RSS

Tag Archives: Eastertide

Because of the Resurrection…

(a sermon for April 8, 2018, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Romans 8:28-39 and John 20:19-31)

I have always found it interesting and a bit ironic that most years Easter Sunday tends to fall around the same time as income taxes come due.

Granted, this year was a bit of an exception, what with still another week to go before Tax Day (!),  but generally speaking, it seems as though every year just about the time we in the church are gathering to shout our alleluias and sing songs of triumph, outside these doors there’s that other, not-so-triumphant day on the horizon!

Frankly, for me that’s always been a bitter pill to swallow!  After all, Easter is the day of excitement, celebration and victory in the church of Jesus Christ!  For me, it doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday worship; and wasn’t it great around here last Sunday?  I mean, all of it – the hymns, the flowers, all the children running around and most especially the glorious message of hope that’s contained in the gospel story – it’s the culmination of this fateful and faithful journey we’ve taken from palms to the cross to the empty tomb; and for us to discover, yet again, that Christ has risen indeed and to realize what that means for each of us… well, I don’t know about you, but for me that just stirs the soul in a way unlike during any other service of the year!  So it’s a great and wonderful day; it always is!

But then after this shining Sunday always, always comes… Monday… and Tuesday… and inevitably and inescapably Tax Day!  And with it, at least for some stragglers among us, comes that nagging stack of forms, receipts and worksheets that serves to remind us that we can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination, for despite whatever excuses we might have to offer there is no real glory in being a “last-minute filer!”  So, yes, there may still well be Easter “alleluias” ringing in our ears after Sunday has come and gone, and the good news of new life is still very fresh in our hearts, but as Monday morning dawns, it soon becomes clear that life as we’ve known it still goes on, and there’s no avoiding the fact that tax returns need to be finished before the filing deadline on April 17th!

Of course, for you, it might have been something different that made for a burdensome and stressful “Easter Monday” morning last week.  Maybe, like for us, it was going to the mechanic and finding out that the problems with your car were more serious than you thought!  Or perhaps it had to do with contending with an ongoing illness or that of a loved one; or dealing with chronic and debilitating pain.  Or maybe it was having to cope with huge changes looming in your life: the loss of a job, the disintegration of a marriage, the struggle amid rapidly changing circumstances beyond your control to care for yourself and your family with integrity, vision and compassion.  Or maybe you woke up still stinging from that same hurt that’s always been there; the lingering grief, the unresolved anger, the old regrets, the deeply held bitterness and fear; all those unresolved feelings of weakness, guilt, despondency and utter defeat.

Whatever it was, or is, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things do return to whatever the “normal” happens to be in our lives, even amidst the continuing good news of the resurrection.  In fact, if we’re being honest, sometimes after the Sunday celebration is over and our Monday morning woes return, we might at times wonder what, if any, difference the resurrection makes in our lives; or for that matter, if any of what we proclaimed so fervently and joyously as true was even real!  Like “Doubting Thomas” of our Gospel reading this morning we do at times find ourselves wanting empirical proof that all the alleluia shouting of last Sunday morning was not some sort of cruel, cosmic joke.  But even then, in the words of Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian pastor and author, “even if [we] could, like Thomas, reach in and touch the wounds in his body… even if [we] had solid, certifiable evidence that the resurrection was real, there would still be the bills to pay, the meals to plan, the problems of life to solve.”

Henderson is right about that; we do proclaim, rightfully, that Christ is risen indeed, but the fact remains that while death has been defeated forever, life does go on; and moreover, so many of the struggles and sufferings of life in this world go on.  And so the question becomes, what happens now because of the resurrection?  What does the truth of Jesus’ rising mean for all those who have been caught up in the destructive whirlwind of all of the worst that life and an unjust world dishes out? What does the risen Jesus’ blessing of peace mean for those who feel battered, beaten, overwhelmed and worn out from the struggle?  How is it that any of us can claim, as Paul does so eloquently in our reading this morning, that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us?”

It’s really the eternal question, isn’t it?  Life’s sufferings would seem to overtake us, but our answer comes in knowing that even though there is so much against us in this world and in this life, the abiding, redeeming and liberating truth remains that in the Risen Christ we are assured that God is for us today, tomorrow, and forever.  And “if God is for us,” says Paul, “who is against us?”

There is so much to love about this passage from Romans that we’ve shared this morning; but what I think I love the most is how Paul literally unpacks our Christian hope piece by piece by piece.  In fact, I’ve heard it said that in these few verses we’ve read this morning, Paul “is trying to drain every ounce of fear from our lives.”  Listen to how he lays it out: What do we have to be afraid of, he asks, “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (By the way… just for good measure, The Message adds to that list other things; like trouble, hard times, hatred, homelessness, even “bullying threats [and] backstabbing!”) So will any of this “drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?”  No, Paul goes on to say, for “in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”  Here’s a little bit of Biblical trivia for you this morning: the Greek word that’s translated as “conquerors” here is hupernikos, which literally means “super conquerors” and in fact is where we get the brand name for, of all things, Nike running shoes!  So what Paul is saying is that through the God who loves us we are more than conquerors in life, we are… super conquerors, able to stand up to all the struggles of life with unending strength!

But here’s the thing; Paul makes clear that such strength doesn’t come out of nowhere but comes from the same God who gave up his own Son for us all; and (and this is important!),  if God would do that, “will he not with him also give us everything else?”  Given the sacrifice already made on our behalf, why would our God ever withhold any good thing from us; most especially his strength and his presence now and eternally?

In the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are shown once and for all that God loves us and that God wishes never, ever to be apart from us.  Because of the resurrection, we can be assured – “convinced,” it says in the NIV – that “neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  What that means, friends is that because of the resurrection, in whatever comes we hang on… we go on and we prevail, because in the resurrection we are more than conquerors in this life that so often tries to conquer us!  As Benjamin Reaves has put it, “in the face of every possible development, situation, circumstance, diagnosis, or disaster… [we are not merely] being delivered from all these things, but [we are] being triumphant in all these things… it is the action of a divine defender, a divine attorney, a divine love that will not let [us] go… for as we in faith cling to God, we find he has a stronger hold on us.”

Monday mornings might still hold for us all the difficult struggles of life: there still is the doctor’s appointment that awaits us; still the chemo treatment to contend with; still the broken relationships to suffer through; still the utter uncertainty of what the day’s events will bring.  But now, because of the resurrection, we proceed with hope; light shines into our darkness, and we begin, perhaps for the first time to truly see for ourselves “that in all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Maybe at last, because of the resurrection, we are strengthened with the hope that we can move beyond living solely as victims but as people of faith for whom suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.  Maybe now, because of the resurrection, because Jesus lives and we live, we will know the love that is poured out in our hearts by God’s Spirit; enabled and empowered to rejoice in hope even amidst suffering.

In the 1870’s a man by the name of Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer, and a close friend of the renowned evangelist of that era Dwight L. Moody.  Spafford was also a huge investor in real estate, but the story goes that the great Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out his holdings; a disaster that was compounded by the fact that Spafford’s son had just died as well.  In the aftermath of all of this, Spafford decided that he and his family desperately needed to get away; and so in 1873 he planned a trip to Europe with his wife Anna and four daughters.

As it happened, however, last minute business caused Spafford to delay his departure, and he sent his wife and daughters on ahead to Great Britain, aboard the S.S. Ville Du Havre, promising to follow in a few days.  But tragedy struck yet again, for on November 22, their vessel was struck by the English ship Lochearn, and quite literally, within twelve minutes sank in the cold waters of the north Atlantic.  Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost; Spafford’s wife Anna miraculously survived the accident, but their four little daughters drowned in the tragedy.  On reaching Great Britain, she sent a telegram to her husband with the sad news, writing simply, “Saved alone.”

It’s said that a few days later when Horatio Spafford himself made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife, his ship reached the spot where the tragedy had taken place. And as they were directly over the sunken ship where his daughters had perished, there, surrounded by the vast expanse and depth of the ocean and the even greater depth of his sorrow, he began to write some words that have since brought solace to so many in grief:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let his blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Despite his anguish, Horatio Spafford could say that because of the resurrection, “it is well with my soul.”  And we can say the same, beloved; because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we are given a lasting hope that is ours for life; life as it is, life as it will be, life as it continues to amaze us, confuse us, challenge us, embolden us, and sometimes discourage us.  But whatever life brings, because of the resurrection, we hang on, we go on… and we prevail.

May each one of us live as “more than conquerors” through him who loves us.

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ!

Amen and AMEN!

c, 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 8, 2018 in Easter, Epistles, Jesus, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

“If Christ has not been raised…”

(a sermon for April 23, 2017, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 12-20)

It’s one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read of what this particular Sunday, the Sunday after Easter, is all about; and it comes courtesy of pastor and columnist Robert Kitchen: he writes that to come to church today is “to worship in a lower key.”

After all, last Sunday was Easter, which is always a spiritual and emotional high point of our life together as God’s people, and there’s this palpable sense of exuberant joy in and through all of it, from rising with the sun for morning worship to singing out our alleluias amidst beautiful spring flowers and excited children in their new Easter clothes.  It’s a great day at church, and why wouldn’t it be?  Last Sunday, we came together here in celebration of a world changed forever by a stunningly powerful and utterly radical act of God – Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead – and it’s high energy for pastor and parish alike.

But now, seven days later, admittedly we find ourselves at some distance from that Easter joy; I mean, it’s still great to be here and all, but, let’s be honest: the energy’s just not there the way it was a week ago (as Kitchen goes on to suggest, no doubt referring to a lot of pastors about now, “last Sunday was exhausting but this Sunday we’re just exhausted!).  I don’t mean this unkindly; it’s just that already things have more or less returned to “normal,” even here in the church.  It’s like what happens every year after the Christmas holidays are finally behind us:  once the decorations are put away and school is back in session, there’s always this part of us that wonders if Christmas really happened at all, or if it was merely some kind of joyous, if chaotic, dream!

So it is with Easter; and I think this is one reason that over the centuries the church has sometimes referred to this particular day as “Low Sunday” (and not just because the pews aren’t as congested this week as they were last!).  It’s because after having finally come to the empty tomb, after having seen the risen Christ, and after having shouted our alleluias for the new life and new world that has come, now it’s another day and we begin to wonder what it all means… how it matters… what all changes now that Christ has risen… and, when all is said and done, if it’s all real.   Coming as they do after last Sunday’s celebration, these are the kinds of questions that while they may not exactly bring us “low,” they certainly give us pause; and a good reminder that how we approach these days after “the day of resurrection” is at least as important as how we approach the day itself.

I’m reminded of a great story I heard through another pastor: it seems that this friend of his had come downstairs to the kitchen on Easter morning, and announced rather loudly as fathers are wont to do, “I am hungry!”  And to this his five-year-old son looked up from the table and, without missing a beat, said, “I am hungry, indeed!”  The father, trying not to laugh but also not wanting his son to misuse that Christian greeting said, “Now, son, you don’t want to make fun of what we say in church.”  And the boy replied, “Oh, no, dad; it’s just in Sunday School they told us that if really feel something, you say, ‘Indeed!’”

So that’s the crux of it, isn’t it?  As Christians, we believe in the resurrection as a theological truth; as a matter of faith.  But the real question for each of us is if really feel that “Christ is risen, indeed?”  In other words, now that another Easter Sunday has come and gone is the resurrection still as powerfully real for us today as it was a week ago?  Does it matter so much to us that it makes a difference (no, the difference) in our lives?

Victor Pentz has written that knowing that difference is the real issue we face as we move beyond Easter Sunday.  “What difference,” he asks, “will the resurrection make in your life this Tuesday afternoon when your [preschooler] throws a screaming fit in the supermarket aisle and begins pulling the cans off the shelves?  What difference will the resurrection make on Thursday when you receive an office e-mail announcing corporate downsizing in your department?  Or, what difference will the resurrection make on Friday when you face an [ethical or moral] temptation… in other words, as we face the ordinary struggles of daily life,” when we’re dealing with everything from driving our kids from one activity to another to getting the taxes done on time, what difference does it really make for us that Jesus rose from death?  “Our problem,” Pentz concludes, “is not believing.  Our problem is remembering.”

The bottom line is that Easter Sunday becomes Eastertide, and Eastertide will sooner or later meld into the rest of our lives; and the truth is, as it does most of us do need to be reminded… reminded again and again of the very real difference Christ’s resurrection is meant to make for each one of us who would call ourselves Christian.

It’s just such a reminder that lay at the heart of our text for this morning; in fact, this passage from 1 Corinthians we’ve shared today represents one of the earliest recorded “affirmations” of the resurrection that we have, Paul having written these words only 20 years or so after the event itself… and did you notice how he begins this portion of his epistle?  “Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turned received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved.”

