Our Lord, who came to save the world, could not minister to everyone. As you and I look at the needs of the world--six billion people, many of whom are perishing daily--we are overwhelmed. We want to help, but we hardly know where to begin or where to stop. The temptation is to despair, wring our hands and feel that anything we might do would be of little or no significance. This is not true. There is truth in the old song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are." Reach out to the hurt nearest and most urgent. Find out where your ability and the world's need intersect. This is where you are most needed and can do the most good.
When I was growing up our family went to Cape Cod on vacation. I was walking on the beach one morning and saw a man picking up star fish on a beach and throwing them back into the ocean one by one. I decided to interrupt the man and ask him “What are you doing?” He actually stopped and answered a teenager.
"Hopefully, I can save them from dying in some shell hunter's collection." Now, it was not possible for him to retrieve them all, but he was giving the ones he could reach another chance to live. Our family returned to the Cape every year for vacation and for years and I remembered that man. I came to believe that he cared for the small, the vulnerable, the lost ones, the failures in life, whether they be fish or human beings.
The God we have come to know and love in Jesus Christ is like the starfish thrower. Thomas Merton calls it "Mercy within Mercy within Mercy." Did not Jesus say, "Inasmuch as you've done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me"?
Jesus went hastening with Jairus to his home and was interrupted again this time not nearly so noticeably but stealthily, in fact. From behind, Jesus feels the flick of fingers on the fringe of his outer garment. He stopped and asked his disciples, "Who touched my clothes?" The disciples all but laughed and said, "You see the crowd pushing in on you and you ask who touched you?" I think they may also have added, "Besides, you've got urgent work to do for one of the leaders of the town. Let's be on with it."
But Jesus would not be deterred. He looked all around to see who had touched him, and a woman apparently in her middle years came forward, fell at his feet, and told him the whole truth. She had a chronic illness, a debilitating disease, suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had been to many physicians, spent all she had and was no better. She was worse, in fact. You see, we moderns are not the first to have sought medical care with considerable frustration. She had heard about the wonderful things this itinerant rabbi from Galilee was doing, and she was determined to touch the tassel of his robe in hope of a cure. That was a superstition in that day. If one could but touch the garment of a holy person, one might be cured. And now she had experienced healing. Nobody else would even speak to her openly. She was ceremonially unclean because of her blood flow. But Jesus expressed affection to her! He called her, "Daughter," and said, "Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease." In other words, it wasn't touching his robe, but her faith that did it.
A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, slithering through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ concentrated for a brief moment in her. Mark Guy Pierce says, "In that instant she went from 'nobody to somebody to everybody.'"
Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine affirmed that God loves each of us as if we were the only person on earth, yet God loves all as God loves each. There's no one on earth today that God loves any more than God loves you, nor is there anyone God loves any less than God loves you. That realization certainly gives us assurance about our own well being; and, hopefully, it gives us greater concern for others.
One more thing: There is an "aha!" aspect to this narrative that ought to grab us all. Here is faith at its finest. This poor woman never gave up hope. At last, she had heard about Jesus of Nazareth and the wonderful things he was doing, the difference he was making in people's lives. She sought him out and acted on her belief. She was wrong about the robe, but she was right about reaching out to Christ in total commitment. Such wholeness as she experienced is God's gift to all who seek him in sincerity and in truth.
Let us pray.
Loving God, in your majesty you number the stars in the heavens; and in your mercy, you heal the broken hearts of earth. In Jesus you entered our human estate as a helpless infant. You have borne our mortal flesh and are acquainted with our grief. You are ever present with us to comfort and uphold. Sensitize us to the hurt of individuals all around us. Use us as instruments of your mercy in a world full of loneliness and misery. Help us to bear one anothers burdens and so fulfill your long love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I have been blessed many times by God and his people during my life. I have unfortunately spent a lot of my time hiding my gifts in the closet and not allowing God to best utilize my talents. “Here I am Lord, send me” was something I never thought I would say, let alone mean.
Then I was called to the Priesthood and God pointed out, “To whom much is given, much is asked.” “You’ll never know that Jesus is all that you need until Jesus is all that you have.” You of all people should have realized that fact since you have been there. When you felt all alone in your life’s struggles, you found refuge in God’s presence. You found comfort in his people and through your life experiences you can help others. I waved a white flag. “Here I am Lord, Send me!”
In the material provided by the world church this week is the question, “Do you allow culture to influence how you see Jesus, or do you give the time to develop a personal and intimate connection with Christ that defines who Christ is in your life?”
Culture is defined by Webster as the refinement of intellectual and artistic taste. I ask you, “How many of you view yourself as a refinement of intellectual and artistic taste?” I certainly don’t view myself as such.
Culture and I have never been grouped in the same sentence before. I was 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds when I was 8 years old. I wore metal braces on my teeth for 4 plus years in junior and senior high school which upon occasions picked up local radio stations. When I was on stage calling square dances, instead of “Swing Your Partner” coming over the microphone, I’d have, “Here is the Windup and the pitch…” That isn’t the way Webster defines culture, is it? It is a good thing that God doesn’t judge by appearances.
1st Samuel Chapter 16 Verse 7 --The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the same things man look at. Man looks at the outside appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
When people judge by outward appearances, they may overlook quality individuals who lack the particular physical qualities society currently admires. Appearances don’t usually reveal what people are really like or what their true value is.
God judges by faith and character, not by appearance. God is the only one who can see inside to your soul. God is the only one who can accurately judge people. Most people spend way too much time maintaining their outward appearance and not enough time developing their inner character. While everyone can see your face, only God and you know what your heart really looks like. If you are honest with yourselves and you are not allowing culture to influence you, then this scripture might make some sense.
1st Corinthians Chapter 1 Verse 26-28--Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards: not many were influential: not many were of noble birth. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise: God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things---and the things that are not ---to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
I don’t think that all the parables or teaching stories that appear in the Bible actually make sense on first reading. This scripture actually seems to imply that Christianity is against rational thinking? We know that it isn’t true because Christians clearly do believe in using their minds to weigh the evidence and make wise choices. The scripture is declaring that no amount of human knowledge can replace or bypass Christ’s work on the cross. If it could, Christ would only be accessible to the intellectually gifted and well educated and not to ordinary people or to children. Sometimes we lose focus on God as we focus on our sufferings.
1st Peter Chapter 5 Verses 8 & 9---Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone or something to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Lions attack sick, young or straggling animals; they choose victims who are alone or not alert. Feeling alone, weak, helpless and cut off from other believers, we can become so focused on our troubles that we become vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. During your struggling times turn to other Christians for support. Focus your eyes on Christ and the Devil will flee from you. (James 4 Verse 7)
I can almost hear some of you saying, “This isn’t hard. I don’t allow culture to be a big influence in my life. I can be a disciple without too much effort. Watch out! At some point in your life you are going to have an “Ah-Ha” moment. If your heart is in the right condition, God isn’t going to let you hide in the closet forever. He will ask you for some help in building Zion.
John 20 Verse 19 & 22---On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
This may have been a special filling of the Holy Spirit for the disciples, a foretaste of what all believers experience from the time of Pentecost (Acts 2) and forever after. To do God’s work, we need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. We must avoid trying to do his work in our own strength. There is life in the breath of God. Man was created but did not come alive until God breathed into him the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) God’s first breath made man different from all other forms of creation. Now, through the breath of Jesus, God imparted eternal spiritual life. With this breath came the power to do God’s will on earth.
John 10 Verse 27-30---My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life: and they shall never perish: no one can snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all: no one can snatch them out of my father’s hand. I and my father are one.
Just as a shepherd protects his sheep, Jesus protects his people from eternal harm. While believers can expect to suffer on earth, Satan cannot harm their souls or take away their eternal life with God. There are many reasons to be afraid here on earth because this is the devils domain. If you choose to follow Jesus, he will give you everlasting safety.
I and my father are one.—this is the clearest statement of Jesus’ divinity that he ever made. Jesus and his father is not the same person, but they are one in essence and nature. Thus Jesus is not merely a good teacher. He is God. His claim to be God was unmistakable... The religious leaders wanted to kill him because the laws stated that anyone claiming to be God should die. Nothing could persuade them that Jesus claim was true.
There have been times in my life when I have actually started to wonder if maybe God has forgotten where the Orr family lives. In our younger days we moved so much that I told someone we didn’t have a star at the top of our Christmas tree. We had a GPS so Santa Clause would be able to find us. But then I remember this scripture.
Romans 8 Verses 38 & 39---For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These verses contain one of the most comforting promises in all of the Scriptures. Believers have always had to face hardships in many forms: persecution, illness, imprisonment, even death. These hardships could cause us to fear that we have been abandoned by Christ.
The Scriptures exclaim that it is impossible to be separated from Christ. His death for us is proof of his unconquerable love. Nothing can stop Christ’s constant presence with us. God tells us how great his love is so that we will feel totally secure in him. If we believe these overwhelming assurances, we will not be afraid. Then we need to remember who has helped us deal with our struggles.
Psalm 18 Verses 47—49---He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies. You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me. Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord: I will sing praises to your name.
David did not attribute his victories to himself. He fully realized that the purpose of his position was to bless God’s people. (1 Chronicles 14:2)
To those of you who are wondering what my “Ah-Ha!” moment was, ask me again on another day when we both have some extra time and a big pitcher of iced tea to share. Be prepared! I have things that I will want to ask you as well.
Once you realize that you are a “Work in Progress” in God’s World you should just relax and listen for what God is trying to tell you. Having to go through life once is hard. Twice is almost impossible. As most of you know my earthly father and I almost didn’t figure how to talk to each other.
For 25 years feelings were not discussed between us. “Hi, how are you?’ “Fine!” and we went on our way. Love was a four letter word that we both seemed to regard the same way. Mom would wash our mouths out with soap just as if we had used “HE—(double hockey sticks)
Then we both had an epiphany and I was able to learn why our relationship had been so rough over the years. He died suddenly and as the eldest son I was faced with doing the Eulogy. I didn’t think much about it. I expected no more than 24 people in attendance. I was astonished by the fact that the parking lot was full. As I stood up, looking out over the throng, I remember thinking “Lord, please help me!” When I finished, I noticed that you could have heard a pin drop. I felt two pairs of hands on my shoulders, one on each one. In unison I heard “My son, with you I am well pleased” A peace came over me as I knew my father was in a better place. This is one of the moments in my life that defines who Christ is in my life. Whom do you say that I am?
A life offered to Jesus will not be subject to the hunger pains of materialism or the stomach growls of self-indulgence. Jesus offers the alternative to food that is fast. He offers food that lasts. John Chapter 6 verse 27 states (I am paraphrasing) “Don't sweat yourself with food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." In other words, the things of this world have a shelf life, but the fruits of the word have eternal life. They last long after the service, after the marriage, after the celebration. This food lasts during the storms of life. This food sustains us from generation to generation. I believe that there is no expiration date on God's "let there be." If we believe in God and that God sent God's Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life, if we believe that, why are we still hungry? What do we really want? What do you want?
I believe this text leaps out to tell us God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need. We may want to be seen, but we need to know that we are seen. David said in Psalm 139, "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away." How is that for being seen? How is that for being known? Who else could handle knowing that much about us and still love us?
There was a young man and his sister, who went to visit their aunt during the summer. They were playing in the back yard under the watchful eyes of his aunt, and he was playing with a slingshot. He shot his aunt’s only duck. The duck died. His sister noticed, but his aunt did not or he thought she did not. In addition, after that, the aunt called them in for lunch, and they ate a nice, healthy lunch that she had fixed; and at the end of lunch, his aunt said to his sister, "Why don't you wash the dishes?" And she said, "Oh, no, my brother will gladly wash the dishes!" And he said, "I didn't say that!" She said, "Don't forget the duck. Don't forget the duck!" Therefore, he went on to wash the dishes. And after washing the dishes, aunt said, "Sadie, why don't you sweep up the kitchen?" And Sadie said, "Oh, I don't want to do that right now. My brother will be glad to do that “He said, "I didn't say I would do that." She said, "Don't forget the duck!" Finally, the young fellow had had enough, and he went to his aunt and said, “I want to confess something. I shot your duck today with my slingshot, and she has been blackmailing me with this 'don't forget the duck.'" She said, "Baby, Baby, I saw it. I was just wondering how long you were going to allow her to make a fool out of you about the duck."
Therefore, it is with some of us. We allow the past and other things to make us forget that God provides through Jesus when we are in need, not what we want but what we need.
Secondly, the text also tells us that God's promise can sustain us through all times. David again comes to tell us in Psalm 34, "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth." The people tell Jesus in verse 31, "Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness as it is written." Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven, for the bread of heaven is that which comes down and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Looking out at my backyard during the fall, I noticed the leaves falling while the tree branches remained stretching heavenward--not only did they remain that way after the leaves were gone, but when the snows came and the often brutal winds of Pittsburgh seemed to bend them into submission. But in the spring the trees seemed to speak to me saying, "Notice that we kept our branches lifted towards where our help comes from." To me it seemed that they praised God with or without leaves, as if they knew that keeping their branches up was a means of patient waiting faith, and it was in the spring when the buds appeared on their branches that those trees seemed to say to me, "We told you. We told you that our help comes from above."
So not only does this text tell us that God provides through Jesus not what we want but what we need and that God's promise can sustain us through all times, but, finally, the text tells us God's presence through Jesus allows us room to grow in grace.
God greets us each morning with a sunrise greeting and each evening with a sunset closing. Knowing that makes us teachable students aware of an all-knowing God. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
God, we thank You for your amazing, abundant grace that supplies us in times of need. Help us to know that You are always watching and always providing. Let Your word go forth and find fertile souls, listening ears, and hearing hearts. In addition, we will be careful always to praise You. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.
Our faith believes that God calls us into a community where each accepts the other as God has accepted all. We are a community of faith, whose climate is controlled by the warm and welcoming love of God. No one will experience rejection. I saw a Church sign catalogue the other day that carried the following mission statement that says it all ~ WE AGREE TO DIFFER ~ WE RESOLVE TO LOVE ~ WE UNITE TO SERVE! As the gap between church and culture widens, we need congregations marked not so much by standing committees as support groups where each is accepted by another as all have been accepted by God.
I read this story recently. It is good news for all who have experienced rejection. It is not the equivalent to a parable but its close. A family is out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. It is a pleasant day as they leisurely motor along a country road. Suddenly the two children strapped in the back seat shout at the driver. "Daddy, Daddy, stop the car. There's a kitten back there on the side of the road."
The driver pretends not to hear. "Daddy, you must stop and pick it up." "No, I don't have to stop and pick it up." "But Daddy, if you don't it will die." "Well, then it will have to die. The last thing we need is another scrounge animal around the house. No more animals! We are not a zoo." "But Daddy, are you going to just let it die?" "Quiet children, and look at the beautiful scenery." "Mommy, we never thought our Daddy could be so mean and cruel to let a little kitten die." She turns to her husband and says, "Dear, I think we should go back." He turns around in a huff and eventually pulls off on the side of the road. "You kids stay in the car ~ I'll take a look." He stoops to lift the little kitten. The mangy creature is just skin and bones, sore-eyed and full of fleas. When he reaches down to pick it up, with its last bit of energy the kitten bristles, baring tooth and claw. Ssst! He grabs the ingrate by the scruff of the neck and carries it back to the car. "Don't touch it he warns - it probably has leprosy." Back home they go in silence.
When they arrive the children give the kitten several baths, about a gallon of warm milk and then plead, "Can we let it stay in the house just for tonight? Tomorrow we'll fix a place in the garage." "Sure, the father mutters, be my guest, use my bedroom; I told you this place was a zoo." They fix a comfortable bed fit for a queen.
Several weeks pass. Then one day the father walks in, feels something rub against his leg, looks down and there is the cat. He reaches down carefully checking to see that no one is watching. When the cat sees his hand, it does not bare its claws and hiss; instead, it arches its back to receive a caress. Is that the same cat? No. It is not that same frightened, hurt, hissing creature on the side of the road. Of course not! Moreover, you know as well as I do what made the difference.
Long ago, there was another man who stretched out his hands to bless us and lift us. He did it for all who have been rejected ~ for all refugees by the roadside of life ~ for all who are hurt, hungry and ready to lash out.
Look at his face ~ look at the wounded hands ~ there are even holes ~ they are bleeding. Such are the hands of the Savior ~ the hands of love and acceptance ~ extended this day to all who feel rejected.
There is an interesting Bible story in 1 Kings 18 and 19 about the irritable prophet Elijah, Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal that may shed some light on this. In brief, the story unfolds like this:
A foreign queen, Jezebel, had married Ahab, the king of Israel. She brought with her hundreds of prophets of Baal, a pagan god. And when she arrived in Israel, she tried to establish a mission there and was doing a good job of it. Jezebel was a conniving, mean woman. Ahab was a weak king, and things were not working very well for him or Israel or the God of Israel.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. It was a winner-take-all contest. They went to Mount Carmel and built two altars, one to Baal and one to Jehovah. The rules were that the prophets of Baal would sacrifice the bull and do their thing, and then Elijah would do the same on the altar to Jehovah. The god who brought the fire to the altar would be the god that Israel would worship.
So the 450 pagan preachers did their thing -- they beat their drums, they prayed, they danced, they called on Baal, but nothing happened; and, finally, they gave up. Then it was Elijah's turn. He put the sacrifice on the altar and poured buckets of water over it to demonstrate his confidence in God's power. He prayed and God sent the fire that consumed the sacrifice. Jehovah was obviously the victor. Then he killed the 450 priests of Baal. When Jezebel received word of this, she was furious and sent word to Elijah that she would have someone do the same to him.
Now here was a man who had scored the greatest victory of his life. He had called down fire, embarrassed the opposition, and had 450 pagan priests killed. He was riding high, and all of a sudden, one word from a defiant queen sent chills up and down his spine. So what did he do? He started running because he was afraid of Jezebel. This happened in northern Israel, and he ran past Jezebel and got all the way to Beersheba to the south. And he was so exhausted that he collapsed.
Then God sent an angel to him in the night. The angel said, "Arise and eat." The angel said that to him twice and then fed him. Elijah got up, took care of his body, and then he was instructed to go down to Mount Sinai, about another 150 miles. When he arrived there, he still wasn't relieved of his fear and depression. He stood in the mouth of the cave and watched the lightning and the storms. God wasn't there, he determined. Then he heard God in a still, small voice say, "Go back to Israel by the way of Damascus. Anoint Elisha to follow you. There are 7,000 people waiting for you to come. They are the people of God who have remained faithful."
I have told you the story, painting a verbal canvas for you. Now let's pull out the three pegs to hang the lesson on. This will help us when we are pursued by the "black dog."
Remember, the first thing God said to Elijah was "get up." In a sense, take care of yourself. I will guarantee you this: If you want to be depressed, the first step on the road to depression is to let your body get depleted.
Elijah had neglected to take care of himself physically and this had resulted in an emotional collapse. Body and soul are connected as one, and when we neglect self-care, the fog rolls in, the "black dog" advances.
The Greeks convinced us that we are divided into soul and body. Our experience of life and the Hebrew Scripture show us that we are one. The body must be cared for in order to prevent the "black dog" of depression from overtaking us. So, get up and take care of yourself: Eat, sleep and exercise.
Next Elijah, standing in the mouth of the cave at Sinai, realized that God spoke in the still small voice - not the earthquake - wind and fire. And he began to reestablish his relationship with God. This prevented the "black dog" from overtaking him. So, look up. God loves us, even when dark moods overtake us and God is speaking quietly.
Finally, God makes it clear to Elijah that he was not alone. Dark moods, depression, the "black dog" make us feel that we are one against the world. God reminds Elijah that there are 7,000 in Israel who are still loyal to their God, and he is to link up with them. When the dark moods overtake us, we need other people.
Our faith is a plural faith. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together, I'll be with them." It is not a singular faith as reflected in the country-western song "Me and Jesus, We'll Get By." We are not complete without our Christian family. To beat away the "black dog," we must link up.
Elijah gives us a clear path to surviving when the "black dog" is after us: Get up, look up, and link up.
And let's remember that we can act our way into a new way of feeling easier than we can feel our way into a new way of acting.
Let us pray. Eternal God, let us not be controlled by our moods, but let us be controlled by your Word. In the name of Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
My mother taught me how to do laundry. I was with her when she did mine, and she showed me how to sort my clothes and how to use the machine. I'd seen it done several times, and she even walked me through the steps so I could do it myself.
My laundry was piling up. "Mom, I need my clothes washed." "Okay, go wash them." I did the smell test on a few shirts. I thought I could last a bit longer, at least until Saturday when my mom would be home all day.
"Mom, I have no clean clothes for church tomorrow." That will get her to do my laundry, throw the whole can't-go-to-church-without-clothes bit in. "Okay, well the laundry machine is free."
I didn't want to do my laundry. I wanted Mom to do my laundry. Maybe I was scared I'd ruin my clothes. Maybe I didn't trust I really knew what I was doing and would ruin the machine. Maybe I just didn't want to have to do it myself when there was someone else perfectly capable of doing a good job of it. "But you're my mother. You're supposed to do my laundry for me." "No, I'm your mother. I'm supposed to teach you how to do your laundry because I won't always be here to do it for you."
The disciples, commissioned by the Son of God to cast out demons, cannot or will not, rebuke the wind and the waves of the demonic sea. Did you notice they don't even try? They're too busy calming themselves to calm the storm. They're too busy casting out the water in their own boat to cast out the demons around it. "Jesus is in the back of the boat. He'll save us."
It's not the last time they fail in this way. When Jesus descends from the Mount of Transfiguration, he meets a distraught father whose son is possessed. The commissioned disciples cannot cast out the demon, so Jesus, again, laments their lack of faith and rebukes the demon. The disciples know Jesus can cast out demons. They have faith in him. They've seen it time and time again. They just don't know they can, or they aren't willing to.
You disciples of little faith, you believe in Jesus enough to leave everything behind and follow him. You trust Jesus with your lives, you trust in his words, and you trust in his power, but you don't trust in his power in you.
Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, which means he believes they have what it takes to be like him. He gives them power to proclaim the good news, to cast out demons, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1). He even tells them that the gates of hell cannot overcome them, but they are still afraid.
In Matthew 14, when Jesus comes to the disciples over the water, striding across the demonic boundary, he tells them, “Do not be afraid”. Peter, bless his heart, tries to trust in the power and promises of Christ to him and he walks out onto the water. He trusts that if Jesus says he can do it, then he can do it. He trusts the power and the promise that the gates of hell cannot overcome him, but the demons of the sea begin to stir again. He begins to fear. Fear causes doubts, and he doubts the power in him that is strong enough to stand amidst and atop the forces of evil. So he begins to sink. "Ye of little faith," says Jesus. "Why did you doubt?"
Peter doesn't doubt Jesus' power to stand on the swirling sea. He doubts his own. Ye of little faith.
We of little faith. Why do we doubt? We believe in Jesus enough to worship him. We trust him with our lives, we trust in his words and his power to bring life and to cast out sin and death, but we don't trust in his power in us.
We are given the power to cast out demons, but we stand trembling in their midst instead of rebuking them. We stand on the shore, fearing the storm that's sure to brew if we try to cross to the other side with the love of God because "those" people on "that" side are not worthy or deserving of the love of Christ, or so we're led to believe. Will we weather the storm if we try to cross that boundary? Maybe it's just best to stay on dry land.
We of little faith, why are we so afraid?
Every day, I see another panic-filled article about the decline and death of the church. We're terrified the church isn't going to survive the storm. We look around for Jesus and wonder if the church is going to die while he's napping. Doesn't he know that membership is down? Doesn't he know the budget is broken? Doesn't he know we're taking on water? He knows our prisons are too full and children's stomachs are too empty. He knows we craft laws that protect our right to discriminate while there aren't enough laws to protect abused women and children. He knows exactly the toll of the storm.
I'm not sure we do. We're too busy trying to calm ourselves to calm the wind and the waves that batter people's lives. We don't believe we have the power to stand above the forces of prejudice, hatred, bigotry, violence, abuse, and terror. So we do not stand. We do not rebuke. Instead, we huddle down in the bottom of our boats and watch the squall through stained glass. What else can we do?
"We're just disciples in a boat," we say. We follow. We worship and we sing and pray. That's all. He chose us for this, to be his church: his singing, praying, and preaching church. If a storm comes up that keeps us from going to the other side, well, then it's up to Jesus to calm that storm if that's where he wants us to go."
Is that faith? Jesus doesn't call his disciples to merely follow. He calls them to lead, to heal, to proclaim, and to cast out. He asks them to have faith in the power he promises and the work he commissions them to do for the Kingdom of God, whether that is spreading some seed and letting the power of God go to work while they sleep, or rebuking demons and watching the power of God go to work while he sleeps. Faith is trusting that the power of God is always at work, in Christ, in the church, and in
Christ calls and commissions the church to be exorcists of the demons and healers of the sicknesses that plague our communities. Is there discrimination? Cast it out. Is there division? Heal it. Are there painful words? Rebuke them. Are there broken hearts? Bind them. Are there storms that would keep us from proclaiming that nothing can separate us from the love of God? Silence them.
"But isn't that Jesus' job? What is he doing while all this hurt, pain, and division are happening? If he wants us to go to the other side, he ought to make sure we can get there! Is he asleep at the right hand of the Father? Jesus should rebuke the demons. He should calm things down. Why is he silent in the midst of this storm? Why won't he do anything?"
There's a comic strip called B.C. that chronicles the humorous everyday lives of two cavemen, because what else would cavemen's lives be if not humorous? A few years ago, there was a strip in which two cavemen are sitting together under the night sky, when one says, "Sometimes I want to ask God why God lets so many bad things happen in the world." The other asks, "Why don't you?" "Because I'm afraid God would ask me the same question."
When the disciples told Jesus the crowd who had been following him was hungry and had nothing to eat Jesus said, "You feed them." They took what little there was available, five loaves and two fish, and began to pass baskets around to the crowd until everyone had had their fill.
Did the disciples feed that crowd or did Jesus? The answer, of course, is yes.
Please join me in prayer. Almighty God, You are powerful, and You never sleep nor do You slumber. You are here with us, and You give us power to do great things. Help us to use the power that You give to work with You, to bring hope and peace and joy and love to this broken world where demons still run amok. Help us to cast them out and proclaim the kingdom of God that is even now at hand. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.
When I was a young lad in Connecticut, my family attended the Congregational church. My mother was hired to play the piano for the Sunday services. My father attended simply because my mother obviously could not sit with us and tend to the squirmy trio of children. She came home one night after choir practice and told us about something new she had seen at the church. The church had renamed the Sunday school class. As she was leaving the church, she went by the classroom with the name on the door: "Tired Parents Class." I was a teen ager. It did not apply to me. Little did I know?
Fast-forward my life 50 years and I am starting to wonder if when I came to the fork in the road on the pathway of life if I took the wrong fork? Though change is constant in this old world, it seems as if change is coming at me with an ever-greater velocity. Parents or not...we are all tired. Often, it feels like we are no longer living the lives we have, but rather barely dealing with life as it comes at us.
I no sooner get used to my new cell phone or computer software or doctors on my insurance plan...and then the technology is out of date, my choices are no longer "supported," and the decisions I just made are as expired as a gallon of two-week old milk.
The evening news is no help. Instantly, we can feel the fear of Ebola or the rise and fall of the Stock Market or the spread of wars and rumors of wars from anywhere in the world. Just ask anyone, "How ya' doing?" and then listen for the word “overwhelmed”. It's like we are not so much living our lives, as it is that life is coming at us too fast to handle.
At this point, we encounter today's text in Mark's Gospel. It is "a day in the life" kind of story, and Jesus is the central figure. Within just a few verses, he bounces from need-to-need and place-to-place. The diary of his day could not be more jam-packed, even if he were a politician giving a stump speech at every whistle-stop. First, there is a high-profile synagogue situation; and that is followed by a personal encounter with a sick woman at her bedside; and that is followed by the private experience of prayer as Jesus steps aside for time alone with God. But then the disciples interrupt—(actually, the word means hunted him down) -- and the cycle reboots all over again
It is a hectic itinerary. However, maybe that is why it is in the Bible. This triptick of stories...one public, one personal, and one private...each invites us to eavesdrop on Jesus' spirituality...how he lived and the faith he practiced among the demands of an overwhelming world. Maybe in this story, Mark's church saw their own story as they tried to meet needs, deal with various venues of ministry...while at the same time tend their own spirituality which had drawn them to Jesus in the first place...that beautiful intersection of "the holy and the human."
