November 30, 2003
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Jeremiah 33:14-16

14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness." (NRSV)

Luke 21:25-36

25 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (NRSV)

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Sermon: The Spirit’s Hope

It was around 587 BC when Jeremiah supposedly spoke these words: God says: the days are surely coming when all of my promises will be realized.

When Jeremiah uttered this prophecy – he wasn’t in a particularly good place – as he had been thrown in prison for predicting the capture of King Zedekiah and then the inevitable fall of Jerusalem. The city was being besieged by Babylon, Jerusalem was fighting for its life…

Then Jeremiah tells the people – we will live in safety soon, because God has entered into a covenant with us…. God has made great promises – a leader from the house of David will lead us to a new life, where justice and righteousness will prevail.

Jeremiah, sitting in prison tells the people that God is still present, even when you miss God the most.

Remember the covenants that God made with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses… repeatedly telling the people of Israel that they were not alone, the God was with them always.

God is with us, even when we miss God the most.

That branch of David that God promised, our Lord Jesus Christ continued to make promises: I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you. My father will send the Holy Spirit in my name to be with you. Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age.

Promises fill the Bible… God making every effort to impress upon us the truth of God’s presence…

And here is the good news… our hearts do hear and believe these promises even when our minds cannot.

These promises are the foundation of our hope… we say it in so many ways… that the end is really a beginning, that the day of judgment and grace are one and the same.. that the earth has no sorrow that heaven can not heal. Life is eternal, love is immortal and death is only a horizon, save the limit of our sight. God is the alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. All our lives are in God’s hands…. hope

Hope - that holy spirit that lives within us… that spirit sent by God, to be our Lord with us at all times… Emmanuel, God with us. A seed of hope for a future that is ahead, but not yet visible.

In the midst of our deepest grief, when we have lost the one person who loved us most, we still have a tiny seed of hope dwelling within us. That is what gets us up in the morning… that is what helps us to survive until tomorrow… that is what begins to heal our hearts… that tiny seed of hope that God so gently planted in our hearts on the day that we were born…

A seed of hope, the allows us to believe that someday there will be peace – even in the war torn and barren land of the middle east. That justice will prevail and all people will food and shelter, hope that God’s promises will rest upon all of the world.

Hope, a tiny seed delivered in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is with us – now and in the future… our Lord is leading us forward.

During Advent we are invited to embark on this journey. A journey between the past – and the future. Neither of these places are fully revealed to us. We think that we understand the past, after all, it is behind us, we have had time to examine it… but the truth is - the past is continually being revealed and that revelation is what renews that seed of hope.

A few years ago my mother sent me my grandmother’s desk… it arrived in a huge shipping carton, and it was with great excitement that I unpacked it. I knew that she had made it from a door during the depression – I knew that it had been discovered in the crawl space of my uncle’s house… but I was totally unprepared for the crude piece of furniture that was delivered that day. One leg had been shortened for some reason, the front had been notched to accommodate her wheel chair and the finish was cracked and nearly black with dirt. I put it in my study at home, and I would sit at it as I worked on my sermons – but I found it hard to connect with the woman that I had never known, who had died when my mother was only 11. Then the unthinkable happened, water spilled on the top, and because it went undiscovered for days, it left a huge ugly mark. I hauled the desk to the garage last winter… and there it sat… acquiring more dirt, accompanied by a growing layer of mildew -

Two weeks ago I picked up a piece of sand paper… and I gently began to remove the layers of mold and dirt. And as I worked, there appeared the marks that my grandmother must have made in the soft pine as she wrote letters to her loving family many states away… and the stains from spilled bottles of ink, maybe from my mother and her brother as they chased through the house bumping against the desk..… and there were crude letters, fashioned by a child learning to write maybe by my own mother … all in the top of this desk. I was uncovering the layers of the past that I had been living with – but had never seen… and I realized that this desk would continue to hold both the layers of the past and the future… I will give it to my daughter, and she will give it to her daughter… and the generations not yet born, will receive this reminder of hope for the future… buried in the layers of the past.

The evidence of God with us in the past is more easily seen in the present and even more visible in the future… It may be buried under layers of fear and pain, or anger or busyness or even varnish – but it is there – and it is that seed - the spirit’s irrepressible hope. Hope is our hearts recognition, that God’s salvation was with us all along… God is in the past ….God is in the present… God is with us always….Emmanuel.

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