Sunday, December 31, 2017
Scripture: Romans 8:18-29
Rev. Jill VanderWal


 I hope for you in this New Year- by Joyce Rupp

That the single, most significant dimension of life is your relationship with the Source of Goodness who never ceases to sing love songs to your soul

That you find meaning, purpose, and vitality in what you do daily

That you treasure your loved ones and let them know how dear they are to you

That you make choices and decisions that reflect your truest self

That you look in the mirror at least once a day and smile in happy amazement

That you remember relationships are what count above all else –more than work or money,

or all the material things we spend so much time tending

That you live in an uncluttered manner, enjoying the freedom to be content

That you keep your sense of humor when things don’t go the way you want

That you find adventure in each new day and marvel at the wonders of creation

which constantly present themselves to you

That you never give up on yourself when others turn away or do not understand

That you are attentive to the health of your body, mind and spirit

That you take risks and accept the growth-full challenges that come to you

That you draw on your inner strength and resiliency when you are in need

That you carry peace within yourself, allowing it to slip into the hearts of others

so our planet becomes a place where violence, division, and war are no more.

(Read as part of the benediction)

How do you feel as we say goodbye to 2017 and head into 2018?  After the snow this last week you may just feel stir crazy with cabin fever. This is by far the most consecutive days of snow I’ve seen since we moved here. Since Scott was in Colorado this week I think I shoveled the driveway twice a day for 7 days and YES we are still those crazy people from Colorado who actually use a snow shovel.

I find new years to be a sort of scenic overlook on a hiking trail of life. A place where I can get a view of the journey of the past year and then re-group for what is to come.  This is why I chose the passage from Romans 8 today. I find Paul’s words to be timely, sage, and helpful.  In this nation this year it has felt like we can’t go a week without a new difficult story of tragedy, loss, and stories that overwhelm me.

Future Glory

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Two things stand out to me in Paul’s words. First he acknowledges that we wait, sometimes groaning for what God is doing or bringing forth. Second, we are saved, rescued, we cling to life in hope. An invitation to live in hope because we can’t even imagine the glory that will be revealed to us.  So Paul continues…

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The assurance is that the Spirit of God is with us in weakness and even when we have no words.  The Spirit of God connects us with God and even takes the prayers of our heart to the presence of God. Power when the Spirit meets us in weakness.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  Promise…future HOPE…lean into it, live out of it.

This is what Advent is all about, waiting for the hope of the world, the one light who is not overcome by darkness. So we celebrate hope incarnate, and we realize while we have God with us, waiting in hope is still part of our faith life.

As I sit at this overlook- there is an invitation to choose what I focus on. Isn’t this always true? In our lives, in the media, at work and in our families, there are good things and difficult things. My brain’s tendency is to focus on what is broken or difficult. Maybe you can relate to me in this way.

So what do we focus on? There is an invitation again to look for the good, the light, in the spirit of hope. I find this to be a spiritual and mental discipline. There are three ways God has reinforced this concept to me. First, Appreciative Inquiry (focus on and build upon good) which I was initially very skeptical of. Second, StrengthsFinder, which focuses on a person’s unique strengths. Finally, Nurtured Heart Parenting which seeks to focus on the goodness in a child to help call out their greatness.  This is SO difficult to simply focus and call out the good.

In the new year….I want to continue to be a follower of Christ who looks for the signs and people of hope (the goodness) and I want to be person who is living HOPE!

One of my favorite things each year is to read or listen to CNN’s top 10 Hero’s, 10 people from around the world who see the brokenness, hurt or injustice in their place and they chose to do something. Look for the good, those living and extending hope. Normal people, with a commitment to a context:

  • Andrew Manzi nonprofit, Warrior Surf, provides free six-week surf camps for veterans and their families, complete with therapy sessions on the beach.
  • Leslie Morissette’s son, Graham, was 6 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia and 8 when he died. Morissette channeled her grief into the nonprofit Grahamtastic Connection, which provides free computers, iPads and even robots to children battling serious illnesses so they can stay connected to friends, family and their classrooms.
  • Khali Sweeney started the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program to help youth avoid the negativity he faced after falling in with the wrong crowd as a kid. “I don’t see bad kids. I see a kid who hasn’t been heard yet. So, let’s find out what’s really going on,” Sweeney said. “I see the true potential in the kids. “
  • Amy Wright: Bitty and Beau’s Coffee. When Amy Wright and her husband found out that 70 percent of adults with intellectual and physical disabilities do not have jobs, they were inspired to change that. After all, two of the pair’s four children live with Down syndrome.Video  or search youtube Amy Wright CNN Hero

Each of these people are normal, but their stories make me cry because they saw something that was broken, or they saw injustice or a need and were willing to do something.  This is what it is to live out, to create and to extend HOPE.  This is where God invites us to continue to grow individually and corporately.

A Few Local Heroes:

  • Shirley Swifney! Not only does she volunteer in the office faithfully every Thursday morning but she is an Angel among this family.  She is always sending cards, calling people who cannot make it to church, bringing a baked good or visiting.  She has the inside scoop on many people because she cares.
  • Rachel Whiting-Womack started the Bucs Care, Grand Haven High School food pantry.
  • Pat and Lee Elenbaas – who quietly care for a couple of people in the congregation.
  • Tim Stoepker, Pam Kidd, and Bari Johnson – for serving on the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary board to invest in the future of seminary education and creating a legacy of passionate pastors.
  • Rachel Cotton (and Becky Yonan) and the Hand2Hand food packing teams – for their Hand2Hand work
  • Ron and Mary Albrect, Nancy Hunter and others – for their constant work with Drug Court program.
  • Cindy and Don Anderson living connected to Uganda.
  • Meghan Heritage for investing in Women’s leadership and empowerment through the 3rd Annual BE Event.
  • Deacons who care, see, keep track of those at home. Winnie McNergney helps with Bingo 2x month and writes out 30-40 cards a month.
  • John Nametz who led the way to making our annual budgeting process a relational process of connecting. So many elders who lead with creativity and invest their hearts.
  • Sally Segers- who is one of the most dedicated people I know making Joyful Noise and this church a second home to kids in this community.
  • Sue Ochs…connecting PW with local and international missions, modeling hospitality- and welcome.
  • Teachers, Coaches, tutors, low income tax prep helpers and food truck staffers…You are living hope.
  • In this new year…Look for the HOPE being lived around us, focus on it, and take the risk to live out your hope – BOLDLY.