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By Our Love and Through His

(a sermon for May 2, 2021, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on John 13:31-35)

And Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” 

I guess that when it comes to the matter of living out of our Christian faith, that’s the bottom line, isn’t it; to love one another!  I mean, it doesn’t get much more direct than that; one doesn’t have to be wholly attuned to the nuances of scripture or Christian theology to understand that the pathway to righteousness, not to mention the mission of the church, is clear and concise: to love God and to love your neighbor; the rest, as they say, is commentary.  And in a life that’s so often filled with “grey areas,” I’ve got to tell you I’m grateful for that kind of black and white simplicity!  

And yet, is it really all that simple?  I’m reminded of that old Peanuts comic strip, in which Linus announces that when he grows up, he’s going to become a world-famous surgeon – a regular “M. Deity,” he says – only to have this dream shot down by his sister, Lucy, who says, “You’ll never be a world famous surgeon, because to be a world famous surgeon you have to love humanity and you don’t love humanity!”   And as Lucy walks away, Linus shouts back, “I do too love humanity… it’s people I can’t stand!” 

And that, friends, iswhere the simplicity of love becomes very complicated! 

As people of faith, we know the commandment to “love one another;” furthermore, we also understand that as believers, we ought to be shining examples of that particular pathway to righteousness!  And yet… if we’re being honest, we also have to confess that all too often the pathways we follow reveal more self-righteousness than anything else; indeed, in the places where love ought be taking root, things like ridicule and scorn, prejudice, derision and false pride – the stuff that chokes the life out of love – ends up spreading through our lives like so much pucker brush.

So, what’s the problem here?  Like I said before, we do know better; so why don’t we live it?  Is it because, like Linus, we’ve become so jaded with people that we’ve stopped believing that love ever works for the good?  Is it that somewhere in our lives we’ve been hurt by risking love, and as the saying goes, “once bitten, twice shy?”  Or could it be that somehow we’ve lost or forgotten what it truly means to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Well, this morning’s scripture reading offers some real insight into this.  As we pick up the story today from John, we’re actually back to the night of betrayal and desertion; Jesus is together with his disciples, and these are in fact among the very last words that Jesus will say to them, the last of his teachings, as it were:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” 

What’s interesting here is that this isn’t reallya new command, because the edict to love one’s neighbor dated back to the Old Testament; part of the Torah and as such, words that were familiar to the disciples and anyone else who’d grown up in the Jewish faith.  But what was new is what Jesus adds to it: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  In other words, love’s shape, form and function is to come from Jesus himself:  if you love one another in the same way that I have loved you, he says, all people will know that you are my disciples. 

I would submit to you this morning that this is precisely what we’ve forgotten!  In a culture where love gets reduced to shallow sentiment on the one extreme, and mere physical gratification on the other, here’s Jesus to remind us that real love has to do with living out of his love!  For the Christian, you see, there is a gold standard of love and that standard is Jesus.  If it’s true, as the song says, they’ll know we are Christians by our love, then it’s also true that everything we need to know about love, everything we have to do regarding love, and everything we should avoid because of love comes to us through Jesus, and by the example of his love.

Or to put it biblically, we love because he first loved us!

So the question becomes, how does Jesus love us?  What exactly is the example we’re called here to follow?  Well, that’s a big question with more answers than can easily be contained in a single sermon!  But for our purposes this morning I would like to offer up something of an overview: four spiritual truths about Jesus that not only tell us a great deal about how he loves, but also points us in the right direction in how we should love one another.

The first is this: Jesus loves us both universally and uniquely.

By this I mean that the same Jesus who took upon his own shoulders the burden of the world’s sin is also the Jesus who throughout the gospels never failed to focus on the particular and the unique in every person he encountered, from the Samaritan woman at the well, to the thief who was crucified beside him on the hill of Golgotha.  It’s interesting to note that Jesus once compared the people of Israel to a brood of chicks in need of God’s love, and yet he never yielded to the temptation to lump people into categories, or classes, or cliques; instead he always sought out the genuine and God-created uniqueness in every single person before him.

