RSS

Category Archives: Faith

FAQ’s of Faith: Who Is Jesus?

(a sermon for February 18, 2018, the First Sunday in Lent; first in a series, based on Matthew 16:13-20)

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

It might have seemed a simple question, but when Jesus asked it of his disciples they knew immediately that there was any number of answers they could give.  “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the [other] prophets.”  Basically, Jesus, it depends on who you ask and when you ask them; truth is, everybody out there seems to have a different take on just who you are and what you’re all about!

And so it is even now; I mean, of all the “FAQ’s” (that is, “Frequently Asked Questions”) with which I could have started this sermon series, this question about who Jesus is would seem to generate the most wide array of responses!  For instance, for a whole lot of people their primary (and perhaps solitary) picture of Jesus is that of the baby in the manger; while others will immediately connect the name Jesus with the figure that hangs on a crucifix, even if they’re not at all sure what that even represents.  The fact is, there are countless people who can easily name Jesus as a historical figure or know that he’s some sort of religious icon, and yet not really know much more than that about who he is!

Then again, even those of us who have spent much of our lives knowing Jesus to one degree or another can attest to, shall we say, a changing point of view where he’s concerned.  For instance, if you grew up going to Sunday School, I’m guessing that somewhere in the back of your mind there’s an image of Jesus as having long, flowing black hair, milky white skin and a robe of white and scarlet; surrounded by children and cradling a lamb in his arms; maybe that’s still how you like to think of Jesus!  Or if you are of, as they say, “a certain age” or perhaps more accurately, of a certain generation, it could be that your image of Jesus is that of the ultimate counter-culture icon; the one who vehemently turned all the values and assumptions of our middle-class world upside and inside out, the one, writes Philip Yancy, whose every teaching was “jarringly antimatrialistic, antihypcritcal, pro-peace and pro-love.”  Indeed, in all times and especially in these times Jesus can appropriately be seen as the vanguard of social justice on every level of human society.

Dig a little deeper, however; get into the biblical and theological perspective as to the identity of this Jesus of Nazareth and you discover a whole realm of possibilities as to how we might know him.  He’s the Christ; he’s Lord of Heaven and Earth; he’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords; he’s the Messiah, and our Savior; he’s the Good Shepherd and the Blessed Redeemer; he’s the Bread of Life, he’s Living Water and he’s the Light of the World; he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; the Anointed One, Son of God and Son of Man; and he’s our Emmanuel, God With Us.  Jesus is the one to whom John refers to in his gospel as the “Word made flesh [that has] lived among us,” (John 1:14) and who Paul described to the Hebrews as “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” (Hebrews 1:3)  He is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and he’s the Incarnate Word of God!

And yet for all of that and so much more that I could recite to you here, we really can’t tell you all that much about what he looked like; about his life between the time he was born and the beginning of his public ministry nearly 30 years later, or even if he had brothers and sisters (biblical scholars have been debating that question for centuries!). We really don’t even have a sense of everything Jesus might have said or taught in those three years of itinerant ministry; all we can claim as truth are the accounts of the four men who wrote the gospels, with the rest coming from biblical history, church tradition and the kind of discernment and analysis that is renewed with each successive generation.

So… when Jesus asks that question – “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – I guess the answer does come down to who you ask and when you ask them!  (Actually, maybe the best response came from the renowned theologian Karl Barth; who when asked by a student if he could summarize his whole life’s work in theology in a sentence, he answered, “Yes, I can… [it’s] ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”)

But then, in our text this morning Jesus asks another question; and this one cannot be answered in such a second-hand manner: “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”  This is where things got personal very quickly!  I have to imagine that at this moment the disciples were all very quiet and looking to the ground, each one of them careful to avoid eye contact with Jesus, like students in a classroom hoping and praying that the teacher won’t call on them!  Because it’s one thing, you see, to report the “conventional wisdom” of the people and even share a bit of the gossip that’s out there; but it’s quite another to commit yourself!  Answering this kind of a question requires something of you; as if to say it means that you know it and you live it!   Those disciples knew full well in that moment that however they answered Jesus, life as knew it would never be the same again; they knew, as do you and I, that we are what we claim!

It turns out, you see, that as much as we might try to seek out answers to this question of who Jesus is, ultimately the real question that needs to be asked is who Jesus is to us; and the thing is, friends, how we answer that question will inevitably affect our responses to every other question of faith and life itself.  And it’s not to say that all the things we’ve seen, heard and learned about Jesus don’t come into play here; in many, many ways we are all the by-products of  two millennia of Christian teaching and tradition, not to mention all those years we spent hearing Bible stories and doing arts and crafts in Sunday School!  But in the end, what all that means and how all of it comes into focus in our lives is revealed by our own confession of faith; it is what and who we say Jesus is has everything to do with who we are and who we’re willing to be!

Granted, to make that kind of confession does involve some risk.  It’s no accident that of all the disciples with Jesus that day it’s only Peter – good ol’ impulsive, I-can-walk-on-water-just-watch-me Peter (!) – who even dares to respond to Jesus’ question:  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  It was a bold answer, albeit one as he ended up revealing again and again, that Peter didn’t really completely understand; but he said it, and with every fiber of his being, he meant it.  Somehow, the whole mystery of what God had done in and through Jesus had gotten through to him, and though he couldn’t begin to explain or interpret it in any kind of way that made sense or that resolved the mystery of it, Peter knew that from now one every single moment of his life to come would be a reflection of his being in the presence of the promised Messiah of Israel, the one who was and is “Son of the Living God.”  And indeed it would; as Jesus himself goes on to say, it’s upon Peter himself – the one whose very name, Cephas, means “rock” – that the church would be built, “a church so expansive that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.” (The Message)  Peter’s confession of faith would be the catalyst for more than he could ever possibly imagine; a life, says Jesus, where “a yes on earth is a yes in heaven… [where] a no on earth is no in heaven.” [again, The Message].

See what I mean about what it is that we believe and say about Jesus making all the difference?  We are what we claim!

So I lift up this “frequently asked question” to each of you this morning:  Who is Jesus?   Or more to the very important point, Who is Jesus… to you?

Let me tell you a bit of what I think; keeping in mind that what I think about Jesus – as a pastor, as a person, as a Christian – ever continues to grow and evolve over time and experience and changes in my life.  Some years ago – sometime in the mid-90’s, I think – there was this song on the radio sung by Joan Osborne entitled “One of Us.”  You might remember the lyrics:  “What if God was one of us?  Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home.”  The song was a big hit, and I think it even won a Grammy award; but I’ll be honest with you in that when it came out, I didn’t much care for the song!  And mostly, it was because of that one line in the chorus that suggested that God might be “a slob like one of us.”  It seemed to be to be yet another pop culture putdown of my Christian faith; and besides, I had to put up with all these confirmation kids who delighted in pointing out to the pastor that God might just be nothing more than “a stranger on the bus!”

But over time (and also, I must admit, hearing the song played over and over again on the radio!), I got to thinking about how actually one of the central truths of our Christian faith is how in grace and perfect love God did come to us… as one of us; first as a helpless, crying baby in the arms of a young mother, then as a young man with calloused carpenter’s hands and likely middle-eastern features; then as a teacher and healer and friend imbued with the fullness of God, one who spoke with boldness, compassion and unending hope even and especially to all those who were forever without hope and dwelling on the fringes of life; and finally, as one who went willingly to his own death on the cross for the sake of our having a relationship with God now and eternally!  Beloved, of all the ideas and images that we’re given of the divine presence, the most remarkable and extraordinary of all is this incredible truth that God – God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth (!) – was “present, active, speaking, giving and healing through this [singular] human life!” And that’s everything; as Norman Pott has put it, “our faith is not so much resting on the hope that Jesus is like God… [but that] God is like Jesus, that is compassionate, forgiving, accepting, welcoming… if we affirm God in Jesus, we are opening to the possibility of God in ourselves.”

And I have to tell you… that though my pastoral sensibilities still tend to make me shy away from the image of God being “a slob” in any way, shape or form (!); the truth is that when I think of who Jesus is, it’s not the “stained glass window Jesus” that I envision, nor is it so much someone walking around as an earthbound angel with a golden halo overhead.  It’s the Jesus who’s one of us; the one who’s just like me, who knows my joys and even more so my sorrow.  It’s the Jesus who knows, like I do – like we all do – how hard life can be; and it’s the Jesus who weeps at the loss of children in an unspeakable act of violence, and who knows that somehow and in so many ways we can be better than that.  It’s the Jesus who is one of us – but who is also one with God – that changes everything and makes all the difference for me.

Jesus comes to each one of us across the years, beloved; and he does so vividly, powerfully and beautifully.  But in the midst of it all, his question remains: Who do you say that I am?  And he waits for us to answer, each one of us in our own way.

So… what do you say?  Who is Jesus… to you?

May God bless us with the faith and insight to make confessions of our own.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Faith, Jesus, Lent, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

Tags: ,

In It to Win It

(a sermon for February 4, 2018, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Mark 1:40-45)

Here’s something that I’m sure will come as a huge shock to all of you:  I am not much of an athlete.

And by “not much of,” I mean “not at all.”

I don’t know; I just have never had the ability or coordination it takes to do sports, or for that matter, the real desire.  Even as a kid, gym class was for me basically something to be gotten through and if at all possible, avoided!  And besides, back in school I was always the one in band and chorus, doing drama club and working on the yearbook; that was my thing!  So back then being any kind of star athlete (or even a benchwarmer) was never going to happen; and obviously, in all the years that have followed, nothing about that has changed!

Which is not to say, however, I don’t appreciate athleticism in others; in fact, I have to say that the older I get, the more I admire those who have shown forth not only their God-given ability, but also the drive, discipline and perseverance it takes to succeed on the field of athletic competition.  Whether we’re talking about tonight’s Super Bowl, the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, or simply high school kids running up and down the basketball court at tournament time there is beauty and grace to be found in those who do these things very, very well; who have trained and practiced, struggled, endured and pushed themselves to the limit – sometimes over the course of an entire lifetime (!) – all for the sake of running that race, of winning that game… of being the absolute best that one can be.

And ideally, friends, I’m here to tell you that it can be a spiritual thing as well. I actually came across a quote this week from, of all people, Pope John Paul II, from back in 1987.  He said that “Sport… is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands the use of intelligence and the developing of the will.  It reveals… the wonderful structure of the human person created by God, as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit.  Athletic activity,” John Paul went on to say, “can help every man and woman to recall the moment when God the Creator gave origin to the human person, the masterpiece of his creative work.”

I like that.  Granted, in an age where sports is big business and things like politics, drug abuse and (as we have seen illustrated so horribly as of late) all manner of assault have too often plagued the whole endeavor, it’s increasingly difficult to see the ideal made real; but when it happens – be it a perfect touchdown pass or a ski jump that seems to defy gravity – when we can bear witness to the wonder of body, mind and spirit working together toward a singular goal, even to this most decidedly non-athletic person, it’s a beautiful thing.  At the heart of it all, you see, is this very clear desire, this relentless drive, this passion, if you will, to be “in it to win it.”

And isn’t it interesting how when Paul wants to speak in our text this morning about the spiritual life and what it means to be a child of God it’s precisely that same kind of passion to which he refers as making all the difference.  “Do you not know,” he writes to the Christians in Corinth, “that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.”

Now at first read, it might well seem a bit odd to hear that kind of a sports metaphor coming from the pen of an apostle; but in truth there are several instances throughout the epistles where Paul uses what might be called “the language of athletics” in order to make a point about the Christian life.  In fact, in our passage today, Paul makes reference to an actual athletic event:  the Isthmian Games, which were a series of Olympic-styled athletic contests that took place every two years just outside of Corinth, and which included boxing events, wrestling and all different kinds of footraces.  The competition was great and intense, and as a sign of their victory the winners of each event would be given a wreath to wear on their heads; fashioned, believe it or not, out of a garland of dry and withered celery!  Think of it: all that work, all that effort and all the winner has to show for it is the lousy leftover part of a summer salad!  Or, to put this much more biblically, “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”  And that’s the point, isn’t it?  If these Isthmian athletes do what they do for the passing glory of such a small and fading reward, how much more might we do as followers of Jesus Christ for the “imperishable” wreath, that is, the gift of eternity with God?

By the way, these verses from 1 Corinthians get translated in a variety of ways: the NIV talks about how those athletes do what they do “to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever;”  and, of course, The Message brings it a little closer to home, especially about now, in referring to a “gold medal that tarnishes and fades” as opposed to the one “that’s gold eternally.”  But regardless of the translation the point is the same: to quote Kenneth Kovacs here, “the point is that the goal, the prize that we strive after and strain for as Christians is better than any athletic prize or any other prize given in this world subject to rust and decay and corruption.”

So given all this, the question for us, I suppose, is that where a life of faith and true discipleship is concerned… are we “in it to win it,” or not?

Of course we need to understand, and Paul also makes this clear, that winning the race isn’t about “run[ning] aimlessly,” any more than a boxing match is about flailing about and “beating the air.”  Moreover, this race of which Paul calls us to run is no hundred-yard dash where it’s a quick sprint run to get the prize; it’s more like an intense spiritual marathon that extends over the course of a lifetime and which requires every bit of our attention and energy.

That’s where so many people make a mistake about the nature of faith; they assume that to be a Christian is simply to be a nice person, to show some empathy, and maybe employ some common sense along the way.  But to actually follow Jesus and to become his disciple is something much more than that: it’s about truly loving our neighbor as ourselves; it’s about forgiving our enemies not just once or twice or even three times, but seventy times seven times; it’s about denying ourselves, and then there’s that matter of taking up our own crosses so that in our own lives we might follow Jesus where he goes… and that’s just the beginning.  It’s no accident that the Greek word Paul uses here for competing in a race is “agonizomai,” which is where we get our word “agony,” because in this particular race, it takes an agonizingly tremendous effort to win.  If you’re going to last for very long, it’s going to take discipline and self-control… and good training!

I love the story that William Willimon tells about his time as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, and how a well-meaning student came to him and said, “You know, I just don’t get much out of the Bible.”  “Oh,” replied Willimon, with just a hint of sarcasm, “and when was it you last did time in a Bible study group?”   Well, the student said, “I just thought you could pick it up for yourself and sort of like, get the point.”  To which Willimon answered, “Try that with lacrosse stick and see how far you get.”

You see, for you and me to run our race of faithful living means we need to be trained and grounded in this Christian faith we espouse.  There needs to be a commitment to study God’s word; there needs to be a discipline of prayer; and there has to be, I believe, a real participation with kindred hearts in a community of faith.  In other words, it matters that we’re the church together and that we’re running this race together as God’s people; because without that kind of love and support, we’re bound to get winded and discouraged at the first sign of struggle. And make no mistake: at every turn along the way, we are going to need to call upon every resource that our God has to give, so that we might be the vessels by which the gospel is proclaimed and love is brought forth; because, friends, in this broken and hurting world that is the race we’re running.

Our gospel reading for this morning is Mark’s story of how a leper came to Jesus begging to be healed, and “moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him,” and how immediately, the leprosy left him.  One of the interesting parts of this passage for me is how the leper actually says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” and in the act of healing, Jesus responds by saying, “I do choose.”  So not only does this story talk about the grace of God’s healing love extended to those whom the world would consider to be hideous or dangerous or somehow morally deficient – because remember, leprosy was considered at the time to be a disease that was the result of the victim’s sinful actions – it’s also a story about how Jesus “chooses” in that moment to make him clean in a profound and divine sense of compassion to which you and I are also called as his disciples.

Yes… I’ll say it again: we are his disciples; we choose to be so! We are called to be beacons of light in a dark world; and we choose to be bringers of love and compassion, purveyors of healing and a higher good.  We are God’s people, and as such, we are a people with eyes upon the prize, always that of Christ and his kingdom.  And it is a sacred endeavor that’s every bit as strenuous as a Super Bowl or an Olympic event; even more so.  But it’s a race that needs to be run; and might I add here, it’s also a race that when it all comes together, is a beautiful thing to behold.

I had a friend back in high school who as a young man trained to run in the Boston Marathon.  All through school he’d been a star member of our cross-country team, and had won any number of races; but this was different, something much bigger, something that stretched every part of his ability, and he trained for months so he’d qualify; no easy feat as he sprinted through the snow covered streets of our town!  But he was determined, and when he finally got to Boston – looking back on it, he must have been just about as young as you can be to run the marathon – we were all rooting for him.  And God love him, he finished the race; well behind the pack, as I recall, but he finished, and that was something!

I remember afterward asking him about the race, and I remember this because my friend actually had very little good to say about the experience: he was tired, and sore, the course was impossible, his shoes weren’t right, and on and on and on. And so I asked him, given all that and so much more why he didn’t just stop, and for that matter, why he chose to run this race in the first place.  But then he smiled, and said simply, “because when you finish, there’s no feeling like it in the world.”

When you and I seek to live as our Lord Jesus would have us live it will most certainly not be easy, and there will be moments when we’ll wonder if the effort’s been worth it and if what we’ve done has mattered in the scheme of things; but if we are in it to truly win it, beloved, by God’s good grace it becomes an experience unlike anything else in life, and one that makes all the difference out these doors and into the world.

So let us run the race before us, and let us do in such a way that says we want to win it, for the sake of Jesus Christ. And as the race goes on, let us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Thanks be to God who sets the course before us.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Epiphany, Faith, Family Stories, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

Tags: ,

A Question of Attitude

(a sermon for January 21, 2018, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Philippians 4:4-9)

I should begin here by confessing to you that the moment I sat down this week to begin writing this sermon, this very next sentence immediately caused me to “flash back” to a time when my children were much younger than they are now:

“I want to have a talk with you this morning about your attitude!” 

Believe me, I know how that sounds!  Granted, like most parents, I did have that conversation with my children back in the day; with the boys at some point when they were teenagers, and with my daughter, actually, when she was about five years old and imitating some obnoxious character from a cartoon show!  But I don’t want to give the impression that I’m giving you that kind of a lecture, because I’m really not; and besides, I don’t want you to be “rolling your eyes” at me the way my kids sometimes did back then!

That understood, however, I would like to talk with you this morning about… our attitude!  Because certainly attitude is a crucial issue for every one of us, most especially as adults; and moreover, because attitude plays into just about every aspect of our lives.  Health care workers, for instance, tell us again and again that whether we’re dealing with something as serious as a catastrophic illness or recovering from surgery or whether it’s something relatively simple as trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, having a poor attitude about these things can only make a difficult situation that much worse; while a more positive attitude might well contribute mightily to faster healing and making things better overall!  And we’re not just talking physical health, either:  a good attitude cannot help but have a positive effect on your day, your week, your work productivity, your family atmosphere and the state of your relationships with others.  By the same token a negative, “gloom and doom” attitude has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; in other words, expect the worst in things, or in people, and that’s pretty much what you’re going to get!  Simply put, a proper attitude is of utmost importance!

Chuck Swindoll actually expresses this very well: he says that “the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude,” he says, “is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, [or] than what other people think or say I do… we cannot change the past.  We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced,” Swindoll goes on to say, “that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”

I like that; and believe me, friends, when I say to you this morning that this is especially true as it applies to the spiritual life.  For you see, there are a whole lot of spiritual people out there who seem to be far more negative in their attitudes than positive!  These are people – ostensibly people of faith, mind you – who are more about what’s wrong with the world and people than what’s right; who are more willing to talk about everything they’re against and can’t approve of, than what it is (and who it is) that they truly stand for; whose very words and actions would just seem to betray that which they come and sing about every Sunday morning at church!

Truth be told, there’s a real cynicism that can be seen in a great many Christians today.  Now, I don’t know if it’s world-weariness, the by-product of  all the conflict and divisive rhetoric that surrounds us these days; if it’s about the kind of worldly culture that has long sought to pull us away from Christianity; or if it’s just what happens when you begin to feel like you’ve been living your own life in some constant state of fear and anxiety: but there are those who have let themselves get so caught up in an attitude of negativity that I have to wonder if they can even hear what Paul has proclaimed in scripture reading this morning, much less receive it:  Rejoice, he says.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, Rejoice.”

That particular verse from Philippians stands among the most upbeat, positive affirmations in the Epistles, if not all of scripture; certainly one of the most familiar to our ears.  It’s also, by the way, one of those verses that’s pointed to by those who would make the claim that faith in general and the Bible in particular have no real basis in reality! But I would suggest to you that such an attitude (there’s that word again!) represents a major misunderstanding of scripture, and one proof of this comes from Paul himself.

You see, by the time he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul had been in prison, probably in Rome and in miserable conditions, for upwards of two years; and, by the way, quite literally shackled to an endless series of Roman palace guards, waiting at some point to “stand trial” before Nero (in fact, here’s a not-so-fun fact: such was the cruelty of this imprisonment that the Romans would change guards every four hours, so that no one guard could ever begin to sympathize with Paul and perhaps be inclined to show him mercy).

So here’s Paul, facing a dismal future that would almost certainly include his execution at the hands of Nero himself; and yet, still, Paul is able to say “I rejoice in the Lord greatly;” (4:10) and what’s more, he’s able to say these Philippian Christians, and to you and me, you also rejoice!  “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”  As The Message translates this, “Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  [And] before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful,” Paul concludes, “what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  It seems incredible that Paul could maintain such a positive attitude and rejoice in the midst of all of that he was suffering, but in the end, you see, it was not a shallow idealism that was guiding him; it was optimism fueled by his relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, we need to understand here that there is a huge difference between idealism and optimism.  To be filled with idealism is to live unto the notion that everything is wonderful in life, that things will always go well, and that nothing in the world can ever truly be wrong; you know, “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”  And don’t get me wrong, idealism is fine to a certain extent; it’s idealism that inspires hope and dreams, and it’s what moves people to higher vistas in their lives; but ultimately, idealism can also be unrealistic, given the world as it is.  The truth is that those who live wholly unto idealism and who carry on as though everything is always sweetness and light are bound to come crashing down to life’s harsh realities; and that cannot help but do damage to the spiritual life.  The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it well: “Idealism is a greater threat to faith than [even] despair.”  It’s no coincidence that some of the most negative people you’ll ever meet in this life are “burned out” idealists.

Optimism, however, is something different: optimism, at least as it is understood biblically, is ultimate hope.  An optimist knows that life is going to be rough; understands that stuff can be bad and that sometimes we’re going to get hurt, but also knows that good things can and will come through in the end.  A good analogy, I think, is to say that an optimist is something like a marathon runner:  he or she knows that the race is hard, that running may well tax every bit of residual strength they have, and wait… just when you think the race is over, “Heartbreak Hill” is dead ahead!  But the optimist’s attitude is, it’s going to hurt, yes, but I will win this race!

By the same token, Biblical optimism is the attitude of accepting difficulty, but expecting victory.  It is to be looking for God’s hand at work in every situation – the good, the bad and the ugly – and to know that God’s strength and hope pervades any suffering and struggle we face; it is to live expectantly unto what God will be doing in and through our lives; and it is to purposefully live with a positive attitude in a negative world, facing the day with the kind of confidence that comes in knowing that whatever else comes down, we will be able to find the wherewithal to do as Christ himself inspires and leads, including rejoicing in the darkness of a prison cell!

And no, in times such as these, it’s neither an automatic nor easy process to adopt that kind of an attitude, but it’s within such a positive, spiritual stance that we are able to truly embrace the kind of unending hope and redeeming joy that each one of us longs for in this life. Rene Schlaepfer, a pastor and writer out of California, makes the point that while many in the world view positive people as naïve and shallow, “as someone has said, ‘cynicism is just intellectual laziness.’  It doesn’t take any character to be negative,” he says; “it doesn’t take creativity to be negative about [the things] you see… it doesn’t take any deep spiritual maturity to be upset [about everything]… it takes perspective to be positive; it takes wisdom to be positive; you have to be spirit-filled to be positive.”  It takes work, friends; but in the good news that is ours in Jesus, and “in the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” by grace we are given that which we need to weather the storms and challenges of this life; so that we might truly “rejoice in the Lord always” as we do.

And I don’t know about you, friends, but I want to rejoice in the Lord, and in life… I need to rejoice in it! I do not believe that life should be something that is merely endured and trodden through; I believe that life, most especially as a Christian, is to be an exciting and joyous experience; that every moment of it, be that moment joyful or sorrowful, should be filled with dynamic power.  Beloved, as believers, we are being called to live lives that are thrilling to behold, exciting to watch, ennobling, enkindling, enabling, and enthusiastic. Because of faith, who we are and what we do in life ought to have a vibrancy about it that’s unmistakable; and let me also say that it can, and it will, make a difference in the world!

But how that happens, and if that happens… in many ways, it’s a question of attitude; yours and mine.

The late Mike Yaconelli, in his book, Dangerous Wonder, writes beautifully of how the Christian life can accurately be compared to a roller coaster ride; but not one of the newer rollercoasters where they strap you in and but bars around your shoulders; rather one of the old fashioned ones where you sat on a bench with only one skinny metal pipe in front of you!  In other words, “suddenly you are strapped in and you think, I’m going to die!  Then you begin the long climb up the track of [spiritual] growth… and you think, Hey, no problem, I can follow Jesus anywhere, and then – ZOOOOOOM (!) – you crash into the twists and turns of life, jerking left then right, up then down, and fifty, sixty years go by and – WHAM! – you’re dead.”   But, writes Yaconelli, “if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depth of my soul, ‘What a ride!’”

The Christian life, he says, “is the breathtaking, thrill-filled, bone-rattling ride of a lifetime where every moment matters and all you can do is hang on for life dear… most people believe that following Jesus is all about living right. Not true.  Following Jesus is all about living fully.”  And to live fully means to take the ride… and to do it with joy, and spirit, and optimism along every turn.

I think that’s what Paul was saying to the Philippians, and us, when he said, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… think about these things,” and, most importantly, keep doing those things.

It’s all a question of attitude, you know.  May our life’s faithfulness be of such an attitude that one day, we also might be able to say with great satisfaction, “what a ride that was!”  What a ride!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Epiphany, Epistles, Faith, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

Tags: ,

 
%d bloggers like this: