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Category Archives: Epistles

Why We’re Here

(A sermon for July 7, 2019, the 4th Sunday After Pentecost, based on Galatians 6:1-16)

(Note: An audio version of this message can be found here )

One of the things I’ve come to realize over the course of 35-plus years (!) in this work is that it’s pretty much a rare occasion when your identity is not wrapped up in being a minister!

Not that this is a problem for me; truly, I think you know that I love what I do, and that this calling to ministry is part and parcel of who I am!  That said, however, I must confess that there have been moments when I’d have just as soon remained anonymous: like when you’re all dirty and grubby and tired from having worked outside all day and you’re rushing to get to the post office before it closes, only to be met in line by a perfect stranger who recognizes you as a local pastor, and wants to know all about your church; or like up when you’ve been invited to a marshmallow roast with your child and you end up being cornered by two men from another church in another town who want you to settle a horrible dispute they’ve been having in their congregation about how much the organist should be paid (true story); and let’s not even talk about those well-meaning people who wish to pick your brain about end times, the virgin birth and where Cain got his wife… all while standing in the frozen food aisle (also a true story)!

I think I speak for a lot of my colleagues in ministry when I say to you that this is why we tend to keep a low profile while we’re on vacation!  And, I know, we’re not alone in this need for some selective anonymity: police officers, teachers, doctors and all kinds of people in the public eye all have the same experience. All I know is that being identified as a “clergy type” just sort of goes with the territory!

By the same token, however, I’ve also discovered over the years that while you may be able to take the boy out the church it’s hard to take the church out of the boy!   I remember a camping trip in the White Mountains with Lisa and the kids; and I’m walking my daughter Sarah – who was just “itty-bitty” at the time (!) – to the campground’s lavatory facilities.  It’s well after dark, so we’re walking our way down the road with our flashlights shining and out of nowhere comes this other little girl, not much older than Sarah, who had somehow gotten separated from her mother in the darkness and was now unsure of where she was and how to get back to her campsite.

With a shaky voice, she asked if she might please walk with us, because she’d gotten lost and now she was pretty scared.  Of course you can, I replied, and in my best Daddy voice, I told her, don’t worry, we’ll get you back to your Mom; after all, you know, it’s really easy to get turned around in the dark!  And that must have been all the assurance she needed because then the little girl opened up and told us her entire life story; probably sharing much more than her parents would want me to know!  But that was okay; because as far as that little girl was concerned we were old and trusted friends!  It ended up that since her mother was also busy looking, we managed to bring the two of them back together fairly easily.  A scared child was home again safe and sound, a mother’s panic was replaced by relief and gratitude, and in the process perfect strangers had become caring friends.

Now was this an “official” pastoral activity of great religious significance?  No… truth be told, that night I was probably in more of a “Daddy Mode” than in “Pastor Mode!”  But thinking back on it now, I realize that in the truest sense it was ministry; in this case, quite literally a ministry of love and light to the lost.  It was a small moment; but one in which faith and kindness came into play in a real and meaningful way.

Christian ministry is not so much a job as it is a vocation; a way of life and living and love.  In other words, if you’re a minister of Jesus Christ, you’re always on duty, whether you’re “on the job” or on vacation; or for that matter, even when you’re waiting in line at Market Basket!  But lest you think this only relates to those of us who work in the church or perhaps have an “Rev” in front of their names, understand that this applies to you as well; it applies to each one here because as Christians, ministry is a vocation that belongs to each one of us.  It’s a calling that touches all the other tasks that provide the ebb and flow of our daily lives, no matter what it is that we do in earning a living, raising our families, making choices and setting priorities for ourselves; ministry is involved in everything that you and I go through in our days so that it might be lived with some sense of dignity and integrity.

Actually, when you come down to it, it’s all about “reap[ing] whatever you sow” in the everyday of life, “…doing what is right… [and] work[ing] for the good of all.”  It’s about “bear[ing] one another’s burdens,” not as mere philosophy but as a way of living.  It’s about true forgiveness and the restoration of others “in a spirit of gentleness.”  It’s about viewing those around us not as strangers or mere acquaintances, but brothers and sisters to be loved and cared for in the same manner as Jesus Christ has loved us.  It’s about bringing ourselves to people who need to hear the good news of God’s kingdom; by our words, yes, but more essentially by the example of our very lives.

It’s true ministry; it’s what’s sometimes referred to in Christian theology as “the priesthood of all believers;” and, friends, it’s why we’re here.

In our text for this morning Paul is seeking to teach the Galatians, in essence, how they should act toward one another.  These new Christians at Galatia, you see, had a bent toward, shall we say, “scriptural correctness;” that is, they concerned themselves with staying wholly true to “the law of Christ,” almost to the point of becoming like the Pharisees.  In other words, they were devoted to doing everything right, spiritually speaking, but they were doing it arrogantly and without any kind of sympathy for others, and were isolating themselves from the rest of the world.  So the question here is, how much is too much?  When does staying true to the gospel and to God’s law – as important and essential as that is – get in the way of true faith and risk mocking God in the process?

What Paul seeks to remind them is that our Christian duty – our vocation, our job – is not just to ourselves but also to others.  We are called to bear one another’s burdens; we are supposed to help those who have gotten lost in regards to their lives and faith, so that we might gently lead them home.  And we’re to be generous with others; open and giving, without making everything we do an exercise in self-indulgence and false piety. You are to model your life in true adherence to God’s law: in the words of Sarah Henrich of Lutheran Seminary, you are to “do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbor, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.”  Because make no mistake, “God is not mocked.”  Or, as The Message says it, “No one makes a fool of God.” After all, says Paul, we do reap whatever we sow.  “What a person plants, he will harvest.” (The Message, again) “The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others – ignoring God! – harvests a crop of weeds.  All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds!”  But, Paul goes on to say, “the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

And isn’t that what the kingdom is all about?  And isn’t that why we’re here?

The late Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.”  He was referring to the massive effect of media on our collective lives; how what we see on a television screen, or in the movies or in the papers ends up being what a great many people assume to be real about life, living and world (a theory, I dare say, that though posited in the 1960’s has never been more true than it is in 2019).  But may I suggest to you that’s it’s also true as regards the church and its mission… our mission.  Friends, we are called by Jesus himself to be about the business of God’s Kingdom; but if we truly want to do that, then we need to be living, acting and being as though that Kingdom has already come in its fullness; indeed, we are the medium that is the message!   We need to live a life that shows forth the truth that love is the only truly redemptive power; we have to order our priorities as persons and a people so that the others will not come to assume that the predominant culture is one of manipulation, violence and neglect.  If you and I are to proclaim Christ as the Lord of life, if we ever expect to change the world by Christ’s love, then we have to live unto the change that Christ has made in each of us!

Let me ask you something this morning: can you love your neighbor?  And I don’t mean in a greeting card kind of way, either; I mean can you really love your neighbor; are you able to do it?  Can you, for instance, love that person – and you know who they are – who just seems to go out of their way to be a thorn in your side?  Can you love that person who’s been very unkind; who’s been out there talking and telling lies about you behind your back? Can you love the one who’s hurt you, whose actions have made your life difficult?  Can you love the one with whom you disagree… vehemently?  Can you love them even when they haven’t loved you; can you love those who need that love the most?  Can you work “for the good of all?”

To quote Sarah Henrich once again, “Such a life needs graciousness, perseverance, a constant cheerful sowing, and a refusal to judge who is worthy of help and who not.”  And we should know that it’s most decidedly not easy. But if we hear what Paul is saying here (so emphatically, in fact, that Paul makes a point of writing it in large letters by his own hand!); if we know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we also know that this is the life that’s expected of us as his disciples, and we must “not grow weary in doing what is right.”

It’s why we’re here.

Sometimes you and I succumb to the temptation of believing that we can somehow compartmentalize our faith into a specific time and place; to keep it contained right here within these walls to be used only for a couple hours on a Sunday morning.  But that’s not the ministry to which we’re called by Christ; and it’s not where the Spirit leads us, which is out these doors and into our homes, our community and our world, proclaiming good news and working in every opportunity we have for the good of all.  We have this ministry in Christ’s name; and even now it’s unfolding in the times, the places and the people of our lives.

And who knows what may happen in our ministry, beloved?  Frederick Beuchner puts it this way:  “Who knows,” he wrote, “how the awareness of God’s love first hits people… some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen… how about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment… the soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled… maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”

Beloved, let us never grow weary in doing what is right, for “at the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.”  It’s why we’re here, and it’s the vocation, the ministry we share as believers and as the church of Jesus Christ.

