The Promise of God

Who do we believe God is? All of us should have some sort of answer for this. And what we say sometimes needs to be more specific than God is love. Often this is more than enough. Especially since so many religious people believe their God is made of love, but for them that means their God loves people that look and think like them, and hates and wants violent vengeance over everyone else. Just to say I believe God is pure love, all of the time, is saying a lot.
What else can we say about God, though, that makes sense? In the complicated but excellent letter to the Romans, Paul is trying to say something important about God that is beyond God is love. Paul tells us that God makes promises and keeps promises. In verse 17 of the fourth chapter Paul says that God’s primary promise to us is to bring life from death and to create new things where nothing existed before.
Life from death, sounds like heaven, right? And of course, heaven is a part of this promise, but I think it is much, much bigger than this. Our creator God, sees life where the only thing the rest of us can see is death. Things change in our world and the reasons for some things to exist die with those changes. A teacher I know was telling me about a six year old in her school that had never used a landline cradle phone before. She had to make a call home in the school office and they had to show her how to use the “ancient” phone. The buttons, the twirly line, the double speakers, one for the ear and the other for the mouth, they were mystifying to her. Another twenty years, and talking about such a thing might be like our grandmother telling us how she used to clean clothes using a washboard and bucket.
Things serve their purpose and then they die. Businesses, serve their purpose then they die. When I was a pastor in Circleville, one of the largest employers in town was an RCA TV factory. While I was there, it shut it’s doors, throwing hundreds of people out of work. The world did not need as many big tube TV’s any longer and the one’s the world did need wouldn’t be made by American workers because people in much poorer countries were willing to work for much less. It was tragic for so many people, but the factory had served it’s purpose and could no longer survive in a changing world.
Ministries within churches die too. One of the toughest things to do as a pastor is to let ministries die. Often we fight hard to keep a ministry going longer than we should. When I came to Messiah, I started a weekly men’s morning Bible study where we took turns making breakfast for each other. We had 18 or so guys show up. Beyond studying scripture, we helped each other through some difficult times, job changes, divorce, parent’s deaths, and crazy teenagers. We met for six years, but eventually we dwindled to about four people, and we were all getting tired of making breakfast for each other. By the end of that last year, we decided it had died. It was very disappointing to me.
Even churches, once they serve their purpose, die. I was asked once to consider serving a two point parish in the country. I didn’t want to do it for many reasons, but primarily because I thought that having two tiny churches within five miles of each other didn’t make sense. It definitely made sense over 100 years ago when each church served a distinct community and five miles was a lot longer distance to travel by horse on washed out dirt roads, but now, not so much. If they called me as their pastor, I would be advocating making the two churches one, which I was pretty sure they didn’t want to do.
Things, businesses, ministries, churches, even people, are called to live with purpose until they die. At some point, later rather than sooner we hope, we will die. All of us share an expiration date. Why is it so hard to accept that? Maybe because we have trouble trusting God’s promise to bring life from death. If we could trust that, we could concentrate on delighting in our good purpose during the life we have been given.
While death is for real, it need not be feared. God promises that death is a transition to new life. Those cradle phones that used to sit on the table next to our Lazy Boy have given way to smart phones that fit in our pockets. Over ten years after the RCA plant in Circleville died, the three people I know well that worked there have found other employment and new ways to make a living in our difficult economy. That men’s breakfast Bible study that died six years ago? Three years later there was energy and desire to create a new group that now meets every Thursday morning. Fourteen or so guys gather every week at Marie Scrambler’s now, letting someone else make the breakfast.
God will make new life out of death, but it is hard to trust this promise. We fight death with all of our strength. Those two churches out in the country, are still struggling to stay alive. Maybe, this is the right thing to do. I was told by a pastor that I had been around big churches too long and didn’t see value in small churches. There is some truth in that I am sure. Small does not mean dead or dying or invalid. However, maybe their struggle has something to do with not trusting God in death. One of the strongest churches in Columbus, is St. Lukes Lutheran Church on Morse Road. This church was the courageous result of three small churches in that general northeast area of Columbus deciding that it was okay to die and to trust God to make something new. Three churches died and God created from their ministry St. Lukes. Churches are called to serve with purpose, and if they die, God will create something new.
If we could trust God’s promise of new life after death, we could work harder at living well rather than just living. On January 5, ESPN sports commentator Stuart Scott died of cancer at 49. I was moved by his words last summer at an awards show, when he knew he was not going to “beat” cancer. This is what he said. “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” I don’t know much about Scott Stuart’s faith life, but I hope as a committed believer in a God who promises to make life where there is death, I have the courage and wisdom to say the same thing were I in his shoes. If I trust the promise of God, then my focus now needs to be on the purpose part of that equation, and trust God with the death part.
Trusting God to bring life from death, doesn’t make death less painful and hard. Look in any of our attics and you can see how hard it is to get rid of that black cradle phone that we just can’t bare to throw out. I have talked and prayed with many of you in the midst of job loss. At fifty, I would be terrified to lose my job if Messiah closed tomorrow. Few of us can imagine what it would have been like to be Scott Stuart and look at his two beautiful teenage daughters and know that he will never walk them down the aisle.
To say that Stuart Scott lived his life with purpose and then he died does not mean that he died because he had no more reason to live. It means he trusted God with his life and I hope trusted God with his death, too. Death is always hard, because it is nearly impossible to imagine the life that God has planned beyond it. Death is hard, but our faith in our God who keeps promises can give us comfort and hope in the face of it.
So, who is God? God is love and sometimes we don’t need to say anything else. But, if we are tempted to or think it will help someone else on their journey, say this. God created everything and said it was good, even me. And because God loves what God creates, God won’t even let death have the last word. In death, God will bring new life. This is the promise God has made to me. This is the promise I trust with my life. So, I don’t have to worry about death. I can focus on the purpose for my life that God has given to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.