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Category Archives: Life

Witnesses of These Things

(a sermon for April 15, 2018, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Luke 24:36-49)

It’s fascinating – and more than a little bit telling, I think – that as Luke continues his version of the Easter story, the eleven disciples only really begin to connect the dots where the resurrection is concerned when Jesus asks them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

To sit down and have something to eat, after all, is probably the most basic and human thing that you and I ever do in our lives. But more than merely being necessary for our physical survival, food also has a way of bringing us comfort; and sharing a meal with others creates an opportunity for hospitality for nurturing relationships. There’s a reason that when someone is sick, or if their loved one has passed away, our first response in dealing with grief and loss – especially here in New England – is to bake a casserole; just as I can also tell you that apart from the fundraising aspect of it, the main reason that churches like ours hold Saturday night“bean suppahs” is because food and fellowship go together like… well, beans and ham!

But “having something to eat” can also open our eyes and hearts to something we hadn’t known or experienced before.  How many first dates “going out to eat” grew into something more because sitting across the table from someone while eating chicken parmesan not only lessened the awkwardness of the situation but also became the starting place of a whole new relationship!  And how often does food serve as an affirmation of who and whose you are?  Growing up, there was hardly a gathering of the Lowry side of the family that didn’t include oyster stew as part of the meal; and likewise, we’ve discovered as our own children have grown older that each one of them have favorite dishes that bring back good memories of childhood and which they still ask for when they come home!  Food, you see, is real; and it has a real way of help us discern what else is real as well.

Think about how the resurrection story unfolds in Luke’s gospel:  first, you have the women discovering the empty tomb and being greeted by the “two men in dazzling clothes” (24:4) who told them that Jesus had, in fact, risen; but not only does the idea of this terrify them, but when they return to the eleven to share this news, the apostles dismiss it as “an idle tale,” (24:11) which, by the way, in the original Greek is leros, which is where we get our word “delirious.”  So basically, the whole idea of Jesus being raised from the dead was being dismissed by the eleven as wild, unbelievable crazy talk!

And then you have, later on that day, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who are actually walking with the Risen Christ, but who fail to recognize who he is until… notice this (!)… Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (24:39) and their eyes were opened, recognizing him for who he was.  But still, it wasn’t enough to convince the eleven and their companions back in Jerusalem that what happened had actually happened!  Even when in that moment when “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you;’” even that was not enough to lead them from fear to belief; nor was the offer from Jesus that they could touch his hands and feet if they needed to, or even the assurance that “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”  (which, it should be noted, brought joy to the eleven, but not yet belief, as, according to Luke, they were “still wondering.”  In other words, this is great and all, but how are we supposed to believe this? “It was too much; it all seemed too good to be true!” [The Message])

No; it’s only when Jesus asks if there’s something to eat, and then proceeds to eat that piece of broiled fish in their presence that the disciples finally start to get it:  Jesus was alive!  He had risen from the dead; and now, here he was with them, just like before!  And suddenly, right there in the middle of a fish dinner, all the doubt, all the hopelessness, all the barriers that had previously stood between them – barriers of sin and grief and death – were gone forever.  And now Jesus could truly open their minds “to understand the scriptures,” and for the apostles to discover, once and for all, that everything had Jesus had told them over the past three years about the Messiah having to suffer and then “to rise from the dead on the third day,” about “repentance and forgiveness of sins” and about the need to proclaim all of it to Jerusalem and the world; to know it was all real and true would change everything about their lives and living from that moment forward!

Which is what makes what Jesus says next all the more powerful:  “You are witnesses of these things… and see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised.”

Now, I’ve always imagined that at this point, the disciples’ reaction was yet another of disbelief; or, if not disbelief exactly, then certainly utter surprise! Excuse me, Lord?  We’re just now beginning to wrap our minds around the fact that you’re back from the dead and now you want us to be your witnesses?  Give us a moment to absorb this, Jesus… maybe later, but not now… not yet! But you’ll notice in our text this morning, Jesus is very clear regarding the tense of this assertion: it’s not “you were,” or “you will be,” but it’s that you are witnesses, right here and right now; witnesses of the resurrection and everything that represents!  And no doubt, in that moment, such a prospect was for the disciples, to say the very least, daunting!

And as I think about that, friends, I realize that if that was the case for the eleven in the immediate aftermath of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – events that they had indeed seen, and heard, and participated in – how much more daunting is it for you and me; the people who, some 2,000 years later are still named and claimed as witnesses of the Risen Savior?  If even those who were there still wondered and doubted as to the truth of it all, what kind of witnesses are we ever to be?  I mean, it’s one thing for us to sing out those wonderful old words of how “he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own,” it’s quite another for us – any of us, really – to think of Jesus as “a very real person and, through the Spirit, as a very real personal presence in our lives.” (Scott Hoezee)  Indeed, from the time most of us went to Sunday School, we’ve been taught about Jesus living “in our hearts” and sharing that good news with others; but what about the real, live, physical fish-eating presence of our Risen Savior?  How are we ever supposed to witness to that?

Because that’s an important question, beloved; one, that as Karoline Lewis suggests, Jesus takes very seriously.  What Jesus said to the disciples, he says to each one of us: “You are witnesses, here and now, in this moment.  In this life. In your daily life.  For the sake of life.”  Jesus, Lewis goes on to say, is quick to remind us “of who we really are – resurrection people, resurrection witnesses.”  But just when we think that this is something impossible for us, Jesus tells us what makes it possible to be witnesses: “the promise of the Spirit.”  That’s why Jesus instructs the disciples to “stay… in the city until [they] have been clothed with power from on high,” and it’s why you and I as Jesus’ followers are gifted with the same.

What does all this mean?  It means that though we didn’t have the same kind first-hand experience of the disciples to share, we do have their witness to pass on; and, as it turns out, the kind of witness that comes in living out of what we’ve heard, and believed and lived out of throughout our lives.

We are witnesses of these things when we worship together; when we raise up our voices in prayer and praising, and when we sit amongst a community of believers.  We are witnesses of these things when we are moved to love others after the same manner that we have felt the experience of divine love and acceptance.  We are witnesses of these things when we recognize that life as we live it and the world as we know it does not have to be as muddled and complicated and divisive and hate-filled as it so often appears to be; and we decide for ourselves that we will be the example in making peace, justice, kindness, compassion and true grace and love the new reality of life and living.  We are witnesses of these things when we feed others in just the same way we have been fed; because, friends, it’s that wonderfully hearty spiritual food that not only makes us who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, it’s what proclaims him alive forever more!

We – you, and you, and you and me – we are witnesses of these things, and Jesus is sending us forth to proclaim our good news to the world.

One summer day many years ago I went on a road trip with my father to visit a series of flea markets that were happening throughout northern Maine (as was typical of my Dad, he was ever and always seeking out specific things at these sales; I think at the time it was antique oil lamps).  We’d made our way way up to Madawaska on the Canadian border; where, as it happened, he’d spent a summer as a young man working playing trumpet in a big band, and where he’d boarded with a French Canadian family there in the town.  Well it had been well over 30 years, but my father got it into his head that he wanted to stop at this house and see if that family he’d stayed with all those years ago was still living there; they were very nice people, he explained to me, and I’d really like to say hello.

Well, I’m 22 or 23 at the time, and I’m skeptical to say the least!  And I’m thinking that this encounter would be awkward at best, and at worst they wouldn’t remember my father and that would be embarrassing!  But my Dad was determined, and while I waited in the truck and watched (!) he went right up to the house and knocked on the door!  There was this older woman who answered the door; and from the street I could see them talking quietly for a moment; and then… this woman quite literally shrieks with joy, her arms open wide to hug my father, and next thing I know we’re all sitting in this woman’s kitchen with her husband laughing, reminiscing, telling stories, drinking coffee, and lest I forget, eating the most incredible freshly made donuts and deflecting their insistence that we stay long enough to have a nice lunch… yup, it’s always about the food, isn’t it!

Well, obviously they did remember my Dad, and fondly!  But as wonderful as that was, I went away from that experience realizing that though they’d never met me before, it was as though they’d always known me, and in the process made me feel incredibly welcome.  There amidst the coffee and donuts, you see, was a witness to good memories, friendship and the many ways that our lives and our hearts are joined together even in the most unexpected kind of ways.

It seems to me, friends, that as believers in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we are similarly joined in heart, soul, mind and strength; and that each and every time you or I make the effort to reach out to others with the same kind of love and care that Jesus has shown us, we are witnesses of a living Savior who continues to change the world – and every heart within it – for the better and forever.

Don’t forget this as you set out into the business of life and living this week, beloved:  You are witnesses of these things.

And for this, and so much more, thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!c. 2018 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Because of the Resurrection…

(a sermon for April 8, 2018, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Romans 8:28-39 and John 20:19-31)

I have always found it interesting and a bit ironic that most years Easter Sunday tends to fall around the same time as income taxes come due.

Granted, this year was a bit of an exception, what with still another week to go before Tax Day (!),  but generally speaking, it seems as though every year just about the time we in the church are gathering to shout our alleluias and sing songs of triumph, outside these doors there’s that other, not-so-triumphant day on the horizon!

Frankly, for me that’s always been a bitter pill to swallow!  After all, Easter is the day of excitement, celebration and victory in the church of Jesus Christ!  For me, it doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday worship; and wasn’t it great around here last Sunday?  I mean, all of it – the hymns, the flowers, all the children running around and most especially the glorious message of hope that’s contained in the gospel story – it’s the culmination of this fateful and faithful journey we’ve taken from palms to the cross to the empty tomb; and for us to discover, yet again, that Christ has risen indeed and to realize what that means for each of us… well, I don’t know about you, but for me that just stirs the soul in a way unlike during any other service of the year!  So it’s a great and wonderful day; it always is!

But then after this shining Sunday always, always comes… Monday… and Tuesday… and inevitably and inescapably Tax Day!  And with it, at least for some stragglers among us, comes that nagging stack of forms, receipts and worksheets that serves to remind us that we can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination, for despite whatever excuses we might have to offer there is no real glory in being a “last-minute filer!”  So, yes, there may still well be Easter “alleluias” ringing in our ears after Sunday has come and gone, and the good news of new life is still very fresh in our hearts, but as Monday morning dawns, it soon becomes clear that life as we’ve known it still goes on, and there’s no avoiding the fact that tax returns need to be finished before the filing deadline on April 17th!

Of course, for you, it might have been something different that made for a burdensome and stressful “Easter Monday” morning last week.  Maybe, like for us, it was going to the mechanic and finding out that the problems with your car were more serious than you thought!  Or perhaps it had to do with contending with an ongoing illness or that of a loved one; or dealing with chronic and debilitating pain.  Or maybe it was having to cope with huge changes looming in your life: the loss of a job, the disintegration of a marriage, the struggle amid rapidly changing circumstances beyond your control to care for yourself and your family with integrity, vision and compassion.  Or maybe you woke up still stinging from that same hurt that’s always been there; the lingering grief, the unresolved anger, the old regrets, the deeply held bitterness and fear; all those unresolved feelings of weakness, guilt, despondency and utter defeat.

Whatever it was, or is, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things do return to whatever the “normal” happens to be in our lives, even amidst the continuing good news of the resurrection.  In fact, if we’re being honest, sometimes after the Sunday celebration is over and our Monday morning woes return, we might at times wonder what, if any, difference the resurrection makes in our lives; or for that matter, if any of what we proclaimed so fervently and joyously as true was even real!  Like “Doubting Thomas” of our Gospel reading this morning we do at times find ourselves wanting empirical proof that all the alleluia shouting of last Sunday morning was not some sort of cruel, cosmic joke.  But even then, in the words of Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian pastor and author, “even if [we] could, like Thomas, reach in and touch the wounds in his body… even if [we] had solid, certifiable evidence that the resurrection was real, there would still be the bills to pay, the meals to plan, the problems of life to solve.”

Henderson is right about that; we do proclaim, rightfully, that Christ is risen indeed, but the fact remains that while death has been defeated forever, life does go on; and moreover, so many of the struggles and sufferings of life in this world go on.  And so the question becomes, what happens now because of the resurrection?  What does the truth of Jesus’ rising mean for all those who have been caught up in the destructive whirlwind of all of the worst that life and an unjust world dishes out? What does the risen Jesus’ blessing of peace mean for those who feel battered, beaten, overwhelmed and worn out from the struggle?  How is it that any of us can claim, as Paul does so eloquently in our reading this morning, that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us?”

It’s really the eternal question, isn’t it?  Life’s sufferings would seem to overtake us, but our answer comes in knowing that even though there is so much against us in this world and in this life, the abiding, redeeming and liberating truth remains that in the Risen Christ we are assured that God is for us today, tomorrow, and forever.  And “if God is for us,” says Paul, “who is against us?”

There is so much to love about this passage from Romans that we’ve shared this morning; but what I think I love the most is how Paul literally unpacks our Christian hope piece by piece by piece.  In fact, I’ve heard it said that in these few verses we’ve read this morning, Paul “is trying to drain every ounce of fear from our lives.”  Listen to how he lays it out: What do we have to be afraid of, he asks, “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (By the way… just for good measure, The Message adds to that list other things; like trouble, hard times, hatred, homelessness, even “bullying threats [and] backstabbing!”) So will any of this “drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?”  No, Paul goes on to say, for “in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”  Here’s a little bit of Biblical trivia for you this morning: the Greek word that’s translated as “conquerors” here is hupernikos, which literally means “super conquerors” and in fact is where we get the brand name for, of all things, Nike running shoes!  So what Paul is saying is that through the God who loves us we are more than conquerors in life, we are… super conquerors, able to stand up to all the struggles of life with unending strength!

But here’s the thing; Paul makes clear that such strength doesn’t come out of nowhere but comes from the same God who gave up his own Son for us all; and (and this is important!),  if God would do that, “will he not with him also give us everything else?”  Given the sacrifice already made on our behalf, why would our God ever withhold any good thing from us; most especially his strength and his presence now and eternally?

In the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are shown once and for all that God loves us and that God wishes never, ever to be apart from us.  Because of the resurrection, we can be assured – “convinced,” it says in the NIV – that “neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  What that means, friends is that because of the resurrection, in whatever comes we hang on… we go on and we prevail, because in the resurrection we are more than conquerors in this life that so often tries to conquer us!  As Benjamin Reaves has put it, “in the face of every possible development, situation, circumstance, diagnosis, or disaster… [we are not merely] being delivered from all these things, but [we are] being triumphant in all these things… it is the action of a divine defender, a divine attorney, a divine love that will not let [us] go… for as we in faith cling to God, we find he has a stronger hold on us.”

Monday mornings might still hold for us all the difficult struggles of life: there still is the doctor’s appointment that awaits us; still the chemo treatment to contend with; still the broken relationships to suffer through; still the utter uncertainty of what the day’s events will bring.  But now, because of the resurrection, we proceed with hope; light shines into our darkness, and we begin, perhaps for the first time to truly see for ourselves “that in all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Maybe at last, because of the resurrection, we are strengthened with the hope that we can move beyond living solely as victims but as people of faith for whom suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.  Maybe now, because of the resurrection, because Jesus lives and we live, we will know the love that is poured out in our hearts by God’s Spirit; enabled and empowered to rejoice in hope even amidst suffering.

In the 1870’s a man by the name of Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer, and a close friend of the renowned evangelist of that era Dwight L. Moody.  Spafford was also a huge investor in real estate, but the story goes that the great Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out his holdings; a disaster that was compounded by the fact that Spafford’s son had just died as well.  In the aftermath of all of this, Spafford decided that he and his family desperately needed to get away; and so in 1873 he planned a trip to Europe with his wife Anna and four daughters.

As it happened, however, last minute business caused Spafford to delay his departure, and he sent his wife and daughters on ahead to Great Britain, aboard the S.S. Ville Du Havre, promising to follow in a few days.  But tragedy struck yet again, for on November 22, their vessel was struck by the English ship Lochearn, and quite literally, within twelve minutes sank in the cold waters of the north Atlantic.  Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost; Spafford’s wife Anna miraculously survived the accident, but their four little daughters drowned in the tragedy.  On reaching Great Britain, she sent a telegram to her husband with the sad news, writing simply, “Saved alone.”

It’s said that a few days later when Horatio Spafford himself made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife, his ship reached the spot where the tragedy had taken place. And as they were directly over the sunken ship where his daughters had perished, there, surrounded by the vast expanse and depth of the ocean and the even greater depth of his sorrow, he began to write some words that have since brought solace to so many in grief:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let his blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Despite his anguish, Horatio Spafford could say that because of the resurrection, “it is well with my soul.”  And we can say the same, beloved; because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we are given a lasting hope that is ours for life; life as it is, life as it will be, life as it continues to amaze us, confuse us, challenge us, embolden us, and sometimes discourage us.  But whatever life brings, because of the resurrection, we hang on, we go on… and we prevail.

May each one of us live as “more than conquerors” through him who loves us.

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ!

Amen and AMEN!

c, 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2018 in Easter, Epistles, Jesus, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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Uphill and Down

(a sermon for February 11, 2018, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Kings 19:9-18 and Mark 9:2-9)

It was a powerful moment; that much is for certain, one that up to that point had to have been the most profound experience of their entire lives.

And as Peter, James and John stood up there on the mountain with Jesus, they were stunned at what they were seeing; and yet at the same time fascinated, exhilarated and warmed to their very souls.  This was no less than glory itself; and as the three of them stood there amidst the brilliant and shimmering light of their teacher Jesus transfigured before them, watching him “in deep conversation” (The Message) with Elijah the prophet and with Moses (!), who could blame Peter for his excitement and for blurting out the very first thing that came into his head?  Mark’s account of this story tells us that Peter responded to all this by saying, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here,” but he might just as well have said, “Is this great or what?!”    Because he wanted to hold on to this experience forever! Let’s build three dwellings, three tents, he says, “one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” and then we can just stay right here and never have to leave!

Like I said, it was a powerful moment; and it’s all punctuated by a voice from heaven proclaiming, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  and you can understand why they’d want to stay atop that mountain for as long as possible!

Of course, that doesn’t happen; for soon the vision fades, the glory dissipates, and once again it’s just the three of them there with Jesus.  And now it’s time to come down from the mountain and to get back to the intense daily realities of following Jesus: the long walks going from town to town; the throngs of people clamoring at Jesus’ feet, the cries of people looking for healing and teaching and love; it was so much more than anything they’d ever imagined back on that morning mending nets on the shore of the Galilean lake.  But this was the life they’d chosen (or, perhaps more accurately, the life they’d been chosen for), and it would go on now just as it had before; except that because of this glimpse of glory they’d received, everything was somehow different.  They were different.

One of the great “little pleasures” of ministry for me has always been those all too rare occasions when I happen to run into a couple at whose wedding I officiated a few months or even years before.  After all, the nature of pastoral ministry, to say nothing of the nature of life itself, is such that you sometimes just lose track of these couples, so it’s great to get caught up on what’s happened to them since that fateful day I got to join them in holy matrimony!  And there’s always stories to tell; but I always have to laugh that almost inevitably when I ask how they’re doing, one or the other will always answer, “Oh, we’re ‘old marrieds’ now!”

“Old marrieds!”  Now there’s a label for you!  It sounds kind of like “used car,” or “factory seconds,” doesn’t it?  I wonder, what does that even mean; “old marrieds?”  Certainly, it can’t mean that the experience of marriage has caused them to age pre-maturely (or at least I hope not!), and I do hope that it’s not an indication that the excitement and passion has gone out of their relationship!  No, I suspect that when they use the term “old marrieds” they’re telling me that over time and experience their marriage has become, well, familiar.

You know what I’m saying; now that the wedding and honeymoon is behind them, they’ve settled into this new daily routine of life that more than likely includes home, work, family… the whole thing.  Moreover, they’ve gotten used to each other’s little quirks of personality; maybe they’ve even set out to “adjust” a few of those qualities, in the other if not themselves!  They’ve probably already had times that they’ve grown closer together and other days they’ve felt like they’re drifting apart; and I’ve no doubt they faced more than a few challenges along the way.  And they’ve probably also come to realize, as I like to say to couples about to get married, that that stuff about “for better or worse, for richer or poorer” ain’t just boilerplate; it’s the ebb and flow of real life that enters into every marriage!

You see, the interesting thing about all of this is that no matter how glorious or memorable the wedding, eventually that day of celebration passes into memory, and life goes on pretty much as it did before; except that now, because of the marriage that’s been forged on that wonderful day – because of vows taken and commitments made – all of life and living is forever changed; and that’s because they’ve changed!

Well, I think that the message of the gospel this morning is that likewise, even as we carry the mantle of Christian discipleship life does indeed go on; and rest assured, friends, that combination of faith and life-as-we-know-it-and-actually-live-it is not always – if ever (!) – going to be easy.  But you see, it’s how we incorporate the glory of what it is we believe into the minutiae of daily life that gives that life meaning, purpose and joy!

The fact is, whereas we weren’t there on the mountain with Peter, James and John, we know all about mountain-top experiences, don’t we; those incredible moments of perfect clarity and insight that occasionally come along in our lives in which we are made profoundly aware of God’s presence and love.  For some of us, that experience came in times of great joy and elation: in the birth of our children; in moments of sudden inspiration and creativity; or when we discover for the first time a fellowship with the divine in the singing of a hymn or a saying of a prayer.  Or that experience may have come right in the midst of pain and strife: in the realization that your prayer for strength and healing was answered; in an inner peace that passes all understanding but somehow brought you through what you never thought you could endure.  These are moments that are both divine in their nature and utterly transformative; truly, this is, in every spiritual sense of the word, transfiguration.  It’s what it means to be up on life’s mountaintop when suddenly, without warning, God cracks open the crust that forms over daily life and suddenly we see, hear and feel God’s awesome presence.  And when that happens, it’s a truly glorious thing.

But the thing about mountaintop experiences is that they’re not meant to last forever.  It may indeed be glorious, but sooner or later the time is going to come when you have to walk down the hill and return to the valley from which you came.  David Lose writes that one of the most significant parts of the Transfiguration story is that “after all of what happened on the mountaintop… Jesus came back down.  Down to where the rest of the disciples are, down to where we are, down to the challenges of life ‘here below,’ down to the problems and discomforts and discouragements that are part and parcel of our life in this world.”

And that’s where we are called to go as well: as Jesus makes clear again and again in the gospels, true discipleship is not as much in what happens atop the mountain as in what we encounter down in the valley!  The way of Christ is the way of the cross – it’s no mistake, by the way, that on the Christian calendar, Transfiguration Sunday happens just before the beginning of Lent and our shared journey to that cross – and when we walk faithfully the way of the cross there will be, as we confess in our statement of faith, a cost as well as a joy in that discipleship.  But the thing is;  as disciples we do walk downhill and we face whatever comes; but not so much because the journey has changed, but rather because we have changed for the journey!

I’ve always loved that passage from 1 Kings we shared today; a beautiful and evocative piece in which God’s reassuring voice is heard not in the noise of wind, earthquake or fire, but rather in the “sound of sheer silence” that follows.  That’s a sermon in and of itself (!), but even given that, for me what’s most telling about this story is what brought Elijah to the cave in the first place; for you see, it was not faith as much as it was despair, and Elijah’s deep desire in that moment to quit being a prophet!  And you can understand why: nothing was working out right; the Israelites had forsaken God’s covenant, they’d torn down the altars of worship and now they were seeking to kill all prophets; including and especially Elijah himself!  So Elijah has fled to this cave, not only in fear for his life but also feeling utterly abandoned by God; he’s disillusioned and angry, and he cries out to God in despair, and as a great storm rages both outside and from within, Elijah waits for the Lord to answer… which God does… in the silence.

But did you notice that when God eventually does speak to Elijah, what he tells Elijah to do?  God tells Elijah… to go!  Whereas by our thinking the easiest and safest thing to do would have been for Elijah to stay holed up in that cave and safe from danger, God says, “Go!”  Get out of the cave, Elijah, and go back to the wilderness; go back and anoint Hazael as King over Aram; go down from this mountain and then wait to follow my lead.

While Elijah is looking at the failure of the moment, you see, God is looking at the big picture and the promise of a certain future that would transcend the success or even the failure of Elijah’s efforts.  God’s plan will unfold as God intends; and life within that plan will go on as before. So what matters most now is whether or not Elijah will choose to stay true to the task to which he is called; and if he’ll remember, even in the midst of risk and strife, that incredible moment of transformation and glory that led him to answer God’s call.  The question is whether or not Elijah will walk down the hill with the same kind of faith and determination with which he walked up!

Each one of us here is called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but the truth is that Christ is Lord not only of the bright mountaintops of our lives, but also is the Lord of the shadowed valleys of living. If we are to follow Jesus where he goes, the pathway will not only wind through green pastures, but also through the briars and what my father used to call the “puckerbrush.”  If we’re to model ourselves after him, we’ll surely come to times of triumph, celebration and great certainty along the journey, but we’ll also come to crossroads of grief and despair in which we’ll find ourselves struggling to find the right answers.  And if we are to be true to him, we’ll reach out with love to others in the same place.

As Christians, ours is a day to day journey of faith that goes uphill and down; and as we seek to move forward in this life with some sense of God’s will for ourselves, our neighbor and our world, we do so never entirely sure of what’s beyond the next horizon.  But whatever happens, one thing is always for certain:  in our walk, wherever it leads, we have been the recipients of glory.  The movement of God’s own Spirit in our lives and faith has offered us a glimpse of how God’s own realm will be.  Truly, we are people of a promise that transcends any of the setbacks and the stumbling and the despairing we face as we go along the journey.  The only question is whether we’ll be true to that promise, whether we’ll take the risk to put one foot in front of the other and walk down the hill and into the valley.

Before long, our service of worship will be done for today, another Sunday will have passed and tomorrow it’ll be… Monday.   Soon enough – maybe even before the day is through – we’ll be back to life as usual – going back to work, buying groceries and doing the laundry – and the experience of our prayers and songs in this hour will be but a fading memory; at least until next week when we do it all again!  Truth is, life will go on pretty much the way it did before today; and yet, it’ll be different – it can’t help but be different – because by the gentle, graceful and utterly glorious touch of God, we’re different.

Beloved, in God’s purpose and plan, this week contains a wealth of possibilities for faith, service and love; but you see, we’ll only know what God can do in our lives if we are bold enough and trusting enough to let God’s glory us downhill and into the valley of life and faith.

Just go, God says to us, just keep walking; and always remember that you’ll never be along

Thanks be to God who in Jesus Christ walks with us on the journey.

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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