This week I visited a lady at a nursing home whom I had never met before.  She is about 20 years older than I, and it sounded like she had been a resident of the home for a good many years.  She was confined to a wheelchair and spoke with a voice so soft I struggled to hear many of her words.  It sounded like she said that she had no family around who visited her.  She had called a church asking for a pastor to visit, so I stopped by.  As I exited the home, I praised God for her cheerful disposition that did not seem to have been dampened in the least by her struggles.
Earlier that same day word came out that CUAA (Concordia University Ann Arbor) is facing some major challenges.  Since then social media, our District President, and countless others have been calling for prayers and additional efforts to overcome the sudden struggle.  Just this past year we attended my 50th class reunion from that institution (it was a Junior College back then), so this struggle hits me even closer to home.
That same day marked one year since I retired.  Saint Thomas’ most recent call was declined.  I have not kept track of how many declinations that is, but, with the great clergy shortage in our denomination (and many others), their struggle is not unique.  In our same Circuit one other congregation is looking to share pastors with another because the one is not large enough to afford their own.  The pastor at another congregation that may be even smaller has accepted a call and will be leaving in April.  And one more has decided to sell their building while they pray about their future.  That makes four out of the eight congregations in my Circuit (I am the Circuit Visitor) that are currently facing struggles.
And this, I know, is just a small sample of the struggles people in our community – and the
Thursday’s Thirst audience – face.  Yesterday I visited someone recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer – her first chemo treatment is today.  I suggest that you pause right now in your reading to say a prayer for everyone you know who is struggling … and, as I well understand, you might have your own name on the top of the list.
However, I want you to know that all is not lost in God’s kingdom.  Some 700 years before the nativity of our Lord it was prophesied, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11.1-2)  Then 300 years later God’s people entered into a 400-year period of silence while God did not send a single prophet  to his people.  Yet, the promise (or should I say God, the promise maker) held true.  Jesus was born … fulfilling this and many other promises … all focusing upon God providing deliverance from all struggles.  And, lest you think Isaiah was a bit short-sighted in just looking ahead 700 years, he goes on in that same chapter to say, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11.6-9)  These words, obviously, speak of a future day … yet are just as true as every other Word of our God.
If this word of encouragement is a little too “distant” please allow me to give you a little, yet significant, sign of hope I have recently seen.  We live in an era where many people of my generation are lamenting what they see in our church and world … and seem to conclude that, especially as they look at the youth of our day, there is little hope.  But allow me to tell you a little story.  Over ten years ago I stepped down from a District position I had held for many years to focus extra time on “figuring out and connecting to” those in their 20’s and 30’s.  Within just the past two months I have had significant contact (that they initiated) with at least a half dozen of those I was able to spend time with.  And let me assure you, God is at work in that generation.  The church or the world may not look the same as it did in 1970, but the Gospel’s power is not diminished.
I think the author of Psalm 146 has the right idea:  “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on the very day his plans perish.  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.  The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations.”  (Psalm 146.3-10)

And I suggest we keep these words in the front (not the back) of our minds as we struggle and lament, as we pray and encourage … whether the concern is over future generations or the current political scene, or whatever.  God is faithful.  We are his forever … AND NOW.  “Father, thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” … in times of struggle and success … and whatever tomorrow brings.Life IS good in Christ … YES HE IS!