BY REV. TIM NAPPE - HARBOR OF JOY LUTHREAN CHURCH — MILFORD
It was late in the afternoon about 20 years ago. I was running on empty, tired after a long day at work, but more importantly, my car was running on empty as well. I knew that I didn’t have enough gas to make it home, so I was going to have to stop to fill up. I pulled into the first gas station that I saw and filled up the tank.
Anxious to get home and eat supper, I jumped back into the car and started toward home. I made it about three blocks. My engine started to sputter and my car started lurching. It acted like it was running out of gas! But I knew that I had just filled the tank.
I managed to get pulled over to the side of the road before the engine quit completely. I sat there, turning the key and trying to restart the engine. It would turn over, but it just would not fire up.
I know that for many of you, it is hard to imagine, but this was back before the days of cellphones and I actually had to get out and start walking. I had to find a pay phone, where I could call for help. I had to have someone come and get me and had to call a mechanic to come and get the car.
I found out later that the gas station where I filled up was running on empty as well. Their tank was almost dry and I was sucking up gas from the bottom of the barrel. Along with the gas, I was sucking up some of the gunk from the bottom of the tank. My mechanic had to take the tank off my car, drain out all the sludge, and replace the tank. Then he had to replace the fuel filter and I was back on the road again.
Unknowingly, as I filled up my tank with gas, I had also been pumping in a lot of other stuff that plugged up my fuel line and corrupted the gas in my tank. And because the fuel in my tank was no good, my car couldn’t run.
This week, as I was reading and preparing for my sermon, I was reminded of this episode. Our congregation has been reading through the Bible and talking about the history of the people of Israel. We just finished reading the book of Jeremiah and we are moving into the book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah. It is a pretty discouraging time in the history of God’s people.
The Babylonians have been extending their kingdom and Jerusalem has fallen. The devastation has been very thorough. The city has been pillaged and destroyed. The king’s palace has been destroyed and temple has been leveled. Anything of value has been confiscated by the invaders. Many have died and the survivors are being gathered up for the 700-mile journey back to Babylon.
The book of Lamentations lives up to its title. It is five chapters of lamenting and giving voice to the pain and suffering of a defeated people. It would be easy to be carried away into despair.
Many times, I visit with people who have had setbacks in life. They are experiencing grief, medical problems, financial issues, trouble in their relationships, or other struggles that make their life challenging. It is difficult to not be carried away by the worries and fears that fill our minds.
Right in the middle of the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah voices this word of encouragement. In chapter 3, verse 21, he says: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Jeremiah realizes that he needs to put something positive, hopeful, and uplifting into his thoughts or he will not be able to survive. If his thoughts get mired down in the pain and suffering of the world, his outlook will continue to get darker and darker. There will be no hope and no reason to continue.
It takes an intentional effort to focus his thoughts and his heart on something else: “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope!”
He remembers the promises of God. He deliberately focuses on the signs of God’s blessing and the reminders that God is still seated on His throne. The world, in fact, the whole universe remains under His control. God is still good! God is still in control! God’s will is still going to be accomplished!
Just like the fuel in my car, if we contaminate our thoughts with all the problems and troubles in the world around us, our lives will sputter and falter. We may well end up beaten and defeated at the side of the road.
There are times that we need to intentionally clear out the contamination and fill our tanks with hope. We need to be reminded of the promises and blessings of God and remember that God is watching over us. We are not alone. We can trust that God will walk with us, even though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We need not fear to give in to despair. God will bring us safely through to the other side.