We need (to be) a sign!

Bud Reeves

Bud Reeves

By William O. “Bud” Reeves
Special Contributor

This summer I have been preaching a series on heroes of faith out of the Old Testament. It has been fun to re-tell these great stories and to find that they are still surprisingly relevant to our faith journey today.

Recently I revisited the story of Gideon in Judges 6-8. Gideon was empowered by miraculous signs to lead the Israelites to victory over the Midianites. It is actually quite an entertaining story.

Gideon came along providentially in the sermon series when the cultural signs had been particularly bad. We were still recovering from the heartbreak of the Orlando mass shooting in the gay nightclub. That week, young black men had been shot by police in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, sparking nationwide protests. In Dallas, a gunman purposely killed five police officers in retaliation. (Since then, a similar killing of police has happened in Baton Rouge.) Signs abounded of our division, hatred, prejudice and inability to stop violence in our streets.

But there were other signs, too. For the most part, protests against police violence were peaceful. The deaths in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas called forth nationwide prayer and support for the victims of violence. People of faith of all colors reached out to both minorities and police. Praying people filled the altar rails of many churches that Sunday. It was a heartening thing to see.

God still gives signs in the midst of trouble, even as God did for Gideon long ago. It’s easy to see the bad signs, but if we look with the eyes of faith, we can see God’s signs of hope in every direction. Look around you, and see the impactful ministries of the church. People are still showing up every week to worship God. We are discipling children and youth, helping the needy, advocating for peace. It’s a sign!

Look within, and know the presence of the living God. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, heirs of eternal life. We are still in God’s hand. Our experience of heartfelt faith is a sign.

Look beyond the walls of the church into the communities where we live. Hasn’t God given us an awesome mission field? The opportunities abound to make a difference, and each opportunity is a sign that God has work for us to do. The problems and pains and wounds of this world are a call not to despair, but to action.

Most of all, look to Jesus. He is the sign that God loves us sinners, and God will not give up on us. His name, “Emmanuel,” means God is with us, and his cross and resurrection are the ultimate signs that no matter how bad the problem or how sad the tragedy, we will have the victory, in this world and the next.

If we look, we can see the signs. If we see the signs, we can follow the way. The signs point away from prejudice, fear, hatred, and violence and toward love, grace, mercy, peace and community. Jesus told his disciples, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). It doesn’t do any good to see the signs if you don’t follow them.

If we follow the signs of hope that we see by faith, we will become a sign of God in the world. Encouraged by signs from God, Gideon became the sign of God’s power to defeat the enemy and restore the reign of peace. Jesus was the incarnation, the embodiment, of God’s grace and truth, and he became the sign of salvation for anyone who turns to him. Individual Christians and churches can become signs in a lost, broken and hurting world that God is still at work. God offers an alternative to the destructive path we are traveling.

We need some signs today! We need disciples and communities of faith who will live the way Jesus taught and communicate the love, grace, peace, joy and hope of Jesus in this crazy, sad, sick world.

Somebody’s got to show the way, and that somebody would be us.

See the signs. Follow the signs. Become the signs of the Kingdom.

The Rev. Dr. Reeves serves as senior pastor of First UMC Fort Smith. Email: breeves@arumc.org.