A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on April 29, 2012.
O God, our Father, we pray claiming the promise that you know what we need before we ask it. Forgive the pettiness or the immaturity of our prayers when we have asked for things that we don’t need, even things that would take us further from you. Teach us what our hearts and spirits truly need. Teach us what we need and give those things, and those things alone, to us. Give us a spirit of faith that will see us through any trial. Give us patience that we bear with the craziness of the day in which we live. Give us faith that would enable us to bear with any person who gives us difficulty in our lives. Give us a heart like Christ that we might not give in to the confrontations put before us but see the deeper truth of our hearts in your work in the world. Fill us with enough grace to forgive every wrong. Grant us enough charity to fulfill each opportunity to give. Grant us enough love to embrace our enemies. O God, are these things that you know we need? Are these the things that you have wanted us to ask for all along and we have been praying for trinkets or asking you to do our work for us? We offer today both our hearts and our voices that you would shape our prayers until we have asked for the things that you want to give. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
As a historian, I am often asked to what great period in history I would care to return, and I can think of none, for every age has fallen short of what the good news promised, and no past age has achieved an instance of grace for which I would sacrifice one second of the future. When I say, as I often do, that our best days are ahead of us, I truly believe that the good news that Jesus preached has yet to be experienced, for it goes before us, as did Jesus himself on Easter morning.
—Peter J. Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus
Earlier this week, I was walking the dog when I was attacked by a mockingbird. It is only after it had fluttered by my head that I heard the squawking. I was not near a bush or a tree. There was only street on one side and grass on the other side. Usually in a situation like that, you are near the nest. I could not figure out what I was near. As I kept walking the dog trying to protect myself from the bird, I happened to notice two little mockingbirds in the tall grass. They would flutter up for a couple of feet and then go back down. I realized that the mother mockingbird was trying to protect them from me.
That reminded me that with all the crazy weather that is taking place, it seems like spring was a couple of months ago, but really it is still spring. It is the time when there are green shoots and a time when a few things are still in bloom. It is also the time for recitals and end-of-year programs and the time for some people to graduate. It is a time for leaving the nest.
Typically, we in our worship planning have used one Sunday to recognize our high school graduates and that will be next Sunday, but I had the conviction that there are several things that I would like to say to the younger members of the congregation, not only those graduating but also those who are on the front end of life. I was speaking with an older member of the church during the past week who said, “I have had my future.” I thought that was an interesting way to put that. I wanted to talk about the possibilities of God in your life.
There is something of a struggle in our culture between people who want to look at the history of the past and those who want to look forward. There are those who are simply nostalgic and long to go back to a day that probably never existed and those who are hopeful about what can be. You hear this conversation in a lot of different things, and here are a few examples:
■ There has not been any good rock ‘n roll since the Beatles.
■ There has not been any good rock ‘n roll since the 80’s.
■ If people who are doing research on a project come across a book with the copyright older than the year 2000, they think there is no value in that and they just throw it out.
It happens in all areas of life, but I think it particularly happens in the work of the kingdom, the life of the church, and the influence of Christians. Here is a great quote that I found: “The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age, they are impatient of all restraint, they talk as if they know everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness for them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest, and unladylike in speech, behavior, and dress.” You can see this coming a mile off. You know this is going to be old, but this is a quote by Peter the Hermit in the year 1278.
I can remember things like a seminary professor who said, “The quality of students has gone down since I was in school.” I wanted to tell him that the quality of professors had gone down since he was in school, too. It is always a debate between it can’t ever be as good as it was when I was young vs. people who still feel that there is great possibility in life. So to people, in particular, who think that the best is past and would not give much encouragement to people who would look toward the future, I would like to introduce you to the 35th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah. In ten verses, there are 35 verbs in the future tense.
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad. The desert shall rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and sing. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like deer and the tongue of the speechless shall sing for joy, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing. Every-lasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorry and sighing shall flee away.” Twenty-five future tenses. Twenty-five times that speak of God’s work that is going to bring joy, hope, protection, and blessing. Twenty-five reasons why those who are afraid should fear not. Twenty-five reasons why those who don’t have joy should have joy. Twenty-five reasons why those who are reluctant should sing. Twenty-five reasons why God still has work to do.
Not everyone is an expert in the chronology of the Old Testament so let me just mention that these verses were written close to 1,000 years after Abraham went to the Promised Land. This is written about 700 years after the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai, about 400 years after David killed Goliath, and about 300 years after Solomon built the temple. It is not as if God has never done anything good. God has already been at work. God has already had mighty acts, but God is talking about paving the way to the future for mighty acts that have not been done yet.
To the young and to the young at heart, to the generations that would still hope, there is book after book written about the decline of Christianity and the lack of influence that Christians are going to have in the future and the lack of commitment that young people have to the church, to the kingdom, and to Christ. I would just say do not pay attention to that. The Christian faith is rooted in the past. We do have a common heritage and we find the truth of everything we believe in scripture, but the spirit is not locked in a tyranny of the past. Anything we celebrate about the past is the basis of hope for what lies ahead. We remember what God has done in anticipation for what God will do.
This is still April, which means we are still in the month of Easter. It is important for us to remember that we are an Easter people. Faith looks past the darkness to the dawn. The Christian religion is a religion of next day and new beginnings. It is about a worship of a God who says, “Behold, I do a new thing,” and it is the worship of God by people who sing a new song. God is not done.
Do you realize that in the Book of Acts, the disciples start within a mile of the cross and the book ends with Paul in Rome at the center of civilization? In just those few short years represented by those chapters, it is moved from being a Jewish sect to being at the center of the world. The Gospel is on the move, and if we think that everything that has ever taken place in the work of God has happened in the past, then many of us would still be slaves or slave owners, the women would still be silent, and who knows in what other things we would find ourselves cemented in the past. God is at work. The spirit is moving. There are things everyday that seem incredible in what God is doing in the lives of people.
To the young, I would say do not ignore your heritage, but nobody is asking you to worship it. Use it as a springboard to do better things. Do not let anybody tell you that all the good stuff has already happened and that you will never equal what someone remembers. Anyone who tells you that has a very bad memory and an inflated opinion of what they have done.
I would add that your participation in what God does, your part in God’s future, will not happen by accident, however. It will not be a matter that just because you are alive as the future moves forward and good things are happening that you are necessarily a part of it. What it requires is a decision on your part to look for where God is at work in the world and go join them. What it requires is for you to intentionally, consciously, decisively offer yourself as an instrument of God in the world and say, God use me in this future that is unfolding. Then make yourself available and see what God will do. It does not simply happen by accident. It is not a matter of natural progress. It is people who are committed to Christ and go where the spirit bids them go.
Remember what the angels said to the women on that first Easter? “He goes before you to Galilee.” Christ still goes before us. He is out there waiting on us, beckoning us, calling us to the things that are not yet done that are still possible in the spirit of God. For those who will look, listen, respond, and follow, you shall do greater things than those things that have happened already.
Christ is out there, beckoning to you, calling you to be a part of the future that God is working on, even now. Believe in that future. Give of yourself. See what mighty things God might do through you.