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Category Archives: Spiritual Truths

To Shake and To Shine

(a sermon for February 9, 2020, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, based on Matthew 5:13-20)

“You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world.”

I’m not sure who researches these things, but here’s a fun fact: it has been said that that salt has more than 14,000 uses!  Now, mostly when we think of salt we think about its use in cooking or to bring out the flavor in food; it’s also something that doctors warn us against using in excess!  But it’s also used for the protection and preservation of food, it softens hard water, it helps to regulate boiling, and sometimes it’s even used as an ingredient in fertilizer. It’s salt that gets thrown on our doorsteps and walkways this time of year, which helps to melt the ice that’s frozen there and keeps us from slipping and falling; the same principle, by the way, that’s essential in the making of homemade ice cream!  

Salt is also medicinal in nature, useful in healing or cleansing certain ailments: one of the very first things that doctors recommend in this perilous cold and flu season is, in fact, to gargle with salt and water; and it’s worth noting that our salty tears go a long way in soothing sore eyes (to say nothing of what it does for our saddened souls!).  I even read something recently that said that the amniotic fluid that protects unborn children is slightly saline; that is to say, salty (!)… so in fact you and I actually come into this world protected and preserved, at least in part, by… salt!

Of course, this appreciation of all that salt can do is nothing new: in biblical times, salt was overwhelmingly viewed as a valuable resource. It’s mentioned time and time again throughout the Old Testament in connection with Israel’s covenant with God, specifically in regard to the purification and offering of sacrifices; salt was, symbolically at least, considered something of a sign and seal of that relationship between God and his people!  So salt served a religious purpose, to be sure; but did you know that in Jesus’ day, salt was also often used as currency?  That’s right; special salt rations given to early Roman soldiers were known as salarium argentum, which the Latin forerunner of our English word “salary…” and in fact, it’s where we get the expression, to “be worth one’s salt!”

So… all of this to say that when, during his “sermon on the mount,” Jesus said to them, “You are the salt of the earth,”  he was speaking of much more than simply something to add some flavor to an otherwise bland meal; Jesus was referring to that which was, and is, a necessary element of life… and of one’s relationship and life with God!

Which, as we’ve heard in our text for this morning, is why it makes sense that nearly in the same breath Jesus also says, “You are the light of the world.”  Because, yes, light is essential to our lives as well: to begin with, light keeps us from stumbling around in the darkness and banging into furniture in the middle of the night(!); but we also know, especially in these long dark nights of wintertime, how essential light is to our physical and emotional well-being!  Literally, figuratively and spiritually light does illuminate and brighten the dark places of our lives and shows us the way to go; light helps us find things, but also tends to reveal the true quality and character of what we find. And of course, biblically speaking our very existence has everything to with light, from the very first words God spoke at the time of creation (“Let there be light.” [Genesis 1:3]) to that moment in the fullness of time of the coming of Christ, “the true light, which enlightens everyone… coming into the world.” (John 1:9).  From the very beginning, now and forevermore, it is light that gives us life!

And it’s with all of this in mind that Jesus says to them, “You are the light of the world.”  And, “you are the salt of the earth.”

It’s arguably one of the most familiar and oft-quoted passages found in the gospels.  In the words of Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, these two exhortations of Jesus represent the “great and holy attributes and promises of discipleship.”  Jesus’ words offer us the flavor, if you will, of life as it is defined by the coming Kingdom of God!  But here’s the thing, friends; and it’s what transforms this sweet and all too familiar bible teaching into a challenging reality in these days of confused situations.

It’s personal.

Because you’ll notice here that Jesus is not talking about those who are poor in spirit, or meek, or pure in heart, as he does just prior to our reading this morning, nor has Jesus been telling the multitudes on that hillside that they ought to be like salt and light; in at least one sense, this is not a call toward a new kind of lifestyle that someday they might manage to achieve.  No, that’s not what Jesus is saying; Jesus says, you are the salt of the earth… you are light – and not a mere sunbeam, mind you – but “the light of the world!”  This is who you are already!   Everything that is essential for life and that which brings it meaning and purpose and vitality – salt and light – is already right there inside of you, and always has been!   It’s a gift of God’s truly amazing grace: a gift of life and love and mercy that exists within each and every one of us here; and it’s everything we need for the living of these days and as a child of God!

However… (!)that said, the real question is not whether or not we’re salt and light but rather what we’re going to do with that.  You know the saying about how “with great power comes great responsibility?”  Well, it is also true that this blessing of being salt and light comes with responsibility.  Karoline Lewis writes, “It’s one thing to know and to claim your identity. It’s another thing entirely to live it.”  And here’s Jesus to say we have to! And why?  It’s “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven coming to pass here and now and not just in our future.”

In other words, our response to this gift of amazing grace that God has given must be to reflect that grace in the way we live and the way that relate to others.  Otherwise, what is the point of the gift?

That’s what I love about this passage: in Jesus’ words there’s not a lot of wiggle room!  You are the salt of the earth, he says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Now what’s interesting about that statement is that even in Jesus’ time, people understood that salt, in and of itself, does not lose its flavor; salt is always going to be, well, salty!  So the effectiveness or value of salt essentially comes down to the one making use of it; and if we are salt, it follows that it would be you and I that brings forth its flavor and vitality!  Otherwise; well, actually, The Message  translation of this says it all: “If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?”  It’s no accident that the Greek word used for salt having lost its taste is moronos; that’s right, where we get our word, “moron,” or “fool.”  If salt becomes tasteless and useless, Jesus says, then it’s also foolish and if it’s foolish, then what good is it?

And the same standard applies to the ways that you and I are light: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, [where] it gives light to all in the house.”  Light is not light unless it shines!   To quote Karoline Lewis just one more time, in these verses, “Jesus reminds us that knowledge about God cannot exist as simply knowledge… It is not enough to know about God. As disciples, we have to be the activity of God in the world. We are called to live out our identity as salt and light.”

Or, if I might put it another way, as disciples we’re meant to shake and to shine. We are to shake and shine in a way that by our very actions fulfills the law of God; so that “[our] righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” and assures our entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

That’s the sum and substance of the gospel for this morning, friends; and as I suggested before, Jesus doesn’t provide a whole lot of grey area where this is concerned.  Every day and in every way, as Jesus’ disciples we are to shake and to shine.

And that’s great, except…I don’t know about you… but there are days – times and situations – when I just don’t feel like shaking or shining… at all.

Sometimes I’m having a lousy day (yup, even ministers have bad days from time to time!); maybe I’ve been hurt somehow, maybe I’m overwhelmed and stressed out with stuff going on in my life and I’m not feeling so inclined to offer flavor and brightness to those around me!  Actually, I suspect that maybe you do understand this because you’ve been there; we’ve all been there!  I mean, this week alone (!); all it’s taken is to see, hear or read anything on the news to make one want to completely withdraw from any kind of light-giving activity!  Simply put, on a day like this, in times like these, given the way we’re feeling how can Jesus ever expect us to “let our light shine before others,” much less in a way that “give[s] glory to [our] Father in heaven?”  Sometimes you just don’t want to be salt and light!

I remember once some years ago in a prior parish, I’d been asked if I might help out at our local soup kitchen; and while I had volunteered  for that duty joyfully and eagerly, I must confess that when the morning arrived for me to do that, I was neither joyful or eager for the experience!  Bottom line, for some reason I still cannot recall I was in a foul mood that morning, a situation made worse by the fact that our church had contributed this huge, heavy, hot, sloshing over pot of stew to that luncheon, which I had to carry the three blocks between the nearest place I could park my car and the soup kitchen three blocks away!  Trust me here, for me there was absolutely no flavor or brightness about this particular act of discipleship!  In fact, I’d decided that as soon as I’d dropped off this stew at the soup kitchen, I’d make up some excuse and get out of there fast!  But of course, I couldn’t do that; the kitchen was short-handed and they needed people like me to wait tables… so me and my foul mood grabbed a coffee pot and started moving from table to table.

I’ve always said that one of the great things about working at a soup kitchen, be it the Friendly Kitchen or elsewhere, is what you don’t expect from the experience.  I mean, you’re expecting to see the effects of poverty and homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness; you expect to be amazed and horrified about how rampant (and local!) hunger truly is.  You expect and are unsurprised by the kind of “troubles” you witness in a place like that, and especially by how many children are there with the adults!  But what you don’t expect, what ends up surprising you, is what a joyful setting a place like that can be: the kind of laughter and lively conversation that happens around those tables; the gratitude that’s expressed for simply another cup of coffee; the kindness of people who have absolutely nothing of value to offer except to ask you how you’re feeling on this random Saturday morning that you would have rather spent elsewhere.

Suffice to say that my mood changed rather quickly… and I left there humbled and very aware of my responsibility to be salt and light for the sake of the kingdom… to shake and to shine as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Shortly before he passed away, Eugene Peterson, the preacher and writer who wrote the paraphrase of scripture I draw from so often, The Message, was asked what he would preach on if he knew that it would be his very last sermon.  He answered that he would probably just focus on what the people around him were already doing every day, and then try to help them to do it in ways that glorify God.  “In my last sermon,” Peterson said, “I guess I’d want to say, ‘Go home and be good to your spouse.  Treat your children with respect.  Do a good job at work.’”  

At the end of the day, beloved, it all comes down to being salt and light in this often difficult world where we live and with all the people we know and love… maybe even with a few we don’t (!)… but always letting our light so shine “so that they might see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven.” 

So might it be… so might we shake and shine.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

©  2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Blessed Foolishness

(a sermon for February 2, 2020, the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

I strongly suspect that within each one of us there exists a desire to be thought of as… wise. That is to say, as one who is considered by others to be intelligent and knowledgeable about things; as someone who’s mature and discerning and filled with all manner of insight.

And on the face of it, there’s certainly nothing wrong that that (!); after all, as it says in the book of Proverbs, it is “the LORD [who] gives wisdom, [and it is] from his mouth [that comes] knowledge and understanding.” (6:2) So to want to be thought of as wise would seem to be a laudable pursuit in life. However, that said, it should be added that one must take care in this endeavor; for wisdom, like beauty, is very often in the eye of the beholder.

I remember once toward the end of my first year of seminary, I happened to be in attendance at a student and faculty reception; a “meet and greet” with the graduation speaker that year.  And as is more or less required in an event like that, together with a couple other of my classmates, I was making my way toward my Old Testament and Hebrew professor – Dr. Stephen Szikszai – to say hello and to meet our seminary’s guest.  Now, to be honest, I was never particularly comfortable in a setting such as that, so my hope was to get in and out of there as quickly and smoothly as possible.  But Dr. Szikszai, God rest his soul, would have none of that; he greeted me from halfway across the room with the same rich and booming Hungarian voice that students at Bangor had long both respected and feared: “Ah!  Here ist vun of my Hebrew scholars now – Meester Lowry!”

Even all these years later, I cannot begin to describe to you how that hit me: he called me Hebrew Scholar!  Michael Lowry: seminarian, pastor, and… Hebrew Scholar!  I’ve got to tell you, that sounded pretty good!  I remember to this day what an immediate ego boost that was.  I mean, I’d had no idea that Dr. Szikszai thought of me that way; I was a pretty good student, I guess, but a Hebrew scholar?  Hey, this was great!  Of course, the thing about a comment like that is that you don’t want to be all puffed up about it – you at least want to appear humble – so I just said, “Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that…” In retrospect, I guess my feeble attempt at humility didn’t really come through, because to this Dr. Szikszai replied, “Dun’t get carried away, Meester Lowry.  Being a scholar does not make you smart!”

Alas, it as a glory short-lived, but oh, so sweet!

Now, I’m not sure if Dr. Szikszai intended for that to be a “teachable moment,” but nonetheless in that rather humbling experience there was a profound lesson to be learned; and not simply that generally speaking, “we’re not as smart as we might think we are!” It’s also that true wisdom is a relative thing, and in many ways might actually have to do with more than one’s course load and academic standing!  The seeds of wisdom might well be nurtured through the proper accumulation of knowledge, perception, intuition and decisiveness; but its harvest comes in knowing how it’s to be used and when!  As one of my seminary classmates said to me at the time, presumably to offer me some small amount of comfort in the face of that minor humiliation, “Don’t worry… it’s not that you’re smart that counts; it’s how you’re smart!”

Oh, well; lesson learned!  What’s interesting about all of this, though, is that the world in which we live actually has some very clear definitions as to what constitutes intelligence and wisdom, and so often it’s equated with other matters of life and living: things like guts, and courage. and the survival of the fittest; the ability to come out on top in a “dog eat dog” world, where might makes right and nice guys finish last. In the words of Scott Hoezee, of Calvin Seminary in Michigan, “This is the way the world works, true enough.  And if you are scrappy and brave and are willing to claw your way to the top of the ladder – no matter how many little people you have to step over along the way – you can and you will achieve success as defined by the wisdom of the age and the savvy of the most intelligent among us.  This is very simply how to get things done” in this world and in this life.

In this world, perhaps; but in what is the good news of our text for this morning, it’s is most decidedly not the case with God… for ours in the God who has “made foolish the wisdom of the world.”

You know, one of the things that has always moved me about this particular epistle, Paul’s first to the Church in the ancient Greek city of Corinth, is that it is in fact addressed to a people who were at once diverse and deeply divided as a Christian community.  The truth is that these Corinthians spent as much time bickering with one another as they did on matters of spirituality, and the irony was that what they bickered over the most was over who was the most spiritual!  Never mind that they were each and all “called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” who Paul refers to as “both their Lord and ours;” it’s that they have these factions within the Church of Corinth had these very different ideas about what that all meant.  And since they were given to a whole lot of one-upmanship and a great deal of pretention, a whole lot of this pretty much came down to who, as regards life and faith, could be counted wise – that is to say, the wisest – amongst them!

So into this debate comes Paul, reminding the Corinthians and us that the true meaning and understanding of our Christian faith will never be discerned through human thought and wisdom precisely because “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom;” and that divine foolishness “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts the discernment of the discerning; to quote Scott Hoezee once again, proclaiming these “mysteries of God that all coalesce around the cross of Jesus Christ,” this message that  “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved… is the power of God.”  

The ways of worldly wisdom have to do with logic and correctness and power; but that’s not how it is with God nor is it the way of salvation.  No, writes Hoezee, “here God upends it all.  We are not saved by power but by weakness.  We are not saved by worldly wisdom but by apparent folly.”  It’s the whole world – and everything we ever thought we understood about it – being turned upside down and inside out; and it all happening because of the cross, “the ignominious, shameful, accursed death of God’s own Son that the shining effulgence of all this counter-wisdom burst forth… the darkest moment in human history that led to the light… the death that led to life.”  The cross shows us the wisdom of God like nothing else ever could; but along with that, there’s something else: in the process we learn to live with the kind of wisdom that comes in a life of faith.

Speaking of my seminary days, I’m reminded here of a class in which one of my fellow seminarians was asked to present a paper about his own personal journey of faith – in other words, to tell the story of how he came to a belief in Christ and a sense of being called to the Christian ministry — but as soon became very evident, this man’s paper was an attempt to prove God’s existence through a series of interconnected mathematical proofs!   Now, you need to understand that this particular classmate had come to seminary after having already had a career as a mathematician and college professor.  I can also tell you that his hypothesis about God was clearly brilliant; and we knew this because he went on for over 15 minutes, and not a one of us understood a single word he said! But here’s what I remember: when he was finally done, the professor (who was very kind indeed) asked the student, “And what conclusion did you reach from this?”  And, after a long and painfully uncomfortable silence, all this student could do was shrug his shoulders, grin a sheepish grin and say, “I don’t know!” 

You see, try as we might, our human wisdom, however extensive or accumulated, can neither define nor direct our knowledge and understanding of God; neither can it ultimately serve to formulate the priorities and doctrines of a life grounded in faith!  In fact, it’s just the opposite:  true faith means living out of that place between our human wisdom and God’s blessed foolishness, this foolishness which “is wiser than human wisdom;”this overarching awareness that our strength and our hope, our joy and our peace, all that which is good and blessed about our lives, and indeed life itself comes to us “in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

It’s this blessed foolishness that as Paul says (himself quoting from the eloquent words of the prophet in Isaiah 29:14) “destroy[s] the wisdom of the wise” and thwarts “the discernment of the discerning.”  And it is what makes us who we are as believers and, might I add, as the church of Jesus Christ… and if you don’t believe that, “consider your own call, brothers and sisters.”

Actually, there’s a little bit of, shall we say, a comeuppance in Paul’s words that were not entirely unlike that which I received from Dr. Szikszai! Remember, these Corinthian Christians prided themselves on the depth and superiority of their own wisdom as regards matters of spirituality and faith; and yet, Paul is very quick here to poke a hole in their inflated egos: “Consider your own call,” he says.  “…not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong.”  Or, if I can use the version that’s set for in The Message, “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose those ‘nobodies’ to  expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies?’”  God chose what is low and despised in the world so that “none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God.”  (Don’t you love that?  I can hear the Corinthians now: “Well, thanks a lot, Paul… I guess…”)  But that’s the nature of God’s blessed foolishness: that it’s those who in the view of society are foolish, weak and low who come to know the true wisdom of God; and through whom God’s reign is established!

In Christ, you see, true wisdom is always going to be imbued with a sense of humility and lowliness that will set you apart from the rest of the world every time.   It will indeed, at times, lead you to be reviled, and persecuted and looked upon by the world as weak and foolish; and if you’ve ever had occasion where you’ve stood firm and opposed to others on some issue because of faith, then you may well know what I’m talking about.  And yet, if you look around at any real change that happens in this world, the kind of loving action that transforms human life and moves society a bit closer to the kingdom of God, that’s where you’re going to find someone who was willing to foolishly divest themselves of the kind of kind of power and prestige borne of human wisdom.  That’s the place where, as in the utter foolishness borne of the cross, you will see great wisdom, true sacrifice, and a world being saved.  Jacques Ellul actually says this very well when he writes that “in the world everyone wants to be a wolf, and no one is called to pay the part of the sheep.  Yet the world cannot live without this living witness of sacrifice.”  It is the mandate of true wisdom, writes Ellul, that “Christians must offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

And as I said before, it is such sacrifice – the stuff of holy and divine blessed foolishness – that makes us who we are as Christians, you and me; and not only that, it’s what calls us forth as disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May it truly be said of each one of us, beloved, that today and every day, in everything we did, we willingly and joyfully embraced that foolishness, all for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom and through whom comes all of our wisdom.

Thanks be to God. 

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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God’s Search… For You!

(a sermon for January 26, 2020, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Matthew 4:12-23)

It’s probably safe to say that at heart most of us are seekers.  Whether it’s for something tangible like, say, financial security or personal achievement; or that which is a little more difficult to define – matters of purpose and truth – on some level or another that we’re all looking for something.  And the truth is that many of us are pretty intense about that search.

I’m reminded, for instance, of a young man I knew back in college: his name was Steve, and he was actually one of the editors of the student newspaper where I worked for a couple of years.  A really nice guy, as I recall, and very bright; but in fact, what I remember the most about Steve is that he was the quintessential seeker!  Steve, you see, had the tendency to choose philosophies the way other people choose between melons in the produce aisle of the supermarket!  He would take some idea or another; squeeze it, poke it, thump it and hold it up to the light; weighing it against other ideas and literally cataloging all of its particular virtues and drawbacks before setting it aside and then moving on to the next idea or proposition, which in turn would undergo the same kind of intensive scrutiny. 

But the thing was that whatever philosophy Steve happened to be exploring at a given time, he was totally into that philosophy, talking to anyone and everyone who would listen about this incredible new truth he’d found. And this would go on for a week or two, until he’d discover some new “truth” that, interestingly enough, would often be radically different than the one before!  No matter whether the subject was politics, religion,  science or “Star Wars vs. Star Trek,” it was all the same: Steve was actually one of the few people I’ve ever met who moved from being a Republican to a Democrat to a Libertarian and all the way back again (!), and did so all in the course of a single semester!

Of course, thinking back on it, I realize that like so many others in their young adult years, Steve was firmly engaged in the search for some ultimate meaning in life and moreover, for some group or cause or community that embodied that meaning and to which he could belong; though I’m not sure – at least in the short time that I knew him – that after all was said and done he ever found it.  In the end, I suspect he became rather disenchanted with all those philosophies he’d disseminated;  in fact, I remember at one point him saying to me, “You know what, I’ve decided something:  I’ve decided that all life really amounts to are people getting together in little bunches so each bunch can say, ‘Here we are, and ain’t we somethin’!’”

You see, that’s the thing about being a seeker: a whole lot of the time you’re groping about in the darkness for that which you can’t begin to name, and even if from time to time you’re able to grab hold of somethingthat might seem great at the moment, oft times it turns out to be far less of a beacon of light than it first appeared.  And so you end up back on the search…seeking something else, something more, something you know that’s out there… somewhere.

And like I said before, at heart we’re all seekers. So isn’t it interesting then that even as we’re out there seeking, it turns out ours is a God who is also seeking… and the good news is that God is searching… for you and for me!

Now, this is a truth that in all honesty, we don’t often consider; most of the time we tend to think of a search for the spiritual in terms of our own journeys of faith; and truly, scripture does sort of bear this out. After all, along with it serving as our singular account of God’s action amongst his people, the Bible is also the story of how those people sought out, responded to and entered into relationship with God, up to and including the followers of Jesus himself! But that said, writes William Willimon, it still remains that “the Bible is [ultimately] not so much a long record of our search for God; rather, it is the amazing account of the extraordinary lengths to which God will go to search for us.”

For instance, consider the Christmas story:  it’s interesting to note that for all our advent waiting and watching for the coming of a Messiah, in the end as that story unfolds it’s not so much about our seeking out and finding this Holy Child as it is God setting everything in heaven and on earth in motion so that he would be discovered!   The star at its rising, the angel’s announcement to Mary, Joseph’s divinely inspired dream, the heavenly host who proclaimed the good news that had come into the world: all of it came about by God’s intent and action.  It was not, you see, that we were seeking and found God, but rather that God, by God’s own choosing, sought and found us!  It’s no coincidence, I think, that when John begins his gospel, he starts by talking about light that shines in the very darkness in which we were blindly groping for God: “the true light that gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

And it’s that story that continues in our text for this morning, Matthew’s account of the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and the calling of the first disciples.  Now, what’s interesting about this particular version of the story is how immediately and intentionally it all unfolds.  In other words, once that ministry has begun, Jesus doesn’t sit back and wait for word to spread about him or his preaching, nor does he hang out a shingle and wait for followers to stumble upon him: Jesus goes forth, he seeks out and calls out to these local fishermen, Simon and Andrew, and later on, James and John, saying to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  

And of course, you know the story: no sooner than these four had dropped their nets to go with him, Jesus went throughout Galilee, wasting no time to “[proclaim] the good news of the kingdom,” teaching the people and healing the sick. And what we find is that, from the very beginning, with Jesus’ every word and act and touch, more and more people joined in the following; and not so much because they were searching (although that was part of it, I suppose; because again, like all of us, they also had to have been searching for something meaningful for their lives), but even more likely because, suddenly and without warning, they’d been found!  Somehow, there was this man Jesus who had found the way to bring these people out of the darkness in which they’d so long been mired, bringing them into the good and warm light that is life, a life full and meaningful and abundant… and eternal.

But then, this is the whole reason why Jesus came, isn’t it; for he is the savior, the very embodiment of God, the one sent to seek and to save the lost.  Why do you think that Jesus told that story about the shepherd who went to great lengths out in the wilderness to find just one… one sheep, by the way, out of a hundred!  Why else would Jesus compare the Kingdom of God to a woman who literally tore her house apart in the search for one… single… lost… coin?  In the Jesus of the Gospels, we encounter a God who constantly seeks us out, who reaches in to the dark places where we dwell and grabs us, pulls us up and puts our feet on a new pathway.  What we have here, friends, is the God who will not relent in his search until we are found!

And I don’t know about you, but as I continue muddling about in this life (!), I’m very grateful for that.

Sometimes I feel a whole lot like Charlie Brown, you know?  There was a Peanuts comic strip from years ago in which Charlie Brown was sitting at Lucy’s ever-present five-cent psychology booth.  “Life is like a deck chair, Charlie Brown,” says Lucy. “On the cruise ship of life, some people place their deck chair at the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been.  Others place their deck chair at the front of the ship so they can see where they’re going.”  At this point, “Dr. Lucy” looks squarely at a puzzled Charlie Brown and asks, “Which way is your deck chair facing?”  Without hesitation, Charlie sighs and replies glumly, “I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded!”

Gotta tell ya, folks… there are times when I know exactly how that feels, and I suspect that you do, too!  There are a whole lot of times and circumstances when life is rich and rewarding for us in so many ways; you know, all’s for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds!  But then, there are also moments when life for us ends up feeling flat, and empty and lacking. Maybe those things in which we have placed so much of our time and energy and spirit have not yielded the sense of fulfillment we were longing for; or perhaps the difficulties and challenges that life brings have confused and complicated the issue of what it all means for us.  Truth be told, maybe we’re in a place in our lives where nothing makes any kind of sense to us at all!  So once again, we find ourselves searching for that ultimate meaning in our lives, but without any real success.  It could even be that you’ve come here to church this morning hoping that something will be said or sung or done here that might just help you find what you’re looking for… something that looks, and sounds and feels… like God!

Well, I’m here to tell you this morning even as we’re desperately figuring out where to look, we can rejoice because even as we’re desperately seeking God, it turns out that God has just as intently been seeking us, and what’s more God has already found us.  The problem for so many of us, friends, is that we just haven’t realized we’re found!  All the signs are there, and we’ve already been called; it’s just that for whatever reason we just that we haven’t noticed! 

The fact is, we do need to pay attention.  Who’s to say, after all, that the very fact you’re here on this particular rainy winter morning ended up being about more than the fact there’s an annual meeting (or a potluck dinner!) happening today.  Who’s to say that it wasn’t because God was calling you here; pushing you, needling you, coaxing you out of a warm bed this morning!  It could be that at this very moment God’s trying to get through to you!  William Willimon again: “Notice those little coincidences in your life,” he says.  “those strange happenings, and those thoughts that you find you have difficulty putting into the context of other thoughts.  Perhaps all of this is part of God’s continuing attempts at enticement.”

“So keep looking over your shoulder as you go through life,” Willimon concludes.  “Keep being attentive to the strange little things, the odd, glorious things that happen to you.”  It could be that God’s long search is over… because you’ve been found!

One night some years ago, I happened to be on an errand at our friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart, and as I was searching for my item, I hear a bellowing voice coming from the center aisle: “HEY!  YOU GUYS!  WHERE ARE YOU?”  Now, that made me look up and take notice, and when I turned to see where the voice was coming from, I discovered that its source was a tiny, four-year boy with very powerful lungs!  And over and over again he yelled so that someone special would hear: “HEY!  YOU GUYS!  WHERE’D YOU GO?  WHERE ARE YOU?”  I was just about to go and ask if I could help when one of the store employees came right over to do just that; and when the boy explained that he was looking for his mother and father, what this woman said in response really struck a chord with me.  She said, “You’d better come with me, then, because I have a feeling that your Mom and Dad are busy looking for you!”

Let me ask you something today, beloved: are you looking for God?  Have you been searching for the kind meaning and purpose in life that only God can provide, and have you been crying out for an answer?  Because if you are, I want you to know that God’s busy looking for you, too.  Because right now, our God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is actively seeking to bring you into his warm embrace, calling you o’er the tumult of life’s wild restless sea, calling your forth so you might follow him where he goes.

God is searching for you… and he’s searching for me, too.  But maybe this is the day… if we truly, sincerely and prayerfully take notice, we’ll be found.

I hope and pray that God’s search for you this day will be fruitful.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

©  2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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