RSS

Category Archives: Epiphany

In the Moment

(a sermon for March 3, 2019. the Last Sunday after Epiphany and Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke 9:28-36)

Some years ago I was the officiant at a wedding at which there were eight – eight (!) – professional photographers commemorating the event!

Now, the reason for this was not because it was any kind of celebrity wedding invaded by paparazzi (!) but rather because the couple in question had won the grand prize at a bridal show some months before! And despite my initial misgivings – after all, from a pastor’s perspective it’s one thing to have a photographer in the sanctuary taking pictures all through the wedding ceremony but quite another to have eight of them crawling around (!) – it turned out to be a worthwhile experience for everyone involved.  Not only were these photographers all true professionals and not at all disruptive but each one had his or her own specialty and brought a unique artistic eye to the celebration which made for a one of a kind portfolio of wedding pictures.

Afterward one of the photographers, I guess as a way of saying thanks for granting them full access, sent me a packet of some of the photos they’d taken around the church that day; and they were all amazing!  But as good as the formal portraits and the ceremonial pictures all were, I have to say that hands down my favorites were all the candid shots: you know; the pictures that got taken when nobody was looking.  You might remember a few weeks ago we were talking here about how old photos have a way not only of revealing how we were back in the day but also tend to show who we are; well, these candid shots were the wedding pictures that showed forth the true joy of two people deeply in love and of the people who love them!

Actually, you know, the only problem I’ve ever had with someone taking pictures or shooting a video at a wedding is that I don’t want the bride and groom to be distracted from what’s happening.  After all, whether it’s a professional photographer doing the job or somebody’s clicking off a shot on their cel phones, when we notice that someone’s about to take our picture it’s only human to suddenly feel a little self-conscious!   Oh, no… were my eyes closed?  Was my tongue sticking out?  Is my hair alright?  Let’s try this again; I’ll be ready to smile properly next time!  It’s a perfectly normal response, but it’s too bad to have one’s mind wander to such things at a time when the bride and groom ought to be wholly focused on each other (of course!), on God (hopefully!), and on this quintessential moment of their lives!  Better to be wholly in the moment; to revel in it and to soak in every feeling, every nuance of it; because it’s a moment that will pass in a heartbeat, and this is what you’re going to want to remember!  In fact, I remember one young couple, and this was years ago, who were determined not to have any pictures or video taken at all – professional or otherwise – during the wedding ceremony itself precisely because it was for them a unique and sacred time and they wanted the memory of it to remain solely in their minds and hearts.  As they explained it to me at the time, they wanted to be wholly “in the moment,” so that moment could indeed be holy.

The truth is that such moments are not reserved merely for wedding days or, for that matter, for baptisms and funerals, graduations and retirements or any one of countless other major life events I could name.  What we know in faith, friends, is that there are holy, truly sacramental moments that can happen to us almost anywhere and at any time; God’s presence and power is to be seen and heard and felt in all of the varied and utterly wondrous experiences of our lives.  But the question is, how often in our all-too-human preoccupation with things nonessential do we end up missing out on that divine presence and what it means for our lives?  When have we been not wholly “in the moment,” and thus lose a moment that is holy?

Our text for this morning is Luke’s account of a holy moment that was truly one of a kind: the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.  Scripturally speaking, this a story that actually reveals a great deal about Jesus: about his power and authority; about his being the fulfillment of all that is contained in the Law and what was promised by the prophets; and about his quite literally being the light which was coming into the world (C.S. Lewis actually said it quite well when he described the transfigured Jesus as “the light streaming forth from God just as light is emitted from a lamp.”).  It’s also another story of divine proclamation, in which Jesus is affirmed as God’s own Son, “the Chosen,” one whose word was to be heeded.  So as such, this story of the transfiguration is of a true “holy moment;” but that said, we also need to add that it’s also a story about how those three disciples on the mountain with him – James, John,  and most especially Peter – were very nearly not “in the moment” at all!

As Luke recounts the story, Jesus and the three disciples had gone “up on the mountain to pray,” and that “while he was praying, the appearance of [Jesus’] face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  And in the midst of that light, two great men of faith – Moses and Elijah – appear “in glory” and they speak with Jesus about “his departure,” (actually, by the way, in the original Greek, “his exodus”), that is, what was about to befall him now that Jesus had turned his face toward Jerusalem.  Now, while all this is going on we’re told that Peter, James and John are all “weighed down with sleep;” so that in and of itself tells us that their attention to what was happen was “fuzzy” at best; but even though it must have seemed to be something like a dream to them, they were at least awake enough to see and behold this glorious and radiant moment.  But then, what’s the first thing that Peter says as the moment draws to a close and Moses and Elijah are departing?  “Master, is this great or what!”  (That’s my translation, by the way!)  Quick, Peter blurts out without thinking, “’Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” [The Message]  What Peter wants to do is to build a monument;  so to somehow capture this incredible moment so it could last forever (no doubt if this had happened today, Peter would have been the one recording the whole thing on his cel phone to post online!).

To be fair, Luke is quick to point out that Peter didn’t know what he was saying; but as that Peter had immediately become so focused on trying to preserve the moment, he wasn’t in the moment the way he could have been, and should have!  Perhaps this is one reason why almost as soon as Peter had uttered those words, a dark cloud swept over the mountain “and overshadowed them” to such an extent that all three of the disciples were immediately moved from awe to sheer terror;  and why in the moment that followed all they heard was the sound of a heavenly voice saying to them, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”

The thing about “holy moments,” you see, is they include at least two main components: the first is the moment itself – in which the divine enters wholly into our experience and demands our whole attention – and the second is where that moment ultimately and inevitably leads us.  At a wedding, for instance, the “moment” is all about love expressed and vows exchanged; but where it leads, what follows after the wedding kiss, is the marriage itself and the forging of a loving relationship over the course of many years.  A truly holy moment, whatever it might entail, includes both what is and what’s to come and in the end that’s what Peter and the other two disciples were missing.  They were so busy seeking to preserve that truly mountaintop experience that they were totally missing what even in that moment was being revealed about what awaited them in the valley below.  Actually, considering the fact that the gospels were composed well after the resurrection of Jesus, and given that we’re also told by Luke that after their shared experience on the mountain the disciples “kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen,” you have to wonder if any of them really understood at all what had just happened to them; or if years later – after Jerusalem, after the cross, after the empty tomb – there was another moment when they looked at one another and said, “Oh, yes; that’s what was happening!”

It’s very fitting that this particular story is one that’s traditionally shared by the church on the Sunday at the end of the season of Epiphany and just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of our shared Lenten journey to the cross.  Epiphany is all about the “holy moments” of Jesus’ coming into the world and our discovery of what that means for our lives and our living; it’s about Jesus calling us follow him, to leave everything to be his disciples and be fishers of people.  But the season of Lent is about where those discoveries are going to lead us; it’s all about coming to understand that that being his disciples also means taking up our crosses to do so.  It’s the other component of all the holy moments that are ours in following Jesus, and the point for you and me today is, just like those three disciples up there on the mountaintop, that it’s often a difficult thing to discern where and to what Christ would lead us as his disciples.  More often than not, you see, the answers we’re seeking as what’s to happens next don’t come to us in a burst of shimmering glory, but rather in the small bits of revelation that come to us along the journey.  Faith is a journey, beloved; discipleship is developed and deepened by the pathways we choose to walk.  But I would suggest to you this morning that it all begins by being wholly “in the moment” with the one who calls us forth.  For how are we to walk with our Lord, even unto the cross, if we don’t first attune ourselves to his presence and his power?

It is interesting to note that the Greek word we translate as “transfiguration,” admittedly not a term that we use every day, is actually metamorphose, which is where we get our word “metamorphosis.”  It’s not only an apt description of the “shimmery and shiny” appearance of Jesus on that mountaintop, but it also serves to describe what happens in these (holy) moments with our Lord; indeed, it is in the times that we spend alone with God in prayer and in the eloquent reflection of our souls before God that we also are transfigured, and thus transformed.  While our outer selves might not shine a dazzling white as did Jesus, within our hearts we do shine; and in the process we undergo a metamorphosis, becoming persons and a people who are equipped and empowered to walk with Christ along the adventurous way of faithful discipleship.

In another wonderful quote of his, C.S. Lewis once compared our own discipleship to… an egg; which, whatever else you can say about an egg, never ever stays the same.  Either, wrote Lewis, that egg is being transformed into a chicken, or else it slowly and inevitably rots away.  Much the same can be said for you and me in our faith:  either we are growing in our experience with God – in character, in knowledge, in maturity, in wisdom, in action – or because of our inattention to everything that God has set before us, we find ourselves missing out on that which is good and purposeful and full of the glory that comes from a walk with the Lord.

I pray that as our journey continues, yours and mine, that we will be attentive to God’s presence and power as we go.  May we truly be in the moment with our Lord, even now as we begin our journey with him to the cross; ever heeding that voice speaking to us as surely as it spoke from that particular mountaintop so many years ago:  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

So might it be, friends… and thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
 

Tags: ,

The Impossible Possibility

(a sermon for February 24, 2019, the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Luke 6:27-38)

I want to begin this morning by sharing with you some words from Luke… but in this instance, not the words of Luke the disciple, Luke the Physician, Luke the author of the biblical Gospel, but rather Luke… Skywalker!

That’s right, I said it (!), and might I just add here as a personal aside that I’ve been waiting over 30 years to get some kind of Star Wars reference into a sermon, so be kind!  It’s actually in a scene from the latest Star Wars film, “Episode 8: The Last Jedi,” in which – a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (!) – the peasant girl Rey journeys to the distant world of Act-To in search of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, in the hope that she can bring him back to lead the resistance in their battle against the First Order and, perchance, to herself learn the “ways of the Force” and become a Jedi; which is something that the now old, embittered and incredibly grizzled Luke Skywalker most decidedly does not want to do!

But Rey persists, and finally Luke agrees to give the girl a lesson on how to use the force; and starts by asking her, “What do you [even] know about the force?”  And with all the enthusiasm of a brand new, over eager greenhorn student, Rey immediately says, “It’s a power that the Jedi have that lets them control people… and make things float.”  To which Skywalker simply rolls his eyes and responds, “Impressive… every word in that sentence was wrong.”  And then, of course, Luke goes on to explain all that difficult and convoluted stuff about how the force binds the universe together and resisting the dark side of the force; and soon we’re off and running to face Kylo Ren in a light saber battle… (ahem) but I digress!  The point is, I loved that scene; it has a way of immediately breaking down our expectations about this mystical thing called “the Force,” and draws us in for something new ,  something challenging, and perhaps something even a bit unsettling!

Actually – and here’s just a small glimpse of the kind of unique things your pastor thinks about (!) – as I was watching this movie again a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering if there ever was a time for Jesus – surrounded at all sides by these throngs of people, to say nothing of the “learned” scribes and Pharisees who had all these assumptions and so much to say about God and faith and ways of true righteousness – if there was ever a moment that Jesus simply wanted to say to them, “That’s impressive… every word of what you just said was wrong…”

…and then proceeds to teach them something far different and seemingly more unlikely than anything they could have ever expected or even imagined for themselves!

Well, once again this morning, our text from Luke (the disciple and gospel writer this time!) is part of his version of the so-called “sermon on the mount;” in this instance the “sermon on the plain.”   And though the language and phraseology differs somewhat from what we find in Matthew’s account, what’s clear in both versions is that Jesus is putting forth something radically different from what any of them, inside and outside of the temple, had grown up thinking or believing about living out of a faith in God.  I mean, already – and you’ll remember this from last Sunday – Jesus has said, “Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sorrowful and despised,” and, let’s not forget, “Woe to you if right now you’re already rich, fat, happy and popular… because guess what, your time of mourning and weeping is coming sooner than you think!”

