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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sermon: An Active God: Past, Present, and Future

by Interim Pastor Hollie Holt-Woehl

Second Sunday of Christmas
Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, and John 1:1-18

We are only three days into the New Year yet some have been reflecting on the old year for more than a week. We have heard about the best and the worst of the past year in the categories of sports, news events, movies, world events. Some are reflecting on the past decade (even though there is technically one year left on the first decade of the 21st century) what will it be called, how will it be defined or remembered in history. Others are looking ahead to the next year what will be the next greatest thing or event. Still others are looking ahead to the next decade, really? Yes, really. If we have learned anything from history, it is that predictions rarely come true and things that haven’t been invented yet might be the defining factor of the year or decade. I mean ten years ago who heard of Facebook or Twitter? New Year’s is a time when we look at our past, present, and future.

We have an active God who was active in the past, present, and future. We have an active God who is active in our past, present, and future. In all of our readings today we see God’s activity.

Our First Reading takes place when Jeremiah was a prophet. Jeremiah was a prophet for 40-50 years to the southern kingdom of Judah. He was given difficult words to proclaim to God’s people, the people were not very faithful to God in those days and God was warning them that they would be punished for their unfaithfulness. Jeremiah spoke words of doom during a particularly profitable time so the people didn’t listen to him. Jeremiah continued to tell them that God would scatter them and finally it does happen. The Babylonians capture Judah and take many of God’s people to Babylon with them. Our reading from Jeremiah takes place when God’s people are in Babylon, Jeremiah now tells the people that God who scattered them by the hands of the Babylonian, will now gather them back together. God gathers a community of the weak, God gathers “the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor” (Jeremiah 31:8). Not only will God gather them but God also will stay with them, “and keep them as a shepherd a flock” (Jeremiah 31:10), God “will turn their mourning into joy… will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). God spoke of their past, not as something to be buried and forgotten, but as something through which God can work in the present and future of God’s people.

In the psalm we also hear of God’s activity, Psalm 147:12-20. I love the line “who can stand against God’s cold” (Psalm 147:17), I have never notices that line before, but today we can answer, “We can.”

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we see God’s interweaving activity in the past, present, and future. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be hold and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:3-4). In this past there is a future, “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6). Here is God’s present action with an eye to the future: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-10). There is that word “gather” again, God is active in gathering in the present and the future. Now once again the future is wrapped up in the present: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12). In the closing of this passage we have God’s activity in the past, present, and future wrapped together. “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

In our Gospel reading, we see an active God, active in past, present, and future. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). We learn that all things came into being through God and the Word of God. Also in the past this Word of God entered the world (John 1:10). And this “Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14), the Greek word here is σκηνόω, which means to dwell, it is the word for tent which translated literally it means pitching a tent with us. This activity of God was a onetime event with Jesus, but through the Holy Spirit it is a present activity of God. God continues to pitch God’s tent with us in order to dwell among us. God’s activities here are ungodlike, a divine and infinite being entering a human and finite being. But nonetheless this is God’s activity: to enter our world and to be with us.

We have an active God who is active in the past, present, and future. As we engage in this New Year we know that our God is a God of our past who will take our past and turn it into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. We may be anxious to put our past behind us. God reminds us that our past part of our present. God also reminds us of the past to protect us from a shallow security in the present.

Our God is a God of our present, even though our past may hold broken and irreversible things for us, God through Jesus Christ can transform us. We can leave the past in God’s hand and rest in the present embrace of Christ’s grace and forgiveness.

Our God is a God of our future, we go forth in this year knowing that our God will go with us, before us, and lead us to where we need to be and make us what we can be.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God’s hand reaches back into our past with forgiveness and grace. Jesus’ love and grace holds us in the present challenging us to grow. Holy Spirit draws us into our future, filled with hope, possibility, and new life. May you experience the fullness of the Triune God active in you in this new year and always. Amen.

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