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Category Archives: Epiphany

Come and See… Come and Be

Call of Nathaniel

(a sermon for January 14, 2018, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, based on John 1:43-51

It’s a scene that’s repeated itself, actually, quite a number of times over the years I’ve spent as a pastor. Maybe it’s after a funeral, or at a wedding, or on a hospital visit; or else in the midst of some conversation where the subject of my particular vocation comes up: someone will say to me, very sincerely, “You know, I like you… you’re normal.

Ummmm… thank you?

“Yeah,” they’ll go on to say, “you’re not like those other fire-and-brimstone-head-in-the-clouds-holier-than-thou types of preachers!  You seem like regular people, and I could really get behind a pastor like that!”  Okay, I’m thinking, I’ll take that as a compliment… not to mention this may be a chance for some meaningful dialogue between this person and me.  Could be that this conversation had suddenly become an opportunity for Christian outreach; maybe this is the moment this person gets to truly hear the Word of God; perhaps the Spirit has moved in just such a way that he or she is introduced to Jesus Christ!  Who knows; maybe I’ll even get them to come to worship sometime!

But then, usually before I even have a chance to get a word out, they’ll add these words that bring everything to a screeching halt:  “But just don’t ever invite me to church.  You’re fine and all, but I’m just not that much into religion!”

Oh, well… but I guess as the saying goes, you win some, you lose some… but as it turns out, some people don’t even want to play the game!  I also think that’s why, as I’ve been revisiting it this week, I’ve felt like our scripture reading for this morning sounded so very familiar!

You see, each year during the Epiphany season, we in the church return to the gospel accounts of Jesus calling the twelve disciples; and like most of you, I suspect, I love those stories!  I love them not only for their truth, but also their beauty and simplicity:  Simon and Andrew are fishing along the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus comes along, saying, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (Mark 1:17)  And immediately, they both leave everything to follow Jesus; as do James and John and the rest.  John’s gospel tells the story a little differently, of course, with two of John the Baptist’s disciples inquiring of Jesus where he was staying; but there we hear Jesus’ simple answer for the first time:  “Come and See.” (1:39) It’s all so poetic and so wonderfully and immediately life-changing; and, for me at least, it expresses everything that an encounter with the Lord ought to be!

But then there’s the calling of Nathanael; good ol’ skeptical, sarcastic and – dare I say – even snarky Nathanael!  David Lose points out in an article on this passage that while in today’s culture it’s not at all unusual to hear sarcasm get used to make a point (in fact, way too much these days, I would say!), it’s rare to hear it used in scripture.  But as we heard it from John’s gospel this morning what’s the first thing that Nathanael says when he’s approached by Philip, already a disciple, about this amazing man “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote,” this “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth?”   It’s a smart-aleck comment about Jesus’ hometown:  Come on… “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Simply put, where Jesus was concerned, Nathanael really had little or no interest in even meeting the guy!  As far as Nathanael knew, Jesus was merely another self-appointed teacher from some little backwoods town.  A prophet?  Not likely!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?  Please!  Don’t even waste my time, says Nathanael.  And that might well have been the end of it; but no, Philip wasn’t going to take this for a response, and simply says to Nathanael, “Come and see.”  Just come and see… what do you have to lose?

And that, for Nathanael – as well as for all of us who sometimes wonder what all of what we do in the church is for, and why – that’s where this story gets very interesting.

Nathanael does decide to follow Philip to see Jesus, and as Jesus sees Nathanael coming, he offers up a bit of a quip of his own: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is not deceit,” or, as The Message puts it, with “not a false bone in his body.”  Jesus, you see, was referring back to the Old Testament story of Jacob, whose name eventually became Israel and who, if you know the story, was anything but a man without deceit!  It was a good natured joke on Jesus’ part, an ice-breaker, if you will; but ultimately it was something more.  And Nathanael must have sensed that, because his answer was to ask, no doubt defensively, “How do you know that?  How do you know me?  You don’t know my life!”

And that’s when Jesus says the thing to Nathanael that makes all the difference:  before Philip even brought you here, “I saw you under the fig tree.”  Now, understand that this more than Jesus confessing that he’d seen Nathanael “around” Galilee.  You see, in Jesus’ time, the image of someone sitting under a fig tree was synonymous with a that of someone both seeking – and imparting – spiritual knowledge.  It was not uncommon to see a rabbi – a teacher of the law – teaching his students the precepts of faith under the shade of the fig tree; and so, for Nathanael to be seen “under the fig tree” was immediately to suggest that he was longing for something more than just the here and now of daily life.  He wanted peace, and consolation; he needed the wholeness of divine blessing, and to truly know righteousness.