May we be blessed in that ministry, and ever and always, may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Pressing On

(a sermon for March 17, 2019, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, based on Genesis 15:1-6 and Philippians 3:12-4:1)

It was Mark Twain who said it:  “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Now, I recognize that that’s an odd and somewhat counterproductive way to start a sermon (!), so allow me, please, to rephrase Twain’s words in a bit more of a theological fashion:  that it can be aptly stated that true faith and trust in God comes in understanding that God’s word is firm and secure, and that his promises are true, even when all appearances might suggest otherwise!

I mean, it’s one thing to believe in the providence of a loving, giving God when everything in your life is going well and the future looks bright with promise; quite another when the days are dark and grey and everything all around you just seems to be hurdling out of control. Difficult to find “good news” in the midst of bad situations; hard to find wholeness when there’s so much in this world that’s broken; seemingly impossible, at times, to hold on to a heavenly vision of peace and love when here on earth there are continually those who insist on acting out of hate, terror and pure evil: I ask you, how does anyone “keep the faith” in times such as these?

And yet, we do.

We’re here, after all; we’re gathered together in this sanctuary once again to lift up the holy name of God, to give God our thanks and praise, and to embrace his sure and certain promises of life and of unending hope.  We’ve come with our prayers and petitions, seeking wisdom and courage for the living of these days – indeed, for the facing of this very hour (!) – so that we might go forth from this place today after the manner of Paul in our text for this morning, “press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  And then, a cup of coffee or two later, we’re right back out there: back to the world and all the messiness and utter uncertainties of daily life, “pressing on” with faith and trust, all because somewhere deep within ourselves we have reckoned that what God has said and what he has promised is so, and that God should be counted as righteous.

Granted, that might sound a bit audacious, shall we say – I mean, who are we to decide whether or not God Almighty, the Creator and Heaven and Earth and the God of the Ages is in fact a righteous God – but I’m here to tell you this morning that maybe this is how we keep believing in times like these.  After all, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Sara Koenig, who is professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University, “Belief is hard enough when there’s a delay between God’s promises and their fulfillment.  It would be nigh impossible if the God in who we believe is not trustworthy, is not [by our reckoning] righteous.”

Now, lest you think that what I’m saying here is another example of our garden variety post-modern skepticism, we need to understand that there’s actually great biblical precedent for this kind of discernment.  Consider the response of Abram to God’s call in our reading from Genesis this morning: “’Do not be afraid, Abram,’” says God to Abram in a vision. “’I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”  But how does Abram respond?  “’O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  Understand, friends, this is no simple answer; this is the biblical equivalent of Abram rolling his eyes before the Lord and saying, “Really?  Seriously?”

For remember, this is not the first time that God has made such a promise unto Abram: the first time, back in chapter twelve, God had already called him to go from country and kindred and his father’s house to a place yet to be determined!  “’I will make of you a great nation,’” God assures Abram, and “’I will bless you, and make your name great.’”  And, of course, Abram went (with his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot along with him); and at 75 years old, no less!  It was a difficult, if not altogether improbable journey; but they did go, by faith and bolstered in the assurance the promise made would soon be the promise fulfilled.

However, as we pick up the story today. a fair amount of time had passed by (about 10 years, in fact), and frankly, not much had progressed on that front – there’d been famine, a conflict with the Pharaoh of Egypt, a few inter-family struggles with his nephew Lot, and a whole lot of wandering around – but as of yet there was no sign of that “great nation” that God had promised.  And Abram… well, he’s starting to lose patience; after all, it’s not like either he or his wife Sarai were of child-bearing years to begin with when all this started, and now… well, it had gotten to the point where Abram’s thinking that the only chance he’s got for any heir at all is to adopt one of his servants for that purpose!  The truth is that right about now, Abram’s faith in God and in God’s promises was stretched to the limit; because, as we’ve said before, it’s hard to believe in what, but all outward appearances, just “ain’t so.”

Of course, the great part of this story is that God doubles-down on the promise! Immediately God takes Abram outside, points him to the sky, and challenges him to start counting stars “if you’re able to count them;” because Abram, my friend, that’s how many children you’re going to have!  Incredible; ten years out on this journey, not a single child yet, Abram and Sarai are getting older with every passing day, but still here’s God promising that “with the passing of generations the descendants of Abram and Sarai would number in the thousands or even the millions!”  Clearly, God was taking the long view here; but nonetheless, to quote Ralph Klein this time: “How like God,” he writes. “When the promise was hard to believe, God upped the ante.”

And the best part?  Abram believed!  He believed; and in fact, this account from Genesis makes a point of saying that not only that he “believed the LORD, [but] that [he] reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  And that’s where this story gets really interesting: you see, there’s always been some question on exactly how this verse ought to be translated.  On the one hand, it can be rightly assumed that because Abram believed the LORD, thus the LORD reckoned that belief of Abram as righteousness, in that he trusted God with everything in his life and because of faith was worthy of the promises made.  However, the original Hebrew in this verse really only translates this as to how Abram believed and how he reckoned it as righteousness, suggesting that it might well be that Abram was reckoning God as being righteous; in other words, because God was intent on making his promise unto Abram even greater than before, Abram knew that God was worthy of faith and trust, and thus could believe, and press on to where God was leading him.

Granted, there’s a fair amount of ambiguity in that admittedly very small piece of translation, but the point is very clear and unalloyed:  that God is righteous and that his promises, however delayed or unfulfilled they might seem to us at times, are sure and certain.  It was because of the certainty that God would make good on his promises that Abram could believe, and so it is for you and for me today; ours is the God who is worthy of our trust, and thus we press on… no matter what.

Though I can in no way relate to it personally (!), I’ve always been drawn to the rather athletic imagery that Paul uses in the reading we’ve shared this morning from Philippians; that idea of “press[ing] on toward the goal,” that is, the heavenly call of God, being something akin to a race; as The Message translates it, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  It’s an apt comparison, to be sure; a life of faith, as in the running of a race, is marked by a sense of movement toward something more, and the urgency to get there; to reach the goal, to win the prize.  And yet, is it not also true that the race is not merely to the swift; it also matters how you run the race.  As Paul himself points out, it means “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead;” it requires a certain maturity of mind, body and spirit, as well as the ability to “stay on the right track,” as it were.  And perhaps above all, it takes staying wholly focused on where you’re headed; and yes, as the saying goes, it means keeping “your eyes on the prize!”

You don’t have to be a marathon runner to understand that! In fact, I remember as a young man spending time out in the Maine woods with my father, and how he used to tell that if I ever found myself “turned around” out there in the woods – which was the term we used for getting lost in the woods (!) – the key was never to panic and certainly never to just start wandering aimlessly; but rather to take out your compass, calmly figure out what direction you should be heading and then take a bead in that direction on some very nearby landmark: a rock or a fallen tree; any location that’s clear and attainable.  And then you walk over to that tree or rock, you stop and you take out your compass once again, and take another bead toward another nearby landmark; repeating this process again and again until eventually you find yourself back on the familiar pathway that leads homeward.  It might take you awhile; and for a time along that journey the way will almost certainly seem unfamiliar at best.  But if you stay true to the point of the compass, pressing on in the right direction as opposed to backtracking or going around in circles, you will eventually, if slowly, reach your true destination.

I’ll ask again:  how does one keep the faith in times such as these?  How are you and I to be pressing on toward the goal of living our lives with faith and integrity when it seems like everything around us and often within us would seek to tear us away from what we believe?  Well, it certainly begins with believing God and believing in his righteousness; understanding, in every good and lasting sense, that there is more to our lives than the here and now, and that the troubles of this world, of our lives and of this age are not the end of the story, and that God’s promises will come to pass in fullness in God’s good time.  Like “Father Abraham” before us, we need to remember that even if at times we have trouble believing a promise, God is ever and always at work making the promise even better.

But as much as we are to believe in God’s great providence in leading us to the promised land of our life and living; it is also crucial that we stay focused on the journey itself.  For life is indeed filled with all manner of “bad situations” that can easily get us “turned around” along the way and away from where God would have us go.  It might be the stuff of sin and guilt, of unresolved conflict and old hurts that have never healed.  It could be the kind of worldly ways and means that do weigh heavily in keeping us on track:  money troubles, health issues, broken relationships; and this is to say nothing of the constant barrage of anger and hatred that would daily challenge our belief in a perfect love that casts out all fear. There is so much in this world and in our lives that would seek to tear us away from God’s righteousness and our heavenly call in Christ Jesus; and that is why it is so crucial not only in these moments of prayer and worship, but even more so in all the moments yet to come, to stop… figure out where we are and then, slowly, deliberately and above all, prayerfully take a bead as where we go next; preparing ourselves to press on with love, and peace, and the otherworldly joy that comes from true righteousness; all the while standing firm in the Lord along every part of the journey.

The journey continues, beloved… may it truly be a blessing as we go; and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Epistles, Faith, Lent, Life, Old Testament, Paul, Sermon

 

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“Dance, Then…”

The pastor on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding!

(a sermon for November 11, 2018, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, based on 1 Peter 2:1-10)

It’s actually one of the great assurances we’re given in Holy Scripture, and also affirms very succinctly who we are as the church: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

Of course, how we got from what we were to who we are now; that’s another story… in fact, it’s the biblical story, and what a story it is!

I love how in his wonderful little book “History, Herstory, Ourstory,” the late Rev. David Steele managed to encapsulate the whole biblical narrative by describing it as a ballet. He wrote that the story of the bible is “about how… God calls people into the Dance. About how [God] works with individuals here, small or large groups there, getting their ears tuned to the music, teaching them the rudimentary steps, putting them in touch with the unique rhythms and movements [God] has implanted in their souls. [And, yes] it’s about how people resist [that call]; how they get tired of practicing; or how they feel burdened with two left feet and just want to watch.”

But, Steele goes on to say, this particular ballet is also about “the patience and persistence of [God], who keeps at the job of getting people ready for that final number, with a cast of billions, where every person holds her head up high, [where] no one is a wall flower, [where] each one dances his unique steps, and the total choreography is so stunning, so intricate, yet so profoundly simple that as we dance it our breath is taken away… the story of the Bible is about the Dance of Life,” concludes Steele, and its music is called the kingdom of God.

Well, speaking as one of those who has perennially felt burdened in his life with two left feet, I appreciate that parable; for it reminds me that at least regarding our faith, we’re all dancers in God’s sight and that we are all meant to be a part of this wonderful ballet that God has lovingly created especially for us!

I know I’ve shared with some of you already that of all the preparations leading up to the two weddings of our daughter and son this past summer and fall, the thing that worried me the most was… the father/daughter dance!  Not that I didn’t want to do it; on the contrary, I’d been dreaming of that moment from the time Sarah was born, just as I’ve always known that someday I’d be dancing at my sons’ weddings.  It’s just that… I’m not a good dancer; I mean: I’m. Really. Not. A. Good. Dancer!  Now, I’ve always tended to blame this on the fact that as a teenager I was pretty shy and very awkward, and so I didn’t go to a whole lot of dances in high school; and even when I did, and for years afterward I was usually in the band, so I wasn’t dancing then either!  But any and all excuses aside, the fact remains that I just was never very good out on the dancefloor, and the last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass both myself and my daughter on her wedding day!

The good news here was that my daughter Sarah – the dancer, the dance teacher, the dance choreographer (!) – offered to give me a few lessons so that at the very least I would have a few “dance moves” ready for the reception; and so for several nights the week before the wedding, together with Sarah’s Matron of Honor and my wife Lisa, we practiced hard in our living room – Oillie barking at us the whole time (!) – just to get those moves down!  And you know what; come the reception, it actually all was pretty good!  The father/daughter dance went very well; Lisa and I enjoyed being on the dance floor together; and though I’ll never be confused with anyone who’s ever been on “So You Think You Can Dance,” it was a whole lot of fun… and it was fun again – and, might I add, a whole lot easier (thank you, Sarah!) – at our son’s wedding reception last month!

But having said all that, here’s the thing that I’d like to say about dancing: the ultimately, you get nowhere doing it! Understand, I’m not speaking here of the choreographed dances that Sarah teaches at the studio, or the routines you might see on “World of Dance.” No, what I’m talking about here is what happens when the music starts up, and you step out on to a dance floor and you start moving to the music: no matter how long the music plays or how long you keep dancing, at the end of it all you end up pretty much at the same place as where you were when it began! But there’s nothing wrong with that; because dancing, you see, is not about reaching a point of destination; it’s about the dance itself!  It’s all about the promise of the moment; the rush of your heartbeat; the joy of casting aside inhibitions for just a little while!  Dance is about celebration, about laughter shared with a caring partner; about the freedom to be who you really are! And the best part is that when it’s all done, even when you’ve ended up where you started, all you can think about is that you want to go again!

And so it is with the “Dance of Life” that David Steele was talking about there. It seems to me, friends, that so much of the comfort and joy that comes with faith is in what happens along the way.

There are a whole lot of people, you know, who approach their spirituality as though it were for them an intended destination; that is, they approach faith with the attitude that once certain objectives have been met, special goals have been achieved, and specific disciplines are maintained, the will have finally reached that one specific place they wish to be with God, whatever they conceive God to be. Indeed, this is not a terribly alien concept; it’s the focus of many Eastern religions including Buddhism and Taoism, and truth be told, it was a central concern of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time: the idea that the full purpose of life is in discipline directed toward the end of reaching a state of some sort of personal and spiritual perfection.

This is what I mean when I speak of faith as a destination, and a goodly number of Christians knowingly (or unknowingly!) live unto that rule; but understand me when I say to you that it is not a faith stance in which many people find satisfaction and fulfillment.  In fact, it’s been my observation as a pastor that for people like this, the ultimate destination always seems to be just a few steps beyond where they are; that perfection, whatever that means always seems to waiting beyond the next horizon. God’s righteousness, his acceptance and his love; for them it’s always somehow dependent on that “that one more thing” they need to do, that final change in behavior or lifestyle or identity that’ll make everything alright.

I had a parishioner many years back who I would consider and did consider to be a very faithful man. But he also never seemed to be all that comfortable or even happy in his faith; because where faith was concerned, by his own admission he’d never felt as though “he gotten there.” It’s not that he was brand new to things related to faith: he’d in fact grown up with a strict religious upbringing that belied an unsettled home life; and once he was old enough to be out on his own, he’d abandoned the church completely for years. Only when he was on his second marriage and his youngest daughter was born did he make a cautious reentry into a relationship with God.

The interesting thing is after so many years away from the church, he jumped right in. He became very active in the congregation I was serving; he was one of my chief cheerleaders for a lot of projects, led Bible Study, and eventually even took a two year course in lay ministry. He was a pilgrim in the best and truest sense of the word: but he was never happy.  In one way or another, he was always struggling with faith; not so much about having faith, but rather about what it meant to have faith, and being faithful. Maybe it was his upbringing that held him back; perhaps it was his own lack of self-esteem or a lingering fear that God was judging him for who he was or for what he’d been in the past; I was never sure, and neither was he. But I will say he always used to say to me, usually with a touch of sadness in his voice, “I’m a long way from where I was, but I have a long way to go.”

At one point he went out and bought himself a very nice, leather-bound Bible; one that he went on to read cover to cover, a chapter at a time, a couple of times over; and one that he asked me to inscribe for him. And though even to this day I’m not always sure what to write on the inside of a Bible (I always get this looming sense of impending posterity when I think too long about things like that!), I knew just what to write for him: I included a couple of verses that I knew held some meaning for him, but then below those verses, I wrote the words, “Remember that faith is a journey, and not a destination.”

Faith is a journey.  Faith is the dance borne out of love received and acceptance given.  It’s about being claimed by the God who loves you for who you are right here and right now.  It’s about freedom from the worldly powers and values that shackle us and hold us back; it’s being freed to truly be the people that we’ve always been intended to be.  Faith is about being led in God’s Dance; where you live in the world, but you’re not of the world and because of this the music of Life pulsates through every fiber of your being; it’s what sets your feet to motion and makes your spirit soar; it’s the music of that proclaims that the kingdom of God is dwelling within you!

Or, as Peter wrote to those early Christians who themselves wondered where their faith was taking them: “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The good news, beloved, is that God loves us! God really does love us as we are, and where we are!  And that’s even considering that God has already seen our awkwardness as we’ve tried out our various “life dance” moves with some modicum of grace and dignity.  Oh, yes, God sees our failures and our rebellion, to say nothing of our self-imposed moral lapses,; and yet God is not embarrassed to call us daughters and sons. Even as we’re struggling with how we can dance without looking like a fool, here’s God coming take our hand and so that he might lead us in in the dance; helping us not to stumble, but picking us up when we do; lovingly reassuring us so that we might understand that sometimes even a little foolishness is the way we learn!

But here’s the best part: God loves us so much that he wants us to know that we’re not going to be dancers someday – that is, if we ever learn the right steps, or if we ever get the rhythm right in our heads – no, God loves us so much that he assures us that we’re dancers now!  We’re dancers of light, beloved; we’re God’s own chosen people, sent forth in love with the promise that whenever in faithfulness we dance the Dance of Life to the music of the Kingdom of God, it will be a beautiful thing indeed!

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  That’s who we are, beloved, and as God’s people we are also dancers, each and all; and it’s good that we take a moment to remember that. Truly, we are as The Message has translated this passage, “God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him.”

So… in the words of the hymn we’re about to sing:

So, dance then, wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I’ll lead you all wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
                                   “Lord of the Dance,” words by Sydney Carter

Praise be to the Lord of the dance, and may our thanks ever and always be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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