Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent (December 8, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled

The God of Endurance, Encouragement, and Hope” (Romans 15:4-13)

In Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder. Loki has variously been referred to as the god of fire or mischief or chaos. Marvel comics has picked up on this and turned them into god-like beings from another universe. Thor takes on the role of the superhero. He uses his powers, and his sawed-off sledge hammer named Mjolnir, for good. Loki is his villainous brother. He uses his powers for evil.

The many mythological gods of pagan cultures are usually full of foibles. None compare to the one true God of the Bible. He is holy. He is righteous. He is the Creator of all. There is no other God beside him.

Today’s reading from Romans calls him “the God of endurance and encouragement” and “the God of hope.” That’s quite a contrast to thunder and fire or mischief and chaos. Out of curiosity, I looked through the Bible to see where else the phrase “the God of…” is used and what follows it. God is called …
  • The God of heaven and earth
  • The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
  • The God of Israel
  • The God of the spirits of all flesh
  • The God of hosts
  • The God of Jerusalem
  • The God of my salvation
  • The God of glory
  • The God of my life
  • The God of truth
  • The God of all flesh
  • The God of justice
  • The God of peace
  • The God of love and peace
  • The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory
  • The God of all grace
All these are true and wonderful. But there’s something incredibly comforting about the titles in our text today: “The God of endurance and encouragement” … “The God of hope.”
Endurance is the strength to keep going, to keep believing, to keep trusting even when the road ahead is hard. Encouragement is when someone comes alongside you and says something or does something that gives you courage. And hope as described in the Bible is not a faint wish for something to happen. Rather it is certainty in God’s future promises. When God makes a promise, it’s as good as done … even if you have to wait a while, maybe even a long time.

And who couldn’t stand to use a little endurance and encouragement and hope these days? I suppose it depends on what’s happening in your life at the moment. Chronic disease with its aches and pains that take you from cane to walker to wheelchair. Constant conflict in your family where arguments turn into estrangement. Perpetual rejection by potential employers. Discouragement develops into depression and despair. You feel like “throwing in the towel.” You want to give up. You stop trying altogether. You have haunting thoughts that involve a bottle of pills or a loaded firearm.

Maybe it’s disharmony between members of your congregation. This is a place where you would hope to come and escape your other problems for a while. This is a place where you would hope that people would “act like good Christians.” Instead, you find that church is full of sinners, too … just like yourself. And speaking of sin, maybe what’s really getting you down is one particular sin that torments you (or two, or three). You keep repenting of it. You’ve confessed to your pastor. You even told him in the rite of confession that “I’m sorry for all this and I want to do better.” But you keep failing. You wonder if you are the chaff of which John the Baptist spoke. You worry that because of your constant failure to bear good fruit that you will be swept away and burned with unquenchable fire.

Where do we go for endurance? Where do we go for encouragement? Where do we go for hope? Paul tells us: “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We have to turn to God’s holy Word. When we see the way God worked among and on behalf of his people of old, we are encouraged to endure and have hope. Remember how he kept Daniel safe among the lions. Remember how he kept Daniel’s friends from burning like chaff in the fiery furnace. Remember how he brought the Israelites through the Red Sea on dry ground. Remember how he lifted Noah above the waters of the flood in the ark. Remember how Job, in his grief and pain, could look beyond his circumstances and say, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25). Remember how at the very beginning, after sin had ravaged a perfect creation, God immediately and graciously promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head. And “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Gal 4:4) to do just that … to pay the price for sin with his own life, to rise in victory, and in so doing grind death and devil under his heel.

Paul says that Jesus “became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” In other words, Jesus came to proclaim to the Jewish people that he was the fulfillment of the promise of a Savior given to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Centuries had passed. Assyria and Babylon ravaged Israel and Judah. God’s people were scattered and dragged off as exiles in foreign lands. It would have been very easy to give up hope. Many from among the Israelites did and turned to the false gods of their neighbors. They grew impatient. Lethargic. Lazy. But God kept his promise. He sent a Savior, “the root of Jesse.” Jesus the Son of God was also the Son of Mary, the descendant of Jesse and his son David, to whom God promised an everlasting kingdom. And by baptism and by faith, Gentiles, too, become a part of that everlasting kingdom. That’s good news for you and me.

Although they were once divided, Paul urges the Jewish and Gentile believers at Rome who to live in harmony with one another “in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Likewise, you and I share a common confession of the faith and testify to God’s truthfulness. In this way you glorify God and reflect the harmony that the members of the Holy Trinity share with each other. There should be no cacophony of dissenting voices. All join together in the same confession and doxology. All welcome each other as Christ has welcomed us. No conditions. We can embrace one another with all our sins and shortcomings … forgiving, loving, and serving.

A few days ago, a video was released to the public that showed the rescue of a man from a tugboat that had capsized and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. He was the only survivor from the crew of twelve. For three days, Harrison Okene of Nigeria sat inside a cabin with an air pocket and rationed a bottle of Coke, his only physical sustenance. With his oxygen supply running low, he knew he could not last much longer. That’s when the divers arrived. After recovering four bodies, the divers saw another hand in the water. Figuring it to be another dead sailor, they were stunned to see the hand move and grab the hand of one of the divers.

What kept this modern-day Jonah going during his ordeal? In an interview, Okene said, “I started calling on the name of God … I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept [the night before the boat sank]. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses [from Psalm 54] to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.” And what were those verses? “O God, save me by your name … Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Psalm 54:1, 4). God’s Word gave Harrison Okene endurance, encouragement, and hope even 100 feet down on the ocean floor.

Now, you may never find yourself in a capsized tugboat at the bottom of the Atlantic, much less in the belly of a giant fish. Nor will you probably ever have to stare a hungry lion in the face. The closest you may ever come to a fiery furnace is your fireplace. You will probably never see waters parted nor have to build an ark to escape a flood. But God in Christ dove down to the depths of our sinful condition to raise us up to life with him no matter what comes our way. God parted the waters of the font for you and through those waters lifted you out of your life of condemnation for your sin. He baptized you with the Holy Spirit and rescued you from the fire of judgment. Through his Word he fills “you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

God is the God of endurance, encouragement, and hope. Jesus is God in the Flesh who endured the cross for you. Jesus is the one who at his Incarnation came right alongside of us to become one of us, to live, die, and rise for us. Jesus is the one who in his Holy Supper comes right alongside you today to strengthen you and encourage you. And Jesus is the one who gives you the sure and certain hope that he will one day return again and make all things new.


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