August 10, 2004

Nursing Home Service

Genesis 15:1-6

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16


Wishes, dreams and regrets.  And hope.


Since my husband is active duty with the US Air Force, we have moved often and lived in many different places.  One of my favorite tours was to England.  We lived there for four years.  We did not waste any time.  We began visiting all the tourist sights quickly and we made sure we went somewhere every few weeks.  We saw castles, cathedrals, forts and the beautiful English countryside.  We visited London and other big cities.  We took in the sights from the far eastern shores of Kent to the far western corners of Cornwall to the highlands of Scotland.


If we have any regrets from our time in England is that we did not get off the island very much.  Our financial resources just did not allow for many trips over the water.  We went to the mainland of Europe several times, but we never spent much time there.  I would have liked to have visited Ireland and Germany, to spend time in each of those places.  I could have spent far more time in France, seeing the French countryside.  I wanted to go to Italy and perhaps Spain.  I still dream that some day when we are retired, Bruce and I will be able to return to Europe and see some of the things that we missed.  This wish might come true, it might not.  It is not something that I can’t guarantee because I don’t know what tomorrow will hold.


St. Peter Lutheran Church is located near the Citigroup Center in Manhattan, as a matter of fact they share the same city block.  The Citigroup Center is one of the financial institutions that have been targeted by radical terrorist groups for destruction.  The church has to deal with the security measures that have been taken to protect the building and all who work there.  A door that is normally open has to remain locked.  There is no parking on the street for the congregation that comes to worship.  There is a constant police presence and even the worshippers are subject to search.  The ministries of St. Peter’s will be affected since a shared loading dock has been closed and all deliveries must be checked.


The congregation at St. Peter Lutheran Church has wishes and dreams of their own.  They want to make a difference in the world.  They want to help people, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring others the hope of salvation.


At a recent service, the assistant pastor, Rev. Carol Fryer, said, “We cannot live in fear.  We must let our faith shine through in the midst of all this.  We will continue to do what we normally do as a sign of hope.”  She said that their presence at worship was a sign of their faith.  Those worshippers were witnesses to the hope that exists beyond this world.

This is exactly what it means that we, as Christians, live in this world even though we are not of this world.  We are heirs to a greater kingdom, something real and lasting that is beyond our reach while we live in the flesh.  We have a hope that can’t be seen, except through the faith that is manifested through our lives. 


If Abram had told his next door neighbor that he would be the father of millions, that guy would have laughed in his face.  After all, well beyond the age of child bearing, Abram was still childless.  He expected that a servant in his household would be the heir to all he had accumulated.  I can imagine Abram crying out as he points to all his possessions, “Meaningless, it is all meaningless because I do not have an heir.”


Yet, God had not forgotten His promise to Abram.  "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." The promise still stands even though it seemed impossible.  God confirmed it with the most extraordinary sign.  He took Abram outside and told him to look at the sky.  "So shall your offspring be.”


Now, we have to remember that Abram did not live in the middle of the city.  He lived in the desert where there were no street lights to hide the twinkling stars.  If we were to go look at the night sky here in San Antonio, we might be able to count their number which seems to be only in the hundreds.  But I wonder if any of you remember a time or a place where there weren’t so many lights at night.  Do you remember what it was like to look up at the heavens and see thousands of stars, so many you could never count them?    I remember when I was a girl, camping with Girl Scouts in Pennsylvania.  I was amazed with the number of stars I could see.  The sky was so full that I could never have counted so many.  It would have been even more so for Abram, in the desert thousands of years ago.  God was promising that Abram’s offspring would be in the millions.


I wonder if Abraham and Sara had any regrets.  I wonder if they thought that they made mistakes that made God withhold His promises.  I wonder if they still had wishes and dreams that they longed to see fulfilled, but for which they had little hope. 


The promise of a multitude of offspring was not immediately fulfilled.  Abram and Sarah would never meet his grandchildren’s grandchildren.  He would never know the many generations of his flesh and blood that would fill the earth in the years to come.  He was having enough trouble believing he’d have an heir of his own flesh.  Yet, he had faith in God’s promises.  “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  Abram and Sarah continued to walk in faith despite the fact that they might never personally see the fruition of God’s plan.  They lived in the confidence they had in God’s faithfulness. 


The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews tells of the men of faith who came before us.  The writer tells of Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham.  The early chapters of Genesis are filled with impossible promises from God to these men.  The writer of Hebrews tells us, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”  The writer continues, “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  Their hope is not in this world, but in the next.  They did not look back at what might have been, they had no regrets.  They knew that they could not trust in the things of this world.  Instead, they sought after something greater while living daily the life they had been given by God. 


As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.”  You know, I really would love to return to Europe, but it is a wish and a dream, not something in which I should put my hope.  Those who live and move in the Citigroup Center in New York City who are living in fear will look at the joy and worship of those in St. Peter’s and wonder why they could be at such peace. 


If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, we should ask ourselves, what is it for which we hope?  The people of this world live in fear of the possibilities.  They hope that tomorrow they will be alive to live and work again.  They hope the bombs won’t explode on their doorstep.  They hope they will be successful, prosperous and blessed in every physical way. 


True hope has nothing to do with those things.  Those who have faith in God live in the hope of His promises.  What is your ultimate concern?  What is it that moves you forward each day?  What are your wishes and dreams?  What are your regrets?  We all have things that tie us to this world, things we long to see fulfilled.  Yet, we need to remember that the things of this world are perishable, they are not lasting.  Our wealth and our health will fail us one day. 


Blessed are those who trust in God because they know there is something better.  They know to hope in that which exists beyond this world – the kingdom that will never die.  Throughout history there have been no nations or people that have lasted forever.  Times change, enemies destroy, and hope in the future fails.  Our wishes and dreams go unfulfilled.  However, even when these things happen we still have something in which we can have hope.  It could take only a moment for everything we know to be gone. Yet, we continue to walk in faith and to live in peace, knowing that our only hope rests in Jesus Christ our Lord.  He is worthy of our thanksgiving and praise because His promise for eternal life is true.  Thanks be to God.