Understand that 20 years pretty much represents a generation that has passed since Jesus rose from death, and so not only has the immediacy of it faded for the Corinthians, but also, perhaps, its power as well.  So Paul seeks to remind them of that which was and is “of first importance,” telling them that familiar story yet again: how Christ died, and was buried, and then on the third day was raised, appearing to “Cephas, then to the twelve, [then] to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive,” and then, finally, to Paul himself, appearing “as to one untimely born.”  This, says Paul, is our story; it’s the story of what we believe, and it’s a story that didn’t end at the empty tomb but continues in each one who trusts in the reality of the resurrection.  The story of Easter goes on, and resurrection happens in each believer who receives that good news of “Christ proclaimed as raised from the dead,” holds firmly to its message, and stands solidly in its truth.

After all, Paul goes on to say, consider what it would be “if there is no resurrection of the dead… and if Christ has not been raised?”  This is arguably one of the most mind-boggling passages of the Epistles, for what Paul is doing here is to envision for the Corinthians and for us a world without Easter, a life in which faith is futile and in vain, in which we are still mired in our sin, and “those who have died in Christ have perished.”  Understand that what Paul’s setting forth is the kind of world where there’s no possibility for redemption or renewal and any kind of positive change in our lives because there’s never been that hope of being liberated from all the anger, fear and pain that weighs us down.  This is the kind of life where evil wins out over good every single time, and that things like love and compassion and shalom are to be regarded as merely the philosophies of fools or the naïve.  This is the kind of situation where all we can ever say to one another at the graveside is, “oh, well… that’s the way it goes,” because life then becomes nothing more than a one way trip from the cradle to the tomb and no further.

But… and here’s the good news, we know better because in fact, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Martin Luther, by the way, once said that his favorite word in the New Testament is that one little word that Paul uses here:  “BUT… [but] in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”  With that single word, “but,” Luther says, Paul erased an entire world of doom and gloom; on the force of that word, you and I can come rocketing out of that dark tomb of despair and rise on the wings of hope!  What Paul reminds us here is that since Jesus Christ has been raised, we are raised as well.  Our faith is not in vain: our loved ones who have died will be with us in the life to come; sorrow will not rule our lives forever; and the hope that girds us today and every day is not foolish or naïve, but blessed.  Christ is risen… indeed, and that makes all the difference for you and for me.

I think one of the questions I get asked most often about being a pastor is how difficult it must be to be present with people at times when someone they love is dying or how hard it is to have to lead so many funeral services.  Actually, the truth is that so often these are the times and places in which the message of our Christian faith becomes clearly focused, and the comforting presence of God in the midst of grief is felt so profoundly; and so as a pastor, I’m honored to be a part of that and to help in any way I can.  This is not to say that it’s ever an easy thing to do; I can tell you that there have been funerals I’ve led over the years that have been so physically and emotionally draining for me that I couldn’t begin to imagine what a struggle it must have been for the family.  Grief is truly one of the hardest realities of our human existence, and it’s never easy to lose somebody we love.

And yet, I have to say that there have been just as many occasions where the grief we all felt at the loss was in fact permeated with… joy (!); how often laughter became mingled with tears at these services, and how you’ll look out at the congregation as memories are being shared, and notice people smiling and nodding their heads even as they’re wiping their eyes!  Somehow, miraculously, by the grace of God a memorial has become a true celebration of life abundant and eternal, and broken hearts are healed in the process.  It seems an unlikely, if not impossible, scenario in the face of such a difficult and sorrowful time, but this is the transformative power of the resurrection; this is what happens when light floods into the darkest places of our lives.

If Christ has not been raised, beloved, then we could not see beyond the darkness, and beyond this earthly life to glimpse eternity and receive the peace that’s promised to all who would rest in the Lord.  If Christ has not been raised, then none of us could embrace the solid promise God gives us that all things – even the struggles of our lives – work ultimately for the good.  If Christ has not been raised, then there’d be no point to all of this… of our being here in this sanctuary, of singing songs of joy and victory, of lifting up prayers for the living of these days. If Christ has not been raised, how could we live any day with meaning and purpose?

But… in fact, beloved, Christ has been raised from the dead.  He has been raised indeed!  And because of this, you and I walk – in wherever we go and whatever we do – in newness of life.  Easter, you see, does not mark the end of our story, but represents a new beginning; in which life – your life and mine – is now forever and always girded on love, predicated on peace and imbued with unending hope; and it is the resurrection that makes all the difference as that wonderful story unfolds.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this Eastertide is that we remember… for it is in remembering the resurrection that true abundance will be found in this life and in the one to come; it will be in the resurrection that we will truly know the victory of  perfect love that casts out fear and overcomes the world!