We know what that’s like, don’t we?  You and I might not understand why or how it should come about; but we do know that we need it, that we want it, that we yearn for it: this assurance that everything in our life and living… somehow makes sense and has greater meaning and purpose.  We want to know that our faithfulness means something, and that the love and kindness we espouse makes a difference in the world; speaking personally and globally – and most especially, spiritually – we want everything to come out good in the end!  Perhaps we don’t always express it in exactly this way, but in and through it all, we have this desire that heaven and earth come… together!

As John tells the story, when Jesus says this about the fig tree immediately something changes for Nathanael; it’s like for him a light suddenly flickering to brightness!  In fact, if we correctly understand the meaning of the word “epiphany” as light and a higher level of spiritual awareness, then it’s clear that Nathanael had an epiphany!  We don’t know exactly why or what it was about the fig tree analogy that got him; all we know is that now Nathanael is a follower of Jesus.  “Rabbi,” he says, hardly believing that the words are coming out of his mouth, “you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

Granted, it does seem like a all-too sudden reversal of what must have been a lifelong level of skepticism on Nathanael’s part; but then, isn’t that the nature of faith, that oftentimes it’s not the logical or provable theorem that convinces us to embrace God’s presence and power; that it’s not always the sign or the miracle that will convince us to follow the Lord, or to find religion, or to go to church (!).   Sometimes it’s simple a new awareness of something more… to life, to living, to ourselves… than what we ever sensed before.  Faith is less of a conviction than it is an experience, friends; and the thing is, so often that experience begins with that loving and gracious invitation to “come and see!”

But wait… there’s more…

I love how John’s account of Nathanael’s call does not, in fact, end with his confession as Jesus as the Son of God; that Jesus answers back to Nathaniel by asking, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?”  Because Nathanael, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!  And Jesus goes on to talk about how Nathanael’s going to see the heavens opened, and “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man,” just like Jacob’s Ladder of old!  Get ready, Nathanael, because it’s all going to happen, and much more!  Come and see, yes, but come… and be… be part of it!

I think that this is the thing that most of us forget about our confession of faith: that it represents not a destination, but a journey.  Martin Luther (the Protestant Reformer!) said it very well, I think:  “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise.  We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.  The process is not yet finished, but it is going on.  This is not the end, but is the road.  All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”

Jesus calls us: o’er the tumult, o’er life’s wild restless sea, in and through the joys and all of the great challenges – and sorrows – of human life.  But he does not call us to one defining moment or one, all-purpose answer or to a single, pithy response to all of life’s persistent questions; Jesus, in fact, calls us to follow him.  To come and see who he is and what he teaches, and what wonders he imparts; but then, just as importantly, to come and be… to quote David Lose one more time, to “be what God has called you. Be the person the world needs. Be all you can be.  Be the beloved child of God” who invites others to the same kind of transformative experience you’ve known along your own journey with Jesus Christ on the way.   Always remember, friends, that while faith begins with believing, it certainly doesn’t end there.  Faith also means becoming; and that is not only true for each one of us, but also for every single person out there who finds themselves beneath a shady fig tree.

You know, over the years I’ve come up with a lot of responses for people who, while they might like me alright, are quick to dismiss what and who I represent.  Sometimes, for instance, I like to point out that it’s okay to be skeptical of religion, because religion is easy, and it’s faith that really matters;  other times, if they make a point of saying they don’t like organized religion and I’m feeling particularly snarky that day, I simply invite them to church anyway, because we “haven’t gotten ourselves organized yet!”  Mostly, to be honest, I just go on with the conversation, hoping and praying that our dialogue about things faith-related and in some small way, my example, might spark something in them later on.  You know what I’m saying; even as pastors, we don’t want the conversation to become somehow awkward, do we?  It’s the same for all of us; but what we’re reminded here this morning is that it doesn’t have to be that way

What would it be if we simply answered the skeptics of this world not with words that are defensive, or irritable, or boastful, or demanding, but with an invitation that is both gracious and loving? To simply say to them, “come and see?”  Why don’t you come and see what it is we’re about; perchance to see what you’re all about along the way?

Beloved, it is in our graciousness, our hospitality, and above all, in the love that we embody and which we share that makes us true disciples, and eloquent tellers of the good news of Jesus Christ.   Remember always that so much of what our Lord has to offer – forgiveness, redemption, life abundant and eternal – begins with simple invitation; to come and see… come and be.

I pray that as each one of us accepts that gracious invitation, that we will be just as willing to extend that invitation to everyone all around.

And as we do, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in Church, Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Ministry, Sermon

 

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God’s Own

(a sermon for January 7, 2018, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11)

Maybe it’s because we’re just starting a new year with all its mystery and possibility, or perhaps it has to do with the fact that I realize that I’m now beginning – slowly, mind you, ever so slowly – to creep into the latter phase of my middle-aged years (!); but I have to confess that lately I’ve been asking myself a question that I’m guessing most of us have asked at one time or another:

Just who am I in the scheme of things, anyway?

Seriously… wouldn’t you agree with me this morning that this might well be one of the single most crucial questions you and I face over the course of our lives and living?  Understanding, of course, that this is not merely a matter of name, rank and serial number; the knowledge of one’s credit rating or pin number; or even if one happens to be a dog person or cat person!  No, this is a question that has to do with the search for self; it’s nothing less than the very quest for one’s own place amidst the conflicting claims and utter confusion of human life! I guess that’s why a question like this is not reserved for the young, but also for those of us who… well, let’s just say those of us who have the benefit of additional life experience!   It’s a question of all of us, to be sure; in fact, it’s what the renowned author and journalist Gail Sheehy refers to as the “one continuing, never-ending, life-long crisis of identity; the ‘Who am I?’ [that’s] asked all the way from womb to tomb, through one passage to the next.”  Simply put, figuring out exactly who we are in the scheme of things can be a long process, and it is by no means easy!

And what makes it all the more difficult is that literally from the time we’re born and continuing up to today and beyond, there’s always some person, some group, some cause or another, some social or political manifesto out there that that proposes to answer that question for us; to give us an identity, as it were, forged in their image!  For instance, pick up any magazine at the checkout line at the supermarket, or for that matter, turn on the television any night of the week and the message is crystal clear:  that we are beautiful, physically perfect, sexual beings who live wholly unto the ideal of pleasure, popularity and affluence! Never mind that such an ideal is not only unattainable but also potentially dangerous (!), nonetheless that’s what all the advertisers of this world seize upon.  Madison Avenue would in fact convince us that we are all merely consumers, makers and spenders of money; and that our primary purpose in life is to accumulate all those things that make us like the people on the magazine covers!

And it goes on and on: we’re told by the business and academic world that who we are is defined by what we do; more to the point, by how successful we are at what we do, even if that success comes at the expense of family, friends or even God.  The political pundits, especially these days, quickly and way too easily seek to label us as “Red State” or “Blue State,” liberal or conservative, democrat or republican, progressive or “deplorable.”  And then, of course, there are those in just about every walk of life who proclaim the gospel of self-centered, self-made autonomy; in other words, “It’s all about me,” except when it involves you, and then… well, it’s still all about me!

My point in all this is to say that for most of us it’s hard to get a clear sense of who we are in the scheme of things when the rest of the world is offering up all these warped and confused ideas of what it means to be a person of some kind of depth and integrity! And this is particularly true, I think, for those of us who would carry the mantle of “Christian,” because the world most decidedly does not seek to instill that sense of identity within us; in fact, such is the radical nature of the Christian faith is that more often than not, the world would seek to pull us away from that identity!

So that’s why, friends, it is so very important – crucial, really, most especially in these times– that you and I remember our baptism.  It seems like such a simple thing, but when it comes to who we are, it’s truly everything!  For just as at the moment of our Lord Jesus’ baptism, “a voice came from heaven [saying]: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” so by the baptism of water and the Holy Spirit we are also affirmed and identified as God’s own beloved children.  It is by our baptism that we can truly know who we are!

You see, whether we’re talking about the baptism of young children or the confession of faith of an adult, we understand baptism as ultimately a rite and sacrament of identity.  William Willimon, in fact, gives one of the best definitions of this I’ve read in recent years; he writes that baptism is when “a Christian first and finally learns who he or she is.”  I like that; in other words, it’s not about what “we ought to be,” or “what we have to work toward,” or “what we will be someday if only we can quit messing up and get it right for a change,” and it’s most decidedly not what the world says we can be if we just get with the program!  Christian Baptism is about what we are – here, now, today – and what we are, is “God’s own, claimed and ordained for God’s serious and joyful business.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to know that I am “God’s own;” moreover, given the cacophony of mixed messages that I keep hearing from the world, let me tell you that I need to know that.  I think that’s why I have always gravitated toward our reading from Isaiah this morning, because this is one of the great and eloquent reminders from scripture of who and whose we are:  “…thus says the LORD… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

You are mine:  what a powerful message that is… and it always has been.

We need to remember that this word was directed to the people of Israel living in exile: miles from home, their city destroyed, their faith fading into little more than a distant memory, their very existence as a people in danger.  Understand that these were people unsure of who they even were anymore, and that alone filled them with a sense of fear and dread that they would forever remain a people lost and abandoned.  But that we can understand, can’t we; isn’t that, after all, one of the most common fears that almost everyone shares; to be completely and utterly alone?  I’m remembering a classmate of mine from seminary days who apparently as a teenager spent a short time living on the streets.  I say “apparently” because the truth is, she didn’t talk all that much about it; in fact, all I ever remember her saying is that she learned a great deal from the experience, and that the worst part of it was that she felt like “nobody.”  Can there be anything worse than being… nobody, with no identity at all?

And so it was for Israel; but now, in the midst of their worst fear and greatest despair, comes the assurance of the Lord:  “Do not fear… [for] you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”   Or, consider The Message’s translation of this particular passage:  “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and the hard place, it won’t be a dead end – because I am God, your personal God, the Holy of Israel, your Savior.  I paid a huge price for you:  all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in! That’s how much you  mean to me!  That’s how much I love you!  I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you.”

That’s just how much we’re loved – we’re not a nobody; and we’re more than just anybody or even somebody – we are “precious … and honored” in God’s sight; bought with a price, named and claimed as God’s very own so that he might love us today and tomorrow and for all of life, now and eternally.  And to “seal the deal,” as it were, he sent to us his own beloved Son, Jesus; so that by and through him we might always know just how deep God’s love truly is, and how, by that love, we can come to know ourselves as we truly are.  We are, you see, ever and always in all things and in all ways, God’s own.

Oh, yes, I know; the fact is that all of us here can claim a whole lot of identities over the course of our lives.  We’re sons and daughters, we’re husbands and wives, we’re parents and grandparents; we’re known by what we do for work, and the things we enjoy doing; we’re known by that which we believe in and the causes that we’re passionate about; we’re known by the words we speak and even more so by the actions we take; and sometimes we’re even identified by the kind of friends we have, but most especially by the kind of friends we are!

The truth is that every one of us here can answer that question – “who are you, anyway?” – and do so in a wide variety of ways. But the good news we’re given today, beloved, is that at the heart of who we are is this pervasive and enduring truth that we are first and foremost, each and every one of us a child of God!  That is the one identity that gives shape and color and form to all the other names and roles that we can ever carry; it is our baptism, this affirmation that we’ve received that we are God’s own that tells us, and the world around us, everything that’s needed about just who – and whose – we are in the scheme of things.

One of the nice things, you know, about coming to the Lord ’s Table as we do is that in coming into the presence of the Lord in the bread and the cup, we are reminded of our “true identity,” so to speak.  Maybe that’s something you need today; maybe these next few minutes can serve as a way of reconnecting with who you really are, as opposed to who everything and everyone else in the world has told you or maybe expects you to be… maybe this is the day you get back in touch with the one who has loved you enough to make you his own.  I can’t think of a better way to start off a new year than that!

Don’t be afraid, God says.  I’m with you, and I will be with you till the end of the age.  That’s how much I love you.

The table is set, beloved; so let us come and feast on the presence of our Lord; and to remember our baptism!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Courage

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(a sermon for February 26, 2017, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, based on Joshua 1:6-9 and Philippians 1:27-30)

Of the many words I could use to describe the Christian life, that is, what it means for you and me to live as followers of Jesus Christ, I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the most wholly accurate descriptions comes in the word courage.

Now I know that for most of us, this is likely not the first word that comes to mind; I’m guessing it’s probably faith, or maybe hope, joy, grace, peace, and then, of course, there’s love!  And these are all good words, very apt descriptions of our life in Christ; but lately I’ve been thinking that so many of these virtues we espouse as being part and parcel of our faith are made apparent and real to us first because of the courage it takes to walk in faith.

In other words, so often things like hope, joy and love are revealed in and through some expression of courage!   C.S. Lewis wrote about this; he said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Without courage, you see, people tend to approach a given situation with fear rather than embracing it with love and joy.  Without courage, people are reluctant to make sacrifices or accept challenges; truly, sometimes the most courageous thing any of us ever do in life is to simply “go on faith,” accepting God’s presence and power for the journey ahead rather than our own.  So while courage is not technically or biblically described as a spiritual gift or even a fruit of the spirit, it nonetheless takes real courage to live as a believer!

Now the dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength.  To venture, persevere, withstand, [to] confront danger or difficulty.” Interestingly enough, if you look up the word “dare,” you’ll find that defined as “to be bold enough to challenge, to confront boldly, to have sufficient courage.”  So it follows that having courage goes hand in hand with being bold and daring and strong come what may; to accept challenges, to persevere amidst struggle; and to stand up against that which is difficult or wrong, and likewise, to stand for what it is that we believe.

And if that’s all true, then it also follows that courage is pretty much the starting place for true Christian discipleship!

This actually points to one of the most common misconceptions regarding Christians and Christianity:  it’s the assumption that we church people are all merely a bunch of smiley, happy, sickeningly nice people going about daily life pious to the max while blithely ignorant of the harsh realities of the world we live in!  Folks, that’s wrong on about a hundred different levels: to begin with, there’s not one of us who can claim the mantle of smiley, happy and nice all the time (let’s be honest, some of us struggle about being that way at all!). Furthermore, it suggests that this fantasy of unending happiness somehow exists as a reality in this world!  Now don’t get me wrong; I do believe, as the song goes, it’s a wonderful world, full to overflowing with joy and awesome wonder (and our faith in God in Jesus Christ brings that to full fruition in our lives!).  But to deny that there is also darkness and evil in the world – and that sin does exist in the human heart – is, I believe, to miss the whole point of Jesus’ coming, which was to seek and save the lost, and to bring all of humanity into reconciliation with God.

To be a Christian is to understand that darkness and fear is a very real part of life; but it’s also to know beyond any doubt that we are named and claimed by this infinitely loving God whose greatest desire is that we should never have to dwell in darkness, or to live our lives of that fear.  It is no accident that some 365 verses of the Bible include the words “do not fear,” and that throughout scripture, as in our reading this morning, God’s people are exhorted to “be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Lord spoke these words to Joshua as he was commissioned to become the leader of Israel after the death of Moses; a daunting task at best.  After all, having spent all those years in the wilderness God’s people had become restless, rebellious and more than a little difficult; to say nothing of fearful of the dangers and still unknown struggles that awaited them on the journey ahead.  Joshua was going to need strength and courage in large measure if he ever hoped to lead them into the Promised Land.  And the good news here is that God promises to provide both, assuring Joshua that “no one shall be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses,” says the Lord, “so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” 

It’s a powerful promise, indeed; but you’ll notice that God does not simply leave it at that.  This assurance is very quickly followed by both a caveat and word of instruction: “Be strong,” says the Lord, “and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”  One thing God makes clear here to Joshua: the hardship and difficulty of their life’s journey wasn’t going to end anytime soon… and sadly, neither will ours.

The fact is, in this life fear is always going to be somewhere near at hand, ever and always presenting reasons and temptations for holding back on the journey before us.  Not every pathway is clear and well-lit, and we might as well know that moving forward.  But – and this is key, friends – what we do have for the way ahead, what we always have for the way ahead, is that which gives us courage to keep going: God’s presence, God’s power and strength, and God’s word!  Truly, to keep what God has to give us firmly at the forefront of our lives is to “be strong and courageous.”

Actually, it seems to me that God actually offers us two kinds of courage:  the courage to be, and the courage to do.  Now the courage to be is the courage to stand when all else around us seems to be flying in all directions.  The Psalms are filled with evocations of this kind of courage; for instance, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.(46:1-2) This isn’t a denial of the existence of struggle and hardship; on the contrary, it acknowledges that life is filled with measures of both joy and pain, but it also proclaims that in faith, you and I are given the courage to stand and to endure amidst times of horrific loss and grief, and the grace of God’s strength and his comfort as we move forward.

