Encouragement of our faith in difficult times

Sermon at St Paul's Anglican Hazeldean-Kanata

October 14, 2001

8:00 a.m., 9:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. services

by Laurie-Ann Copple.

Jer. 29: 1, 4-7, Ps. 66: 1-12,
2 Tim 2: 8-15, Luke 17: 11-19

I was thinking about these lectionary readings recently, and each of the readings encourage us to hold on to our faith in difficult times. And this past year has been a difficult time. There have been massive lay-offs all year in high tech companies, there's been the renewal of violence in both Israel and Northern Ireland - both places that are close to my heart. And then Sept. 11th happened, and like many of you, I still have the image in my heart of that second plane hitting the World Trade Center, even if I did watch it while in the UK and not here in Canada. I could have been stranded in the UK, although that would have been small in comparison to what others have experienced in these tragic days of shock and mourning. It is good to mourn and to pray, just as my husband Tony and I did in a service this Thursday. However, when we grieve we are to have hope. If aren't rooted in our faith and believe that our Lord is in control, then we could be tossed about by waves of feelings, media outcry and blaming others for the troubles we are seeing.

Yet God IS in control - and I have been hearing testimonies that people are coming to faith in the midst of tragedy. Ray and Lorna Brule invited the healing team to a healing meeting at a local Lutheran church. It was there that one lady was led to share with us that this time could be one where it could lead to revival --- if we but humble ourselves and pray. Yes, it is a call to prayer, and to grow close to God. He is the one who gets us through hard times.

In our readings, the themes of hope, remembrance and thankfulness are key in strengthening our faith in difficult times - times of confusion and feeling out of place. The exiled Judahites felt confused and abandoned in Babylon and they didn't have much hope for survival. Yet, Jeremiah the weeping prophet, was consoled from his own grief over the destruction of Jerusalem by divine inspiration to comfort and encourage his people. They were to prosper in exile, pray for the land, seek peace and prosperity and to have HOPE: They were to increase rather than die out as a people. We as Christians are to have hope, to pray for those around us, and to increase. The church since September 11 has not decreased - there are now more seekers than ever. According to a recent National Post, Zondervan Bible sales have increased by 27 per cent since the attacks. More people are coming back to church. Are we going to welcome them, and open our hearts and homes? Our faith offers them and us HOPE.

Our Psalm reminds us again of hard times: of burdens, the refinement of character, prison, and of traversing fire and water, but God gives the strength to bring us to 'a place of abundance' (Ps. 66:12). This is an ANSWERED PRAYER of THANKSGIVING for "preserving our feet from slipping." In this psalm, Israel remembers how the Lord rescued them from Egypt and he promised to do the same from Babylon. He kept his promise, and their thankfulness continued to push them through… to REMEMBER what God has done for them in the past.

I remember listening to a sermon by a British preacher in a Toronto church. In the middle of his talk, he said that the most used Hebrew verb in the Old Testament was 'zachar.' This doubly caught my attention, since my last name at that time was still Zachar. I guess that now is a good time to share with you why I sometimes still use my maiden name as well as my married one. My name Laurie-Ann Zachar, means "Victory through Grace, Remember?" and is like a life sermon to me. I still haven't found out what Copple means yet, but maybe eventually I will. But then I had found then that my name Zachar meant to 'remember.' We could also remember what God has done for US, and that Jesus promised to never leave us and never forsake us! So remembrance and thanksgiving are BIG KEYS to strengthening our faith. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord and not our circumstances, it puts what we see in proper perspective.

The Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to also remember Jesus - and to press on and endure hard times. He exhorts him to remind the people of their faith and that to lean on Jesus is not in vain because he is faithful. So we too can be encouraged to REMEMBER Jesus and press on in faith… one step at a time.

The gospel reading in Luke again speaks of thankfulness, as it did in the Psalms, although it really seems like Jesus was disappointed that only one of the lepers thanked him. He healed all ten of the lepers regardless of whether they thanked him or not. However, I believe that the one man's extra show of faith in thanking Jesus most likely healed him even further, at least in his heart, than the other nine who obeyed Jesus' command. They seemed to take the healing as their due. Do we sometimes do this… ask, and plead for God to help, and when it comes, forget to thank him? It is so easy to get distracted and to forget. This distraction has happened in many ways in Israel and throughout church history, and I know that we do it as well. But like Fr. John said last week, about anger and bitterness turning to thanksgiving, it is the giving of thanks that turns our eyes upon Jesus, in even the smallest things. They put everything into perspective and remind us that God is there in the midst of pain, and struggles. He does not leave us.

To sum up, I leave you with three points tied up in one sentence: REMEMBER TO THANK HIM FOR THE HOPE THAT IS IN HIM! He is with us, as Emmanuel. He gives us the promise of the kingdom of God, and remember… at the end of the book of Revelation… He wins, and so do we!

Other semons by Laurie-Ann:
     Missions are more than evangelism
     The Philippians Hymn

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