Jim Somerville, a Baptist pastor and teacher out of Virginia, has written that in many ways, what Jesus was saying must have “sounded [to the crowd] like the start of a revolution,” where the high and mighty would soon be pulled off their thrones in favor of the poor and lowly; and in fact, there were likely a good many in that crowd who were more than ready to do “what they could to hasten things along!”  And, to be fair, why wouldn’t they?  After all, for generations they’d all heard of prophecies of a Messiah who would rule on the throne of David, and of a kingdom with no end; this was everything they were expecting and more, and as far as they were concerned, it was about time!!

But then Jesus says something to these spiritual revolutionaries they weren’t expecting at all:  “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies…”

Say what?

You heard me, Jesus says: “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  As a matter of fact, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, [you] don’t even withhold [from them] even your shirt.”  And Jesus goes on from there, telling them that in every way that counts in their lives that they should “do to others as [they] would have [done] to [them];” to love people, even those people they don’t like, as they themselves would like to be loved, to do good, to give to everyone who begs them, and to lend, “expecting nothing in return.”  Oh, and by the way?  Don’t judge if you don’t want to be judged; don’t condemn unless you’re ready to be condemned; and start cultivating a spirit of forgiveness, because you’re going to need it!

So much for the revolution!  You have to wonder how those people were hearing Jesus’ words; not only was just about everything they’d understood to be true about the coming Messiah and what that meant for God’s people Israel turning out, according to Jesus, to be completely wrong (!), the possibility of this soon to be fulfilled Kingdom of God with all of its new expectations was sounding… well, difficult, if not downright impossible!  Love your enemies?  Bless those who curse you?  Turn the other cheek?  Really, Jesus… really?

It’s a question that I suspect that most of us have asked at one time or another.  The truth is that these words of Jesus are among the most familiar to our ears and central to what we know and understand about our Christian faith.  I mean, who among us has not quoted from the “Golden Rule,” to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  It’s Sunday School 101, the kind of basic wisdom that we’ve known of since the days we were in kindergarten!  So we know what Jesus is saying, but… to actually live out of that notion?  To not merely tolerate and grudgingly co-exist with our enemies but to truly love them? To be so generous that we’ll give to everything to anyone who begs, and to lend our resources with no thought of getting anything in return?  To actually turn the other cheek even in the wake of being injured yourself?  We do know the words, friends; and we may well hear Jesus’ teaching resonating in our ears; but it’s not at all an easy thing to do.  We could even go so far as to say that in this world and in these violent and difficult days some of what Jesus is asking of us here not only seems unrealistic but also at times, dangerous!

So what do we do with this?  How shall we answer Jesus?  How are we to make these impossible possibilities real in our lives and thus live this identity as “children of the Most High?”

Well, perhaps it begins in knowing that what we’re talking about here is love of another kind.  It turns out that there are six words in scripture that are translated in English as the word “love,” from romantic love (eros) to friendship (phileo), but the one that’s used in this passage is, in the Greek, agape, which speaks of self-sacrificial love; in other words, according to David Ewart, the “whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other,” where “nothing is held back, there is no hesitation, no calculation of costs and benefits, no expectation of anything in return… only total desiring of the well-being of the other for their own good.”  And… that’s whether you happen to like them or not!

In other words, it’s more than simply being “nice” to the people who have done us wrong; and it’s most certainly not taking on the characteristics of a doormat and letting ourselves be walked all over again and again (and while we’re on the subject, the idea of “turning the other cheek” was never meant – by Jesus or anyone else – to suggest we should submit to any kind of physical abuse, most especially by those in power, which was the imagery that Jesus was setting forth in that verse).  But it is to suggest that however we’re treated in this world, we have the opportunity to react differently.  David Lose puts this beautifully: he says that Jesus’ words are a promise to us that “it doesn’t have to be that way,” that we don’t have to answer the hurt and pain of this world by responding in the same way.  That violence doesn’t have to begat more violence; that divisive rhetoric does not require a “tit for tat” response; that we don’t need to create an episode of intolerance and injustice and to show that intolerance and injustice are wrong!  “There is another option,” says Lose.  “…we can treat others the way we want to be treated… there is enough, more than enough – love, attention, food, worth, honor, time – to go around” and that transcends the death and loss that is part and parcel of this world.  Perhaps we can be the reminder that “this world isn’t the only one, maybe not even the most real one.”

So we agape love our enemies; we show forth agape to those who hate and abuse us; we demonstrate agape in all of its whole-hearted glory to those in the greatest need, and we do it without any other expectation than to do even more!  To quote the philosophy of a recently departed saint of this congregation, “the question is not, ‘what can I do?’ The question is, ‘What else can I do?’”

Is this a “normal” way of doing things in this life, this business of having love for those who haven’t loved you, or even hated you?  No, I’m afraid not.  Is it an easy thing for any of us ever to do at allUsually, no. And is it true that that which we’re not ever supposed to expect in return we’re not actually going to get?  Yes, more often than not, that happens to be true.  But friends, on those occasions we take the risk to live this “impossible possibility” of true love not only does the world change, but we change along with it; real transformation happens and the Kingdom of God starts to take root within us!  And the best part of all is that though this is difficult for us to make happen, we do have a model for forgiveness, for mercy and for that full measure of true and redeeming love:  Jesus Christ our Lord, who even now is offering you and me that life changing transformation.

So let me ask you this, beloved?  Who is the enemy in your life who needs the kind of whole-hearted, unconditional, transformative love that only you can provide?  Where’s the good that needs to be done and can only be done by you?  Who is it that needs praying for that you have a hard time even looking in the eye?  Who’s been begging you for that which you’re able but up till now unwilling to give?

Is there mercy you can show but haven’t?  Have you held back on forgiveness even when you know better?  And while we’re on the subject, how’s your sense of judgment these days… particularly as it applies to other people?

At the end of this day, beloved, have you given a good measure of yourself… of your life… of your love?

You see, it’s not impossible; in fact, it can be the life we’re meant to live by the grace of God and in Jesus’ name.  I pray it might be so for each of us.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 24, 2019 in Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Life, Love, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

Tags: , , ,

A Matter of Trust

(a sermon for February 17, 2019, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, based on  Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26)

The story goes that there were twelve members of the clergy together on a plane, all flying to a church conference in a distant city; and while in the air as sometimes happens the airplane encountered a large storm causing a great deal of turbulence during the flight.  That kind of thing is always a bit disconcerting, but the clergy were actually pretty good-natured about it; joking with their fellow passengers and the flight attendants that there was no reason to worry because, hey, there were twelve ministers on board this plane and, they hastened to add, represented a whole range of religious backgrounds; so just about every base was covered!   Well, everyone had a good laugh, eventually the turbulence subsided, and afterward one of the preachers jokingly asked the flight attendant if the pilot had been aware he’d had some “heavenly help” on board during that storm.   “Well,” said the flight attendant, “he said he was happy to have twelve ministers aboard, but given the choice, he would rather have four good engines!”

It’s true, you know; that for all the choices we have at our disposal at any given time, the only choice that really matters is the one that will save us; so where we choose to place our trust inevitably makes all difference!

It’s actually kind of interesting to note just how many decisions in our lives end up as “a matter of trust.” The teenager you’ll let come into your home and babysit your children when they’re young; the confidence you have in a doctor’s care, or in a lawyer’s advice; the accountant you hire to handle your investments or do your taxes:  I mean, you do your research, you get referrals, you even go online to sites like “Yelp” and “Angie’s List” to check out customer feedback (!): but in the end, it comes down to whether or not you’re going to trust that service, or company, or person with that which is of great importance in your life!

