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Category Archives: Spiritual Truths

The Impossible Possibility

(a sermon for February 24, 2019, the 6th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Luke 6:27-38)

I want to begin this morning by sharing with you some words from Luke… but in this instance, not the words of Luke the disciple, Luke the Physician, Luke the author of the biblical Gospel, but rather Luke… Skywalker!

That’s right, I said it (!), and might I just add here as a personal aside that I’ve been waiting over 30 years to get some kind of Star Wars reference into a sermon, so be kind!  It’s actually in a scene from the latest Star Wars film, “Episode 8: The Last Jedi,” in which – a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (!) – the peasant girl Rey journeys to the distant world of Act-To in search of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, in the hope that she can bring him back to lead the resistance in their battle against the First Order and, perchance, to herself learn the “ways of the Force” and become a Jedi; which is something that the now old, embittered and incredibly grizzled Luke Skywalker most decidedly does not want to do!

But Rey persists, and finally Luke agrees to give the girl a lesson on how to use the force; and starts by asking her, “What do you [even] know about the force?”  And with all the enthusiasm of a brand new, over eager greenhorn student, Rey immediately says, “It’s a power that the Jedi have that lets them control people… and make things float.”  To which Skywalker simply rolls his eyes and responds, “Impressive… every word in that sentence was wrong.”  And then, of course, Luke goes on to explain all that difficult and convoluted stuff about how the force binds the universe together and resisting the dark side of the force; and soon we’re off and running to face Kylo Ren in a light saber battle… (ahem) but I digress!  The point is, I loved that scene; it has a way of immediately breaking down our expectations about this mystical thing called “the Force,” and draws us in for something new ,  something challenging, and perhaps something even a bit unsettling!

Actually – and here’s just a small glimpse of the kind of unique things your pastor thinks about (!) – as I was watching this movie again a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering if there ever was a time for Jesus – surrounded at all sides by these throngs of people, to say nothing of the “learned” scribes and Pharisees who had all these assumptions and so much to say about God and faith and ways of true righteousness – if there was ever a moment that Jesus simply wanted to say to them, “That’s impressive… every word of what you just said was wrong…”

…and then proceeds to teach them something far different and seemingly more unlikely than anything they could have ever expected or even imagined for themselves!

Well, once again this morning, our text from Luke (the disciple and gospel writer this time!) is part of his version of the so-called “sermon on the mount;” in this instance the “sermon on the plain.”   And though the language and phraseology differs somewhat from what we find in Matthew’s account, what’s clear in both versions is that Jesus is putting forth something radically different from what any of them, inside and outside of the temple, had grown up thinking or believing about living out of a faith in God.  I mean, already – and you’ll remember this from last Sunday – Jesus has said, “Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, sorrowful and despised,” and, let’s not forget, “Woe to you if right now you’re already rich, fat, happy and popular… because guess what, your time of mourning and weeping is coming sooner than you think!”

Jim Somerville, a Baptist pastor and teacher out of Virginia, has written that in many ways, what Jesus was saying must have “sounded [to the crowd] like the start of a revolution,” where the high and mighty would soon be pulled off their thrones in favor of the poor and lowly; and in fact, there were likely a good many in that crowd who were more than ready to do “what they could to hasten things along!”  And, to be fair, why wouldn’t they?  After all, for generations they’d all heard of prophecies of a Messiah who would rule on the throne of David, and of a kingdom with no end; this was everything they were expecting and more, and as far as they were concerned, it was about time!!

But then Jesus says something to these spiritual revolutionaries they weren’t expecting at all:  “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies…”

Say what?

You heard me, Jesus says: “…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  As a matter of fact, “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, [you] don’t even withhold [from them] even your shirt.”  And Jesus goes on from there, telling them that in every way that counts in their lives that they should “do to others as [they] would have [done] to [them];” to love people, even those people they don’t like, as they themselves would like to be loved, to do good, to give to everyone who begs them, and to lend, “expecting nothing in return.”  Oh, and by the way?  Don’t judge if you don’t want to be judged; don’t condemn unless you’re ready to be condemned; and start cultivating a spirit of forgiveness, because you’re going to need it!

So much for the revolution!  You have to wonder how those people were hearing Jesus’ words; not only was just about everything they’d understood to be true about the coming Messiah and what that meant for God’s people Israel turning out, according to Jesus, to be completely wrong (!), the possibility of this soon to be fulfilled Kingdom of God with all of its new expectations was sounding… well, difficult, if not downright impossible!  Love your enemies?  Bless those who curse you?  Turn the other cheek?  Really, Jesus… really?

