RSS

Category Archives: Communion

“It Begins with a Voice…”

(a sermon for January 12, 2020, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Psalm 29 and Matthew 3:13-17)

We are a church that is, by its very nature, sacramental.

By definition, a sacrament is a holy act and visible sign declaring the promise of the gospel to those who receive it in faith and gratitude.  As Christians, we believe that a sacrament is holy because Jesus Christ himself, by word or example instituted it.  Now, in most protestant churches, including the congregational tradition of which we are a part, baptism and communion are the two celebrations of the church that are recognized as sacrament.  The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, also recognizes five other rites of the church as being sacramental: confirmation, penance, ordination, matrimony, and the sacrament of the sick (that which used to be known as “last rites.”).

That’s not say that these are of lesser value or importance in our tradition; it’s just that for us communion and baptism hold a special significance in the Christian life. We believe that the sharing of these sacraments make for the most intimate part of the worship experience, and are amongst the most meaningful parts of one’s walk of faith.  Sacrament, you see, is by its very nature a very physical act: a time when you touch Christ and Christ touches you; a moment in which your own relationship with the holy begins to take shape and grow.

All these ecclesiastical explanations aside, however, I’ve always loved what Frederick Buechner has written about the nature of sacraments: he says that while in the midst of such church oriented milestone moments, “you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life….  church isn’t the only place where the holy happens.”  He goes on to say that “sacramental moments can occur at any moment, any place, and to anybody.  [For instance,] watching somebody be born.  Sharing love.  A high school graduation.  Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick.  A meal with people you love.  Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out he’s not a stranger” after all.  In fact, Buechner suggests, “if we weren’t all as blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.”

I love that; because what Beuchner’s words serve to remind us is that in amidst all of life’s many and myriad experiences is found yet another example of the mighty hand of God at work.  There is so much of the holy that’s happening all around us – so much in our lives that is truly sacramental in nature – but only if we have eyes to see it for what it really is!

What’s interesting, you know, is that in my own work as a church pastor I am, by definition and through ecclesiastical authorization through the United Church of Christ, a minister of Word and Sacrament, and so as you can imagine I’m dealing with that which is sacramental all the time… but not always in the ways you might expect.  There’s communion and baptism, absolutely, but there’s also, for instance, the sacrament of the Sunday School Christmas pageant, especially on those inevitable moments every year when one or more of our little ones (and maybe even a few of our big ones!) literally start groovin’ to “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”  It’s the sacrament of “Silent Night” sung by candlelight; or, for that matter, of our reaching for the high notes of “Up from the Grave He Arose” at Easter Sunrise!  There’s the Sacrament of Fellowship and Laughter that’s found at Bean Suppers, Holiday Fairs and countless other gatherings, as well as the sacrament of sorrows shared and of burdens mutually borne in moments of grief and struggle and uncertainty; and within that, the sacrament of Prayers Ascending not merely on a Sunday morning but on every other day of the week.

What I experience on a regular basis as your pastor are the sacraments of not-so-random acts of kindness, of words of encouragement spoken, and of standing up for and with those in need.  These are also the sacraments that are revealed in countless untold blessings of our having been drawn together as a community – a true family – of faith; and then there’s the sacrament that come in the palpable sense of God’s presence, and his power, and his love… but not, as it turns out, here at 10:00 on a Sunday morning but at some other time and place during the week, perhaps even in amidst a situation where you least expected to find God… and yet, there God was.

Because, you see, while ours is a shared ministry of Word and Sacrament, the truth is that it doesn’t always happen at church!  For when you and I experience something like that – something like God – in our lives, whether it’s in joy, or in peace, or in struggle or even in the wake of great tragedy then life for us becomes a sacrament, something that is most holy and good and fully imbued with God’s presence and power and love. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you this morning that that the only place where true life and real living begins and grows and flourishes is with the voice of God.

It all begins, you see, with a voice….

…a voice that is at time raucous and profound as thunder crashing across the silence of a summer night; at other times as gentle and as subtle as the sound of crickets after a storm.  It begins with a voice that’s “tympanic… symphonic,”  [The Message] filled with “glory and strength” and “full of majesty.” It begins with a voice: the voice of God.

Realize, of course, that when I speak of the “voice of God,” I am referring to the biblical understanding of what that voice is.  For when the people of the Old and New Testaments referred to “the voice of the LORD,” they were not as much referring to an audible, speaking voice coming down from out of heaven (although scripture is full of moments when that was the case) as much as they were referring to the ongoing activity and the powerful nature of God!  What you’ll always throughout scripture is that the words “the Lord spoke” are almost always synonymous with “the Lord did.”  It’s right there from the very beginning in the creation story in Genesis:  “Then God said, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.”  Actually, our English translation of scripture sort of suggests a cause and effect – that first God said it, and then it happened – but the original Hebrew is lot more direct and to the point: at God’s very utterance, the deed is done, and it’s done with power and might, in the process shifting all that we ever expected to be true about life, so to be in accordance with his will.  We see this very clearly in our reading this morning from Psalm 29, in which the Psalmist sings – because remember that these psalms were in fact songs meant to be sung with all due emotion and even bravado (!) – that “the voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.”  In this psalm we bear witness to a God of action: a God who, when he speaks, the oaks whirl, the forests are stripped bare, and strength is given to his people.  In fact, God’s involvement in every aspect of life and in creation is so readily apparent that all in the temple can but cry, “Glory!”

So, that in mind, it is no coincidence that the ministry of our Lord Jesus begins first with baptism and only with the voice of God; and even then, that voice is manifest in action and divine love, with the spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove from the heavens, opening at just that precise moment.  It’s a voice as from a loving parent, perhaps even as a mother would sound cradling her child in her arms:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” I have long been fond of speaking of our celebration of baptism in the church as a sacrament of welcome: be it be the christening of an infant or an adult baptism, it’s a welcome into a life of faith, a blessing for the beginning of a journey toward whatever life brings, and the affirmation of God’s presence and love being there at every part of the journey.  And truly, that’s what was happening here: a visible (and audible) sign of God’s active and continuing involvement in the redemption of his people.  It’s important to note here that the ministry of Jesus Christ did not begin in a vacuum but by the voice of God: a voice that was heard and felt by his people gathered that day by the River Jordan; a voice that made clear what God was doing in sending Jesus to this earth to bring forth his kingdom and to do the work of redemption; a voice that even now reminds you and me of the holy presence of God in our lives, yours and mine; of our baptism, and of who – and whose – we truly are.

In fact, lately, I’ve been thinking that for all the “sacramental” aspects of what I do as a pastor, at the end of the day I’m more of an officiant than the actual provider!  By that, I mean I’m not the one who truly “baptizes” the baby, any more than I’m the one who sanctifies the wedding vows between two people in love, or that I am the one who makes a simple meal of bread and grape juice the body and blood of Christ. I am simply the intercessory of what God is doing, the instrument of the music that God wants to be played.  God does the baptizing; God blesses the marriage vow; God in Jesus Christ, by his great and redeeming love, who makes the elements of bread and wine infinitely more than the commonplace.

In all of these sacraments, and so many others as well, there is the voice of the Lord, speaking in and through our hearts, our lives, and in the fellowship of faithful, kindred hearts; speaking so powerfully and personally that the very ways that we speak, and act and love are perceptively shifted in positive and creative ways.  I know that I have heard that voice speaking into my own heart and through the continuing journeys of my own life; and, unless I miss my guess here, I suspect you have too.  We experience that voice in the countless ways that God’s spirit moves in unexpected, life-renewing ways; and we hear it in the comings and goings of our our daily lives, if we’ll but have ears to hear what’s being said.  The good news is that all the love, and the peace, and the hope, and joy that is manifest in the voice of Jesus Christ has been spoken, and even better is that it continues to be spoken – even and especially now.

And that’s the challenge of the gospel, beloved: to listen for the voice of God!  Slow down for a minute; be quiet for once; listen in the middle of the silence for the voice that’s inside you, and pay attention:  for perhaps it is the voice of the Lord seeking at this very moment to lift you higher so you might walk along his pathways rather than your own.  Listen… for just maybe in the midst of all the other noise that fills up our ears we might just hear the sound of his voice; perchance to experience something holy and good.

Because it all begins with a voice… and with God.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
1 Comment

Posted by on January 12, 2020 in Baptism, Communion, Epiphany, Life, Psalms, Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

The Way… of True Worship

(a sermon for October 6, 2019, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday; first in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and James 5:13-20)

(a podcast version of this message can be found here)

So the question is… why are you even here today?

Seriously… what motivated you to get up out of bed and come to worship on such a beautiful autumn morning as this?  Don’t get me wrong; speaking both pastorally and personally I’m very glad (and grateful!) that you’re here, but I’ll confess this is something I always kind of wonder about!  Have you come here, for instance, out of a sense of gratitude for the ways God has been acting in your life?  Does this place and our time together in worship serve as an oasis, if you will, amidst life’s many difficulties, not to mention respite from a world that that more and more seems to be spinning out of control? Or is it more of a matter of routine for you, something you do simply because it’s Sunday morning?  I don’t know, perhaps you’re here this morning out of some sense of obligation or even guilt; hey, it happens!

Now, I’d like to think that maybe you’ve come here today because in some way or another you’ve found some measure of comfort, inspiration and joy in what happens in our time of worship, and you’ve come seeking more of that:  that you’re needing to hear and to sing music that speaks to the heart and lifts the spirit; hoping perhaps to recognize yourself in scripture or song or prayer; wondering if today the preacher just might say something applicable to your own life (and I’ll be honest, I’m always hoping that’ll happen)!  Or it could be that you’re hoping that being here will help you grow in faith and, to quote the Rev. Christopher Winkler, a Methodist pastor and preacher from Illinois, to live your life a little “more faithfully tomorrow than you did yesterday;” and perhaps by being part of this sacred community of the church you’ll find the kind of fellowship, support and teaching that will help you do that.

Actually, I suspect that truth be told, the reasons that led you to worship here this morning likely encompassed all or parts of this, and so much more besides!  And I hope it goes without saying that it’s all valid; I mean, this all speaks directly to our personality as a congregation and about the vitality of our life together, right?  It’s all about who we are and what we do in the context of Christian worship.  And worship matters; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that our gathering together for worship is the central activity of our life together as the church; some might even argue that it’s our primary reason for being.  But all of this said, friends, I would like suggest to you this morning that the real purpose for our gathering together on this or any Sunday morning, “the Way” of true worship ultimately has little or nothing to do with any of these reasons we’ve been listing off here.  If we are sincerely engaged, as we so often say, in worshiping the Lord “in Spirit and in Truth,” then it’s not  primarily going to be about the style of worship, or the preaching, or the music, or the way we “do” communion, or how we pray, or how long the service lasts, or how great the refreshments are going to be after the service, but simply and wholly in “ascrib[ing] to the LORD the glory due his name… worship[ing] the LORD in holy splendor,” glorifying and praising God for his steadfast love that endures forever.

Without that being first and foremost in our hearts, then all the rest of it?  It’s all very well and good, to be sure, but in the words of a worship consultant by the name of Ken Lamb, it all ends up as “all the wrong reasons for all the right things.”

The great 19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard used to use the theater as a metaphor for describing how most of us will misunderstand the role and purpose of worship. Kierkegaard would complain that all too often we imagine that the minister is the star actor or actress in a play, with the choir, the musicians and the rest of the worship leaders in supporting roles, and the congregation as the audience of theatergoers. In other words, worship itself becomes too much like a performance, in which those of us “up here” are engaged in offering up something of value to you “down there.”  And, trust me here, that’s not how it should be at all!  In fact, just the opposite; Kierkegaard says that in a proper “act and attitude of worship,” the worship leaders are in fact prompters helping to lead the congregation in offering up their best “performance” of worship and praise unto the God who is, “in the most earnest sense,” Kierkegaard writes, “the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to.”

The way of true worship, you see, is not so much about what we’re getting out of the experience but rather about what we are putting into it!  I’m reminded here of a great story told by Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary in which he recalled his years of being a church pastor, and how following a service of worship one day a member of the congregation met him at the door to berate him for the his choice of hymns for that day.  “Those songs you picked out were horrible,” she said.  “Not a single one of them were the least bit familiar, the words are all changed and they weren’t even singable… I hated every one of them.”  And to this, Barnes calmly replied, “Well, that’s okay… we weren’t singing them to you.” (I wish I’d thought of that!)  Ultimately, you see, our worship is not for us; our singing isn’t for our benefit nor our entertainment; our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and intercession is never meant to be an act of self-aggrandizement.

It’s about God.  Every part of our worship is to be directed toward and for the praise and glory of God.  I’m here as a prompter, so to speak, as are Kat and Susan and our choir; we are here to prompt your worship of God.  And in that regard as worshippers we’re all the performers, and the Lord God is the audience.  But it’s in that all those gifts grace and healing and forgiveness and wonder come to pass.

Our Old Testament text for this morning from the 1st Book of Chronicles has to do with David’s reclamation of the Ark of the Covenant, which was the container that ancient Israel had created to house the fragments of the stone tablets on which were written the ten commandments (and yes, in case you were wondering, that’s the same Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones went searching for in “Raiders of the Lost Ark…” but I digress!).  Biblically and historically speaking, the backstory here is that King David had done just about everything possible to return the Ark to Jerusalem and now it was finally happening; and with much music and shouting and food, not to mention David himself “leaping and dancing,” (15:29), there is this incredible celebration that now, at long last, the Ark – this symbol of who God was to them and everything God had done – the Ark  has been returned and now there would be this place of worship where the presence of God lived amongst his people.  There’s great rejoicing, and it all culminates with David calling the people to thanks and praise for all of God’s wonderful acts, “his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.”  You see what’s happening here?  It’s what one commentator I read this week refers to as “theology set to music;” a song that declares how wonderful God is, sung before the very presence of God!

A celebration of the presence of God amongst us; a joyous affirmation of the movement of God in and through our lives; a much-needed reminder of the reality of God’s unending hope and to give thanks and praise for his power amidst the living of these days:  that is what worship is supposed to be all about.  It’s what informs every part of this time we spend together every Sunday; it’s what my preaching, no matter the text or subject matter, has to be about; it’s why we sing and play the songs we do as a choir and congregation; and it’s what leads us in everything else we seek to be as the church of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our only Savior.  It’s what makes us who we are as a church and the “Way” that we walk… it is first to ascribe to God the glory due his holy name.

But, of course, that not where it ends.

Our other text for this morning, from the New Testament Letter of James, is another of the so-called “pastoral epistles” that seek to encourage us in the ways that we seek to live as disciples of Christ within (and beyond) the life of the church.  Specifically, it’s about dealing with those are sick or suffering or lost or enmeshed in sin (“Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.”), or even cheerful (!), in which case, a song of praise is in order!  The message here is that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” and that’s important to remember; but it seems to me that the larger point is that our prayer and praising, while of first importance and absolutely essential for us as God’s people, is never meant to happen in a vacuum.  We are called to bring true worship unto God and God alone, that is true; but by our worship, we are also meant to be transformed, day by day, more and more into the people God created us to be.  In other words, we should never leave here on a Sunday morning the same way we came in.  In some small, even perhaps at times in a seemingly imperceptible yet nonetheless palpable way, we ought to leave our time of worship feeling different… changed, somehow… challenged in our thinking and living… relieved, maybe, or strengthened, or filled up with something akin to true joy and real love.  Scripture is filled with stories of men and women and entire nations coming into the presence of God and being changed – body and soul and heart and strength – forever; and so it ought to be, each in our own way, with you and me.  What’s the saying about faith being a journey and not a destination?  Well, beloved, it’s God’s presence and power experienced in true worship that sets us forth on that journey.

In just a moment we’ll be answering this divine invitation that’s been given us, joining with countless other kindred hearts on this World Communion Sunday in feasting at the Lord ’s Table, sharing in this wondrous experience of knowing his presence in a simple meal of bread and wine. Now I know that in many ways, our sharing communion today is no different than it is on every other first Sunday of the month when we have communion, and that we have our “way” of having communion that’s wrapped up in tradition and liturgy and “the way we’ve always done it.”  And the truth is, at times I worry that this truly blessed meal becomes for us routine.  I hope and pray that this won’t be the case for any of us today, but that perhaps as we pass the bread from one to another and drink from the cup of blessing we’ll see it as an opportunity to fix our full attention on God; to truly give God our whole thanks and praise for the life abundant and eternal that’s been given us in Christ Jesus; and by our prayers, both spoken and silent, ascribe to God the glory due him.  But then, having been refreshed at this sacred table of joy and life, let us be moved to go… go and become the people that God has always intended for us to be.

This, beloved, will be the way of true worship, and I have no doubt that each one of us, and our world, will be the better for it.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , ,

The Right Thing to Do

(a sermon for September 8, 2019, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Philemon 1-21)

(The Podcast version of this message can be found here)

His name was Bernard Larlee, but to everyone in our little town, he went by the unlikely nickname of “Snigg.”  He was, in fact, the local postmaster and a stalwart member of the First Congregational Church; one of those folks who not only had been brought up in that congregation but who also over the years had ended up doing just about every job there was in the church, including teaching my 10th grade Sunday School class!

Looking back on it, Snigg must have had an awful lot of patience to be teaching at that level!  After all, as I recall, there were mostly boys in that particular class, and so not only were we as teenagers kind of restless, to say the least (!) but I’m also sure that the theological nuances contained in Paul’s epistles were pretty much lost on us!  It could not have been easy; but God bless him, Snigg soldiered on, and what I’ll always remember is that in just about every class there would come this moment when after a long while he’d just sigh a bit, quietly close his teacher’s manual and simply say, “Boys, let me ask you this… is there a Christian way to go to McDonald’s?”  Or, he’d ask, “If you’re a Christian, how do you sit in the stands at a Schenck Wolverine basketball game when we’re down by 20 points in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter… and it’s the Orono Red Riots?”

Now, of course, at first we’d all respond with smart aleck comments about praying over Big Macs and for decent referees, but what was interesting is that before long we’d find ourselves discussing these matters as though they were deep and profound questions of faith!  I mean, at the time McDonald’s was the place to go with your group – or with your date – after the movies at the K Cinema.  So that gave rise to questions both about how we related to one another as friends and classmates and how we treated others who we didn’t know, or who were outside of our social circle, or who were… different.  We’d be talking about things like dignity and respect and compassion and inclusiveness and yes, even love; and as far as basketball games were concerned, maybe good sportsmanship was important, after all, as was our refraining from referring to the opposing team members as Orono Red “Rots!” (And that was one of the nicer names…)

Whether we realized it or not, you see, what Snigg was teaching us was about faith; but not faith in the doctrinal sense, per se, nor from the lofty, some might say arrogant, perspective that oftentimes emanates from sitting in a church pew.  Snigg simply put out there for us how faith might actually affect our real lives; how our belief in God and in Christ Jesus could have an impact on our world view, our relationships, and on life just as we knew it and lived it.    We’d grown up on all the Bible stories, you see, from the time we were all little kids in the church nursery; we knew all about Noah and the Ark, Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, and how Jesus, the little baby born in the manger of Bethlehem, was the Savior who died on the cross for us.  We’d learned all about love and the golden rule; we understood (as best our 16 year old minds could ever possibly comprehend) the presence and power of God Almighty… but this?  These questions that Snigg the postmaster was challenging us to ask ourselves?  This was about us!  This was about how our Christian faith leading us to actively discern what was “the right thing to do” in any given situation… and then to actually do it!

Which leads us to our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul’s own very personal letter to a friend and co-worker by the name of Philemon.

First off, a little background:  at only 25 verses and 335 Greek words, the Epistle to Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters to be found in the New Testament as well as one of the most obscure, easily missed nestled between the books of Titus and Hebrews; truth be told, a lot of people don’t even know it exists!  Moreover, it is not, as is the case of most of Paul’s letters, written to the members of an entire congregation or a group of new Christians; and it’s decidedly not filled with any sort of theological discourse and weighty doctrines as what you find in Romans or Galatians.  It’s actually, and amazingly, a lot simpler than that:  it’s just a letter… albeit an open letter sent from Paul to Philemon, who was likely a member and leader of the church in Colossae in what is now Turkey.

This was a letter written from one man to another, friend to friend, regarding a kind of sticky situation involving a third man by the name of Onesimus, who was a slave owned by Philemon.  Basically, there had been some kind of falling out between master and servant: some scholars maintain that Onesimus was a runaway slave, others claim that perhaps Onesimus stole from Philemon or else committed some other kind of transgression against him and now was on the run for fear of reprisal or mistreatment.  And now Onesimus is with Paul, and while he’s with Paul Onesimus not only comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he’s also become as a son to Paul, to whom he refers to as his “own heart.”  Paul realizes, however, that Onesimus really does need to be sent back to Philemon because as a slave, Onesimus does technically belong to Philemon.  So… Paul decides to write this diplomatic and very flowery letter to his friend Philemon, appealing to his better nature (“I appeal to you on the basis of love,” he writes) but most of all to his faith in Christ (as The Message translates it, “I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other Christians”), finally asking Philemon if he might please forgive Onesimus “so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother,” adding that this is who Onesimus was to him and certainly, “he’ll be even more than that to you.”

A couple of things that should be said here: first of all, that we need to understand and own the fact that there have been many times throughout history – including, it should be noted, 400 years’ worth of American history as well – that this particular Epistle has been misinterpreted and misused as a way of sanctioning the enslavement of others, in part by virtue of the fact that Paul never condemns the practice.  Now, obviously today we know better – or at least most of the world knows better – but we also need to understand that this letter, and Paul’s words within, were written in the historical context of a Greco-Roman culture in which slavery was the norm and upwards of 35-40% of the populace were, in fact, slaves; which for me makes it all the more powerful and telling that Paul writes this very moving personal letter encouraging – no, urging… imploring (!) – true and loving reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus, and not out some desire to “drop all charges,” so to speak, or as an effort to maintain the status quo, but rather something said and done out of faith, and Christian love, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Now I realize that you and I today might look at this relatively obscure bit of scripture and dismiss it as something totally out of sync – inappropriate, even – given our more enlightened understanding of the world and our faith in this age (though by the same token, I also have to say that I’m not willing to believe, as some have been saying as of late, that the ongoing and egregious sin of racism can be entirely pinned to verses such as what we’ve read today).  It’s true that this little letter of Paul to his friend Philemon comes off as little dissonant given its background; frankly, it’s probably the reason that this isn’t a passage that gets preached on all that often!

But then again, if you go back and read it again… if we hear in Paul’s words his earnest plea that Onesimus not be punished but welcomed home (“If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me,” he says) and consider how Paul himself is more than willing to take the weight for any damages or debt that Onesimus might have incurred, and assures Philemon of this by emphasizing, “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it,”  (Actually, I have a feeling that if this were something written online, this verse would have been in all caps!) for me what becomes clear in this letter is that Paul is doing more here than trying to smooth things over; no, he’s seeking to do what’s right in this difficult situation and challenging Philemon to do the same, ever and always for the sake of Jesus Christ.  And so when we look at these verses that way, the question being asked both of Philemon and to you and me is no different, really, than “Is there a Christian way to go to McDonald’s?”)

I love what the Rev. Rick Morely, Episcopal priest and blogger from New Jersey says about this:  he writes, “if you dare to take a third glance at this passage what you’ll find is faith hitting the road in the lives of real people dealing with real difficult issues and relationships.  It’s the story of three people… struggling to live out their faith, and being challenged by it over and over again.”  This is what faith looks like, you see, when things get real in this life, when the rubber meets the road, when you have to make a decision solely because of what it is you believe in faith and nothing else, and when you’re put in the position of having to explain it or to challenge someone else because of it!  This is what happens when you or I actually have to live out of all those lessons learned in Sunday School; it’s about what happens after we’ve said “Amen” to the pastor’s Sunday sermon and have headed out these doors into the real world!

It’s one thing, after all, to hear Jesus’ words about forgiving someone “seventy times seven;” quite another when it’s that family member or friend with whom you had a falling out years ago.  It’s laudable to show concern for the poor and dispossessed, the prisoner and the outcast; but what about when he or she’s sitting there looking at you?  I suspect that most of us know, down deep inside, just how much there is that we might just need to change about ourselves on the basis of faith… but what happens when all of a sudden there’s this situation, this person, this request of us to do, by faith, exactly that which has always made us feel uncomfortable?  What do we do?  And how will that affect us moving forward?

I think that’s exactly the kind of challenge that letter Paul wrote to Philemon offers up for you and me… the day to day challenge of living our faith, friends in real time and in real ways; discerning the right thing to do, and then to actually do it!  It’s as simple – and as utterly complicated – as that.

Snigg Larlee also introduced me to the concept of a “suitcoat religion;” that is, the many believers have of wearing their faith like they would their Sunday clothes, looking good on Sunday morning but taking it off and putting it away once the rest of the week has begun.  In other words, Christianity is not meant to be relegated to a couple of hours once a week but is something meant to be an integral part of every hour of every day; in our work, our play, in and through our relationships with family and friends, in how we greet the stranger and in how we relate to all those who Jesus loves.  It is as Paul wrote to the whole church in Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe [our]selves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12); to forgive and to bear with one another, no matter how difficult that may be at times; to seek wisdom and understanding as we walk through these days, and to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts, to which indeed we were called in the one body… and whatever we do, in word or deed, [to] do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (v. 15, 17)

Maybe it’s a letter; maybe a well-spoken word at the right time; perhaps standing strong in the face of opposition or ridicule.  It’s always being who we are, which is how God has created us to be and has redeemed us in Christ.  It’s finding, and knowing, the right thing to do.

May the Lord in Christ lead us and bless us in that discernment… and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

Tags: ,

 
%d bloggers like this: