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Category Archives: Faith

God Believes in You

(a sermon for January 13, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)

It is very striking to me that while the story of Jesus’ baptism that we just shared ends with the heavens opening up and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus “like a dove,” it actually begins in an atmosphere of turmoil, with the threat of such a baptism being something akin to “chaff [burning] with unquenchable fire.”

It was one of the very first infant baptisms at which I had the honor and joy of officiating as a newly-minted pastor; and since at that little church where I was serving we didn’t often have the opportunity to celebrate that sacrament, let me tell you it was a big deal not just for me but for the whole congregation! Not only were we anticipating a much larger than usual congregation that morning, there was also going to be this huge reception afterward; plus – and I’ll take some credit for this (!) – since, again, this kind of thing didn’t happen all that much in the life of that congregation, we decided that this baptism would provide the perfect “teachable moment” for the children of our small Sunday School.  What would happen, you see, is that we’d spend some time before worship teaching the kids all about baptism – what it means, how it happens and why it’s such a special time of celebration – and then they’d come into what was referred to there as “big church,” sitting all together in the front pew to watch and see Rev. Lowry baptize this little baby!

Perfect, right?  What creative, progressive Sunday School is supposed to be all about (at least circa 1983!), right? Well, maybe; except that just before worship as I’m about to enter the sanctuary one of the Sunday School teachers rushes up to me and says, “You better come out back with me right now… because we’ve got a problem.”  And yes, we did; apparently, just about the time the teachers had begun to explain what their minister was about to do out there during the service, one of the little girls in our Sunday School – maybe five or six years old and whose family had actually just started coming to our church  – started crying.  I mean, really crying: weeping, wailing and utterly inconsolable!  And by the time I got there, it had only gotten worse: this little girl was now at the point where she could barely take a breath between wails; she just kept pointing her finger at me and crying for all she was worth, “No, no, no, no NOOO!”  Trust me, nothing was calming this little girl down, most especially not the efforts of the student minister who for all his bright ideas was absolutely clueless as to how to resolve the situation!

Eventually, thanks to her mother who, thankfully, was very quickly on the scene, we got to the heart of the matter: that somehow this little girl had gotten it into her head that in this baptism I was about to perform, that strange man in the robe might actually drown the baby, and that idea was terrifying to her and so of course she cried!  But here’s the thing: as silly and as bizarre as that sounds as I’m telling you about it now, her fear was actually based on some reality; for it turned out the only other church this little girl ever been to in her young life was of the variety where adult baptisms were the norm, and then only by immersion!  So basically, all that she remembered about baptism involved people being placed fully underwater at the hand of a minister (!); so thinking about that in relation to a tiny, helpless baby… well, no wonder the girl was crying her lungs out!  Suffice to say that once we understood what was happening, we were able to explain that our baptisms had to do with sprinkling rather than dunking (!) and that rather than being in any kind of danger the baby was perfectly safe, and loved, and yes, even blessed!  It did turn out to be a teachable moment in more ways than one (!) and, as I recall, all went well from that point on; nonetheless, even as the baptism was taking place I could still feel that one little girl’s steely gaze on me the whole time from her seat in the front pew… just in case I got any ideas!

Well, there was a different, but no less intense, sort of turmoil on the day of Jesus’ baptism, and what’s interesting about our text for this morning is what leads up to Luke’s account of this very dramatic and important event almost seems to have more to do with what James Howell refers to as the full “ferocious mood” of John the Baptist than it even does with Jesus! Even before we pick up the story today, Luke’s already treated us to some of the ravings of this so-called wild man of the wilderness:  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come… even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (3:7, 9)  Not exactly a feel-good prelude to a baptismal celebration!

But we need to understand there was a method to this “madness,” as it were:  that John was in fact, explicitly proclaiming a baptism of repentance, calling the people of Jesus’ time to abandon their sin and turn their hearts wholly back to God, so that they might truly be ready for the Messiah who had in fact already come.  Moreover, we’re told, John had not at all been reticent about speaking truth to power and for all his troubles was  just about to be “shut up” in prison by none other than Herod Antipas himself!  All this to say that Jesus’ baptism, this incredible scene of divine affirmation and blessing, all happens within a backdrop not only of sin and degradation, but also “in the thick of intense political and religious opposition, downright belliger[ence]” on John’s part and even “not shying away from the use of brute force!” (James Howell, again)

Which makes it all the more amazing that this is the scene in which Jesus – this man without sin, this Messiah, this one destined to baptize his followers by the Holy Spirit, and whose sandals John did not even consider himself worthy to untie (!) – walks right up to his cousin (‘cause remember, Jesus and John do happen to be related!) and asks to receive this baptism of repentance.

And now, here’s Jesus, going under the water (no sprinkling here; it’s full immersion in the waters of River Jordan) and then coming up out of the water.  Here’s Jesus, praying his own post-baptismal prayer, when suddenly the sky “opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him.”  And then here’s a voice, speaking directly to Jesus himself, but in a way that all who were gathered could hear:  “You are my Son, the Beloved,” or, as The Message translates it, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  Again I say it:  amazing… amazing that in a world filled with such turmoil and marked by such sin and conflict amongst the people that a baptism of repentance would be necessary for the sake of their souls, the power and glory of God to destroy evil in the person of his Son Jesus, the one chosen and marked by his love. The infamous theologian Karl Barth put it this way: that this baptism was more than mere theatrics; for “when Jesus was baptized, he needed to be be washed of sin – not his sin, but our sin.”  For you see, right from the very start, you see, it was about our forgiveness and our redemption; by offering to wash our sins away in his baptism, Jesus provides you and me a new baptism… a baptism of promise.

Actually, it all comes down to a very basic and dare I say, singular Christian truth:  that God believes in you.  God believes in you, friends, and he believes in me; enough that he would claim us and reclaim us as his own again and again, even as we stand in strong need of repentance because of sin and our utter unworthiness before God. And lest you think this preacher’s becoming overly judgmental, let’s be clear: with the exception of Jesus, we are all sinners, all unworthy and all without hope save in God’s sovereign mercy.  But the good news is… because of Jesus, who was baptized and now offers us the baptism of promise, God believes in us; we also are “precious in his sight, and honored and beloved” by God; and because of this we are saved indeed.

Over the years in various congregations where I’ve served as pastor, I’ve have the privilege of leading confirmation classes for the churches’ youth and young adults.  Confirmation, of course, is the rite of the church where those who were baptized as infants are given the opportunity as young adults, after prayer and study, to “confirm” the Christian faith as their own, which has proven to be an interesting and often enlightening experience for confirmand and pastor alike.

Which is not to say it was always easy:  like the year there was this rather headstrong and opinionated ninth grader in the class who right from the “get-go” seemed determined to challenge every bit of spiritual wisdom I ever sought to impart!  And it began the very first day:  I’d just finished explaining all the requirements that our church and its pastor had for them to be confirmed later that spring, and immediately this kid (whose name was Jason) raises his hand to ask, “Rev. Lowry, does being an atheist make a difference on whether I can be confirmed?” Well, yes, Jason, it kind of does, I answered, and then adding in a very pastor-like fashion, but the question is, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in?  “Do you have to believe in something?” Jason persisted.  Well … nooo, I said, you don’t have to, I suppose, but it’s kind of hard not to believe in at least one thing in your life.  “Like what?” Jason would reply, and we were off on to a dialogue that continued pretty much uninterrupted for the next eight months and which led, years later and long after he wasn’t confirmed, to a mature Christian faith nurtured and confessed in the mission field.

Actually, as I think back on it such has been the questions and dialogue I’ve shared with a lot of folks over the years:  “Does it make a difference if I believe in God, because I’m not sure I believe?”  Sometimes that question is borne out of an honest, sincere and relentless search for the truth; often it’s the result of a crisis in somebody’s life that has led to a crisis in faith; and maybe it’s the eventual and inevitable result of just so much piling on that there’s simply no more strength or will left to believe in… anything!  And quite frankly, there are those in this life who are determined to direct their lives in any direction except toward the divine, and who have a tendency to not so much ask questions about God as to fire them at you!

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: the truth is while there’s a whole lot I can and do say to that, there’s also very little that I can say; because even as a pastor, I can’t force anybody to believe in God.  All the sermons, proclamations and apologetic in the world mean nothing without an open heart to receive that message! But I can say this, something I believe in my heart of hearts: that while you may not believe in God – today, or tomorrow, or ever – I am sure that God believes in you.  I know this as surely as the sun will rise in the sky tomorrow morning and that the new life of spring will surely, if eventually, follow the dead of winter; I see it in the wonder and beauty of nature, in the strength and resilience of the human Spirit, and in hope, joy and peace that can only be the handiwork of an infinitely loving God… and I know it because Jesus has already made it real in his sure and certain promise of life abundant and eternal.

Perhaps you’ve come here today not at all sure that you believe… or at least that maybe you have a few doubts; and if that’s the case, I’m glad you’re here.  Because this, beloved, is the place where we rejoice in the God who does believe in us so much that he reminds us again and again, “Do not fear,  for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…” and why?  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

You are precious in my sight! You are honored to me!  I love you… I love you!

God believes… thanks be to God, he believes!  I hope and I pray this day, beloved, that this will help you to believe as well!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Zechariah’s Song: Even in the Silence

( a sermon for December 9, 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent; second in a series, based on Luke 1:5-25, 67-79)

If you’d have asked him about his life “before,” Zechariah would probably have answered that there was nothing even remotely remarkable about it; or about him, for that matter!

Zechariah, you see, was a temple priest, married to a Levite by the name of Elizabeth; and both, as scripture succinctly puts it, were “getting on in years.”  As Luke tells the story, Zechariah and Elizabeth had long prayed for a child, but this had never come to pass and now they were much too old; so Zechariah’s life pretty much revolved around serving God by taking care of the temple according to faith and tradition.  And there was great honor in that, to be sure; this was truly a sacred duty; and no more so than on this particular day, when he was given a literally once in a lifetime opportunity to enter the deepest part of the temple, which was named the “Holy of Holies,” to so make ready for the prayers of the people of God.  But even with this great honor before him, the truth was that after years and years, day in and day out, of doing this ritual even Zechariah might have confessed that there were times he was just going through the motions.

But then came the angel.

Right there in the midst of the sanctuary of the Lord: “…an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense;” and if that wasn’t unsettling enough, an angel who was calling him by name:  Zechariah!  And of course, Zechariah was terrified – because every temple priest understood that one could not expect to experience the glory of God in this fashion and live – and yet, this angel was not only bringing comfort in the midst of his fear, but also incredible news:  “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.”

It’s a divine gift, not only to this couple but also to the world: a child who will not only “be a joy and a delight” to his parents, but one for whom “many will rejoice at his birth;” one who will grow to be a prophet filled with the Holy Spirit; a messenger to prepare a people for the coming of the Lord.  His name, the angel says to Zechariah, will be John, which means, “God has given grace;” the one we’ve come to know as… John the Baptist.

And how does Zechariah respond to all this?

Well, how do you expect he’d respond?  I mean, not only has the angel of the Lord appeared to him; not only is he told that he’s to have a son when such a thing could never happen; but also that this son is going to have a name, and a purpose, and a link to God’s sure and certain promises to a world that’s desperately aching for the Messiah.  This is news of monumental, cosmic importance; the hope of the whole world has just been announced to him in the temple of the Lord.  So what does Zechariah say?

He says, “No way.”  Can’t be… get out of town… yeah, right!

Mind you, that’s not exactly the biblical translation – as we heard it this morning it’s, “How will I know that this is so” – but make no mistake, it’s an answer dripping with utter and unrestrained disbelief!  The Message translation actually cuts to the heart of it: “Do you [really] expect me to believe this?”  No matter that this is “Gabriel, sentinel of God” speaking; Zechariah is not buying it!   And, honestly, most of us can understand why!  I mean, old people having babies, little kids growing up to be messengers heralding the coming of the Messiah, God coming to the world?  For that kind of thing to happen, it would have to be… a miracle!  And miracles just don’t happen every day, not for Zechariah anyway; and certainly not for you or me.

You know what happened next; Gabriel finally says, well, it’s all true, Zechariah, but since you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word about it – or anything else, for that matter – until the day of your son’s birth. Maybe this will remind you “that every word I’ve spoken to you will come true in time – God’s time!”  So now Zechariah can’t even share this experience with anyone, much less announce it to those praying for a Messiah outside the temple walls; all he can do now – ironically, much like the people of Israel had already been doing for hundreds of years – is to wait… to wait in the silence for God to work!

And we know what that’s like, don’t we?  I dare say that most of us here have had times in our lives when we’ve known what it’s like to “dwell in the silence;” or maybe more to the point, to dwell in what we perceive as God’s silence.  Maybe what you were looking for was a resolution to some major conflict of your life; perhaps you were seeking healing for yourself or someone you love; praying fervently for an end to the financial hardship you’ve been under; or for that matter, it could be your were quite literally crying out for the stress and mental strain of it all simply to ease up a bit!  But for all the prayers and petitions, it wasn’t getting any better and nothing seemed to be happening to change that; in fact, you were beginning to feel like God wasn’t even listening!

If any of that rings true for us at all, we can understand why Zechariah would be skeptical, to say the least, about what the angel was promising.  But the good news for Zechariah – and for you and me as well – is that such doubt is not the end of the story; and that despite whatever appearances to the contrary, God is ever and always at work… even in the silence!

Which brings us to another of “The First Songs of Christmas” found in Luke’s gospel, which is the song of Old Zechariah, also known as the “Benedictus,” from the Latin meaning “Blessed be the Lord God.”  And if it’s true that timing is everything, then it should be said that this particular song was sung at the perfect time!  It’s actually months after his encounter with the angel of the Lord (roughly nine months to be specific!), little John the Baptist has just been born, and immediately Zechariah’s “mouth [is] opened and his tongue freed, and he begins to speak!”  And now at last – finally (!) – the first and best thing that Zechariah can do is to sing… to sing in full throated, wholehearted praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord; truly, it was as if he was making up for lost time!

It’s an amazing song with every verse proclaiming God’s presence and power not only in that singular and miraculous moment of a child being born, but also in and through all of history!  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David… he has shown the mercy promised by our ancestors.”  I love what Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament scholar from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, says about this song: he says it’s more than simply a psalm and even more than a prophetic song; it is, in fact, a song of the Holy Spirit!  It’s a proclamation of a “spirit-event, a moment of God’s Holy Spirit breaking into the ordinary, mundane world.  And bringing with it God’s preferred and promised future.”  And that, concludes Jacobson, this “Spirit-breaking-in reality is what the entirety of the whole Jesus event was about.”

Zechariah could sing because he knew, once and for all, that God’s promises are true and, in God’s good time, the silences of our lives will be redeemed.  Something good for us to remember as well, especially in those dark and silent moments in our lives when it feels like God has all but abandoned us: that “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,” and then “showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.” [The Message]. God is at work, beloved, even in the silence; that is for certain, just it is sure and certain that in God’s time, we will be redeemed.

It’s fitting that we think about all this on this second Sunday of Advent; a time, to quote theologian Elizabeth Webb, in which in our waiting and watching we do indeed “see the faint light on the horizon, [even as we] await the full, dazzling light of God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ.”  In this season, we do affirm and rejoice that Christ has been born into the world and into our hearts; but we also know that in due season Christ will come again! But in the larger sense, Webb goes on to say, as Christians “that moment of already and not-yet is where we find ourselves all the time. To live the life of a disciple of Christ is to live always in Advent time, knowing that the light has come and awaiting the light that has yet to shine in its fullest measure. Advent time is anticipatory time, and yet it [can also be] frustrating, sometimes discouraging. [But the] dawning of the light must sustain us as we continue on, in our waiting and in our living, [even if] sometimes the wait for the rays of Jesus’ light upon our faces seems awfully long.”

Friends, it’s crucial in these Advent days and most especially in the times of uncertainty and doubt in which we live, that we step back even amidst our at times overwhelming feelings of fear and hopelessness, so that we might behold just for a moment the grander view of how God is working in our world, in our lives, in our very hearts.  Because, beloved, when we do so we discover that God is still speaking and that all things are moving by God’s intent toward the ultimate good.  The only question is what we’ll be doing about it in the meantime.

May our response to that promise be the same as that of the little baby who grew up to be John the Baptist, the fiery preacher who was “clothed with camel’s hair” (Mark 1:3) and had a curious appetite for locusts and wild honey (!), but who was ever and always about preparing the way of our hearts for God’s work to be done and embracing the true miracle to come in a Savior who is Christ the Lord!  When we do that, when we prepare the way of the Lord; then to quote Walter Wangerin, “[Our] joy, [our] present beauty, [our] complete sense of assurance and belonging – these shall be signs of the Lord’s trustworthiness and of our trust, signs of his love until he comes in glory.”

This year for Thanksgiving, Lisa and I opted to rise very early in the morning to make our way from New Hampshire to northern Maine, and so it was still dark when we started our journey.  You’ll remember that it had snowed the night before, and so we were noticing lots of heavy white snow on the ground and clinging to branches as we drove “over the river and through the wood;” but the truth is that it wasn’t until the sun rose that we got a sense of just how beautiful it all was.  It was amazing; at one point, we went through this little grove of evergreens growing on either side of the highway, and the sunlight shone a brilliant gold across the sparkling snow.  And all we could do is just take it all in, grateful that we had that opportunity to experience the wonder of God’s creation in such a glorious fashion.  But, you see, we weren’t able to see all of that at first; it only happened when the light of day finally and most certainly shone forth.

Beloved, the good news God is at work in the world, the advent of his Son Jesus is nigh, and light is most certainly coming into the world; so even now let us live expectantly unto his tender mercies until that blessed dawn shines forth, with lives of of faith and joy and walking on the paths of peace.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2018 in Advent, Faith, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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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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