Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

11/24/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne


2 Corinthians 4:5-18

Luke 1:68-79

Revelation 21:1-6


Turn back the pages of history with me to the land of Jesus when Tiberius was emperor of Rome.  See that band of Christians, their faces aglow, their bodies pulsing with life.  They have more than a sense of purpose.  They are possessed with a passion, and from each of their lips comes the same jubilant cry: "Good news!  Good news!"  Follow them as they are stoned and beaten; listen as the echo comes from the cave: "We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we arent crushed. We are confused, but we arent depressed. We are harassed, but we arent abandoned. We are knocked down, but we arent knocked out."(2 Cor 4:8-9 CEB)

Turn the pages of history with me.  Observe these Christians.  No obstacle is too great.  Death itself cannot stop them.  For they are possessed with a hope and a joy of thanksgiving.  We stand in admiration before them; we marvel at their courage.  See them there, their robes tattered and red, their faces tired, their bodies bruised-- a mighty company of God's heroes, from every land, from every age; and from their lips comes a mighty chorus: "Thank God for his gift that words cant describe! (2 Cor 9:15 CEB)

How could they give thanks when their bodies were racked with pain?  How could Paul write, with a pen dipped in blood from a prison cell, "Give thanks in every situation because this is Gods will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes 5:18)?  How could they face the dungeon and death with such an unconquerable spirit?  It was because they had within their hearts at least three deep convictions which they bravely affirmed.

THE FIRST AFFIRMATION WAS THIS: THEY WERE NOT ALONE; GOD WAS WITH THEM.  They knew God!  God was not an imaginative fulfillment of their wishful thinking.  God was not an expedient theory to give meaning to their logic.  God was not an opiate to shield them from reality.  God was not a tradition adapted from their ancestors.  God was a real, moving, compelling experience within their hearts.  They knew God!  God was with them!  The eternal Creator of this universe, the Alpha and the Omega, was in them and with them.  Why should they fear the dungeon?  Why should they fear the lion?  Why should they become despondent and discouraged?  Why should they sink into the hell of despondency?  God was alive in their hearts.  So even from the dungeon came their jubilant song of thanksgiving: "God lives!  God is with us!"

This is the triumphant affirmation that has stirred the hearts of all ages, changing them from weak complainers to stalwart soldiers of the faith.

One day, Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, heard the call of God: "So get going. Im sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."  But Moses looked within himself and, because of his inadequacies, cried, "Who am I to go to Pharaoh?"  God answered, " Ill be with you"(Exodus 3:10-11 CEB)-- and Moses became a new man.  And Pharaoh trembled.

One day, Jeremiah heard the call of God coming to him, saying, "I made you a prophet to the nations.  But Jeremiah looked within himself and, seeing his weaknesses and inadequacies, cried, "Ah, Lord God! I dont know how to speak because Im only a child."  But the Lord God said to Jeremiah, "Dont say, `I am only a child' Where I send you, you must go; what I tell you, you must say. Dont be afraid of them, because I am with you to rescue you. (Jeremiah 1:4-8 CEB)  And kings trembled at the sound of Jeremiah's voice.

Listen to the words of Governor William Bradford, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, as he describes America through the Pilgrims' eyes:

The whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented

a wild and savage hue.  If they looked behind them, there was

the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now a main

bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the

world.  What now could sustain them but the spirit of God and

his grace?  May not and ought not the children of these fathers

rightly say, "Our fathers came over this great ocean, and were

ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the

Lord, and he heard their voices, and looked on their adversity.

Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good and his

mercies endure forever."

Look with me into the notorious Dachau concentration camp on Christmas Eve, 1944.  There stands Martin Niemoller, delivering a sermon to his fellow Christian prisoners.  When Christmas must be celebrated in prison, it is a dismal affair.  But then, as he recalls the name of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, his voice carries a new strength: "We are not alone amid the horrors of these years, cut off though we are from the outside world.  We are in the hands of God-- the God of Jesus Christ, who is with us in this dismal and lonely place, to uphold and comfort us and keep hope alive in our hearts."  God with us!

Ah, my Christian friends, do you know what that means this morning?  To be sure, we want always to give thanks for the abundance of material things, large and small,  God has showered upon us in this great land of ours.  We have much for which to be thankful, we who live amid plenty while others starve and have nothing, not even hope.  But even these things become insignificant as we become conscious anew in this season of the greater gift of God.  God lives!  God is with us!  Let every heart rejoice!  Let every heart give thanks!  God lives with us!  Let those suffering on beds of pain give thanks!  God is with them.  Let that mother or father whose children are in a far-off place, or wandering in the far country, give thanks!  God is with those children!  Let that family who stands by the open grave give thanks!  God is with them!  Let those who are hungry, and tired, and discouraged, and sorrowful, even unto death, give thanks this morning!  God is with us!

