God Bless You
Given at St John's Lutheran Church, Clifton, NJ
August 28, 2005
The text for today's sermon, meditation is the epistle lesson that we heard a little bit ago. I'll read some of that lesson from Romans Chapter 12, adding verses 9 through 12.
" 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[b]faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
How has God blessed you? Do you ever stop and think about the blessings that God has provided you? Do you ever think to look for the blessings outside of the obvious ones? We may take time to thank God for the food that is on our table, but how do we thank God for things like becoming unemployed or getting sick, or losing a someone dear to you? Those are the really tough lessons of this life. It is in these lessons that we find all too often that God's will is certainly not ours.
The past couple of years have been a bit rocky for my family and I. My dad passed away a couple of years ago. My mom's sister had a stroke and then passed away last summer. I was sent to the hospital last October and the doctors didn't know what was wrong. The business climate for my company hasn't been as strong as in prior years. My eye needed surgery. We finally started to feel good after last week's nice family vacation, but two days after we came home we lost a dear family pet. These complaints don't even take into account the bite from higher taxes, higher college tuitions, higher medical insurance, higher gas prices, lower stock prices, and the list goes on and on. Does the pain ever ease?
I have to say I was not pleased at all with these situations. Frankly I was mad, really mad. The "why me's ?" hit me hard. I felt alone, depressed, hurt, angry, sad, confused. You name an emotion and I was probably experiencing it. I prayed and yet the answer seemed to be "NO" more times than I'd like it to be.
I know that I am not alone with these types of problems. We've all had these types of dark periods. There are so many different types of problems and we all know someone who has suffered with them. There are financial problems categorized by what the sales trainer, Tom Hopkins, calls, "More month than paycheck". People lose jobs. Pensions, for which we worked our entire life, go away through corporate mismanagement. We may know someone that has had legal problems, medical problems, or addiction problems. We know someone who has suffered a loss of someone they love – a parent, a spouse, a child, a relative, a friend, or a pet. It really hurts to go through it. How do we react? We get mad, we yell, we curse, we lash out at others, we mope, we stomp, we hit our fist on the table, we cry, and when all else fails, we pray - our natural method of last resort. "Dear God, I'm really mad at you at the moment, but could you fit it into your schedule to help me, immediately. Amen." Excuse me, I mean "in Jesus' name. Amen".
Is that perhaps the purpose of the tough times? Could it be that God allows the bad things to happen to draw us back to Him and establish a prayer life and a dependency on Him? Is it perhaps that in our darkest hour we find that Jesus is there to support us? Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Jesus' rest is sweet, sweet rest.
It's this rest that allows us to be open to God's will and to listen to it. Verse 2 of our text says, " Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." The key point here is that God's will is perfect. Remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:10, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." The words are not "your kingdom come, MY will be done." They are God's will be done. We need to let Him direct things since we don't have that view of everything to determine what's really the best thing for us and for others at the same time.
Verse 3 gives us another
insight as to why "bad things" happen. We read "Do not think of yourself more highly that you
ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment." Sometimes the bad things bring down a
haughty attitude. Psalms 18:27 says
" You save the humble
but bring low those whose eyes are haughty." Spending time in prayer opens us for that sober introspection. We can ask in our peaceful time. "God, am I doing your will?"
Verses 4 and 5 help to end our natural self-centeredness by reminding us that we are part of a larger church community. "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others."
How is that body put together? We are blessed with a congregation that has many talents. Verse 7 tells us to serve. We do that. We have our ushers, our altar guild, the choir and Pastor to have our Sunday service. Verse 7 also tells us to teach. We're blessed with a dedicated Sunday School staff and volunteers to help with Vacation Bible School. Others are good at handling the money. Some are good at construction type work. That's definitely not me. I look at a piece of wood and it warps! Do you serve enough, though? Don't wait for an invitation to serve the church. Whatever you can do, do it. It doesn’t have to be a large project. Small ones help, too. If you hear that someone is sick, you can cheer someone's day. Give them a call. Send them a card. You're doing God's will. Verse 8 tells us that. "If it is encouraging, then encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; "
When I had my cataract surgery earlier this year, I was reminded how blessed I am to be in this congregation. Many of you came by and offered a word of encouragement before the operation and checked up with a "how are you doing?" afterwards. I liked the cards and really enjoyed the phone calls. Thanks for those words and for your prayers. They helped me get through a scary situation. Your words let me know that God loves me, no matter what.
It's so easy to think just the opposite, that God doesn't love me anymore. Even Jesus' disciples got scared. For example, in Matthew 8 we read that they were on a boat with Jesus when a furious, surprise storm came on the lake. They ran to wake Him to save the boat and their lives. Jesus responded with "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm." That's the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even the wind and the waves obey Him. The surprise storm shakes our boat and we get scared. The times that I have felt most apart from God are the times when I've forgotten how blessed I've been. It's the times I've forgotten that God provides. I've concentrated on my problems and forgotten to serve others. I've thought how bad I had it, and didn't think how badly others have it. I've wondered where Jesus was and He was where He always was, at my side.
Jesus is at your side, too. Things may not turn out exactly as you want. Maybe that relationship won't be repaired. Maybe that loved one will never come back. Will the bad times ever stop? Unfortunately, they won't stop in this world,but we will make it through. We have God's promise. Jesus Christ's resurrection from His death on the cross seals that promise. All of our pain, all of our sorrows, and all of our sins are on Jesus for all time. When we leave this bed of sorrows, we will experience that glory first hand with Jesus in heaven. There is hope in Jesus' resurrection. That's why we can have hope in this world. Verse 12 tells us, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." That's God's will. That's God's promise. That's our prescription for a better life here on Earth.
And now may the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserve you and keep you unto life everlasting. Amen.
Art Hendela is the president of Hendela System Consultants, Inc. of Little Falls, NJ and a member of the St John's Lutheran Church Board of Lay Ministry.