Moreover, what and in whom we trust says a great deal about us, doesn’t it: where our priorities lie and what we believe to be true about our lives and living; in many ways it’s how we discern the pathways we choose to follow in this life. There are just so many choices before us – sometimes we’re aware of those choices, other times they’re made without our even realizing it – but for each one of us, sooner or later, those choices come to bear on our lives in ways positive or negative.  Like I said before, ultimately the only choice that really matters is the one that will save us; so where – and in whom (!) – we place our trust makes all the difference!

And as the prophet Jeremiah says, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.”

Those words from Jeremiah, from which our Old Testament reading this morning is drawn, date back to around 600 BC, a crucial moment in Israel’s history: around the time of the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people to Babylon. So these are words that speak directly to the lives of God’s people in that time; and make no mistake, they’re words of confrontation.  Jeremiah’s message to Israel from the Lord was clear even as it was disturbing: that they needed to fortify themselves by trusting wholly in God, rather than in man-made arrangements and self-styled security, lest in abandoning their faith they be left in ruin, both personally and as a nation.

Here was a nation you see, that had placed their trust in just about everything but God – in the midst of all this upheaval the kings of Judah had increasingly begun to place their allegiances in politics, prosperity and power plays rather than in following the pathway that God would have them lead – but now here was Jeremiah reminding them that “to trust in mere mortals and [to] make mere flesh their strength,” turning their hearts away from God in the process, was to be cursed, to end up no differently than “a shrub in the desert,” wasting away from the scorching sun and the lack of water.  Better to put your trust in something that will thrive in any situation, good or bad; best to put your trust in the Lord, who is like that tree that sends out its roots by the stream: as The Message translates it, “Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.”

A withering shrub left to die a slow and inevitable death out in the desert, on the one hand, or a leafy-green tree bearing fruit in abundance through harvest after harvest: that’s your choice, says Jeremiah.  So the question becomes then, in whom will you trust?

It’s actually a pretty good question for you and me as well.

After all, isn’t it true that we also have a tendency to place our trust in our own strength, or our own possessions, or our own ego driven style of success and fulfillment for the sake of a good life?  Is it not true that all too often our dependence in this world leans more toward the politicians and power brokers than on our faith in the Lord? Even and especially when times are hard and hope is hard to imagine, there is this all-too human temptation to believe that our way out comes with wealth or power or social acceptance or even the people and parties we vote for!   It all sounds good, and there are plenty of media outlets, social and otherwise, that will gladly reinforce the notion; but trouble with such an attitude of life is that wealth is at best, temporary; power and politics are always fleeting; and social acceptance, well, let’s just put it this way:  if you’re the flavor of the month in February, that’s wonderful, but just remember come March there’s going to be another flavor everyone flocks to, and when that time comes you’re just as apt to be put to the back of the freezer!

Jeremiah’s words serve to remind us that these kinds of utterly human pursuits are ultimately shallow in nature, and can never give us the nourishment that we need; and this is to say nothing of the way that such things leave us vulnerable to the damaging winds of life and living.  Truly, anyone who’s been there knows that all the money and the power and prestige in the world can ever change the hurt that comes with grief or hatred or struggle. The truth of it is that we need more.  There is within each one of us a deep need that can only be filled by something that is at once beyond and deeply within ourselves, and that is and can only be God!  It is only when we wholly trust in God, only with our hearts firmly rooted in the holy that we grow and flourish like leafy, life-giving branches.  When we live with our trust placed in God and God alone, it’s then that we find our true blessing.

No doubt you noticed that our gospel reading this morning is Luke’s version of Jesus’ Beatitudes (which, by the way, is not considered here a “Sermon on the Mount,” but a sermon “on a level place,” with Jesus standing there amongst “a great multitude of people” surrounding him). And it’s there that Jesus gives to the people not only a series of blessings, but also a series of “woes.” (One commentator I read this week referred to these as the “woe-beattitudes!”) And those woes are in direct relationship to the blessings.  In other words, “Blessed are you who are poor (notice that’s it not “poor in Spirit” here, like in Matthew, but “poor”) for yours is the Kingdom of God.”  And a few verses later, it’s “but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”   Blessed are you who are hungry and who weep… but woe to you who are full, because you’re going to be hungry; and woe to you who laugh now, because before long, make no mistake, you’re going to be mourning and weeping.  And here’s something interesting: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”  And what does it say later on?  “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”  So much for being Mr. or Ms. Popularity with hundreds of Facebook friends!

No doubt about it, this is one of those passages that fulfill that well-known prophecy that the gospel have a way not only of comforting the afflicted, but also, as they say, “afflicting the comfortable!”  Once again, in Jesus’ words we hear the same kind of radical reversals that Mary was singing about in the Magnificat; of how the lowly will be lifted up and powerful brought down from their thrones (Luke 1:52).  What’s being proclaimed is the coming of God’s Kingdom into the world; but in the process Jesus is also spelling out some of the very real things of this world that distract us from that kingdom and keep us from God; how placing our trust in the things of the world rather than in God in effect brings woe upon ourselves!

The question that each one of us needs to ask ourselves is this: when it comes down to the nitty-gritty in this life, in what and most importantly, in whom do we really trust?  What is it that we’ll bet our lives on?  Friends, bottom line is that if our trust is in ourselves, or in our money, or our possessions, or our wits and good looks, we’re on shaky ground.  Woe be unto us if we do that, because such things do crumble and blow away like so much scrub brush and tumbleweed.  But for those who place their trust in God, there’s blessing; for even when everything else in the world around us seems to fall away – when the money’s gone, when our ideas fail us, when our friends abandon or betray us, when it seems like we haven’t got anything left inside of us to carry on – we still have the presence, power, the peace and the nurturing care of an infinitely loving God.

Among my many small fascinations in this life is a tree that grows on a rock.

Seriously!  We’ve actually got one of these out in front of our family’s camp up in “the county;” an old yellow birch which has been clinging defiantly to a huge rock on the shore of the lake for longer than my lifetime, its long and gnarled roots wrapped all around it; and yet all the while growing and stretching its shady branches ever further over the water. Many was the time over the years growing up that I’ve marveled at that tree hanging at the angle it does, wondering how it can possibly defy gravity like that!  And even now it remains; still growing and dare I say, still thriving despite all the windswept mid-summer storms and intense winter “nor’easters” that have come at it over the years. Indeed, there have been other trees around our camp – bigger, straighter and seemingly stronger – that have fallen to the ground in that time; trees that were ultimately unable to stand firm against all that our New England weather can typically dish out.  However, come what may, this one precariously perched old tree just never seems to yield!

Of course, looks are often deceiving and upon closer examination you discover that the roots of this tree have over time reached around the rocks, pushed between and through cracks and crevices, and stretched into whatever soil it can find and eventually right into the spring fed mud of the lake itself!  That’s how, despite all outward appearances and seemingly impossible odds, this old birch tree has managed to stay strong, tall and leafy green summer after summer; long past the time when so many other trees have gone to mulch.

When our trust is in God and what God provides us we are indeed like that tree: ever clinging to the rocky ledges of life, yet ever and always surviving as our roots are drinking in the thirst-quenching glory of God’s living water.  As the song goes, when our trust and our care is in the Lord, we shall not be moved… but rest assured, we’ll also grow… we’ll grow tall and strong and lasting.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”

Blessed are those whose trust is the Lord!

Thanks be to God who makes us strong.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Life, Maine, Old Testament, Sermon

 

Tags: ,

 
%d bloggers like this: