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Pressing On

(a sermon for March 17, 2019, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, based on Genesis 15:1-6 and Philippians 3:12-4:1)

It was Mark Twain who said it:  “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Now, I recognize that that’s an odd and somewhat counterproductive way to start a sermon (!), so allow me, please, to rephrase Twain’s words in a bit more of a theological fashion:  that it can be aptly stated that true faith and trust in God comes in understanding that God’s word is firm and secure, and that his promises are true, even when all appearances might suggest otherwise!

I mean, it’s one thing to believe in the providence of a loving, giving God when everything in your life is going well and the future looks bright with promise; quite another when the days are dark and grey and everything all around you just seems to be hurdling out of control. Difficult to find “good news” in the midst of bad situations; hard to find wholeness when there’s so much in this world that’s broken; seemingly impossible, at times, to hold on to a heavenly vision of peace and love when here on earth there are continually those who insist on acting out of hate, terror and pure evil: I ask you, how does anyone “keep the faith” in times such as these?

And yet, we do.

We’re here, after all; we’re gathered together in this sanctuary once again to lift up the holy name of God, to give God our thanks and praise, and to embrace his sure and certain promises of life and of unending hope.  We’ve come with our prayers and petitions, seeking wisdom and courage for the living of these days – indeed, for the facing of this very hour (!) – so that we might go forth from this place today after the manner of Paul in our text for this morning, “press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  And then, a cup of coffee or two later, we’re right back out there: back to the world and all the messiness and utter uncertainties of daily life, “pressing on” with faith and trust, all because somewhere deep within ourselves we have reckoned that what God has said and what he has promised is so, and that God should be counted as righteous.

Granted, that might sound a bit audacious, shall we say – I mean, who are we to decide whether or not God Almighty, the Creator and Heaven and Earth and the God of the Ages is in fact a righteous God – but I’m here to tell you this morning that maybe this is how we keep believing in times like these.  After all, in the words of the Rev. Dr. Sara Koenig, who is professor of Biblical Studies at Seattle Pacific University, “Belief is hard enough when there’s a delay between God’s promises and their fulfillment.  It would be nigh impossible if the God in who we believe is not trustworthy, is not [by our reckoning] righteous.”

Now, lest you think that what I’m saying here is another example of our garden variety post-modern skepticism, we need to understand that there’s actually great biblical precedent for this kind of discernment.  Consider the response of Abram to God’s call in our reading from Genesis this morning: “’Do not be afraid, Abram,’” says God to Abram in a vision. “’I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”  But how does Abram respond?  “’O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  Understand, friends, this is no simple answer; this is the biblical equivalent of Abram rolling his eyes before the Lord and saying, “Really?  Seriously?”

For remember, this is not the first time that God has made such a promise unto Abram: the first time, back in chapter twelve, God had already called him to go from country and kindred and his father’s house to a place yet to be determined!  “’I will make of you a great nation,’” God assures Abram, and “’I will bless you, and make your name great.’”  And, of course, Abram went (with his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot along with him); and at 75 years old, no less!  It was a difficult, if not altogether improbable journey; but they did go, by faith and bolstered in the assurance the promise made would soon be the promise fulfilled.

However, as we pick up the story today. a fair amount of time had passed by (about 10 years, in fact), and frankly, not much had progressed on that front – there’d been famine, a conflict with the Pharaoh of Egypt, a few inter-family struggles with his nephew Lot, and a whole lot of wandering around – but as of yet there was no sign of that “great nation” that God had promised.  And Abram… well, he’s starting to lose patience; after all, it’s not like either he or his wife Sarai were of child-bearing years to begin with when all this started, and now… well, it had gotten to the point where Abram’s thinking that the only chance he’s got for any heir at all is to adopt one of his servants for that purpose!  The truth is that right about now, Abram’s faith in God and in God’s promises was stretched to the limit; because, as we’ve said before, it’s hard to believe in what, but all outward appearances, just “ain’t so.”

Of course, the great part of this story is that God doubles-down on the promise! Immediately God takes Abram outside, points him to the sky, and challenges him to start counting stars “if you’re able to count them;” because Abram, my friend, that’s how many children you’re going to have!  Incredible; ten years out on this journey, not a single child yet, Abram and Sarai are getting older with every passing day, but still here’s God promising that “with the passing of generations the descendants of Abram and Sarai would number in the thousands or even the millions!”  Clearly, God was taking the long view here; but nonetheless, to quote Ralph Klein this time: “How like God,” he writes. “When the promise was hard to believe, God upped the ante.”

And the best part?  Abram believed!  He believed; and in fact, this account from Genesis makes a point of saying that not only that he “believed the LORD, [but] that [he] reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  And that’s where this story gets really interesting: you see, there’s always been some question on exactly how this verse ought to be translated.  On the one hand, it can be rightly assumed that because Abram believed the LORD, thus the LORD reckoned that belief of Abram as righteousness, in that he trusted God with everything in his life and because of faith was worthy of the promises made.  However, the original Hebrew in this verse really only translates this as to how Abram believed and how he reckoned it as righteousness, suggesting that it might well be that Abram was reckoning God as being righteous; in other words, because God was intent on making his promise unto Abram even greater than before, Abram knew that God was worthy of faith and trust, and thus could believe, and press on to where God was leading him.

Granted, there’s a fair amount of ambiguity in that admittedly very small piece of translation, but the point is very clear and unalloyed:  that God is righteous and that his promises, however delayed or unfulfilled they might seem to us at times, are sure and certain.  It was because of the certainty that God would make good on his promises that Abram could believe, and so it is for you and for me today; ours is the God who is worthy of our trust, and thus we press on… no matter what.

Though I can in no way relate to it personally (!), I’ve always been drawn to the rather athletic imagery that Paul uses in the reading we’ve shared this morning from Philippians; that idea of “press[ing] on toward the goal,” that is, the heavenly call of God, being something akin to a race; as The Message translates it, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  It’s an apt comparison, to be sure; a life of faith, as in the running of a race, is marked by a sense of movement toward something more, and the urgency to get there; to reach the goal, to win the prize.  And yet, is it not also true that the race is not merely to the swift; it also matters how you run the race.  As Paul himself points out, it means “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead;” it requires a certain maturity of mind, body and spirit, as well as the ability to “stay on the right track,” as it were.  And perhaps above all, it takes staying wholly focused on where you’re headed; and yes, as the saying goes, it means keeping “your eyes on the prize!”

You don’t have to be a marathon runner to understand that! In fact, I remember as a young man spending time out in the Maine woods with my father, and how he used to tell that if I ever found myself “turned around” out there in the woods – which was the term we used for getting lost in the woods (!) – the key was never to panic and certainly never to just start wandering aimlessly; but rather to take out your compass, calmly figure out what direction you should be heading and then take a bead in that direction on some very nearby landmark: a rock or a fallen tree; any location that’s clear and attainable.  And then you walk over to that tree or rock, you stop and you take out your compass once again, and take another bead toward another nearby landmark; repeating this process again and again until eventually you find yourself back on the familiar pathway that leads homeward.  It might take you awhile; and for a time along that journey the way will almost certainly seem unfamiliar at best.  But if you stay true to the point of the compass, pressing on in the right direction as opposed to backtracking or going around in circles, you will eventually, if slowly, reach your true destination.

I’ll ask again:  how does one keep the faith in times such as these?  How are you and I to be pressing on toward the goal of living our lives with faith and integrity when it seems like everything around us and often within us would seek to tear us away from what we believe?  Well, it certainly begins with believing God and believing in his righteousness; understanding, in every good and lasting sense, that there is more to our lives than the here and now, and that the troubles of this world, of our lives and of this age are not the end of the story, and that God’s promises will come to pass in fullness in God’s good time.  Like “Father Abraham” before us, we need to remember that even if at times we have trouble believing a promise, God is ever and always at work making the promise even better.

But as much as we are to believe in God’s great providence in leading us to the promised land of our life and living; it is also crucial that we stay focused on the journey itself.  For life is indeed filled with all manner of “bad situations” that can easily get us “turned around” along the way and away from where God would have us go.  It might be the stuff of sin and guilt, of unresolved conflict and old hurts that have never healed.  It could be the kind of worldly ways and means that do weigh heavily in keeping us on track:  money troubles, health issues, broken relationships; and this is to say nothing of the constant barrage of anger and hatred that would daily challenge our belief in a perfect love that casts out all fear. There is so much in this world and in our lives that would seek to tear us away from God’s righteousness and our heavenly call in Christ Jesus; and that is why it is so crucial not only in these moments of prayer and worship, but even more so in all the moments yet to come, to stop… figure out where we are and then, slowly, deliberately and above all, prayerfully take a bead as where we go next; preparing ourselves to press on with love, and peace, and the otherworldly joy that comes from true righteousness; all the while standing firm in the Lord along every part of the journey.

