Participating in God’s Story–God Speaks: a Reflection on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66:1-
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and who has a net worth of $87.4 billion, was speaking at the annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science some years ago. After Gates’s speech, a medical doctor with a PhD in philosophy asked a question: “If Bill Gates were blind, would he trade all his billions to have his sight restored?” The reply of Bill Gates shows where true value lies. Gates said he would trade all his money for his sight. Why? Gates surmised that if we have nothing else, but any measure of health, we have much for which to be grateful. God speaks in testimonies like Bill Gates’s.
As in Jeremiah 29, questions about life and wherein true value lies creates ambiguity about the future. The people of God were in captivity and told by God to seek the welfare of their captors. None of us, regardless how healthy or not we are, likes ambiguity, particularly as we think of the future. What traumas might splinter your life? How might loneliness force you to the fringe of society? Might an economic downturn devastate your well-being? Whose future may be doubtful, because of a deteriorating physical, mental, or emotional state? As Christians, this life is not our home. We are passing through, making a difference through the choices we make and the dependency we place on God. No matter how dire the circumstances may be, the future demands holding firm to Jesus and banking our hope on him.
God speaks in our contemplation of the future. And when we listen, we are reassured of God’s sustaining care. God continues to honor God’s Covenant and brings us out of bondage into freedom and death into life, just as God did in the crossing of the Red Sea and entering the Promised Land. The psalmist is correct that the people’s future was ambiguous, particularly as they experienced affliction. Yet, God’s ways are always for the people’s benefit. John Calvin writes, “When visited with affliction, it is of great importance that we should consider it as coming from God, and as explicitly intended for our God.” And Paul confirms God’s ordaining suffering for God’s purpose when we’re reminded in 2 Timothy 2 that perseverance is the avenue through which we experience the depth of our salvation. Yes, indeed, God speaks.
The story of the ten lepers drives home the point that God speaks in everyday life circumstances. Ten lepers meet Jesus. They all cried out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” All ten were healed, but only one, the Samaritan, a foreigner, returned to praise God. Robert Farrar Capon writes this concerning lepers and their deadly disease: lepers were “…losers who, because of their ostracizing affliction, were dead to ordinary social life;…resurrection from the dead cannot be recognized, let alone be enjoyed, except on the basis of the acceptance of death.” The Samaritan leper was grateful, because he had accepted his death. Jesus served him to healing and salvation. God serves you and me in our myriad of life issues. God heals us and raises us from the grave of many “deadly” situations and circumstances. And that truth should move us to gratitude and a desire to serve others in the same way.
Are you listening to God? Next Sunday is In-Gathering Sunday. As you prepare to fill out your 2017 Pledge Card and the “what’s your ONE thing” brochure, know that the 2017 Budget will not take any income from endowment appreciation or 2016 budget surplus to balance the budget. There are increased costs in the Associate Pastor position as well as the Director of Communications position and communications budget. We need an increase in pledged giving of 15– 41% or $90K – $240K above 2016 pledge giving just to do what we did this year, let alone the projected ministry needs for 2017. How our church serves the Saddleback Valley and World in 2017 depends on your giving.
Serving is one of the five expectations Geneva has of its members and regular attenders. It is integral for our church identity of “Loving God. Loving Others.” From supporting the Orange County Rescue Mission to Devir Perez in Tijuana, the presence of Geneva Presbyterian Church is critical. What? – We are participants with God in the salvation story. Yes, we are not spectators. So, serving in a sacrificial way for the betterment of someone, some ministry, or some program is essential. Where? – We can serve as a volunteer in the church office, a greeter, a member of a ministry hospitality team, an usher, an officer, a phone tree caller, and/or any one of the over one hundred-eighty opportunities listed in the What’s Your ONE THING? brochure. Why? – We want to participate in God’s story, which is the Great Commandment of loving God and loving others.
God speaks to us through hearing God’s Word preached and serving God’s people. Michael Horton writes, “The gospel is not wishful thinking…It’s the announcement of a fact…That’s what preaching is: telling us the truth about who God is, what he requires of us, where we stand with him, what he has done to save us in his Son, and how we are to live in the light of his marvelous gift.”  The Bible’s message is simple. We are to love God and others.
Adapted from Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), 110.
Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Donald Musser in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 146, 148, and 150.
John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House company, 1981), vol. 5, 472.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 164.
Michael Horton, Core Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 68.