Toorak Uniting Church

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Building a future

Psalm 118
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
18 April 2004, 9am

Last week we heard about the resurrection. How God turned things around after Jesus had died on a cross. And we celebrated because if God can do that, make a new beginning where there seemed to be a very dead end, we can believe that there will never again be anything that will prevent God from turning things around.

Even where it all looks very hopeless to us.

Isn’t that wonderful? To know that there is a God who can turn things around, even when everything seems to have gone horribly wrong and there is, by the looks of it, no way things will get better?
Isn’t it great that Easter happened and that we can be sure that nothing will ever be able to come between God and his people? That however stupid and destructive people may be, even if they crucify God’s only Son, the person closest to Gods heart, he will not stop loving the world and come back to them with even more grace and love and creative power…..
That is great, isn’t it?


I don’t know about you, but reading the papers this week, about Iraq, about Israel, about Rwanda, about asylum seekers, about sexual abuse, about violence, I found it difficult to keep my Easter optimism going.

It is all well and good that somebody came back from the dead 2000 years ago, but how on earth are we going to get out of this one?

It is all well and good that one man was saved by God, but what about all those who suffer injustice today, what about all of those who are senselessly killed today? How does Easter help us there? How can we keep on believing that God saves and loves in the face of so much pain, suffering and hatred still rife among Gods people?

And we may feel like the writer of our psalm this morning: Like we are surrounded on all sides with sadness and badness trying to bring us down. Feel that there is too much in life that is difficult and complicated and leading nowhere.
Feel that this planet is in a pretty hopeless situation and we that live on it, although we are far from the hotspots of war and destruction at present, are somehow part of it, may become part of it any minute.

With international terrorism spreading more and more I assume none of us can, at times, get away from the feeling that our lives are not safe, our future insecure, our world full of threats. And even without that. There is so much that can in an instant change our lives. Illness, misfortune, accidents, friends turning their backs on us, our families breaking down……..

No thoughts we like to dwell on, nor is it healthy to dwell on them, because it is difficult I suppose for us to live with these threats, these feelings of powerlessness and in the face of the fragility of our lives.

And yet. That’s what we are, that’s what we always have been: Fragile creatures whose life and prosperity hang on a thin thread.

Over and against that, scripture places God.
A God who does not cringe in the face of destruction. Who does not withdraw in the face of violence. Who does not put his head down when what is most dear to him gets violated.
But who, with love and mercy, softly and stealthily keeps coming back with more love and mercy and tender caring for those who failed him. A God who fights back with uncommon means.

Psalm 118 already testifies of this God. It’s not that this God only sprang into existence at Jesus’ crucifixion, this God has been around for thousands of years before that. Saving those who cried out for help. Bringing the misfits to prominence, rescuing people who were at the very gates of death.
A God that is good and whose steadfast love endures forever. A God who may at times seem to be distant and severe, but who, in the end, is always near to save those who put their trust in him.
Not only Psalm 118 testifies to that, there is 4000 years worth of scripture that testifies to that: God’s enduring love and his determination to save. Testifies how God time and again got people out of tight spots and set them somewhere in a broad space where they could breathe again and how God catches those who fall.

But this world? These people? The way things look right now, in 2004? Is God anywhere in that? And is it even justified we would expect something from God in that?

Isn’t most of what happens largely our own fault? War, environmental disaster, illness even….. isn’t our own behavior for a large part to blame? Our own failure to be what God calls us to be? Our own failure to turn the world into what God wanted it to be?

Ages before Christ the psalmist already knew the answer to this: God saves me, has saved me, even though I did not deserve it. What everybody else would have rejected, would have deemed worthless, God took and put it in the most important place. God put me in the most important place.
And he marvels: God has answered, God has saved.

In the resurrection we see it happen again: The stone that was rejected became the most important one of all.

God builds a new world from what others do not even deem worth looking at. God takes what others have put on the scrap heap of life and reshapes it to something new and beautiful. Whatever we think is hopeless and helpless and lost forever, God does not agree but takes it and uses it to start building.

That is difficult to believe. That in Iraq God is building a new future. That in Israel resurrection is happening. That the bombings in Madrid are not part of a down ward spiral. That God is there, underneath, working, breathing, living, rescuing all that is of Christ, love, peace, righteousness.
And yet. If we want to be resurrection people, if we let Christ breathe his Spirit upon us, if we do not let go of the belief that Gods love lasts forever and God’s grace is there for everyone, we cannot but testify against all odds that it is true. That somehow, somewhere, in the darkness the light is growing, a future taking shape.
Can we feel it in our bones when we let ourselves be saved, let God come near, feel his breath inside us, inspiring us, begging us to move from the scrap heap we have condemned ourselves to and come out of the darkness and live Gods light.

The day of the Lord is growing. Through the gates of righteousness there is the dawn of a new day that is arriving. Not with trumpets or big armies, but born in the depths of night, hesitantly finding footholds in the hearts of those who may not be worthy but are nevertheless calling out for light and are prepared to live by it. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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