Epiphany and The New Year

Services

Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

01/03/2022

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It’s Another (Sigh) New Year

1 Kings 8:56-61; John 8:12

Here we are, in another new year. Normally we at least pretend to embrace the idea of a new year as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and change our lives, but as I’ve listened to people talk this year, I don’t hear many words of optimism. It seems to be just the opposite. People are angry, frustrated, scared, depressed, and lonely. It’s easy to fall into that trap, isn’t it? Especially if you spend time on social media or listen to the news. For us, as Christ’s church, how are we to deal with what is happening around us and yet remain true to our faith?

Just a day ago, I’m guessing that some of you were busy making one or more New Year resolutions. I was listening to a podcast a couple of days ago, and while most of the people listening in were making one or two resolutions, one had a list of twenty. As for those who made a resolution yesterday, some may have managed to keep it so far and others may have already given up. I won’t ask you to share your resolution or how you’re doing so far. But like the majority of Americans, perhaps you made one or more of these most popular resolutions: spend more time with family and friends, embrace a fitness routine, quit smoking or drinking or give up some other bad habit, get out of debt, learn something new, get organized, help others, or just enjoy life more. In writing this sermon, I tried a different kind of scientific survey this year – I Googled “cynical New Year resolutions.” You might want to get on board with one of these instead: gain weight, stop exercising, read less, watch more TV, procrastinate more, create loose ends, spend more and save less, believe everything politicians say, never make resolutions again. These resolutions seem more realistic, don’t they? The thing is, while the most popular resolutions aren’t necessarily bad goals, none have to do with faith or how to live with faith in difficult times. 

Our Scripture reading for this morning is from 1 Kings 8. While the timing of these events didn’t involve a new year, they did involve a time of new beginning. Here’s the historical context. David has been the greatest king in Israel’s history. He united the twelve tribes, defeated age-old enemies who had invaded and harassed the Israelites for centuries, and brought stability and a measure of prosperity to the nation of Israel. But as David grew old, his lack of planning for the future and for a peaceful succession led to division and violence. The nation seemed poised to fly apart. Then, just before his death, David named his son Solomon as his successor. There was a lot of reason to be nervous about his choice. Jewish historians place Solomon’s age at between 12-14 years. He had little life experience, no military expertise, and would not exactly inspire confidence in his ability to unite the nation. David left his young son with a few words of wisdom: “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.”

Solomon spent the next few years establishing his rule and becoming king in reality rather than just in name. Once of the first things he did was rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed over 400 years earlier when the Babylonians invaded and conquered Israel. For the Israelites, rebuilding the temple was a big deal because they believed God resided in the temple. For centuries, they had no central place of worship, no place where their high priest could offer sacrifice for their sins. The new temple was a new beginning – a visible symbol of their faith and a reinforcement of their relationship with God. Now, in 1 Kings 8, Solomon has brought the people together at the temple and he is about to give a speech about their time of new beginning. Will he speak about how their present is better than their past – how they are stronger, wealthier, safer? Will he speak about his plans for their future – how their nation will prosper, what next great new thing will be built? Well, in a way Solomon speaks of the present and the future, but he does so by looking at, and reminding them of, the past. Solomon has three key points to share with his people and with us:

First, God has always kept God’s promises to his people, and because of the past they can rely on God’s promises for the future. Going back to the first part of Ch. 8, Solomon went back hundreds of years to the time of the Exodus when God delivered the people from slavery in Egypt. God kept his promises then and continued to keep his promises through the time of David, and therefore could be relied upon to continue to be faithful to the present day and into the future. Here are just a few promises made in the Bible: 

Deut. 31:8: The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

John 16:33: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Isaiah 43:2: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Solomon’s second point for his people is to remind them that God is with them, just as he was with their ancestors. God will not leave them or abandon them. In v. 37, Solomon says: If there is famine in the land, if there is plague; if an enemy besieges them; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer or plea is made from any individual or from all the people, God will hear in heaven, forgive, and act. Solomon, speaking about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, could not know that one day God would literally come to be with us in the person of Jesus nor did he have the promise of Jesus of a second coming, a time yet to come when Jesus will return to the earth and make all things new and right. Things may not be the way we want them to be today, but we have been given a glimpse of how it will all turn out in the end – and it will be greater than anything we can imagine today.    

Finally, Solomon’s third point for his people comes from v. 61: Therefore, devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments. After reminding the people of God’s faithfulness to them and presence with them, Solomon encourages the people to devote themselves completely to God. The Bible speaks of how we, as followers of Christ, are to live in this world. John tells us that while we live in this world, we are not of this world. Paul cautions us not to be conformed by this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We make resolutions, but resolutions rarely lead to permanent change. Jesus came to bring permanent change into our lives; he came to tell us about a new life, a new kingdom, a new history about to be written. John 8:12 reminds us that the world today in which we live may be a dark place, but we don’t walk in darkness. Jesus brought light into the world and Jesus is the light of this world, and we have the light of life.

John Wesley, in the year 1755, began what would become an annual new year’s tradition. It’s called the Wesley Covenant Renewal Service and this morning millions of United Methodists all over the world will be participating by renewing their vows of commitment to their faith. In the covenant service we do what Solomon called on his people to do: rely on God’s promises, remember that God is with us, and devote ourselves completely to God. Wesley’s covenant renewal service consists of an overnight vigil known as a watch night, followed by the morning covenant service. Combined, the service is over three hours long. However, the focal point of the service is the Covenant Prayer, and this morning I invite you to join with me in this prayer. It embraces the whole of life, in all its parts. Most people find it quite tough to say this and really mean it. It is uncomfortable and challenging. It asks questions of our faith and demands that we examine our relationship with God. The Covenant Prayer has been compared by some to a set of New Year resolutions, but more than that, the prayer represents a commitment to being a disciple and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives: what we do, what we say and who we are. It is both a surrender to, and a trust in, God. 

It’s Another (Sigh) New Year

1 Kings 8:56-61; John 8:12

Here we are, in another new year. Normally we at least pretend to embrace the idea of a new year as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and change our lives, but as I’ve listened to people talk this year, I don’t hear many words of optimism. It seems to be just the opposite. People are angry, frustrated, scared, depressed, and lonely. It’s easy to fall into that trap, isn’t it? Especially if you spend time on social media or listen to the news. For us, as Christ’s church, how are we to deal with what is happening around us and yet remain true to our faith?

Just a day ago, I’m guessing that some of you were busy making one or more New Year resolutions. I was listening to a podcast a couple of days ago, and while most of the people listening in were making one or two resolutions, one had a list of twenty. As for those who made a resolution yesterday, some may have managed to keep it so far and others may have already given up. I won’t ask you to share your resolution or how you’re doing so far. But like the majority of Americans, perhaps you made one or more of these most popular resolutions: spend more time with family and friends, embrace a fitness routine, quit smoking or drinking or give up some other bad habit, get out of debt, learn something new, get organized, help others, or just enjoy life more. In writing this sermon, I tried a different kind of scientific survey this year – I Googled “cynical New Year resolutions.” You might want to get on board with one of these instead: gain weight, stop exercising, read less, watch more TV, procrastinate more, create loose ends, spend more and save less, believe everything politicians say, never make resolutions again. These resolutions seem more realistic, don’t they? The thing is, while the most popular resolutions aren’t necessarily bad goals, none have to do with faith or how to live with faith in difficult times. 

Our Scripture reading for this morning is from 1 Kings 8. While the timing of these events didn’t involve a new year, they did involve a time of new beginning. Here’s the historical context. David has been the greatest king in Israel’s history. He united the twelve tribes, defeated age-old enemies who had invaded and harassed the Israelites for centuries, and brought stability and a measure of prosperity to the nation of Israel. But as David grew old, his lack of planning for the future and for a peaceful succession led to division and violence. The nation seemed poised to fly apart. Then, just before his death, David named his son Solomon as his successor. There was a lot of reason to be nervous about his choice. Jewish historians place Solomon’s age at between 12-14 years. He had little life experience, no military expertise, and would not exactly inspire confidence in his ability to unite the nation. David left his young son with a few words of wisdom: “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.”

Solomon spent the next few years establishing his rule and becoming king in reality rather than just in name. Once of the first things he did was rebuild the temple, which had been destroyed over 400 years earlier when the Babylonians invaded and conquered Israel. For the Israelites, rebuilding the temple was a big deal because they believed God resided in the temple. For centuries, they had no central place of worship, no place where their high priest could offer sacrifice for their sins. The new temple was a new beginning – a visible symbol of their faith and a reinforcement of their relationship with God. Now, in 1 Kings 8, Solomon has brought the people together at the temple and he is about to give a speech about their time of new beginning. Will he speak about how their present is better than their past – how they are stronger, wealthier, safer? Will he speak about his plans for their future – how their nation will prosper, what next great new thing will be built? Well, in a way Solomon speaks of the present and the future, but he does so by looking at, and reminding them of, the past. Solomon has three key points to share with his people and with us:

First, God has always kept God’s promises to his people, and because of the past they can rely on God’s promises for the future. Going back to the first part of Ch. 8, Solomon went back hundreds of years to the time of the Exodus when God delivered the people from slavery in Egypt. God kept his promises then and continued to keep his promises through the time of David, and therefore could be relied upon to continue to be faithful to the present day and into the future. Here are just a few promises made in the Bible: 

Deut. 31:8: The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

John 16:33: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Isaiah 43:2: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Solomon’s second point for his people is to remind them that God is with them, just as he was with their ancestors. God will not leave them or abandon them. In v. 37, Solomon says: If there is famine in the land, if there is plague; if an enemy besieges them; whatever plague, whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer or plea is made from any individual or from all the people, God will hear in heaven, forgive, and act. Solomon, speaking about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus, could not know that one day God would literally come to be with us in the person of Jesus nor did he have the promise of Jesus of a second coming, a time yet to come when Jesus will return to the earth and make all things new and right. Things may not be the way we want them to be today, but we have been given a glimpse of how it will all turn out in the end – and it will be greater than anything we can imagine today.    

Finally, Solomon’s third point for his people comes from v. 61: Therefore, devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments. After reminding the people of God’s faithfulness to them and presence with them, Solomon encourages the people to devote themselves completely to God. The Bible speaks of how we, as followers of Christ, are to live in this world. John tells us that while we live in this world, we are not of this world. Paul cautions us not to be conformed by this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We make resolutions, but resolutions rarely lead to permanent change. Jesus came to bring permanent change into our lives; he came to tell us about a new life, a new kingdom, a new history about to be written. John 8:12 reminds us that the world today in which we live may be a dark place, but we don’t walk in darkness. Jesus brought light into the world and Jesus is the light of this world, and we have the light of life.

John Wesley, in the year 1755, began what would become an annual new year’s tradition. It’s called the Wesley Covenant Renewal Service and this morning millions of United Methodists all over the world will be participating by renewing their vows of commitment to their faith. In the covenant service we do what Solomon called on his people to do: rely on God’s promises, remember that God is with us, and devote ourselves completely to God. Wesley’s covenant renewal service consists of an overnight vigil known as a watch night, followed by the morning covenant service. Combined, the service is over three hours long. However, the focal point of the service is the Covenant Prayer, and this morning I invite you to join with me in this prayer. It embraces the whole of life, in all its parts. Most people find it quite tough to say this and really mean it. It is uncomfortable and challenging. It asks questions of our faith and demands that we examine our relationship with God. The Covenant Prayer has been compared by some to a set of New Year resolutions, but more than that, the prayer represents a commitment to being a disciple and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives: what we do, what we say and who we are. It is both a surrender to, and a trust in, God. 

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