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Cast Your Nets Deeper

(a sermon for February 10, 2019, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Luke 5:1-11)

I think it’s safe to say that for most of us, daily life moves in a certain pattern and rhythm; and that pattern and rhythm exists largely for the purpose of doing what needs to be done!  It’s true, no matter where we happen to be in life (!); from the time our feet hit the floor in the morning, whether the main goal is to get ourselves ready for work, or to get the kids to school on time, or to maneuver through whatever “to do” list stands before us, I think you’ll agree that most of the time our attention and effort is focused on simply taking care of the business of day to day existence!

Every once in a while, however, in the midst of all that routine something happens that makes us profoundly aware of another dimension of our lives; something that reminds us in glorious fashion that there’s more to life than what consumes us in the here and now.  It might be that moment when you’re holding your child (or your grandchild!) in your arms for the first time, and you’re struck with the utter miracle of human life; or maybe it’s what comes in the midst of a particular triumph or tragedy, when all at once you suddenly grasp, if only for a moment, just how precious and fragile a thing life really is.  Or it might be something as simple as gazing into a brilliantly starlit sky on a cold clear winter’s night, pondering the vastness of the universe; and you get this feeling that reaches so far down to the depth of your soul that the only possible response is one of awe, because there’s this palpable awareness of a living God right there with you!

My point is that there are for each of us unexpected experiences in our lives in which the extraordinary enters into the ordinary and the divine is revealed.  And it is in such singular moments that we delve deeper into what life can be and is supposed to be; and while such times might well be clear and confusing, invigorating and exhausting, empowering and terrifying all at the same time (!), these are the events that somehow challenge us to move beyond simply living the shallow, day to day process of life; so to live our lives more fully and, dare I say it, with purpose.  Because these are the things that take us deeper:  deeper into life and yes, deeper into faith… because, really, what are we talking about here if not something akin to a call from God?

There’s actually great precedence for what I’m saying here; holy scripture is in fact, full of stories of men, women and even children (!) who are going about the everyday business of living, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, get the experience of God that calls them to something more.  From Abraham to Miriam to Moses to Isaiah to Jeremiah and beyond:  the history and tradition of our faith is filled with moment after moment in which ordinary people, by the graceful intrusion of God, are suddenly given a glimpse of the true depth of human existence that comes from faithful living; and who, as a result of that experience, bravely move out of the regular pattern and rhythm of life in order to go where God would have them go!

And then there’s Simon Peter, whose response to that experience, initially at least, was pretty much the opposite!  You know, I’ve always felt that I can relate to Peter more than almost any other character in the Biblical story, because as you read the gospels, you find that where faith is concerned Peter represents equal measures of bold and enthusiastic bravado, on the one hand, and a spineless lack of commitment on the other; in other words, he’s a whole lot like me and, I’m guessing, maybe you, too!  But, if that’s the case, we can all take comfort in knowing that whatever else one can say about Peter, he always leads from the heart; and ultimately, if eventually, it’s a heart of faith!

This comes through very clearly in our text for this morning, in which Peter, a fisherman by trade, is sitting cleaning and mending his fishing nets, getting ready to put out to sea for the next night’s work; which is basically the same thing he’s done just about every single day of his life.  It’s just another day on the job; except that on this particular day Jesus, who was there on the shore teaching a crowd of people “pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God,” [The Message], asks Peter to take him out on the water in his boat, where he can better speak to the group as a whole.

That in and of itself was an out-of-the-ordinary event for Peter and the other fishermen with him, James and his brother John; but then, once he’s finished speaking to the crowd Jesus turns to Peter and says, “’Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’”  Now, understand that although Peter, James and John were probably capable as fishermen they really weren’t all that successful at it; the likely truth is that the three of them were barely able to eke out a living by fishing, and they’d probably tried just about everything they could think of to increase their catch, without any success. They’d “been there, done that,” so to speak, so you can understand Peter’s skepticism and even a bit of annoyance in his voice when he answers Jesus by saying, “’Master, we have worked hard all night long but have caught nothing.”  (“…haven’t caught a minnow,” is how The Message puts it!) “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

Of course, you know what happens next: Peter does indeed put down his nets into the deeper water, and ends up pulling in so many fish that the nets split from the weight of them.  Likewise, James and John come to help, but so great is the catch of fish that both boats begin to sink! It was the kind of day that most fishermen, professional or otherwise, only dream of; but understand, there was much more to it than that.  For you see, in this incredible moment of abundance out there on the lake a brand new dimension of life was revealed to those three fishermen; in an instant, every old assumption and expectation they’d ever had about life and living was suddenly and irreversibly swept away by the sheer magnitude and power of God’s presence in their midst.

But how does Peter respond to this?  Not with breathless excitement or joyful awe, not even a word of gratitude for the great catch of fish!   No, what Peter brings to this incredible, God-imbued, life shifting moment is… complete and utter fear (!), combined with an overwhelming sense of unworthiness that literally drives him to his knees.  “’Go away from me, Lord,” he says, for “I am a sinful man.’”

Now, we’re not told exactly why Peter reacts this strongly, but we can guess; as we’ve said, Peter’s a lot like you and me, and Peter reacted the way we might react!  After all, it’s not every day that you encounter God, and now, to see God’s power and grace embodied in this man Jesus… well, not only does that reveal something about the nature of the Almighty, it also has a way of revealing everything about you!  William Willimon describes this well: he writes, “God’s holiness is the mirror through which our pretentious goodness is seen for what it really is.”  There, in this mirror, “you see reflected every moment of your life, every secret thought, all the good little things you have done for bad little reasons, the way you live every second for you and you and you alone… who could stand to stare into that mirror for long?”  And who could experience that without being changed?

Well, certainly not Peter, and now suddenly, with James and John along with him, he’s out into the deeper water of life and faith in more ways than one, and it’s an experience both awesome and terrifying.  But it turns out that this is also an experience that brings both an assurance and an invitation: do not be afraid, Jesus says to them in the midst of their fear and uncertainties; because “from now on you will be catching people.”  And, of course, as we know, “when they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

Now, did they know where they were going?  Not at all.  Did they feel up to the challenges that potentially awaited them?  Hardly!  Were they suddenly “over” the fear they’d just experienced, or the unworthiness they felt about it all?  Not a chance! But somehow they just knew they couldn’t stand on the shoreline or cling to the shallow waters any longer; because now they’d seen what can happen beyond the familiar waters of their lives, and now there was this challenge… this calling, if you will, to go out and cast their nets deeper than ever before… and so they just had to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.

And how it was for Peter that day on the lakeshore… that’s how it’s meant to be for you and me as well.

It’s still how God works: in the midst of all our everyday dealings and the varied episodes of stress and strife, we’re being called cast our nets deeper than we’ve ever done before.  Now, you and I, if we’re being honest about it, do tend to focus our attention on the shallow waters of life.  Like I said before, we’re people who live our lives with a certain pattern and rhythm: we do our best to get by, we try to make ends meet, we approach the future with a cautious and conservative spirit, and we value maintaining the status quo; and we do all this because, frankly, it’s terrifying to do anything different!

But now here’s Jesus, bursting onto the shallow waters of our lives and saying to us, why not go deeper and cast your nets there? Don’t you know, he says, haven’t you figured it out yet, that you are more than simply flesh and blood; that you are more than your job, or your salary, or your daily responsibilities; that you amount to more than a random collection of biographical facts and figures? You are mine, says Jesus.  You are my beloved child!.  And if you’ll only dare to set aside your doubt and fear and cast your nets deeper, I will help you harvest so much more from your life and your living than you ever thought possible.

Even now, you see, Jesus is calling us to the deeper water! And of course, as it was for Peter before us, that’s a scary proposition for people like us.  I’m reminded of a cartoon from the New Yorker from some years back:  a man is talking with a friend about his life, and the caption reads, “This morning opportunity knocked at my door, but by the time I pushed back the bolt, turned the two locks, unlatched the chain and shut the alarm system it was gone!”  Frederick Beuchner puts it another way: he says that most of us would like to say we follow Jesus “joyously and proudly with a spring in our step and banners flying, and sometimes by God’s grace this is so.  But more often than not, we go dragging our feet, wishing we’d never heard the voice that now we can never entirely stop hearing, and knowing that it is never ours that is the power and the glory, but always his.”  But for those who would follow Jesus and would risk casting the nets of their lives deeper, there awaits a harvest previously unheard of:  a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a new way of being that invests itself into everything in life.

I know it scares us, beloved, as persons and as a people of faith, and sometime even as a church; this thought of breaking with “the way we’ve always done it” in favor of going deeper with our Lord Jesus, following him to places where we’ve never gone before.  It’s tempting to succumb to this notion that we’d just be better off staying closer to shore where it’s safe and quiet; but I ask you, how would it be if from this moment on if every voice and thought and opportunity before us came with a profound awareness of God’s might and creative power around us and within us?  How would it be if our motivation for each day’s routine of life was based upon the Lord’s leading and not our own?  How would it be if everything routine in our lives becomes brand new because we’ve become brand new; renewed and transformed into fishers of people, bringing the power and glory of our faith in God to family and friends and brothers and sisters we don’t even know yet?

It’s amazing what can happen… your life can change… the world can change!  But it all begins by you and I answering this call to put aside our doubts and fears and be willing to cast our nets deeper.  Even now, you see, Jesus is there, prodding us on to the wonder that is a life of faith; do not be afraid, he’s saying, because, you know what, the fishing’s gonna be good out there in the deeper water; just wait and see.

I pray we have the grace to follow.

And as we do, may our thanks be to the God who calls us now to the overflowing abundance of his grace.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on February 10, 2019 in Discipleship, Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

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More Than a Miracle

(a sermon for January 27, 2019, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11)

After having now officiated at 250 some-odd weddings over the years – including two within my own family this year – I think I can say with great certainty that at just about every wedding ceremony, something almost always goes wrong!

Mind you, it’s usually something very minor:  the groom stumbles on a line in the marriage vows; the flower girl panics, starts crying and refuses to walk down the aisle; the musicians miss their cue, leading to several moments of awkward silence as the processional is supposed to begin!  You know, just little mishaps that are barely noticed, much less remembered; but then, there are also things that happen that everybody sees and no one ever forgets!

Like at the wedding I attended with my parents years ago, long before I was a pastor: where literally moments before the ceremony was about to begin the church organ broke down and my father (who would be providing music for the reception) was asked if he could possibly bring his electric organ over to the church so that there could be music for the ceremony!  And so my father and I immediately rush over to the fire station where the reception was being held, lift that Hammond B3 organ on the back of the truck, head back to the church and very discreetly roll it into the sanctuary where the church organist was waiting, sheet music in hand; all of this in the space of ten minutes!  But we’re running late, and so after hitting the power switch, Dad and I go back to our seats and the organist sits down to begin playing the processional music.  Except – and this is an important piece of the story – that particular instrument was equipped with an electronic rhythm maker, AKA an automatic drumming machine which somehow in transit had inadvertently been switched on (!); so the moment the organist set her hands to keyboard to begin playing “O, Promise Me,” immediately the sanctuary was filled with a rousing and incredibly loud swing beat!  No matter the years that have gone by, I will never forget the sight of my father, red-faced and slinking down the church aisle, amidst riotous laughter (!), to turn off that automatic drummer so that the wedding could proceed!

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great lesson for a young pastor-to-be, but not the one you might think.  For you see, I also noticed that day that while we all laughed at what had happened, at the end of it all what people remembered the most about that particular wedding day was how beautiful the bride was, how great the ceremony was, how much in love she and her groom looked to be, and how much joy there was in their starting out on this journey of life together.  So often, you see, at a wedding – as in life, actually – there’s so much more to what’s happening than what you can actually see.

In our text this morning from John’s gospel, we’re told that “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee” and that it was attended by Jesus, his disciples and, as it happens, also Jesus’ mother.  And under the heading of something always going wrong at a wedding, during this celebration the unthinkable happens: the host runs out of wine to serve all of his wedding guests. Understand, this was no mere faux pas; in a culture where hospitality meant everything, it was literally humiliating for a family to run short of wine; indeed, this was the kind of mistake that would tarnish their family’s reputation for years to come. So with a bit of prodding, shall we say, from his mother, and even though in his own mind it was a bit early to “go public,” that his “hour has not yet come,” Jesus changed six stone water jars, each one holding some 20 to 30 gallons of water, into wine for the celebration; and not just wine, but good wine, the kind of wine that any right-thinking host would have brought out for his guests early on in the evening.

This was Jesus’ first recorded miracle, and on the face of it, changing water into wine seems to be a great act of hospitality and celebration (I always loved the story about the little boy who heard this Bible story in Sunday School, and afterward when his mother asked him what he’d learned that day, the little boy replied, “I learned that if you’re going to have a party, make sure you invite Jesus!”).  And moreover, the fact that there’s this little exchange between Jesus and his mother just makes the story for me; not only is it truly funny and delightfully real (“They have no wine,” Jesus… “Well, what’s that got to do with me, Mother? Will you please just stop pushing me!”), but also, in all seriousness, it hearkens back to everything we read about during the Advent and Christmas seasons:  Mary’s knowledge, from the very beginning, of who Jesus was and why he’d come, not simply to this wedding celebration but indeed for humanity itself.

So, no doubt, there’s great significance in this miraculous changing of water into wine; but as we heard this text read this morning did you notice that it’s never actually referred to as a miracle?  That’s right; in fact, none of the miracles Jesus performs in John’s Gospel (and there are seven of them) are called miracles but rather signs.  In other words, in this story – as with so many other stories about Jesus, especially as they’re given to us in John – there is much more happening than simply what we see.  The miracle, as it were, is meant as a sign that points us beyond the miracle itself to what we’re supposed to see:  Jesus’ power and his glory.

More than a miracle, you see, as great as that is, it’s a proclamation of everything that Christ’s coming brings to the world!

For instance, it’s worth noting that those six 30-gallon jugs of water Jesus sent them to fill were containers used by devout Jews to fulfill the law as regards ceremonial washing; even and especially at a wedding feast, there were rituals of cleansing that needed to be followed.  So these six jars were not have simply been filled with buckets of well water, but with the purified and undefiled water of the Pharisees; this is what served as the “vessel,” so to speak, of Jesus’ miracle, and in doing so Jesus transformed these symbols of an older time and older way into a harbinger for the future and the imminent arrival of a “kingdom” of God!.

I mean, even the idea that Jesus would transform something tired, worn out and empty (like, old jars of water) into that which is rich, fragrant and ripe with the fullness of joy (as is new wine for a wedding feast) points so clearly to power of God; a power manifest in abundance where once was scarcity; celebration where uncertainty had once prevailed; the salvation of God’s own people symbolized by new, good wine!  You see?  Ultimately, it’s not about water becoming wine per se, any more than it is about a harried father of the bride saving face at the reception!  It’s more than a miracle, but a sign which reveals glory of Jesus, who takes the old and makes it new;  in whom a seemingly dead end of living becomes a new life filled with purpose, both now and eternally.

And the best part is that just as in the aftermath of this wedding celebration and everything that happened there, “his disciples believed in him,” even now, these are the signs by which we also come to know him… and believe.

Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, makes a point of saying that in John these “signs” of Jesus happen when “human resources are at an end.”  At the wedding at Cana, there is no more wine left; likewise in the other miracles recorded in John, for instance when “humans have come to an end of their medical skills, supply of food, and supply of courage, Jesus heals, feeds, and comforts amid the storm.”  Even and especially in the cross, we bear witness to the Word made flesh coming to an end of his earthly life – it is his hour of death – and yet even in death, “God who sent him will flow into him with resurrecting power that will result in his glorification.  A miracle of supply where there is only lack.”

McKenzie’s words are a reminder to us that most often in our lives we are unaware of the glory and power of Jesus in our lives until those moments that we have no other resources in our lives, or from within ourselves, to draw from.  It’s only in those times when we’ve come to realize that the old lives we’ve led have nothing more to give that we discover, much to our surprise and amazement, that there’s been something new and transformative happening all along! I mean, how is it that there are moments in each of our lives when despite the cacophony of competing voices all around us and the many contradictions that would seemingly assault us, we still can stop in the silence of a new morning and know that it is a gift at the hand of the divine? How is it that the person in the midst of their own struggle of life and living – whatever that struggle happens to be – has had every bit of strength and courage tapped out of them, and yet still wakes up in the morning secure in the knowledge of what’s expressed in that wonderful hymn, “deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”  How is it that any of us can look to the nations of the world as they currently exist, with all their division and hatred and evil seeming to run unabated, and yet still be confident to our very souls that in the end truth, and justice, and dare we say, love will prevail?

It is because ours is the God who has given us a sign in the person of Jesus, who is the Christ; and who is the one who is the very fulfillment of those hope-filled words of prophecy we heard this morning from Isaiah:  “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch… You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her.”  And, get this:  “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Sounds like it’s time to break out the new wine, because there’s going to be plenty of it!

Beloved, it’s as simple and as all-encompassing as this: Christ has come into the world not to leave that world as it is, nor to leave you and me standing alone in the midst of life’s sorrow and its emptiness.  Christ has come that we might be filled up as surely as were those stone jars with water that became wine.  Christ has come that you and I might begin to recognize the signs of his presence and power; and in doing so start to behold his glory: in our worship, in our work, in our prayer and service, in our relationships with one another, and in life unfolding.  And the thing is, when it happens it might just seem like a miracle; but in truth, it’s much more than that.  It’s the place where by God’s good grace life – true life – begins!

That each one of us here might discover that wondrous truth for ourselves is my prayer for us today.  May it be said of you and of me , just as those wedding guests discovered in Cana, that the best was indeed yet to come.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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“Dance, Then…”

The pastor on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding!

(a sermon for November 11, 2018, the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, based on 1 Peter 2:1-10)

It’s actually one of the great assurances we’re given in Holy Scripture, and also affirms very succinctly who we are as the church: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”

Of course, how we got from what we were to who we are now; that’s another story… in fact, it’s the biblical story, and what a story it is!

I love how in his wonderful little book “History, Herstory, Ourstory,” the late Rev. David Steele managed to encapsulate the whole biblical narrative by describing it as a ballet. He wrote that the story of the bible is “about how… God calls people into the Dance. About how [God] works with individuals here, small or large groups there, getting their ears tuned to the music, teaching them the rudimentary steps, putting them in touch with the unique rhythms and movements [God] has implanted in their souls. [And, yes] it’s about how people resist [that call]; how they get tired of practicing; or how they feel burdened with two left feet and just want to watch.”

But, Steele goes on to say, this particular ballet is also about “the patience and persistence of [God], who keeps at the job of getting people ready for that final number, with a cast of billions, where every person holds her head up high, [where] no one is a wall flower, [where] each one dances his unique steps, and the total choreography is so stunning, so intricate, yet so profoundly simple that as we dance it our breath is taken away… the story of the Bible is about the Dance of Life,” concludes Steele, and its music is called the kingdom of God.

Well, speaking as one of those who has perennially felt burdened in his life with two left feet, I appreciate that parable; for it reminds me that at least regarding our faith, we’re all dancers in God’s sight and that we are all meant to be a part of this wonderful ballet that God has lovingly created especially for us!

I know I’ve shared with some of you already that of all the preparations leading up to the two weddings of our daughter and son this past summer and fall, the thing that worried me the most was… the father/daughter dance!  Not that I didn’t want to do it; on the contrary, I’d been dreaming of that moment from the time Sarah was born, just as I’ve always known that someday I’d be dancing at my sons’ weddings.  It’s just that… I’m not a good dancer; I mean: I’m. Really. Not. A. Good. Dancer!  Now, I’ve always tended to blame this on the fact that as a teenager I was pretty shy and very awkward, and so I didn’t go to a whole lot of dances in high school; and even when I did, and for years afterward I was usually in the band, so I wasn’t dancing then either!  But any and all excuses aside, the fact remains that I just was never very good out on the dancefloor, and the last thing I wanted to do was to embarrass both myself and my daughter on her wedding day!

The good news here was that my daughter Sarah – the dancer, the dance teacher, the dance choreographer (!) – offered to give me a few lessons so that at the very least I would have a few “dance moves” ready for the reception; and so for several nights the week before the wedding, together with Sarah’s Matron of Honor and my wife Lisa, we practiced hard in our living room – Oillie barking at us the whole time (!) – just to get those moves down!  And you know what; come the reception, it actually all was pretty good!  The father/daughter dance went very well; Lisa and I enjoyed being on the dance floor together; and though I’ll never be confused with anyone who’s ever been on “So You Think You Can Dance,” it was a whole lot of fun… and it was fun again – and, might I add, a whole lot easier (thank you, Sarah!) – at our son’s wedding reception last month!

But having said all that, here’s the thing that I’d like to say about dancing: the ultimately, you get nowhere doing it! Understand, I’m not speaking here of the choreographed dances that Sarah teaches at the studio, or the routines you might see on “World of Dance.” No, what I’m talking about here is what happens when the music starts up, and you step out on to a dance floor and you start moving to the music: no matter how long the music plays or how long you keep dancing, at the end of it all you end up pretty much at the same place as where you were when it began! But there’s nothing wrong with that; because dancing, you see, is not about reaching a point of destination; it’s about the dance itself!  It’s all about the promise of the moment; the rush of your heartbeat; the joy of casting aside inhibitions for just a little while!  Dance is about celebration, about laughter shared with a caring partner; about the freedom to be who you really are! And the best part is that when it’s all done, even when you’ve ended up where you started, all you can think about is that you want to go again!

And so it is with the “Dance of Life” that David Steele was talking about there. It seems to me, friends, that so much of the comfort and joy that comes with faith is in what happens along the way.

There are a whole lot of people, you know, who approach their spirituality as though it were for them an intended destination; that is, they approach faith with the attitude that once certain objectives have been met, special goals have been achieved, and specific disciplines are maintained, the will have finally reached that one specific place they wish to be with God, whatever they conceive God to be. Indeed, this is not a terribly alien concept; it’s the focus of many Eastern religions including Buddhism and Taoism, and truth be told, it was a central concern of the Pharisees in Jesus’ time: the idea that the full purpose of life is in discipline directed toward the end of reaching a state of some sort of personal and spiritual perfection.

This is what I mean when I speak of faith as a destination, and a goodly number of Christians knowingly (or unknowingly!) live unto that rule; but understand me when I say to you that it is not a faith stance in which many people find satisfaction and fulfillment.  In fact, it’s been my observation as a pastor that for people like this, the ultimate destination always seems to be just a few steps beyond where they are; that perfection, whatever that means always seems to waiting beyond the next horizon. God’s righteousness, his acceptance and his love; for them it’s always somehow dependent on that “that one more thing” they need to do, that final change in behavior or lifestyle or identity that’ll make everything alright.

I had a parishioner many years back who I would consider and did consider to be a very faithful man. But he also never seemed to be all that comfortable or even happy in his faith; because where faith was concerned, by his own admission he’d never felt as though “he gotten there.” It’s not that he was brand new to things related to faith: he’d in fact grown up with a strict religious upbringing that belied an unsettled home life; and once he was old enough to be out on his own, he’d abandoned the church completely for years. Only when he was on his second marriage and his youngest daughter was born did he make a cautious reentry into a relationship with God.

The interesting thing is after so many years away from the church, he jumped right in. He became very active in the congregation I was serving; he was one of my chief cheerleaders for a lot of projects, led Bible Study, and eventually even took a two year course in lay ministry. He was a pilgrim in the best and truest sense of the word: but he was never happy.  In one way or another, he was always struggling with faith; not so much about having faith, but rather about what it meant to have faith, and being faithful. Maybe it was his upbringing that held him back; perhaps it was his own lack of self-esteem or a lingering fear that God was judging him for who he was or for what he’d been in the past; I was never sure, and neither was he. But I will say he always used to say to me, usually with a touch of sadness in his voice, “I’m a long way from where I was, but I have a long way to go.”

At one point he went out and bought himself a very nice, leather-bound Bible; one that he went on to read cover to cover, a chapter at a time, a couple of times over; and one that he asked me to inscribe for him. And though even to this day I’m not always sure what to write on the inside of a Bible (I always get this looming sense of impending posterity when I think too long about things like that!), I knew just what to write for him: I included a couple of verses that I knew held some meaning for him, but then below those verses, I wrote the words, “Remember that faith is a journey, and not a destination.”

Faith is a journey.  Faith is the dance borne out of love received and acceptance given.  It’s about being claimed by the God who loves you for who you are right here and right now.  It’s about freedom from the worldly powers and values that shackle us and hold us back; it’s being freed to truly be the people that we’ve always been intended to be.  Faith is about being led in God’s Dance; where you live in the world, but you’re not of the world and because of this the music of Life pulsates through every fiber of your being; it’s what sets your feet to motion and makes your spirit soar; it’s the music of that proclaims that the kingdom of God is dwelling within you!

Or, as Peter wrote to those early Christians who themselves wondered where their faith was taking them: “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The good news, beloved, is that God loves us! God really does love us as we are, and where we are!  And that’s even considering that God has already seen our awkwardness as we’ve tried out our various “life dance” moves with some modicum of grace and dignity.  Oh, yes, God sees our failures and our rebellion, to say nothing of our self-imposed moral lapses,; and yet God is not embarrassed to call us daughters and sons. Even as we’re struggling with how we can dance without looking like a fool, here’s God coming take our hand and so that he might lead us in in the dance; helping us not to stumble, but picking us up when we do; lovingly reassuring us so that we might understand that sometimes even a little foolishness is the way we learn!

But here’s the best part: God loves us so much that he wants us to know that we’re not going to be dancers someday – that is, if we ever learn the right steps, or if we ever get the rhythm right in our heads – no, God loves us so much that he assures us that we’re dancers now!  We’re dancers of light, beloved; we’re God’s own chosen people, sent forth in love with the promise that whenever in faithfulness we dance the Dance of Life to the music of the Kingdom of God, it will be a beautiful thing indeed!

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  That’s who we are, beloved, and as God’s people we are also dancers, each and all; and it’s good that we take a moment to remember that. Truly, we are as The Message has translated this passage, “God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him.”

So… in the words of the hymn we’re about to sing:

So, dance then, wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I’ll lead you all wherever you may be.
I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.
                                   “Lord of the Dance,” words by Sydney Carter

Praise be to the Lord of the dance, and may our thanks ever and always be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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