That is the first affirmation that filled the hearts of those early Christians with joy and thanksgiving.  A SECOND AFFIRMATION, WHICH GAVE THEM THE COURAGE AND THE WILL TO PUSH ALWAYS ONWARD AND UPWARD, WAS THE TRIUMPH OF THE CROSS-- THE WAY OF GOD'S VICTORIOUS LOVE.

All the forces of evil and sin were pooled on that day of long ago to win a final victory over goodness and righteousness; and so they nailed upon a cross him who personified these virtues.  They nailed him on a cross and thought they had won,  love was lost, and goodness dead, and truth forever done.  But they forgot this was God's world.  God spoke!  Christ arose!  And the battle for truth was won!

Do you capture the significance of this truth this morning?  It means  truth cannot be forever nailed to a scaffold.  It means  love cannot be buried in a grave.  It means: "Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet 'tis truth alone is strong; Though her portion be the scaffold, And upon the throne be wrong: Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow Keeping watch above his own." [James Russell Lowell, The Present Crisis] This was the faith that enabled those early Christians, and indeed Christians of all ages, to carry on, because, regardless of discouragements, reverses, and temporary defeats, they knew in the end theirs would be the victory, for they labored on the side of God.

This is the kind of triumphant faith we need in a world such as ours today.  When rival forces battle for our allegiance, when evil presses on us from high places and low, when nothing seems stable or secure, when confusion and hysteria awaken new fears within us, and wars and rumors of wars frighten us from without-- we need the sense of stability and courage to stand for the truth and for the best.  We cannot stand unless we have the encouragement of this triumphant faith:  the victory belongs to God.

First is the affirmation  God is with us; second  the victory is God's-- AND FINALLY, THE AFFIRMATION THAT FILLED THE HEARTS OF THOSE EARLY CHRISTIANS WITH SUCH A JOY OF THANKSGIVING WAS THIS: THE  GOOD NEWS  DEATH WAS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY,  DEATH WAS NOT THE END BUT THE BEGINNING, SO, AS GOD LIVES,  THEY COULD LIVE ETERNALLY.  Though the gates of hell themselves would rise up against them, they would not be cast down; for they had no fear of those who could destroy the body but not harm the soul.  When the storms of this life covered the skies with darkness, they too, like John the Evangelist, could capture a vision of the new Jerusalem, and could say with him:

And I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of

heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed

for her husband  I heard a loud voice from the throne say,

 "Look! Gods dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell

 with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be

 with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from

 their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning,

 crying or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."(Rev 21:2-4 CEB)

Yes, when we have that vision we can stand.  When we have that vision we can live.  Life is no longer "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."  But every moment in every day lived now has meaning, because these moments and these days make the one who can live eternally.  We shall not grow and mature here, only to be cut down to decay as an animal of the field, but we shall be raised by God's power to grow again in God's eternal kingdom.  Our work for which we have labored shall not be ended at harvest time, but we shall labor in the heavenly vineyard and reap the harvest.  Do you remember how Victor Hugo put it:

For half a century I have been writing my thoughts in prose

and in verse.  But I feel that I have not said the one thousandth

part of what is in me.  When I go down to the grave I can say,

like many others, I have finished my day's work.  But I cannot

say, I have finished my life.  My day's work will begin again

the next morning.  The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a

thoroughfare.  It closes on the twilight; it opens on the dawn.

This is a faith to live by as well as to die by; for if we can really believe an affirmation like this, it will make a vast difference in how we live right now.  It will make a difference in how we use our time.  It will make a difference in how we treat our neighbor.  It will make a difference as to what things we put first.  It will make a difference as to what things we work for and how hard we work.  It will make a difference in how we see the future of our own land and of the rest of the world.

Though Paul lacked many of the material blessings of life, though he suffered persecution and affliction for the cause of Christ, he believed  God was with him.  And believing  the way of the cross would triumph, believing  his body would be raised through God's love, he could say,

"We were treated with honor and dishonor and with verbal abuse and good evaluation.

We were seen as both fake and real, as unknown and well known, as dying and look,

we are alive! We were seen as punished but not killed, as going through pain but always

happy, as poor but making many rich, and as having nothing but owning everything.

(2 Cor 6:8-10 CEB)