Hold Onto A Beautiful Dream And Live
January 2, 2011
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
With A New Heart
1. We have brought in the new year. This is the first Sunday [of the year]. During worship on this day, the words we are listening to are "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all of its ruins, he will make the wastelands as the Garden of Eden, and he will make the desert the garden of the Lord." It says "Singing voices of joy, pleasure, and thanksgiving will resound in it."
2. Everybody, do you think he will turn the wastelands into the Garden of Eden? Do you think he will turn the desert into the garden of the Lord? Normally we don't expect such a thing. If we were asked do you expect this wasteland kind of world that we see with our own eyes to turn into a place like the Garden of Eden filled with God's love and blessing, we wouldn't expect such a thing to be true at all, would we? When it turns January first, [we] celebrate the beginning of the new year by exchanging greetings of "Happy New Year!" Yet, nothing at all actually changed, there was not one single change. No matter how much time passes in the badlands, the badlands don't ever change. Those who start the year thinking this way are not small in number at all. But, [the scripture] is declaring to us, who are assembled here on the first Sunday of this year, that "The Lord will make the wastelands the Garden of Eden, he will make the desert the garden of the Lord."
3. That's right. The Lord is able to do that. But, we need to know that the first thing that must change is not "the wastelands." The first thing that must change is not the world that surrounds us. That's not what [must change], we, who are looking at that wasteland, must change. Our hearts must change.
4. Therefore, today's passage begins with the words, "Listen to me!" The reason one must listen to the words of the Lord is because the human heart first must change. Before the Lord does something new around us, the Lord wants to first begin something new in our hearts. That's what "Listen to me!" is saying.
5. We brought in the new year. But the first thing that must be new is our own hearts. It is our hearts, we who are here in this place, the hearts of human beings. Before we even realize it we are in the trap of accepting things as is, we are unable to expect anything new, and we get to where we are unable to have beautiful dreams, but these hearts of ours must first of all change. Let's start the year with new hearts! A new heart can be defined as a believing heart. Throwing the old hearts of acceptance and resignation into the trash, let's begin to walk with hearts that believe anew and afresh! What is the wasteland for each of you? What is the desert [to you]? Where is the deserted and desolate land which even if you till it and seed it with all your might, nothing can grow out of it? Is it [in] your family? Is it [in] the relationship between you and your spouse? Or, is it [at] the work place? At school? In some close relationship? Is it somewhere in [your] world, which has become dessicated completely, having lost the rich moisture from life from God? Whatever [the case], "Wastelands turn into the Garden of Eden," "Deserts become the gardens of the Lord." Let's humbly start off this year with new hearts that believe anew and afresh that [God can do] this [for us]."
6. That new heart is born through the word of God. It is born through the words of the one who says, "Listen to me!" Therefore, if we want to start off the year with new hearts, we must turn our thoughts onto the one who says, "Listen to me!" We ought not think about only the wastelands. We ought not think about only ourselves standing in those places. If you picture yourself and me standing in a desert alone, you won't enjoy or find any kind of hope out of that [image]. That's how [we are, so we have to have God's word to go beyond that].
7. First of all, we need to turn our thoughts to the Lord and turn our thoughts to the Lord's message for us. In that sense, putting ourselves in a place of worship like this is a very good thing to do. [It is] the second day of the new year and here we are putting ourselves here and worshipping the Lord. We are praising the Lord and ready to hear the word of the Lord. Because of how we have positioned ourselves, we can begin to walk the year with new hearts. The newness and the freshness do not come from within us, but must come from outside of us. When I say outside of us, I mean it must not come from this world but rather it must come more outside than that, it must come from heaven. It must not come from the world of people but from God. We turn our hearts to the Lord, [and] by hearing the Lord's message to us we begin to walk with new hearts. We, who are assembled in this place, are trying to do that.
Fixing [Your] Eyes On The Base Of The Rock [From Which You] Were Cut
8. So now, let's listen carefully just a little more to what the Lord is declaring in today's passage, when he says, "Listen to me!" [The Lord] is declaring in that text, "Fix your eyes on the base of the rock from which you were cut, the cave from which you were quarried! Fix your eyes on your father Abraham and your mother Sarah who gave you birth!" What we must think about here in this text is "Why does a mention about 'Abraham' and 'Sarah' come here in the text?" If we go by the conclusion, both "Abraham" and "Sarah" are the starting point for the faith, as it were. It is saying "Fix your eyes there!"
9. In verse three [we] had the words "Comfort Zion." "Zion" stands for Jerusalem. It was the people who used to live in Jerusalem who had heard first hand the message of this prophet. The text had "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all of its ruins," and they actually did see the ruins with their own eyes as he said these words.
10. Jerusalem had turned into abandoned and ruined buildings because it had been sacked by Babylon. The temple, where the capital also was, was also destroyed by the Babylonian army; the kingdom of Judah was destroyed; the prominent people were brought to Babylon and became captives. Fifty years after that, it switches from the age of Babylon to that of Persia. The Persian king Cyrus proclaimed an edict, the captives repatriated to Jerusalem, and he permitted them to rebuild the capital city. The people who were waiting with anticipation for that time had their hearts swell with hope. They returned to Jerusalem with a burning passion for the rebuilding of [their] native country. However, a cold reality awaited them. The city walls had crumbled down. The place where the temple used to be was piles of rubble. Worse, the neighborhood was surrounded by enemies who were displeased about the reconstruction. They were in the middle of losing [all] hope at this desolate reality, this world that could only be called a wasteland.
11. However, God then addressed them through the prophet. "Listen to me, o people who seek righteousness, o people who enquire after the Lord! Fix your eyes on the base of the rock from which you were cut, the cave from which you were quarried! Fix your eyes on your father Abraham and your mother Sarah who gave you birth! I have called him who was by himself, I have blessed him and increased [his] descendants," (verses one and two).
12. The scripture says, "I have called him who was by himself, I have blessed him and increased [his] descendants." Furthermore, the process by which it occurred is important. It was not a simple and natural increase. There are two important points: One, that God promised Abraham that he would give him descendants. The other, that Abraham and Sarah did not have a child. What's more, they didn't have a long time. They were old and they didn't have a child yet. As the Lord showed such an Abraham the whole sky full of stars, he told him, "Look up to heaven, and if you can, try counting the stars." And then he went on to add, "Your descendants will be like this." [That] is the story written in Genesis chapter fifteen.
13. If one were going to make an ancestor for the race of Israel, it would be faster to have chosen a person who already had children. But the Lord chose a person who seemed impossible [for the task]. He chose a person who had no prospects. What's more, he delayed the fulfillment of the promise so that his prospects would become even more non-existent, so that the possibility for it would collapse.
14. Why did [God] chose Abraham in this condition of his? Why did [God] wait for Abraham as his potential poofed away? -- He did it so that Abraham would hope in what comes from God and not what comes from humans. He did it so that Abraham would trust in only God and not in human potential and possibility. God sought this from Abraham. In short, in order to make Abraham the ancestor of the people of the faith, first he sought faith from Abraham. And Abraham definitely did respond to God with faith. What does the Bible say? In the same chapter, [chapter] fifteen, the following words are [given]. "Abraham believed God. The Lord acknowledged it as his righteousness," (Genesis 15:6).
15. Pointing to Abraham and Sarah, the Lord said, "Fix your eyes on the base of the rock from which you were cut, the cave from which you were quarried!" This is the starting point. It is in trusting God, not in human potentiality. Even though it was over as seen by the eyes of human beings, it was not over to God. [We are] to believe in the God who can make a new "beginning" from "the end," where human potential has collapsed. This is the very thing that "the base of the rock from which you were cut" is, [this is the very thing that] "the cave from which you were quarried" is. To the people who had stood there to the end as eyewitnesses of the ruins, the Lord declares that having faith in the God who can make a new beginning out of those ruins is "the base of the rock from which you were cut." Isn't it?
16. Well, the starting point of the faith for them is also the [same] starting point of the faith for us. In The New Testament Paul quotes this narrative of Abraham and states the following. "Abraham believed the God who could give life to the dead, and who could bring into existence that which did not exist by calling it [into existence], and he became our faith in God's presence. When he had no way to hope, he still embraced hope and believed, he became the father of many peoples, just as [God] had said that 'Your descendants will be like this.'," (Romans 4:17-18).
17. That is also the faith of the church. Yes, it is; the church is after all certainly made up of people who through Jesus Christ live in this faith. We believe that not even sin or death is the end, it is never hopeless, but God can make a new beginning even from them. As a matter of fact, Christ rose from the dead, and he appeared to his disciples, and then the church was born from there. Those disciples were crushed to small pieces in front of the cross of Christ. The disciples had turned into burnt residue, from which nothing could ever be born. But the Christ of the resurrection appeared to these disciples, he gave them faith inside themselves. Thus, the church was born out of burnt out residue. We share the same faith of that church.
18. In the first worship service of this new year, God is speaking to us as well, that [we should] fix [our] eyes on the starting point of our faith. Because he is doing that, the word of God in verse three also becomes a message for us. "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all of its ruins, he will make the wastelands as the Garden of Eden, and he will make the desert the garden of the Lord. Singing voices of joy, pleasure, and thanksgiving will resound in it," (verse three). When the repatriated people facing the ruins before them had fixed their eyes on Abraham and Sarah as the starting point of the faith, they had a beautiful vision again, and were made into persons who lived in hope. We, too, can live with the same dream and hope, when we fix our eyes on Abraham and Sarah, and more so when we fix our eyes on Christ's cross and resurrection. We mustn't look only at the wastelands right before our eyes. Having received new believing hearts, let's begin to walk from this place anew and afresh!