that absolutely persistent love, we find joy and hope and lifelong purpose—and almost unbearable pain. In the middle of Mark 6 you’ll find a sample – John the Baptist, Jesus’ pastor… the man who first saw Jesus for who he really is… John the Baptist was cruelly beheaded because he had told the truth about Herod’s family, that it was not right for Herod to take his brother’s wife.

Many times, when we get close to God, we will get close to the truth, and when we speak that truth, some will not want to hear.

The question is, then, which will win? Pain or purpose? Evil or Good? Healing love or rejecting hate? Sometimes, in this world, it is very hard to know.

Take, for example, the controversial issue that will be coming up very soon in our denomination, the question of homosexuality. How to love people unconditionally while at the same time believing that God made us male and female for a reason? How can we, like John the Baptist, speak the truth about family life while, at the same time, extending the amazing love of God in a way that won’t be rejected? Some of us are sure, others feel lost. Still others don’t even want to think about it.

But the creator of all, who came to earth to save sinful people like me, he does not back away from the struggle. He comes through his Word, and in him, in Jesus, love and truth meet. In Christ, we can always love, and always tell the truth.

This amazing combination of love and truth costs a lot. There is a high price to pay. For Jesus, and for us. In Mark 8, after telling his disciples that he would be rejected, killed and rise from the dead himself, because he was so uncompromisingly loving and truthful, he went on to tell them, this is right before our gospel today,
“If any of you want to be with me… if any of you want to share in the joy and love and power of God like I do, forget about going after what you think is easy, take up your cross—do whatever it is that I call you to do, no matter how hard it may seem. If you just do what seems easy, if you act from fear, you will lose yourself—but if you follow me, trusting me, believing and acting, following me in bringing the good news of God’s love to this broken world, if in acting bravely like that you suffer and even die, you will be my follower forever. You will be saved.”
When we follow our Lord, you see, it will sometimes seem too hard to bear. When we follow our Lord, and maybe this is even a test to see if we are following the Lord… if we are tempted to give up because it is so hard, then we could be very close to doing what God wants us to do in this life.

Christians—Christ followers—as long as we live, we will be right on the edge.

And because this is true, we need to come to places like this where we can hear God’s Word and know that the hope God has given us here (heart) and here (head) and here (arms), the signs of God’s love we have seen—as people are healed and forgiven and brought back together will someday be complete, that someday the edge will be gone and we can live in peace with no more fear.

That’s why Jesus brings his disciples, and through their testimony he brings us, up to a place where everything becomes clear, if only for a moment. He brings three followers up to a mountain and the earthly confusion is taken away, and Jesus is there with Moses the law-giver and Elijah the man who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind, and they hear a clear voice, telling them which of all voices they should be listening to, this one, Jesus, this one, my son, listen to HIM!

And what a glory and what a treasure that is. For all the righteousness of Moses, who tells us how to live, and for all the powerful testimony of Elijah, who called down fire and executed God's righteous anger on evildoers, we are given gentle, loving, bold, suffering Jesus, who would rather die for sinners than have them destroyed, who would rather welcome and transform those we reject instead of turning his back. This is my son, this Jesus, listen to HIM!

When everything is confused, when everything is gray, when we or our loved ones or anyone at all is suffering so [much] . . . We can look to our Lord Jesus, and listen and learn and follow without fear, for he conquered the grave and he shines like the sun. He, and he alone, is the hope that does not disappoint.

So, as we do battle in this world, as we work against unrighteousness and injustice and unforgiveness and pain, we can look to the one who loved and suffered and trust him to bring us through to a glorious future. Focused and looking and listening to Jesus, we can go to the valley of struggle, and pain, and yes, uncertainty and debate.

But staying close to our lord, coming to him in worship, sharing his Word and his love, we can come to a place frequently, where we can clearly see and believe a hope that will not disappoint.

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