New Year, New You, Same God (a sermon)

There is a story about a preacher who used to visit a wise old violin player for wisdom and counsel. One long day the preacher decided to drop in for a word of encouragement.

“This has been a difficult day, a hard week, my old friend, what is the good news today?”

The old violinist put down his instrument, walked over to a tuning fork hanging on a cord and struck it with a sharp blow.

As the sound resonated in the room, he said "That, my friend, is the good news for today. That is the musical note 'A'. It has been ‘A’ all day today. It was 'A' all day yesterday. It will be 'A' next week and it will still be 'A' a thousand years from now."

In a world of continuous change, it is encouraging to find something that is permanent.

A lot changed last year. A year ago when 2016 was a brand new blank canvas, we had visions of prosperity and success, and hopes for more love than hate in our world.

For some last year was pretty close to that dream. For others it was anything but.

Dave Barry, in his annual “Year in Review” column described it like this; “Yes, we’ve seen some weird years. But we’ve never seen one as weird as 2016. This was the Al Yankovic of years. If years were movies, 2016 would be ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space.’ If years were relatives, 2016 would be the uncle who shows up at your Thanksgiving dinner wearing his underpants on the outside.”

Looking back, Dave’s assessment makes a lot of sense. Last year we heard of unspeakable pain and suffering overseas and right here in our own country. And as he mentions in his article, “The election last year wasn’t just bad. Not even talking about the results - it was the Worst. Election. Ever.

Before the year was over we had to confess that American race relations reached their lowest point in decades.

We learned that the Russians were involved in our election process.

For a good part of the year the economy continued to struggle.

We lost way too many artists and entertainers, the people who provided our soundtracks and our laughs and our introspection.

Clowns became a terrifying threat to several American communities.

And if that wasn’t enough to endure, in a shocking development that caused us to question our most fundamental values, Angelina and Brad broke up even though they are both physically attractive.

Those things and lots of others affected the big world. Then there was the change in our world closer to home.

Some of you began the year as in love as you’ve ever been. You couldn’t imagine a time when that significant other would not be by your side. Circumstances, stresses, emotions, confidences shifted and the thing you were sure would never end – did.

Some felt good about their lot in life. They felt secure in their job, their career path and future. Then the pink slip came, the company down-sized and things got tight.

Then there were those who received the grim diagnosis. A decision had to be made – fight or go in peace. Some continue the struggle, others have made their way to the other side. Here in our church family we came together to circle several of those who found themselves in a struggle – the struggle to pay their bills, the struggle to keep their homes, the struggle make it day-to-day and simply survive.

A lot of change happened around the world and our nation last year. A lot happened here in our state, in our city, in our neighborhoods, homes and even here in our church.

Not all of it was bad.

Our congregation has grown in large and beautiful ways these last twelve months. These days it takes a lot more time to greet and hug each other at the beginning of each church service than it used to.

We are feeding more school children, and reaching farther beyond these walls than we ever have.

Last week Marsha told us about a church in another country that is tuning in to what we are doing in our part of the world and is finding inspiration and encouragement to duplicate it, or at least emulate it to accomplish good and Godly things where they are.

Sitting right here, right now, just by being here and by living the love that Jesus taught us, we are fueling the work of God many miles away.

When last year started I was 49 years old. Somewhere along in the middle of that year I turned 50. Milestone moments like that give you good occasion to look back and reflect and remember the people who’ve come into and gone out of our lives.

But you don’t have to be very old at all to be able to look back and find once meaningful relationships which are now broken or gone. There are those people who once touched our lives with wisdom and presence and grace who are no longer with us.

Only a few weeks ago we wouldn’t have imagined that we would say goodbye to last year and hello to this one without a smile, a word of wisdom and a hug from our own Miss Hattie.

Changing times means changing seasons and sometimes that means changing relationships.

Sometimes it’s not passing from this life that forces us to let go. Sometimes it’s simply passing from our lives that causes it to be so. People come into our lives, influence us, affect us, make an impression on us and we can’t imagine their not being there. But today we wonder where they are – how they are – what they are.

As a wise preacher I know once said, “We know from experience that many of the people who grace our lives today will not be there tomorrow or next year, or perhaps, ever again. They will go away or we will go away, or life will change in such ways as to make it impossible for that relationship to remain permanent. 

We all know friends from the past who have been lost to all sorts of distance; and we remember some who just disappeared slowly and we don't know why.

There is so much about life that forces us to come to terms with temporariness, and yet deep in our souls we long for something permanent. What can we count on for stability in a world where nothing seems to stay the same? Everything and everybody keeps changing, and we change too.

The truth is there is nothing permanent in this world except the intangible.

Everything you can see or touch is subject to the maddening law of change. But in that 13th chapter of First Corinthians that Daniel read for us today Paul gives a lengthy list of things that will ultimately disappear. Some of them are rather important.

This great recitation of things that will definitely disappear ends with this sentence: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

In truth, even two of these important graces are temporal: faith and hope. They are needed only in this present life. In the world to come faith will become knowledge and hope will be realized. Only love will remain forever. Love is the atmosphere of heaven and the nature of God. 

If you are in need of something constant and permanent - when the things in this world change - and they will – when the things or people you were certain would be here a year ago are now gone and in your past

– when you are in need of something constant and permanent in your life, know that you can find that something in the assurances and the promises, BUT ESPECIALLY THE LOVE of a God that remains the same in the midst of world of change.