It’s a question that I suspect that most of us have asked at one time or another.  The truth is that these words of Jesus are among the most familiar to our ears and central to what we know and understand about our Christian faith.  I mean, who among us has not quoted from the “Golden Rule,” to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  It’s Sunday School 101, the kind of basic wisdom that we’ve known of since the days we were in kindergarten!  So we know what Jesus is saying, but… to actually live out of that notion?  To not merely tolerate and grudgingly co-exist with our enemies but to truly love them? To be so generous that we’ll give to everything to anyone who begs, and to lend our resources with no thought of getting anything in return?  To actually turn the other cheek even in the wake of being injured yourself?  We do know the words, friends; and we may well hear Jesus’ teaching resonating in our ears; but it’s not at all an easy thing to do.  We could even go so far as to say that in this world and in these violent and difficult days some of what Jesus is asking of us here not only seems unrealistic but also at times, dangerous!

So what do we do with this?  How shall we answer Jesus?  How are we to make these impossible possibilities real in our lives and thus live this identity as “children of the Most High?”

Well, perhaps it begins in knowing that what we’re talking about here is love of another kind.  It turns out that there are six words in scripture that are translated in English as the word “love,” from romantic love (eros) to friendship (phileo), but the one that’s used in this passage is, in the Greek, agape, which speaks of self-sacrificial love; in other words, according to David Ewart, the “whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other,” where “nothing is held back, there is no hesitation, no calculation of costs and benefits, no expectation of anything in return… only total desiring of the well-being of the other for their own good.”  And… that’s whether you happen to like them or not!

In other words, it’s more than simply being “nice” to the people who have done us wrong; and it’s most certainly not taking on the characteristics of a doormat and letting ourselves be walked all over again and again (and while we’re on the subject, the idea of “turning the other cheek” was never meant – by Jesus or anyone else – to suggest we should submit to any kind of physical abuse, most especially by those in power, which was the imagery that Jesus was setting forth in that verse).  But it is to suggest that however we’re treated in this world, we have the opportunity to react differently.  David Lose puts this beautifully: he says that Jesus’ words are a promise to us that “it doesn’t have to be that way,” that we don’t have to answer the hurt and pain of this world by responding in the same way.  That violence doesn’t have to begat more violence; that divisive rhetoric does not require a “tit for tat” response; that we don’t need to create an episode of intolerance and injustice and to show that intolerance and injustice are wrong!  “There is another option,” says Lose.  “…we can treat others the way we want to be treated… there is enough, more than enough – love, attention, food, worth, honor, time – to go around” and that transcends the death and loss that is part and parcel of this world.  Perhaps we can be the reminder that “this world isn’t the only one, maybe not even the most real one.”

So we agape love our enemies; we show forth agape to those who hate and abuse us; we demonstrate agape in all of its whole-hearted glory to those in the greatest need, and we do it without any other expectation than to do even more!  To quote the philosophy of a recently departed saint of this congregation, “the question is not, ‘what can I do?’ The question is, ‘What else can I do?’”

Is this a “normal” way of doing things in this life, this business of having love for those who haven’t loved you, or even hated you?  No, I’m afraid not.  Is it an easy thing for any of us ever to do at allUsually, no. And is it true that that which we’re not ever supposed to expect in return we’re not actually going to get?  Yes, more often than not, that happens to be true.  But friends, on those occasions we take the risk to live this “impossible possibility” of true love not only does the world change, but we change along with it; real transformation happens and the Kingdom of God starts to take root within us!  And the best part of all is that though this is difficult for us to make happen, we do have a model for forgiveness, for mercy and for that full measure of true and redeeming love:  Jesus Christ our Lord, who even now is offering you and me that life changing transformation.

So let me ask you this, beloved?  Who is the enemy in your life who needs the kind of whole-hearted, unconditional, transformative love that only you can provide?  Where’s the good that needs to be done and can only be done by you?  Who is it that needs praying for that you have a hard time even looking in the eye?  Who’s been begging you for that which you’re able but up till now unwilling to give?

Is there mercy you can show but haven’t?  Have you held back on forgiveness even when you know better?  And while we’re on the subject, how’s your sense of judgment these days… particularly as it applies to other people?

At the end of this day, beloved, have you given a good measure of yourself… of your life… of your love?

You see, it’s not impossible; in fact, it can be the life we’re meant to live by the grace of God and in Jesus’ name.  I pray it might be so for each of us.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on February 24, 2019 in Epiphany, Faith, Jesus, Life, Love, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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More Than a Miracle

(a sermon for January 27, 2019, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11)

After having now officiated at 250 some-odd weddings over the years – including two within my own family this year – I think I can say with great certainty that at just about every wedding ceremony, something almost always goes wrong!

Mind you, it’s usually something very minor:  the groom stumbles on a line in the marriage vows; the flower girl panics, starts crying and refuses to walk down the aisle; the musicians miss their cue, leading to several moments of awkward silence as the processional is supposed to begin!  You know, just little mishaps that are barely noticed, much less remembered; but then, there are also things that happen that everybody sees and no one ever forgets!

Like at the wedding I attended with my parents years ago, long before I was a pastor: where literally moments before the ceremony was about to begin the church organ broke down and my father (who would be providing music for the reception) was asked if he could possibly bring his electric organ over to the church so that there could be music for the ceremony!  And so my father and I immediately rush over to the fire station where the reception was being held, lift that Hammond B3 organ on the back of the truck, head back to the church and very discreetly roll it into the sanctuary where the church organist was waiting, sheet music in hand; all of this in the space of ten minutes!  But we’re running late, and so after hitting the power switch, Dad and I go back to our seats and the organist sits down to begin playing the processional music.  Except – and this is an important piece of the story – that particular instrument was equipped with an electronic rhythm maker, AKA an automatic drumming machine which somehow in transit had inadvertently been switched on (!); so the moment the organist set her hands to keyboard to begin playing “O, Promise Me,” immediately the sanctuary was filled with a rousing and incredibly loud swing beat!  No matter the years that have gone by, I will never forget the sight of my father, red-faced and slinking down the church aisle, amidst riotous laughter (!), to turn off that automatic drummer so that the wedding could proceed!

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great lesson for a young pastor-to-be, but not the one you might think.  For you see, I also noticed that day that while we all laughed at what had happened, at the end of it all what people remembered the most about that particular wedding day was how beautiful the bride was, how great the ceremony was, how much in love she and her groom looked to be, and how much joy there was in their starting out on this journey of life together.  So often, you see, at a wedding – as in life, actually – there’s so much more to what’s happening than what you can actually see.

In our text this morning from John’s gospel, we’re told that “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee” and that it was attended by Jesus, his disciples and, as it happens, also Jesus’ mother.  And under the heading of something always going wrong at a wedding, during this celebration the unthinkable happens: the host runs out of wine to serve all of his wedding guests. Understand, this was no mere faux pas; in a culture where hospitality meant everything, it was literally humiliating for a family to run short of wine; indeed, this was the kind of mistake that would tarnish their family’s reputation for years to come. So with a bit of prodding, shall we say, from his mother, and even though in his own mind it was a bit early to “go public,” that his “hour has not yet come,” Jesus changed six stone water jars, each one holding some 20 to 30 gallons of water, into wine for the celebration; and not just wine, but good wine, the kind of wine that any right-thinking host would have brought out for his guests early on in the evening.

This was Jesus’ first recorded miracle, and on the face of it, changing water into wine seems to be a great act of hospitality and celebration (I always loved the story about the little boy who heard this Bible story in Sunday School, and afterward when his mother asked him what he’d learned that day, the little boy replied, “I learned that if you’re going to have a party, make sure you invite Jesus!”).  And moreover, the fact that there’s this little exchange between Jesus and his mother just makes the story for me; not only is it truly funny and delightfully real (“They have no wine,” Jesus… “Well, what’s that got to do with me, Mother? Will you please just stop pushing me!”), but also, in all seriousness, it hearkens back to everything we read about during the Advent and Christmas seasons:  Mary’s knowledge, from the very beginning, of who Jesus was and why he’d come, not simply to this wedding celebration but indeed for humanity itself.

So, no doubt, there’s great significance in this miraculous changing of water into wine; but as we heard this text read this morning did you notice that it’s never actually referred to as a miracle?  That’s right; in fact, none of the miracles Jesus performs in John’s Gospel (and there are seven of them) are called miracles but rather signs.  In other words, in this story – as with so many other stories about Jesus, especially as they’re given to us in John – there is much more happening than simply what we see.  The miracle, as it were, is meant as a sign that points us beyond the miracle itself to what we’re supposed to see:  Jesus’ power and his glory.

More than a miracle, you see, as great as that is, it’s a proclamation of everything that Christ’s coming brings to the world!

For instance, it’s worth noting that those six 30-gallon jugs of water Jesus sent them to fill were containers used by devout Jews to fulfill the law as regards ceremonial washing; even and especially at a wedding feast, there were rituals of cleansing that needed to be followed.  So these six jars were not have simply been filled with buckets of well water, but with the purified and undefiled water of the Pharisees; this is what served as the “vessel,” so to speak, of Jesus’ miracle, and in doing so Jesus transformed these symbols of an older time and older way into a harbinger for the future and the imminent arrival of a “kingdom” of God!.

I mean, even the idea that Jesus would transform something tired, worn out and empty (like, old jars of water) into that which is rich, fragrant and ripe with the fullness of joy (as is new wine for a wedding feast) points so clearly to power of God; a power manifest in abundance where once was scarcity; celebration where uncertainty had once prevailed; the salvation of God’s own people symbolized by new, good wine!  You see?  Ultimately, it’s not about water becoming wine per se, any more than it is about a harried father of the bride saving face at the reception!  It’s more than a miracle, but a sign which reveals glory of Jesus, who takes the old and makes it new;  in whom a seemingly dead end of living becomes a new life filled with purpose, both now and eternally.

And the best part is that just as in the aftermath of this wedding celebration and everything that happened there, “his disciples believed in him,” even now, these are the signs by which we also come to know him… and believe.

Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, makes a point of saying that in John these “signs” of Jesus happen when “human resources are at an end.”  At the wedding at Cana, there is no more wine left; likewise in the other miracles recorded in John, for instance when “humans have come to an end of their medical skills, supply of food, and supply of courage, Jesus heals, feeds, and comforts amid the storm.”  Even and especially in the cross, we bear witness to the Word made flesh coming to an end of his earthly life – it is his hour of death – and yet even in death, “God who sent him will flow into him with resurrecting power that will result in his glorification.  A miracle of supply where there is only lack.”

McKenzie’s words are a reminder to us that most often in our lives we are unaware of the glory and power of Jesus in our lives until those moments that we have no other resources in our lives, or from within ourselves, to draw from.  It’s only in those times when we’ve come to realize that the old lives we’ve led have nothing more to give that we discover, much to our surprise and amazement, that there’s been something new and transformative happening all along! I mean, how is it that there are moments in each of our lives when despite the cacophony of competing voices all around us and the many contradictions that would seemingly assault us, we still can stop in the silence of a new morning and know that it is a gift at the hand of the divine? How is it that the person in the midst of their own struggle of life and living – whatever that struggle happens to be – has had every bit of strength and courage tapped out of them, and yet still wakes up in the morning secure in the knowledge of what’s expressed in that wonderful hymn, “deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”  How is it that any of us can look to the nations of the world as they currently exist, with all their division and hatred and evil seeming to run unabated, and yet still be confident to our very souls that in the end truth, and justice, and dare we say, love will prevail?

It is because ours is the God who has given us a sign in the person of Jesus, who is the Christ; and who is the one who is the very fulfillment of those hope-filled words of prophecy we heard this morning from Isaiah:  “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch… You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her.”  And, get this:  “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Sounds like it’s time to break out the new wine, because there’s going to be plenty of it!

Beloved, it’s as simple and as all-encompassing as this: Christ has come into the world not to leave that world as it is, nor to leave you and me standing alone in the midst of life’s sorrow and its emptiness.  Christ has come that we might be filled up as surely as were those stone jars with water that became wine.  Christ has come that you and I might begin to recognize the signs of his presence and power; and in doing so start to behold his glory: in our worship, in our work, in our prayer and service, in our relationships with one another, and in life unfolding.  And the thing is, when it happens it might just seem like a miracle; but in truth, it’s much more than that.  It’s the place where by God’s good grace life – true life – begins!

That each one of us here might discover that wondrous truth for ourselves is my prayer for us today.  May it be said of you and of me , just as those wedding guests discovered in Cana, that the best was indeed yet to come.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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God Believes in You

(a sermon for January 13, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 43:1-7 and Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)

It is very striking to me that while the story of Jesus’ baptism that we just shared ends with the heavens opening up and the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus “like a dove,” it actually begins in an atmosphere of turmoil, with the threat of such a baptism being something akin to “chaff [burning] with unquenchable fire.”

It was one of the very first infant baptisms at which I had the honor and joy of officiating as a newly-minted pastor; and since at that little church where I was serving we didn’t often have the opportunity to celebrate that sacrament, let me tell you it was a big deal not just for me but for the whole congregation! Not only were we anticipating a much larger than usual congregation that morning, there was also going to be this huge reception afterward; plus – and I’ll take some credit for this (!) – since, again, this kind of thing didn’t happen all that much in the life of that congregation, we decided that this baptism would provide the perfect “teachable moment” for the children of our small Sunday School.  What would happen, you see, is that we’d spend some time before worship teaching the kids all about baptism – what it means, how it happens and why it’s such a special time of celebration – and then they’d come into what was referred to there as “big church,” sitting all together in the front pew to watch and see Rev. Lowry baptize this little baby!

Perfect, right?  What creative, progressive Sunday School is supposed to be all about (at least circa 1983!), right? Well, maybe; except that just before worship as I’m about to enter the sanctuary one of the Sunday School teachers rushes up to me and says, “You better come out back with me right now… because we’ve got a problem.”  And yes, we did; apparently, just about the time the teachers had begun to explain what their minister was about to do out there during the service, one of the little girls in our Sunday School – maybe five or six years old and whose family had actually just started coming to our church  – started crying.  I mean, really crying: weeping, wailing and utterly inconsolable!  And by the time I got there, it had only gotten worse: this little girl was now at the point where she could barely take a breath between wails; she just kept pointing her finger at me and crying for all she was worth, “No, no, no, no NOOO!”  Trust me, nothing was calming this little girl down, most especially not the efforts of the student minister who for all his bright ideas was absolutely clueless as to how to resolve the situation!

Eventually, thanks to her mother who, thankfully, was very quickly on the scene, we got to the heart of the matter: that somehow this little girl had gotten it into her head that in this baptism I was about to perform, that strange man in the robe might actually drown the baby, and that idea was terrifying to her and so of course she cried!  But here’s the thing: as silly and as bizarre as that sounds as I’m telling you about it now, her fear was actually based on some reality; for it turned out the only other church this little girl ever been to in her young life was of the variety where adult baptisms were the norm, and then only by immersion!  So basically, all that she remembered about baptism involved people being placed fully underwater at the hand of a minister (!); so thinking about that in relation to a tiny, helpless baby… well, no wonder the girl was crying her lungs out!  Suffice to say that once we understood what was happening, we were able to explain that our baptisms had to do with sprinkling rather than dunking (!) and that rather than being in any kind of danger the baby was perfectly safe, and loved, and yes, even blessed!  It did turn out to be a teachable moment in more ways than one (!) and, as I recall, all went well from that point on; nonetheless, even as the baptism was taking place I could still feel that one little girl’s steely gaze on me the whole time from her seat in the front pew… just in case I got any ideas!

Well, there was a different, but no less intense, sort of turmoil on the day of Jesus’ baptism, and what’s interesting about our text for this morning is what leads up to Luke’s account of this very dramatic and important event almost seems to have more to do with what James Howell refers to as the full “ferocious mood” of John the Baptist than it even does with Jesus! Even before we pick up the story today, Luke’s already treated us to some of the ravings of this so-called wild man of the wilderness:  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come… even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (3:7, 9)  Not exactly a feel-good prelude to a baptismal celebration!

But we need to understand there was a method to this “madness,” as it were:  that John was in fact, explicitly proclaiming a baptism of repentance, calling the people of Jesus’ time to abandon their sin and turn their hearts wholly back to God, so that they might truly be ready for the Messiah who had in fact already come.  Moreover, we’re told, John had not at all been reticent about speaking truth to power and for all his troubles was  just about to be “shut up” in prison by none other than Herod Antipas himself!  All this to say that Jesus’ baptism, this incredible scene of divine affirmation and blessing, all happens within a backdrop not only of sin and degradation, but also “in the thick of intense political and religious opposition, downright belliger[ence]” on John’s part and even “not shying away from the use of brute force!” (James Howell, again)

Which makes it all the more amazing that this is the scene in which Jesus – this man without sin, this Messiah, this one destined to baptize his followers by the Holy Spirit, and whose sandals John did not even consider himself worthy to untie (!) – walks right up to his cousin (‘cause remember, Jesus and John do happen to be related!) and asks to receive this baptism of repentance.

And now, here’s Jesus, going under the water (no sprinkling here; it’s full immersion in the waters of River Jordan) and then coming up out of the water.  Here’s Jesus, praying his own post-baptismal prayer, when suddenly the sky “opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him.”  And then here’s a voice, speaking directly to Jesus himself, but in a way that all who were gathered could hear:  “You are my Son, the Beloved,” or, as The Message translates it, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.”  Again I say it:  amazing… amazing that in a world filled with such turmoil and marked by such sin and conflict amongst the people that a baptism of repentance would be necessary for the sake of their souls, the power and glory of God to destroy evil in the person of his Son Jesus, the one chosen and marked by his love. The infamous theologian Karl Barth put it this way: that this baptism was more than mere theatrics; for “when Jesus was baptized, he needed to be be washed of sin – not his sin, but our sin.”  For you see, right from the very start, you see, it was about our forgiveness and our redemption; by offering to wash our sins away in his baptism, Jesus provides you and me a new baptism… a baptism of promise.

Actually, it all comes down to a very basic and dare I say, singular Christian truth:  that God believes in you.  God believes in you, friends, and he believes in me; enough that he would claim us and reclaim us as his own again and again, even as we stand in strong need of repentance because of sin and our utter unworthiness before God. And lest you think this preacher’s becoming overly judgmental, let’s be clear: with the exception of Jesus, we are all sinners, all unworthy and all without hope save in God’s sovereign mercy.  But the good news is… because of Jesus, who was baptized and now offers us the baptism of promise, God believes in us; we also are “precious in his sight, and honored and beloved” by God; and because of this we are saved indeed.

Over the years in various congregations where I’ve served as pastor, I’ve have the privilege of leading confirmation classes for the churches’ youth and young adults.  Confirmation, of course, is the rite of the church where those who were baptized as infants are given the opportunity as young adults, after prayer and study, to “confirm” the Christian faith as their own, which has proven to be an interesting and often enlightening experience for confirmand and pastor alike.

Which is not to say it was always easy:  like the year there was this rather headstrong and opinionated ninth grader in the class who right from the “get-go” seemed determined to challenge every bit of spiritual wisdom I ever sought to impart!  And it began the very first day:  I’d just finished explaining all the requirements that our church and its pastor had for them to be confirmed later that spring, and immediately this kid (whose name was Jason) raises his hand to ask, “Rev. Lowry, does being an atheist make a difference on whether I can be confirmed?” Well, yes, Jason, it kind of does, I answered, and then adding in a very pastor-like fashion, but the question is, if you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in?  “Do you have to believe in something?” Jason persisted.  Well … nooo, I said, you don’t have to, I suppose, but it’s kind of hard not to believe in at least one thing in your life.  “Like what?” Jason would reply, and we were off on to a dialogue that continued pretty much uninterrupted for the next eight months and which led, years later and long after he wasn’t confirmed, to a mature Christian faith nurtured and confessed in the mission field.

Actually, as I think back on it such has been the questions and dialogue I’ve shared with a lot of folks over the years:  “Does it make a difference if I believe in God, because I’m not sure I believe?”  Sometimes that question is borne out of an honest, sincere and relentless search for the truth; often it’s the result of a crisis in somebody’s life that has led to a crisis in faith; and maybe it’s the eventual and inevitable result of just so much piling on that there’s simply no more strength or will left to believe in… anything!  And quite frankly, there are those in this life who are determined to direct their lives in any direction except toward the divine, and who have a tendency to not so much ask questions about God as to fire them at you!

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: the truth is while there’s a whole lot I can and do say to that, there’s also very little that I can say; because even as a pastor, I can’t force anybody to believe in God.  All the sermons, proclamations and apologetic in the world mean nothing without an open heart to receive that message! But I can say this, something I believe in my heart of hearts: that while you may not believe in God – today, or tomorrow, or ever – I am sure that God believes in you.  I know this as surely as the sun will rise in the sky tomorrow morning and that the new life of spring will surely, if eventually, follow the dead of winter; I see it in the wonder and beauty of nature, in the strength and resilience of the human Spirit, and in hope, joy and peace that can only be the handiwork of an infinitely loving God… and I know it because Jesus has already made it real in his sure and certain promise of life abundant and eternal.

Perhaps you’ve come here today not at all sure that you believe… or at least that maybe you have a few doubts; and if that’s the case, I’m glad you’re here.  Because this, beloved, is the place where we rejoice in the God who does believe in us so much that he reminds us again and again, “Do not fear,  for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…” and why?  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

You are precious in my sight! You are honored to me!  I love you… I love you!

God believes… thanks be to God, he believes!  I hope and I pray this day, beloved, that this will help you to believe as well!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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