RSS

Category Archives: Epistles

“But When You’ve Done the Wrong Thing…”

(a sermon for September 15, 2019 , the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hosea 4:1-3, 5:15-6:6 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17)

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

In biblical parlance, they are often referred to as “trustworthy sayings,” and there are at least five of them scattered throughout the so-called “pastoral epistles;” that is, 1 and 2 Timothy and the Letter to Titus.  Simply explained, these are major points that Paul wanted to make sure his readers perfectly understood before proceeding.  And the thing about these sayings is that you always know they’re coming; because, first off, Paul tells you so (in the NRSV, for instance, Paul announces, “The saying is sure and worthy of acceptance…”), and secondly, what follows is usually something that while absolutely essential for understanding our Christian faith what Paul is about to say might nonetheless be a little bit hard to hear and difficult to swallow!

And so it is with the “trustworthy saying” at the center of our text for this morning, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of which, Paul hastens to add, “I am the foremost.”

Now, in at least in one sense, for Paul to proclaim that Jesus came into the world to save sinners does not seem like all that much of a radical statement or something hard to hear.  I mean, after all, that Christ died for our sins on the cross is central to just about everything we know to be true about our Christian faith; certainly not anything that Paul would need to first qualify before writing to these early Christians!  And yet, it does sort of hit us in an uncomfortable kind of way, does it not?  Because if Christ Jesus did, in fact, come into the world to save sinners it would follow that there were (and are!) sinners to save; and if the Apostle Paul, of all people, would refer to himself as “the foremost” of sinners (or as it’s translated elsewhere, “the chief” (KJV) or “the worst” (NIV) or even “Public Sinner Number One,” as it is rendered in The Message), then what does that make you or me?

I remember back in seminary how those of us who were serving as student pastors would often return to school on Monday morning ready to commiserate on the experience of preaching to these little congregations who were at once incredibly supportive and encouraging of our efforts in the pulpit but also a bit, shall we say, skeptical, which was more than a little unnerving to us!  I remember one of my classmates lamenting that he’d had an extremely difficult, to the point of nearly impossible time that week looking into the eyes of those sweet people sitting in the pews in front of him and saying that they were all, in fact, sinners in dire need of salvation!  I remember this because for my part, I’d preached on pretty much the same text that Sunday; and after worship one of the sweetest of the sweet elderly ladies of that church came up to me – I’ll never forget her: her name was Alberta Burrill and I used to call her “Sunshine” because she always sat in the back of the church listening to the sermon with her eyes closed and this wonderful, peaceful smile on her face – and she took my hand in hers that morning and said, “That was very nice, deah… but you don’t want to do that very often because people wouldn’t like it.”

See what I mean about some of these “trustworthy sayings” being hard to hear?

The fact of that matter is that none of us want to think of ourselves that way, do we?  Last week, as you’ll recall, we spoke here about the need, our call in Christ Jesus, to always be seeking to do the right thing in faith.  I’ll be honest; as I often do after the preaching is done, I found myself sort of self-analyzing the sermon that day, and I found myself wondering if perhaps it had come off as a bit… obvious!  I mean, who doesn’t think we ought to be doing the right thing, in faith or otherwise?   Maybe the real question, I started thinking, is what happens when we’ve done the wrong thing?  What about when our intentions are good, when we really do want to do what’s right in a given situation, but for whatever reason we just keep doing exactly the opposite?  Or even worse, when it’s become so easy, so convenient, so normal, or so, well, enjoyable that the right thing to do kind of gets lost in the process?  What then?

In other words, what happens when it’s begun to feel to us that if Paul is the chief and foremost of sinners then we might well be working our way up to second in command?

The Old Testament, of course, doesn’t hedge on such matters.  In our other text for this morning, from the prophet Hosea, we hear an indictment of the inability of God’s people to accept any real guilt for its sin:  “Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed,” (all clearly, by the way, wrong things to do!) to the point where there has been a judgment upon the land in the form of ecological disaster.  “Therefore the land mourns,” says the prophet, “and all who live in it languish.”  But perhaps most damning of all is the lament that despite the horrible result of such sin, Israel doesn’t seem to care:  “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early,” that which seems promising at first but ultimately and swiftly dries up in the light and heat of another day.

It would seem as though as much as Israel wished for prosperity and plenty to return they were half-hearted at best about repentance and their faithfulness to God.  And the truth is, we get that, don’t we?  For as much as we desire and know to do that which is right and good and in keeping with God’s precepts of love and faithfulness, all too often all those challenges and temptations we face in the heat of the day pull us away from that which logically, lovingly and spiritually seemed so very… obvious to us.  It all comes back to a break in that sacred relationship we have with God; that innate human tendency to live independently, autonomously, of God… which, by the way, is the very definition of sin.  But even as the cycle of doing the wrong thing again and again continues, here’s the prophet calling for God’s people to return to the Lord, “for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

…which brings us back to Paul’s letter to Timothy and his “trustworthy saying” that “Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”

Once again what we have here in these “pastoral epistles” is a very personal appeal on the part of Paul to some “faithful co-workers,” namely Timothy and Titus, dealing with some real-life challenges to the integrity and purity of the Gospel message.  Simply put, these letters deal with a few of the “messier” aspects of trying to live in true faith.  I love what Thomas Long writes about this:  he says that most of the time we would rather read accounts of the church cruising down the highway of faith… in the Pastoral Epistles, though, we see the church on the mechanic’s lift, in the garage, and we are given guidance for performing an ecclesial engine overhaul… [which may] in fact, make them urgently important” for us today.

So, yes… Christ came into the world to save sinners, and like it or not, as hard as it may be to confess, we’re the sinners Christ came to save!  But as you consider this, Paul says, remember something:  that “even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (NIV)  Or, as The Message puts it, “The only credentials I brought to [this ministry] were invective and witch hunts and arrogance.”  But, with a heart full of thanksgiving, Paul says, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me.”

Think of this for a moment, friends.  GRACE… a gift freely given of love and forgiveness and new life.  GRACE… extended to the same one who, quoting Rick Power, who “stood as an approving witness to the stoning of Stephen, [who] dragged believers out of their homes to face imprisonment, [who] made it his sole purpose in life to crush this new movement of Christ-followers, and [who], perhaps worst of all, mistakenly thought he was serving God at the time!”  And yet, Paul writes to Timothy, “for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul, you see, had begun as the lowest of the low – where the wrong thing was the starting place – but the point is that his story ends in the glory of Christ.  This was the assurance “sure and worthy of acceptance” that Paul wished to convey to Timothy; and for those of us seeking to do the right thing even when so often we’ve ended up doing the opposite, it’s a crucial word as well… and a reminder of true GRACE.

Perhaps it was precisely in those moments when we messed up and failed to “do the right thing” in faith and love:  maybe an ill-spoken word or some regrettable action done without thinking; or else when we made a choice not to stand up or stand with someone who’d been knocked down or rejected or subjected to some manner of hatred that’s become all too common in this present age, even as we knew better.  Could be an instance of discovering to your great despair that the ethical or moral standards of your life have… slipped.  Or it could be, I’m just saying here, an overwhelming shock and revulsion at the depths of selfishness and the realization that your life might well have fallen far as you think possible from the life filled with God’s love and purpose.  Understand, friends, it is not my desire nor am I seeking to send you forth from this place this morning stinging from words of judgment and rebuke… but I would say to each one of us here that as we are stand naked before God there is always going to be… sin.  We have done the wrong thing… in the words of the old confessional, “We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

But the good news, you see, is that this isn’t the end of the story!  The good news is that through mercy, in great patience and in the light of God’s limitless and overwhelming grace bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven, and redeemed and saved.  In the words of the anthem we heard earlier in the service, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  Amazing grace that opens up a new future for each one of us as a redeemed child of God; amazing grace that opens before us brand new opportunities for finding the right thing to do in a world sorely in need of simple human kindness and true compassion, peace and justice rooted in Christian love rather than political divisiveness, and a moral and ethical center that begins from the heart.  Because beloved, Christ Jesus came to save sinners – and yes, that means you and me – but Christ Jesus also came to send us forth as his disciples in the redeeming work of his Kingdom.

So let us go forth in that sacred calling, beloved; and “to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen…”

And AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2019 in Church, Epistles, Ministry, Paul, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

Tags: , , ,

The Right Thing to Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

Tags: ,

The Conviction of Things Unseen

(a sermon for August 18, 2019, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

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

It was a small moment, but I dare say that it was one of the more enlightening moments of my summer vacation.

We’d gone up to Mapleton that day visiting both the in-laws and our son and his wife who live nearby.  Zach and Jess’ house is literally out behind where my mother and father-in-law live, and within walking distance, so I’m on my way up there when this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out pickup truck drives up beside me, and this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out man leans out of the truck window, laughs out loud and says to me (and, by the way, it being church and all, I’m cleaning this up just a little bit), “It really stinks to get old, doesn’t it?”

Now, I don’t know this guy from Adam (!) but he seemed friendly enough, so I just laughed and said, “Oh yeah, it happens to every one of us sooner or later!”  To which he replied, “Well, good for you to be out here walking… you want to stave it off for as long as you possibly can!”  I’m still just laughing, and with my Maine accent kicking in I say, “Ayuh, I figured I’d best be kickin’ that can solidly down the road!” And then the man says this: “Well, you know what, nobody should be out here walking alone… tomorrow I’m coming out to look for you so we can walk together!”  And with that, he just smiles, gives me the official “Aroostook County Wave” and roars off down the road. And as I’m watching him go I’m still laughing, but I’m thinking, how old does this guy think I am?

I mean, granted, I wasn’t exactly at my Sunday best that morning… I’m on vacation, after all, so I’m in shorts and a t-shirt; my hair’s getting shaggy and I’m sure I was sporting some beard stubble, but come on!  I know I’m 60 years old, but did I really look that… that… dilapidated?  Maybe it was the way I was walking down the road; perhaps there was a bit more maturity in my step than I intended (after all, as has been pointed out to me, I may have two new hips, but the rest of my body is still 60)!  All I can say is that apparently I was not only headed to Zach’s house, but also quite literally to the end of the road… my road!   And so when I got back I could let everybody in the family know that it was now official, because the truth of the matter had been unquestionably confirmed for me while on the journey out there on the “old town road,”  so to speak:

I’m old.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not headed for a rocking chair just yet!  But I do have to say that for me this chance encounter “on the way” did end up serving as something of a parable, and an apt metaphor for life itself:  simply put, that we’re all on this “walk of life,” aren’t we; taking the journey step by step, mile by mile, year by year, ever and always moving toward some kind of long-term vision for the future; raising a family, having grandchildren, getting ready for retirement, trying to live your life with some kind of integrity so that when you finally do leave this world behind, it’ll be a better place than when you found it.  That’s what we do, right; that’s what our journey, and the walking, is all about!

And yet, we also know how utterly unpredictable life can be, and how quickly things can change in ways that are often wonderful but sometimes… challenging (What’s that expression; I think it’s attributed to Woody Allen, of all people: “If you want to make God laugh,” he once wrote, “just tell him about your plans!”).  So often the hard reality of life is that plans change: there’s a bad medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, a shift in a relationship status — hey, maybe you discover that you’re not as young as you used to be (!) — but at the end of the day some of the things we envision get postponed, others change as we along and a few, well, don’t happen at all.  And as far as leaving the world a better place?  Well, when we look around as we do these days to see that world that keeps spinning recklessly out of control, we can’t help but wonder if that’s even possible.

And yet… and yet, we keep walking, don’t we?  We stay on the journey, we kick that can down the road, we keep on “keeping on,” continuing to go where we are determined to go and to do what we know is right, ever and always staying true to the path that’s been set before us even if at times we’re not all that sure where that pathway’s going to end up!  We walk in faith… because, as our text for this morning has so beautifully proclaimed, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Understand, friends, that this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, which is the expectation that by some miracle that which has never happened before in our lives will come to pass; nor is it even about optimism, per se, as optimism has to do with the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the confident belief that good will triumph, eventually and finally, no matter what.  And there’s certainly a place for that; but faith is different.  Faith, you see, is all about hope: a hope that is founded in God and which is made real and vindicated because of God’s faithfulness!  Lest you think I’m just talking in circles here, let me put it another way: in the words of Craig Barnes, “Faith isn’t something we get.  It’s something that gets us.  We don’t possess it.  We are possessed by it… faith is a grace from God – a grace that changes everything about your vision of life in this world.”  So faith, then, is the assurance of things hoped for, precisely because that assurance comes from God; it’s not simply our confidence in the triumph of good, it’s our understanding that this is how good triumphs, solely by God’s faithfulness unto us!  It’s how you and I keep walking the path set before us even when we’re not at all sure of what’s ahead; for faith, beloved, is “the conviction of things unseen.”

This 11th chapter of Hebrews, of which we read just a small portion this morning, is considered one of the greatest affirmations of faith that’s found in all of Holy Scripture, and moreover a celebration of the heroes of faith who had gone on before, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Moses and beyond, all these people who spent their lives believing in this great hope that had its source in an ever faithful God.  But what’s interesting is that if you read just prior to where we picked up the reading this morning, in the 10th chapter, you read how Paul is urging the people to not “abandon that confidence” in their own Christian faith, saying to them, “you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”  Understand, we’re not talking about a group of people who have turned away from God, but those who have kept on, and who likely have a long way yet to go on the journey.  So, says Paul, you need to know what faith truly is; hence this grand affirmation of faith in the chapter that follows.  Actually, there are two Greek words that are used in that regard:  first, there’s upostasis, which translates as “standing under,” and speaks to “a foundation of belief,” that comes from Jesus himself; in other words, Jesus is the very picture of the “bedrock of God’s identity,” “something basic, something solid, something firm” that “provides a place from which one can hope.” (Amy L.B. Peeler, NT Professor, Wheaton College) It is, as we read, the “assurance of things hoped for.”

The other word used is elegchos, the translation of which is a bit murkier, but is probably best referred to in English as “evidence” or even “proof” of what we have difficult comprehending; that is, in the words of The Message, “our handle on that which we can’t see.”  In other words, even if on this point on your journey you’re having some doubts (I don’t know, maybe some random passer-by has suggested you’re too old to keep walking!), don’t forget there are those who have gone before who continued to stand firmly upon God’s faithfulness, and you would not want to reject that evidence!  Case in point: Abraham, who demonstrated his faith by going to the place where God called him to go, sight unseen, and who continued to be faithful, though “this great obedience never really paid off” during his lifetime, living out his days “as in a foreign land, living in tents.”(Peeler)  And yet, over time and across generations that promise would come to fruition, and Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Likewise, the promise of descendants as many as the stars up in the heavens did not happen in exactly the way that neither Abraham most especially (!) Sarah were expecting; nonetheless, even though they were elderly and “as good as dead”Paul’s words, not mine, friends (!) – there was a child, the beginning of a great multitude of descendants.

The point is, it was by faith that Abraham and Sarah kept walking; they kept looking and moving forward, firm in the knowledge that God’s faithfulness and his sure and certain promise of a land and a home and a family.  They truly had a “conviction of things unseen,” and the question for you and me is whether we’re willing in our lives – and, might I add, in our care of the world and culture that surrounds us – to keep walking in faith despite all the disruptions that seek to keep us off track; looking forward to all signs of God’s faithfulness and love as we go.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and just as it has been for countless generations of the faithful, what that means for us is that no matter how “round about” the journey has seemed to become for us, “we can depend on God to see us home… [because] the destination of the journey of faith is never in doubt.” (Mark Ramsey, “Today”)  We just have to keep walking.

I have shared with you before that one of my great heroes of the faith is the Rev. Dr. Fred McFeely Rogers, a Presbyterian minister better known, of course, to generations of children and families as “Mister Rogers” from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I could tell you about a hundred different things I loved about the man, but here’s the latest, something I just learned this week: did you know that whenever Fred Rogers made a speech to one group or another, or when he was on television apart from the “neighborhood,” and even when he was amongst Hollywood celebrities and accepting an Emmy Award for his work in children’s television, “never failed to end his remarks, not with ‘thank you very much,’ or ‘have a good evening,’ but always by saying, ‘May God be with you.’”  And not, by the way, ‘God bless you,’ because “he knew that God had already blessed them, couldn’t help but bless them, would always seek to bless them.”  No… it was always “May God be with you,” because Mister Rogers’ fervent wish, and indeed, his prayer was that each one of those hearing his words would be aware that God was with them in their lives and along their journey.

As the old song goes, “the road is long with many a winding turn.” So it is with faith, beloved… to walk in the presence of the Lord, never looking back but always moving forward, can often be a daunting task indeed.  You know, one thing that old guy in the pickup truck had right was that nobody ought to be walking alone, and there should be someone to walk along with us when we go.  But the good news is that in faith, we’re never alone on the journey. To quote another Presbyterian Church leader, the Rev. Mark Ramsey from Atlanta, “[Faith] knows the challenges of life and the strife of the world.  But God renews faith daily.  Faith gives us a home.  It gives us a road to journey toward that home.”  And as we keep walking on the journey, “God’s hope is persistent and lasting.  It goes eye to eye with hardship and keeps on hoping.”

My prayer for each one of today is that we’ll have that assurance of all the things we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t see… and that awareness of God’s presence with you along every step of the way.

May God be with you, beloved…. May God be with you!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: