RSS

Category Archives: Faith

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

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , ,

The Impossible Possibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Say what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: , , ,

A Matter of Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”

Blessed are those whose trust is the Lord!

Thanks be to God who makes us strong.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

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

 

Tags: ,

 
%d bloggers like this: