An example of a congregational sermon ...
Well, it is traditional to say "Happy New Year!" and since I do wish all of you a happy new year it makes sense to say so. But these words may ring just a little bit hollow because just wishing each other a happy new year does not make it so.
In the past few days I have been with some of you who are dealing with some pretty sad or at least scary new years. Dick and Zona Bickel have both been ill this past week, with Dick falling just before Christmas and struggling now with keeping his breath, and Zona has such a bad cold on top of her worry for Dick. Doris Christophersen's sister Viola is in the hospital in very serious condition due to damage she sustained to her heart. Howard Albers, just days before he was to leave for Arizona came down with pneumonia and so he waits to recover, though he is seeming to recover rather quickly. But his wife Phyllis has been coping with the loss of her sister-in-law and cousin and so that is an added sadness and strain. Alice Grosser fell just before Christmas and is recovering now from a cut on her leg and Ralph, her husband battles both cancer and Alzheimer's. Ruth Miller, Norma Bickel's sister was rushed off to the hospital a couple Sundays ago with a possible stroke, and thankfully it was not as bad as first thought and she is home recovering. And well, there are the rest of us who have been or who are still battling the killer cold of 1996, which is a real tough one that seems to linger on forever. And there are our friends and relatives that I haven't even mentioned that we know about. Does this list seem a little long to you? It does to me.
We are battling with our bodies. And we seem to be losing--not a happy new year--not a fun way to bring in 1997--sick and in bed. When I was in college in my freshman year I came down with a bad case of mono. I hadn't been taking good care of myself--I was up late, not eating well and so I got real sick. My friends were busy and so no-one was really aware that I was sick. I had a room of my own and for three days I didn't eat or drink anything and I became dehydrated. Finally I left a note for a friend of mine to come and check on me and sure enough when he saw me he took me straight to the hospital where I was put on IV fluids. I remember during the time before I ended up in the hospital I had such a sore throat that I was sure that I had "strep throat." In fact I remember hoping that it was "strep throat" because then the doctor could just give me a shot of penicillin and I would be fine in a few days. I know Dick and Zona were hoping for the same sort of thing, if the doctors could find something definitely wrong with Dick they could just give him antibiotics and he would get better. But it doesn't always work that way. Our bodies are such a mystery.
When I was sick for so long in college (mono takes a good month or two to get over) I would sit and try to remember what it was like to be well, what it felt like to be healthy and I couldn't remember. I would try to eat a meal with my sore throat and I knew that if I was well I would really enjoy it, but since I was sick it was just a bother more than anything else. I remember thinking that being sick makes you so aware of your body and what is going on with it that you don't think about anything else except your aches and pains. But when you are well and healthy you rarely think about your body and how it is working. So being sick makes you aware and being well makes you unaware. How often do we thank the Lord for our wondrous bodies when we are well? Not often, at least I don't very often.
This struggle with our bodies when we have become weak or ill or tired is so difficult to face, it scares us to be sick and it is so frustrating to watch a loved one struggle with an illness that we can not help, at times there is nothing we can do except pray. But I found in the Scriptures today some comforting words. I was reminded by John that we are born not only of the body, but that we are born of the spirit. I was reminded that we are more than the workings of our amazing but fragile bodies, we have the breath of God in us, in Hebrew the word "breath" is "ruach" As Job tell us we have the "ruach El", the breath of God coursing through bodies. Job says in 33:4, "The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Those are two words, "ruach" and "nephesh" which are translated spirit, breath, wind or air; both can mean breath of God. We are not just flesh and blood, we have a soul, the spirit or breath of God moving through us.
John says, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God." We have the POWER to become children of God, to be born of God, born of the spirit, not only the flesh andmdash we have the POWER of the "ruach-El" the breath of God, coursing through our veins. So we may be too weak to move as we used to, too weak to eat as we well as we should, even too weak to think like we used to, we may become confused, do things we wouldn't otherwise do. But all of this is the flesh and as we know these skin and bones do not last forever, but what does last forever and beyond--what does have an awesome and undying strength and power is the breath of God, the "ruach-El." And it is by this breath that we have been given our lives. Take a deep breath now or if you can't because you are sick or have a cold, just imagine itandhellip.that is just a taste of what the breath of God is like.
There will come a day when we each breath our last breath, or a day when we have to watch a loved one breathe their last breath and that will be a day of great agony and heartache and we may not remember anything about the breath of God. Our hearts may be so full of sadness and loss and that is understandable, but perhaps later when the ache is letting up we will remember that the person who we love is still breathing and is breathing deeper and fuller than he or she ever did on earth, that person is breathing the breath of God.
In Jeremiah we are told that God is gathering up the people from the farthest parts of the earth, that God is gathering up "the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company" and we are told, "they shall return here." Jeremiah was speaking those words of comfort to all the Israelites after the great war with Babylon, the people were scattered over the country, families broken apart, pregnant mothers separated from their husbands, the blind and the lame left alone without the help of their families. And God is gathering them up so that they may return back HOME. This word "to return" in Hebrew is "shuv" and it could almost be called the theme of the Old Testament, it appears in so much of the Psalms, the Prophets and the historical writings. God is promising the people that they shall return home. That their time of being broken apart is over, they are coming home.
Today we will take part in communion and we will remember that God became flesh like us, that Christ had both body and soul as we do. Christ experienced the pain of a broken and dying body. But we will also remember that by this act we have become God's children and as God's children we have been given the breath of God, life everlasting. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing can take that "ruach-El" from us and nothing can stop us from returning home. We are the children of God, who were brought into being by the breath of God and some day we will return home, take a deep breath and relax into the arms of God.
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