By Revs. Don Dewey and Susan Gonzales Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” 1 Peter 1:3,4
On New Years Eve Sunday morning, our pastor, Rev. Dr. Dayna Kinkade, shared a wonderful message about TIME using the scripture text of Ecclesiastes 9, “To everything there is a season." She noted that with all the things that happened this past year—natural disasters, social unrest, political divisiveness, sexual harassment in the workplace and more—that many were glad to see 2017 end, and in fact chose Hallmark Christmas movies to get through the holidays! She stated that so much is wrong that we don’t know where to begin. However, the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to get it.
Rev. Dr. Kinkade said, “He (the writer of Ecclesiastes) begins the book with the memorable phrase “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” It’s all hebel, that’s the Hebrew word for it. Today we might say it’s all gone to pot. There really isn’t a good translation for it. It is disgust and disillusionment with a spoonful of frustration: hebel. It’s all hebel.
The frustration was the fact that the good and just suffered while the wicked prosper. He was also frustrated that wisdom was lost on the powerful.
In Chapter 9 he includes this proverb:
17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one bungler destroys much good. (Eccl. 9:17-18)
The author, introduced as the teacher, in the first chapter, is cranky. He is venting about the injustice he sees. He is venting about feeling powerless to affect change. He is venting about fools in charge. He is articulating what his readers feel. All is hebel.
Yet the Book of Ecclesiastes is more than one long rant. It serves as a corrective to some misguided thinking. In the ancient world there was the prevailing view that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer. That’s how the world worked. That’s how God works. If things are bad it is because you are bad…It is easy to think that God blesses the faithful—or that everything happens for a reason. The problem with this thinking is that it fails to explain why faithful people struggle and suffer. Like Job’s friends, the only answer to suffering is, “You must have done something wrong.”
The teacher offers a different answer. With the beauty of poetry, he offers hopeful words to the disheartened. Life has seasons…and a time for every matter. Our job is to be mindful of the time. When times are good it is important to live in appreciation, making the most of that time, knowing that the time will change. When times are bad it is important to persist, and resist, knowing that this too shall pass. And regardless of the time, he affirms the importance of shared meals and laughter. This is of more value that a heap of riches.”
We have said goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018 with hope, however faint, that things will be better for our families, our churches, our world and ourselves. The writer of 1 Peter encourages us with these words: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” 1 Peter 1:3,4. Jürgen Moltmann says, “Hope is nothing else than the expectation of those things which faith has believed to have been truly promised by God.” (Theology of Hope, Jürgen Moltmann)
Our hope for the future is not the same as wishful thinking or new years resolutions. Rather, our hope is grounded in the reality of God’s promises. The writer of 1 Peter goes on to say, “Be glad about this, even though it may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine.” 1 Peter 1:6, 7. In other words, to everything there is a season but God’s promises transcend seasons and can “never perish, spoil or fade.”
So how do we approach this New Year with faithful hope? First it is important as Pastor Dayna stated to be mindful of the time/season. When times are good we need to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for all the ways God has blessed our lives. I like to think of it like storing up thankfulness in the good season that then can carry us through the lean ones. And when times are bad, we ground ourselves in our faith knowing that God’s promises are ours forever.
Recently writer, activist, and president of Sojourners, Jim Wallis shared his 10 resolutions for the coming year. I share them with you with the hope that they might inspire you and challenge you to think about how you will live into 2018 with faithful hope.
Jim Wallis’s 10 Resolutions:
1. To start each day with a “yes!” to my faith — and to my personal and public morality.
2. To have the courage to say “no!” when that is required, wherever it is required.
3. To not wait to say “no,” or wait to stand in opposition to wrong and dangerous ideas and actions, until I see how others will respond.
4. To hold the Bible in one hand and the news in the other as I go through each day.
5. To better answer the biggest challenges of 2018 by acting on my faith, rather than reacting from my emotions.
6. To see crisis as both danger and opportunity.
7. To see evil and injustice as a call to go deeper.
8. To spend even more time with my family.
9. To pray for particular people who will be playing critical roles in the outcomes of political events in this country.
10. To work and pray to grow in my trust of God, friends, and community.
(Go to https://sojo.net/articles/10-resolutions-2018 for a full description of these resolutions)
We pray that your New Year will be filled with new opportunities, new blessings, new joys and renewed hope. Let us work together to bring about God’s promised justice, peace and love for all humanity and a deeper care for our earth and all its inhabitants.
We give thanks for the privilege of serving with each one of you and look forward to our ministry together in the coming year.
“So then, have your minds ready for action. Keep alert and set your hope completely on the blessing which will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:13
Together on the journey,
Don and Susan
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