Pastors and laypersons can appreciate the tension between "the external and the internal" or the choice between an action-oriented faith versus a contemplative one. I remember a transition point in my life in the early 1990's. I had lost my job, which had caused me to move to Pittsburgh. In Connecticut, I had been a bank vice president with 100 plus people working for me. I felt as if my battery had been drained. I will admit that there was some fear that, once again, my headlights would go dim under the shadow of the steeple.
So, I went to Tennessee to spend 90 days as a consultant to install computer systems. A southern drawl was hard to understand on the local TV station. I took some reading material with me; two books: a Bible and a historical fiction. These books were both judgment and grace; but most of all it was a call for balance. Action without contemplation is a ship without ballast; it is a set-up for sinking from disappointment. On the other hand, contemplation without action is inert; it needs interaction with the outer world to be fed and to feed. This balance is important...especially when it feels like life is coming at us at a high rate. I see this balance in the text. Here are two take-a ways I want to name:
First, if you live your life as a caring person, there will be pressure and tough choices. It happened to Jesus. It will happen to you. Do not be surprised. Spiritual maturity is rarely applauded for long.
Though every congregation is different, pastors and priesthood members have a lot in common. We hear stories at the sanctuary door--tales about inflamed gall bladders and graduation ceremonies--we attend committee meetings following worship, and we talk with the homeless person that has returned. Then there is the mid-afternoon hospital visit before the evening gathering. What a kaleidoscope!
However, it is not more so than being a parent. Between work and the kids' school and home management, life comes at you. For most, that is the landscape, and some terrains cannot be changed, but they can be accepted. That's number one. Here is number two: though we cannot stop life coming at us, we can attend to the life that is given us. This means attending to our relationship with God.
I do not want to get off on a rant here, but I never have liked the Apostle Paul's statement: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:22)." I affirm his honorable intention, as well as the noble need; but by Sunday night, it sounds like a grandiose recipe for burnout.
I much prefer the punch line of today's Hebrew Bible lectionary text. The poet/prophet Isaiah sings out:
Even youths will faint and be weary.
And the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
I suspect that is what Jesus was up to as he sequestered himself in a deserted place to pray. Perhaps by tending his prayer life, he found perspective above the fray...almost like the wings of an eagle, looking over the woes and foes of life.
The story ends with Jesus not following the advice of his wranglers. They had tracked him down, saying, "Everyone's looking for you!"
What a hook! If Jesus had not gotten his praying done, I wonder if the allure of pursuit or the price of fame could have done him in.
To his advisors, Jesus said, "Let's head in the other direction, to nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That's why I've come." Sounds to me he had the kind of clarity that comes out of one's deepest identity, which finds its source and sustenance in God.
Therefore, when life comes at you this week, you will be ready. You have paused, you have pondered, and you have prayed. You may be a tired parent or a tired pastor or both. In addition, yes, you have had to make tough choices, but you have tough faith. Even before the week begins, you have found a good place to remember: your life is grounded in the goodness of God.
Let us pray.
All-loving God, we give thanks that whatever terrain awaits us, you will meet us there and that will be enough. In the name of the one who came to dwell among us. Amen.
Friendship can be hard: Aristotle said, "The opposite of a friend is a flatterer," and Jesus would not flatter us or inflate our egos. However, He does offer friendship. No, that is not right. He simply declares you are His friend, like it or not, and irrespective of whether you have been a good friend in return or not. I am unsure how to picture this in my imagination, the way fans listening to Mel Allen (The Yankee announcer) describe Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig shaking hands at home plate or a Joe DiMaggio slide into second. I do think of a few, a very few old friends--which I can count on one hand with a leftover finger or two--historic friends, guys who knew me before I knew myself, who could care less if I am speaking on Day 1 or on a ham radio, who have stuck with me and always will, who would say words to me if I grew blind and could not see them, or if I had a stroke and could not speak in return. They have loved me and stuck with me and we are friends; and there really is nothing better than adult laughter.
I think there must be one other thing too. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this--to lay down his life for his friends." And we are hearing this said during the season of Easter; we know how the story ends, we know Jesus suffered terribly, but God could not leave his son, the one he'd loved, his friend, in the grave. How did the Father love Jesus? On the third day God raised him up--which really tells us less about some automatic destiny we might have after we die than about how magnificent God really is; and if we think about it, we fall down on our faces and we laugh, then we pick each other up and begin to sing some great chorus of praise to a God who loves like that. It is odd, but so hopeful, to hear what Jesus said the night before he was crucified and to hear it after Easter. Jesus' future invades that night, and the flicker of the candle really does banish the darkness. The disciples were not dying the next day--although they might have if they had been required to prove their friendship to Jesus. They simply are deemed friends; they have some number of years left on them, and the question Jesus knew they would harbor in their souls was, "So what do we do now that he's gone?" Remember that last night he said, "As the Father has loved me so I love you," and that he called us--US!--friends? What do we do now?"
