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Freedom

(a sermon for July 4, 2021, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost and Independence Day, based on  Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

It’s a familiar refrain that most of us have known how to sing from the time we were children: “My country, ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing: Land where my fathers died, Land of the pilgrim’s pride, From every mountain side, Let freedom ring.”

Let freedom ring: the words alone have a way of stirring even the most hardened of hearts.  But what is this thing we call freedom?  The truth is that the word carries a multitude of meanings, in many ways unique to each one who hears it.   Certainly, the patriotic songs that we sing in honor of Independence Day define freedom in terms of the blessings of liberty – the freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; freedom of religion, and so on; the very embodiment of the motto of the Granite State, “Live Free or Die” – freedoms that have been fought for and defended in nearly every generation. 

However, if you were to ask a teenager about freedom, you’d be apt to hear a different description; no doubt you’d hear about being free from the rules of parent, teacher and all manner of adult; to go wherever they want to go and do whatever they want to do.   Likewise, there are many “adults,” and I use the term loosely, who live their entire lives unto the idea that “Live Free or Die” means no rules, no commitments and no regrets; just living for the moment, whatever sounds good right now.

On the other hand, ask anyone who has escaped the bondage of addiction what freedom means, and they might tell you it means the ability to stand up and walk proudly, released from the grip of that which completely and tragically controlled their lives.  Or think of those in our midst who continue in the struggle for equality and justice.  For people in the midst of such struggles, freedom is simply the right to be who they are, without persecution, in safety and with full dignity and respect; or, if you will, with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

It does seem that so often when we talk about freedom we speak in terms of freedom from something: freedom from poverty and want, freedom from persecution and oppression, even the freedom from being prohibited from doing what we want to do!  And so, it was interesting to me to find this definition of freedom in, of all places, the Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology.  There it says that “freedom is the capacity for deliberating and choosing among desired courses of action, and pursuing the preferred course without restraint.”

Now that’s different!   “The capacity for deliberating?”  Choosing a course of action?  Pursuing it without restraint?   That sounds more like a job description than it does a declaration of independence!   Rather than speaking of being freed from something, this definition would seem to suggest that we are freed to something: freed to make choices that involve commitment, being disciplined about fulfilling that commitment, and, dare I say, accepting a dependence upon something or someone other than you!   Actually, it brings to mind a little free verse poem – for Good Friday, no less – that I first read nearly 40 years ago and has stuck with me ever sense: “You are free… FREE! …free to be shackled any way you wish.”

Actually, there’s a Biblical precedent to what we’re talking about here, and it can be found in the reading we just shared this morning: that indeed, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free… for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another.” 

It turns out that true freedom, that is, the freedom that comes to us in Christ Jesus, is not quite the same as how we traditionally perceive it.   As Paul describes it in Galatians, Christian freedom is about living by the Spirit and loving others; it’s not so much a matter of being released from restraint and rule, but rather a matter of relationship, of devoting ourselves wholly first to a relationship with God, and then to providing for the care and nurture of others, even to the point of becoming as a servant… a servant bound by love.

It may seem like a contradiction, but in fact, it happens all the time when love is involved.  Over the years I’ve come to know a great many men and women – some in this very church family – people who have “given up” a great deal of their own personal freedoms in their acceptance of the role of caregiver for an elderly relative or friend, or for someone in their family who’s facing a debilitating or life-threatening illness.   They fix meals, they change bedpans and clean up messes, they face night after sleepless night sitting up, staying close, and doing everything that needs to be done.  They go to the doctor’s office and the nursing homes and fight like fury for the best of care and resources; and often, they’re the ones making the tough decisions that no one else can.

These are people whose entire lives have become adjusted and focused almost wholly around the care of others.  And make no mistake: it can be a hard life!  And yet, when you ask them why they do it and what sees them through, one way or the other they’ll tell you it’s about love; it’s always about love!  Love, you see, frees you to be bound.

All too often in this culture freedom is defined as the space and the permission to be, in the words of William Willimon, “utterly consumed by self-concern,” in which the rule of the day is that “anything goes,” and so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it must be OK.  And it was no different in Paul’s day: you’ll notice that a large part of our reading today was a firm admonition against, shall we say, the temptations of a free society:  fornication, impurity, licentiousness, and on and on.  But here Paul reminds the Galatians and us that we are called to another way of life.  That we are free, yes, but always remember that we are freed from ourselves by the love of Christ, so that we might be bound to others with the same kind of love: “For freedom,” Paul says, “Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   Instead, become servants who serve one another in love!

Central to the Christian life is Jesus’ call to discipleship.  And each one of us in this room is being called – challenged, really – to embrace a discipleship that calls us to freedom:  the freedom to delight not in the passing thrills of the moment, but rather to the good things that the Lord does in our midst.  This is the freedom to love, with abandon and with joy, placing ourselves at the service of others; it’s the freedom to become lovers of life and all that is beautiful, true and good; to nurture and cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, which are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Yes, we are free, beloved; butthe question for you and me is, what are we freed to?   After all, it is for freedom Christ has set us free,” each of us needs to choose how we will use the precious gift of that freedom.  After all, we are free to do what we want, spiritually and otherwise.  And yet, I think you’ll agree that when we choose wisely, not only does that make all the difference for us in these days of confused situations, but it’s also what can change a nation and the world for the better.

I have to say that of all the wonderful patriotic hymns, my absolute favorite has to be “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies,” or, as it is also known, “America the Beautiful.”  And my favorite rendition of this song, without a doubt, is the version by the late Ray Charles.  Not only does that recording have soul in overflowing abundance and a true gospel feeling (!), but I love the story behind it: you see, Ray Charles released “America the Beautiful” in 1972 on an album entitled “Message from the People,” and it was recorded during a time when, interestingly enough, this country was filled with civil unrest, in particular regarding the still on-going war in Vietnam, but also having to do with politics and racial strife.

Those who came of age in the late sixties and early seventies will remember those being tumultuous times, and in terms of pop culture and top 40 radio, it didn’t seem like a great time for flag-waving; but Ray Charles thought differently. In fact, he wanted to pay tribute to those who stood strong in the struggle for freedom with hope, courage and faith. So when he went into the studio to record “America the Beautiful,” he began it with the third verse, based on a poem written by Katherine Lee Bates back in the 19th century; and for me, it’s the verse that says it all: 

“O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gin divine.”

Katherine Lee Bates, “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies,” 1893

It’s no wonder that this song enjoyed such resurgence in popularity in the days following 9/11, and continues to get played on the radio every 4th of July.  It’s because the message is clear and just as important now as it was back in 2001, 1972 or, for that matter, 1893 (!): we are free, friends, but it’s only when we are free to love mercy more than life, free to be bound in love to a neighbor, a friend, a stranger; or, for that matter, our nation and hurting world; only then do we become true disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Actually, the Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, who is Senior Pastor at the American International Church in London, England has expressed this very well when she writes that what we really have (or ought to have) in this country and through our faith is a “Declaration of Interdependence” that unites us with one another. “Freedom comes,” she says, “when we build relationships of love, and we are free from loneliness and isolation. 

Freedom comes when we build networks of care, and we are free from worry about our safety. Freedom comes when we share our resources, and we are free from fear of hunger or homelessness or want. Freedom comes when we work together to make peace, and we are free from violence and war. Freedom comes when we cultivate loving relationships, and we are free to be ourselves and know we are loved. Freedom comes when we give ourselves completely to God, and we are free from anxiety about our future. 

Freedom comes when we live in love, and you and me and all the children of the earth dwell in the loving arms of the Holy One.”

That’s freedom, beloved, true freedom… so what else is there left to say on this 4th of July except…

…let freedom ring! Let freedom ring!

And may we be blessed in our ministries of love, letting our thanks be to God. 

AMEN and AMEN!

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

 

 

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Taking Offense at Jesus

(a sermon for June 27, 2021, the 5th Sunday After Pentecost, based on Mark 6:1-13)

So here’s a little something to think about as we get into the message this morning:  it was the 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard who once said that the test of a good sermon is not that you heard it, enjoyed it and went home to Sunday dinner afterwards, but that you heard it and were too sick at heart to eat anything afterwards!

Well… let me just assure here you that if you were planning to go to Sunday brunch after church this morning, you’re still good to go!  

But that said, I do have to say that Kierkegaard’s words speak an enduring truth of which I have become increasingly aware over the years I’ve spent in this and other pulpits: and that’s that preaching is risky business, both for the preacher and the congregation!  And that’s because the gospel that I have been called to preach, while always good news, is not always what one thinks of as easy to hear, can often veer far from “warm and fuzzy” in tone and substance, and sometimes ends up as personally intrusive and downright offensive to our ears!  The fact is, I’m very much aware that what I do here every Sunday morning is oftentimes as was described by an old colleague of mine: that as preachers we’re here both to comfort the afflicted… and to afflict the comfortable!

This is not to say that every sermon is like that – or at least I hope not (!) – and let me just say here that even after all these years of preaching week in and week out (almost 39 years now!), I still get “jazzed” by the level of great spiritual insight and true joy we discover together here in the pages of scripture and inspired by the Holy Spirit!  Nonetheless, I am aware that for each and all of us there are scriptural teachings that hit a little bit too close to home, and not in a good way (!); and moreover, I’m cognitive of the fact that there are times and situations that we preachers tend to make hamburger out of the sacred cows of this world and our very lives; and yes, that can be an unsettling and often humbling experience, as much for me as it probably is for you (because one thing you should always know is that I never preach a sermon from this pulpit that does not apply to me as much as it might to anyone else!).  

So it can be tough, no doubt… but that’s the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ (and the nature of truth, friends), and believe me when I say to you this morning that if we’re doing this right – that is, if you and I are here in this temple of God approaching his Word with the kind of attention, honesty and utter humility that we should – then all of us, preacher and congregation alike, are bound at times to leave here a bit shaken up!

Actually, this is not exclusive to the worship experience, is it? 

So often, it seems, that we find ourselves running headlong up against the difficulties of the gospel that we espouse; and not only for how it affects our lives but also in how it’s heard and received by those around us!  It might happen at home with our families, or at work, amongst friends – even at church, friends – but there are going to be moments when as Christians we find ourselves in the very real quandary of whether we stay true to our convictions of faith, or else we back off from that for the sake of an easier path or maintaining the status quo, or for that matter, not rocking the boat amongst the people around us.

I remember once some years ago at a prior church Lisa and I were working with another family on some project in the church sanctuary when one of the kids in this family came out with this incredibly racist slur; and not in the way that kids will sometimes do when they don’t understand what they’ve said, but knowingly, in a clearly inappropriate joke that the kid’s parents – people who were parishioners, mind you, and friends as well – inexplicably thought was incredibly funny!  And suddenly, I’m forced into an awkward situation of how to respond to this:  do I ignore what was said, pretend like I didn’t hear it?  Do I, as people often do in these situations, just chuckle quietly so not to make it “a thing?” Or do I speak up and – calmly, gently, pastorally, but also assertively – let the kid (and by extension, his parents) know that this kind of hate speech is never appropriate, most especially in God’s house.  Well, of course, as difficult as it might have been the answer was clear and as the pastor I said what needed to be said, and I believe now as I did then that it was very important that I did… and truthfully, I’m not sure if our relationship with that family was ever the same after that; but in terms of our living in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, there was no other choice.

And, by the way?  I tell you this story not because of the time your pastor did the right thing, but rather because of all the other times he didn’t.

 For you see, the question we inevitably end up facing is not whether the gospel is awkward or difficult or challenging; because, friends, where the world and this culture is concerned, ours is an offensive gospel and as a gospel people we are going to run up against our own sensibilities, to say nothing of the ways and means of culture and the people who populate that culture.  So the real question is what do we do with that gospel when we hear it?  How will we respond?  Will we choose to truly live unto the truth of our faith in God in Jesus Christ, or will we choose to take offense at it and thus avoid it altogether?

 That’s what’s at the heart of this morning’s text from Mark’s gospel, in which Jesus, early in his public ministry, is back among his own people, in his hometown of Nazareth.  This is actually a very interesting little story that has something to say about small towns and local churches (!) – we’re told that when Jesus “began to teach in the synagogue,” at first all the locals were amazed at him!  I mean, this was Jesus – the hometown boy, the local carpenter – and they’re saying, “Where did this man get these things?”   Where is all this wisdom coming from?  “We didn’t know that he was this good!” (The Message) At first, they’re all truly impressed…

…but then something happens.  In Mark’s version of this story, we’re not given any indication of what Jesus was preaching and teaching about (Luke’s account connects it with Jesus essentially announcing that he was the fulfillment of prophecy as revealed by Isaiah, but Mark isn’t that specific); we’re only told that in one breath the townspeople are amazed at Jesus, “but in the next… they were cutting him down.”  Something… something that Jesus said or did seemed to provoke controversy and fierce resistance, and suddenly the golden boy is just a local carpenter.Isn’t this “Mary’s boy,” the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon,” and don’t we know his sisters?  As The Message translates this passage, “We’ve known [Jesus] since he was a kid!  Who does he think he is?”  Bottom line, people didn’t like what Jesus had to say; they “took offense at him,” and the result of all of this is that Jesus ends up rejected by his own people, his friends and neighbors… his church.  And he couldn’t do much of anything there anymore; “he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” 

We’re also told by Mark that Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith,” which for me is an amazing little verse because it really speaks to the humanity of Jesus; it gets “up close and personal” with what he was feeling, because it hurts to be rejected, and it especially hurts when it’s the people you thought understood, or at least liked you.  “He couldn’t get over their stubbornness,” The Message puts it.  But Jesus also understood that “only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”   And we understand that, too: it’s the same dynamic that often exists between adult children who try so hard to establish their own identity in the shadow of parents and family members who live in the same town; why newly graduated teachers, police officers, doctors and even ministers tread very dangerous ground going “back home” to pursue their chosen professions; and that’s why Jesus ultimately met with so much resistance from the folks of Nazareth.  They knew him, you see, or thought they did; and maybe because of that, these people could never know him for who he really was! 

And so they rejected him… but that’s not the end of the story.

For Jesus, you see, ultimately this was not about whether his message was “offensive” or whether it upset his former Nazarene neighbors; it wasn’t even about the pain of rejection. This was about Jesus continuing along the path that God had set before him; it was about embracing God’s truth and moving on with it.  It is no coincidence that as Mark tells the story immediately Jesus takes this experience as an opportunity to direct his disciples along the pathway of ministry, and to teach us in the process what is involved in embracing and truly living unto a life of faith in God. 

Travel light, he says to them.  Live modestly, and keep it simple; you’re not in this for the glory, but to preach the good news, sow the seeds of goodness and freedom and redemption, and while you’re at it, do what you can to drive out the demons, anoint sick people with oil and heal them.  And above all, don’t worry about it “if you’re not welcomed, not listened to,” but “quietly withdraw.  Don’t make a scene.  [Just] shrug your shoulders,” “shake the dust off your feet when you leave” and be on your way. 

You see, to live the life of faith is to let ourselves be led by God in Jesus Christ and to let his truth and our convictions of that offensive truth be sufficient for the way.   And what Jesus gives to you and me along that way is, to quote Gary Sims, is courage, patience and perseverance, along with the assurance that “if we are intentional in our efforts to follow Christ wherever He leads… then two things will happen.  First, we will go out into the world to spread the word of Christ without fear of ramification or failure.  And second, we will learn to listen to every voice of God that comes our way; for without careful listening, we’ll never hear where to go.”

One of the things we often tend to gloss over every when we come together for worship – and I’m afraid this was particularly true through the long months of quarantine we experienced – is that ultimately, you and I come here to be sent.   As wonderful and as inspirational as these times we have together can be and truly are, we’re not here today primarily for our edification and especially not our entertainment.  It’s not about us.  We’re in this place today and every time we gather for worship first to give thanks and praise to God for our many blessings, to listen to His life affirming, redemptive Word, and then to respond to that word in faith:  you and I are being sent today to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ by word and action in the places and amongst all the people of our lives.

And that will not always be easy for us.

Yes, we’ll struggle with the reality of the radical change that’s required in our lives and living; and make no mistake, we will come up against those people and the cultural institutions that take offense; those who will reject not only what we have to say but also who we are and what we represent; we can count on this.  But to quote Joshua 1:9, we can be “strong and courageous,” and not be terrified, because what we have is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in that gospel we find the authority of Jesus, the community of the church, and fruit of God’s Holy Spirit to keep us doing what is good and right.

My prayer for us today and every day is we keep on keeping on preaching the gospel; because we’re all preachers, you know.  Some of us just don’t stand in the pulpit, and some of us don’t necessarily use words.  But make no mistake, we preach.  So preach the gospel, dear friends: preach it at all times and in all ways; and as that same old colleague also said to me from time to time, keep the faith and don’t let the turkeys get you down.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

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

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2021 in Church, Faith, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Worship

 

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Anchor Deep… and Hold On!

(a sermon for June 20, 2021, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 4:35-41)

I’ll be honest here:  in the story we just shared of Jesus and the disciples in the midst of that storm on the Galilean Sea, I totally get why the disciples panicked and lashed out at Jesus!  Because so often in the midst of the storm like that, you simply don’t know what else to do!

At the beginning of his book Six Hours One Friday, Max Lucado tells the story of how, as a young man, he lived for a time with some friends on a rustic and somewhat leaky houseboat on the Miami River in South Florida, an experience he described as “part adventure and part bargain.” 

However, Labor Day Weekend in 1979 provided far more adventure than he’d bargained for, because that was the weekend that all of Florida was watching and waiting as Hurricane David was whirling through the Caribbean, headed toward the Florida coastline.  And as you might imagine, Lucado was trying to figure out what to do: “I had owned the boat for three monthly payments,” he wrote, “and now I was about to have to sacrifice her to the hurricane.  I was desperate.  Tie her down! was all that I could think.” 

And so Lucado and his boatmates went out and bought enough rope to, in his words, “tie up the Queen Mary.” And they proceeded to tie up their houseboat: to trees, to moorings, to anything they could find that seemed solid.  By the time they were finished, their little craft looked like she’d been caught up in a spider’s web!  But then, Lucado wrote, just when “I was reaching the end of my rope, in more ways than one… Phil showed up.  Now Phil knew boats.  He even looked boat-wise.  He spoke the lingo and knew the knots, [yes, but] he also knew hurricanes.  Word on the river had it that he had ridden one out for three days in a 10-foot sailboat.” So that pretty much made him out to be a living legend!

Well, Phil felt sorry for these kids, so he came to give them some advice… and it was “sailor sound.  ‘Tie her to land and you’ll regret it,’ he said. ‘Those trees are gonna get eaten by the ‘cane.  Your only hope is to anchor deep. Place four different anchors in four different locations, leave the rope slack, and pray for the best.’

Anchor deep.  Actually, even as a mere lake sailor, I can vouch for the fact that that’s very good advice.  With the boat anchored deep and the ropes slack, the boat is free to move with the wind, the waves and swell of the tide, without drifting too far away in the process.  Tie the boat too tightly or too securely and either it will be destroyed by the force of wind and water, or it’ll be done in by falling trees or other debris. To anchor deep doesn’t mean the storm won’t be dangerous; but it does mean that the chances are pretty good that you’ll be able to ride out the storm until it passes.

As it turned out, Hurricane David never hit Miami; thirty minutes off the coast the storm decided to veer off to the north.  “The worst damage my boat suffered,” Lucado wrote, “were some rope burns inflicted by her overzealous crew!  But the sailor’s advice stuck with him – “Anchor deep, say a prayer, and hold on” – because the truth is that not every hurricane is going to miss you!

In fact, we all face hurricanes, and not just of the tropical variety.  Some hurricanes come in the form of unexpected and sweeping life changes; others are the result of on-going and ever-increasing day to day struggles.  Sometimes they hit suddenly and without warning; other times they build up, gradually, until finally they reach a gale forced wind that threatens to destroy you.  Sure, sometimes good fortune prevails and they either miss us or blow themselves out before they get too close or become too threatening; but unfortunately, none of us can ever avoid them completely, because these storms are simply a part of life as we know it!

There’s something called the Holmes/Rehe scale that I’ve long used as a tool for counseling, particularly with couples wanting to be married.  Basically, this is a scale in which a series of life events are each given a score, ranging from one to a hundred, indicating the level of stress that each of these events will bring to a person.  The death of a spouse is at the top of the list with 100 points, followed closely by divorce, marital separation, a jail term and the death or illness of a close family member.  The idea here is that the more of these kinds of things are happening to you, perhaps all at once (!), the more severely stress is impacting your life and the more susceptible you are to the dangers that too much stress brings about: illness, psychological trauma, risky behavior and so on.

But get this: not all of the so-called “stressful” events on this list are all that severe or even negative.  And I’m not being the least bit snarky when I tell you that getting married is also right up there at the top of the list!  So is retirement, taking out a mortgage and changing jobs.  Going on a diet… taking a vacation… Christmas!  There is, in fact, a certain level of stress in most everything we do; and eventually, all of these – good, bad and in-between – might well add up to the point where we find ourselves facing a hurricane.  The real issue, then, is not whether we’ll have to deal with the storms of life but rather it’s how we deal with them when they come.

And the old sailor’s advice still seems to apply:  anchor deep, say a prayer, and hold on.

Our text for this morning from Mark’s gospel actually begins at the end of a long day in which Jesus had been teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  As night began to fall, Jesus suggested to his disciples that they cross to the other side of this body of water; and so, they set out in their boats, taking Jesus with them… and interestingly, Mark makes a point of telling us Jesus came with them “just as he was.” 

Just as he was; which, of course, raises the question, how was Jesus?  Actually, I would imagine that Jesus was like any of us might have been at the end of a long day: bone tired, hungry, talked out, perhaps feeling as though not enough had been accomplished even if clearly it was time to rest and to move on.  That is, after all, one of the big problems with stress… it literally exhausts you; and it doesn’t automatically go away at the end of the day. It’s understandable, and not at all unusual, that Jesus immediately went to the stern of this fishing boat, rested his head on a cushion lying there and promptly fell asleep!

But then, of course, the storm arose:  one minute the water’s quietly lapping against the hull of their boats and the next they’re in the midst of a storm so violent as to threaten their very lives!  The boats were taking on water and already close to being swamped; all at once their situation was moving from serious to crucial as their hearts began to beat in terror.  And it’s just about this moment that they looked up in the stern… and realized that Jesus was still there, and still asleep

Like I said before, what happened next was understandable; when in the worst of what life could dish out, fear becomes anger.  What else could they do in that moment but cry out to their seemingly indifferent master up in the stern of that storm-laden, sinking ship, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” 

The interesting thing is that all it took was a moment – a split second, really – for Jesus to wake up and say, simply, “Peace. Be Still.” Or as The Message aptly translates it, “He told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Settle down!’” And “the wind ran out of breath.”  The wind died, the sea was “dead calm,” and all was silent once again save for the sound of water droplets running down the hull of the boat and dripping into the sea.  And it  doesn’t say exactly, but I have to imagine that at first the disciples dared not even speak, so stunned were they at what they’d just seen happen.  Appropriate that it’s only Jesus who speaks, and what he says breaks the silence as surely as the storm broke the night: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Now, you and I hear this story, and it’s all too easy for us to pass judgment on this band of disciples with faith so small as to accuse Jesus, of all people, of not caring; but the truth, friends, is that Jesus’ words have a way of rebuking us in the same way they did the disciples.  Because it’s not simply that we panicked in the midst of some crazy storm tossing us about; it’s because the truth of our lives is that we tend to do it over and over again.

The fact is, with every new storm in our lives, so often our first response is to tie ourselves to anything and everything we think we’ll hold us; you name it: money, position, power, other people, even whatever manner of philosophy or psychology seems appealing at that particular moment.  We bargain that such things will hold us safe and secure when life is at its worst; but then, when it doesn’t work, in our panic we lash out and lay blame at others, at ourselves, and most especially at God.  This is what happened with the disciples, friends; and the thing is, I would wager a guess that even after the storm had been silenced, even as they were filled with great awe at what Jesus had done, by the time the next storm came along they were likely just as filled with fear and panic as they were before.  The gospels bear this out; and as it was true for the disciples, so it is for you and me.

But the good news in this text is, as the saying goes, that faith is a journey, not a destination.  Moreover, it’s an ongoing journey; it’s gradual, and the truth is that faith, yours and mine, is built and remade again and again along the way as life unfolds, storms and all.  The late Sister Macrina Widerkehr wrote that “one of the great lies of our day is that conversion is instant, like fast food… one of the great truths of our day is that conversion is ongoing.  Conversion is the process in which we are given opportunity upon opportunity to accept the free gift of salvation.  A deep and lasting conversion is a process, an unfolding, a slow turning and turning again.

That, I think, is what “anchoring deep” is all about.

It’s about tying yourself, and learning to trust yourself, to something solid; something that’ll keep you safe each and every time the uncertainties of this life move you back and forth, up and down when panic and fear seems the first and best option. 

Learning to trust in where you’re anchored, you see, is the challenge… but it’s also where life’s greatest blessing is to be found.

So often like those fear-filled disciples before us, we’re untrusting and even unaware of the anchor points that are securing us.  So often we convince ourselves that somehow the storms of our lives must be our fault, and if not ours, then it must be God’s; and does God even care about us at all?  Well, the truth is that yes, storms are real and horrible things do happen in this life; but the greatest truth of this life is that in the midst of all of it, God is there with us and does care.  God is there to help us ride out the storms of our lives; to aid us as we rise and fall with the tide and the swell, to face gale force winds with confidence that clearing skies are on the horizon.

We need not fear, you see, because anchored deep in our souls is the knowledge that all will be well because of the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the one “that even the wind and the sea obey.”

Perhaps today you’re feeling stormed tossed; maybe this morning you’re feeling besieged not only with stress and struggle, but also that lingering sense of fear and doubt.  If that’s the case for you – and if not today, the time will come when it probably will be – just know that the “wild and restless seas” that are churning inside of us do respond to the voice of Christ as quickly and as surely as did the wind and waves of Galilee. 

Christ comes to us in our need; Christ comes to us as the master of the wind and sea; Christ comes to us as the Lord of our lives; Christ comes to us saying, “Peace.  Be still.”

So don’t be afraid.  Don’t panic.  You are safe in the mercy of God who sent Jesus to save you.

And may our thanks be unto that God.

Amen and AMEN.

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

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2021 in Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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