Thanks be to God, who by grace has raised Jesus from the dead and gives us life!

Alleluia, and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Discipleship, Easter, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

Tags: , ,

The Consequences of Doing Good

01917a06e9daedcd0f6d00ee6f4231805fe8d61fb7(a sermon for May 17, 2015, the 7th Sunday of Easter, based on 1 Peter 3:8-17)

It is the last Sunday of Eastertide, so let me be quite emphatic about this: Christ is risen indeed; and in and through the Risen Christ we are a resurrection people; and that changes everything for us as persons, as a people and most especially as the church.

What this means is that because of the resurrection there is always to be a link between the life we lead and the new life we’ve been given.  In other words, friends, if you and I truly understand that Jesus Christ has given us new life, then what other response can there be but to be living good lives and doing good things! As the great 18th century theologian and founder of Methodism John Wesley said it:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

The point is not so much to become, in the words of the Wizard of Oz, “good deed doers,” but rather for us to do good simply because Jesus did good; for us to “…love one another”  as he has loved us.  This is who we are as resurrection people, and that’s our shared mission; in fact, one of the primary reasons we’re here today is so that by God’s Spirit and grace we might perhaps nurture the “unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another … tender heart[s]and… humble mind[s]” each one of us needs to go out there and “do good” in the week ahead.  And there is much that we can do, far more than most of us even think is possible; it is true that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  The question is whether we’re willing and able to face the consequences of our actions; whether we can deal with the consequences of doing good!

One day some years ago I was driving through the Old Port region of Portland, trying to inch my car into a parking space on one of the many small, narrow, and very crowded backstreets they have there.  And as I’m doing this, I look up to see these two young girls in a little red convertible racing up the street toward me I know going at least 60 mph!  In that split second, friends, I was absolutely sure I was about to have a serious accident, and so were they; because the driver of that convertible slammed on her brakes, the tired squealed, and you could see both passengers slam forward in the front seat.  It was close, too close, but luckily we missed each other.

Everyone was OK, but I could tell that the girls in the other car – both of them looking to be teenagers, by the way – were clearly shaken by what just almost happened; and they looked terrified.  So I followed my first instinct (both as a pastor and as a Dad!), and immediately got out of my car to walk over to the convertible to see if they were alright.  Maybe I could calm them down; reassure them that everything was fine; perhaps even gently remind them that the speed limit on that street was 25 mph, and maybe that would be something for them to keep in mind moving forward! This was my plan for doing good, friends, and it was all grounded in Christian love; but the thing is I never got the chance to follow through, because almost immediately the look of fear that I’d seen on their faces turned to rage, and well, let’s just say that as they hit the gas and tires squealed once again, these two young women offered up a gesture expressing great displeasure!

But here’s the preacher’s mindset (!); immediately I’m thinking, well, there’s a parable for you!  Just a small but fairly profound example of what can happen when our doing good comes up against a world that’s resistant to our effort.  Sometimes – not always, thankfully – the response to our random acts of kindness isn’t love returned nor even simple gratitude, but rather fear and anger.  The fact is, there are always going to be people who, no matter how you reach out to them will feel the need to lash out: at you, at the world, at life, or just because.  Perhaps it’s misunderstanding, or pride, resentment, or simply because for whatever reason they don’t know how to deal with kindness at all! But it happens, and if you’ve ever had a well-meaning effort get rejected like that, you know it can hurt; but that’s one very real consequence of doing good, that sometimes this is the response you’re going to get.

This is particularly true of the Christian life; if there’s one thing we know biblically, historically and perhaps even personally, it’s that if there is a viable connection between the life you lead and the life you’ve been given in Jesus Christ, you can expect some measure of rejection and suffering!  I know that doesn’t exactly sound encouraging (!), but here’s the thing; we who are “resurrection people” are called to live right and to do good, but not merely in the times and places where it is easy and acceptable to do so, but also and especially in the face of the world’s evil and abuse; that, in fact, is where “doing good” really counts.  That’s the truth we find in our text for this morning, which serves as  both a reality check for us “do gooders,”and also word of hope: “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?” we’re asked. “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.”

To put this into context, we need to understand that this particular passage from 1st Peter was actually meant as a word of encouragement to early Christians who lived under the constant threat of persecution; it was an admonition to always continue setting the example of a Godly life even as the world and its culture kept on lashing out at them for who they were, very often at the cost of their very lives.   Understand, friends, it was no small thing for those of the early church to heed this call to “not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse,” but instead to “repay with a blessing [for] it is for this that you were called.”

Granted, most of us don’t have to face that kind of persecution in this day and age, but it seems to me the challenges are much the same.  I don’t think it’s any secret that these are difficult times for us to be the church; not only, as a new Pew Research study has just revealed, are the numbers of those claiming to be “Christian” decreasing, but the numbers of those who would choose “none” as their religion of choice are increasing!  Moreover, these days there seems to be this prevailing wind of culture that would seek to render what we believe as something irrelevant and antiquated at best, and harmful and oppressive at worst; so given all that, the question is how do we live lives that are loving, caring and distinctively and unashamedly Christian?   How does one abide; how does one “keep the faith” as true disciples and “resurrection people” when more and more there are those who would actively reject and discredit what we stand for?

Well, the answer to that is the same as it’s always been:  the bottom line, says Peter, is that suffering on account of one’s faith is real; that persecution will happen; and that your Christ-centered goodness will be shot down sooner or later; but that doesn’t mean you should stop.  For, says Peter, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, then to suffer for doing evil.”  Indeed, rather than holding back, these are the situations in which we are to be consistent in our outreach; doing what we do, being who we are, and living with our conscience clear, so that “when [we] are maligned, those who abuse [us] for [our] good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.”  It is not be fearful, nor intimidated by those who act out of fear, but to stand strong, and stand ready to make our defense for “the hope that is in [us],”  and in the proper spirit; not with anger, nor in bitter reaction but always “with gentleness and reverence.”

Beloved, there is already way too much negativity, divisiveness and finger-pointing in this world; and quite frankly, all too much of it has found its way into the life of the church.  What we need is to be able to speak our faith in a way that is articulate and intelligible, a mirror reflection not only of the truth of what we believe as resurrection people, but also of how we intend for the community of God’s people to be.  Because in the end, you see, as Christians we are held accountable not so much for what we think, but rather for how we love; so we need to always be prepared to courageously speak God’s truth to the world… but to always do it with love girded in action.

And lest we start to think that this is nothing but “warm and fuzzy” kind of thinking that has no real effect on the world around us, remember that we have the supreme example for this in Jesus Christ, who was in fact, “the righteous for the unrighteous,” in order to bring you and me and us all to God.  In all the struggles we encounter trying to live faithfully in an often hostile world, we must never lose sight that our sheer persistence in doing good for Christ’s sake cannot help but bringing others, however slowly, closer to God himself!

The late Rev. Dr. W. Frank Harrington, a renowned southern Presbyterian pastor, was once asked what he felt was the main thing he had provided for the church and its people over the course of a lifetime ministry, including some 29 years spent as senior pastor of one congregation.  And he answered that while, for better or worse, he always tried to do his best every day, he recognized that his greatest contribution may well been the fact that he endured; that he persisted, and had become, in his words, “a point of continuity in a constant climate of change.”

And you know what; whether you are pastor or parishioner, that’s pretty important!  For you see, as Harrington went on to say, one of the ways we cope with an often harsh and faithless world is that there are many people who, “in the warp and woof of every day, are keeping the faith.  Ordinary men and women [who] are ‘points of light’ in the darkness that we see and experience.”  Sometimes, as they say, and this is especially true in faith, the first and best thing you can do is simply to show up!

I’ll be honest; sometimes I struggle with this whole notion of “doing all the good I can” in every way and place and time that I can; not because I don’t want to, but because no matter how hard I try, there’s always more that needs to be done.  Speaking pastorally as well as personally I can’t do it all, and I’m learning that this is why we’re gathered here as the church; a community of faith, and simply not a group of well-intentioned individuals!  And I’m very grateful for that.

But I do know this: that as I persist – that as we persist – in whatever way we can in doing good in the name of  our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we make a difference. What’s that old verse?  “I am but one person, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  What I can contribute, I should… and I will.”

Beloved, may each one of us here have the strength to go out there this week and keep on doing good…

…and may our thanks be to God as we do.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2015  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: ,

 
%d bloggers like this: