There is a great need for optimism. Children are naturally optimistic. Little Paisley running around at SOH on Thursday, doesn’t know a stranger, I picked her up and let her look at people and smile and people were more pleased than if I’d handed them a chocolate bar. Children are naturally optimistic. Carefree days, no worries. One of my first jobs was picking blueberries for Jan Jorgenson Hatch… I don’t even remember picking blueberries… I do remember lunchtime and the watering hole and the rope swing tied to the tree… children are naturally optimistic…. This scripture is dripping with optimism, optimism of John the Baptist like the natural optimism of children…
To be a Child Again. At Christmas time, growing up in the pastor’s home in this Church, a tree piled with Christmas, up to ten boxes of chocolates and my father going through his ritual of opening a box so we could have a smell, and closing the lid, till finalling letting us have a taste. But only two chocolates a day. To this day I feel guilty if I have three. – in Sumas, the ice pond that would form about where the Super Duper sits… the biggest worry was what to spend my ten cent allowance on at Don and Doris’s store, sometimes I take the back way to my mother’s house on the back side of the Grade School, so I can glance at that first house on the far side of the school playfield. That house was moved from where Edaleen Dairy sits, it was Mrs. Miller’s House– every child should have a Mrs. Miller… she had a playhouse that was a replica of her own house, a garage full of old rusty mill equipment …, most important of all, on the back door, everyday, she’d hang a baggy of cookies or candies for several of us children...
And I want you to know that I have forgiven Doug Bos, who works for the City of Sumas, I don’t know if he did the deed or not, but the stump is in the city park that was the best climbing tree in the City – Keith Peterson and I sat for hours, watching the comings and goings in the park. To be a Child Again.
Today, a spirit of optimism. I don’t want to literally be a child again, but I hope I never lose childlikeness, to simply believe, innocence, optimism… By nature, are you an optimist or a pessimist? We only have one life on this old earth, you gotta believe in that which is good, a better day, hope for the future, you gotta see the good in people… Listen to John the Baptist “I saw the spirit coming down…” “I baptized so that you can know the Lamb of God is coming...” “I have seen it” John says.
The reason the world needs optimism is because the world is hard.
Satan is on the loose. At the time of John, the people were oppressed by the Romans. People were confused, uncertain. John the Baptist comes from a group who believed the way you answer the Roman problem and remain faithful to God is to separate yourself… if you know the story from the other gospels, John came out of the wilderness oddly dressed with a strange diet because he was living in the dessert, apart from a corrupt world. As he points to Jesus as the coming one to save the world, he doesn’t say, “become like me and live in the dessert” he simply points to Christ. ///
Our world is hard. The addictions, lack of money, underemployment, no employment, split families, shortage of affordable housing, early deaths, the pains and heartaches. This past week I learned about Domestic Violence and some of the many forms of abuse. You know it’s a live issue in our community. Our world needs optimist. People who encourage others by keeping a vision alive of a better future. This is why, I am convinced, John the Baptist was popular among the people: a voice of optimism, a voice pointing to Jesus Christ -- John’s voice was needed not only in what he said, but how he said it… to give hope, to point to a better day, a day of restoration, a day of rest: “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Our community needs people who will point the way to Jesus Christ as the way to find wholeness, completeness, the Holy Spirit, blessed by God…
The deepest kind of optimism is rooted in the reality of who we are (sinners) …this is important. When John the Baptist sees Jesus, he makes an incredibly profound and instructive statement: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” One person described this as the gospel in a nutshell. Here is the problem in todays world: Our ears hear the word “sin” and we think negative, bad, don’t want to talk about it. Somehow in our culture we have this idea the way you find wholeness is to make yourself feel good about yourself, convince yourself that you are a good person. I see this all the time on Facebook, I hear it, people talking constantly about the wonderful things they do for the world and the community. They are grieving over why they are not rewarded with paid bills, happiness, stability because I am a good person. I understand the philosophy of positive thinking – that’s great. But if positive thinking is divorced from sin and personal responsibility, it is unrealistic. hollow. The message of the Bible is that we are all by nature sinners.
On the other side of the coin are people that are constantly beating themselves up for their sins, poor decisions. I don’t know whatever happened to my friend Joy Windwalker, used to visit her up in Peaceful Valley, I can still hear her say, “Get off the pitty pot and ______” (I can’t say the rest of the phrase).
We need to be realistic optimists, honest about our nature as sinners, yet totally sold out for the grace of God. “Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” a gentle lamb. If you are an Israelite, if you know your Bible, the lamb immediately makes you think of the Passover of old, when Moses led the people out of Egypt, and Pharoah withdrew his blessing to let the people go, so God sent one plague after another, culminating in the plague of death to the first born son, except for those homes that sacrificed a lamb, and painted the blood of the lamb on the door, so that the death angel passed over those homes. Jesus is the gentle, unblemished lamb. At this point not even John the Baptist knows about the cross, how Jesus will fulfill his role as the lamb of God, but to describe Jesus as the lamb of God is an amazing truth to think that somehow Jesus will take away my sins… that’s realistic optimism. I am a sinner saved by grace, saved by the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb, Jesus Christ, who takes away my sins. That’s positive thinking at its best. Not that I deserve, not that I am a good person that hasn’t received a fair shake, not a bad person that is destined to always wallow in misery, but a sinner that is lifted up and restored by Jesus Christ, every reason to be amazed, amazed by Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Amazed that God loves me so much he sent his son Jesus Christ to die in my place. This takes away the pressure of wiping out your own badness. We are called to be realistic optimists, to be amazed by God taking away our sins and undoing the effects of sins.
Artificial Optimism will eventually fail because it is divorced from reality… you cannot sustain the goodness that is required for you to keep deserving the positive life you innately think your deserve. Realistic optimism knows you don’t deserve blessings, but rather, it is a gift of God. Not dependent on your own merits, but entirely dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ: “Look, the lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.”
Until you recognize your own sin you will never find the wholeness promised to you through Jesus Christ. Sin is not good news, but the fact that Jesus Christ came to die for your sins is incredibly good and optimistic news. John’s great contribution to the world is to prepare the world for the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and to tell the world with a spirit of Optimism.
Others people need your optimistic spirit…
that’s why we need children. the entire reason John gives for baptizing others is to point to Christ. We need people to encourage us when we are discouraged… people to point to Jesus with a realistic optimism. I am amazed by the people in this church that come alongside others with a hug, a kind word, a word of hope. Other people need your optimistic words pointing to Christ, an expression of encouragement which can come in a thousand different forms.
20+ years ago I preached another sermon on optimism in this church, I was visiting from San Francisco… the book of Habakkuk… the theme was asking if you saw the glass half empty or half full. In those days I only had so many sermons in me, so it was like the third time I preached the same sermon in different places. What you need to know is that while my father had ten thousand wonderful qualities, he was not abundant with words of praise… I’ll never forget my father’s reaction to this half empty/ half full sermon. Words that a young preacher needed to hear from his father, words that made me think maybe I did have something to say after all. After the Habakkuk sermon, it meant the world to me when my father paid me the highest compliment I can ever imagine. He said, “I like that, can I use it sometime.”
John the Baptist was sent to the people of Israel not only with the message of Jesus Christ, but also to say the message with optimism and hope. Somebody needs you in their life to be encouraging, to be optimistic, to let them know they are worth something, to let them know there is hope. You will change someones world by telling them God loves them and has an amazing future for them. You need to be somebody’s John the Baptist, you need to be like a child that simply smiles// and reminds the world there is a reason to be joyful and optimistic.
Optimism, at it’s best, is forward looking…
John 1:34: “The man on whom you see the spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” He will. The gift of optimism is for people to see a better future yet it impacts today. Like looking forward to a vacation… Imagine what people’s lives would be like with God, and describe it. The rest, the peace, the Holy Spirit upon them, guiding them, giving purpose. To the skeptic, it may seem like wishful thinking, but to the realistic optimist, you have to keep painting that picture, believing, rooted in reality of the present situation yet believing God can do the most amazing things. The best gift you will ever give another person is to help them see God, the forgiveness of sins, the transformation of life, life with the Holy Spirit upon them and within them. “I have seen” John says in John 1:34. “I have seen” optimism comes from your own experiences, your own beliefs, your own testimony.
The world needs realistic optimists, like children that simply delight in life, realistic optimists rooted in the reality of the fact that we are sinners, but totally believing in God to take away our sins and transform our lives through the Holy Spirit. Adopt a positive spirit as you embrace Christ, and tell others about what you have seen. Imagine the transformation that will take place in Sumas and the Nooksack Valley as we describe what we see with Chris, the hope, the peace, the rest, the transformation of lives, the Holy Spirit dwelling within men and women. The message is not complex. I’m thinking that one of the reasons so many people find our church meaningful and Seeds of Hope is because there is a word of hope and encouragement, at least we do our best… The world needs realistic optimists that understand we are all sinners, and that Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, was sent into the world to take away our sins and change us. You have a wonderful future. Jesus Christ is for anyone and everyone. You are acceptable.
May the Lord use your attitude of realistic optimism to bring expectation and peace to those who need a word of encouragement. Amen.