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God of the Living

(a sermon for  November 10, 2019, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 20:27-38)

“You’re going to be a minister… maybe you can answer this question.”

It was a phrase that I would hear many times in my life; but on this particular night it caught me completely by surprise.  First of all, at the time I had barely begun my seminary education and I was as yet unaccustomed to answering such questions; or at least those that did not give me 45 minutes and a blue-book to answer!  And moreover it was 11:00 on a Saturday night (!) and I’d just come in for the late shift in my part-time job as weekend janitor and night watchman at the Bangor Daily News, most certainly an unlikely setting for theological discussion!  But… as it happened, the man asking the question was not only the one I’d come to relieve that night but also my supervisor, so there was indeed ample time to talk.

And talk we did; as there, in the tiny maintenance office on the basement floor of the news building, my boss Roger shared with me his story.  Seems that he’d been a widower for many years after a long and happy marriage, and that there’d been a lot of lonely days for him since his wife’s passing.  But now, seemingly out of the blue, he’d met someone and much to each of their surprise, they’d fallen in love.  I’ll never forget it; with his eyes full of light and happiness, Roger described to me in very simple but eloquent terms of just how much this woman had come to mean to him; about the unexpected feelings of joy and how his whole life had been renewed just by the fact of her being with him.  They had even begun to talk about marriage and the good news was that their families and friends were as excited about this possibility as they were!

So it was all good… except that now, Roger was beginning to have some second, troubling thoughts. And with his eyes now revealing a hint of his heart’s anguish, he looked at me and asked simply, “Do you think this alright with God?”

He explained, “I married my wife in the sight of God and I did it for love and for life.  When she was dying we promised each other that we’d be together in heaven; so if get married now, is that still going to happen? Or by getting remarried, am I going to be betraying the promises I made to her?”  He paused for a long moment, as though he was letting that sink in; and then Roger said, “You know, I do love this woman, and I want to marry her… but if I do, what happens when I die?”

Now, remember, I’m just this greenhorn seminarian without a clue as to how to answer him!  And desperately I’m trying to remember something, anything of value I might have heard in in one of my Old and New Testament classes, perchance to glean some small nugget of theological insight that could provide this man some definitive moral and ethical guidance; but alas, nothing was forthcoming.  I mean, here’s this man, he’s pouring out his heart to me and looking for some answers; and I can’t even begin to give him any real insight as to what was good or right or acceptable where faith was concerned (and all the while I’m thinking to myself, some kind of minister I’m going to make!).  But I did need to say something, I knew that much; and I realize now that what came out of my mouth was most certainly not the result of my seminary studies or was the product of my congregational heritage, and it certainly wasn’t based on any inherent wisdom on my part (!) but had to have come instead by the graceful movement of God’s own spirit in that particular moment.

“I don’t know,” I said finally, “but it seems that God loves you more than enough that He’d want you to be happy.”   Of course, I never really did answer his question… but innocently and unknowingly, I think I gave him the right answer.

Actually, in our gospel text for this morning, a group known as the Sadducees came to Jesus posing much the same kind of question: to wit, if each of seven brothers were to marry the widow of the brother who died before him (as would have been customary according to Old Testament family law) then when the widow herself passed away, in the resurrection whose wife among all those seven men would she actually be? Hmmm?  Of course, understand this was meant as something of a trick question, an impossible riddle without a real answer; in truth of fact, in our modern day parlance this would be considered a “gotcha” question, one designed solely to make Jesus look like a fool before those around him, and thus destroy his credibility among the people.

A little background: the Sadducees were this small group of mostly wealthy, well-educated and very conservative scholars who held places of great power in the Jewish religious hierarchy.  But as opposed to the Pharisees, who spent their lives in pursuit of achieving something beyond their lives, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection; mostly because resurrection is not mentioned in the Torah (that is, the first five books of the Old Testament), and for the Sadducees only the Torah held any validity or true authority.  Any talk of eternal life, therefore, was viewed as false teaching and heresy, not to mention an affront to what they perceived as their own authority regarding the truth!  So here’s Jesus out on the streets of Jerusalem – not long after his triumphal entry, in fact – teaching openly and with great conviction regarding the resurrection to eternal life, and of course, this infuriated the Sadducees; and they reasoned that by asking Jesus this utterly confusing question about marriage and resurrection they might just possibly trap Jesus into making some kind of heretical statement, thus discrediting him, while validating themselves and their authority in the process.