Likewise, that’s how we ought to be approaching others:  in the knowledge that we are each and all God’s children, each one created to bring something unique and special to God’s kingdom on earth.  If I’m going to love you as Jesus has loved me, I’m going to recognize that you are the same as me in every way that really counts; that you are created and loved by God, that you are claimed by the Christ who died to save you, and that you have a place beside me in the community of God’s people.  And it’s wonderful, all those things that make us one; but I also need to acknowledge that in a whole lot of ways you’re very different from me, and if I’m to truly love you as Jesus has loved me, then I want to know you for just exactly who you are; I want to find out what makes you tick, what fills you with joy, what challenges you and what the Lord has done for you. 

In one church I served, there was a little boy who every single Sunday after worship would come through the line and ask me if I knew his name!  At first, it was because quite honestly I was having a hard time keeping these kids’ names straight; hey, there were a lot of children in that Sunday school, and I get so bubble-headed sometimes I’ve been known to call my own kids by the wrong names!   And I need to add here that I got this little boy’s name right… eventually… but that didn’t stop him from asking week after week, and soon it became our own little private joke:  “Of course, I know who you are, Irving!  Or is it Schwartz?   Don’t tell me, it’s Fred Flintstone!”  It was important to him, you see, that I truly knew who he was; and it’s no different for any of us.  Each one of us, deep down inside, yearns to be known; not in a generic, nameless, faceless kind of way, but for exactly the unique and special person God has created us to be.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and as he has loved us, so we should love one another.

Second spiritual truth about Jesus: He loves us without limit and without condition

If you want proof about this in Jesus’ life, simply consider the people who were part of his inner circle: tax collectors and sinners, men of low estate and women of lesser repute, people who were in every sense on the outside looking in.  By worldly standards, not exactly the cream of the crop, but the point is Jesus loved them all, and what’s more, he urged them (and us) to love in the same way: love your enemies, he said, pray for those who hate you.  Do not let your love become limited or exclusive, or contingent on some narrow set of criteria. 

Simply put, if we’re to love as Jesus has loved us, friends, then quite simply, that love is going to have to extend beyond those who are easy for us to love; even to embracing those who at first glance seem far removed from our own experience and comfort level, not to mention sometimes our so-called “Christian” sensibilities! ( Actually, I’m reminded here of the adage that to be a Christian, one requires an eleven-foot pole; because you’re called to love people that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole!)  But it’s precisely this kind of inclusiveness that is truly “Christ-like,” and that’s the example we need to follow as Christians, and, dare I say, what makes us the church we should be.

This having been said, however, we also must add a third truth about Jesus’ love, and that’s that Jesus loves us honestly. 

Maybe it has to do with a life endeavoring to be at least somewhat sweet, kind and gentle in all things (something that admittedly has yielded mixed results!); but you know, the older I get the more I appreciate the fact that Jesus wasn’t always so kind and gentle!  Jesus never pulled any punches, and I love that about him; he spoke the truth in love, and at the heart of that truth is the reality that to follow him involves our very transformation as persons and as a people.  Jesus never sugar coated the gospel: it was good news, but good news that required radical change in us:  metanoia, the Greek calls it; which means turning completely around from where you are now. 

To put it another way, Jesus’ love is big enough to accept us and embrace us exactly as we are and where we are in life; but it’s a love bold enough not to let us stay that way lest we miss God’s purposes for our lives and living. Our love of one another ought to be marked with the same kind of boldness; acknowledging and seeking to empower the gifts of God in those around us.

And finally, one more, and related:  Jesus loves us in community.

