Giving Up Setbacks,Taking Up Comebacks!

Anybody here wearing a piece of jewelry? (Hands up) Great. Now, anybody here with a piece of silver jewelry? Ok. Now, brace yourself. Anybody here with a piece of nice shiny silver jewelry on that they'd be willing to part with, just long enough for me to hold it up for everybody here to see? (This is not a trick… and you will get it back!) Super. Let me see. (Walking to retrieve the piece…) Now while I'm doing this, you might want to look up a verse not included in what Linda read today. It underlines the lesson I'm about to share. Malachi 3: 3. "He [the Lord when he comes] will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, 'til they present right offerings to the Lord."

Now, consider how silver gets it shape and shine, it's beauty in the eye of the beholder. The silversmith has to take the metal and heat it. 'Heat it in the hottest part of the fire. Only that will burn away all its impurities. But you have to watch it very closely. A little too long and the silver is destroyed. So how do you know just the right moment when the silver is fully refined to make a thing so fair as this (lift jewelry)? Many a silversmith will tell you, "It's just right… when I can see my image in it." God in heaven would understand. You too, I hope. Because that's how God deals with us. Setbacks are changed into comebacks. Disasters into dynamite moments when his love comes shining through. The lowly, changed into glory. The fractured into the fulfilling. The crucified into the resurrected. Death into life. More amazing than a piece of rock into a thing of beauty… but that's why we come here week after week. To move from setbacks to comebacks, from stone-dead hearts to light catching art, the handiwork of God, the image that reveals his likeness.

In the right hands, we can be changed. We need only submit when heat is applied. What appears a disaster can be only a setback. Paul invites us to take a look at him. He says, "Dear brothers, pattern your lives after mine and notice who else lives up to my example. For many, as I've told you before and tell you now with tears in my eyes, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. They're headed for destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things." Golly day, do you ever look at your own life and ask, "Does it really have to be like this?" Have you seen or heard the news this week? Hello!…Does it really have to be like this? How long are all these goin's on gonna be goin'on? Paul sure sounds to me like he has our number when he writes, "their god is the belly". [Even McDonald's has announced an end to supersizing, as our appetites overwhelm us. Maybe van sizes and bonus rooms for new houses will be next. Or after fining the radio guys ½ million for sleaze (their bosses long approved) they'll have the song and dance folk put some clothes on.] The thing is, things don't have to go on like this. Paul… was no moral libertine like some of our stuff is. His sin was more direct. He hadn't turned from God. He'd been trying to play God: he could decide what sin is, sort out true faith from false, and certainly had sense enough to know God's not gonna show his face on any Roman cross.

Well, then God applies a little heat. Alot in fact. Places Paul in the hottest part of the flame. (You know, that Damascus Road thing.) And Paul's forever changed. The disaster of his sin is but a setback, with a comeback comin' once he submits to Christ. Paul sees the same story played out over and over. First, of course, as the cross gives way to the empty tomb. But later, the Jewish disciples wanted to keep Jesus to themselves. But God teaches Peter on Cornelius' roof that the cross is offered to save the whole world. Peter and Paul take the same side and the Word spreads far and wide. Pagans come to faith. Jailors get their families baptized. Shipwrecks bring harbors of hope to many who have lost their way. Paul sees it all. There is nothing permanent in the perils of body and soul. God can always interrupt, transform and make new.

It takes heat and polish to make silver shine. God is able, even determined, to give us some shine of our own. God interrupts us in our souls. In our lives. Silver ore can lie in its vein for eons. But once mined and refined, its ready to be what it was meant to become. The Lord makes things new. God in Christ is even better with people than rocks. Oh, sometimes a thing of great joy overtakes us and we are made over. A baby home from the hospital interrupts us with life, challenges us to grow in faith. A loved one's spared in an accident and the value of that life to us is lifted. We're reminded God is looking on with care. But sometimes, this is not the way. Struggle and sorrow have deep power to transform us. Pain can pierce a heart in a way that can be a work of art. The gross we abhor can point us to the Savior we adore. I do not believe that God prefers agony, but I am here to say he uses it with empathy. And he knows just how much and no more, will refine and not destroy.

There are people within the sound of my voice right now who are suffering. Spirits, minds, bodies, families, relationships, in pain. It comes to us all. When it does, or if this is your moment-of-it now, I hope you'll hear this. It is not God's will that it destroy you. It is his hope, and it's in his power, to renew you. God interrupts. Amidst all the backwash of our culture's bile and bilge comes a film about just 12 hours. The cross. Like The Passion or hate it, it's certainly changed the subject of late. Jesus lived something like 12,045 days. But his birthday, his baptismal day, his day on the mountain, his preaching day on the mount, his "parade day" and his last day are the ones that interrupt our assumptions about him and about ourselves. He lived 289, 080 hours, but just 6 of them changed the relationship between heaven and earth. God interrupts to make new. I wish I could say this means we don't suffer in our suffering. But the cross exposes the lie. What I can say is that suffering isn't forever and doesn't have to win.

I had a friend named Ethel once. I've never seen an elder woman so bent. Her posture looked more like the letter S than I. She could not look straight ahead naturally. 'Had to sit reclined to look up. But she had the most radiant smile, and would let no one carry her purse or parcels. She walked everywhere in town. It pained us to see her pain. So I asked her once, "Ethel, how do you do it? Why do you do it?" She said, "I smile looking down because God does. Am I more bent than he with the weight of the years? I'm bent, not broke. I want people to see that if I can keep walking they can too. Besides, one day, God will break in, and Jesus will straighten me out so I can see his face. I want to show people I have that faith. Maybe then their bags won't seem so heavy if they see me with mine."

We are walking through setbacks. But comebacks are our destiny. We need only look to Jesus. Paul sums it up this way. "Our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him to subject all things to himself…Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved." I love these words. We live here, but our commonwealth, our true nationality, our real citizenship, the place to which we really belong, even now… is heaven! And we're just waiting for the one who can change our lowly, often sorry selves, into glory. He's gonna put us in our rightful place. Earth to art. Jaded into jewelry. Shaken by life to shinin' in life eternal.

Preacher Tim Merrill doesn't use jewelry to help us understand. He uses another art form. Jazz. He tells about Wynton Marsalis jazzin' and riffin' on a tune called "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You." It's a moving, mourning, melancholy piece. He's got his audience enwrapped in it. Transported. But in a silent moment between the notes, a cell phone shatters everything! Disaster in a moment. The unrecoverable overwhelming the ineffable. Only, the trumpeter starts up again. Matching the notes from the tune on the call phone. Improvising, elevating, heating to a molten moment when the master trumpeter can see the image of the song again. And somehow, gloriously, he takes his hearers back to the melody they were meant to hear … and there is glory all around!

Isn't that our story when we come to the table of broken bread and crushed fruit, now become the Banquet of Heaven? Isn't it what happens from Friday to Sunday with Jesus? Isn't it what happens to us when God himself refines us like silver, knowing the moment to move us from the flame to the forge will come when he can see his image in our own? Oh, to be his joy and crown! More shining than silver, more precious than gold! What a comeback!

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