Category: loss

Wait

Sermon

Advent 1
Service of Nine Words,
Ocean Forest
Sunday November 27, 2011.

Wait

Friends, every year we run into this Advent theme of waiting and every year this grand vision of Isaiah appears on our horizon to reassure us that there is a grand plan in all of the goings on of our life and our church.

This picture of God’s enduring reality that is meant to carry us through whatever we are experiencing, particularly doubt, fear ad anxiety about our future is beautiful and needed.

I wonder whether this Advent of all of the last 8 here at Ocean Forest is the most full of  these  realities of fear, doubt and anxiety about waiting and pondering what is going to happen to us.

I feel this fear and uncertainty as I pull away from you and feel your sadness and anxiety. I sense that you sense that you are now going to be waiting in a way you have never waited before as a congregation of followers of Jesus.

When will we be able to organise ourselves to do what we need to do and call another pastor to come and lead us? When will another Pastor come and live with us and lead us? When will we feel like we are “normal” again as the new year begins and a pastor joins us and we pick up where we have left off before this strange time of loss and waiting came upon us?
All very expected questions and very human feelings attached to these questions about how things will be.
It always amazes me that these beautiful words of hope from Isaiah were spoken into a situation full of doubt and fear. These words of God were spoken into a situation of being totally cut off from what had been. These words were spoken to a community in forced exile from their home land. They had lost it all, not unlike those families who have lost it all in Margaret River.
These words speak into complete loss – Loss of home, income, status, identity and faith community. God’s people are in a hostile and foreign place that is eating away at their hope in a gracious and faithful God.
Where is the God of those great and mighty acts of salvation and love? Where is Moses? Where is the sea parting and the enemy dying? Where is hope and faith and future and peace and belonging and life as God promises?
These are the human questions we ask of each other, the church and the Lord and they are questions meant to be asked with a view to hearing a response.
For God’s people, there is questioning and there is listening. Sometime I wonder whether we do all the questioning but can’t seem to do the listening. The questioning of God’s presence and faithfulness gives us something to talk about. The listening takes our own words away and requires an open heart and a still mouth with big ears – and of course, PATIENCE.
Can we hear the still small voice of God now….
1 The desert and the parched land you are pondering now will be glad;
the wilderness of no pastor, little music and sense of well-being will rejoice and blossom again.

These worrying days will burst into bloom at the right time; You will eventually shout for joy at hat God has done for you. You will see a glimpse of the glory of the LORD, the splendour of our God. To troubled people God then calls for a response in these Advent days of waiting:

3 Strengthen those feeble hands and steady those knees that give way; (not just your own)
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come and deliver.

Isaiah was sure against all insecurity. he was form against all wavering and doubting. So am I. The Lord will deliver and in the meantime, he will shape you individually and together in ways that have never happened for us here. We are in new ground again – but it is God’s ground.

I call you with Isaiah to be there for each other. Say things to each other. Say things that encourage and build up like never before and in new ways. God will be in your speaking and doing. This is his promise today.

Amazingly, through this trusting and encouraging and doing good things for each other, your eyes will be opened to new things. Your blindness to God’s presence in your life will be taken away and life will look different when the new road is in place ahead.


5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

There is a new road ahead for this congregation in mission. There is no getting around it now. But again, it is God’s construction. It is a people road and we are all people under construction.

             8 And a highway will be there;
          it will be called the Way of Holiness;
          it will be for those who walk on that Way.

But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the LORD has rescued will return.

This road of the next months is ours and it is the Lord’s and it will be a means through which he affirms in you your “set apartness”, your “specialness,” as his uniquely gifted and faithful people in this place.

Even now we can at least imagine the end of this new road of faith in Jesus. Isaiah does. We can too… 
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away. 
 

 
Wait by questioning
Wait by listening
Wait by speaking encouraging words to each other.
Wait by practicing patience: the patience of faith; a trusting patience that the road is the Lord’s and he has placed you on it – you who are holy and blameless in his sight through your baptism and through the Living Word, Jesus Christ that you serve and love.

Crossroads

Sermon

Pentecost 21A
Sunday November 6, 2011.

Ocean Forest

Crossroads
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18


 

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Friends, crossroads in life often create grief for us. When something highly valued is lost, a crossroad is created and we have to make choices about what was once a sure thing, because the straight road we were on has now become a fork in the road or a crossroad. We grieve what was and have to face a more uncertain future.This is what has happened to us now with me announcing that I will no longer be the pastor of this community. What was stable and trusted is now being removed and the future looks more like a crossroad than a straight road.

 I spoke to the secondary school Thursday about all of this and focussed on that thing that happens to us all the time; grief. I told the kids that grief is a normal part of life that can happen over many things – from a breakup with and girl or guy, to a the death of a loved pet, to even grieving over childhood simplicity lost in the teen years.

When you think about it, hardly a week or a month goes by when we don’t grieve the loss of something. We still grieve the loss of a loved one years after the actual event. Time heals the pain of it but we remember and even years later, feel some sense of the loss. We grieve the loss of our working life when we retire, the loss of our schooling life when we graduate, the loss of a our dreams in a divorce, the loss of constant contact with kids in the same, the loss of our pristine beauty as we age, the loss of our hair……..
Sometimes of course, there is shocking kind of grief – a loss we did not expect, or even if we did, never really thought it would happen – like a Pastor leaving a congregation. You know it would probably happen one day, but you are never really ready for it when it happens.

It is interesting that God’s word suggests there is a difference between how those who are in relationship with Jesus and his people grieve these things and those who are not in a faith relationship with him and his people. St Paul, in our text, speaks of those who “grieve without hope”, and those who “grief with hope”. So, we baptised people of faith in Jesus Christ can grieve like others, but somehow differently, with the gift of hope – even in our grieving.

This “hope” is the biblical kind of hope; not a wishful thinking for the future kind of hope, but a sure, solid, bankable hope; a hope not in our own ability or wisdom and skill, but a hope in God’s grace, power and future – a hope standing solid on God’s solid promises kind of hope.

So we grieve with solid hope in God’s future for us. Paul outlines the final end to life as we know it – both for those who won’t taste actual physical death, and those who will before Jesus delivers on his promise to bring all things to their rightful and timely end to begin the new age with him.

15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 …. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

In the hope that is Jesus.What does it mean for us to “grieve with hope”? One thing it doesn’t mean is that we will not grieve at all. Jesus’ followers will grieve as often as those who don’t know his grace and power. Grief will happen and grief is not to be denied or diminished as unimportant or treated as “bad”. Grief is grief and that is all there is to it. Grief can make us feel all at sea for a while. Grief can tempt us to give up on things and just go and hide somewhere to be safe. But grief approached like this will do damage and debilitate us further, rather than bring us to new insight, thankfulness and life.
Paul is actually encouraging his people to grieve – or at least not shun or try and hide grief. He is saying, “you will grief”. But what he is offering those who suffer loss is hope in their grieving and a future well-being founded on Jesus and his promises and grace.

Friends, you will grieve as things look and feel different for the next few months after Christmas when I am gone. This is not to be denied, minimised or shunned as unimportant or something to be hidden. In my experience and in this text, grief is best dealt with by talking about it, sharing it and “encouraging each other with these words” as Paul says.

Grief is normal and talking about it with each other is how it is processed well so that grief passes and changes into thankfulness and even a quiet joy about what has been and what is to come in the Lord’s plan for us.

I told the kids to think of grief this way
Grief = I should talk about it

Grief can and does naturally produce anger, confusion and doubt of God’s plan and promises.

Can I encourage you with my words on this? Share your sense of loss at losing your pastor. Talk with me about it if you need to. Share it, speak of it and help each other through it. In this way you will pass over the crossroad before you and with faith in Jesus and his future for you in his plan and promises, grief will turn to thankfulness and even a quiet joy again.

In time I reckon we will all look back on these years together and be able to say, “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all we shared and did together”. And with that will come hope. You will enter a Call process with the District president. You will be directed to ponder where you are at a congregation in mission and what you might need in the pastor you will eventually call. Eventually, a Pastor you have called will arrive and another leg of the journey will be before you and this will be good. It is then that this grief will be no more and only thankfulness will remain, and that will be good.

On a final note: If you remain a person in the Lutheran family in your life’s journey of faith in Jesus, this very text will be the first word from the Bible that your children, grandchildren and friends will hear as they gather for your funeral.

This text is the Word of comfort proclaimed in the Lutheran funeral rite. Even in that big grief, there will the sure hope of the resurrection from your death proclaimed to all who will hear it.

Ultimately this is all of our ending. Whatever happens, this will happen. You will be gathered into this hopeful “sleep” as St Paul calls it. Rest is as constant a companion as grief for the Christian – we rest in God’s presence every time two or three gather in his name. We rest in his presence every day that we remember our baptism and daily die to sin and live with him. We rest at the last trumpet call as we are gathered together in him.

Grieve with hope, friends. Hope is ours. This too will pass and new things will come and from beginning to end, we will be hopeful and thankful for all that the Lord has given and then gives. Amen.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm:
be there at our sleeping and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope…