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Category Archives: Faith

And When You Pray: The Times of Temptation

(a sermon for August 6, 2017, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13)

Well, not counting my time away, now we’re six weeks into this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and I have to tell you: speaking both as a preacher and as a hearer of God’s Word, I have been amazed by just how many big questions we’ve had to address as we’ve gone along!

I mean, from the very existence and nature of God (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”) and his unending grace and providence (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), to the gift of both sustenance (“…our daily bread”) and forgiveness (“…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”),  this seemingly little prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples not only touches upon many of the central issues of our Christian theology but also encompasses just about everything we hold dear about our faith; and friends, that’s a lot!  In fact, it can all be a bit overwhelming; and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that even in preparing these messages I’d find that for every one of these big questions I’d hoped I was answering for the sermon and for myself, I’d discover that there was another question to take its place (and trust me, that’s not something you want to happen late on a Saturday night!).

Honestly, sometimes it’s enough to make your head swim (!); but then, that’s sort of the nature of a life of faith.  What’s the expression about the unexamined life not being worth living?  Well, I’d suggest to you this morning that the unexamined faith is, well… impossible!  We reach out our hearts to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will intercede for us “with sighs too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) but then we are left to prayerfully discern what the nature of that intercession and its meaning for our lives might be!   We seek to live, as the old confessional puts it, “a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s Holy name,” but then we have to wrestle with what that actually means in today’s world.  And we know that ought to be in accordance with biblical truth, however that happens to apply and based on what we’ve come to understand about scripture, and absolutely it needs to adhere to the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  But then in trying to do that we make a very interesting discovery: that it’s not so much what we don’t understand about scripture or about Jesus that raises up the bigger questions for us; it’s what we do understand about our Christian faith that gives us pause, leaves us confused, and sometimes, absolutely scares us!

You see what I mean?  Big questions, one right after another…

I tell you all this today because now we’ve come to the next to last petition of this “Prayer of Our Savior” that arguably raises as many questions for us as it answers:  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, on the face of it, this is pretty straightforward language that represents a necessary shift in this prayer to a tone of stark realism.  Mickey Anders writes that this has to happen in the Lord’s Prayer, because ultimately “life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread and even forgiveness.  There is [also] the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will… [and] we face the temptation to evil every day.”

Now, I love that quote; but I still have to ask, what does all this mean?  I mean, ordinarily when we talk about temptation we’re apt to be speaking about the need to avoid those worldly enticements that are bad for us and which keep us apart from God; ranging from the temptation toward eating too many sweets to being unfaithful in one’s relationships.  It’s all about ethics and morality, self-care and righteousness before the Lord; and while that’s most certainly a part of it, this prayer to God to “lead us not into temptation” really does seem to go much deeper than this.

And while we’re on the subject, are we really praying that God not “lead” us into temptation?  Why would the Lord who loves us beyond limit and who wishes us to be in a relationship with him ever be leading us into temptation to begin with?  If God is good, then why would God ever deign to tempt us to do evil, especially as we’re praying that he deliver us from said evil?   And here’s another question:  is it even possible to forever be led away from temptation?  That’s a question that’s at the heart of our reading this morning from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul – lifting up the example of generations of the faithful who had come before – says to these new Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” or to quote one very apt paraphrase, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful,” because nothing that comes your way is any different than what others have had to face!  Bottom line is that none of us are totally beyond the reach of temptation; quoting Mark Adams here, “All of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.”

So… if temptation is an inevitable reality that all of us have to deal with; and if we understand that God’s would never be responsible for leading us into that place and probably cannot completely remove us from it; then what are we asking when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”

Questions…. Oy veh, the questions!

Actually, part of the problem here has to do with translation.  The Greek word that’s used here for “temptation” is “peirasmus,” and this is a word that just as appropriately can be translated as “enticement or temptation,” or (and listen to this!) “a test or trial.”  That’s how in a number of biblical translations, including our own NRSV, this verse in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer can be read, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   This might seem like a subtle change, but for me it brings this prayer from seeking refuge from a place of hopeless repetition of inevitable mistakes to… a way of enduring and triumphing over the trials and tribulations of life; in particular the life of faith. For me, you see, what we’re praying for is a way to confront the struggle we all have with this thing we refer to as temptation, but which is in fact the effort that it takes to face up to the reality of evil and live that “godly, righteous and sober life” in a fallen world: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (we’ll get to that second part in just a minute…)

So… here’s yet another question: what is the nature of temptation; what is the time of trial we you and I will so often have to face?  Actually, to answer this I always come back to a verse from Romans – and by the way, friends, if there’s any verse in Holy Scripture that seems tailor made to make one’s head spin, this is it – “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23)

Let me just repeat that just one more time so it can sink in:  “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, understand that Paul is saying this in the context of admonishing the Roman Christians to not be a stumbling black to those whose practice of the faith might differ from their own (specifically, what is permissible to eat under the canon of law).  In other words, this is a stern message not to let one’s faith become a means of arrogance because if your actions and attitudes aren’t wholly attuned to your faith then it’s no longer faith but sin.

Opens up a whole bunch more questions, doesn’t it?  What that means is that even our most well-intentioned behaviors, as good and even  as “religious” as they might well be, end up not proceeding from faith at all if they are not rooted in our “own conviction before God.” (v. 22) Worship, outreach, mission, stewardship, the things we do for the church, the things we do for the world, the things we do for each other, to say nothing of our own personal piety; the applications to such a truth as this are literally endless!  I remember back in seminary, when we had to “exegete” this particular passage in our systematic theology class, our heads pretty much exploded (!); and if that’s your reaction when you go home today and start thinking about all this, I’m truly sorry; although, if it ends up in some spiritual self-evaluation, then so much the better!

But I also have to tell you that this very difficult assertion from Paul ends up connection with this every Sunday prayer I pray that my God “lead[s] me not into temptation.”  If, in fact, there is so much that apart from my faith is sinful behavior, then I need God, in Jesus Christ, to save me from it; to lead me beyond the barren and empty temptations of the world so that everything that God has given me and has empowered me to do and to be in this life can work to deepen the relationship I have with God, and to strengthen me to be more fully a disciple of Jesus Christ in my walk through these days of, to say the very least, confused situations.  I need my Lord to save me from this time of trial; understanding I can avoid it, but I can triumph over it.  It won’t be easy, for the evil in this world is real and relentless, but I won’t be alone in the effort either.

That’s where the second half of this petition comes in:  “…but deliver us from evil,” or, as our gospel reading puts it, “…rescue us from the evil one.”  Now whether one takes the view that the “evil one” depicted here is quite literally the figure of Satan, or rather a representation of the whole curse of a sinful humanity from back in the time of Genesis (now there’s a big question for another day!), the meaning is nonetheless the same: there is ever and always going to be the temptation before us to succumb to the evils of this world.  And lest we forget the story of Adam and Eve, evil can come in very attractive and enticing packages; even sometimes in what looks all the world like goodness and light.  We need to be delivered from that kind of evil; and that only comes in walking arm and arm, heart in heart with God himself!

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  A hard prayer this is; but a necessary one.  And, might I add, nothing new for any of God’s people past or present.  Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?  “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock tha followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  And it was not always easy; the way was very often filled with temptation, and very often they failed in the midst of trial, to the point, Paul says, “that God was not pleased with most of them.”

But they persisted on the journey, seeking to live unto their faith in the Lrod their God… generation after generation, from age to age, through countless challenges and in the midst of a thousand or more big questions;  and today they are part of a communion of saints of which you and I are part and which we celebrate at this table set before us; indeed, “there is one bread, [and] we who are many are one body.”

Let us today allow this holy meal, and those with whom we share it, be our inspiration as we walk the walk of faithful discipleship in Christ’s name, having been lead beyond the times of temptation… and delivered from all evil.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Courage

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(a sermon for February 26, 2017, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, based on Joshua 1:6-9 and Philippians 1:27-30)

Of the many words I could use to describe the Christian life, that is, what it means for you and me to live as followers of Jesus Christ, I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the most wholly accurate descriptions comes in the word courage.

Now I know that for most of us, this is likely not the first word that comes to mind; I’m guessing it’s probably faith, or maybe hope, joy, grace, peace, and then, of course, there’s love!  And these are all good words, very apt descriptions of our life in Christ; but lately I’ve been thinking that so many of these virtues we espouse as being part and parcel of our faith are made apparent and real to us first because of the courage it takes to walk in faith.

In other words, so often things like hope, joy and love are revealed in and through some expression of courage!   C.S. Lewis wrote about this; he said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Without courage, you see, people tend to approach a given situation with fear rather than embracing it with love and joy.  Without courage, people are reluctant to make sacrifices or accept challenges; truly, sometimes the most courageous thing any of us ever do in life is to simply “go on faith,” accepting God’s presence and power for the journey ahead rather than our own.  So while courage is not technically or biblically described as a spiritual gift or even a fruit of the spirit, it nonetheless takes real courage to live as a believer!

Now the dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength.  To venture, persevere, withstand, [to] confront danger or difficulty.” Interestingly enough, if you look up the word “dare,” you’ll find that defined as “to be bold enough to challenge, to confront boldly, to have sufficient courage.”  So it follows that having courage goes hand in hand with being bold and daring and strong come what may; to accept challenges, to persevere amidst struggle; and to stand up against that which is difficult or wrong, and likewise, to stand for what it is that we believe.

And if that’s all true, then it also follows that courage is pretty much the starting place for true Christian discipleship!

This actually points to one of the most common misconceptions regarding Christians and Christianity:  it’s the assumption that we church people are all merely a bunch of smiley, happy, sickeningly nice people going about daily life pious to the max while blithely ignorant of the harsh realities of the world we live in!  Folks, that’s wrong on about a hundred different levels: to begin with, there’s not one of us who can claim the mantle of smiley, happy and nice all the time (let’s be honest, some of us struggle about being that way at all!). Furthermore, it suggests that this fantasy of unending happiness somehow exists as a reality in this world!  Now don’t get me wrong; I do believe, as the song goes, it’s a wonderful world, full to overflowing with joy and awesome wonder (and our faith in God in Jesus Christ brings that to full fruition in our lives!).  But to deny that there is also darkness and evil in the world – and that sin does exist in the human heart – is, I believe, to miss the whole point of Jesus’ coming, which was to seek and save the lost, and to bring all of humanity into reconciliation with God.

To be a Christian is to understand that darkness and fear is a very real part of life; but it’s also to know beyond any doubt that we are named and claimed by this infinitely loving God whose greatest desire is that we should never have to dwell in darkness, or to live our lives of that fear.  It is no accident that some 365 verses of the Bible include the words “do not fear,” and that throughout scripture, as in our reading this morning, God’s people are exhorted to “be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

The Lord spoke these words to Joshua as he was commissioned to become the leader of Israel after the death of Moses; a daunting task at best.  After all, having spent all those years in the wilderness God’s people had become restless, rebellious and more than a little difficult; to say nothing of fearful of the dangers and still unknown struggles that awaited them on the journey ahead.  Joshua was going to need strength and courage in large measure if he ever hoped to lead them into the Promised Land.  And the good news here is that God promises to provide both, assuring Joshua that “no one shall be able to stand up against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses,” says the Lord, “so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” 

It’s a powerful promise, indeed; but you’ll notice that God does not simply leave it at that.  This assurance is very quickly followed by both a caveat and word of instruction: “Be strong,” says the Lord, “and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”  One thing God makes clear here to Joshua: the hardship and difficulty of their life’s journey wasn’t going to end anytime soon… and sadly, neither will ours.

The fact is, in this life fear is always going to be somewhere near at hand, ever and always presenting reasons and temptations for holding back on the journey before us.  Not every pathway is clear and well-lit, and we might as well know that moving forward.  But – and this is key, friends – what we do have for the way ahead, what we always have for the way ahead, is that which gives us courage to keep going: God’s presence, God’s power and strength, and God’s word!  Truly, to keep what God has to give us firmly at the forefront of our lives is to “be strong and courageous.”

Actually, it seems to me that God actually offers us two kinds of courage:  the courage to be, and the courage to do.  Now the courage to be is the courage to stand when all else around us seems to be flying in all directions.  The Psalms are filled with evocations of this kind of courage; for instance, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.(46:1-2) This isn’t a denial of the existence of struggle and hardship; on the contrary, it acknowledges that life is filled with measures of both joy and pain, but it also proclaims that in faith, you and I are given the courage to stand and to endure amidst times of horrific loss and grief, and the grace of God’s strength and his comfort as we move forward.

But then there’s the courage to do (or, not to do, for that matter!); this is the stuff it takes to live out our faith despite the storms that rage around us, and to do so even when there’s risk involved.  It’s to act faithfully even when we know that it’s going to place us in the minority, or when it might even cost us friendship, social status, career, or in some extreme cases, even our lives.  It’s knowing the right thing to do, and then doing it; all for the sake of what it is we believe, in the process heeding the very precepts of our God and seeking, as his disciples, “to follow Christ’s way” of courageous, self-sacrificial love.

History is rife with examples of that kind “faith-filled” courage.  In her book Conscience and Courage – Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, Eva Fogelman writes about acts of courage that not only saved the lives of Jews during the 2nd World War, but also forever transformed the lives of those doing the saving: for instance, she tells the story of a seventeen year-old Polish girl who hid thirteen Jews in a small apartment with her seven year-old sister; another story of young boy who took only half his medicine at the hospital so that his Jewish “brother” could have the other half as he lay sick in hiding; or consider the case of an entire village in France who hid and saved hundreds of Jewish children throughout the duration of the war.  These were ordinary people who displayed extraordinary moral and physical courage even at the threat of their own imprisonment and death.  And at time when so many had sunk to utter depths of cruelty and inhumanity, that kind of faith in the face of fear literally “saved” the world.

Amazing stories; but I would suggest to you that to see such a contrast between courage and fear, we don’t really have to look much farther than our own daily lives.  It strikes me that each and every day you and I are given choices whether to speak or act out of our fear, or else to act with God-inspired courage for the sake of our faith.  One choice inevitably leads to division, anger and hatred; the other creates life, peace, love and joy.

As an illustration for this today, there’s a very special song I want to share with you.  This is a piece of music written by the late Bob Blue, who was a schoolteacher and a wonderful songwriter from Massachusetts; and it is a story song that is appropriately entitled, “Courage.”

A small thing once happened at school
That brought up a question for me,
And somehow it brought me to see
The price that I pay to be cool.

Diane is a girl that I know.
She’s strange, like she doesn’t belong.
I don’t mean to say that that’s wrong.
We don’t like to be with her, though.

And so, when we all made a plan
To have this big party at Sue’s,
Most kids in the school got the news,
But no one invited Diane.

The thing about Taft Junior High
Is, secrets don’t last very long.
I acted like nothing was wrong
When I saw Diane start to cry.

I know you may think that I’m cruel.
It doesn’t make me very proud.
I just went along with the crowd.
It’s sad, but you have to in school.

You can’t pick the friends you prefer.
You fit in as well as you can.
I couldn’t be friends with Diane,
‘Cause then they would treat me like her.

In one class at Taft Junior High,
We study what people have done
With gas chamber, bomber, and gun
In Auschwitz, Japan, and My Lai.

I don’t understand all I learn.
Sometimes I just sit there and cry.
The whole world stood idly by
To watch as the innocent burn.

Like robots obeying some rule.
Atrocities done by the mob.
All innocent, doing their job.
And what was it for? Was it cool?

The world was aware of this Hell,
But how many cried out in shame?
What heroes, and who was to blame?
A story that no one dared tell.

I promise to do what I can
To not let it happen again.
To care for all women and men.
I’ll start by inviting Diane.
                              – “Courage,” written by Bob Blue

It’s true, you know; so many of the biggest choices you and I make are wrapped up in the smallest moments and the most unexpected circumstances of our lives.  How we respond to the struggles we face; how we answer to the challenges that confront us speaks volumes to those around us about who and whose we are, and about the real place that faith in God holds in our lives.  Each one of us needs to have the courage to be, and to have the courage to do, friends; and this courage comes to us from God, manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.

In our reading from Philippians, we are urged be “standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by [our] opponents.”  To move from being intimidated to having the courage to stand firm in one spirit requires an awareness of God’s presence with us and an attentiveness to God’s Word as it applies to our own lives.  So may we never let this or any day pass without letting God speak to us and have his Spirit move us; so that we might indeed be strong and courageous in all things, knowing that the LORD our God will be with us wherever we go.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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What Are You Looking For?

come-and-see(a sermon for January 15, 2017, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, based on John 1:29-42)

Early on one of the rainy, foggy evenings we had earlier this week in Concord I was leaving the church to go home and was surprised to discover that there was another car parked next to mine.  That in and of itself wasn’t all that unusual – quite often, especially during the week, there will be people who’ll make use of our driveway here for one reason or another – but what piqued my interest was that this particular car had Maine State license plates!

And of course, as ridiculous as it sounds, you know what I’m thinking: hey, I wonder if I know this person!  Especially as now, the driver is rolling down the car windows to speak with me: maybe it’s one of our relatives, driving up through to “the County” and stopping in to visit and just in time for supper! (well… it could have been, I’m just sayin’!) Alas, this was not to be, for immediately there’s this woman who’s apologizing to me for being in our parking lot and explaining that since it was so foggy, they were feeling kind of lost and were trying to get their GPS unit to work!  Of course, I must confess to you that this did not dissuade my hopefulness one little bit, because once I’d assured them that yes, the weather was awful and that it was fine they were resting in our parking lot, I immediately added, “I notice you have Maine license plates… where in Maine are you from?”   But the woman simply smiled and said, “Oh, we’re up here from Texas… this is just a rental!”

We chatted for a little longer (“Texas?  That’s nice… I guess”) and then we were both on our way; but it wasn’t until I was back on my way home that I realized, to my embarrassment (!), that I’d never really asked them the most important question of all, given their situation:  “What are you looking for?”  Because after all, ultimately when you’re on a journey and most especially when you’re feeling lost on that journey, it doesn’t matter to you where you’ve come from (even if you are from Maine!); you want to know if you’re headed in the right direction to get to where you want to be!  Maybe the answer is an exit number, or a particular landmark, or perhaps, as is so often the case here in New England, it’ll have to do with local geography or history (“You go down to the fork in the road where the church used to be before it burned down in 1956!”); but when you are seeking the right direction to go and the right place to be, eventually you need someone’s help to show you the way.

In our gospel reading for this morning, two disciples of John the Baptist, having heard directly from his mouth that this man Jesus was “’the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,’” followed Jesus, perchance to find out more.  And Jesus, who could see that these two were following him, said “’What are you looking for?’”  You remember how we spoke last week about the first thing that Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel (it was about obedience, by the way); well, the first thing that Jesus is recorded as saying in John’s gospel is this question, “What are you looking for?”  And it’s interesting because given the nuances of the original Greek language, it could just as easily be translated as “What are you seeking?” or even, “What do you hope to find?”  The Message actually goes one step further here: in that translation, Jesus asks these two disciples, quite simply, “What are you after?” 

“What do you need… what do you long for… what are you most hoping for?”  The point here is that oftentimes what we’re looking for is not to be found in a location or the program of a GPS unit, but rather in that which will give our lives direction and meaning and purpose!  The irony is, of course, that there are many in this world who will ask us these kind of questions.  David Lose, of Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, writes that advertisers are quick to ask us these questions, and even quicker to try and answer the question for us!  “’What do you need?’ quickly becomes,  ‘I know what you need – a new pair of running shoes, a more expensive car, whiter teeth, to lose ten pounds,’ all of which, we’re told, can be had for a price.”

But, Lose continues, down deep we know better.  We know that “true wealth is counting all the blessings we enjoy that money can’t buy.”  And when Jesus asks the questions of these two disciples of John, it’s a question about what it is for them that will give life its greatest and deepest meaning; and the truth is that most, if not all of us are asking for exactly the same things in life:  “for relationship in a world increasingly isolated and isolating… community in an individualistic and often lonely culture… the chance to serve and be connected to others [who feel the same way]… for hope and courage when the headlines inspire fear and despair.”

What are you looking for, asks Jesus. What are you looking for?

What’s also interesting about this text (and, as it turns out, so much of John’s gospel) is that that these two disciples answer Jesus’ question with a question:  “Rabbi,” they ask, “where are you staying?”  And once again, we have a question that when it comes to the original language amounts to more than simply, “So what’s your address in Galilee, Jesus?”  It’s the Greek word meno, and it basically refers to one’s life and meaning; in other words, the question is, “Jesus, what are you about?  What is it that sustains you? Where do you live…how do you live? Who are you… really?”  These disciples are simply asking who Jesus is, and by extension, if they can come and be with him; to know him, to find out about him, to figure out for themselves what this man Jesus, this “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” is all about!

And this is when Jesus utters what are arguably three of the most important words of our Christian faith, three words that offer up an invitation to a relationship with the divine that’s at once immediate and eternal:  “Come and see.”

What Jesus knew, you see, is that faith ultimately is something that is experiential.  By that I mean that Christianity cannot be learned in the same manner that one memorizes a series of mathematical equations, nor can it be logically accepted or rejected on the basis of whatever series of propositions are set before it (though many have tried).  Faith is truth; truth that is personal, all-encompassing and wholly enveloping, something that once it becomes part of you, it will affect how you think, the way you act, and the kind of life you lead.  But first that faith has to be experienced, and therein is the beauty of Jesus’s answer: it’s an invitation to these two disciples to come and experience truth in being with him, dwelling with him, coming to know him.  “Come and see.”

To quote David Lose once again, Jesus’ invitation is really quite simple: “it’s non-threatening. It’s clear… it’s relational… [and] it’s something any of us could say.”  And, I might add, it’s not wrapped up in the promise to receive all the answers to all our questions all at once (!); it’s simply the deep and sincere invitation come with Jesus in our search for something  more than the world’s culture has to offer!

What are you looking for, asks Jesus?  Well, come and see!

John tells us that the disciples “came and saw where [Jesus] was saying and they remained with him that day.”  John also makes a point of telling us that it “was about four o’clock in the afternoon,” which suggests that their together likely lasted well into the night.  The point is that for these two disciples, one of whom was named Andrew, it was the beginning of a long and remarkable journey on through the next three years and beyond.  In fact, it’s so remarkable that we’re told almost immediately, Andrew seeks out his brother Simon Peter (the one who was to be called Cephas, “the Rock”) to come and see this one who was most certainly the“Messiah.”  You see, that’s the nature of the search for that “place” in life where you belong and where it all begins, if only in a glimmer at first, to make sense.  In the words of the song, “once you’ve experienced it… you want to pass it on!”

And therein lies an important piece of this that we also need to remember today, friends.  This passage from John most certainly proclaims to us how God in Jesus Christ is offering us that divine invitation to “come and see” (or perhaps to “come back and see”), so to experience the power and presence of the divine and, as we say at communion time, “to be[come] people of his new realm.”  But there’s even more here than that; there’s also the understanding that by our faithful work and through a truly “holy” Spirit of welcome, we are also offering up much the same invitation.  “It is God in Christ working through us to invite others to abundant life so much richer than anything we can buy,” even as Jesus – even in this moment, beloved (!) – continues to invite you and me to come, to see and to know even more about what it means to love, to be loved and to be his disciples in the world.

You know, it does seem to me that in these days when congregations are shrinking and the church as a whole is taken less seriously by the world, we who know and who at least seek to understand the ways of faith, hope and love have a responsibility to reach those around us who are searching and ask that very important question, “What are you looking for?” I actually suspect that there are so many people out there, maybe even people who are closer than we think, who are wanting, yearning for somebody just like us to ask!  Now, the answers we receive from them might surprise us and they might even confuse us; but the thing is, we – you and you and me and everyone in this sanctuary – has an answer to give.  Because we’ve experienced it; we’ve been strengthened by it, you and me; we’ve been led out from the midst of darkness, struggle and grief because of it; when we were broken, it healed us and made us whole once again; it provided things like joy and love in those moments of life when such blessings seemed to be in very short supply.  And it made us a family here on Mountain Road, gathered by God in Jesus Christ and bound by God’s Holy Spirit, just as it has for generations of our family in this place for 175 years.

We’ve got an answer to that question, what are you looking for… and it’s this:

“Come and see.”  That’s it… just come… and see!

Just make sure, beloved, that when the opportunity arises, that invitation doesn’t get forgotten or neglected.  Because so often it’s our making that invitation that makes all the difference.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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