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“Restoration”: Sermon 10/7/2018

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Pastor Debbie Spangler

Sermon Text: various readings, some from Job

We want to fix things that are broken or need mending. I have a tear under the arm in one of my jackets---it’s on my “to-do list” to sew it back up. Those kinds of things are easy to restore to good condition---it just takes time and a little effort. Some things, though, are not so easy to fix. I quickly learned that lesson in my first few weeks as a hospital chaplain in Houston years ago. As chaplain interns we were sent out to meet and talk with patients and then we met with our supervisor to talk over how we handled the visit. The biggest thing all of us new chaplains had to get over---we could not fix the patient’s situation----but we could listen, encourage, support and most of all pray for and with them.

In our lives, we are going to experience many situations in which we ourselves cannot “fix it”.  A child experiences the first fall from the bicycle----yes, we can patch up the boo-boo’s but we can’t stop the pain or the fear of it happening again. Your teenager experiences the loss of a relationship—I think it’s harder on the parents---we can’t take away their pain of loss or put back their trust in relationships.

We struggle constantly with debt, with illness, with loss of every kind---job, health, death, freedom. We have church family, family and friends who are ill, who cannot come to church, who struggle through so many things. We have our church balancing membership loss due to any number of reasons along with a beautiful building but one that is aging.

In 1996, a security guard at a Pennsylvania middle school convinced a 14 year old girl named Tanya to leave her father and live with him. For the next 10 years, the man kept the girl captive in his house. To keep her from running away, he would tell her that “no one cared for her---that her father wasn’t even looking for her---that no one cared for her but him.” Luckily, the man got complacent over time and let the girl leave for short periods of time. She would go to the local convenience store. One day she confessed to the owner of the store who she was. The owner told the police who rescued her and reunited her with her father. In trying to understand why she had stayed so long with the man, the police came to understand that she “just wanted to be wanted.” Tanya’s father had been desperately trying to find his daughter all those years, posting her photo on flyers and milk cartons, inquiring everywhere. He was overjoyed to see her. He said, “There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t think of her. Thank you that there is a God and he brought my little girl back home.”  Tanya was delighted and overwhelmed to find that her father had never given up looking for her. She said, “He was crying, I was crying.”
Let us turn to the Bible and read a little about “restoration”:
• Psalm 71 reminds us of God’s help from childhood to old age. Verses 20-21 tell us: “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.” Is the psalmist without hope? No. He trusts in God to see him through his troubles (maybe not “fix” them but be with him through his trials) and in the end bring him joy once again.
• Jeremiah 17: 14: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”
• Jeremiah 29: 11---Jeremiah was writing to the exiles in Babylon and it was what God told him to say: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
• Matthew 6:33 wherein Jesus is speaking about worrying: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
• John 14: 1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
• 1 Peter 5: 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

The foundation of my sermon today is from the Book of Job. Let us review his story:

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing?”

Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” If we have read the story, we know that calamity befell Job. He lost all his possessions and his children. But he did not lose his faith in God. He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

God loves us but our belief and trust do not shelter us from life’s calamities. Setbacks, tragedies, and sorrows strike Christians and non-Christians alike. In our tests and trials, God expects us to express our faith to the world. Do we say “why me?” or “use me!”

Now Satan wasn’t quite finished yet. “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!, Satan replied, “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” And we know that Job was afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” Job replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

It is terribly difficult to understand why we suffer. We know God is capable of rescuing us from suffering but that He may also allow suffering to come for reasons we cannot understand. It is Satan’s strategy to get us to doubt God.
In the midst of troubles and suffering and loss besetting us in every way, how to we move forward?  We cannot bring back our lost loved ones. We cannot bring back former things that we have once had. We cannot bring back the church’s past and its hey-day. Where do we go? How do we keep our faith?

Faith is believing in things that are unseen, living with questions that will get no answer in our earthly life, and having certain hope that the best is yet to come, in whatever form God deems best.

We know that Job’s fortunes were restored: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first. He had 14,000 sheep, 6000 camels, 1000 yoke of oxen and a 1000 donkeys. He also had 7 sons and 3 daughters.”

But where is our restoration we might ask? Job received a double blessing. Tanya was reunited with her father. Widows and widowers won’t get their loved ones back. Many won’t get their physical health back. The church may not spontaneously be filled up in this sanctuary with new members.

A fellow chaplain—in giving a devotional this week—used Psalm 103 and I am lifting this up to you today: “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits---who forgives you all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Do you hear the word “benefits”?  When we think of benefits we think of “paid time off” “vacation” “sick and maternity leave” “health insurance”.  Do we take into consideration that forgiveness of sins---the first item on the list in the psalm---is the most important thing of all?  Why? Because He has redeemed our life from the pit of eternal separation from Him through Christ’s death and resurrection---we stand forgiven and blameless before God in heaven when our time comes. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 5: 1: we learn: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but one what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in the heavens, not built by human hands.”

Our sure and certain hope is in our future, not in our here and now. We will be restored. This life is temporary, this body our soul inhabits is an earthly tent that does not shelter us for long. But we have a body that is perfect waiting for us in the future. We have a future in which our momentary troubles will be no more. It’s hard to imagine but it is a fact.

For 5 years in the early 1500s, Michelangelo lay on his back and painted scenes depicting the fall and the flood on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. But the magnificent art started to fade almost immediately. Within a century, no one remembered what his original frescoes had looked like. One artist in the 1930s declared that it was like looking through smoked glass. In 1981, work began to restore the frescoes. The results were stunning. No one had imagined that beneath centuries of grime lay such vibrant colors. Art critics knew Michelangelo was a master of forms but they did not know he was also a master of color. In 1989, the world could see the masterpiece in the way it was intended, in all of its color and beauty.

We may or may not see happiness after a loss, a restoration of things the way they used to be, a healing the way we think of healing, a flourishing church like it was in the past. But God does not leave us without hope, without restoration. He will bring us up. He will increase our honor and give us comfort. He will heal us in His way. He does save us. He will prosper us. He does give us hope and a future. He will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. It may not be here on earth BUT it will be with Him in heaven. Ours is to trust Him and to seek Him. Then the glories of our future will be revealed to us in their time.