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In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Now is a time to rejoice.
It may not seem like it. The spread of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, hangs over us right now like a dark cloud. We’re facing a global infection that could spread rapidly to a large part of the population. Not too long ago it was exploding in China and beginning to spread to the west coast, and this week we learned that the virus has made its way to South Dakota. Schools here in Rapid and across the nation have closed down. The NHL, NBA, MLB, have all stopped playing, and March Madness has been canceled because public health officials are discouraging public gatherings in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. And the worst part, right now, is the unknown possibility of something that none of us in our lifetime have experienced—a real pandemic, an infectious disease spreading rapidly around the world with no cure and no obvious way to stop the spread.
And on top of that, the economy looks to be in shambles. The stock market has fallen apart. It posted record losses and gains, but overall it’s dramatically down over fears that parts of the economy are going to shut down, and consumer spending will grind to a halt, and people will be out of work for long stretches of time.
Now is a time to rejoice?
Well, we could respond like the ancient Israelites, who grumbled against God, quarreled with God, and put God to the test.
After he delivered them from slavery in Egypt, the Lord led the people of Israel by stages into the wilderness where there was no water to drink. And when they saw that their children were thirsty and their livestock famished, they began to quarrel with Moses and with the Lord. “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” They saw their desperate circumstances, and they assumed that God had evil intentions; that God wasn’t their Father who was going to see them through it, but instead was a treacherous deceiver who had brought them from their homes in Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness to die a cruel death of thirst. When they looked at their desperate circumstances, they concluded that God simply hated them! So they grumbled against God, quarreled with God, and put God to the test: IS God really among us or not!?!
And frankly, we could do the same. Given the dark uncertainty of the present moment, we could grumble and quarrel and put God to the test. We’re not dying of thirst, but the dark uncertainty looming over us right now could give any person reason to wonder whether God is really out to get us, whether God is, as the prophet Jeremiah once put it, a deceitful brook!
We could do the same. But here’s the difference between those ancient people of Israel and us: Jesus! We know that God doesn’t hate us. We know that God doesn’t have evil intentions for us, because we know God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our epistle reading, Paul writes, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
How do we know that God is for us? How do we know God’s intentions for us? Well, look at Jesus. God sent his own Son to die for us when anyone else in their right mind would have turned his back on us. God sent his Son to die for us when he had every reason to turn his back on us in anger, wrath, and frustration. But he didn’t turn his back on us. Instead, he sent his Son for us. Jesus died for us, not when we had our act together and were working on improving, but when we were God’s own enemies. If that’s what God did for us, then why are we worried that he’s a deceitful brook! Through the good news that God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us poor sinners, the Holy Spirit has poured God’s love into our hearts.
And what’s more, God has given us a hope. God has promised us that no matter what happens this side of the grave, in this present evil age, nothing will separate us from his love, nothing will keep him from raising us from the dead to new and perfect life. He’s given us a hope that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed to us when Jesus returns.
And that’s why this is a time not to grumble or quarrel, but to rejoice!
Paul says that since we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
I used to think that you went through school, got a degree, and worked to get a job so that you could finally arrive at a place of stability and comfort. You went through all this hard work early on so that one day eventually life would be easy and you wouldn’t have to worry and struggle. But the years have taught me otherwise. I realize that that simply doesn’t happen. We never arrive at a place of stability, comfort, and ease. This side of the resurrection, there will always be worry and struggle and restlessness. You may find a moment of peace, a moment when life isn’t throwing a new hardship and a new worry your way. But it will only be a moment. This side of the resurrection, there will always be struggle.
And that’s okay. It’s okay because we know what God has in store for us in the end—the resurrection of the body and the life of the age to come; a whole new creation where death is behind us and there is no more sickness or pain or mourning. We know that the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed. Life doesn’t have to be a bed of roses now. That’s not our hope.
And that means rather than despair or grumble, every day is a new opportunity to grab hold of the promise we have in Jesus Christ and use it for all it’s worth. Every day is a new opportunity to say, as Luther does in the hymn, A Mighty Fortress is our God, “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day, the kingdom’s ours forever!” Every day is an opportunity to put one foot in front of the other, not knowing what tomorrow will bring, but confident in God’s love for us and looking forward to the day when Jesus will return and make all things new. In 2 Corinthians, Paul describes our lives like this: “Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
If there was ever a time to grab hold of God’s promise, trust in it for all it’s worth, now is the time! If there was ever a time to rejoice in our sufferings, it’s now, because suffering shows us and teaches us the only hope any of us have: the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, he sent his Son to die for us. And that’s a hope that will not disappoint.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Exodus 17: 1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Romans 5: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 4: Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”