Pastor Sherry’s Message for the new year–1/3/21

Scriptures: Jer 31:7-14; Ps 147; Eph 1:3-6. 15-19; Jn 1:1-18

Recently, I listened to a book on CD in which a young woman (June) discovers a list written by a recently deceased friend (Marisa) entitled “21 Things I want to do before I turn 25.”  In a twist on New Years’ resolutions, June decides to honor Marisa by completing her list for her before what would have been the dead woman’s 25th birthday. Imagine finding such a list.  Imagine trying to check off each item in memory of your friend.

Now this was a list designed by a 24 year old who had just lost 100 pounds, and contained such entries as the following:

1. Lose 100 #, check;

2. Kiss a stranger;

3. Change someone’s life;

4. Wear sexy shoes, check (When Marisa died in a car accident, she was found wearing sequined silver heels);

5. Run a 5K;

6. Get on TV;

7. Ride in a helicopter;

8. Pitch an idea at work;

9. Take Mom and Grandma to see Wayne Newton;

10. Show my brother how much he means to me;

11. Watch a sunrise;

12. Make a big donation to charity.

The deceased had only accomplished 2 items prior to dying. As the friend, June, embarks on completing Merisa’s list, she discovers much more about Marisa’s character, and that the process of working to check off the items on the list actually changes June’s life, for the good. As you might expect, the items that meant the most to the June were those that made a difference in the lives of others.

Modern psychology confirms, with robust research findings, that doing something good for others is key to developing personal happiness.

Our God has known this for eons!  He has called upon us to love others as He has loved us; and He has not only taught us this precept, but He has demonstrated it for us, over and over again.

Let’s see what our Scripture passages today have to tell us about God’s desire to change someone’s life—change all of our lives—for the better.

Our Old Testament lesson comes from Jeremiah 31:7-14.  Its context is a dark time in the history of Judah/Jerusalem (around 587 BC).

The King, Zedekiah, is a wicked nonbeliever.  Worse yet, he is a puppet who had been installed by Judah’s enemy, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  By this time, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) has already been destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians (722BC).  As the chapter opens, King Nebuchadnezzar is engaged in a 30 month siege to overtake Jerusalem, due to Zedekiah’s foolish defiance.  Jerusalem had a water source, but cutting off food supplies led to horrible deprivation within the city.  Eventually the Babylonian dictator breaches the walls, destroys the city and the Temple, and—after killing the ill, the elderly, and those too young to survive the trip to Babylon—carts off the able-bodied survivors, leaving the city desolate, destroyed, and abandoned.

That is what is going to happen.  But Jeremiah is prophesying beyond this horrible event to reassure the people of God’s love for them.  Yes, their idolatry (spiritual adultery) brought on God’s just punishment.  But God wants them to know He will (used 15 times in this chapter) gather them up again and return them to “the Holy Land.”  Embedded in this message of comfort are indications of both Jesus’ First and Second Comings.  God will punish them, but He still loves them and will not abandon them. 

The Apostle John tells us in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down his life for His friends.  In Jeremiah 31:13, the prophet asserts that God…will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.  This passage assures us that God does not give up on us!  God does not abandon us!  He will send Jesus Christ, who will change their lives for the better.  He has sent Jesus Christ, who has changed our lives for the better.

Psalm 147 is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator, for His special grace extended to Israel (and applied to us as well).  It affirms that God controls the universe and all that is in it.  It reaffirms that He loves Israel, His Chosen People.  A time is coming (2nd Advent of Christ) when God will again visit His people.  He will then bless them with peace, plenty, and protection/safety.  These actions will certainly change their lives for the better.

Our New Testament lesson is from Ephesians 1:2-6, 14-19.  Paul prays for this church out of his love for them (which he models for us).  He wants the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and us) internally, spiritually, so that they might be rooted and grounded in Christ, and rooted and grounded in love.  He wants this for them so that they never doubt God’s love for them.  Finally he prays that they (and we) might be (v.19) filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  If they—and we—are internally strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in Christ and grounded in love, as well as filled with the fullness of God, we are going to be radically different, phenomenally better persons!  Furthermore, the impact we will then have on others will also generate positive changes in them.

Our Gospel comes from John 1:1-18.  The Apostle John wants us to be assured that Jesus Christ was not just present at Creation, but that He spoke Creation into existence.  He wants us to know that Jesus both brings forth life and is Himself light.  John admits that not everyone—then or now–will believe in Jesus, but for those of us who do, we will become/we are children of God.  We will have seen God the Father in the face and actions of Jesus, His Son.  Finally, by implication, this faith of ours in Jesus will change our lives for the better.

George’s sermon last week, a “Hail and Farewell” to 2020, was very well written.  As we say goodbye to 2020 and embark on what will unfold in 2021, let’s be intentional about changing someone’s life for the better.  We can do so by being more loving, or by being more generous with affection, time, gratitude, oreven with money. 

Working Marisa’s list effected all of these changes in June. June became more confident; more other-centered and less me-centered; and she learned that doing good things for others made her life more worthwhile.  The novel was a secular one, so no mention was made of the redemptive love of Jesus. Nevertheless it revealed the tremendous impact one person can have when we resolve to make a positive difference in the life of another.

In 2021, we have the same opportunity as June.  Because we know and love Jesus, we can make an even greater impact on the people with whom we interact.  Our God has taught us to love others, and He Himself demonstrated time and again how to go about it.If we resolve anything at all this new year (if we even write a list of New Years’ resolutions), let’s try to change someone’s life for the good. Amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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