By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
By your endurance you will gain your souls.Luke 21:19
What do you do when you love something? When I go to Backroads Diner in Attica, I seem to always order the Beef Hot Spot. Why? Well, I like that meal a lot; why should I order anything else? When I go to Fatheads in Republic, I order the steak sub. When you find something that you like, you stick to it. I love something; I am not going to deviate from it to potentially find something that I love less.
When I love a team sport, why would I deviate from that either? Who here loves Ohio State football? Is it because you attended Ohio State? Maybe it is just because you live in Ohio. However we have come to love a team, once we love it, we are not going to stop loving it. We call those people who only love a team when they are winning not really true fans. They get on the bandwagon. While I am not a fan of Ohio State like many of you, I was as much a fan of the 7-9 Philadelphia Eagles as I am the 8-0 Eagles.
When we love something, we pay attention to it. When you love a child, you make time for him or her. You want to be the grandparent who is never too busy for a grandchild. Certain things come first.
We all love Jesus. We all strive to love Jesus as best we can. We love prayer, we love book group, and we love talking about our faith together so that we can rise above our struggles. We recognize that experiencing faith is more than loving Jesus. To nurture our faith, we need to experience our faith with one another.
In Isaiah 65, we read about God’s promise to create new things: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating” (Isaiah 65:17-18). To be glad and rejoice forever, we need to believe in what God is creating. When I have engaged in conversations with friends who could care less about God, and we have talked about faith, they have asked questions like, “If God has promised all these good things to come, then why doesn’t God just start now? We need God to come in like a whirlwind and fix things.” They don’t believe in God because they think that if God existed, God would be the fixer of everything wrong. But we don’t believe in a fixer God. We believe in a God who comforts us in times of distress, who is a friend in our sorrow, and who celebrates our joys. God is better than the fixer; we do not have to wait on hold with the technician for over an hour whenever something goes wrong. We have immediate and unlimited access to God as our comforting friend.
How are we to believe in what God is creating? First, we should be open to experiencing God. Just like you seek something out when you love something, God seeks us out because God loves us. When we are open to allowing God into our space, when we take down the walls we may not even have known that we built, we can experience God. Experiencing God as a friend can give us comfort amid the promises as we wait for them to unfold. Second, we can open ourselves to expecting the promise to be fulfilled. We can respond as if the promise has already been fulfilled. Do you ever read emails or something that ask you to do something, and they say at the bottom, “Thank you in advance,” assuming that by asking you, it is basically already done? While we may not mind it at times, God never minds it. In Isaiah 12, following a prophecy of destruction before the time of the exile had even started, there is a psalm of hope: “You will say in that day, I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me” (Isaiah 12:1). The prophet Isaiah tells the Israelites what they will sing following the exile because God’s anger had turned away, even though they still had significant torment and trial ahead of them in the land to come. Today, the church still has torment and trial. Divisions are still being formed, which is the opposite of what we want for the church. Hard times are still ahead. Yet can we still say confidently, “In that day, O God, I will give thanks to you, for you comforted me.” It is time to expect God’s revelation in our lives. This is how we can be the church in the present: “Look ahead to the good times to come instead of focusing on the vanity of the present time.” Looking ahead gives us hope. We know what is to come. We believe in what God is creating. We can praise God for a rescue that has not yet occurred.
Third Isaiah, in which Isaiah 65 is included, was written at the same time as the prophet Haggai, which we read last week. The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, but the temple was not yet restored. The people got together and saw the finished product that would result from their work together. They had to come together instead of all focusing on restoring their own homes and properties. Many Christians, too, naturally go to restoring their own homes and properties rather than coming together. They feel that they do not need church, because they can know Jesus just as well by staying home and reading the Bible. Is this true? You can get some solid work done by yourself. You can build yourself a good home on a good, solid foundation. But if you do not come together with other people, you are missing out on most of what church is. God’s surprises come when we help our neighbor, when we love someone who did not expect love, and when we encourage someone who was ready to give up. Being a Christian is more than loving Jesus. It cannot be a solitary thing; it must be done together. It is too difficult to do by ourselves.
Will Willimon, author of his book on hope, Don’t Look Back, reflects on his personal development through the years which formed and molded him: “How would I have grown and matured in my faith without the jostling and insight that I received from pesky preachers, contentious congregants, and quarrelsome colleagues whom God used to say things to me that I didn’t want to hear?” I would be willing to bet that we have all had something that we did not want to hear eventually improve the person we are today. Just this week, I did not want to hear that the New Haven Association, where I am working on becoming ordained, would not accept the forty-page paper that I had worked hard on because it was too long. But when I finally gathered the motivation to take an outsiders view and cut parts that dove too deep into theology, I ended up with a thirty-page paper that I believe was much more clear and easier to follow than the previous longer paper. I did not want to hear that it was too long, but I am glad that they forced me into changing it. We learn and grow from others around us, some of whom tell us things that we did not want to hear, but that we needed to hear. This is how we learn and grow.
I can bring our book group into this discussion as well. I can study books like Ecclesiastes and Corinthians and Job on my own. But I cannot have a discussion on my own. There have been times in the group where I have been caught writing down my own notes so that I do not forget some of the points that were brought up in the discussion. I want to remember our discussion. I would never have had these revelations in my own reflection time. We learn more and experience God more richly when we explore our faith with others.
“Ask Jesus’ first disciples. They’ll surely testify that following Jesus is too difficult and demanding to be done solo. We need help from our friends. We cannot follow Jesus without being in relationship with his best friends. As John Wesley put it, ‘Christianity is a social religion. To turn it into a solitary thing is to destroy it’” (Willimon).
When you love something, you stick with it. You do not abandon it. Whether it be food or whether it be hope through Christ, as Christians, we are called to hold on. We try to trust and believe in the new Creation that God has promised us. God has given us plenty of reasons to hope, and plenty of ways to hope. But we cannot grow in our hope and faith effectively if we keep to ourselves. We do not learn the same way and we do not learn as much by ourselves. As a closing prayer, I give you the words of Jesus as the villagers were talking about the same Jerusalem temple, and its beauty. It encourages me today, and I pray that it encourages you: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately. I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. By your endurance, you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:9, 15, 19).
May all honor and glory be to God! Thanks be to God. Amen.
65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.
65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.
65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
12:1 You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.
12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.
3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,
3:8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.
3:9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.
3:11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.
3:12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
3:13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,
21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”
21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”
21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;
21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.
21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;
21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.
21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.
21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.
21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.