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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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Enough to Fill Our Souls and Then Some

(a sermon for July 29, 2018, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on John 6:1-15)

Actually, if you want to leave early this morning, I can give you the good news of this morning’s text right up front:  God cares about our hunger!

The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story of Jesus that gets told in all four of the gospels, which tells us a couple of things immediately: first, that it’s a very important story; that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all felt that this account of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a scant amount of loaves and fishes so clearly got to the heart of just exactly who Jesus was that it needed to be included in each of their accounts of his “good news.”  It also suggests, I think, that the gospel writers saw this as a story to which almost anyone could relate because most everybody knows what it’s like to be hungry; and moreover, how wonderful it feels to be filled up and not be hungry anymore!  We can all relate to hunger; and the good news here, as we’ve said, is that God cares about our hunger!

Actually, I would suggest to you that hunger is the universal experience!   Rev. Debra Metzgar Shew, an Episcopalian vicar and inner-city social worker in Atlanta, has written that “from the moment we are born,” she says, “we are faced with it… we all feel it.  We all know it.  It is incessant… It propels us to the things that give us life… to the things that quite literally we can’t live without.  We [all] spend time and effort and energy of every kind making it go away, on filling ourselves with something, on staving off our hunger and keeping it at bay.”

Now I’ll admit that that does seem like a bit of an overstatement, especially when you consider that for all of us in this room, and truly the vast majority of us in this affluent culture of which we’re a part, “staving off hunger” is nothing more difficult than opening the refrigerator door or ordering out for pizza!  That said, however, I think we’d all agree that there’s more than one kind of hunger; that there is a yearning within every one of us to be filled up with something more than just food.  We all want to know what it is to be truly loved; we all need to feel a true sense of belonging; we’re looking for our lives to have some kind of purpose and meaning: when those kinds of things are missing for us we’re left wanting… yearning… hungering.  It’s no coincidence that when you ask someone who is going through some difficult transition in life – the end of a relationship, for instance, or the loss of a job, the death of a loved one; you name it – when you ask that person how they’re feeling, very often one of the first things they’ll say is that they feel empty; that there’s a void inside of them that needs to be filled.

Oh, yes… we know about hunger, don’t we?  I dare say that most of us here know what it is to have our hearts ache in the midst of that kind of emptiness.  We understand what it is to be, if you will, spiritually hungry, where our souls are empty and wanting, and needing, somehow, to be filled up… but the question is, what does all this have to do with this story of Jesus feeding a multitude on a grassy hillside along the Sea of Galilee?  Well, as it turns out, as John tells the story, this particular miracle of Jesus has as much to do with caring as it does with the ability to stretch out two fishes and five barley loaves… and as we’ve noted, God does care about our hunger!

To get to the heart of this, however, first we need to understand that Jesus had spent that entire day healing the sick, and that a huge crowd, “attracted by the miracles they had seen him do,” [The Message] was getting larger by the hour and in fact had followed Jesus up a hill where Jesus and his disciples had gone to sit down.  Not only this, but John adds an additional tidbit to the story; that Passover was just about to begin, “the festival of the Jews,” and being true to his faith and heritage, Jesus knew that it was only good and right and hospitable to feed all those people who had gathered.  And so he turns to his disciples (and this, by the way, is unique to John’s version of this story; in the other gospels, it’s the disciples who ask about this), and Jesus says, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Now at this point of the story we get two very interesting reactions to this request: first, there’s that of one of the disciples, Philip, who immediately starts counting change.  Even as Jesus is asking the question, Philip’s busy calculating how much money it’s going to take to feed everyone there; and of course, there’s no practical way they can do that.  There’s not enough in our budget, he says; our resources are tapped out as it is, and besides, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Philip, you see, represents every one of us who obsess on categories, logistics and expectations; in other words, if it’s not there in the ledger, if it can’t be seen in black and white and proven empirically, then it can’t be done, so don’t even try. Philip embodies the trait within so many of us that will lead us in walking along every part of life’s journey while refusing to take a single step purely in faith; which on the face of it seems very prudent and practical, and yet in large part because of it ends up leaving one feeling a constant and indescribable hunger in their lives.

And then there’s Andrew; who I suppose did have a role in setting the miracle in motion, and yet, it should be noted, did so in a rather defeatist kind of way. Well, he says to Jesus, there is this kid over there, and he does have a few barley loaves and a couple of fish… “but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” [The Message]  Now, what’s interesting here is that Andrew has immediately found three different reasons not to use the boy’s loaves and fishes: first, because he’s a child (the original Greek in this text  emphasizes the fact that he’s “just” a little kid, and therefore of no real help whatsoever); second, that there’s not nearly enough barley and fish to go around, and so why bother; and thirdly, because in biblical times barley was considered to be “the grain of the poor,” much cheaper than the wheat that was used for feeding horses, donkeys and cattle, and often what the poorest of the poor would use to make their own flour to bake bread, Andrew may well have thinking (with some validity, I must confess!) that such food shouldn’t be taken from the poor in the first place!

Valid concerns or no, however, what we can glean from this is that Andrew represents those of us who can find a million and one reasons why we’ll always be hungry.  And you know the list of reasons as well as I do:  I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not religious enough, I’ve done bad things in my life; there’s no way that someone like me could ever, should ever deserve to be filled up with good food. No matter what you say to me here, I know better; to be hungry, you see, is just my lot in life!

So… what we’ve got here on this hillside of Galilee is Philip, who in essence refuses to believe in miracles, and Andrew, who is reluctant to accept them.  But then, to all the Philips and Andrews of that world and this one, here comes Jesus; taking a mere five loaves of cheap bread and a couple of random fish, giving thanks to God for the blessings of his creation, and then sharing this rather meager meal with everyone seated there on the hillside!  Yes (!), there was food enough for everyone… and then some; we know that because afterward Jesus had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers, and there was enough to fill twelve baskets!  And all it took was two loaves of barley bread and two fish; but more than enough for Jesus to fill up every belly and every heart in the place.

It was a true and utter, “God is at work” kind of a miracle, and of course, they were all amazed by it; so much so that, as John describes its aftermath, the people recognized Jesus as “indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” and tried to take him by force “to make him king.”  I mean, if Jesus could do this to bread and fish, just think of what he might do for them; as far as they were concerned, this was more manna from heaven and they needed to do whatever they could to keep it coming!  But of course, like their ancestors before them, they’d missed the whole point of the miracle and the meaning of the food they’d received: the eternal truth that it was Jesus himself who was the real and important food; and that Jesus’ real purpose was and has always been to provide the kind of spiritual sustenance that lasts not simply for a moment but for a lifetime and beyond; that unlike so many things in life that would seem to fill us up at the moment but ultimately leaves us feeling empty, Jesus is bringing us that from God which will keep us filled up with good things.

You see, God cares about our hunger… and God is not about to leave us to subsist on all that which is perishable or, shall we say, “full of empty calories;” God does not wish us to spend our lives searching for all those things we believe are going to bring us fulfillment and satisfaction, yet will inevitably fail us.  Money… power… status… whatever form it takes: so many of us go through our days thinking that the “next” thing is what’s going to finally fill us up and give us that love and sense of belonging we’ve been yearning for for so long;  but you see, God knows better.  God wants us to know and to feel what is to be really full, and well-nourished and wholly satisfied, and that only comes with the food that lasts; and that food comes from Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, which is truly enough to fill our souls and then some.

I wonder how many of us are feeling hungry this morning; and not merely for a Sunday brunch!  I wonder how many of us have come here today, at least in part, out of a nagging feeling of being empty inside; maybe out of the realization that all that other stuff in life that we thought would make us feel good and full and alive just didn’t do it for us and that there’s got to be something better. I wonder just how many of us have heard Jesus’ call to work not for the “food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:27) but have never taken true advantage of the offer; maybe because it seems unrealistic in a dog-eat-dog world to be so graced with limitless love, or perhaps because somehow, somewhere in our hearts we’ve convinced ourselves that what God does could not ever make it better for us.

Well, if you’ve come here this morning feeling like that, then I would say to you that it would be good for you to think about what happened on that hillside with loaves, fishes, and the caring and all-pervasive love of God through his Son.  Maybe it is hard for us to wrap our post-modern minds around 5,000 people having supper on the basis of a few loaves and fishes, but remember the point of the miracle is not so much the food but the one who brings it.  What we need to remember is when God is at work; when God makes use of whatever small amount of resources or talents or patience or compassion or even faith we have, God will do with it far more with it than we could ever have dreamt or imagined… and if we can trust in that, miracles can and do happen!

For you see, that’s the good news (I told you that at the very start of this message!):  God cares about our hunger… and if we’ll let him, God will give us enough food to fill our souls… and then some.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2018 in Jesus, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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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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