New Year’s Eve
THE GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY . . . GOD IS THERE!
By Ben S. Malayang III, President
(Sermon, New Year’s Eve and Eve of the Silliman Church Centennial and other celebrations, December 31, 2015)
TEXT: Nehemiah 1:9
“. . . but if you return to me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.”
Tonight, we gather in worship to celebrate a year just about to pass, and a year just about to begin. We also gather on this eve of the centennial of our church to celebrate a Christian ministry that is open and offered to all in Silliman, and to all our friends and neighbors regardless of race, creed or religious affiliations. It is a ministry for all children of God who come to our campus to join in our fellowship of learning and of faith.
We gather also on this eve of the centennial of our High School where many Sillimanians have had cherished memories of learning and of growing up. It is also the eve of fifty years of our College of Mass Communications.
But regardless of circumstance or reason, we are gathered this evening because of God. We are here because we seek a fellowship with God and with all others who search for the same fellowship with God. We are gathered because we do not merely believe God exists – we know God exists.
Let us pray: Grant us a humble heart, O Lord, that we may hear You amidst the din and noise of our opinions and chatter; that we may hear Your words, not ours; that in our assembly this evening, we get overwhelmed and blanketed by Your presence. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Our text is from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah tells of a scattered people coming home to Jerusalem to rebuild it after it’s been ruined by war. Many years earlier, Jerusalem was ravaged by the Babylonians and left in rubbles. Many in Jerusalem were made captives and exiled into far corners of the world. But by God’s grace, in an event that ordinarily was a far-fetched possibility, Nehemiah, an exile and trusted wine server in the court of Artaxerxes the Persian king, was granted permission by the king to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it.
Our text is the central message of the Book of Nehemiah:
“. . . if you return to me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.”
This is a promise that in even the most trying circumstances and most difficult of times, in captivity and exile, our God will bring us back into where He dwells. It is a promise that wherever we find ourselves, in regal of courts or desolate byways of life, God will bring us back to where God’s name lives and reigns.
But this promise comes with conditions, in fact three: one, that we actually want to return to God; two, that we keep God’s commandments; and three, that we do what God wants us to do.
Nehemiah did all three. First, he desired to be in God’s side of the street and go home to Jerusalem, to the city of his God, to rebuild its broken walls and its broken people. Second, he made God first even before his own safety, and dared ask the king to let him go home to Jerusalem as God wanted him to. And third, he did what God wanted him to do. He rebuilt not only the walls of Jerusalem but also its institutions of faith so that he and his people may worship God in the traditions of his fathers.
And so, not surprisingly, God’s promise was fully fullfilled. Jerusalem was rebuilt. The people once more worshipped God as how they did so in the past. There was rebuilding not only of where people lived but also of how people lived, how they kept marriage vows and obligations to each other, how they were to work with each other, and how they were to behave as people of God according to the laws of God. It was total rebuilding – physical, institutional, moral, and spiritual – of a place that God says is “where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.”
The year about to end has been full of many things. There were moments of joy and happiness when good things happened to us. We had loved ones born into our families, and we rejoiced of loved ones reborn in faith. We had children entering school for the first time, and children graduating from school. We had weddings, baptisms, and joyful family reunions and gatherings. We relished our freedom to pursue happiness and worship God in the way we choose to, and the freedom to live life and lifestyles as we prefer and can afford to do. We enjoyed the freedom to say good things we want to say to anyone about anything and everything.
It was also a year of bad things. Loved ones died. Loved ones went away. Loved ones abandoned us. We lost jobs. We lost opportunities. And many times, we lost faith. It was a year of devastating typhoons and earthquakes. Of terror gripping many places in our world. A year when despondency seems more real than hope. And when uncertainty lurked everywhere in our lives.
And it was a year of ugly things. Killing becoming a way to advance a faith or a political agenda. Cursing, slapping and lying becoming accepted ways to earn leadership. Deception becoming par for the course in the affairs of government. Religions creating God in their own images, rather than letting God create them in the image of God. The ugly had become beautiful. And beauty buried into insignificance. Our institutions of learning and of faith, our schools, churches, temples, and mosques, apparently falling short, way short, of building a society that upholds human dignity, integrity and value for life and rights.
Yet, in all these, we remember Nehemiah. In the good life of being in the court of a king, in bad circumstance of being an exile, and in an ugly situation of indentured servitude, he committed to be with God and return to where God dwells. He committed to make God a first in his life, and did God’s work. He prevailed and succeeded. He leapt free and went beyond the good, bad and ugly things in his life and proceeded to rebuild the city of his God. He restored his people into fellowship with each other and with God. And he pleased God.
You see, friends, it is not and never the circumstances in our lives that really matter. What matters most – what really matters – is that we hold on to God and see God in each and every situation in our lives. The good, bad and ugly will always be there, in the year about to pass and the year about to begin. But life’s victory – our victory – will not be because of the good, bad and ugly things that happen to us. It is and will always be about God, about who our God is, about how we see God behind everything in our life. It is about the intensity of our trust that beyond what we see, beyond our keen and ken, there is God, always
In exile or domicile, in happiness or hopelessness, in the good, bad and ugly, yesterday, today or tomorrow, what really matters is God, nothing and no one else. What matters most is that we are “where God’s name dwells,” at all times, every time.
Next year after midnight tonight, we begin our celebration of the centennial of our church. It’s been a hundred years since Silliman have had in our campus a church ministry for all in Silliman who come to learn the wonders of God’s world, hear the wisdom of God’s word, and heal the wounds of God’s people and earth. Ours is an inclusive church. Its doors are open to everyone. And it is a church that by history and tradition has been always willing to fellowship with all and anyone who recognizes God as the sole animating cause for our worship. It is a church that worships God, not worship how we worship God.
We’ll also be celebrating 100 years of Silliman High School, and 50 years of our College of Mass Communications. These two institutions have been tremendous blessings to our University, our country, people, and to many in Silliman.
But, too, our church, High School, and College of Mass Communications, in the past or next fifty or hundred years, have had (and will always have) their good, bad and ugly moments. My prayer – and may it be all our prayers – is that the good, bad and ugly of our church, High School, College of Mass Communications, and all in our University, will not hinder us and never stop us from sticking to God and celebrating the mementos of our history and of our faith. Let us keep being with God and dedicating ourselves to doing God’s work because in rubbles or ruins, in exile or remaining home, in good, bad and ugly times or circumstances, God’s name dwells here in our church, our High School, College of Mass Communication, and everywhere in Silliman. We must keep building, rebuilding and building up our church and all and each one in our University because God’s name is etched deeply in our walls and traditions. God’s name dwells here!
We celebrate tonight a year about to pass and a year about to begin. And we celebrate beautiful legacies of our University. But we celebrate not because of the good, bad and ugly things about them, but because God is Immanuel and is here among us. We ce;ebrate because despite anything and everything, God’s name dwells here!
We celebrate because Jesus Christ is alive and real. We celebrate because in Silliman, Jesus Christ is Via, Veritas, Vita.
It is, has always been, and must be, always.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.