Remember in this passage from John, Jesus is also preparing his disciples for the time when they’ll have to carry on his work, and he’s saying to them, if you go out and show all people the love that you have seen and heard and experienced in me, then everyone will identify you as my disciples!   In other words, our Christian faith is not meant to be internalized, and love isn’t love unless it is shared! 

We need to remember that we are sent into the world to be the church of Jesus Christ!  As Kevin Harney has written, “Jesus calls us into community and fellowship with each other in a way that blesses us and shows the world he is alive!  The way we love each other is the greatest sign of his power and presence to a world that looks on and wonders if there is anything to the Christian faith; for the sake of God’s plan, the church, and the world, it is time for us to see just how important it is for us to be part of a local body of believers.” 

For us, you see, love means dwelling in community.  This is not to say that we’re a community of perfectly loving people; far from it!  In fact, I’m also realizing the older I get that being a part of the church requires not only an abundance of patience, but also a spirit of forgiveness and a hearty sense of humor!   That’s because so often our human frailties get in the way of living and loving as we should; and love isn’t automatic, after all; it requires from us true commitment and hard work, day in and day out. But when we work at it, following the example of Jesus, many times we get it right, so that the kind of transformation that’s happened in us can start to heal a hurting world.

Love one another as I have loved you: it’s a simple truth of faith that requires everything we’re given; and yet makes us everything we are.  And it’s where everything we seek to do together begins, beloved.  It’s true, you know; they will know we are Christians by our love… and, might I add, through his.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2021  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 
 

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What’s Good About the Shepherd

(a sermon for April 25, 2021, the 4th Sunday of Easter, based on Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18)

Would you not agree that there’s a huge difference between those who merely “go to work” and the ones who are out there each and every day “doing their jobs?”

By that I mean that there are those in whom you can really determine a true “work ethic” in, for instance, the level of their enthusiasm for the job, the quality of their finished work, or in how they carry a personal investment in what they do. It doesn’t even matter what the job is – they can be a movie star, a professional athlete or a ditch digger – at the end of the (work)day, what we’re talking about here are the ones who care – deeply – about what they’re called to do, whatever it happens to be; and that not only serves to make each day more meaningful for them, but it also ends up having a huge effect on everyone around them as well.

Years ago, my wife Lisa’s family owned and operated a Dairy Bar; for over 15 years every summer, they served up soft-serve ice cream, hamburgers and the world’s best homemade French fries for the populace of Mapleton, Maine!  Now what was interesting about “The Shanty,” as it was known, is that it started out as a way to create summer jobs for each of the McHatten kids as they went through high school and college; but over time it became much more than that.  As Lisa tells it, there were a whole lot of capable kids (and adults!) from all over that town who at one time or another worked at the Dairy Bar; many of them who were very good, others not so much.  But here’s the thing; no matter who else might have been working for them, there was almost always one of the McHatten’s to be found working behind the counter; assuring that everything was always served up “just right.”  After all, Lisa said, it was a family business, and family was going to care the most about it; in one sense, it might have been just a job, but at the end of the day they knew they were the ones who were ever and always going to take the weight for its success or its failure, and that mattered… not only to them but also, ultimately, to the community.

In our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” and perhaps the obvious question that arises out of that is, “what’s good about a shepherd?”  After all, even in biblical times, this was not a profession that was particularly well-respected; shepherds were, more often than not, considered to be a fairly disreputable lot, and the people you’d hire for a job like that were pretty much the lowest of the low! 

But a “good” shepherd, that was something different; and the thing is, the people who heard Jesus say this already knew the difference; even as Jesus lays it out for them: The good shepherd,” he says, “lays down his life for the sheep.”   A good shepherd would always have such a personal investment in that flock that he would willingly lay down his life for the sake of its survival.  Certainly not like a hired hand, who – while necessary for the keeping of the flock – is there merely for the minimum wage and who runs at the slightest hint of danger; nor like a common thief, who pillages the sheep at first opportunity; nor, for that matter, like a wolf, ever ready to attack, destroy and then scavenge the flock!  No, the “good” shepherd actually goes about his job as though it’s of vital importance to him; because it is!  He truly loves each one of the sheep of his flock and, and moreover, he knows each one of them by name; and conversely, the sheep all know him as well.  They recognize the sound of his voice and his is the one voice to which they’ll respond; one sheep-herd flocking to one shepherd.

Of course, when Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd,” he’s talking about something much more than the subtleties of life amongst the flock; he’s speaking of the love and care of God himself!  To put this into a proper perspective, we need to understand that this whole section of John’s gospel from which our text is drawn – the 10th chapter that talks so much about shepherds, and sheep, and the gates of the sheepfold – is in fact Jesus’ response to the scribes and Pharisees making such a problem over his having healed a man born blind (on a Sabbath day, no less, which in and of itself raised the ire of the powers that be!).  Finally, after a whole lot of theological back and forth about the legitimacy of all this, Jesus simply comes back to an old and familiar teaching, something that every single one of these righteous uprights would have understood: that God is like the good and loving shepherd; leading his flock beside still waters, restoring the souls of those who would follow. 

But here’s the thing: what Jesus says to this is rather remarkable and downright bold; instead of merely repeating the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is my shepherd,” Jesus announces that he is the good shepherd, that he is the one who will lay down his life, and that he is the one who knows his flock just as they know him, “just as,” he says, “the Father knows me and I know the Father.”

Make no mistake, that’s one radical assertion, and if the scribes and Pharisees were pretty upset before with what Jesus is saying; now they’re absolutely livid!  But it’s truth; one that is central to what we believe as Christians, and one that actually speaks to just about everything we know about Jesus as the Christ. Even in the way this passage comes to us in the original Greek, we find that there’s huge weight ascribed to Jesus saying “I AM the good shepherd;” because the fact is that Jesus says “I am” many times in the gospels in describing himself and his ministry; but only in John, and primarily right here, does Jesus say “I am” so emphatically!  In fact, one biblical commentator suggests that the only we can get to the sheer depth of this in English is to put those words, “I am,” in italics and bold! It’s as though Jesus wants to drive this point home so there can be absolutely no doubt at all: that this is what he came here for; that this is his job, and this is who he is beyond any kind of doubt at all: he is the good shepherd, who “lays down his life for the sheep.”  

Of course, the thing we have to keep in mind about all of this is that what Jesus is saying here comes long before he’s gone to the cross; so neither the scribes and Pharisees, nor even his disciples yet have any real sense of the depth of what Jesus is proclaiming.  But we do;and that’s why I think it’s very good that in these continuing days of Eastertide we’re getting the chance to go back and hear these words with the perspective that comes in knowing who’s been crucified but who is now risen. 

How good it is that Jesus is the good shepherd and that he knows his sheep; how good it is that Jesus, our good shepherd, knows us in the same way that he and God know each other: with a personal, mutual, intimate kinship like that of a parent and a child; one that is nurturing and caring, and ever focused not on our failures or weaknesses, but rather on the best that we are and can be.  Ours is the shepherd who truly does lead us on good pathways “beside the still waters;” giving us the kind of relationship with him that truly does make all of us together that one sheep-herd with one very good shepherd who is Jesus Christ.

That is very important for us to know, because the truth is also that Jesus is not the only shepherd who would seek to make a claim on our lives.  There are indeed the myriad varieties of hired hands, thieves and other assorted predators who would seek to lead us in some way or another; only to deceive, rob or abandon us in the process.  You know, back in the early days of the internet, I was a part of an online clergy community called ECUNET; in which clergy types from quite literally all over the world would gather to talk about our joys, struggles and what we happened to be preaching about that coming Sunday!  It was a valuable resource, and I remember very specifically “talking” about this particular passage with a group that included a pastor from the hill country of New Zealand, which is, as you can imagine, prime country for the raising of sheep; and believe me, this man offered the rest of us a whole new perspective on the whole “good shepherd/bad shepherd” thing!  He spoke of an animal that they referred to in those parts as a “Judas Sheep;” one sheep in the flock, usually a male, that was trained to meet and to gather together the other sheep so to lead them to the slaughterhouse!  This is true – in other places, there are “Judas Goats” and even “Judas Cows” (!) that serve much the same purpose – the theory being that following this false leader kept rest of the flock calm as they went to slaughter, thus making the meat more tender.  

It all sounds very cruel and inhuman; and yet when we think about it, there are plenty of “Judas sheep” and more to the point, “Judas shepherds” in this world who would call us to follow them in much the same fashion; bringing us down the bad pathways of life and living and making it so very easy for us to be lost or even destroyed in the following.  It might take the form of empty promises set forth by whatever the prevailing winds of pop culture (or, might I add, the darker tendencies of social media!) happen to be at any given moment; and in all honesty, it can easily boil down to the kind of polarized and hyper-partisan politics of division that has been so prevalent in these days. The point is that there will always be for us people, institutions and even ideas that will carry the mantle of a “shepherd” seeking to lead and direct us; each one purporting to offer us safety, comfort and perhaps even salvation in the following!

There are many voices out there who are calling out to us to follow, but it is only the good shepherd, only Jesus, whose voice is true; for he is the one who has the power to lay down his life for us, and the “power to take it up again.” It’s borne in the relationship he has with God, and it’s extended to you and me here today; so that rather than walking the way of life that leads to “slaughter,” so to speak, we are given new life and an open future filled with purpose and unending possibility.

And it’s everything that we’d expect from a “good” shepherd!  He leads us where we should go, and he knows as no one else does just what we need to restore our very souls.  As Frederick Beuchner has written, “Our souls get hungry and thirsty; in fact it is often that sense of inner emptiness that makes us know we have souls in the first place… [and] there is nothing that the world has to give us… nothing that we have to give to each other… that ever quite fills them.  But… like a shepherd, [God] feeds us.  He feeds that part of us which is hungriest and most in need of feeding.”

To put it another way, “The Lord is [our] shepherd; and [we] shall not want.” And at the end of the day, at the end of the journey…  that’s everything.

What more is there to say, except… thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2021  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2021 in Easter, Family Stories, Jesus, Life, Psalms, Sermon

 

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Witnesses of These Things

(a sermon for April 18, 2021, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Luke 24:36-49)

It’s fascinating – and more than a little bit telling, I think – that as Luke continues his version of the Easter story, the eleven disciples only really begin to connect the dots where the resurrection is concerned when Jesus asks them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

To sit down and have something to eat, after all, is probably the most basic and human thing that you and I ever do in our lives. But more than merely being necessary for our physical survival, food also has a way of bringing us comfort when we need it the most (I’m talking to you, meatloaf and mashed potatoes!); and moreover, sharing that food with others creates an opportunity for hospitality and has a way of nurturing relationships. To wit, there’s a reason that when someone is sick or have had a loved one pass away, our first response in dealing with the grief and loss – especially here in New England – is to bake a casserole; just as I can also tell you that apart from the fundraising aspect of it, the main reason that churches like ours hold Saturday night“bean suppahs” is because food and fellowship go together like… well, beans and ham!

But “having something to eat” can also open our eyes and hearts to something we hadn’t known or experienced before.  How many first dates “going out to eat” grew into something more because sitting across the table from someone while eating chicken parmesan not only lessened the awkwardness of the situation but also became the starting place of a whole new relationship!  And how often does food serve as an affirmation of who and whose you are?  Growing up, there was hardly a gathering of the Lowry side of the family that didn’t include oyster stew as part of the meal; and likewise, we’ve discovered as our own children have grown older that each one of them have favorite dishes that bring back good memories of childhood and which they still ask for when they come home! 

Food, you see, is real; and it has a way of helping us discern what else is real for us as well… and that’s no small thing!

Over these past couple of Sundays in Eastertide we’ve been looking at the Resurrection story from the differing perspectives of the four gospels: first, we had Mark’s account of the women running from the empty tomb in “terror and amazement,” and then last week, we read from John, about Jesus’s Easter evening appearance amongst the disciples in the upper room where they’d all been hiding, out of their own fear.  Well today, we hear from Luke, who has his own tale to tell regarding the disciples’ initial skepticism as to the validity of the women’s claim that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.  We’re even given that wonderful coda involving two previously unknown disciples on the road to Emmaus who are actually walking with the Risen Christ, but fail to recognize who he is until… notice this (!)… Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (24:39) and their eyes were opened, finally recognizing him for who he was.

But here’s the thing: it’s still not enough to convince the eleven and their companions back in Jerusalem that what happened had actually happened!  Even in that moment as we pick up the reading this morning, when “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you;’” it’s not enough to lead those disciples from fear to belief; nor was the offer from Jesus that they could touch his hands and feet if they needed to, nor even his  assurance that “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”  (which, it should be noted, brought joy to the eleven, but not yet belief, as, according to Luke, they were “still wondering.”  In other words, this is great and all, but how are we supposed to believe this? “It was too much; it all seemed too good to be true!” [The Message]

No; it’s only when Jesus asks if there’s something to eat, and then proceeds to eat that piece of broiled fish in their presence that the disciples finally start to get it:  Jesus was alive!  He had risen from the dead; and now, here he was with them, just like before!  And suddenly, right there in the middle of a fish dinner, all the doubt, all the hopelessness, all the barriers that had previously stood between them – barriers of sin and grief and death – were gone forever.  And now Jesus could truly open their minds “to understand the scriptures,” and for the apostles to discover, once and for all, that everything had Jesus had told them over the past three years about the Messiah having to suffer and then “to rise from the dead on the third day,” about “repentance and forgiveness of sins” and about the need to proclaim all of it to Jerusalem and the world; to know it was all real and true would change everything about their lives and living from that moment forward!

Which is what makes what Jesus says next all the more powerful: “You are witnesses of these things… and see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.”

Now, I’ve always imagined that at this point, the disciples’ reaction was yet another of disbelief; or, if not disbelief exactly, then certainly utter surprise! Excuse me, Lord?  We’re just now beginning to wrap our minds around the fact that you’re back from the dead and now you want us to be your witnesses?  Give us a moment to absorb this, Jesus… maybe later, but not now… not yet!   That would be an understandable reaction!  But you’ll notice from our text this morning that Jesus is very clear regarding the tense of this assertion: it’s not “you were,” or “you will be,” but it’s that you are witnesses of these things, right here and right now; witnesses of the resurrection and everything that represents!  And no doubt, in that moment, such a prospect was for the disciples, to say the very least, daunting!

And as I think about that, friends, I realize that if that was the case for the eleven in the immediate aftermath of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – events that they had indeed seen, and heard, and in fact participated in – how much more daunting is it for you and me; the people who, some 2,000 years later are still named and claimed as witnesses of the Risen Savior?  If even those who were there still wondered and doubted as to the truth of it all, what kind of witnesses are we ever to be?  I mean, it’s one thing for us to sing out those wonderful old words of how “he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own,” it’s quite another for us – any of us, really – to think of Jesus as “a very real person and, through the Spirit, as a very real personal presence in our lives.” (Scott Hoezee) Indeed, from the time most of us went to Sunday School, we’ve been taught about Jesus living “in our hearts” and sharing that good news with others; but what about the real, live, physical fish-eating presence of our Risen Savior?  How are we ever supposed to witness to that?

That’s an important question, beloved; one, as Karoline Lewis, Professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, suggests, that Jesus takes very seriously.  What Jesus said to the disciples, he says to each one of us: “You are witnesses, here and now, in this moment.  In this life. In your daily life.  For the sake of life.”  Jesus, Lewis goes on to say, is quick to remind us “of who we really are – resurrection people, resurrection witnesses.”  But just when we think that this is something impossible for us, Jesus tells us what makes it possible to be witnesses: “the promise of the Spirit.”  That’s why Jesus instructs the disciples to “stay… in the city until [they] have been clothed with power from on high,” and it’s why you and I as Jesus’ followers are gifted with the same.

So what does all this mean?  It means that though we didn’t have the same kind first-hand experience of the disciples to share, we do have their witness to pass on; and, as it turns out, the kind of witness that comes in living out of what we’ve heard, and believed and lived out of throughout our lives. 

We are witnesses of these things when we worship together; when we raise up our voices in prayer and praising, when we sit amongst a community of believers, be that together in a sanctuary or together online.  We are witnesses of these things when we are moved to love others after the same manner that we have felt the experience of divine love and acceptance.  We are witnesses of these things when we recognize that life as we live it and the world as we know it does not have to be as muddled and complicated and divisive and hate-filled as it so often appears to be; deciding for ourselves that we will be the example in making peace, justice, kindness, compassion and true grace and love the new reality of life and living.  We are witnesses of these things when we feed others in just the same way we have been fed; because, friends, it’s that wonderfully hearty spiritual food that not only makes us who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s what proclaims him alive forever more!

You and I – each and every one of us, beloved – we are witnesses of these things, and Jesus is sending us forth to proclaim our good news to the world.

One summer day many years ago I went on a road trip with my father to visit a series of flea markets that were happening throughout northern Maine (as was typical of my Dad, he was ever and always seeking out specific things at these sales; I think at the time it was antique oil lamps).  We’d made our way way up to Madawaska on the Canadian border; where, as it happened, he’d spent a summer as a young man working playing trumpet in a big band, and where he’d boarded with a French Canadian family there in the town.  Understand, it had been well over 30 years since then, but my father got it into his head that he wanted to stop at this house and see if that family he’d stayed with all those years ago was still living there; they were very nice people, he explained to me, and he just wanted to stop and say hello.

Well, I’m 22 or 23 at the time, and I’m skeptical to say the least!  I’m thinking that this encounter would be awkward at best, and at worst they wouldn’t remember my father and that would be embarrassing!  But my Dad was determined, and while I waited in the truck and watched (!) he went right up to the house and knocked on the door!  There was this older woman who answered the door; and from the street I could see them talking quietly for a moment; and then… this woman quite literally shrieks with joy, her arms open wide to hug my father, and next thing I know we’re all sitting in this woman’s kitchen with her husband laughing, reminiscing, telling stories, drinking coffee, and lest I forget, eating the most incredible freshly made donuts and deflecting their insistence that we stay long enough to have a nice lunch… yup, it’s always about the food, isn’t it!

Well, obviously they did remember my Dad, and fondly!  But as wonderful as that was, I went away from that experience realizing that though they’d never met me before, it was as though they’d always known me, and in the process made me feel incredibly welcome.  There amidst the coffee and donuts, you see, was a witness to good memories, friendship and the many ways that our lives and our hearts are joined together even in the most unexpected kind of ways.

It seems to me, friends, that as believers in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we are similarly joined in heart, soul, mind and strength; and that each and every time you or I make the effort to reach out to others with the same kind of love and care that Jesus has shown us, we are witnesses of a living Savior who continues to change the world – and every heart within it – for the better and forever.

Don’t forget this as you set out into the business of life and living this week, beloved:  You are witnesses of these things, and you have the capacity within yourself to make it real and true and alive (!) in the hearts of all those you encounter.

And for this, and so much more, thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2021 Rev. Michael W. Lowry. All Rights Reserved.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2021 in Discipleship, Easter, Jesus, Sermon

 

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