Well, the answer is probably many things, and they are probably all really hard and scary. Nevertheless, to these friends, Jesus said, "Go and bear fruit." Go bear fruit. Where does one go to ‘bear fruit’? I mean, trees bear fruit, but they cannot go anywhere at all. Paul, who is another very pious guy who didn't "get" Jesus but was simply knighted as Jesus' friend, spoke of the "fruit of the Spirit." Not "the fruit of my good intentions" or "the fruit of my gritting my teeth and trying really hard." No, the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."
Not only are these not against the law. They are not the law! Paul does not say, "You must be patient or joyful." It is so American to feel like being good is up to us; I do it! I am good. Then God is pleased. However, Christians wiser than you and I, our friends who were brave and suffered for their faith and kept the Church alive through history, believed in what theologians call "Sanctification." I do not bear fruit, as I have no clue how to do such a thing. It is the Spirit who works in me. Yes, Jesus commanded things Jesus knew I was incapable of. He commanded love and fruit, knowing that I would never pull it off--but he did call me His friend knowing this about me. And so He must have had some strategy to make fruit happen in me, and in us; and it is the work of the Spirit, in Jesus' lingering, elusive, powerful presence surprising me, surprising us, surprising the world with a wobbly but very definite image of Jesus in the world after all these years. We are the Body of Christ, we are the friends of God, and then we discover the joy of that prayer we sing at Christmas: "Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there."
Fit us for heaven. I am not fit; we are not fit. So fit us for heaven. We will go and bear fruit, although if we go five inches from you, O Lord, the tree will die; so we will just be still and know that you are God and we aren't; and as we raise our arms in prayer and thanksgiving we notice, pulsating through us, some fruit, the love, the friendship, and it's happening, and nobody's more surprised than you and me, listening now, and our imaginations get dizzy with what is happening, or not happening, and it is all good, because it is all of God, and somebody out there who didn't care about God five minutes ago notices, and she raises her arms, and the fruit forms, she is loved as Jesus was loved, she's a friend, and together, side by side, absorbed in our common interest, we laugh, we sing, we sigh. We love. Amen.
Two men were walking the road to Emmaus. In some moments they may have spoken; in others they shared silence. They whispered the mourning of dreams lost. Jesus of Nazareth, whose wonders and works they had witnessed, was dead. He was the very embodiment of their hope, the center of their dreams, and it was all gone now.
A man joined them on their journey aware of their deep sadness. "What are you discussing as you walk along?" he questions them. Are you mad? Have you not heard what has occurred in Jerusalem? The men proceeded to pour the grief of their hearts and reminisce of miracles once wrought. Healings and renewal, hope born again in people's lives that have now come to naught. The miracle worker, the messiah is dead. And on top of that, his body is missing from his tomb! What good was it for them to dream again? What good was it for them to hope? Who would redeem Israel? Where is their future?!
The American church is changing; there is no doubt about that. Who we once were is no more. Buildings built for the glory of God and the service of man stand emptied with a few of the remnant faithful. Buoyed by tradition, others by faith some dare to dream of hope again. But the journey seems so dark and dreary. The good news seems like old news now, and headlines scream of the death of the mainline church. Statistics spout the decline of Christianity as we knew it. Our children and grandchildren see no use for the faith. How can we speak for hope on this journey? Are you crazy! Our journey is overshadowed by the darkness of that Friday.
The journey continued for those two men accompanied by the unnamed stranger, and for some reason the stranger spoke up! Oh how silly you people are! Was this not supposed to happen to fulfill the prophets? As they continued walking, this man interpreted to them all the things that had occurred regarding himself. They neared a village and the man was to continue on. Stay friend; they invited the stranger to sit with them. As he broke bread with them and as he blessed the bread, they came to their senses and recognized Christ was among them.
Friends, how easy it is for us to mourn "The church is dead" or so they say. The young adults are gone, so it is said. No one wants to come to “First you name it” church anymore. But an unnamed stranger appears among us saying death has not won, my friends.
Once a year a couple of hundred people gather at Temple Grove for a reunion. They proclaim the good news; gather in fellowship, and to return to the world reignited. Friends, death has not won. Hope is brimming across the church, and people are committing their lives to service and justice and equality and good news. In the reunion class rooms, young adults, older adults, and everybody in between, dream of their hope of the renewal of the church. The unnamed stranger is walking with us on our journey. Friday morning isn't quite the end of the tale.
I came to church a little earlier than normal today. I wanted some quiet time and no one else would be early I needed to remind myself that we were still a small congregation and the journey for that church was not over. We recognized that the God of all hope was with us.
Friends, there are new pathways to walk; the darkness of Calvary's cross is matched with the glory of Easter morn. The road forward may be filled with fear, but there is a table waiting ahead of us. And there seated at the table with all of God's creation is the unnamed stranger, and we will break bread with him and with each other, and we will say "were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?" And there at that table we will find strength for the journey, renewed with hope, to walk towards a new future together.
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