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Category Archives: Family Stories

Down from the Mountain

(a sermon for February 23, 2020, the Last Sunday after Epiphany andTransfiguration Sunday, based on Matthew 17:1-9)

One summer several years ago when our children were young, our family did some camping at Mount Blue State Park, located in the beautiful western mountains of Maine; and as part of that experience, the kids and I decided one morning that we would actually climb Mount Blue itself.  On paper, that didn’t seem like a hard thing; the park brochure said that the trail we were going to take was a relatively easy one, and what’s more, you could drive right up to the base of the mountain, park your car and then you only had to walk a mile and a half-long trail to reach the summit; I mean, what could be simpler?  Of course, what they don’t tell you is that’s a mile and a half straight up! 

So I’ll admit, it was an arduous climb for the children and especially for the father(!), and honestly, we spent as much time sitting down to rest as we did actually walking (it’s no coincidence that the gift shops in those parts sell t-shirts, key chains and such that proclaim, “I survived Mount Blue!”)!  Despite the huffing and puffing, however, we did make it to the top, and it was well worth the climb.  The view was amazing, a literal panorama of God’s glory revealed in the beauty of creation, and we pretty much spent the rest of the day just drinking it all in. 

And I have to say, I’m feeling pretty good about what we’d accomplished, even getting a little cocky about it; I remember actually saying to my kids, “You know, this wasn’t easy, but in the eternal struggle of man versus wilderness, we triumphed!” But then I made my real mistake, by adding these words: “…and getting back down is going to be a piece of cake!”

Definitely a mistake!  The fact is, heading back I made the interesting discovery that I was tired, my legs were stiff and hurting, my arthritic knees were starting to kill, and every single step I made walking down the mountain trail felt like it might well be my last!  And adding insult to injury was the fact that Jake (who was, as I recall, 14 at the time) and Zach (who was seven!) fairly well ran down the trail, leaving Sarah and I to slowly, painfully hobble our way down (and truth be told, I think Sarah – my sweet little girl (!) – held back because she felt sorry for me!).  At one point we’re about three quarters of the way down, and we run into some hikers on their way up the trail, and one of them says to me, “There’s two kids down there – a big one and a little one – draped over the hood of a car.  Do they belong to you?”  And I said, “Yesss… Are they alright?”  “Oh, yeah,” he said back, “They’re just wondering if you’re going to make it back anytime soon!”

So much for the triumph of the mountaineer!  Needless to say, we did make it down… eventually; tired and sore, but otherwise none the worse for wear.  It’d been a good time and a great memory for the kids and me, but I did learn an important lesson:  that oftentimes, the hardest part of climbing a mountain is coming back down; and eventually, you always have to come down from the mountain!

It’s a lesson I’ve thought about a great deal as I’ve returned this week to this morning’s reading from Matthew, the story of how Jesus led three of the disciples “up a high mountain, by themselves,” where Jesus was “transfigured before them,” his face shining “like the sun, and his clothes [becoming] dazzling white.”  Actually, it makes sense that the setting for this particular story is a mountaintop, because throughout scripture mountains always hold a place of great significance; basically, if anyone from the Bible goes up a mountain, you know something important is going to happen.  It was on a mountain, for example, where Moses was confronted by the burning bush, and later where he received the Ten Commandments.  The temple was built in Jerusalem on Mount Zion; one of Jesus’ most powerful teachings is now commonly referred to as the “sermon on the mount;” and even his crucifixion took place on that “hill, far away,” Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” otherwise known as Mount Calvary.  In the Bible, you see, mountains are always considered to be places of revelation and clarity and wonder; and more often than not, serve to illumine what happens beyond it!  

And so it follows that it’s on the mountaintop where Peter, James and John see Jesus, bathed in brilliant, dazzling light, and with incredible clarity come to recognize just who Jesus is, standing there and in “deep conversation” with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. This was form them an experience filled to overflowing with God’s mystery and power, and it’s awesome and terrifying all at the same time.  And it’s not at all surprising that Peter’s first thought is to preserve the moment forever: “It is good for us to be here,” he says, “if you wish, I will make three dwelling here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  

What’s interesting is that in Mark’s version of this story, we’re told that Peter was so stunned by what was happening that “he didn’t know what to say,” (9:6) and he just sort of blurted this out without thinking; but I’ve always kind of felt like it was a awe-inspired gesture on Peter’s part, an effort to try to hang on to the feeling of this “mountaintop experience” as long as possible!  But of course, the thing about mountaintop experiences is that try as we might for it to be otherwise, they aren’t made to last; and the gospels all make it clear that as suddenly as this one began, it was over; and “when they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.” (The Message) It’d been this incredible, fleeting moment of wonder and terror and divine revelation, but now it was gone.

But here’s the thing: though the disciples’ transfiguration “experience” had passed, their journey – in just about every sense of the word – was just beginning. And we know this because of the very next verse in Matthew’s account of all this: that just as soon as it was done, “they were coming down the mountain.”  You see, this is the other thing about mountaintop experiences: eventually you always have to come down from the mountain; and while that’s often the harder part of the experience, it’s also the place where true faith begins.

It’s worth pointing out here is that biblically speaking, the transfiguration story comes essentially at the mid-point of the gospel.  Up to this point in the story, we’ve learned about Jesus’ teaching and healing acts, and his growing ministry, and even after the experience of transfiguration, all that continues for Jesus and his disciples; except now it’s different.  Now it’s off to Jerusalem, with all that that journey implies.  In other words, we’ve had a moment of glory up on the mountain, but now it’s time to come back down to the valley.  It’s time for us to go to the cross. 

Likewise, it’s no coincidence that this is the story that bridges the boundary between the season of Epiphany, in which we revel in the light of Christ coming into the world, and the season of Lent, when we remember how darkness sought to overcome that light.  Moreover, it serves as a reminder to us that in the Christian life, we always stand on the boundary between mountain and valley, light and darkness, radiance and pain.  In faith, as in life, we cannot avoid the darkness and pain; the reality of things is that we can’t stay on the mountain forever but always to come down into the valleys of life to face all the dangers that dwell there. 

There are those, of course, who would succumb to this notion that the Christian life is simply one mountaintop experience after another; and that a belief in Jesus somehow removes you from things like human hurt, personal tragedy and the many injustices of life.  But the truth is that for believer and unbeliever alike, there is trouble in life, and it does rain on the just and unjust.  And anyone who approaches faith with the expectation that all of life will be all sunshine and roses will either drop out at the first sign of trouble, or else find glean on to some bad theology that convinces them that they are somehow personally at fault for every bad thing that happens; and that’s a burden that some people will carry for a lifetime.

It’s one of the great misunderstandings of the Christian faith, in my opinion, that its power is to be measured based purely on “good things” that happen.  The difference between this kind of thinking and true Christian faith is that we already know there are dark valleys, and that the shadow of death lingers over so much of human experience but nonetheless as we come down from the mountain we walk confidently, because we also know we are not going into this valley alone but in the embrace of God, who brings us safely to green pastures and still waters. 

This is true faith, friends; and what we discover in this transfiguration story we’ve shared today is that this faith finds its assurance in Jesus.

It’s there in the final moment of that wondrous experience, when the cloud overshadows the disciples there on the mountain, and as they hear a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the Beloved; and with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  You see, whether they realized or understood it at all, these three slack-jawed, awestruck and fear-ridden disciples had just been given the key to dealing with everything that was to come:  

Listen. Learn. Trust

Listen to what Jesus is saying to you; learn from his teachings; and trust that even now as you’re coming down from the mountain you will be led safely through the dark valleys ahead.

I’m reminded here of something Frederick Buechner wrote some years ago about a time in his life when he’d been filled with despair over his daughter’s ongoing struggle with the eating disorder anorexia.  As you can imagine, this constitutes a nearly impossible situation for any parent, and so it was for Buechner.  In fact, in his book Telling Secrets he tells the story of how one day, driving back to his home in Vermont and sick with worry over his child, was forced to pull over to a highway rest stop so that he might at least compose himself for the remainder of his journey.  And there in the parking lot, Buechner spied a car with a vanity license plate; although, he noted later, this time it really wasn’t a vanity plate.  The plate read simply, in capital letters, “TRUST.”

Buechner saw it as a revelation, and in that precise moment, he said, a great sense of calm swept over his life and he knew he could go on.  Never mind that the vehicle in question was a company car owned by a New England bank trust department officer; it was the word “TRUST” that made the difference:  a simple insight, a little snippet of divine teaching, a vision of what was his all along:  love, strength… and hope.

Every once in a while, you know, we do get a real glimpse of who Jesus is, and what he has to give us:  sometimes it comes in the midst of worship and prayer; other times in the kind of love and encouragement that’s shared between friends; perhaps in the fleeting memory of a particular time or place that stirs our heart just for the thought of it; a singular moment, that mountaintop experience in which we knew we were standing face to face with the Lord. 

This morning’s gospel reminds us to hold on to such things even as we come down from the mountain; for these are the moments that will sustain us as we walk more deeply into life, and as our faith transforms us from those who merely plod along the way into those who walk boldly and in tandem with Jesus Christ; those who understand that even walking through the darkest of valleys, there’s going to be a light leading them forward. 

Beloved, I hope and pray that whether your journey this week finds you climbing up the mountain, or making your way back down, you’ll be carrying that light as your own. 

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. MIchael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2020 in Epiphany, Faith, Family Stories, Jesus, Lent, Life, Maine, Sermon

 

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For All the Gifts Along the Way

(a sermon for November 24, 2019, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost and Thanksgiving Sunday, based on Deuteronomy 26:1-11)

Actually, as much as you all know I’ve always loved Thanksgiving Day (!), I must confess that most of those celebrations over the years have all pretty much melded together in my memory; a cornucopia, if you will, of many busy, sometimes even chaotic family gatherings and endless servings of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (and stuffing, and sweet potato casserole, and peas and onions, and pies, and… well, you get the idea)!

There are, of course, a few memories that stand out: one of my earliest memories of Thanksgiving, for instance, was one spent at my grandparents’ house and how their table was elegantly and perfectly set with the fine china, polished silverware, and freshly pressed linen tablecloths and napkins, with a small crystal goblet filled with cranberry juice set just so at the center of each plate, to be drank at the very beginning of the Thanksgiving meal, just after grace and before anything else was served!  By contrast I also remember later years when the meal itself seemed overshadowed by my father’s and my utter determination (and, I realize now in retrospect, my mother’s great forbearance!) that we get up to the hunting camp for the last couple of days of deer season that weekend!

And I’ll always have very fond Thanksgiving memories of our own children growing up, all of them running around underfoot laughing and playing with their cousins, even a couple of occasions of Lisa and I having to sit at the dreaded “children’s table” with them when they were very small (which, by the way, did not reduce my consumption of turkey one little bit!).  I also remember one year when Zachary, who was just a toddler at the time, was so fussy at mealtime that I ended up taking him out for a long drive all through the surrounding countryside, in the fervent hope that he might actually fall asleep and so everyone else could eat in relative peace and quiet; but how, all in all, it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable day for my son and me, and I might add, another great, albeit for me slightly delayed, Thanksgiving Dinner!

Strangely enough, however, as I was thinking about it this week I’ve realized that ultimately what I remember most about all these Thanksgivings past is not primarily the food but the people with whom it was shared; all the laugher and conversation, and the stories that get told and told again around that table often long into the night, all these joyous reminders of who we are, where we came from, the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, where those blessings came from…

…which, when you come right down to it, is kind of what the day is supposed to be all about anyway!

Therein lies one of the more interesting things about our Thanksgiving Day celebrations: as the late columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote, “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare, [but] they are consumed in twelve minutes,” so… the question becomes, what are we to do with the rest of the day?  Granted, for many people and families these days Thanksgiving becomes more like a progressive dinner with several stops (and very often more than one dinner!) throughout the day, and what with parades and football and of course, the infamous “Black Friday” sales that now begin as early as Thursday afternoon (!) there is plenty happening to occupy the day; truly, I don’t think I need to tell anyone here how busy and convoluted a day Thanksgiving can become!  But that said, you have to wonder if at the end of the day it’s all worthwhile.  After all we’ve managed to layer upon our celebration of the day and admittedly, in all that is often required by it, can it still be said of us that we’re honoring the origin and purpose of Thanksgiving Day; and perhaps even more importantly, is it still about true thanksgiving unto God?

It’s worth noting here that though our American celebration of Thanksgiving commemorates that storied feast of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, historically speaking it wasn’t the first in North America.  That distinction likely belongs to the members of an expedition to Newfoundland in 1578, who celebrated their survival from a series of vicious storms with a feast of “tinned beef and mushy peas” brought over from England (mmmm….).  History also records a celebration meal shared in Nova Scotia by European settlers and the indigenous people of the region in the early 1600’s; and there’s even a proclamation of a yearly “day of thanksgiving” following a safe landing at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, several months before the Mayflower even set sail for the New World.  But regardless of the timing or circumstance, all these celebrations had at least one thing in common: the admonition to give prayerful thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest and, indeed, for life itself.  In the exhortation of an English preacher named Robert Wolfall, who was amongst that group of explorers in Newfoundland, they needed to be “thankefull to God for theyr strange and miraculous deliverance in those so dangerous places.”  That’s a conviction that continues to be expressed every year as “we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” praying that in whatever form it might take in this particular generation “the wicked oppressing [might] now cease from distressing.”

So for us this act and celebration of thanksgiving does carry with it a long and austere tradition; but here’s the thing:  the desire of people to offer thanks to God goes back a lot further than that.  The example of giving thanks unto the Lord can be traced back to the very beginning of scripture; as far back as the story of Noah we hear about how after he emerge from the ark, the very first thing he did was to build “an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 8:20) for purposes of offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving, thus establishing a tradition of giving thanks unto God.  In fact, there are at least 140 passages throughout scripture that call for God’s people to true thanksgiving, both individually and all together; giving thanks and praise to God as the giver of all our many blessings, and as the ultimate source of all goodness, the foundation of all that we have and all that we are.  And that story continues even now:  for God, you see, has always been the very heart of our story, yours and mine, and those of the families of which we are part; God is at the beginning of that story, God’s in the midst of every detail that’s unfolding as we speak, and God will be there at its conclusion.  And God’s presence through it all, is the supreme reminder of who we are, where we came from, all the many blessings that we share, and most importantly, of where those blessings came from… and the first and best reason for us to give thanks!

Which brings us to our text for this morning, from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses seeks to retell the story of God’s chosen and redeemed people, as well as about the need for worship, true thanksgiving and a the humble offering back unto the Lord. Now, the “back story” of this particular passage is that the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and are just about to enter the Promised Land; however, Moses is dying and knows that he will not have the privilege of entering into that land.  And so, quite literally on his deathbed, Moses tells the story of their long history in the care and presence of God, along with very specific instruction as a good and proper “act and attitude” of thanksgiving.  As we heard it read this morning, you know that it involves taking “some of the first of all the fruit of the ground,” putting it in the basket and going “to the place that your God will choose as a dwelling for his name,” handing it to the priest who in turn will set the offering on that altar of the Lord.  It’s all very ceremonial, and in the parlance of Biblical scholars very much part of the “priestly narrative” of some the Pentateuch, that is, the first five books of the Old Testament; and it’s still very much in keeping with our Christian liturgy and tradition even to this day.

But here’s the thing I want us to notice this morning: that all of this culminates in… a story; a story that’s meant to be shared and passed on.  When this offering of first fruits has been set upon the altar, says Moses, “you shall make this response before the LORD your God: ‘a wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.’”  This is your story, says Moses, and it is a story that needs to be told again and again and again; it must be shared because this is the story of how God brought his people – our ancestors, yours and mine together – safely from there to here, guided and cared for and blessed every step of the way.

And you’ll notice also that the story that Moses recounts is unflinching in its honesty, remembering the painful parts of the journey as well as its triumphs: their affliction and suffering at the hands of the Egyptians, the years of slavery and their cries to God for redemption.  Just as so many family stories will inevitably include a remembrance of some the most difficult times that family has faced, Moses here wants to be clear that true thanksgiving, in some way or another, acknowledges both the bitter and the sweet, understanding that it was the hardship of their journey that led them to even more fully appreciate the mighty hand of God, his “signs and wonders” and his deliverance of his people to “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  This, says Moses to the people of Israel, is your heritage, this is your blessing, and this is who you and whose you are; and for this reason, you are to give thanks, make your offering and with all those who reside among you, friend and stranger alike, “celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

And that, dear friends, is what Thanksgiving is all about.  It’s all about our story: yours, mine and God.

I love what the Rev. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr., of Truett Seminary of Baylor University, says about this: “Simply put,” he writes, “gratitude is rarely confined to the present moment.  More often than not the present moment is the culmination of ‘givings’ all along the way – sometimes being delivered to something and sometimes from something… the fruitfulness of the present [is rooted] with the faithfulness of God all along.”  I like that; Tucker’s words serve as a reminder to me that the act and attitude of thanksgiving, as well as to the matter at hand, our celebration of “Turkey Day” this Thursday, must involve more than just a cursory moment of grace for good food and fellowship, spoken quickly before the food gets cold!  Certainly we should be thankful for “health and strength and daily bread,” just as we ought to be happy for family and friends who have gathered around the table with us and for the countless gifts of love that are ours in the here and now.  But we also need to be aware and truly thankful for all the gifts that have come to us along the way: for the lessons learned over time and across generations, and the inheritance left us from those family members and friends – the saints of this and every generation – who have helped to make us who we are; for the experiences of life that have helped us to grow and persons and as a people, for love and laughter and wonder, and even for the difficulties of life and living we’ve been forced to face which have given us strength and understanding for the living of these days; as well as for the untold blessings of freedom and the fullness of bounty that is ours as a nation and as a people.

For all these gifts given along the way from generation to generation we give thanks and praise… but most of all, we give thanks to the one who is the true source of all good gifts around us, the ones, as the song says, are “sent from heaven above,” the ones that which “the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

So have a wonderful day this Thursday, friends!  Have a great time with your family or with your friends, eat lots of turkey and stuffing (I know I will!) and if you can, make sure you take the time to visit and sit around the table and tell the good stories… again!  Have fun; and as you do, remember just who you are and where you came from… take some time to remember the many blessings you share – speak them aloud, because that’s always a good thing to do – but most importantly, let us all remember where those gifts, the ones for today and the ones along the way, actually came from…

… and may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

 

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Rekindling the Flame

(a sermon for September 29, 2019, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, based on  2 Timothy 1:1-14 and Matthew 13:31–32)

(the podcast version of this message can be found here)

It doesn’t seem to matter where I am or what I’ve been doing; every year just about this time when the leaves start to turn and there’s some cool crisp autumn weather it all comes flooding back to me, the memories of a little “hunting camp” way out in back of the woods of Aroostook County, Maine… and more specifically, of all the times I spent there with my father.

Now understand that this was a different place than the lake camp I speak of so often; this was just a simple little cabin that my Dad and a couple of his friends built as a place for hunting in the fall and snowmobiling in the winter, sometimes just as a place to go on a Friday evening to make a pot of oyster stew on the woodstove (which, back in the day, was the Lowry family meal!) and bunk in for the night.  This was my Dad’s place of retreat and relaxation, and over the many days and nights we spent there together it became mine, too.  There are actually a hundred stories I could tell about that little hunting camp, but I have to say that one of the things I remember most fondly is just how quickly and incredibly cold it used to get in that camp on those autumn and winter nights in Maine!

Now, mind you, it wasn’t so much the cold itself that I remember – although I did learn the value of “long johns” and wool socks early on in my life (!) – but rather the way that my father would handle the cold.  What I remember as a kid was waking up in the wee hours of the morning and looking down from my bunk to see my father quietly stoking the fire in the old Clarion wood cookstove we had there.  All these years later I can still see him there: lifting the iron covers off the top of the stove, poking around the ashes, stirring up the coals to see if there was any life left to them. Almost always there’d be a few embers, so he’d throw some cedar kindling in the stove, maybe a piece of hardwood or two, and then he’d put the cover back on, opening up the draft just a bit to get the fire roaring.

But the best part was that then, instead of going right back to bed, Dad would almost always just sit for awhile in the dim light of the kerosene lanterns – he might put a kettle on for a cup of coffee and he’d probably smoke his pipe, but mostly he’d just sit – and I’d see him there pondering life and enjoying the quiet rumble, snaps and cracks of the woodstove coming to life.  It was just a small thing, I know; but I’ve got to tell you that as I would lie up in the top bunk and drift back to sleep I always took incredible comfort in it.  It was like everything was alright in the world and I could go to sleep and not worry about a thing.

Of course, I’ve come to realize over the years that what my father was doing was that which his father had taught him, what he’d learned in the days on the farm two generations ago when my grandparents readied their children for a new day.  Understand, in those days, tending fires was no small skill: there’s a story in our family about how one of Dad’s sisters was born on the farm during the middle of the winter; and it was so cold that day that they had to wrap the newborn baby up in blankets, put the baby in a box, and set the box next the woodstove to keep this infant warm.  So it was vitally important, you see, to keep that fire burning steady and strong throughout the cold night!

That was something my father learned, and in ways both subtle and direct, my father was teaching me.  Ultimately, you see, this business of getting a fire going in the middle of the night is more than a skill, more than the preservation of heritage or the keeping of a tradition; in the end, it’s actually kind of a caretaking.  It’s guarding something that while sometimes a bit intangible, is also very valuable; something quite precious for the next generation to receive as their own.  It’s loving someone in such a way that they, too, will learn to love and to care.  I can’t fully explain it to you; all I know is that even now, that’s the kind of husband and father I want to be. It’s the kind of pastor and Christian man I aspire to be in my daily life; and to tell you the truth, it’s always kind of been the way I have perceived God to be!   I want to be someone who tends the fire on cold autumn nights, because in just about every way you can name, that’s what’s been done for me.

Remember, Paul said to Timothy, the gift of God that is within you, “a faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  Remember, he said, to keep rekindling that gift of faith inside of you, “fanning [it] into flame,” as the NIV translation puts it, so that it will keep burning warm and bright.  Remember to speak it, act it and live it so that your faith might be seen by all those around you, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

One of the things we talk so much about in the church is this notion of “a life in Christ.”   But what does that really mean?  Certainly, there are many aspects to a person’s life lived in Christ Jesus, the tenets, if you will, of the Christian experience: things like compassion and forgiveness, spirituality and prayerfulness; the fruit of the Spirit, which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness” (Galatians 5:22); and, as Paul admonishes Timothy in our text for this morning, it’s “holding to the standard of sound teaching.”  All this considered, however, I would suggest to you this morning that in the end a “life in Christ” actually comes down to something very basic about a person’s life.  Eric Frost says it very well; a life in Christ, he says, “is the Christian’s awareness of the grace of God at work in his or her life.”  In other words, as life unfolds in its wondrous and mysterious way, what’s at the forefront of one’s heart and mind is not our own luck or sense of accomplishment, but rather an awareness “of God’s own purpose and grace,” proof that God regularly enters our lives with all the resources of his love and his power.

And the thing is, for most of us that awareness of God’s own purpose and grace is something that was taught, shown, nurtured and continually reinforced for us by others who lived that “life in Christ:” family members and friends, Sunday School teachers and church pastors, not to mention countless other people whose faith intersected with their commitment to the community;  people like coaches and scout leaders and volunteers of all shapes and sizes.  The very fact that we’re even here today in worship or that we’re involved in the life of the church; all of this says a great deal about the heritage we received from those who came before.  Friends, we are “legacies” in the truest sense of the word, and this is something that as Paul says, we should constantly remember with true thankfulness.  But even more than this – and this is a key point – it’s also something that should remind us of the legacies we want to leave for those who will come after!

This is a truth that’s at the heart of Paul’s second “pastoral epistle” to Timothy.  Not only do we learn that Timothy’s faith was the result of a legacy passed on from generation to generation, grandmother to mother to son, we also hear Paul’s admonition that Timothy keep at that work, “this faith and love rooted in Christ… guard[ing] this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.” [The Message]   In other words, this legacy is never to remain solely with us, but is something meant to be passed on to the “next generations” of our children and grandchildren; shared with neighbors and friends who are struggling to live lives of integrity and purpose; and as a way of nurturing seekers and new believers who are filled up with this incredible and mysterious feeling of God’s presence in and through their lives and who simply want and need to understand what it all means!  So often there’s an ember of hope and faith that’s just beginning to spark and catch fire within an open heart; and it is up to you and me to “fan into flame the gift of God” that is in each one of us, not reluctantly or fearfully, but in a way that is “bold and loving and sensible.” [The Message, again]

It’s all too easy, you see, to allow the flames of faith die out to merely an ember simply out of neglect; that’s not only true for our own faith, beloved, but also as regards the faith we’re called to encourage in others.  And it’s easy to understand why.  After all, we live in a world and culture that actively seeks to pull us away from our faith; we are so distracted, so busy, so desensitized by all the other things of life and living that we risk forgetting that which matters the most!  But anybody who burns wood for heat in their homes will be very quick to tell you that while it’s is a wonderful energy alternative (in fact, I’m sure they’ll tell you that wood heat actually warms you twice:  first when you cut and stack it, and then when you actually burn it!), the truth is that it only keeps your house warm when you remember to stoke the fire!  Because when the fire goes out, it gets cold very fast!

What Paul is saying is that this flame of faith is truly precious, and can be all too easily snuffed out.  It has to be guarded; we must always be attentive to it, taking the time, making the time to constantly be stirring up the coals and the ashes within our hearts.  It is only when we are “rekindling the flames” of our faith that we can begin to fan the flames for others, only in our faithfulness that we can create the legacy of a life in Christ to those around us and to those who will follow.  It is only when we fully embrace everything that God has placed within us, living without “be[ing] shy with [God’s] gifts, but [being] bold and loving and sensible” about them, that we’ll be actually living out of a full awareness of God’s presence and in “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,”  so that our children and our children’s children will be inspired to seek “a [truly] rich and honest faith” for themselves as they live and grow.  (Something, I might add here, that given all the tragic and violent news of this past week emanating from our own community, is more important than ever.)

But you see, none of this happens unless we’re careful with our this flame of faith is burning within us!  You and I, as parents and grandparents and teachers and coaches and friends, first and foremost need to be about the business of tending the fires of our own faith.  We are to be constantly seeking to rekindle this flame by means of prayer, and worship, and time regularly spent in meditation and spiritual renewal (in that regard, let us never forget that prayer and devotion are the cedar sticks of faith; if you want to get a fire going, mistah man, there’s just no substitute!).  And we’re to be ever and always fanning that flame sharing what we know to be true in faith, but moreover to live in such a way that says we mean it.

Now I know there are times for most of us when it seems as though there are barely enough burning embers to even spark a flame, much less start a fire!  But as Jesus said in his parable, a mustard seed doesn’t appear to amount to much either; but then you plant those seeds, in time it becomes “the greatest of shrubs, and becomes a tree.” So it is for you and me: we’ve got the coals that are burning within our hearts, and we’ve plenty of kindling that’s been provided through the help and guidance of the Lord.  Eventually, given the fuel that we (and God) bring to it, a roaring fire is going to start.

Inside every one of us in this very room, beloved, there’s a flame burning: a sincere and vital faith given to us by God and which has been nurtured by a whole communion of saints in the past and continuing today.   It’s right there before us, the embers glowing… so the question is, what are we going to do with it?  How shall we make a fire with just a spark?  And how will be share it with those around us and with those who follow us?

I pray that each of us will be rekindling that flame, so as the song goes, soon all those around will  be warmed up in its glowing, now and in the years to come.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2019 in Epistles, Faith, Family Stories, Maine, Paul, Sermon

 

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