Being Thankful When Life is Hard (Bridge Message)

Since I was here last time, life has been crazy up north in Uptown. There's been a vicious onslaught on those experiencing homelessness. You may have seen the images on the news of the armed police officers standing next to a line of tents. It was a haunting image of those in power and with prestige exercising their authority and dominance over some of the poorest and most vulnerable folk in Chicago. They were forced to pick up all their belongings and move 5 times until everyone was dispersed and scattered! The decisions (or lack of) by those in charge caused so much trauma to an already traumatized people. 

Life has been hard for so many of my homeless friends and for all of us who tried to stand with them and give them a voice! It’s hard when Uptown’s alderman, city workers, and the police exercise their power to push their agendas. It’s hard when they pretend to listen and care while secretly pulling the trigger. It’s hard knowing some leaders hide behind closed doors, scared to come out of the shadows, but they're enforcing the enforcers to enforce. It’s hard to see the suffering and grief caused by all these decisions and actions. It’s hard to see people get kicked when they’re already down by the very people who are being paid to elevate those suffering!

With so much injustice and trauma bombarding us, when nothing seems easy and everything seems hard, how can we be thankful in the midst of it all? 

The Bible tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, it also tells us to be thankful in all circumstances, but that isn’t easy when life sucks, so how do we stay thankful?

In Revelation 5, John sees a vision where everyone with power in heaven, on earth and under the earth is trying to open some seals to the scroll. No one can do it and they are not worthy to do it, so John weeps bitterly because he knows how important they are. The image we get is that John is weeping because this scroll is offering something amazing and hopeful, but no one can do it! John is then told to weep no more because the Slaughtered Lamb arrived and he is the only one deemed worthy to take the scroll and break its seals. 

We are given this Image of Weakness, the "lamb that was slain" was the only one worthy, and this gives us something to be thankful about! Through dying on the cross, through His resurrection, through becoming the Sacrificial and Resurrected Lamb, Jesus became the only One worthy! Injustice surrounds and encompasses us, but we serve a God who became weak and suffered so He could turn things upside down and give us hope and a future.

And then in verses 9 and 10, we read “And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.””
Jesus didn't come as a dictator, He came as a lamb, who loves us and purchased us with His blood. In choosing weakness and vulnerability, by shedding His blood, by choosing love, Jesus made it possible to purchase people to give them a new hope. He gathered persons from anywhere and everywhere. No one is too weak, too stressed or too evil for Him. If we have been purchased by the Lamb, we are loved, we are important, we are His children and we will reign on the earth. The earth is ours, and this is something we can be eternally thankful for!

He’s the only one who can open the seal. He’s the only one who can truly empower us. He's the only one who can save us! The authorities will do their evil deeds, they will continue to traumatize, they will continue to enslave, lie, cheat and steal, but if we've been purchased by the Lamb, we know their empires cannot stand to God's, and they will eventually fade and vanish. 

Because He purchased us, He made us Kingdom people. The Lamb didn't leave us to struggle alone. He made us into a kingdom of weak, sinful and fragile people. Together we find strength. Together we get support. Together we move forward.

All these forces flooded Uptown Tent City to scatter my homeless friends. They had the money. They had the guns. They had the politics. They had the power! What was truly beautiful was watching and being a part of a community of people rallying together for one another. People lifted one another up, showed compassion and didn't ignore each other. We all need others. The impact of a bunch of powerless people lifting each other up in the face of oppression is powerful and beautiful. They are now scattered, but they still remain together and haven't given in. 

We live in a world where empires will always oppress, the powerful look like they always win, but Jesus brought a Kingdom that must always resist and run contrary to the evil they bring. The Kingdom of God will instead bring about love, peace, and hope. The Kingdom of God doesn't bring money and power, it brings compassion, mercy, and salvation into our messed up world. Like Jesus, it comes in weakness and will overcome any kingdom because it is eternal. When we reflect on His Kingdom and that we're part of it, this gives me hope and for this I am thankful.

Because He purchased us, He made us priests. Being priests gives us the freedom to go straight to God. Through their words and deeds, those with the power told those in Uptown Tent City that they were insignificant and nothing to them. Being priests tell us something vastly different; we are important and special to God. This gives us hope. This gives us resilience. This lets us know we're loved!

The closing of Tent City was unjust and terrible, and even though my friends were being traumatized, they didn’t give up, they knew they are important. I was talking to a few friends through this ordeal and we were amazed by their resilience, they didn't give in and kept hope alive. With all odds stacked against them, they clung onto the fact that they are loved by God, and they are important to Him and through it all they somehow remained thankful. (I don't think I would have done as well)

When life is hard and there seems to be no hope in sight, the Bible reveals to us that we can be thankful because Jesus purchased us with His blood and that gives us hope. The Slaughtered Lamb loves us so much that he formed a Kingdom full of weak fragile people and made us priests, a kingdom people who can unite together and lift each other up. We are people who will not be defeated by the thugs who oppress, but will rather "reign on the earth'. This is the very reason that many of the most thankful people I know aren't those who are in power or have everything, but those who are weak, have nothing and put their hope in the Eternal One and His Kingdom. 

In the midst of it all, don't give in and keep hope alive because the God we serve is over all kingdoms and loves to set prisoners and the oppressed free. The Slaughtered Lamb loves you, and for that reason alone we can be eternally thankful. 

*Some links to give some context for this sermon....

Uptown Gentrification and Housing Discrimination
Uptown Trauma
Responding to Our Unjust Authorities

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission: USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" are all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, whose staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
This was a sermon preached on 10/3/2017, in response to this question; Being Thankful When Life Is Hard
I know I’m supposed to be thankful, but what about when life is really hard? Most things aren’t going my way, and I know they could be worse, but they could be way better, too. So what do I do?
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