But then there’s the courage to do (or, not to do, for that matter!); this is the stuff it takes to live out our faith despite the storms that rage around us, and to do so even when there’s risk involved.  It’s to act faithfully even when we know that it’s going to place us in the minority, or when it might even cost us friendship, social status, career, or in some extreme cases, even our lives.  It’s knowing the right thing to do, and then doing it; all for the sake of what it is we believe, in the process heeding the very precepts of our God and seeking, as his disciples, “to follow Christ’s way” of courageous, self-sacrificial love.

History is rife with examples of that kind “faith-filled” courage.  In her book Conscience and Courage – Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, Eva Fogelman writes about acts of courage that not only saved the lives of Jews during the 2nd World War, but also forever transformed the lives of those doing the saving: for instance, she tells the story of a seventeen year-old Polish girl who hid thirteen Jews in a small apartment with her seven year-old sister; another story of young boy who took only half his medicine at the hospital so that his Jewish “brother” could have the other half as he lay sick in hiding; or consider the case of an entire village in France who hid and saved hundreds of Jewish children throughout the duration of the war.  These were ordinary people who displayed extraordinary moral and physical courage even at the threat of their own imprisonment and death.  And at time when so many had sunk to utter depths of cruelty and inhumanity, that kind of faith in the face of fear literally “saved” the world.

Amazing stories; but I would suggest to you that to see such a contrast between courage and fear, we don’t really have to look much farther than our own daily lives.  It strikes me that each and every day you and I are given choices whether to speak or act out of our fear, or else to act with God-inspired courage for the sake of our faith.  One choice inevitably leads to division, anger and hatred; the other creates life, peace, love and joy.

As an illustration for this today, there’s a very special song I want to share with you.  This is a piece of music written by the late Bob Blue, who was a schoolteacher and a wonderful songwriter from Massachusetts; and it is a story song that is appropriately entitled, “Courage.”

A small thing once happened at school
That brought up a question for me,
And somehow it brought me to see
The price that I pay to be cool.

Diane is a girl that I know.
She’s strange, like she doesn’t belong.
I don’t mean to say that that’s wrong.
We don’t like to be with her, though.

And so, when we all made a plan
To have this big party at Sue’s,
Most kids in the school got the news,
But no one invited Diane.

The thing about Taft Junior High
Is, secrets don’t last very long.
I acted like nothing was wrong
When I saw Diane start to cry.

I know you may think that I’m cruel.
It doesn’t make me very proud.
I just went along with the crowd.
It’s sad, but you have to in school.

You can’t pick the friends you prefer.
You fit in as well as you can.
I couldn’t be friends with Diane,
‘Cause then they would treat me like her.

In one class at Taft Junior High,
We study what people have done
With gas chamber, bomber, and gun
In Auschwitz, Japan, and My Lai.

I don’t understand all I learn.
Sometimes I just sit there and cry.
The whole world stood idly by
To watch as the innocent burn.

Like robots obeying some rule.
Atrocities done by the mob.
All innocent, doing their job.
And what was it for? Was it cool?

The world was aware of this Hell,
But how many cried out in shame?
What heroes, and who was to blame?
A story that no one dared tell.

I promise to do what I can
To not let it happen again.
To care for all women and men.
I’ll start by inviting Diane.
                              – “Courage,” written by Bob Blue

It’s true, you know; so many of the biggest choices you and I make are wrapped up in the smallest moments and the most unexpected circumstances of our lives.  How we respond to the struggles we face; how we answer to the challenges that confront us speaks volumes to those around us about who and whose we are, and about the real place that faith in God holds in our lives.  Each one of us needs to have the courage to be, and to have the courage to do, friends; and this courage comes to us from God, manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our reading from Philippians, we are urged be “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by [our] opponents.”  To move from being intimidated to having the courage to stand firm in one spirit requires an awareness of God’s presence with us and an attentiveness to God’s Word as it applies to our own lives.  So may we never let this or any day pass without letting God speak to us and have his Spirit move us; so that we might indeed be strong and courageous in all things, knowing that the LORD our God will be with us wherever we go.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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