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Category Archives: Faith

“God Sightings!”

(a sermon for May 10, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on Psalm 139 and John 16:33)

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that there are times and places and situations when it’s very easy to “see” God.

I remember as a youth taking my guitar with me as I hiked up through the woods to a grassy hillside overlooking one of the great panoramic views of northern Maine, and sitting down to sing and to dream and to pray… all the while absolutely certain that God was right there beside me!

I remember holding each of our three children in my arms for the first time and being filled not only with the wonder of such miracle as a new life but with this palpable sense of God’s joy and pleasure in it!

I remember moments such as when Lisa and I were married… when I was ordained to the Christian ministry… countless times of worship when a word or a song or a prayer awakened in me a clear awareness that I was never alone but in the presence of a Spirit that makes everything you do not only worth it, but wonderful… all the random moments of life when all at once you know, as the poet Robert Browning famously wrote, that “God’s in his heaven [and] all’s right with the world!” 

Yes, sometimes it’s easy to “see” God… or at least to know he’s there.

But then, and I think you’ll also agree with me here, that there are other times that you’ve really got to be observant to see God… and sometimes you’ve also got to make an effort to look around!

I’m remembering a day back in seminary when my fellow students and I were all feeling rather stressed because it was toward the end of the semester when exams were looming and papers were due.  That day, at the end of one of our classes our “Hungarian Hebrew” Old Testament professor Dr. Steven Szikszai suddenly raises up his hand to bless us and then, quoting from John’s gospel, says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV) Now, I have to confess that at the time, being a very serious and studious seminarian (!), I wondered what that was all about: I mean, all we’re talking about here is surviving to the end of the semester, right, and about getting our work done; we might be feeling burnt out at the moment but it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of tribulation, or the need for any kind of divine intervention!  This is just something I have to get through on my own; no need for the Lord to come and “cheer me” in the midst of it!

But of course, all these years later I’ve come to realize that Dr. Szikszai had the right idea and that I – in my limited world view and burgeoning faith – had actually succumbed to the false notion that God is too big, too mighty, too… eternal… for my small stresses and little problems!  And friends, that’s completely wrong! I’ve discovered that mistake – what I sometimes refer to as “bad theology” – time and time again in my life:  in moments of grief and profound sadness; times when I’ve felt totally inadequate to whatever task or responsibility that’s before me; situations going on with the people I know and love that I’d love to be able to fix but can’t; problems in life and in the world that are completely out of my control; times like, well, right now with this ongoing pandemic.  For our God is big and mighty and eternal, but God is also as close to us as our very breathing, and cares about what might seem to us, at least, to be the smallest of concerns but which is, in fact, of utmost importance to God; and we know this is true because God came to us in person of Jesus Christ who has, as we confess in faith, “has shared our common lot,” and knows how we live, how we feel and what we suffer.  As the psalmist sang forth in our text for today, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”   

What that means for the living of these days, friends, is whether this time of pandemic has touched our lives in ways that we fear our ourselves for those we love or if right now we’re simply trying to figure out how to do another week of staying safe (and sane!) at home, the good news is that the God who has overcome the world in Jesus Christ is with us, right here and right now, bringing us his cheer in the midst of our strange and uncertain days.  Even today, friends, it is possible to “see” God… but as I said before, we have to be observant to discern, as it were, some “God Sightings” in our midst.

And that, I’m pleased to report, is what you all have been doing!

A few weeks ago I asked if you would send to me some of your “God Sightings” in the midst of the days of quarantine; and your response, the stories that you’ve shared, were not only inspired but inspiring!

For instance, from Joyce: “Today I was out in my front yard filling the bird feeders.  A little girl I didn’t know stopped her bike to walk up my driveway.  She handed me an envelope and said, “this is your happy mail!”  Off she went to each neighbor’s mailbox to deliver Happy Mail.  Even before I opened it I was happy!  What a special delivery from a special girl.  These are difficult times we are living in, however, it is creating special moments like this!  For that I am grateful!!!”

And from Julie: “Dave and I have visited with Baby Tony and his parents several times now, through the glass door! A little odd but, necessary in these times! What a funny and happy lil guy! He laughs and snorts and just loves putting his hands up to ours on the door! He recognized us and our voices and smiles. (We do FaceTime visits with Aaron and Tony too!) As we were driving away we felt so happy to have had the opportunity to visit, even without hugs! We will have to work on blowing kisses!”  

Finding safe and creative ways to be with family definitely inspires a God Sighting:  from Gail, “This past Sunday, we unexpectedly went to see and surprise our son Carl and grandkids… Nicole, our daughter in law was in on it!! It was the best day ever … and I’m sure God approved!”

From Joyce again, who tells of visiting with her children at the appropriate social distance, and how one daughter came “to cut her Dad’s unruly hair” because “the barbershop is not an option right now.” She wrote about what a “sweet, caring moment it was.  Reminiscent of the biblical washing of feet.  A moment that ONLY occurred due to a Pandemic.”

It’s a time for trying new things… and for returning to old ones:  as Lisa writes, “One of my biggest blessings through all of this is that have more time to minister with my husband.  We used to be able to do so much together but getting older and hold down a full-time job has kept me from doing what I so enjoy… being a partner and working alongside Rev. Lowry in ministry.  Sundays and Wednesdays have become my happiest days now that I can help through the tough days of Covid-19.”  (And, trust me here, friends… I’m the one who’s blessed!)

And Susan wrote of her “adventures in babysitting:” over the past few weeks:

“I have been babysitting Aly, a seven year old, since the closing of schools due to the coronavirus; her parents are essential employees.  One sunny afternoon while walking, Aly was skipping along the sidewalk and singing away.  All of a sudden she stopped, looked back at me and said “Susan my heart is so full of joy today.”  She then turned back and began skipping and singing again.   One afternoon while outside, Aly picked up a lightning bug.  She ran to me, with her hands cupped and said “Now don’t be afraid” as she opened up her hands for me to inspect the insect.  “Lightning bugs are special too.”  Then she lifted her hands up and let it fly away.  

The wooded area behind my driveway is home to wildlife, mainly chipmunks, squirrels and birds.  Each morning breakfast is served consisting of sunflower seeds and peanuts.  Aly carefully scatters the goodies around wanting all to enjoy in the feast.  As she giggles in delight she replies “I hope they don’t tell all their cousins because if everyone comes to eat we won’t have enough food.”  

I am grateful for the gift of seeing life through the eyes of a child.  Aly reminds me daily that the simplest pleasures in life are worth noticing and celebrating.  Praise God for the little ones amongst our midst.”

And you know, the thing about this time is that for so many of us, these moments of joy and laughter are mingled with sadness over having to be in isolation, about missing family members and friends, about not being able to be together at church, and especially our concern for the people we love around Covid-19.  We’ve heard from some of you how worried you are about the spouses, and sons and daughters and grandchildren who have to be out there working, or who are at risk for catching this virus because of other health concerns… for some of you, friends, it’s very hard to see where God is in the midst of all this.

But even those moments – especially in those moments – God is there.  For instance, Ann tells us about receiving some home cooked meals from a friend and fellow church member – the lasagna was particularly good she said (!) – and how much that meant to her because she doesn’t have family around and things can get rather lonely.  And Reba writes us that even though, like for so many of us, she feels like she’s swimming in worry, the things that make her happy in the midst of these worries are “her daffodils and tulips [that] came up and opened along her walkway,” and how a quick call from a friend brightens the day.  And Deb, who’s actually been allowed to visit with her husband Bob (who’s suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease), writes that he “was having some really alert moments on Monday and was actually out of bed! I was sitting right across from him just chatting as always when he opened his eyes, wide! Those beautiful blue eyes. He smiled a sweet “old Bob” smile and said “Deborah!!”  That’s going to stay with me for a looong time!”

Friends, all through these past couple of months, we’ve been hearing about “not so random acts of kindness:” encouraging letters and cards to folks who are “home alone” and may or may not be connected to the internet; “goodie bags” of treats and inspiration delivered “incognito” to neighbors and friends (and, I might add, their pets) all throughout town;  there’s even been an “egg fairy” bringing fresh eggs to the parsonage! 

These are the things that bring us joy, certainly, but these are things that bring us hope as well:  as Joyce wrote us, “Earlier this week I went out to our composter along the woods in the backyard.  I had vegetable peelings and 2 very sad and slimy cucumbers to deposit.  As I was throwing them into the composter something bright and yellow caught my eye.  There on the ground in harsh soil, poking up through dead leaves was a mini daffodil plant!!!!  A gift to me last year that I had carelessly tossed out after it bloomed.  What a little survivor!!!  So I found a pot, spade and potting soil to enjoy this gift again!  I had to think it was a sign and reminder that even through dark times we can survive and thrive again!!  It made me smile and filled me with hope!”

And then, as conclusive proof that God’s at work, here’s what Carol Ann wrote us: “Here’s something that will work:  Two FREE prescriptions GOD gave to mankind to keep males+females well:  Laughter AND Tears! They help both the sick get well and keeps the well well, all the while spreading the Love of The Creator to all Creation!”

“Believe it or not,” she goes on, “trees thrive on what we breath out as we laugh out loud! So… take in a deep breath and double over with a big belly laugh!  Then, let it all out! You’ll make every GOD-made tree happy and well, just like you!”

That pretty much says it all, beloved:  God is here… right here, right now, right in the midst of the 2020 Global Pandemic, right here among us as God’s own people, right here as East Congregational United Church of Christ… bringing us in this season of anxiety and fear HIS hope, and strength, all peace in believing, and… his cheer.  And what better blessing can we have: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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Unabashedly Joyful

(a sermon for April 26, 2020, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Philippians 4:4-7)

In pondering our text for this morning, and in my continuing quest these days to unearth some inspirational music from what might be referred to as “the grooveyard of forgotten favorites,” here’s one song that’s been running through my head all week:

“Here’s a little song I wrote,
You might want to sing it note for note
>Don’t worry – be happy!
For when you worry your face will frown,
And that will bring everybody down,
So don’t worry – be happy!
(Don’t worry, be happy now)”

— “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin

Now, speaking pastorally, if there’s going to be one song on our lips after this morning’s service it probably ought to be “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” but I do have to confess that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” might just fill the bill at a time like this!  Because I dare say what we all need a whole lot of right now is joy; and given that for most of us joy is intermingled with feelings of happiness, one of the best ways to bring that forth is to sing it out!  Because to quote another forgotten favorite, “if you’re happy and you know it… then your face (and your voice!) will surely show it,” and so not only does that serve to inspire joy in those around you, it also becomes an affirmation of our faith and an act of praise.  And isn’t that, after all, what Paul is getting at in our text for this morning: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.” 

Of course, in all fairness, I suspect that when Paul speaks of rejoicing, he’s talking about something much deeper than to simply not worry and be happy!  What Paul is talking about here in his epistle to the Philippians is about real and unrestrained rejoicing: the kind of joy that lifts us up from the place where we are; the kind of joy that sets the standard for everything else in life, the kind of joy that comes in having ones heart and mind wholly guarded in Christ Jesus.  What we’re talking about here is the kind of joy that exists at the very core of our Christian faith and what ought to serve as the hallmark of our lives as followers and disciples of our Risen Savior.   It is joy unabashed and it is joy unrelenting; and therein lies not only its power and its great importance for our lives… but also its challenge.

And I suspect you know why!  I mean, especially right now: how do you speak of unrestrained joy in an age of pandemic?  How do you tell someone to rejoice who has had to suffer through the effects of the Covid-19 Virus, or worse, who has lost someone to that disease?  What are we supposed to say to all those people whose lives and livelihoods have been totally upended over these past few weeks, with no real resolution in sight? How do you think they’re going to respond to Paul’s exhortation to rejoice in the Lord always?  Quite frankly, I suspect they’d be apt to think it shallow at best and condescending at worst: your life is falling apart?  “Again, I say rejoice!”

 In that context, an unrestrained and unrelenting joy doesn’t seem all that realistic or reassuring, does it?  And yet, in this age as in every age that has come before, that’s exactly what you and I are being called to bring forth in faith! 

So… what are we to do about this? How do we reconcile this call to be “unabashedly joyful” with all the real-world difficulties and struggles that we face?  Can we really “rejoice always,” or not?  Was Paul simply naïve and blind to what was really going on, or when he tells the Philippians and us to “rejoice,” does he have something else on his mind?

Perhaps part of the answer lies with Paul himself.  After all, here was a man whose entire ministry in Christ was marked by worldly persecution and ridicule; who was himself driven out of several towns and cities (often under the cover of darkness), and through the course of his life was also shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and exposed to death, danger, hunger, thirst, fatigue and cold, all for the sake of the Gospel!  At the time of this letter to the church at Philippi, it’s late in his life; Paul’s in prison again, this time under guard of the Imperial capital of Rome, and expecting at any moment that judgment will be rendered and he’ll be executed.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out that the Philippian church is full of problems: they are few in number; they’re filled with fear and doubt about the future, persecuted by everyone in the city; and what’s more, there’s in-fighting going on at just about every level of the church.

It was enough to make any of us throw our hands in the air and give up trying.  And yet, here’s Paul – who remember, is getting old and feeble and at a point where a bit of discouragement would be understandable – nonetheless saying, boldly and without hesitation, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say it:  Rejoice!”  In fact, Paul says this over and over again – sixteen times in only four chapters of this epistle (!) – and he can do it because this isn’t rejoicing merely for the sake of feeling happy, but because of the one in whom he rejoices.  Rejoice in the Lord, Paul says.  Rejoice in the Lord always!

It turns out that there are two basic types of joy: external joy, the kind that comes and goes with whatever is happening in our lives, and which is wonderful, but is finite and can be easily be displaced or destroyed at a moment of conflict or struggle; and internal joy, the kind of joy that comes from within.  When Paul talks about joy, he means the internal joy that the Lord himself places within us. The great theologian Karl Barth said it well when he wrote that the joy of which Paul speaks is “a defiant ‘nonetheless,’” which draws strength from the gospel story and “from laying one’s deepest concerns before God with thanksgiving.”  This is a deep joy that takes root even in darkness; joy that has its source in God’s great presence and God’s hope for whatever the future may hold.

To put it even more simply, it’s not so much rejoicing because of all the things that have happened to us in life; in fact, very often we rejoice in spite of all that has happened to us, and that’s because we look first to Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, and in us, and to us.  Our joy is to be “in the Lord,” and because of this, you and I can rejoice in all circumstances, even those that are difficult and painful and involve suffering; not because of what it is we’re going through, mind you, but because of the grace of the Lord; the hope, strength, love and understanding we’re given to see it through, no matter what!

A few years ago, Lisa and I were invited with some others to the home of a Jewish rabbi, to share in a Shabbat meal, that is, a Sabbath meal; that night we did everything kosher, the food and the liturgy, and it was wonderful.  Having studied some Hebrew in seminary, it was nice to hear the biblical prayers spoken in their original language; all the traditions that go along with eating in a Jewish household are rich and meaningful, and the music – yes, we all had to sing in Hebrew, folks (!) – was fun and very, very joyful!  And how do I know this?  Because most of the songs we learned to sing that night had a chorus that the Rabbi promised that even we Gentiles could sing: “Di, di, duh, duh, di, di!”   I could do that!

Actually, one of the songs we sang that night I’ve never forgotten; it’s called “Dayenu,” and it’s a song for Passover.  I would not presume to sing that one here today, but suffice to say that the lyrics are a long enumeration of all of God’s blessings to his chosen people, but with a twist: with every verse, we sang about what would have been had God not given one of those blessings!  “Had he brought us out of Egypt, and not fed us in the desert, but brought us out of Egypt, well, then, Dayenu,” which in Hebrew means, “for that alone we would have been grateful.”  It’s a fun song to sing, and what it reminds us is that no matter the challenges we face in the present moment, we still have this relationship with a God who is present and powerful and moving in and through our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to measure or fully understand. 

When we have that, friends; even when we can only perceive it as though it were the size of a mustard seed; well, that’s when we learn to “not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be known to God,” truly knowing that peace which passes our human understanding… and rejoice.

I know… six weeks and counting in this time of quarantine and it’s all too tempting to let ourselves become sad and angry and embittered over what life and this world has “done” to us.  But it is faith in the wisdom, care and perfect mercy of God that strengthens us to transcend these difficulties of life so that we might know life’s real joy, which comes to us in Christ.  I’ve quoted a lot of songs today, but maybe the one we really ought to take to heart is the one about that “joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts to stay.”  Because when others see such unabashed joy in us, they – and our world – cannot help but be the better for it.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

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Encounters on the Way: Bartimaeus and the Rich Young Ruler

“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hoffmann

(a sermon for March 8, 2020, the 2nd Sunday in Lent; second in a series, based on Mark 10:17-22, 46-52)

Here’s a question for you to ponder this morning:   What would you do if failure didn’t matter?

And by that, I mean, what is it you would be willing to do even if you knew going in that in doing so you were likely not to succeed?  And I’m not talking here about something that holds little or no consequence so it doesn’t matter whether you do the thing or not; what I’m asking about is doing that which is of so great a consequence that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or not, just that you do it!

I’m thinking, for instance, of Nik Wallenda, the man who walked on tightrope across the opening of an active volcano on live television this past week: did he accept that challenge thinking that it didn’t matter if he failed at keeping his balance and walking the whole way across that hot flowing lava, just that he made the attempt? (Apparently it did matter, because it came out the next day that though he did make it across the top of the volcano, Wallenda had been rigged up with all manner of safety harnesses, so the only real risk was that of embarrassment; but I digress!) Or, for that matter, what about those men or women who decide to go for the great romantic gesture and opt to propose marriage to their partners at a football game while everyone is watching on the jumbotron; I mean, aren’t they the least bit terrified that he or she will say “no?”  Nope, they’ll tell you, for them true love is worth the risk of rejection; the possibility of failure simply didn’t enter into their decision, so… it’s “go big or go home!”

I ask you again:  what would you do, what would you be willing to endeavor, dare or try if the attempt itself was worth it whether it succeeded or not?  Maybe for you the answer does come down to love; or maybe it would be for the sake of a long-held and much cherished dream, or for standing strong for a cause that is just.  The point is that there are there are things we might choose do in this life where failure is not merely an option but a probability; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  As David Lose has written, in life “there will be failure.  There just will.  And if we only dream of doing things we can accomplish without failure, we will either be sorely disappointed, or realizing the naivete of the question, never try.”  Or to put another way: sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… no matter what happens.

We actually have a supreme example of all this in one of our two texts for this morning, the story of Jesus’ encounter “on the way” with a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, “sitting by the roadside” and crying out for Jesus to come and “have mercy upon [him].”  Now, we need to understand that this was a man who in his blindness had not only lived most of his life in literal darkness, but also had existed in poverty and far outside the periphery of society. Bartimaeus had long since been reduced to begging to passersby for any loose coins and leftover food they might offer in order to survive, and the fact of the matter that most people in his situation would have given up long ago on ever getting any kind of help; because, quite frankly, this was an effort doomed to failure!  But here he is, “Old Blind Bartimaeus,” all in on the attempt and crying out for all he’s worth even as the people around him were trying to shush him into silence!  He was determined, to say the least – truly, a man on a mission – and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought about its chance for success.  To quote David Lose again, “could it be that Bartimaeus was so used to failure and disappointment that he saw no reason not to try one more time?”  Or maybe it was that Bartimaeus had faith; faith such that you could – and should – always ask for the impossible?

I love what Susan Andrews, as pastor and leader in the Presbyterian Church has said about this: “This is what faith looks like,” she writes.  “Faith is needy. Faith is eager. Faith is assertive. Faith is hopeful. Faith is impetuous and persistent and risky and raw. Faith is personal and relational. Faith ends something and faith begins something.” Faith, Andrews concludes, is about going wholly and eagerly and assertively to God, and it’s about “God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”  I love that; it’s exactly that kind of faith that describes Bartimaeus “to a tee” and as it turns out it’s the whole reason why all his crazy, bold, impetuous shouting finally gets a response and Jesus does answer… and why – again on the basis of Bartimaeus’ faith – “immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”  Because isn’t it interesting that almost always in the gospels when someone has gone “all in” to ask for what they truly need from Jesus, once they’ve received it their first response is to follow Jesus? 

 You see, this story of Bartimaeus is a reminder to us that in faith we are free “to risk, to dare, to love, to live, to work, to dream, and to struggle… whether what we attempt seems great or small, likely or nearly impossible…because we have God’s promise that there is no small gesture and there is no impossible deed,” (David Lose, again) and that even in our failed efforts – because there will be failures and oftentimes things will not turn out the way we had hoped – God will also bring all things to a good end.  Bartimaeus reminds us that where our faith is concerned we are meant to “go big or go home,” but knowing as we do that however things turn out, all will be well and our lives will be never be the same.  At the end of the day, it comes down to whether we’re willing to take the risk.

Which brings us to our other text for this morning, the story of the rich young ruler…

Earlier in this tenth chapter of Mark, you see, we learn of another encounter Jesus had “on the way,” this time with a man who comes running up to Jesus, asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Now, it should be pointed out here that actually, as Mark tells the story, we really don’t know if he is truly a “rich young ruler.”  Matthew’s version of this story speaks of him as “young,” (19:20) and it’s Luke that refers to him as “ruler.”  (18:18)Truthfully, Mark says is that he’s simply a man, albeit one with “many possessions;” but he’s someone who has come to Jesus really wanting, needing and yearning to know conclusively what it takes, what one has to do to receive that life that would last forever.

So understand this was no empty or casual inquiry on the man’s part; and also that though he was certainly no blind beggar, the effort of this “rich young ruler” to get to Jesus and find out exactly what he needed to know was no less relentless and certainly just as determined as that of Bartimaeus.  First of all, Mark tells us that he “ran up and knelt before [Jesus],” which in and of itself was a stance of humility and great respect, that as a student unto a teacher; and he does refer to Jesus as “Good Teacher,” a title that Jesus immediately refutes, saying that “no one is good but God alone.”  Moreover, as they continue to talk it becomes clear that this man knows the rudiments of his faith: he understands the commandments, and what’s more, he keeps them just as he always done from the time of his youth; so he’s not  come into this discussion “cold,” as it were.  He is what those of his time and culture (and ours, for that matter) would consider to be a faithful, sincere and righteous man; so far, so good!  But then comes the kicker; and you’ll notice, by the way, that what Jesus says next is not said unkindly, nor as a taunt, but it’s spoken with love: “Jesus looked him hard in the eye – and loved him,” as The Message translates it. “He said, ‘There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor.  All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

And that, of course, hit the “rich young ruler” very hard; we’re told that he was “shocked” by this, and with nary a word, “went away grieving.”  Think about this for a moment; with all that he is, this man has run up to Jesus to get the answers he’s been seeking so fervently, and not only has he met Jesus and not only has Jesus honored his faith but he’s also invited him to be a disciple (!), and yet… he immediately and purposefully heads in the opposite direction!  And the reason, as all three gospels telling this story make very clear, is because of the money; because “he had many possessions.” Simply put, there was just too much – too many possessions, too much property, too much stuff – for him to let go, even if letting go would bring him the eternal life he was so yearning for.  This was the thing this man would have seemingly risked everything for regardless of the consequence; yet, unlike Bartimaeus, at the end of the day, he was unwilling or unable to take the risk to divest himself of all his possessions and so, as The Message puts it, “he walk[s] away with a heavy heart.”

Two different encounters with two different men coming out of vastly different situations, but asking for pretty much the same thing: life.  But only one received all that he’d been yearning for… and what was the difference?  Faith.  The same faith that frees us to risk and to dare and to love and to live is the faith that opens up the future before us with all its possibilities… but only if we’re bold enough to go “all in,” trusting in God’s leading to bring us there, no matter what else happens along the way.

The great C.S. Lewis had it right, you know: he said that one of the great enemies of discipleship is our great desire for a relationship with God that is moderate and not too extreme; one that is cautious, calculating and careful.  In other words, living the attitude that “religion is all very well up to a point,” while continuing to place our trust in everything else, just in case.  A moderated religion, wrote Lewis,  ends up being as good for us as no religion at all.  Because what Jesus asks of us in calling us to follow him is never to be in moderation; Jesus asks for the extreme, for nothing less than our lives, our selves, our all.  Jesus calls us to let go of everything else on which we put our trust and our devotion, no matter how great or how little that might be, and put that trust and devotion in him instead. The so-called rich young ruler couldn’t do it, so he went away grieving… but Bartimaeus, knowing full well he had nothing else but Jesus, was made well.

So then, let me rephrase my earlier question: What would you be willing to do if failure didn’t matter; or more to the point, what would you be willing to do for the sake of faith?  How extreme are willing to go when it comes to following Jesus? Are you a “rich young ruler,” so to speak, or a Bartimaeus?

It’s a good question for any of us to be asking ourselves, especially in a world and a predominant culture that just seems to thrive on wanting us to take our faith and be quiet about it, “shushing” us so not to upset the status quo; be that in the way we stand up and speak out against the injustices of the world, or simply in how we’re seeking as a church in this time and place to be bold regarding the presence and power of God in Jesus Christ.  Because it is my firm belief, dear friends, that our future as the church – not only as a congregation here on Mountain Road, mind you, but as the whole church of Jesus – is dependent on our being “all in” as persons and people of faith even at the risk of failure, because we know that God will bring us to a good end… and to life.

After all, if I might quote the words of one Walter Elias Disney, “A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

Beloved, in faith and by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, may it be said of each and every one of us that we made the choice to be… alive!

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2020 in Faith, Jesus, Lent, Life, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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