However, as he did so very often, Jesus by-passed the question in order to deal with the questioner; he wasn’t about to get drawn into the Sadducee’s games.  But here’s the thing; he did give them an answer, and it cut right to the heart of the matter.  And in essence, he’s saying to them, you’re missing the point!  Now, our reading for today records Jesus as saying “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage… but in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”  In other words, the whole idea of who’s married to who, and when, and how, isn’t really all that applicable when we’re talking about the resurrection!  That’s sort of what you get more directly in The Message translation:  “Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there,” says Jesus. “Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.”

Yes, says Jesus to these learned Sadducees, the law is essential, tradition is important, matters of life and death are crucial and human relationships are always precious and sacred in God’s sight; but in the resurrection, which is God’s gift and God’s act, all of that becomes irrelevant.  In the resurrection, even death itself is irrelevantindeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Even Moses understood this, says Jesus.  Didn’t Moses, in the presence of the burning bush, speak of the Lord as being the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” No past tense spoken here – it isn’t that God was the father of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, but is the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now ands forevermore – for God isn’t the God of those who are dead and gone, but of the living, “for to him all of them are alive.”

It turns out to be such a good answer to the impossible question that even the Sadducees had to admit that Jesus had answered well, “no longer dar[ing] to ask him another question.” But even more than this, Jesus showed them and us a little bit about the character of God of and of his steadfast love.  What we have in this text, friends, is a reminder that God has made a covenant with us; God has a relationship with his people that stretches back from generation to generation, and was in place long before you and me, long before Sadducees and Pharisees,  long before the prophets, long before Moses.  And at the center of that covenant is the promise that nothing will ever destroy that relationship; for when God enters into a relationship with us, nothing can end that:  nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39) will be able to separate us from that relationship of divine love. Our God is the God of the living, not the dead, and because God loves us that much, we live… now and forever, abundantly and eternally.

The glorious truth of our faith, dear friends – this truth which we proclaim with song and in prayer through moments both of utter joy and inexpressible grief – is that death does not end us.  And that’s because death does not change who God is, and has always been unto us: the giver and nurturer of our lives, the restorer of our identity as the persons and the people we are meant to be and have always been from the moment of our creation. That is our truly good news, but it’s also our challenge.  Unlike the Sadducees, we do believe in the resurrection to eternal life – it’s at the center of everything we confess to be true about our Christian faith – but in truth, perhaps more alike to the Sadducees than we’d like to admit, most of us do struggle to understand all of what that belief means as we go through the joys and the challenges of this life, much less how it applies in the life to come; the very idea of resurrection is something we can’t even begin to comprehend in its fullness.  But what Jesus assures us of in this passage is that whatever our concerns or doubts we can trust in the promise of resurrection, because God loves us more than enough that come what may, God is never going to let go of us!

Of our three children, Zachary was always the one who slept the least; it was certainly true when he was an infant, continued all the time he was growing up and, frankly, he’s still the one who’s most apt to be up late at night!  But when he was very young, despite our best efforts to keep him in his own bed, he’d often end up in our room and cuddled up next to his mother and me.  But aside from our bed always being very crowded on those nights, what I always remember about that is noticing how Zach would reach out to touch my face – stroking my hair, feeling my beard, getting a sense of my breathing against his own skin – and then, having done this,  he would almost immediately let out with this contented sigh and drift off to sleep.  It’s as if he needed to know in every way possible that we were there for him, that we weren’t going anywhere, and that he was safe… “all through the night,” as it were..

I’ve never forgotten that, and it always sort of reminded me of a piece I read years and years ago in which a mother tries to explain death to her child:  “You fall asleep,” she says, “and God, your heavenly Father, with strong arms comes and takes you to your room, a room in heaven made just for you… for you are God’s child… you belong to God, and nothing can ever take you away.”

The Sadducees wanted to know to whom the widow was married in the resurrection, and in the larger sense to whom she belongs eternally.

And Jesus gave them an answer… she belongs to God… always has, always will.

And the good news?  So do you, and so do I.  So do we all, beloved, you and I who “are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

For life now and for the life to come, thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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The Way… of True Worship

(a sermon for October 6, 2019, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday; first in a series, based on 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and James 5:13-20)

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

So the question is… why are you even here today?

Seriously… what motivated you to get up out of bed and come to worship on such a beautiful autumn morning as this?  Don’t get me wrong; speaking both pastorally and personally I’m very glad (and grateful!) that you’re here, but I’ll confess this is something I always kind of wonder about!  Have you come here, for instance, out of a sense of gratitude for the ways God has been acting in your life?  Does this place and our time together in worship serve as an oasis, if you will, amidst life’s many difficulties, not to mention respite from a world that that more and more seems to be spinning out of control? Or is it more of a matter of routine for you, something you do simply because it’s Sunday morning?  I don’t know, perhaps you’re here this morning out of some sense of obligation or even guilt; hey, it happens!

Now, I’d like to think that maybe you’ve come here today because in some way or another you’ve found some measure of comfort, inspiration and joy in what happens in our time of worship, and you’ve come seeking more of that:  that you’re needing to hear and to sing music that speaks to the heart and lifts the spirit; hoping perhaps to recognize yourself in scripture or song or prayer; wondering if today the preacher just might say something applicable to your own life (and I’ll be honest, I’m always hoping that’ll happen)!  Or it could be that you’re hoping that being here will help you grow in faith and, to quote the Rev. Christopher Winkler, a Methodist pastor and preacher from Illinois, to live your life a little “more faithfully tomorrow than you did yesterday;” and perhaps by being part of this sacred community of the church you’ll find the kind of fellowship, support and teaching that will help you do that.

Actually, I suspect that truth be told, the reasons that led you to worship here this morning likely encompassed all or parts of this, and so much more besides!  And I hope it goes without saying that it’s all valid; I mean, this all speaks directly to our personality as a congregation and about the vitality of our life together, right?  It’s all about who we are and what we do in the context of Christian worship.  And worship matters; in fact, I think it’s safe to say that our gathering together for worship is the central activity of our life together as the church; some might even argue that it’s our primary reason for being.  But all of this said, friends, I would like suggest to you this morning that the real purpose for our gathering together on this or any Sunday morning, “the Way” of true worship ultimately has little or nothing to do with any of these reasons we’ve been listing off here.  If we are sincerely engaged, as we so often say, in worshiping the Lord “in Spirit and in Truth,” then it’s not  primarily going to be about the style of worship, or the preaching, or the music, or the way we “do” communion, or how we pray, or how long the service lasts, or how great the refreshments are going to be after the service, but simply and wholly in “ascrib[ing] to the LORD the glory due his name… worship[ing] the LORD in holy splendor,” glorifying and praising God for his steadfast love that endures forever.

Without that being first and foremost in our hearts, then all the rest of it?  It’s all very well and good, to be sure, but in the words of a worship consultant by the name of Ken Lamb, it all ends up as “all the wrong reasons for all the right things.”

The great 19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard used to use the theater as a metaphor for describing how most of us will misunderstand the role and purpose of worship. Kierkegaard would complain that all too often we imagine that the minister is the star actor or actress in a play, with the choir, the musicians and the rest of the worship leaders in supporting roles, and the congregation as the audience of theatergoers. In other words, worship itself becomes too much like a performance, in which those of us “up here” are engaged in offering up something of value to you “down there.”  And, trust me here, that’s not how it should be at all!  In fact, just the opposite; Kierkegaard says that in a proper “act and attitude of worship,” the worship leaders are in fact prompters helping to lead the congregation in offering up their best “performance” of worship and praise unto the God who is, “in the most earnest sense,” Kierkegaard writes, “the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to.”

The way of true worship, you see, is not so much about what we’re getting out of the experience but rather about what we are putting into it!  I’m reminded here of a great story told by Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary in which he recalled his years of being a church pastor, and how following a service of worship one day a member of the congregation met him at the door to berate him for the his choice of hymns for that day.  “Those songs you picked out were horrible,” she said.  “Not a single one of them were the least bit familiar, the words are all changed and they weren’t even singable… I hated every one of them.”  And to this, Barnes calmly replied, “Well, that’s okay… we weren’t singing them to you.” (I wish I’d thought of that!)  Ultimately, you see, our worship is not for us; our singing isn’t for our benefit nor our entertainment; our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and intercession is never meant to be an act of self-aggrandizement.

It’s about God.  Every part of our worship is to be directed toward and for the praise and glory of God.  I’m here as a prompter, so to speak, as are Kat and Susan and our choir; we are here to prompt your worship of God.  And in that regard as worshippers we’re all the performers, and the Lord God is the audience.  But it’s in that all those gifts grace and healing and forgiveness and wonder come to pass.

Our Old Testament text for this morning from the 1st Book of Chronicles has to do with David’s reclamation of the Ark of the Covenant, which was the container that ancient Israel had created to house the fragments of the stone tablets on which were written the ten commandments (and yes, in case you were wondering, that’s the same Ark of the Covenant that Indiana Jones went searching for in “Raiders of the Lost Ark…” but I digress!).  Biblically and historically speaking, the backstory here is that King David had done just about everything possible to return the Ark to Jerusalem and now it was finally happening; and with much music and shouting and food, not to mention David himself “leaping and dancing,” (15:29), there is this incredible celebration that now, at long last, the Ark – this symbol of who God was to them and everything God had done – the Ark  has been returned and now there would be this place of worship where the presence of God lived amongst his people.  There’s great rejoicing, and it all culminates with David calling the people to thanks and praise for all of God’s wonderful acts, “his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.”  You see what’s happening here?  It’s what one commentator I read this week refers to as “theology set to music;” a song that declares how wonderful God is, sung before the very presence of God!

A celebration of the presence of God amongst us; a joyous affirmation of the movement of God in and through our lives; a much-needed reminder of the reality of God’s unending hope and to give thanks and praise for his power amidst the living of these days:  that is what worship is supposed to be all about.  It’s what informs every part of this time we spend together every Sunday; it’s what my preaching, no matter the text or subject matter, has to be about; it’s why we sing and play the songs we do as a choir and congregation; and it’s what leads us in everything else we seek to be as the church of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our only Savior.  It’s what makes us who we are as a church and the “Way” that we walk… it is first to ascribe to God the glory due his holy name.

But, of course, that not where it ends.

Our other text for this morning, from the New Testament Letter of James, is another of the so-called “pastoral epistles” that seek to encourage us in the ways that we seek to live as disciples of Christ within (and beyond) the life of the church.  Specifically, it’s about dealing with those are sick or suffering or lost or enmeshed in sin (“Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.”), or even cheerful (!), in which case, a song of praise is in order!  The message here is that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” and that’s important to remember; but it seems to me that the larger point is that our prayer and praising, while of first importance and absolutely essential for us as God’s people, is never meant to happen in a vacuum.  We are called to bring true worship unto God and God alone, that is true; but by our worship, we are also meant to be transformed, day by day, more and more into the people God created us to be.  In other words, we should never leave here on a Sunday morning the same way we came in.  In some small, even perhaps at times in a seemingly imperceptible yet nonetheless palpable way, we ought to leave our time of worship feeling different… changed, somehow… challenged in our thinking and living… relieved, maybe, or strengthened, or filled up with something akin to true joy and real love.  Scripture is filled with stories of men and women and entire nations coming into the presence of God and being changed – body and soul and heart and strength – forever; and so it ought to be, each in our own way, with you and me.  What’s the saying about faith being a journey and not a destination?  Well, beloved, it’s God’s presence and power experienced in true worship that sets us forth on that journey.

In just a moment we’ll be answering this divine invitation that’s been given us, joining with countless other kindred hearts on this World Communion Sunday in feasting at the Lord ’s Table, sharing in this wondrous experience of knowing his presence in a simple meal of bread and wine. Now I know that in many ways, our sharing communion today is no different than it is on every other first Sunday of the month when we have communion, and that we have our “way” of having communion that’s wrapped up in tradition and liturgy and “the way we’ve always done it.”  And the truth is, at times I worry that this truly blessed meal becomes for us routine.  I hope and pray that this won’t be the case for any of us today, but that perhaps as we pass the bread from one to another and drink from the cup of blessing we’ll see it as an opportunity to fix our full attention on God; to truly give God our whole thanks and praise for the life abundant and eternal that’s been given us in Christ Jesus; and by our prayers, both spoken and silent, ascribe to God the glory due him.  But then, having been refreshed at this sacred table of joy and life, let us be moved to go… go and become the people that God has always intended for us to be.

This, beloved, will be the way of true worship, and I have no doubt that each one of us, and our world, will be the better for it.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Adjusting the Bottom Line

(a sermon for September 22, 2019, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 16:1-13)

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

Let’s just say this up front: our text for this morning is by no means “easy.” In fact, let’s just go with what a whole lot of biblical commentators over the centuries have confessed in one way or another: that of all of Jesus’ parables, this so-called story of the “Dishonest Manager,” is perhaps the most “notoriously difficult.”

And it’s easy to see why:  I mean what we’ve got here is a parable that’s chock full of immoral, unethical behavior from beginning to end!  We’ve got this property manager who’s called out on the carpet by his wealthy boss for “squandering his property” – presumably cheating said boss out of his money – and demands an audit of the books before he’s fired.  So this “dishonest manager,” realizing that his days are most certainly numbered, immediately goes into crisis mode (after all, he reasons, “I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”) and decides to go around to at least two of this master’s renters and tells them to reduce what it is they owe; this to ingratiate himself to these people so perhaps he might have a place to stay after he’s out of work!

So, basically what we have here is a shady character involved in some very shady dealings, a swindler engaged in the act of swindling his soon-to-be ex-boss, “adjusting the bottom line” to his own advantage and to save his own skin!  There’s nothing here  the least bit inspiring or commendable; this man is a scoundrel and most certainly a criminal, someone who if justice were served would be convicted of fraud and tossed into jail! And yet, it turns out that not only is the boss impressed with the guy’s shrewdness but worst of all, it seems, so is Jesus!  In fact, says Jesus to his disciples on the heels of this story, “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” adding, “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Or, as it’s paraphrased in The Message, “I want you to be smart in the same way” as this unjust, crooked manager!

And you and I, together with generations of biblical scholars and faithful disciples, are left with the same question:  what’s that all about?  What is Jesus even thinking here?  It’s bad enough for him to be suggesting that God’s people might have something to learn from such a criminal, but could Jesus really be suggesting that as his followers we ought to be engaging in such unethical, not to mention selfish, behavior?  It’s no wonder that there have been those biblical scholars over the centuries who have wondered aloud if Jesus actually did tell that particular parable, or if maybe, just maybe, Luke got it wrong in the telling!

I think, however, if we dig a little deeper into this parable, and Jesus’ assessment of it, it actually makes a lot of sense.  And as so often is the case when we look at scripture, it comes down to language and context.  First of all, we need to understand that when we’re told that “charges” were brought against this manager, the Greek word there is probably better translated as “slandered,” which suggests that perhaps this manager wasn’t as dishonest as we were led to believe (granted, just about every Bible in the world refers to him as the “Dishonest Manager,” but it’s worth noting here that as often is the case with any accusation there might just be a rush to judgment… just sayin’!).  And the charge itself, that the manager had been “squandering” his property, in the Greek language has more to do with spreading it around rather than wasting it; literally in sense of sowing seed!  To quote Richard Swanson, could be that “the manager was investing.  Or he was diversifying.  Or he was stimulating the local economy.  Or he was making allies for his master against a time when allies would come in handy.”

Could be… or maybe not.  But can you see how a particular choice of words would serve to make a heretofore thoroughly dishonest manager a shrewd manager (oh, and by the way, the Greek word used for shrewd is phronimos, which also suggests wisdom and prudence)?

It’s also important for us to understand that Jesus tells this particular story immediately after he’s told a trio of other very familiar parables: that of the lost sheep, the lost coin and of course, the parable of the prodigal son.  Remember, those three stories were in response to the scribes and Pharisees grumbling and complaining that Jesus was welcoming tax collectors and sinners, of all people, and eating (!) with them (15:1-2).  So these stories about how God reaches out to those who are lost and draws them back into his loving embrace; about how even the worst of the worst and lowest of the low could be welcomed back home by the father who loved and forgave him actually flows very nicely into this next story about a supposed low-life criminal who is commended for his incredible shrewdness!  And isn’t it also interesting that the next thing Jesus says is a reminder to his disciples and to us that “whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much?”   Or, to quote The Message again, “If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?”

Kind of changes our whole reading of what Jesus is saying in this parable, doesn’t it?

No… I don’t think that Jesus is actually suggesting we go out into the world and seek to mismanage other peoples’ money for the sake of the Kingdom of God, nor is it for us to take undue and unfair advantage of a particular situation in which we find ourselves.  But it does seem to me that the point that Jesus is making here is that God calls us to make use of the resources that we’ve been given; to make an assessment of all that God has provided us, in trust, to care for and invest; doing the absolute best in whatever way we can with that which we’ve been given so that when that final day of accounting comes for us we also might be commended for our shrewdness, our prudence and our wisdom.

If that all still sounds a bit suspect, let me put this another way: in a world that ever seems to be shifting beneath our feet, it would seem to me that a greater sense of responsibility as regards our faith is paramount in importance.  In this seemingly outrageous parable of Jesus we are being admonished that in times of crisis, when all the other securities of this life have either fallen short or crumbled altogether, our actions as God’s people need to be decisive, bold, creative and above all, faithful, even if some personal risk is involved; because the future, as uncertain as it might seem, is ever and always God’s future, and we who would call ourselves believers are stewards of it.  The steward in the parable takes a rather precarious and bleak situation and works with it; he  wheels and deals and does whatever he can, “adjusting the bottom line,” literally and in faith that somehow, someway some good will come out of it.  Likewise, you and I are called to take what we have, this treasure which is the hope and love and peace and joy of God Almighty, working with it in and through all the joys and challenges of this life that by our efforts and God’s grace, it will become transformed into something sacramental and miraculous.

This is what Jesus is getting at, and it’s a crucial understanding of the Christian life for you and me, and a challenge as well. Maybe it’s not tantamount to the shady dealings of a soon- to-be unemployed property manager… but the point is, if he was able to do this why can’t you and I, as the children of God and stewards of something infinitely precious, show the same vigor and determination in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom?  Likewise, if you and I who seek to follow Christ cannot use to our best advantage the resources of this life and this world, then how can we ever be expected to be good managers – that is, good stewards – of the true riches to which God wants to entrust us?

I think that what all this means for us in these days of confused and challenging situations is that now, perhaps more than ever, where our lives as Christians and as the church is concerned it can never be “business as usual,” if in fact there ever was such a time.  As stewards of all that God has given us in such abundance, we can no longer merely rest on a safe and easy “bottom line;” that is settling for a “warm and fuzzy faith,” basking in what’s comfortable and easy and convenient about our relationship with God, daring not to risk ourselves on what one Celtic hymn refers to as “the steep and rugged pathway,” the way which requires from us courage and some struggle, not to mention wisdom and prudence.  Our bottom line needs adjusting, friends; we need to be stirred out of the comfort zone that keeps us from being bold stewards of God’s future.  And that’s true for us both individually and collectively: you have often heard me say from this pulpit what I’ve long believed, that the best thing that the Church can do in these times is to actually be the Church; well, I’d like to add to that.  If we truly hear Jesus’ words in this parable, perhaps the best thing we can do right now as the Church – and each one of us here as part of that sacred body – is to be all that we can be… and more.

Of course, along with being bold and courageous and occasionally outrageous in doing so, we also must be… cautious.  Don’t forget here that Jesus makes the point of reminding us that “no slave can serve two masters,” because “you’ll either hate the first and love the second or adore the first and despise the second;” [The Message] all this to say that you can’t love God and wealth, any more than you can employ the ways and means of the world in your faith without risking becoming sucked into that kind of a life rather than one that’s wholly centered on Christ and his kingdom… so maybe Jesus wasn’t advocating the life of a scoundrel, after all (and also, by the way, if you read the next verses in Luke, you discover that the scribes and Pharisees, “who were lovers of money,” ridiculed Jesus for what he was saying about this… which just sort of proves Jesus’ point)!  The point is to be bold, yes; but it matters how… and that’s what you and I need to remember as we seek to live out the ways of God’s purpose and plan in this life.

I remember how, on the days following 9/11, a few of us who were pastors in our community decided to hold an ecumenical prayer service in the aftermath of that horrible day.  As I recall it now, it all pretty impromptu,  there was little or no time to promote it, and really, we weren’t at all sure what we were going to do or say once we got there!  But word got around, and come the evening of the service, that sanctuary – which was at the Catholic Church, the largest in town – was filled to overflowing – standing room only, fact (!) – with just about every congregation in town represented and including a whole lot of people who’d rarely, if ever, had darkened the doorway of a church until that night.  It was surprising and humbling, to say the least; and what I will always remember is that our host pastor, a wonderful priest by the name of Fr. Jim Morrison, stood before these literally hundreds of people who’d come out that night and simply said, “Well, at least one good thing has come out of these terrible events.  It got us all together.”  We were together… in faith, in fellowship and above all in prayer… and we sang and we wept and we embraced one another in that moment as one people of God, relying on the power and grace of God to sustain and lead us. It was a truly holy moment, one that I know with every fiber of my being was good, and right, and acceptable to God.

It’s often said that on 9/11, the world changed forever, but the truth is that our world is always shifting and changing; and so are we in our lives and living. Each new day, each new event, each new change brings with it a new challenge for you and me as people of faith.  But whatever happens, whatever changes come our way, one thing remains the same:  God’s future is sure and God’s kingdom is forever.  And because of this, we can move into God’s future with hope, confidence and strength.

So let us not be afraid to adjust the bottom line of our lives in faith, proclaiming this sure and certain hope boldly with wisdom and all shrewdness that we might be entrusted with the true riches. Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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