Hope for the Traveler-Isaiah 43:1-7

2001 Space OdysseyImagine a cartoon in two frames.  The first dated 1968; two young people come out of theater with the marquee reading 2001: A Space Odyssey.  One says to the other, “Won’t it be great when we can fly to other planets in the year 2001?”  Second frame, year 2001.  Same couple, all grown up, at the desk of an airline agent who says to them, “There are no flights to Des Moines until Tuesday and your bags went to Miami.

When Arthur Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey that Stanley Kubrick put to film, he imagined a future brimming with hope, fueled by science and technology.  Some things turned out as predicted; most didn’t.  Pan Am was supposed to carry us to distant planets as easily as Southwest to takes us to Lubbock.  But, Pan Am has been grounded for more than a two decades since going bust.  The optimism of that day bumped up against the realism of a new day.  Counting on things to improve by our ingenuity is as risky as counting on science fiction to become science reality.

Every one of us want to travel into a future and beyond with a real hope.  Yet, we want to know what happens in our tomorrow doesn’t just depend solely on our good faith efforts, faltering resolve, and sometimes broken promises.  Experiences of past failures shouldn’t leave us hopeless; preventing us from imagining our future.  We can travel with hope into tomorrow; despite cynical voices crying, “futile, futile, it is all so futile”.

This passage takes us back to a people who knew something about odysseys into the unknown.  The Hebrew people were experts on faith travel despite living in a world of endless cycles of life and death, seasons changing one into the other with nothing new under the sun.  God’s chosen people held a unique vision of the world.Exodus

The story of the children of Israel begins as they are caught in slavery; working for the man in Egypt.  God draws them out of bondage; leading them to freedom.  They knew nothing had to remain the way it was; things could change for the better.  There was a God more powerful than the powers-to-be that seemed in control, which could be trusted to take them into the hope of their future.  God’s people spent the first half of their existence; learning the lessons of a God who delivered them from Pharaoh’s hand, and provided for them in the exodus.

Like adolescents, they went their own way; experiencing the consequences of being carried off to Babylon.  Isaiah chastises them for their misbehavior.  After becoming captives again, Isaiah’s tone changes; they need not fear; God will lead them home.  Isaiah assures them there is a second half of life coming; if they are willing to journey with God by faith again.  They do; and their faith is built on the exodus and exile lessons, events which led us and them to the “fullness of time [when] God sends God’s son”.

Faith travelers see the future differently because they have the benefit of looking backwards into the history Gods people recorded in scripture.  There we find lessons to draw on as we travel into a new day.  This instruction allows us to possess a sure hope based on God’s promises of a real future; affirming there is a God who goes with us on our faith odysseys.  We can step out in faith with deep conviction to what tomorrow might bring.

FutureWe all hesitate.  Taking a step of faith towards the future is taking a step toward possible misunderstandings and temptation.  Frankly, faith pilgrims aren’t just concerned; most are ‘plain scared’.  They know they must launch out on this faith journey, it’s key to living well for the rest of their lives.

The fact we need such a journey of faith, isn’t always obvious.  Those still developing in their faith in the first half of life are usually not ready.  In the first half of live, we learn the rules; the same rules we may break in the second half of life answering God’s call.  We move from the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes in the second half of life.  This is what happened to Abraham, Paul, John Wesley, Vickie and Darrow Frazier, and many of you who have set sail on a faith odyssey in the second half of life.  You heard a new voice calling and shunned the voice of what you were told was the sure way to follow God, for God was doing a new thing.

The second half of life has nothing to do with chronological age.  The second half of life is when we are more ready to use what we learned in the first half of our lives and jump into an unknown journey.  We’ve developed an abiding trust that God is good and heaven’s promises can be trusted.  Faith journeys are the places where spiritual growth happens and a mature hope blossoms as we bear fruit in fully following God into a new day.2nd half of life

The second half life isn’t about finding ourselves; though it will become clearer, who God made us to be on a faith journey.  At this stage of life’s travels we’re afforded opportunities to know better the person who is being made more perfect in love.  We overcome the lingering effects of sin that mar us in the first half of life.  We reconnect to the original love bestowed on us lavishly by God who made, named, and claimed us before we could do a thing to deserve heaven’s notice.  We enter into union with God.

Israel started as slaves, unable to do a thing to effect her freedom or future.  God made her people God’ own; loving them before they could make God proud.  In the midst of the journey, whey they failed and fell into captivity, God redeemed and reclaimed them.  They would come to know God fully after captivity and their faith journey back to rebuild the land of promise.

You are MineThe second half of life is about walking with God in simple faith; fully embracing God’s love and claim on us.  We do not take faith journeys to make a name for ourselves; instead we accept the name given to us by God, so we may glorify God’s name.  The odyssey may be filled with many a danger, toil, and snare.  We do not fear; God is with us; making the way and making us over as we journey in faith.  There’s nothing we can do, be, or place we can go, which can prevent God from holding onto us in love.

The view of the Grand Canyon from above is an awesome spectacle; but it doesn’t account for the danger below.  In 1869 a one-armed Civil War veteran named Major John Wesley Powell determined to be the first to explore the full length of the vast canyon.  He headed out with three boats and nine men, against the advice of Indians who predicted certain death.

During the trek, O. G. Howland, his brother Seneca, and Bill Dunn, tried to convince Powell to quit because the rapids were so terrifying. The objectors left the group; attempting to walk to civilization.  The place where they left is known as Separation Canyon.  They were killed by Indians who took them for miners who, they thought, had killed an Indian woman.  Powell’s group survived; having two more sets of rapids before sailing into calm water.Grand Canyon

Fear conquered some; some conquered fear.  Fear grabs us when we think we think we’re alone and not up to the challenge.  It’s in the challenge; we come to know fully the possibilities of faith.  Faith is learned when we face down fear with the confidence that God will see us through.  Whether we are caught in fix of our own doing or an unforeseen event, God promises to travel with us and bring us out if we will step out faithfully; taking an odyssey that leads us forward, back home to the arms of our God.

In Castaway, Tom Hanks’ plane went down at sea and maroons him with meager resources to stay alive.  Chuck Noland, Hank’s character, makes it through the ordeal, because he refused to let himself believe he was alone.  His best friend on the island is Wilson, who looked like a volley ball; along with a picture of his girlfriend, Kelly.  They were his hope.  If something and someone can help, who really is not there; how much more does it mean to have the God of the Universe to really be there with us along our journeys?  Travel with hope, the perils may seem great; but the presence and promises of God are greater.  Do not fear!  God is with us!

Trust Dice

Published in: on January 27, 2013 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hope for the Hopeless Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12

100 Florescent SunsetArise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  It is easier to believe that good word “arise and shine” if you’re on top, an undefeated and undisputed champion.  It’s harder to hear, Arise, shine; your light has come, if you are down and out.  When we are at an uncertain point it is difficult to process possibilities of hope that claim God loves us and is active in our life.  It is hard to hold onto a hope that says God doesn’t see us as hopeless, when it there is nowhere to turn.

The first 40 chapters of Isaiah have the prophet telling a sinful people they were about to be exiled by a foreign invader, losing their glory for trusting in their own ways and not in God.  Chapters 40-54, tell them God is going to bring them home and restore their fortunes.  The third part, chapters 55-66, the prophet speaks of some of them coming home—the older ones mostly.  Isaiah 60 is addressed to people who were carted off from home, spent 70 odd years in forced captivity in Babylon.  Some had returned to Zion and found it to be a fraction of what they remembered.  Everything was in ruins and there was nothing to build on.  They felt they were too old to even try.

This is why Israel has a hard time believing of the hope the prophet spoke, arise and shine!  Those words were astonishing; too good to be true to these hopeless people.  True prophets-not the ones who tell people what they want to hear-are contrarians.  Prophecy tells people who are on top they’d better get a grip because the floor is about to fall out from under them.  Prophets tells people who think the roof has fallen on them; they better run for the oxygen mask because the air is thin where they’re going.Prophet

God intended to remake Israel into a people everyone would want to be near and honor.  This word of hope that proclaimed she would matter so much, that others would think her to be important, was a surprising hopeful word.  It was difficult for God’s people to imagine they would rebuild their nation and that nations would stream to honor them with camels, gold, and frankincense.  These words sounded like nonsense to people who had been left for dead among the peoples of the world.