The journey continues, beloved… may it truly be a blessing as we go; and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on March 17, 2019 in Epistles, Faith, Lent, Life, Old Testament, Paul, Sermon

 

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A Matter of Trust

(a sermon for February 17, 2019, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, based on  Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26)

The story goes that there were twelve members of the clergy together on a plane, all flying to a church conference in a distant city; and while in the air as sometimes happens the airplane encountered a large storm causing a great deal of turbulence during the flight.  That kind of thing is always a bit disconcerting, but the clergy were actually pretty good-natured about it; joking with their fellow passengers and the flight attendants that there was no reason to worry because, hey, there were twelve ministers on board this plane and, they hastened to add, represented a whole range of religious backgrounds; so just about every base was covered!   Well, everyone had a good laugh, eventually the turbulence subsided, and afterward one of the preachers jokingly asked the flight attendant if the pilot had been aware he’d had some “heavenly help” on board during that storm.   “Well,” said the flight attendant, “he said he was happy to have twelve ministers aboard, but given the choice, he would rather have four good engines!”

It’s true, you know; that for all the choices we have at our disposal at any given time, the only choice that really matters is the one that will save us; so where we choose to place our trust inevitably makes all difference!

It’s actually kind of interesting to note just how many decisions in our lives end up as “a matter of trust.” The teenager you’ll let come into your home and babysit your children when they’re young; the confidence you have in a doctor’s care, or in a lawyer’s advice; the accountant you hire to handle your investments or do your taxes:  I mean, you do your research, you get referrals, you even go online to sites like “Yelp” and “Angie’s List” to check out customer feedback (!): but in the end, it comes down to whether or not you’re going to trust that service, or company, or person with that which is of great importance in your life!

Moreover, what and in whom we trust says a great deal about us, doesn’t it: where our priorities lie and what we believe to be true about our lives and living; in many ways it’s how we discern the pathways we choose to follow in this life. There are just so many choices before us – sometimes we’re aware of those choices, other times they’re made without our even realizing it – but for each one of us, sooner or later, those choices come to bear on our lives in ways positive or negative.  Like I said before, ultimately the only choice that really matters is the one that will save us; so where – and in whom (!) – we place our trust makes all the difference!

And as the prophet Jeremiah says, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.”

Those words from Jeremiah, from which our Old Testament reading this morning is drawn, date back to around 600 BC, a crucial moment in Israel’s history: around the time of the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people to Babylon. So these are words that speak directly to the lives of God’s people in that time; and make no mistake, they’re words of confrontation.  Jeremiah’s message to Israel from the Lord was clear even as it was disturbing: that they needed to fortify themselves by trusting wholly in God, rather than in man-made arrangements and self-styled security, lest in abandoning their faith they be left in ruin, both personally and as a nation.

Here was a nation you see, that had placed their trust in just about everything but God – in the midst of all this upheaval the kings of Judah had increasingly begun to place their allegiances in politics, prosperity and power plays rather than in following the pathway that God would have them lead – but now here was Jeremiah reminding them that “to trust in mere mortals and [to] make mere flesh their strength,” turning their hearts away from God in the process, was to be cursed, to end up no differently than “a shrub in the desert,” wasting away from the scorching sun and the lack of water.  Better to put your trust in something that will thrive in any situation, good or bad; best to put your trust in the Lord, who is like that tree that sends out its roots by the stream: as The Message translates it, “Never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season.”

A withering shrub left to die a slow and inevitable death out in the desert, on the one hand, or a leafy-green tree bearing fruit in abundance through harvest after harvest: that’s your choice, says Jeremiah.  So the question becomes then, in whom will you trust?

It’s actually a pretty good question for you and me as well.

After all, isn’t it true that we also have a tendency to place our trust in our own strength, or our own possessions, or our own ego driven style of success and fulfillment for the sake of a good life?  Is it not true that all too often our dependence in this world leans more toward the politicians and power brokers than on our faith in the Lord? Even and especially when times are hard and hope is hard to imagine, there is this all-too human temptation to believe that our way out comes with wealth or power or social acceptance or even the people and parties we vote for!   It all sounds good, and there are plenty of media outlets, social and otherwise, that will gladly reinforce the notion; but trouble with such an attitude of life is that wealth is at best, temporary; power and politics are always fleeting; and social acceptance, well, let’s just put it this way:  if you’re the flavor of the month in February, that’s wonderful, but just remember come March there’s going to be another flavor everyone flocks to, and when that time comes you’re just as apt to be put to the back of the freezer!

Jeremiah’s words serve to remind us that these kinds of utterly human pursuits are ultimately shallow in nature, and can never give us the nourishment that we need; and this is to say nothing of the way that such things leave us vulnerable to the damaging winds of life and living.  Truly, anyone who’s been there knows that all the money and the power and prestige in the world can ever change the hurt that comes with grief or hatred or struggle. The truth of it is that we need more.  There is within each one of us a deep need that can only be filled by something that is at once beyond and deeply within ourselves, and that is and can only be God!  It is only when we wholly trust in God, only with our hearts firmly rooted in the holy that we grow and flourish like leafy, life-giving branches.  When we live with our trust placed in God and God alone, it’s then that we find our true blessing.

No doubt you noticed that our gospel reading this morning is Luke’s version of Jesus’ Beatitudes (which, by the way, is not considered here a “Sermon on the Mount,” but a sermon “on a level place,” with Jesus standing there amongst “a great multitude of people” surrounding him). And it’s there that Jesus gives to the people not only a series of blessings, but also a series of “woes.” (One commentator I read this week referred to these as the “woe-beattitudes!”) And those woes are in direct relationship to the blessings.  In other words, “Blessed are you who are poor (notice that’s it not “poor in Spirit” here, like in Matthew, but “poor”) for yours is the Kingdom of God.”  And a few verses later, it’s “but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”   Blessed are you who are hungry and who weep… but woe to you who are full, because you’re going to be hungry; and woe to you who laugh now, because before long, make no mistake, you’re going to be mourning and weeping.  And here’s something interesting: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”  And what does it say later on?  “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”  So much for being Mr. or Ms. Popularity with hundreds of Facebook friends!

No doubt about it, this is one of those passages that fulfill that well-known prophecy that the gospel have a way not only of comforting the afflicted, but also, as they say, “afflicting the comfortable!”  Once again, in Jesus’ words we hear the same kind of radical reversals that Mary was singing about in the Magnificat; of how the lowly will be lifted up and powerful brought down from their thrones (Luke 1:52).  What’s being proclaimed is the coming of God’s Kingdom into the world; but in the process Jesus is also spelling out some of the very real things of this world that distract us from that kingdom and keep us from God; how placing our trust in the things of the world rather than in God in effect brings woe upon ourselves!

The question that each one of us needs to ask ourselves is this: when it comes down to the nitty-gritty in this life, in what and most importantly, in whom do we really trust?  What is it that we’ll bet our lives on?  Friends, bottom line is that if our trust is in ourselves, or in our money, or our possessions, or our wits and good looks, we’re on shaky ground.  Woe be unto us if we do that, because such things do crumble and blow away like so much scrub brush and tumbleweed.  But for those who place their trust in God, there’s blessing; for even when everything else in the world around us seems to fall away – when the money’s gone, when our ideas fail us, when our friends abandon or betray us, when it seems like we haven’t got anything left inside of us to carry on – we still have the presence, power, the peace and the nurturing care of an infinitely loving God.

Among my many small fascinations in this life is a tree that grows on a rock.

Seriously!  We’ve actually got one of these out in front of our family’s camp up in “the county;” an old yellow birch which has been clinging defiantly to a huge rock on the shore of the lake for longer than my lifetime, its long and gnarled roots wrapped all around it; and yet all the while growing and stretching its shady branches ever further over the water. Many was the time over the years growing up that I’ve marveled at that tree hanging at the angle it does, wondering how it can possibly defy gravity like that!  And even now it remains; still growing and dare I say, still thriving despite all the windswept mid-summer storms and intense winter “nor’easters” that have come at it over the years. Indeed, there have been other trees around our camp – bigger, straighter and seemingly stronger – that have fallen to the ground in that time; trees that were ultimately unable to stand firm against all that our New England weather can typically dish out.  However, come what may, this one precariously perched old tree just never seems to yield!

Of course, looks are often deceiving and upon closer examination you discover that the roots of this tree have over time reached around the rocks, pushed between and through cracks and crevices, and stretched into whatever soil it can find and eventually right into the spring fed mud of the lake itself!  That’s how, despite all outward appearances and seemingly impossible odds, this old birch tree has managed to stay strong, tall and leafy green summer after summer; long past the time when so many other trees have gone to mulch.

When our trust is in God and what God provides us we are indeed like that tree: ever clinging to the rocky ledges of life, yet ever and always surviving as our roots are drinking in the thirst-quenching glory of God’s living water.  As the song goes, when our trust and our care is in the Lord, we shall not be moved… but rest assured, we’ll also grow… we’ll grow tall and strong and lasting.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.”

Blessed are those whose trust is the Lord!

Thanks be to God who makes us strong.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Life, Maine, Old Testament, Sermon

 

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Attentive to the Word

(a sermon for February 3, 2019, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 and Luke 4:14-21)

I know it’s an increasingly rare thing these days, what with every phone having a digital camera and photos being stored in a nebulous “cloud” in cyberspace, but I would dare say that most of us here probably still have one or more of these:  some sort of bin filled with old photographs; with a great many of them still in the developer’s envelopes, waiting for someone to find the time to sort them out and maybe even put them into albums (remember photo albums?).

I’d also wager a guess that most of us have pretty much the same pictures: countless shots of birthday parties, Christmas mornings, camping trips and first days of school; not to mention two generations’ worth of pictures of the same people sitting around the same kitchen table at the in-law’s house!  And even if you get to the point with all these pictures where you know you’ve got to start reaming out the lot of it, you discover that every photograph sparks a special memory and so you hang on to them for a few more years!

“Photographs and Memories…” the pastor as a young child!

Actually, the blessing and the curse of old photographs is that they are stark reminders of what we used to be, and perhaps are no longer;  trust me, every photo album we have makes it increasingly clear that I used to be much younger, a whole lot thinner, beardless and less gray than I am today!  What’s more, old photographs have a way of making us confront the truth of where we’ve been on the journey of life, the choices we’ve made and opportunities either seized or lost.  Not that this is a bad thing, mind you – most times, in fact, it can be life affirming (!) – but sometimes these old pictures also manage to remind us of who we were as opposed to what we are, and maybe even what we’re supposed to be but somehow lost along the way!

Think about that in the context of our Old Testament reading for this morning, from the book of Nehemiah, which is the story of the people of Israel returning home to Jerusalem after having spent many years living in Babylonian exile. Actually, this was what was left of the people of Israel, because after years of slavery, there were far fewer of them than before; and those who remained were poor, demoralized and frightened, having literally suffered for generations only to come home to face a totally ruined land and a city that’s been destroyed.  All they could really do now was to buckle down and begin the process of rebuilding their city and their lives.

To that end, two men of God come forward: Nehemiah, who’d been appointed Governor of Israel and sent to help the people rebuild their land; and Ezra the priest, who comes to help rebuild something almost more difficult than the city wall: the integrity of their faith and worship.  You see, over the years of exile much of the tradition and practice of their faith had been lost, along with their understanding of the law, and perhaps most importantly, their memory of God’s presence, his power and his gifts to them across the years.  To quote Old Testament Walter Brueggemann here, it was the “memory of those gifts and that relationship [that] was the glue that bound the Israelites together.  It was what kept them close to God, reliant upon God and responsive to God.”  But now after so many years there were fewer and fewer who even could remember God’s Word, much less follow it; so in essence, these people of God had become but a shadow of their former selves. Quite literally, all that was left of their faith were the stories told by parents and grandparents, and even those were fading from memory.

So on this particular day, just after the walls of the city had been rebuilt all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate,” that they might hear the Torah being read.  Understand how significant a thing this was; it was the first time in many, many years that the Word of God had actually been spoken aloud!  And what makes this even more significant is that it wasn’t Ezra the priest who initiated the event; it was the people who told Ezra to “bring the book of the laws of Moses, which the LORD had given to Israel,” so that everyone, “both men and the women and all those who could hear with understanding” would be able to hear the Word of God.  But here’s the key point of this story, friends; we’re then told that “the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law.”

It’s a big moment, and it goes on for over six hours (!), but the enthusiasm of the people never wanes!  Rather, it grows with each word spoken; this word of the Lord that was at once brand new to them, and yet was as familiar and as close to them as their very breathing!  And while this is going on, some of the people are pacing up and down the square, shouting “’Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands,” as Ezra blessed the Lord.  Others are on their knees – faces to the ground in humility and awe – and all of them, every one of them, are weeping: weeping for themselves and weeping for their nation; mourning for what had been lost so many years before; rending their hearts in the realization of how far they’d strayed from their faithfulness to God’s law.

So there was mourning; but the point here is that at the end of this incredibly holy experience, there was joy!   It was as though in the reading of the scripture – this “album” of Israel’s memory of God – they had regained their identity as God’s people, and at that moment their lives began anew, because they knew that from that moment on, they would live as they were always supposed to live; they would be who they were always meant to be:  a people who lived knowing “the joy of the Lord [was] their strength!”

Flash-forward about 500 years; at a synagogue in the village of Nazareth, where a local boy – the son of the carpenter, no less (!) – is about to preach in his hometown pulpit.  Now, the locals had known Jesus and his family nearly all of his life; and what’s more, there’d been word from places as far away as Capernaum that Jesus was mightily impressive as a teacher.  So as they’re gathering at the temple they’re all thinking, this ought to be good.  But turns out that what they hear from Jesus is neither expected nor wanted.  Jesus simply reads from the prophet Isaiah,“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor,” proclaiming release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom of the oppressed; and then he rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the usher and sits down, saying, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

But unlike Ezra’s reading of the word, this short sermon is not met with tears or prayerful affirmation; just anger!  In fact, if you read on beyond today’s passage, you’ll find that almost immediately their amazement over “the gracious words that came from [Jesus’] mouth” turned to rage, and the hometown folk were ready to run Joseph’s boy out of town and hurl him off a cliff!   And why, we ask?  Well, perhaps it was true what Jesus said about how “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”  Or maybe there was something about his reading of that portion of God’s Word that hit too close to home for those folk in Nazareth; perhaps revealing somethng about who they were as opposed to what they were supposed to be as God’s people.

Who knows for sure; but that’s the thing, you see, about the word of God… because however you might hear it or even receive it, there’s something about it that always reveals the truth; and that truth will affect us!

I think that one of the big mistakes we make about scripture, and by extension our very faith, is that too often we think of God’s word as merely a blanket laid out for our lives and living; because then it has no more function than to make us feel all warm and fuzzy in the chill of life.  And yes, do not misunderstand what I am saying, it can be and often is that; but God’s Word is also meant to reach out and take ahold of us, so to enliven and redirect our lives.  It is meant to confirm and reconfirm our faith, setting us on a new and right and ultimately different path.

That’s what was so powerful about what the people of Israel heard that day at the Water Gate in Jerusalem, and that’s  certainly what the people of Nazareth could not handle about Jesus!  Simply by lifting up God’s Word, Jesus challenged them to a different way of thinking and doing and being: to be involved in a ministry directed not to the proper, the good and the pious, but rather to the improper, the sick and outcast; and then, by the way, proclaiming the vision to be fulfilled by his very presence!  It’s unsettling, to say the very least; but then, that’s what that’s what God’s word is supposed to do:  it unsettles us, it challenges all of our assumptions, it moves us forward and it gives us life; all the while moving us closer to where we’re meant to be, this new realm, a kingdom of God.

That’s the Word of God, beloved… so it just stands to reason that you and I ought to be attentive to it!

Ultimately, the reason we’re here every Sunday morning is so that we can be truly be attentive to the word of God; this word that calls us to be the church and challenges us to follow Jesus as true disciples’ bringing good news to the poor and healing to those afflicted by all manner of pain and suffering.  It’s that word of God that truly holds us together as the church; and yet how many times have we treated holy scripture as though it were little more than story or poetry or mere philosophy? How often have we left here inattentive to the word of God?

Once when my son Jake was in grade school, he had to read the book “Treasure Island,” for purposes of a book report; a task, which by his own admission (and mine, too, to be honest!) was pretty rough going.  Truth be told, as classic a tale as is that story, the words of Robert Louis Stevenson don’t always translate well to the vernacular of our time!  So finally, we decided that the best thing we could do was to read the story aloud, of course in the requisite pirate voice, complete with “arrghs” and “ahoy mates” for proper effect!  And it worked; because what happened is both of us began to hear not only what a great story “Treasure Island” is but also how beautiful and lyrical that language can be!  It was all about our having been attentive to what’s being said and to give voice to what it all means!

What would happen, friends, if as God’s people we were not simply reading the Bible or hearing scripture be read on a Sunday morning, but truly being attentive to God’s word as contained in that scripture?   What would we learn about God, about our faith?  What would we discover, you and me, about our own lives and living?  What would our lives then become?  And what would we end up doing here as the church of Jesus Christ?

I wonder… all I know is that if we were to truly be attentive to the Word, along with devoting ourselves, through prayer and study, to seek to understand it – and, might I add, to open ourselves to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as we do – there’s no telling where and how we might be moved as God would lead!

Scripture tells us that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1); and we know in faith, that God will have the last Word. What you and I need to remember is that what God has said and will say in this time between the now and not yet needs our full attention!

So let us truly listen, beloved, so that God’s word indeed takes root in you and me and this church, and lead us into all rejoicing.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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