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And When You Pray: The Times of Temptation

(a sermon for August 6, 2017, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost; sixth in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-17 and Matthew 6:9-13)

Well, not counting my time away, now we’re six weeks into this sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, and I have to tell you: speaking both as a preacher and as a hearer of God’s Word, I have been amazed by just how many big questions we’ve had to address as we’ve gone along!

I mean, from the very existence and nature of God (“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…”) and his unending grace and providence (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”), to the gift of both sustenance (“…our daily bread”) and forgiveness (“…forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”),  this seemingly little prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples not only touches upon many of the central issues of our Christian theology but also encompasses just about everything we hold dear about our faith; and friends, that’s a lot!  In fact, it can all be a bit overwhelming; and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that even in preparing these messages I’d find that for every one of these big questions I’d hoped I was answering for the sermon and for myself, I’d discover that there was another question to take its place (and trust me, that’s not something you want to happen late on a Saturday night!).

Honestly, sometimes it’s enough to make your head swim (!); but then, that’s sort of the nature of a life of faith.  What’s the expression about the unexamined life not being worth living?  Well, I’d suggest to you this morning that the unexamined faith is, well… impossible!  We reach out our hearts to God, knowing that God’s Spirit will intercede for us “with sighs too deep for words;” (Romans 8:26) but then we are left to prayerfully discern what the nature of that intercession and its meaning for our lives might be!   We seek to live, as the old confessional puts it, “a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s Holy name,” but then we have to wrestle with what that actually means in today’s world.  And we know that ought to be in accordance with biblical truth, however that happens to apply and based on what we’ve come to understand about scripture, and absolutely it needs to adhere to the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ.  But then in trying to do that we make a very interesting discovery: that it’s not so much what we don’t understand about scripture or about Jesus that raises up the bigger questions for us; it’s what we do understand about our Christian faith that gives us pause, leaves us confused, and sometimes, absolutely scares us!

You see what I mean?  Big questions, one right after another…

I tell you all this today because now we’ve come to the next to last petition of this “Prayer of Our Savior” that arguably raises as many questions for us as it answers:  “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, on the face of it, this is pretty straightforward language that represents a necessary shift in this prayer to a tone of stark realism.  Mickey Anders writes that this has to happen in the Lord’s Prayer, because ultimately “life is about more than lofty language about God’s kingdom, God’s will, daily bread and even forgiveness.  There is [also] the reality of temptation and evil, call it what you will… [and] we face the temptation to evil every day.”

Now, I love that quote; but I still have to ask, what does all this mean?  I mean, ordinarily when we talk about temptation we’re apt to be speaking about the need to avoid those worldly enticements that are bad for us and which keep us apart from God; ranging from the temptation toward eating too many sweets to being unfaithful in one’s relationships.  It’s all about ethics and morality, self-care and righteousness before the Lord; and while that’s most certainly a part of it, this prayer to God to “lead us not into temptation” really does seem to go much deeper than this.

And while we’re on the subject, are we really praying that God not “lead” us into temptation?  Why would the Lord who loves us beyond limit and who wishes us to be in a relationship with him ever be leading us into temptation to begin with?  If God is good, then why would God ever deign to tempt us to do evil, especially as we’re praying that he deliver us from said evil?   And here’s another question:  is it even possible to forever be led away from temptation?  That’s a question that’s at the heart of our reading this morning from 1 Corinthians, in which Paul – lifting up the example of generations of the faithful who had come before – says to these new Christians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” or to quote one very apt paraphrase, “If you think you are beyond the reach of temptation, be careful,” because nothing that comes your way is any different than what others have had to face!  Bottom line is that none of us are totally beyond the reach of temptation; quoting Mark Adams here, “All of us are tempted. The monk who lives behind cloistered walls wrestles with it just as much as the salesman out on the road.”

So… if temptation is an inevitable reality that all of us have to deal with; and if we understand that God’s would never be responsible for leading us into that place and probably cannot completely remove us from it; then what are we asking when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation?”

Questions…. Oy veh, the questions!

Actually, part of the problem here has to do with translation.  The Greek word that’s used here for “temptation” is “peirasmus,” and this is a word that just as appropriately can be translated as “enticement or temptation,” or (and listen to this!) “a test or trial.”  That’s how in a number of biblical translations, including our own NRSV, this verse in Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer can be read, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”   This might seem like a subtle change, but for me it brings this prayer from seeking refuge from a place of hopeless repetition of inevitable mistakes to… a way of enduring and triumphing over the trials and tribulations of life; in particular the life of faith. For me, you see, what we’re praying for is a way to confront the struggle we all have with this thing we refer to as temptation, but which is in fact the effort that it takes to face up to the reality of evil and live that “godly, righteous and sober life” in a fallen world: “And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (we’ll get to that second part in just a minute…)

So… here’s yet another question: what is the nature of temptation; what is the time of trial we you and I will so often have to face?  Actually, to answer this I always come back to a verse from Romans – and by the way, friends, if there’s any verse in Holy Scripture that seems tailor made to make one’s head spin, this is it – “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (14:23)

Let me just repeat that just one more time so it can sink in:  “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Now, understand that Paul is saying this in the context of admonishing the Roman Christians to not be a stumbling black to those whose practice of the faith might differ from their own (specifically, what is permissible to eat under the canon of law).  In other words, this is a stern message not to let one’s faith become a means of arrogance because if your actions and attitudes aren’t wholly attuned to your faith then it’s no longer faith but sin.

Opens up a whole bunch more questions, doesn’t it?  What that means is that even our most well-intentioned behaviors, as good and even  as “religious” as they might well be, end up not proceeding from faith at all if they are not rooted in our “own conviction before God.” (v. 22) Worship, outreach, mission, stewardship, the things we do for the church, the things we do for the world, the things we do for each other, to say nothing of our own personal piety; the applications to such a truth as this are literally endless!  I remember back in seminary, when we had to “exegete” this particular passage in our systematic theology class, our heads pretty much exploded (!); and if that’s your reaction when you go home today and start thinking about all this, I’m truly sorry; although, if it ends up in some spiritual self-evaluation, then so much the better!

But I also have to tell you that this very difficult assertion from Paul ends up connection with this every Sunday prayer I pray that my God “lead[s] me not into temptation.”  If, in fact, there is so much that apart from my faith is sinful behavior, then I need God, in Jesus Christ, to save me from it; to lead me beyond the barren and empty temptations of the world so that everything that God has given me and has empowered me to do and to be in this life can work to deepen the relationship I have with God, and to strengthen me to be more fully a disciple of Jesus Christ in my walk through these days of, to say the very least, confused situations.  I need my Lord to save me from this time of trial; understanding I can avoid it, but I can triumph over it.  It won’t be easy, for the evil in this world is real and relentless, but I won’t be alone in the effort either.

That’s where the second half of this petition comes in:  “…but deliver us from evil,” or, as our gospel reading puts it, “…rescue us from the evil one.”  Now whether one takes the view that the “evil one” depicted here is quite literally the figure of Satan, or rather a representation of the whole curse of a sinful humanity from back in the time of Genesis (now there’s a big question for another day!), the meaning is nonetheless the same: there is ever and always going to be the temptation before us to succumb to the evils of this world.  And lest we forget the story of Adam and Eve, evil can come in very attractive and enticing packages; even sometimes in what looks all the world like goodness and light.  We need to be delivered from that kind of evil; and that only comes in walking arm and arm, heart in heart with God himself!

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  A hard prayer this is; but a necessary one.  And, might I add, nothing new for any of God’s people past or present.  Remember that passage from 1 Corinthians?  “Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock tha followed them, and the rock was Christ.”  And it was not always easy; the way was very often filled with temptation, and very often they failed in the midst of trial, to the point, Paul says, “that God was not pleased with most of them.”

But they persisted on the journey, seeking to live unto their faith in the Lrod their God… generation after generation, from age to age, through countless challenges and in the midst of a thousand or more big questions;  and today they are part of a communion of saints of which you and I are part and which we celebrate at this table set before us; indeed, “there is one bread, [and] we who are many are one body.”

Let us today allow this holy meal, and those with whom we share it, be our inspiration as we walk the walk of faithful discipleship in Christ’s name, having been lead beyond the times of temptation… and delivered from all evil.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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And When You Pray: Hallowed!

(a sermon for June 25, 2017, the Third Sunday after Pentecost; second in a series, based on  Luke 11:1-4 and Ezekiel 36:22-28)

In a quote that I must say resonates with me on this particular day, the Baptist preacher and author John Piper writes simply and beautifully that life is “a combination of spectacular things and simple things.  In almost everyone’s life,” he says, “there are breathtaking things and boring things.  Fantastic things and familiar things.  Extraordinary things and ordinary things.  Awesome things and average things.  Exotic things and everyday things.  That’s the way life is.”

In other words, for every day that we are celebrating glorious and life-changing events (!) there are just as many that we are pretty much sitting back and watching the world go by.  I was reflecting on this truth just recently on one of these very hot summery days we’ve had as of late, as Lisa, Sarah and I were all three sitting out in the backyard; lawn chairs surrounding and feet dangling in this little plastic wading pool our adult daughter keeps for just such afternoons.  And though it was hot, and as we like to say in Maine, “the air was thick with hum’dity,” it was… wonderful: soaking in the sun, feeling that warm summer breeze blowing through, and watching as that same wind wound through the trees and curled the leaves and branches above us; hey, we even got to watch our dog Ollie walking in circles around the wading pool for literally a solid hour, all the while diving for little bits of leaf and tree bud that had blown into the water!

Nothing special; just another summer Sunday afternoon in New Hampshire, but a good one, and a true blessing.  And, might I add, something very, very close to prayerful.  That’s something else that John Piper writes; he says that there is “a correspondence” between the content of prayer, in particular the content of the Lord’s Prayer, and “the content of our lives,” whether that involves the big or the little, the glorious or the common, the majestic or the mundane.  For you see, just as God is present to us in all of the wonders, both small and large, of our lives, in the act of prayer you and I are caught up in the great and glorious ways that God moves in and through it all!  As Piper puts it, prayer is “iridescent with eternity and woven into ordinary life” so that in each and every one of our days we might truly walk in tandem with the Almighty; perchance to be enriched, ennobled and empowered along every step of the journey.

At its heart, you see, this is what prayer is about: affirmation, adoration, dedication… and ultimately, a promise; and as Jesus would teach his disciples, and us, it all begins with these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

And that’s where we begin as well.  It’s worth noting, I think, as now we get into the parsing of all the particular verses of the Lord’s Prayer in this sermon series, that this is a prayer that can basically be divided into two parts: the first speaking of God’s presence and purpose in the world (in other words, we are praying about God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s will), and the second, centering on our lives and living in relationship to God (our daily bread, our forgiveness and our lives steeped in holiness).  Two very distinct perspectives; but taken as a whole, a prayer in which we have this wonderful and transcendent intermingling of the divine presence and the human experience.  And it all starts with an amazing affirmation from which everything else proceeds: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

What’s interesting, you know, is that scripture doesn’t spend much, if any, time debating the existence of God or answering the question of who is God; throughout the Bible there is simply the assumption that God is!  Right from the very first verse of Genesis, we are told, “In the beginning, God…;” and later on, when Moses asks about the divine identity to the burning bush, God’s answer is “I AM WHO I AM!” (Exodus 3:14) the word in the ancient Hebrew language that we know as Yahweh.  This is, in fact, the most fundamental truth in the universe, that God who God is, and far beyond our ability to wholly define, identify or hone in any way, shape or form; all of which makes it all the more significant that when Jesus bids us to come to this infinite, unidentifiable God with our prayer, he instructs us to call him “our Father!”

Think with me for a moment about the awesome wonder of this: here’s the Lord of the universe, the creator of heaven and earth, the God of all time and no time and we get to call him… Father!  Now, I hope we all understand that this is no mere patriarchal construct because the God who is the great “I AM” certainly exists beyond our human concepts of gender; moreover, the God of the Bible includes not only male images of the divine, but also a great many female characterizations as well. Moreover, we have to be careful not to equate this to the difficult and sometimes even destructive human relationships that all too often exist between a father and a child.  No, the relationship that’s being set forth here is that of an infinitely loving parent unto a much cherished child; a caring, loving and deeply intimate relationship that seeks for the best for that child, providing for that child in and all circumstances.

Our model for this is Jesus himself, whose very life was one of intimacy with his Father and is reflected throughout the gospel story, from the time he was this precocious 12-year old in temple who knew he “must be in [his] Father’s house” (Luke 2:49) to those harrowing hours on the cross when he prayed on behalf of those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34) It’s particularly telling that so often in the gospels, when Jesus addresses God, he uses the word “Abba,” which in our usage is best translated as “Daddy.”  Think of it; in the words of Victor Pentz, “God is all powerful.  God is infinitely loving.  Jesus says, ‘Call God Daddy.’”

So right away in our praying this prayer, we establish this heretofore unimaginable relationship with the divine; when we pray, “Our Father,” we are affirming that God is right here, right now and for you and me ever and always!  However, that said, we also have to know that this relationship does not come at the expense of God’s authority or power: to pray to “our father” is not to diminish God in any way; and we know this because we also pray to “our Father [who is] in heaven.”

I’ve actually heard it said that this is the part of the Lord’s Prayer that gets glossed over the most often; as though it’s just some kind of throwaway line that expresses where it is that God dwells and by extension where we are as well; you know, the idea that God’s “up there” (as in, “the man upstairs”) and we’re “down here.”  But in fact, it’s much more than that; it actually establishes the full impact of what it means that we call God “Father.”  Actually, this is an affirmation that is not as much spatial as it is spiritual.   What we’re saying is that God, our Father, is in heaven, which is the seat of all authority and power and dominion and greatness; and so what we have is this infinite and majestic God who has the authority and the power to hear us and to come to us when we pray!

What this all means, friends, is that we are meant to be secure in the Father’s love!  We are always blessed to know that despite the vast, unbridgeable gulf that exists between a holy God and a sinful humanity we are nonetheless brought into a relationship with God that is as expansive as the cosmos and yet as close as our very breathing.  You and I are the recipients a loving embrace that stretches into eternity and that not even death can destroy; and it comes to us by the grace of “our Father, who art in heaven.”

But the question is…what do we do with that?  How are we to respond to that all-encompassing kind of presence?  What are we to pray that even begins to approach a fitting level of gratitude for what we are given in the kind of relationship that God extends to us?  It turns out that this is what the first “petition” of this prayer that Jesus teaches us is all about; as recorded in Luke’s version of the prayer: “Father, hallowed be your name.”

Of course, the word hallowed is not one that we use all that often in today’s language; in fact, I suspect that for most of us, this part of the prayer amounts to another word of praise to God, albeit written in the language of King James English!  But in fact, it represents much more than this; to hallow, you see, means to sanctify, or to make or treat something as holy; so when we speak of the name of God being hallowed or sanctified, what we are saying is that is that we wish to treat God as being wholly holy (!) in our lives and for our world.  It means that we believe God is our Father in heaven, that this understanding has consequences for everything else we know to be true, that every direction of our lives will shift simply by virtue of this understanding, and that as a result we will honor God in the very ways that we live and move and have our being.  To quote John Piper one more time, “[We] hallow the name of God when [we] trust him, revere him, obey him, and glorify him.”

Isn’t it interesting, beloved, that in affirming the name of God, who is our heavenly Father, we also make a promise to live unto the truth of that name?  And isn’t it even more interesting that it’s only a very small step between letting God’s name be hallowed in our lives and to letting God’s kingdom come forth in the here and now, and to let God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” (but I get ahead of myself… that’s for next week!).

For now, let us rejoice in what we’ve been given.  Life is indeed a combination of the spectacular and the routine, the easy-going as well as the nitty-gritty, the utterly earth-bound and the gloriously heaven sent; all of it imbued with the presence and power of God. But in this daily mingling of the Eternal and the Everyday, and as we pray, we discover that in all things we are the people of a God who loves us beyond measure; who, in the words of our Old Testament text for this morning from Ezekiel, gives us “a new heart… and a new Spirit” within us, so that we always know that we are his people and that he shall always be our God.

He is our Father, and may we seek today and always to hallow his Holy name with lives of adoration and faithful service.

And in all that we say and most importantly, in all that we do…

… may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Equipped for Ministry

homecoming(a sermon for September 11, 2016, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ephesians 4:11-16)

It’s amazing the difference that something like a comma can make!

That’s the proposition of a bestselling book from a few years back entitled Eats, Shoots and Leaves in which the author, Lynn Truss, makes the strong case for proper punctuation in today’s society.  Now that may sound like the stuff of a third grade textbook; but what Truss proposes is that in this world increasingly filled with tweets, texts and emails, a punctuation mark can very well make all the difference in getting a message across properly… or not!

For instance, she says, you might send this text message to a friend:  “What’s the latest dope?”  Add a comma, and that message becomes, “What’s the latest, dope?” which is not apt to endear you to your friend!  A theater critic might write that “the play ended happily,” but with a comma it comes out as “the play ended, happily,” and that’s a different review altogether!  Or imagine reading this headline tomorrow morning in the Concord Monitor:  “Democrats say Republicans are Sure to Win!”   It’d be a whole different story if it read, “Democrats, say Republicans, are Sure to Win!”  (Either way, however, there’d be lots of letters to the editor!)

The use of a comma, you see (or for that matter, a period or an exclamation point), not only changes how you read a sentence, it can sometimes even alter its true meaning!  It can even happen in the way we read scripture; which brings us to our reading this morning from Ephesians, in which Paul speaks about how as believers we are all united in the Body of Christ, and yet how each one of us has been given unique gifts as part of that Body:  “that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”   Well, there are some older versions of scripture that actually translate the original Greek in this way:  “some [should be] pastors and teachers [comma], for the equipment of saints [comma], for the work of ministry [comma], for building up the body of Christ.”  What that seems to suggest is that pastors and teachers have the job of equipping the saints (that is, to direct and empower the membership of the church) and, along with that, also doing the work of ministry, and building up the body of Christ!

And in all honesty, that sounds kind of reasonable; after all, that’s what we pastors do, right?  As “trained religious professionals,” doing the work of ministry and building does seem to be an accurate and appropriate part of the job description; look on any ministerial profile, and you’re bound to find that right up front!  But… here’s the thing about this text: modern biblical scholars, as well as experts in ancient languages, have come to understand that in translating the original Greek into English, there may well have been… a punctuation error!   Basically, there are too many commas!  And so that verse we shared really ought to read this way: that “some [should be] pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, [and] for building up the body of Christ.”  Turns out, friends, that my job is not as much to equip the saints and do the work of ministry as it is to equip the saints for the work of ministry!  Or, as it’s beautifully translated in the New International Version of scripture, “to prepare God’s people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith.”

Now, let’s look at that for a moment; because when you think about it this is actually a pretty radical concept about the nature of church and ministry!    Because what this makes clear is that the church is not the building, or the steeple, or even the organization, per se; it’s the people that God has called out of the world and into community, and then who are sent forth to make God known in the world.  And while we clergy-types have our own unique and particular place and calling in that ministry, ultimately it will be the people of God who by their very lives will serve as visible reflections of the invisible God in our world.  What this means is that you and I – and I do include myself in this admonition – you and I can never succumb to the notion that we can leave these crucial tasks of Christian ministry, outreach and nurture to “the professionals,” whoever we might perceive “the professionals” to be!  Each one of us, you see, are meant to be out there living as we have been graced to live, reaching out to others as we have been equipped and empowered to do, and then sharing what it is that we ourselves have been given.

That is our ministry; but that’s also the challenge for us, isn’t it?  Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, and pastor of Saddleback Church in California (a congregation of over 20,000 members!) writes that nonetheless church pews are often filled with members who are “doing nothing with their faith except ‘keeping’ it.” In fact, Warren goes on to say, “if we [could] ever awaken and unleash the massive talent, resources, creativity, and energy lying dormant in the typical local church, Christianity [would] explode at an unprecedented rate.”

The bottom line is that whether the congregation numbers 20,000, 200 or even 20 a healthy, vibrant church functions through its people:  people equipped to share their spiritual gifts and to unleash all those incredible talents and creativity that God has placed with them for the sake of doing the work of ministry in Christ’s name.  This is how we truly become one body, as Paul describes it to the church in Ephesus, “grow[ing] up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”   so that, as The Message translates this, “his very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

I’ll say it again, friends; that’s our ministry, yours and mine; and it’s at no time more applicable than right now as we begin a new season of Christian formation and nurture amongst our children here at East Church.

You know, each year as we welcome our kids back to Sunday School I find myself reflecting on what it is we really offer these children in the hour or so we have them each week.  I mean, we sing a song or two, they hear a Bible story and play a game or do a craft; and then, of course, I have my very small window of opportunity to impart some measure of spiritual wisdom before they run off to Sunday School!  Not long ago I spoke with my nephew who’d been asked if he might speak at a local church in his community about the mission project that he’s part of, and this included a children’s message; and so he called to ask his uncle the minister if I had any advice about that.  I simply said, “Rule number one, you’ve got maybe three minutes before you start to lose ‘em; and rule number two, what they want to talk about is not necessarily what you want to talk about… so be prepared! The point is that we’ve got so much we want to teach them about God’s love, so many of Jesus’ teachings that we want them to know and to make real in their hearts and lives; but in a world where these kids (and their families!) are already being pulled in a hundred different directions, “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine,” so to speak, how can this ever happen?  How do we nurture within them an authentic Christian faith that will ultimately define their very lives; not to mention change the world for the better?

It seems to me that Paul has given us the “curriculum,” as it were, simply in reminding us that “some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”  In other words, our task, our call to do ministry and to build up even the youngest parts of the Body of Christ, involves each and every one of us with our own unique, God-given gifts.

It begins, you see, with discipleship.

It is no accident that the word “disciple” appears 269 times in the New Testament.  In fact, here’s an interesting fact: the word “Christian” only appears three times; and refers directly to the disciples themselves!  To be a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ; and our discipleship comes down to how we seek to live out the teachings of Jesus in our lives; it’s as simple as that.  So you want our children to grow up surrounded by the presence of loving God?  You want them to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus as best they are able?  Do you wish for them to truly understand what it is to love one another after the manner of Jesus?  You want them to have lives girded in peace and true justice, and for them to direct their own pathways in a way that says that this is what they intend for the whole world?  You want these kids growing up to be disciples of Jesus Christ?  Well, it begin with our being disciples of Jesus Christ… by sharing what we’ve received so that they might be equipped for ministry.

Perhaps you read in the paper this week about the passing of Hugh O’Brian at the age of 91.  Hugh O’Brian, if you don’t know, was an actor who appeared on Broadway and in Hollywood in a whole lot of movies over the years, and was best known for playing Wyatt Earp on television during the 50’s and 60’s.  He was, as the article I read in the paper put it, a “household name” for many years; but as it turned out, Hugh O’Brian’s greatest legacy was something much different than a fast “quick-draw.”

It seems that in 1958, at the height of his popularity, O’Brian accepted the invitation from the medical missionary Dr. Albert Schweitzer to visit him at his hospital in the African wilderness.  O’Brian spent nine days working as a volunteer at this place, his evenings spent talking for hours with Schweitzer himself.  They spoke together about the precarious state of the world at the time; about global peace, the urgency for change and how education must teach young people to think for themselves.  As O’Brian said later, it was a life-changing experience, far removed from what he’d known and experienced in Hollywood.  And at the end of it all, as he was preparing to depart down river, Schweitzer took O’Brian’s hand and asked, “Hugh, what are you going to do with this?”

Well, later that same year this so-called “cowboy actor” created the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Program (HOBY, for short), and to date, over 450,000 high school sophomores across the country have been selected by their schools to learn more about their potential for leadership and service in the world. I am pleased to say that our own daughter Sarah was one of those selected back when she was in high school; and she will tell you it was a very powerful and worthwhile experience.  As O’Brian himself described the program, “I believe that every person is created to be the steward of his own destiny with great power for a specific purpose to share with others, through service, a reverence for life in a spirit of love.”

I love that; and the fact is, you and I are also stewards with great power and a purpose; a power that comes to us in Christ Jesus, and a purpose that is revealed in countless ways as we share the gifts we’ve been given: with our children… and with one another; also with those who are sick and struggling, who are lost and lonely and grieving and in the need of care; and with those who are downtrodden or who have found themselves on the outside looking in.  As disciples of Jesus, and ministering in his name, you and I have this incredible opportunity, right here and right now, to share with all those around us “a reverence for life in a spirit of love,” and in the process helping each one of themselves in being equipped for ministry.

That cannot help but raise up our children – and everyone else – in the way they should go; and it will most certainly help this Body “in building itself up in love.”

May the Lord guide us and bless us in this ministry we share!

And may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2016  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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