Any of us can lose our hope in a promising future.  We might be haunted by what we haven’t achieved and begin to think that we won’t have a chance.  These feelings can reside even though we try not to dwell on our difficulties and are thankful for our lives.  We fight those feelings that tell us that our time has passed; and we must accept an unimagined fate.  So, we remain persons of prayer, attentively aware of what God is doing in our lives.  Yet, we can still feel like Israel, hopeless; wondering if our future is darker than the light of our past.  No amount of hopeful words seems to help us overcome the nagging feeling we’ve missed our moment.

HopelessIt can feel hopeless for Christian churches around the globe.  Christians completely transformed the Western world from its pagan roots with our missionary efforts that had their effects everywhere.  The church occupied a privileged place in the culture until these last few decades.  We feel loss of control in our schools, offices, and the public square.  We wonder if our future is behind us, or is there still hope we may arise and shine?

We can look at our church and wonder if there’s still hope we can rise and shine.  Some are sure; some are not so sure if we have a future.  We’ve been blessed to celebrate more than a century of ministry together.  Yet, in recent years, we’ve celebrated persons home going who were pillars of this body.  It has happened so fast it leaves us short of breath; wondering if our future is behind us, or is there still hope we may arise and shine.

The word that came from the pen of Isaiah to an ancient people long ago is the same word that can speak to us modern folk who are stewards of God’s word in the this 21st century.  Arise, shine, women or men, Body of Christ, FUMC, Irving your light has come!  The words are still true and they pose questions to those who feel hopeless.  Can we acknowledge a new day?  Can we hear good news?  Can we act as if these hopeful words are true?Light has come

Acknowledge a New Day!

Hopeful words that declare we can arise and shine are better heard when we are willing to acknowledge a new day is coming; knowing that which was is no longer.  Our best prior efforts have brought us great memories.  But, they are memories, and efforts to keep on doing what we are doing can contribute to our hopeless state.  The essence of denial is to convince ourselves with those famous last words: “I got this”.

We’re to face new days, like we face each day we awake.  Every day we put our feet on the floor, we face a new day willing to receive the blessings it brings and to do what is needed to meet the challenges that come.  We are in a better position to hear a word of hope about today and tomorrow if we can leave yesterday behind, only taking with us the lessons of the past.  Accepting it is a new day; puts us in position to hear a hopeful word when we feel hopeless.  Can we acknowledge it is a new day?

Hear the good news!

Good NewsThe good news is God is our light and it’s rising upon us.  God wants us to hear in the depths of our being that heaven has a thing for the people God shaped from the dust of the earth and stamped with a divine image.  God wants to make something of us that is more than we can imagine.  But, God doesn’t need our best efforts or sterling reputations to make our future.  God simply wants us to hear the good news that God continuously shines a light of unconditional love on the lowly to lift high the work of God.

In Ephesians, Paul says Jesus is the clue to the mystery hidden in God since the foundation of the world.  When we look to Jesus we see from the darkness of a cold grave, God’s light did arise and shine!  God used a humble Jewish rabbi to fulfill the hope God promised to Israel.  Like Isaiah said, all nations found their hope in this unexpected Messiah.  That same hope is good news to anyone who wonders about their future.  Jesus is good news in the flesh to those believe he enables them to arise and shine no matter how low they have fallen or how hopeless they feel.  Can we hear the good news?

Act as if it’s so!

After we acknowledge it’s a new day and hear the good news, we’re to rise and shine for the sake of others, acting as if it is so.  The way to get unstuck from an old reality and hear the good news of a new day is live into the new reality.  We’re to arise off the couch of hopelessness; live in the light of God that is arising within and around us.  We act the part, even before fully believing it.  God wants to save us from the self, which fools us into thinking our future is over and done.

So we will not allow our sinful nature to rob us of the capacity to celebrate the goodness of being created in the image of God.  We will set aside the practice of internalizing our sins, becoming what we are not; allowing our dark side to enslave us.  We will refuse to act the slave-shiftless, head down, nothing to offer; this is the condition of the hopeless; this prevents us from acting as if it is so.  Can we live our lives in such a way that we live the good news of a new day right now?New Normal

We’ve turned the page to a New Year.  God’s light shines into our lives with grace that heals, and into our church to show we can arise and shine.  Where is God’s light shining into your soul; making your whole again, so you may arise and shine.  Church, where is God’s light shining into our work, guiding our comings days, so we may arise and shine?  Let’s, “Arise, shine the light has come, the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.”

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment