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Category Archives: Paul

The Whole Armor of God

(a sermon for August 26, 2018, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ephesians 6:10-20)

Let me begin this morning by making something of a confession: that for a long time, the warrior-slash-gladiator imagery that’s put forth in the passage of scripture we just read (armor and breastplates, shields, helmets, arrows and such) used to make me a bit… uncomfortable.  Partly that’s because I was a child of the 60’s and 70’s where the ideals of peace and non-violence were not were not only espoused by a changing culture, but also an essential part of my own Christian nurture; moreover, as I came to learn about the growth of Christianity in seminary, I discovered that some of the darkest days of church history occurred when Christians marched out with banners unfurled to crusade and make “holy” war.  And let’s be brutally honest about it: even in these times – even right now (!) – there are those who will use Paul’s imagery to somehow justify an act or attitude of prejudice, aggression or even downright hatred; and that, to say the very least, is concerning.

So it’s been hard for me as a pastor and preacher to speak of our being “soldiers of the cross” on the one hand, and worship the “Prince of Peace” on the other; and that’s why for a whole lot of years I wouldn’t even consider singing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” as a part of worship.  It just seemed so contradictory to what we are taught in faith.

That having been said, though, I also have to say that over the years my understanding of this passage, and several others like it, has broadened.  For instance, a few years back, the United Methodists were having a somewhat protracted struggle over whether or not to include “Onward, Christian Soldiers” in their new hymnal.  There was actually quite a division over the issue, so they did what all good church folk do: they took a survey (!) asking how people responded when they heard this particular hymn.  And what they found is that rather than soldiers marching to war in God’s mighty army, the majority of those responding talked about the need for today’s church to be in mission throughout a harsh and violent world!  Likewise, the number one response for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (a hymn that has also long sparked debate over its rather harsh imagery and somewhat sketchy theology) was that it reminded people of the Civil Rights movement and in fact continues to serve as an anthem for racial and social justice!

In the end, things like this have led me to at least reconsider my own ideas, and I guess the moral here is that sometimes we have to be open enough look at these things in the proper context and not just from our own narrow point of view; but even more than that, we need to remember in this age of increasingly watered-down, politically-correct and often marginalized Christianity that there indeed have been times when the church believed that there was something worth fighting for; or at least, a worthy conviction upon which to stand firm.

If we’re to truly understand what Paul says to the Ephesians and to us, the message is clear:  in the midst of “this present darkness” in which we live, a world with all its powers and principalities working evil against us, there always has been something worth fighting for, and what’s more there still is: and it’s our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and “the mystery of the gospel.”  So be strong, Paul says. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,” and “take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

What we need to understand, you see, is that what this passage is all about is less about humanity’s “warring madness” (to quote the hymn) than it is about God’s power, about the larger, spiritual struggles of life, and about how as people of faith those struggles cannot help but touch each one of our lives sooner or later.  In that context, this imagery of the “whole armor of God” is not only very rich, vivid and bold, but also quite appropriate for you and me even today.

I can say this because nature is the same now as it always has been, as is our human tendency to conform.  Paul was aware, as are we, that all too often our first response to any given situation is just to… go along to get along; to stick with the status-quo, to go with the flow, and of course, the old standby that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do!”  Whatever our go-to response, however, our faith in Jesus Christ and our allegiance to the mysteries of the gospel demands more of us than quiet, acquiescent conformity with the world; it requires a boldness that is fueled by the strength and power of God!

In other words, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are not called to merely “blend in” to the scenery of daily life as to be inconspicuous; and most certainly we are not meant to simply follow along with the conventional morality and wisdom of an ever shifting culture!   You and I have not be sent out into the world in order to be given over to whatever whim hits us at any moment, or to flit from fad to fashion in the fleeting hope of hitting something good along the way.  Rather, we are meant to stand firm on our moral and ethical and social and spiritual convictions in Christ, even when that stance is unpopular and it makes us unpopular; because trust me on this, folks: there are times when that’s exactly what’s going to happen!

And lest you ever think otherwise, dear friends, pastors are not exempt from that kind of persecution!  Not to complain or to sounding morose about it, but let me just share with you that at various times over the years as a minister I have been told that as regards faith I am unreasonable, unrealistic, illogical, judgmental, exclusive, out of touch and out of step; that I don’t live in the real world; that I’m a “purveyor of drivel” (my personal favorite!); and that I’m downright mistaken in just about every way… and this is from people from within the church!  And, yes, there have been those I’ve known outside the body of Christ who have dismissed me out of hand as some kind of overly zealous religious do-gooder!  But understand that any one of us who has chosen to remain faithful come what may could tell much the same story.

I recognize that what I’m saying here does not exactly serve as a great endorsement for church membership, never mind going into the ministry!  Nonetheless, there’s no denying, as it says in our own UCC Statement of Faith, that there is a cost as well as a joy in discipleship; and often that cost is manifest in the moments when in our Christian walk it feels like it’s “us alone against the world,” with the odds being very much stacked in favor of the world!  Make no mistake, no matter who we are, no matter how strong or faithful or optimistic we happen to be, for any of us that kind of rejection, that kind of warfare can take its toll.

That’s why Paul speaks of our need be strong in our Christian identity, to set our feet so that they are firmly rooted in our faith in God; nurtured in tradition and enveloped in faithful community so that we can grow deep in the rich soil of love and hope and joy.  Remember, friends, our coming to church every Sunday is not merely for the sake of gaining some kind of inspiration for the week ahead, and it’s not even entirely about community; ultimately, it’s about being a part of something larger than ourselves; to be not transient but transcendent; to be renewed for the journey ahead and strengthened for the struggles that will ensue; and to go forth in a way that maintains our dignity and our integrity as men and women of God.

Because as Paul notes, and we already know, the way won’t be easy, nor will be withstanding what’s going to come… we need to ready ourselves for the struggles we’ll face “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  We need protection akin to the armor… we need the whole armor of God.

Now to put this all in context, it should be noted that in a time and place when the early church was feeling the persecution and oppression of the Roman authorities, Paul chose this very militaristic imagery of the Roman soldiers to make his point; so truth be told, as much as it might disturb our modern sensibilities it probably raised far more eyebrows amongst those new Christians even than it does with us now.  But then as now, message is clear:  that if the battle garb of the Roman guard is impossible to penetrate, than just consider how much stronger God’s armor will be.  So if you and I go through the struggles of this life feeling as though the powers and principalities of the world will inevitably beat us down, then we truly need to rise up and walk in true faith in Jesus Christ; and for that, we need God’s armor.

For just as the warrior protects himself with accoutrements of steel, as followers of Jesus Christ, we will discover our strength:

We will find that when we gird ourselves with truth, like a belt around our waist;

when we put righteousness before our heart, like a breastplate over the chest;

when we walk with the gospel of peace, like shoes with strong and rugged soles;

when we put faith between us and any problem coming at us, like a shield deflects arrows flying toward us;

when we embrace our salvation, like a helmet to protect our head;

when we allow God’s Word to clear our minds and our hearts, like a sword to vanquish the enemies from within and without;

this is how we shall persevere.

That’s what it takes to get us through.  That’s the armor that we need, as Paul exhorts us, to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”

You know, one of the things I continue to learn as I move forward on this journey of life is that most of the time my faith in God is as warm and welcoming to me as a warm quilt on a cold winter’s day (or to use an analogy more apropos to this particular summer, as refreshing as a dip in the cool water on a hot humid afternoon!).  I am forever thankful for the miracle of grace and joy that is mine in Christ! But I also know that in following Jesus, there are bound to be struggles, and there have been; times in which it seems like an utter fight simply to live out of Christ’s call to compassion and inclusiveness; times in which it becomes difficult to hold on to my identity and integrity as a child of God.  I’m guessing that you all could say the same; for we know that question that looms in such times as these:  when the fight comes, and it will, will we have the strength and the power to persevere?

Well, beloved, to this I can only say that we are made strong in the midst of struggle in this life when our strategies, our practice, the moves we make and the truth we espouse represent the spiritual presence in our life; when it declares our faith boldly in word and in deed.  In the times and places we feel weak an beaten down, we are in fact strong; and what makes us strong is the armor that God provides us: from breastplate to helmet to shoes, the gear of a spiritual warrior that not only helps us to survive in the face of all manner of attack, but then leads us in the triumph song of life, so that in all times and places we may walk boldly, declaring a gospel of peace with every step!

May we be strong and courageous on the journey, and as we go, may our…

…thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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A Life Worthy

(a sermon for August 5, 2018, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16)

For every one of us, sooner or later there will come a moment in life – perhaps more than one moment (!) – in which all of a sudden you’ll pause, take a long look at everything that’s going on all around you, and then heave a sigh and wonder aloud, “How in the world did it ever come to this?”

Well, as you might imagine, I’m having one of those moments right about now!

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t say this in any kind of negative fashion; in fact, just the opposite:  after all, in just two weeks, our beautiful daughter is getting married to a wonderful young man and they’re going to be building a life together; two months from tomorrow (!) our youngest son is doing the same “up in the county” with his bride; and you didn’t hear it from me, but I suspect it won’t be too much longer before our oldest son and his girlfriend follow suit! I’m pleased to report that by all indications all three of our adult children are leading happy lives, they have people they love and who love them, and they’ve each found vocations that they are passionate about; I ask you, how much more can a parent ask than that!  So let me just say, emphatically and joyfully, that things are going great these days for the Lowry family; and yet, I can’t help but wonder, “How in the world did it ever come to this?”

I mean, what are the odds?  Think of the variables involved here; consider what might or might not have happened had our circumstances had been different, even just a little?  What if we hadn’t come here to Concord and to East Church six years ago, or what if Sarah didn’t take that job at the dance studio here in town after college; which would likely mean she wouldn’t have been been invited to that little get-together with her co-worker that was also attended by a nice young man from Loudon!  For that matter, what if back on that fateful summer Zach hadn’t suddenly determined he really wanted to change his major to forest management and then, on what he now calls a whim, transfer to the University of Maine at Fort Kent, of all places!  How then would he have met Jessica; never mind his coming to know pretty much the entirety of the Allagash wilderness while working up there? And while we’re on the subject, what if Jake had not gone out to Montana and met the love of his life?  It staggers the imagination:  you make one choice rather than the other; you take a right turn when you might have gone left; a simple twist of fate, as it were, and everything could have been very different indeed! (Oy veh, to think about this can give you such a headache!)

But that’s not the way it happened, and that’s the point, isn’t it? What was true for them is true for all of us, you know; life has a way of unfolding in special and unique ways that we can never fully anticipate or appreciate when it’s happening.  Granted, there are choices to be made along the way, and there are moments when each one of us might well have chosen better or least more wisely (!); and yes, sometimes what happens can seem a whole lot like dumb luck!  But more than merely being the end result of a random series of happenstances, ultimately there’s a reason that it all comes to this; a reason that you and I come to those places where everything in life, as busy and as crazily spinning aaround as it so often seems to be, nonetheless just seems to come together as it should.

And I’m here to tell you this morning that that reason is God!

It happens because of God; the same God who from the very beginning has given us life not because we have done anything to deserve it or have subsequently made all the right choices to put things in motion, but because God loves us and by grace wants us to have a life that is in line with his purposes for us and for all creation. And so, in that regard, it is as Elizabeth Newman, professor of theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary in Virginia, has written in an essay on Christian vocation, that we can no more decide “what to do” about our lives than we could have decided to be born.  “Rather,” she says, “just as our birth into this world, our unique creation, was an incredible gift from God, so is our vocation as Christians not a decision but a gift.”  In other words, all this “stuff” that constantly goes on all around us – the places where we dwell, the people who come into our lives, the challenges that we face and the blessings that make it all worthwhile – none of it happens because, accidentally or on purpose, we designed it to be that way; it all flows forth because we received it from the gracious hand of God who gave it all to us as a gift!

But lest we succumb to the notion that this is nothing but a matter of divinely inspired good fortune, understand there is great theological portent to this; in fact, at the very beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes a point of saying that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love,” and that God “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (1:4-5) In other words, what God has done for the cosmos, God has done for the church, and what God has done for the church he does for you and for me; from the moment of our very creation, beloved, the life that is given by God’s grace has always been God’s plan.  And so then, even as we pause at the overwhelming wonder of it all, the question is not so much, “how did it come to this,” but rather, “what do we do about this?”

And that’s what our text this morning from Ephesians is all about.

We pick up our reading today in the 4th chapter of Paul’s epistle, which is actually quite a long way from those verses from the 1st chapter I just shared with you; in which Paul goes on in great detail as to the centrality of Christ not only to the life and mission of the church, but also its unity. Moreover, Paul says, our very identity – yours and mine – is rooted in the saving act of God in Jesus Christ.  And the common thread that runs through all of it is this truth that this is God’s good gift; that all is given to us by grace, and that we as believer haven’t attained or reached or otherwise brought upon ourselves anything that God hasn’t already “accomplish[ed] abundantly [in us] far more than all we can ask or imagine” (3:20) Up till this point in the Epistle, there have been three chapters’ worth of exhortations regarding the fullness of God, “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (3:19) and the power that’s at work within us – that is, the power at work within you and within me – because of that love.

But now, with the beginning of the 4th chapter, Paul finally moves away from reflecting on how such things happen to what we ought to be doing about it; and in truth, what Paul has to say here to those early Christians, and to us, is really quite direct and to the point, and actually, pretty simple:  “I… beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  And what follows is a list of those qualities that are reflective of all that we’ve been given by God:  to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another with love;” and to do that which maintains “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  In addition, there’s a lot said here about being part of that “one body and one Spirit,” and of making use of the spiritual gifts that we’ve been given so that we might “equip the saints for the work of ministry [and] for building up the body of Christ.”  And finally, there are very important words about staying true to our Christian doctrine and “speaking the truth in love” so that we might become “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. [The Message]

There’s a lot there, to be sure; but ultimately it all hearkens back to what God has already given us in this life and what he intends for for all of creation, and so as such it’s a worthy response; a worthy life that’s in line with what God seeks in and through us.  It’s one thing, after all, to sit back and marvel at all the many blessings of our lives or even to acknowledge the challenges that might come along with them; but it’s quite another to let those gifts and challenges be integrated into our calling as disciples of Christ; to have them nurture in us things like humility and gentleness, patience and forbearance, and above all love; to let what we’ve been given build up and bring forth unity, rather than tear down and divide.

Actually, you know, the word that Paul uses in regard to all this is that we need to “grow up,” or as it’s translated elsewhere, to be “fully mature adults.”  Incidentally, The Message takes it one very large step further in its translation:  “No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything.”  A bit scolding, I’ll admit, but the point is a good one:  that everything we’ve been given, all that we’re taught, every opportunity set before us is yet another way that we grow toward full spiritual maturity and move closer to truly living a life worthy of our calling as Christians; and the message here is that we really ought to get to it.

Understanding, of course, that what we’re talking about here is never a done deal; as Martin Luther once wrote, “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise.  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way.  The process is not yet finished but it is actively going on.  This is not the goal but it is the right road.  At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”  In other words, slowly but ever so surely, it’s happening if we will only let it; our incredible growth into Christ.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, in our worship we usually refer to these summer Sundays as those “after Pentecost.”  There are, however, many denominations and faith traditions that refer to these Sundays in the middle of the church year as being “in ordinary time.”  Frankly, it was a reference that always seemed a bit overly liturgical and “high church” for my taste, but recently I came across a quote from Sister Joan Chittister that might have changed my mind:  “It is in ‘ordinary time,’” Chittister writes, “that the really important things happen: our children grow up, our marriages and relationships grow older, our sense of life changes, our vision expands, our soul ripens;” this is, in fact, the season to simply marvel, give thanks for the gifts, and live our full lives out of this place of gratitude.

Well, I know what kind of “extra-ordinary” things the next couple of weeks of ordinary time is bringing our family; and I pray that you’ll have the same kind of experiences in your own lives as you live out these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.”  May each of us truly marvel in the gifts of the Lord our God!  But more than this – whether it’s a family gathering somewhere, an early evening trip to go get some ice cream, a chance to have a conversation with an old friend over a glass of iced tea, or simply enjoying a magnificent sunrise – I pray that we’ll know from whence those gifts come, and strive to live a life worthy of our calling as Children of God.

And as we do, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2018 in Epistles, Family Stories, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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The Hope That Does Not Disappoint

(a sermon for July 22, 2018, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost,  based on Romans 5:1-5)

One year for his birthday – I think he must have been 12 or 13 at the time – our son Zachary got himself a model rocket with his birthday money. As I recall, model rocketry was all the rage that year – the kids had been building their own rockets at school and launching them out on the athletic field – but now, as was and is typical of our son, Zach wanted to take things to the next level.  And I’ll tell you what, this rocket was cool; bigger and better, with considerably more firepower than the dinky little models they shot off at school (!); and it even had a tiny camera in the nose cone so you could take pictures of from 500 feet up!  So this was a big deal; and after waiting days for the right weather and opportunity for “launch,” the moment finally came and on a crystal clear Saturday morning Zach went out to the field behind our house to set this thing off.

And off it went, indeed!  It went higher, faster and straighter than any rocket he’d ever launched before!  The only trouble was that as it flew the rocket started to veer ever-so-slightly toward the sky above the woods adjacent to our house; which meant that when it finally fell to earth, the rocket would almost certainly get caught in a mess of tree branches and be lost forever!

But that’s not what happened (!), because just as the rocket’s pre-installed parachute deployed there was a hint of a breeze beginning to blow off the Scarborough marsh; and, as if by grace, this little bit of wind literally changed the course of the rocket’s descent:  from the woods, back across our field and the parking lot of the church, and out toward the main road, where finally and gratefully it gently hit the ground!  It was, as they say, “another happy landing,” except that as Zach was running up the parking lot to retrieve the rocket, a car turned the corner and ran right smack over it, smashing the rocket into several different pieces!

Now actually, to his credit Zach was pretty philosophical about the whole thing; I remember that for days, he’d tell the story to anyone who would listen and it always ended with, “You should have seen it go!” In fact, unless I’m mistaken, the mangled remains of that ill-fated model rocket is still in a box somewhere!   In the end, I suppose it was something of a life lesson; a reminder not only that what goes up must come down, but also that oftentimes what comes down, comes down hard, and that happens, it can hurt!

To think about this in broader terms, one of the truths of life that we all have to come to grips with is that suffering comes to everyone sooner or later. We may well have moments that we “fly high” in this life, and those are truly the moments we live for; but it’s just as likely that we’ll find ourselves “falling to earth” from time to time. The only question that remains is when it the crash comes, will it destroy us or simply bolster us for the next launch?

And therein lies the parable!

It has been justly said, you know, that suffering is an equal-opportunity offender!  No matter who we are or where we are in life, hard times come to us all: accidents happen, illness comes, jobs are lost, age brings the deterioration of body and mind; people we love break our hearts as they make destructive choices; and we get hurt by cruel words and mean deeds.  Sometimes we end up suffering because of things that have absolutely nothing to do with us; we simply get caught up in the crossfire of somebody else’s situation!

It’s simply part of life, and if you’ve ever been there then you know just how overwhelming, exhausting and ultimately, destructive it all can be!  You get to the point, sometimes – especially when the troubles just seem to accumulate, layer by layer, upon your shoulders – where you simply don’t have the stamina to keep going; you’re feeling as though you will collapse if one more thing happens to you!  You’re literally “sick and tired” of it, so much so that you’re tempted at varying times and degrees to either give up, wallow in self-pity, indulge in bitterness and blame, or simply choose to withdraw from life altogether; or else you’re hurting so bad that some voice inside you is telling you that anything’s got to be better than what you’re feeling right now, and so you start seeking out anything at all that might make you feel better; even if that comes at the expense of your health, well-being, reputation, relationships, or your life!

This is suffering at its worst, friends; it is the embodiment of utter hopelessness.  But it’s precisely this kind of suffering to which Paul is referring in our text for this morning, when he says that we are to “boast in our sufferings.”  I don’t know about you, friends, but nothing I’ve been describing here sounds like anything we’d want boast about or to “glory in,” as it’s translated elsewhere (NIV)!  Yet, as inconceivable as it sounds, here is Paul proclaiming to the early church and to us, to glory in our suffering, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”

Looking at this passage from Romans, it’s important to understand that in no way is Paul suggesting that God is causing us to suffer so that we can learn endurance, become stronger people or better Christians; God never wishes suffering upon us to “teach us a lesson.”  But the fact remains that suffering is a reality, and what Paul is saying is that while most everything else in our lives can and does disappoint, there is hope that will not disappoint; the hope that comes from God:  “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.  And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  In other words, because of God the bad times that come to us do not have to make us bitter; they can make us better!

Central to our Christian faith is the knowledge that God loves us; and that this is a love revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through Christ, God names us and claims us as his own, and wants the very best for us; friends, the good news of our faith is always and ever that our lives and our living matters to God!  So, while human suffering might be inevitable, God will use that suffering to bring us closer to Him, helping us to stand strong and endure all the pain that comes our way.  We will find the hope we need to get through it all, and it is a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Friends, nobody wants to suffer; but the good news of this text is that there is spiritual depth to be found amidst all the sufferings we face in this life, and that God does find incredible ways even in our worst moments to hold us close, build us up, and  fashion us for the purpose he has for our lives… and, might I add, for the world!  That’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “We have peace with God… [and] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.”  But the question is, do we believe it?  Do we trust God to lead us through the suffering, and to provide us with the hope that we need?  More to the point, do we really believe that God loves us, and that our living matters to God; and do we believe it to the extent that we’ll let God shape our lives and living?  Let me suggest to you this morning that the less we believe that God loves us, the more likely it is that we will respond to the bad times of our lives with bitterness and resentment and bad behaviors.  It’s hard enough trying to stand upright with everything “piling on;” without the strength and endurance that God offers, we risk collapsing under the strain!  To stand strong amidst all that life can and does dish out, we first need to have faith in the love of God.

Of course, truth be told, most of us have a hard time giving up our control of things; to “let go and let God.”   I have to confess, folks, that all too often in my own life I could be the  poster boy for this!   I cannot tell you the number of times when I’ve found myself so weighed down with life’s stresses and circumstances that I’m just about crushed; and yet, what am I doing?  I’m strategizing – I’m thinking to myself, OK.  If I just do this and that and then take care of the other thing, I’ll fix this.  If I just work a little harder, if I’m just a little better or smarter about it, then everything will be fine!  But what do I accomplish by that?  That’s right; NOTHING!  More often than not, I end up piling more guilt and responsibility upon my own shoulders than what ought to be there, and more often than not things get worse rather than better.

But let me tell you something, friends:  throughout my life, it has only been when I have had the faith to get out of my own way and let God lead that I’ve found relief from whatever is weighing me down; it has only been by the grace of the Lord, his Spirit working in and through my life as well as through the lives of others around me that I have known the real hope and the peace that I need to endure.  And I’ll tell you something else; on those occasions when I finally recognize what God has been doing in me and for me, I am bowled over by a truth I had previously failed to recognize:  that it was a gift; a gift of grace.  It was the gift of God’s Spirit pouring the abundance of his love into my heart.

And that same gift, friends, is being offered to you – right here and now – by the God of grace who loves you beyond measure; the God who wants you, in the midst of all your troubles, to have the hope that will not disappoint. And all you have to do is accept the gift.

James Bracher, a congregational pastor and leadership consultant, tells the story of a conference he once led in which among the speakers was former President Gerald Ford, as well as several of his associates.  Bracher wrote that he was so excited about the former president coming to speak that when the time came to meet one of those associates to prepare for the conference, Bracher started gushing like a fan talking about a rock star.  “Do you know President Ford?” he asked.  “Do you know the president?”  But he was both confused and humbled by the associate’s response:  “Jim,” he said, “the question is not “do I know President Ford?” but, rather, “Does President Ford know me?”

Bracher goes on to explain that while hundreds of millions of people know the president of the United States, how many people do you suppose President Ford would say he knew; I mean, really knew, because a real relationship with someone, be it the president or a neighbor down the street, requires not only that you know that person, but also that person knows you!

That’s how it is with God, beloved.  We know God; but the real blessing comes in the fact that God knows us; that he really knows us.  “God knows our soul,” Bracher concludes. “God knows our intentions, motivations, anxieties, deepest hurts and most noble ambitions… what makes our faith so wonderful is that we have access to the grace of God,” and because of this God meets us where we are and how we are and helps us to build a life of meaning and impact.

Only time will tell what this coming week will bring to our lives: maybe our rockets will be flying high, or perhaps they’ll come crashing down to earth; who knows?  But the good news is whatever happens, the God who knows us and loves us will be there; empowering us and bringing the kind of insight, understanding and peace that we might not otherwise have known.  My prayer for all of us today is that while we may not “boast of our sufferings,” we can certainly rejoice in hope that will not disappoint. For this hope, and for the love in which it is grounded…

…thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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