Sermon for 6 December 2015: “Isaiah & what endures the test of time.”

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

As I read the today’s text this week, I found myself asking, “What endures the test of time?” “People are like grass….surely the people are like grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades…..”  

Israel now lives in exile, relocated from their home in Jerusalem to Babylon. One way to think about this passage is that the prophet is talking about the people’s faithfulness: it’s fleeting, like grass.  But for us today, I don’t think that’s the focus.  I think, rather, it’s the revelation that despite what we think to the contrary, our efforts and we ourselves simply don’t endure the test of time.  The world changes: newer, faster, different things matter.  We change: interests, plans, some get married, some have children,  and of course, we all get older.  To be human is to not last.  Very few of us do things that leave a mark on history that echoes through eternity – for example, tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day – and even if we do, they all eventually wither and fade away for good – and like them, we die.

I wonder sometimes, if our ultimate worry isn’t so much we’re bad people – sinful, faithless.  Rather, it’s that we’ll be forgotten, insignificant, irrelevant – or that we already are.  In the end, all our work and efforts just fade and wither away into history with barely a whisper.

I think that is what grips congregations across America these days….it’s the fear that if we don’t survive, all of our efforts, the little church that we’ve put all our blood, sweat, and tears into will just fade and wither into insignificance, and die.  And I think that’s a perfectly legitimate feeling to have.  Who will remember all the ministry at this church – a place where people were not just served physically, but were spiritually fed?  Who will remember all the laughter and tears as people shared the most intimate parts of their lives with each other – a family.  A home, a place of comfort.

What, then, endures the test of time? 

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.

Before I became a pastor, I volunteered a lot of my time doing youth ministry in congregations as the Navy took me from place to place.  Sharing that time with youth was always meaningful, and I’m thankful for all the pastors and parents who trusted me enough to take part and in some cases lead their congregation’s youth ministry – taking kids on mission trips, planning retreats and weekly youth meetings…..I was responsible for the faith formation of middle school and high school kids.

Yet, because the Navy moved me around so much, my time in those churches was short-lived, and I had to leave the church, and the youth and their families behind.  I remember the goodbyes – so hard.  And I remember thinking, “Who’s going to carry this on?  Who’s going to keep up the momentum? Who is going to minister to these kids like I can?  My worry was all the hard work that I had done…..it would wither and fade, never to be remembered.

Looking back, that was just so short-sighted of me.  It wasn’t my efforts or even my presence that would stand the test of time.  It was that through my efforts, God’s Word was being experienced by youth and their families in that particular place and time.  And even though it’s been years since I’ve been in those congregations, I carry with me the hope and assurance that God is still speaking to youth and families in those churches, through different people and in new ways.  The good news is, what endures is God working through it all – through ministry that fed youth and families spiritually and ministry that brought comfort in such a crucial time in their lives.

What endures the test of time?  Advent is a season in which we recall the good news of Christ’s coming so long ago, and that message is an enduring message of hope and peace that speaks to us even today.  And in Christ, this Word of our God will continue to speak – and act – in and through the church in a way that brings comfort to those in need, and feeds God’s lambs…..even long after we’re gone.

And that brings us to the question for today:  “What do you hope God will do in and through this church long after we’re gone?  What will God do to comfort people?  To feed people spiritually and physically? In what ways do you hope the enduring Word of God speaks to the City of Portsmouth, through our church?”

And so with that, I leave you the next 5 minutes…..Amen.

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