Sunday Lunch: God is with Us… Always!

It’s the last day of the year. Some of us may busy ourselves with making predictions for 2017… will it be easier, more fruitful? What prospects await us? Will our goals and hopes finally be realized? Yet our worries still persist… our anxieties and fears have not gone away.

As we look to a new year with our family and friends, we may wish to say goodbye to unpleasant memories and experiences. Why not? They caused us pain and grief; we’re ready to move on. Welcoming a new year and overlooking our past tempts us to feel more hopeful and happier. Focusing our thoughts on starting over with new resolutions works for a while; however, we eventually remember where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced and the New Year eventually may seem like just “more of the same.”

To be at peace, our guiding compass is best calibrated through our deliberately coming together with God. No matter what direction we pursue, with whom we engage, and what the outcome of our endeavors will be, the ultimate means to achieve God’s potential He created for us is through submitting our will and obedience to His Spirit within us and living our life with God.

St. Paul assures the early Christians not to fear this reality: “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

St. Paul makes clear to us that we are of one body with our Lord and Savior. In Him, we receive His blessings: The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

Growing up, my parents of blessed memory opened their hearts at the end of every year. I recall it was a nostalgic time as they reflected with me and my brothers the year’s events… hurdles they overcame, ongoing disappointments and hardships, even goals that seemed improbable, but through faith, hope, and working together might be achieved in the New Year. I learned there is great meaning to life’s varied events, whether they brought happiness or sorrow. My father and mother knew how to “connect the dots” to teach us that God was, is, and always will be with us throughout all we endure in life. They could do so, because they believed and sought comfort from Holy Scripture:

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. (James 5:13-15)

In this Bible verse, the Apostle James reveals God’s presence in every aspect of our lives… whether it is amidst our suffering, joy, or sickness. In fact, through faithful and trusting obedience to Him, God’s will for our lives enables us to go forward in everything and with whomever we encounter. My parents nurtured our trust in God to bring meaning through our experiences each year. In turn, this hope carried us from year to year, amidst the pain and suffering from the loss of family members and friends, sickness, economic pressures, criticisms, and other uncertainties and difficulties in life.

No matter what state or condition we would find ourselves at the end of the year, we looked ahead with confidence that the next one would be greeted with God’s peace, mercy and love. The humble spirit my parents manifested, coupled with their unrelenting faith and dependence on God persuaded me that He would protect and sustain us always. The Apostle Peter reinforces our parents’ confident instructions to their children:

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7)

Rather than life starting over on New Year’s Day, our entire life is not magically transformed from what it was before the stroke of midnight. We awake on January 1st with the same strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats that we had on New Year’s Eve. Through my parents sharing their best and worst memories, they reinforced how our Lord patiently guides us to live with empathy and compassion for all. No matter what situation we find ourselves engaged, no matter what race, creed, color, religion, gender, or political leanings, God allows others to be placed in our midst to share His love and mercy and invite them into His Body.

My brothers and sisters, by becoming involved and seeking to help with the plights of others, we grow stronger. Using patient and faithful endurance as we work through our own hardships, God directs us how to make our lives and those of others better.

But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When He was abused, He did not return abuse; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He entrusted Himself to the One Who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:20-24)

My parents’ memories before beginning a new year centered on lessons they learned and how our Orthodox faith was and is and can be witnessed as we live and share our lives together… whether as individuals or in our community. Even more so, they always reassured us of the new and renewed hope that one more year in our lives could bring. Simply put, what we gained from our life experiences this year will make us stronger and more inspiring in the New Year.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)

This Sunday, the first day of the New Year 2017, I look forward to Sunday Lunch. Just as my parents taught me, I will engage my family and friends with self-examination of our past to encourage renewed faith and new opportunities in the future. God is with us… always!

Yes, God always is the center of our life’s story… While we especially seek His blessings amidst our pain and suffering, may we never forget He is with us at childbirth and He never abandons us in our old age and at the time of our death. Indeed, as we and our young ones grow older, graduate, marry, advance in our careers, establish our homes, make new friendships, reconcile with others, inspire our youth, reassure our aged, nurture and grow our relationships with His Body, seek to help those lost and suffering, invite non-believers to be part of His Kingdom, and console and offer His strength and peace when we mourn the death of family and friends, God is with us… to share and unite us in His Spirit of hope and unity.

St. Paul sought “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4.12). Toward that aim, I pray that your reflection of God’s presence and blessings to you in 2016 will be nurtured and enlarged for His Glory in the New Year 2017 and always. “Yes, everything is for [God’s] sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 4:15)

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