HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
The passage that we read in the Book of Jeremiah today may seem, at first, like an odd choice for our theme today “Hope for the Future”. Being from a farm there is something about this story of an ordinary exchange of land that goes beyond a simple field—it is a story of hope for the future and trusting in God’s promises.
The prophet Jeremiah was a captive of the King of Judah. The field in question had an army camped on it as they laid siege to the city. The land was completely worthless and stripped of anything valuable. Yet Jeremiah bought it, not because it was of any current use to him, but because of the promise it held. God promised that one day that occupied field would once again be a growing vineyard. So, Jeremiah bought the field and took the jar and sealed the deed in it because he wanted to keep it safe.
There is something about this moment in time that just captures our attention. Jeremiah safely sealed the deed away because he had hope for the future. He wanted the deed to be safe. So, it was not a question of IF God’s promises would be fulfilled but WHEN they would be fulfilled. It could be during Jeremiah’s time, it could be 100 years from then —but Jeremiah had faith in God’s promise, even if it would take years to come to fruition. Jeremiah had already prophesied that this siege would turn into 70 years of Babylonian rule. But he made it clear that he believed God’s promise that the land would be restored to the people. Fields would be bought and sold again. Vineyards would be grown there again.
I wonder at that moment of hope. At the strength of Jeremiah who did what must have seemed crazy at the time. He did not question God; he just trusted in God’s promise and had hope for something more. By buying the field, he put this hope into action.
When we think about the bible and the scripture we hear each week there are many stories of love and hope and how God who has remained faithful to creation. God's love changes everything for us as individuals and as a community, and it is in that love that we find hope for the future. That hope gives us the courage to live out God’s call in our lives.
Time and again throughout history God’s people have been asked to do the impossible. The Israelites once stood at the edge of the Red Sea, with an army pressing against their back while Moses asked them to take a step in faith. The prophets preached hope every day while they waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled. When the time came, and people were returned to their lands after being held captive, they often found themselves standing before a ruin of their former lives. But God always helped them to rebuild. When Nehemiah finally convinced the King to allow his people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the ruined walls, they were surrounded by enemies who did not want them to succeed. Yet they managed to rebuild the walls in 52 days. In the New Testament we read story after story of the lame walking, the blind seeing, the leper being cleansed, and demons being cast out. How many times did Jesus stand before someone who was dead and then do the impossible and call them back to life? Just ask Lazarus about that.
Through the love of God, the impossible gives way to the possibility of something much more. The only reason God’s people have the faith to do what seems impossible, to face difficult odds, is because they believe that they are known and loved by God. Through that love they find hope, even in the face of invading armies, occupied territory, or the question of whether a vineyard will be replanted.
As Jeremiah proved, it just takes one person to have hope. It took one deed, one jar, one act of faith. All these little actions put together created something much bigger.
Today is Presbyterians Sharing Sunday. Today, we celebrate all of the incredible ministries we support both here in Canada and around the world with the gifts we give to Presbyterians Sharing. Our prayers, our money, our support—all come together to bless countless ministries and share the love of Christ.
This morning I would like to share a few stories with you—stories of hope, vision, passion, and call. Stories of people like Jeremiah, one by one summoning their courage and putting their hope into action, faithfully working to share God’s love and build God’s kingdom in the world. The Presbyterian Sharing Budget is $9.1 million for 2019. The first two stories are about International Mission and Ministry which make up 14% of the budget and the last story is about Supporting Congregations in Canada which is 58 % of the budget.
Working with Refugees
Stephanie Chunoo is a young woman from Leaside Presbyterian Church. After graduating with a degree in Communications and a certificate in refugee and migration studies from York University, Stephanie wondered if there was something she could do to serve the church. She was accepted to the PCC’s one-year young adult internship program, which receives support from gifts to Presbyterians Sharing.
Stephanie was assigned to work for a year with the ministry of the Reformed Church in Hungary, that helps refugees and asylum seekers integrate into Hungarian society. It’s a challenging and even dangerous time to be helping refugees in Hungary. Many Hungarians are suspicious of newcomers, as the public and government portrays migrants and refugees as people linked to crime and terrorism. This provokes fear among the people, many of whom are convinced that their Christian country will turn increasingly Islamic with each incoming migrant. The prime minister strongly supports an anti-migration platform, and in April, Hungary’s parliament passed laws which make claims for asylum almost impossible and criminalize individuals or groups who offer to help a person who has claimed asylum.
Yet in the midst of fear, Stephanie and the staff and volunteers continue to serve the refugees who come to them, providing them with language classes and support in their search for employment and housing. Among her many tasks, Stephanie offers child care, English classes, advocacy services and helps plan activities for the children. She was recently quoted, “The work here is very stressful, but these situations remind me why God has put this opportunity in my path.” Like Jeremiah, Stephanie and the others in Hungry have hope for a world where one day all will be welcomed. They are putting their hope into action, with the support of Presbyterians Sharing.
I want to share another refugee story with you. Over the thanksgiving weekend I was listening to the radio. A refugee from Syria living in Winnipeg was interviewed. He came to Canada in 2008 with his family after his town in Syria was captured by ICIS. He had a hard time adjusting to a new country especially the language and the weather in Winnipeg. He was encouraged to get an education by his sponsors and today he is a Chartered Accountant and owns a restaurant. What is so wonderful about him and his family is that he supports 65 to 100 people back in Syria who are poor and facing many challenges. He said he gives thanks by giving. This story reminded me of the words on our sign over thanksgiving “Let your life be filled with thanks and giving”. What a wonderful message of hope that the sign and this refugee shared.
Translating the Word of God in Taiwan
In 1982, during his final year at Knox College, the Rev. Dr. Paul McLean and his wife Mary Beth felt God’s call to be partners in mission with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, living and serving among the minority Hakka people.
Paul and Mary Beth soon found themselves in Taiwan, living in the Hakka countryside, on the edge of a rice field. There were 40,000 people in the town, and only one church with about 80 members. With much love, patience and good humour, the Minister and members of the church taught Paul and Mary Beth how to speak the difficult local language. During that first year of intensive language study, Paul would stare at his bookcase and wonder why he bothered to bring his bibles. Then, one day Paul was reviewing a draft translation of Mark’s Gospel when he discovered some typos and mistakes in the translation. At that moment, Paul knew why God had called him to Taiwan. He joined a team translating the Bible into Hakka. It was challenging work that required much patience—but the team persevered and 28 years later, they finished translating the entire Bible. Paul shares, “Over the years that I served on the Hakka Bible translation project, God taught me lessons in teamwork. As each member on the team humbly offered their various gifts back to God, as we prayed and worked together with the same goal in mind, as we looked to the Lord for insights, we discovered that God the Holy Spirit could do wonderful things.”
After the Hakka Bible was published, Paul wondered what he would do next. God had plans for him. The Bible Society in Taiwan approached him to serve as a translation adviser to several indigenous teams who were trying to complete their Bibles. Even though he didn’t know all of those languages, he could help the teams work through the lessons and principles he had learned while translating the Hakka bible. So, since 2012, he has had the great joy of serving with indigenous pastors, elders, deacons and lay people, men and women, who are faithfully using their God-given gifts to translate the whole Bible, into their own minority languages.
Like Jeremiah, Paul and his translation teams look to the future with hope. Even knowing that it will take many years, they are putting their hope into action, word by word, as they translate the Bible into these endangered languages – so people can read and hear the word of God in the they understand. Presbyterians Sharing is helping to make this dream a reality.
This story reminded me of a quote from Oprah Winfrey Lots of people want to ride in the Limo with you but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. Rev Paul and his various team members have spent almost 35 years working on bible translation. Presbyterians Sharing is helping to make this dream a reality.
It can be hard for congregations to discern how they can share God’s love and hope in our changing world. A number of new programs supported by Presbyterians Sharing are creating renewal and new growth by helping congregations across Canada. Over 60 congregations have participated in the discipleship, coaching and group learning processes called ReVision and New Beginnings..
Two congregations in P.E.I.—were experiencing the downward trends seen in many churches: aging members, dwindling numbers and few young families. Many people in the congregations had resigned themselves to living out the remaining years doing what was always done. But there were a few who had a burning desire to try new things and to see what God had in store.
Through the ReVision program and the appointment of coach Rev Tim Archibald these two congregations used small group devotions, discussions and visioning to learn how to discern God’s calling and direction. They learned that Rev Archibald was sent by God to help, encourage and gently nudge them along their journey. It wasn’t an easy process and the church struggled to recruit leadership team members that represented a cross-section of the congregations, find leaders that had the gifts, time and willingness to serve the small groups. But they persevered and saw God at work as they experienced new hope and energy.
At their first congregational summit meeting they discussed and identified the congregation’s gifts and passions. Many ideas were generated and the group came up with a short list of potential ministries: start an adult Sunday School; host free lunches every Thursday for the Junior/Senior High students in Kensington; install a lift to make the building accessible so they could host more activities for the congregation and the community; and create a new Outreach Team with the focus of making the churches more relevant by reaching out to their communities with God’s love. Four teams were created to explore details of each option and in the end, they decided to move forward with all four! Although the small congregations still face challenges, as a pastoral charge they find themselves moving forward in faith and in hope as they implement the new initiatives. God is at work.
It’s a time of change for the church, and our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing are helping congregations experiment and dream of new things—putting their hope into action and making concrete changes.
Seeing hope for the future is what Presbyterians Sharing is all about. It’s more than just the financial gifts that congregations and individuals share to support mission and ministry across Canada and around the world—it’s the time people invest in committees, working groups and planning teams, the skills shared by coaches and mentors, the prayers offered for the work we do together, and so much more. Together we are acting in hope for the future—hope for a church that shares the love of God locally, nationally and internationally.
We can’t see the future. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the challenges facing our communities, our country, our world. But, like Jeremiah, we choose hope over despair. We choose to see God at work, building something new in the midst of change.
All of our individual actions, put together, are creating something much bigger. Together we are building God’s kingdom as we share God’s love, in Canada and around the world.
I went through my 2019 Seize the Day calendar and came up with a few sentences to conclude todays worship.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others”
There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.
No one has ever become poor by giving.
No act of kindness is too small. The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave affecting the lives of many.
Hope is like a road in the country. There was never a road but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
In closing the words of Saint Francis Assisi “For it is in the giving that we receive”
Let us Pray
Loving God, we thank You for Your love, for the gifts You have given us and especially for the precious gift of each other. Help us to show our gratitude by loving each other as You love us, with understanding, patience, and forgiveness, and with generosity in sharing the joy and strength we can offer each other. Grant that we may be your voice, your hands, and your heart in today’s world, as we work for peace and hope for all. We ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