2017 Annual Conference Theme / Tema en español
We live in times that challenge us in our quest to be a faithful people. Strife and uncertainty permeate our society and invade our churches, and we grow disheartened and discouraged. Yet Scripture teaches that troubled times can be times when God's blessing is most evident in the midst of God's people. We are not to fear the instability of our time, for our hope rests in the rock of our salvation. Isaiah reminds us: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." (Isa. 8:12-13)
As we face the various storms of our times we gain strength and hope from the stories of God's people in exile in Babylon. Robbed of the Land, the Temple, and the City of God, and hauled away to a foreign land, the People of God had little hope for survival. And yet, the promises of God would not die.
Isaiah prophesied: "And this shall be the sign for you: This year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that; then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward; for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." (Isa. 37:30-32)
And so the people gathered together the stories of their ancestors, the promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, the call to Moses and the Covenant of the Law, and there in Babylon they were faithful.
In the same way, let us too be bold in this time of challenge – bold to turn aside from our despair, to step out in faith, to claim the promises that are ours in Christ Jesus, and to Risk Hope for the life and vitality of the Gospel.
"Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful."
Wednesday, June 28
Risk Hope: Remember God’s Story
Scripture teaches that God is powerfully present and makes a way forward in the darkest time.
- Isaiah prophesying in the years before the exile, calls the People of God to have hope in the face of growing challenges.
- He prophesies the birth of children/signs named Shear-jashub: A remnant shall return and Immanuel: God is with us. (Isaiah 7:1-17)
- To Hezekiah, facing certain annihilation at the hands of the Assyrian army set in siege around Jerusalem, Isaiah speaks the work of God's assurance:
And this shall be the sign for you: This year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that: then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward; for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
And it was so.
- Jeremiah, in the tenth year of King Zedekiah (who became king after the first great deportation), while Jerusalem was under siege by the armies of Babylon, was instructed by God to buy a field in Anathoth because, "Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land."
And it was so. (Jeremiah 32:1-15)
- Ezekiel, prophesying to the people in exile in Babylon, received the word of the Lord that "The Valley of Dry Bones" – the hearts and hopes and lives of God's people – would rise to life again: "Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people: and I will bring you back to the land of Israel." (Ezekiel 37: 1-14)
And it was so.
Heed and take heart, our God is true and our way is sure.
Thursday, June 29
Risk Hope: Be Faithful in the Struggle
As the darkness gathers, God's directive to God's people is clear: Be faithful.
- During the exile, when all hope seemed lost (no Promised Land, no City of God, no Temple, no Ark of the Covenant – no Blessing?) the people gathered together the stories of the Ancients and obeyed the law (in sum: Love God Alone; Take Care of Each Other). When they could do nothing else, they observed the Sabbath.
- Mathew 24: 42: "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."
- Matthew 7:12: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."
- Recommit hearts and hands to God. Deuteronomy 5:3: Moses, on the East Bank of the Jordon, preaching a sermon that laid out the law for the people before entering the Promised Land, says, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today." And so it echoes through time – every age and every context must hear these words anew and respond.
Our business in times of trouble is keeping our eyes on Christ and our focus on doing the work set before us. Let us be like the wise bridesmaids who kept watch through the night, keeping their lamps well-lit and ready. (Matthew 25:1-13)
Friday, June 30
Risk Hope: Witness to God’s Work in the World
A core task for us as the People of God is to witness to God's work in the world.
- 1 Samuel 7:7-14: Samuel, in gratitude after God delivered the Philistines into the hands of Israel, "took up a stone and set it up between Mizpath and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer [Stone of Help], for he said, "Thus far the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel." Do we raise an Ebenezer in gratitude each time we recognize Christ at work in the world? Do we testify to God's faithfulness as we have experienced it in our lives?
- Mark 16: 1-8: "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." In this earliest recorded ending to the Gospel of Mark, the witnesses to the Resurrection scatter and tell no one, leaving the Good News unspoken. The Challenge of the Gospel is clear - the readers/the hearers of Mark's message must go and testify, there is no one else. How do we meet this challenge every day?
- "I lift my eyes to the hills- from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth." (Ps. 121)
- "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city, it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 'Be still and know that I am god! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.' The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge." (Ps 46)
Saturday, July 1
Risk Hope: Love Christ’s Community
We are called to be a community that is in the world but not of it. A community bound together in love that offers love to the world, but is not distracted by the concerns, the anxieties, the frustrations of the world we inhabit. We have hope, we are not afraid, because our worries are not the world's worries, and our hope is not the world's hope.
- Isaiah 8:11-13: "For the Lord spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."
- 1 Corinthians 2: 6-13: "Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God's wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory."
- 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23: "So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building."
- 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26: "God has so arranged the body…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another."
How do we manifest the community we are called to be?
Sunday, July 2
Risk Hope: Step Out and Be a Blessing
We see and we know that God's promises are true. We build one another up in hope as we step out confident into the future.
- God returns to bless God's people again and again. The partner side of the people's repentance and return to God is God's renewed blessing on God's people: Deut. 5:3: "Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us who are all of us here alive today." God renews God's blessing:
- during the exile (Ezekiel 37:12: "Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel,")
- in return from exile (Isaiah 40:3-5: "A voice cries out: In the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken,")
- in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1-8: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God… John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sins… He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;… I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."),
- in the Resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7: "But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Then go quickly and tell the disciples, He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee…,'")
- and in the giving of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:14-36; 39: "For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.")
- So we labor in the darkness in hope for the good to come. Hebrews 10:19-25: "Therefore my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, …Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching."