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Category Archives: Maine

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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At the Center of It All

(a sermon for November 17, 2019, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Colossians 1:11-20)

A couple of Sundays ago after church I made a quick pilgrimage to northern Maine for what has become for me a bittersweet autumn ritual: that of closing up “camp” for the winter.

Actually, as it turned out, my two sons had done most of the hard work and heavy lifting the week prior, so thankfully there really wasn’t all that much I needed to do! Nonetheless, I’m glad I made the trip:  first off, it’s always a good thing to spend some time at the lake, even on these brisk days and frigid nights of November that just call out for a warming fire in the woodstove; and yes, what with another Maine winter swiftly approaching, for me there’s no small satisfaction in seeing that the cottage itself gets buttoned up before snow flies and the lake freezes over. Plus, even though I’ve spent some part of just about every year of my life in that particular spot, let me tell you that it’s a whole different experience to be up there about now.

I’d actually awakened at daybreak that next morning, and to be honest my plan was to stoke the fire and get a little more sleep; but one look out the window convinced me I needed to get dressed and go down to the shore and watch the sunrise.  So that’s what I did, and it was… beautiful, and amazing as it always is; but it was also… stark. To begin with, thanks to that windstorm we’d had a couple of days before, there wasn’t a single leaf left on a tree anywhere, from what I could see there no boats left in the water, all the docks were pulled up to shore and the campground across the lake was completely emptied out.  And it was quiet – I mean, it was deafeningly quiet – there wasn’t a breath of breeze in the air, no chattering of squirrels overhead nor the lapping of water against rocks on the shoreline; even a small group of loons who were floating out in front of me remained silent and still.

Even after all these years, I’ve really experienced such a morning “on the pond.” Understand, in the summertime our lake, even in the wee hours, is filled both with both the sounds of nature and the communal beginnings of a new and busy day; dogs barking (and not just ours!), motorboats headed out for fishing, children’s laughing voices as they jump into the water for an early swim.  But on this particular morning in early November there was none of that; rather, what there was what could easily be compared to what scripture refers to as an “enveloping silence.”

And as I sat there for a very long while, just taking it all in, I have to tell you… I felt very, very… small.  I mean, small in the sense of knowing that you’re all alone and surrounded by miles and miles of the stark and silent grandeur of creation slowly moving toward its winter hibernation; small in the sense of being humbled by this reminder of just how incredibly tiny you really are (!), just this little speck of dust in comparison to the vastness of the universe or in relationship to God; but also small in the sense of realizing that even as you’re sitting there on your little spot amidst the enveloping silence of this new morning, the world around you is still spinning like crazy, in a way that’s ever changing and ever disorienting, so often to the point of seeming like it’s spinning helplessly out of control.

And you have to wonder… small as you are, if that’s happening to your world – or for that matter, our world, yours and mine – what is at the center of it all and what’s supposed to hold it all together?

I know… that perhaps was a bit much to consider in the midst of a beautiful sunrise on a cold November morning in Maine (or just maybe I needed a cup of coffee!); yet, on the other hand, I suspect this may be a question that many of us are asking ourselves these days: what’s at the center of it all?

It was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats who, upon witnessing the devastation that remained at the end of the first World War, famously lamented that “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”  In other words, throughout history there have always been times and circumstances that in which it seemed surely that the world was falling apart right before our very eyes, and truthfully, in many ways and for many people, it was: times of war and holocaust, deadly plague, economic depression, terrorism, political upheaval, and on and on; truly, many have been the moments across the centuries when even the most faithful among us have begun to feel very small; and have wondered, however fleetingly, whatever was to become of them.

There are also times, if I might quote Craig Barnes here, writing in The Christian Century, “when [you and I are] forced daily to defend ourselves against the demise of our personal worlds… [when] we’re surrounded by marriages that crumble, companies that downsize, and diseases that rob us of loved ones.”  And yet, ever and always, life has to go on, right?  We do what has to be done, we get on with the business of life and we keep on trying to find the center of things, “all in the hopes of keeping [ourselves and] our little world together;” yet, writes Barnes, “despite our best efforts to be healthy, things still fall apart.”

Now, I don’t say any of this today to sound at all morose or to paint a bleak picture on such a beautiful Sunday morning as this; it’s just to say (quoting Craig Barnes again), that “if we’re paying attention, we have to realize that the world as we know it is always a thread away from unraveling.” (Okay, maybe that’s a tad negative!) But there’s point that needs to be made here, and it’s that because of this world’s unraveling, because of our incredible smallness in the scheme of things we are in need of a true center; something, someone who holds all things together.  “What we need is someone who can intervene in the world, destroying the power of evil.  We need a Savior.”

And the good news today, and always, is that we do have that Savior in the person of Jesus Christ, the one whom Paul proclaims in our text for this morning as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… [the one who] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together… for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and  through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

It’s worth noting that this portion of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was considered to be something of a hymn of praise and a confession of true faith and was in fact addressed to a group of beleaguered Christians who were living in the area that is now modern-day Turkey, and who had been so despised and persecuted for their Christian faith that now they had deep doubts as to the validity of that faith, and were uncertain of what truly was at the center of it all.  It’s a testament to how much the world has always tended to spin out of control; and us along with it. In fact, we’re told that it was now to the point where these Colossians were gleaning on to anything and everything they could find that might possibly make sense of life and living, and as a result they found themselves being pulled between the values of their faith and the values of their culture.

It’s a conundrum we know all too well, isn’t it?  Indeed, many are those in our own times who have sought to fill up the uncertainties of living with our own self-created notions of what will make it meaningful:  money, power, pleasure; the need to find acceptance and, quite frankly, to get our way.  But all this comes at a cost:  the Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, a Presbyterian pastor and blogger out of Texas writes that “perhaps one of the most destructive myths to define our lives is the notion that ‘it’s my life, and I’ll live [it] how I want.’”  It’s not, Brehms says, that we shouldn’t have the right to make choices for ourselves, because certainly most of us do just that; it’s just that taken to the extreme, “it is a formula for life that pretty much undermines all chance of real happiness,” because in the end, this attitude of “I don’t care anymore this is my life,” (with apologies here to Billy Joel!) falls far short of our true purpose in life, which as Paul tells us in this passage is that we “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that [we] may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  The true center of our lives, you see, is found as we learn more and more about God works; and as we do we“will learn how to do our work” in life, in the process gaining “strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy.” [The Message]

It is no accident, by the way, is that in this particular text, five times in six verses (!) makes a point of saying that “all things” are held together in Jesus Christ: “in him all things in heaven and earth are created… all things are created through him and for him… he is before all things and in him all things hold together… and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.”  Paul is relentless about this: that nothing – and no one – “is left out of the realm of redemption.” (Barnes)  At the center of all things, beloved, is Jesus Christ, bring peace to a fractured world “through the blood of his cross;” and it is this center that will hold us together as his much beloved creation.

You know, the interesting part of spending that early morning down on the shore of the lake watching the sunrise is that I really did feel very small; but then again, I’ve felt very much the same way on hot August nights when I’ve floating on that same lake beneath a magnificent canopy of stars watching the Perseid Meteor Shower; I’ve had the same kind of experience in the middle of a thunderstorm when lighting flashes in every direction. It a big universe, with all of its wonder and its danger and it’s utter uncertainty; and I always end up thinking the same thing, that we really ought to count for nothing… and yet, even as the world keeps on spinning day by day, year by year, and age to age… here we are.  You and me… each one of us created in God’s sight; each one of us uniquely created and loved and nurtured as God’s own, and redeemed by the one who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”   That awareness, even more than that of the sheer expanse of the universe itself, is what fills me with joy at its wonder… with hope for a world that at times does seem at times to be within a thread of its unraveling, but with peace that the world can neither give nor take away… and above all, with faith in the infinitely loving Christ who is at the center of all things and who holds all things together.

This, beloved, is our gift of true life, the “inheritance of the saints in the light.”  For this, and everything that goes along with it, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Maine, Paul, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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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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