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Unabashedly Joyful

(a sermon for April 26, 2020, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, based on Philippians 4:4-7)

In pondering our text for this morning, and in my continuing quest these days to unearth some inspirational music from what might be referred to as “the grooveyard of forgotten favorites,” here’s one song that’s been running through my head all week:

“Here’s a little song I wrote,
You might want to sing it note for note
>Don’t worry – be happy!
For when you worry your face will frown,
And that will bring everybody down,
So don’t worry – be happy!
(Don’t worry, be happy now)”

— “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” by Bobby McFerrin

Now, speaking pastorally, if there’s going to be one song on our lips after this morning’s service it probably ought to be “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” but I do have to confess that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” might just fill the bill at a time like this!  Because I dare say what we all need a whole lot of right now is joy; and given that for most of us joy is intermingled with feelings of happiness, one of the best ways to bring that forth is to sing it out!  Because to quote another forgotten favorite, “if you’re happy and you know it… then your face (and your voice!) will surely show it,” and so not only does that serve to inspire joy in those around you, it also becomes an affirmation of our faith and an act of praise.  And isn’t that, after all, what Paul is getting at in our text for this morning: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.” 

Of course, in all fairness, I suspect that when Paul speaks of rejoicing, he’s talking about something much deeper than to simply not worry and be happy!  What Paul is talking about here in his epistle to the Philippians is about real and unrestrained rejoicing: the kind of joy that lifts us up from the place where we are; the kind of joy that sets the standard for everything else in life, the kind of joy that comes in having ones heart and mind wholly guarded in Christ Jesus.  What we’re talking about here is the kind of joy that exists at the very core of our Christian faith and what ought to serve as the hallmark of our lives as followers and disciples of our Risen Savior.   It is joy unabashed and it is joy unrelenting; and therein lies not only its power and its great importance for our lives… but also its challenge.

And I suspect you know why!  I mean, especially right now: how do you speak of unrestrained joy in an age of pandemic?  How do you tell someone to rejoice who has had to suffer through the effects of the Covid-19 Virus, or worse, who has lost someone to that disease?  What are we supposed to say to all those people whose lives and livelihoods have been totally upended over these past few weeks, with no real resolution in sight? How do you think they’re going to respond to Paul’s exhortation to rejoice in the Lord always?  Quite frankly, I suspect they’d be apt to think it shallow at best and condescending at worst: your life is falling apart?  “Again, I say rejoice!”

 In that context, an unrestrained and unrelenting joy doesn’t seem all that realistic or reassuring, does it?  And yet, in this age as in every age that has come before, that’s exactly what you and I are being called to bring forth in faith! 

So… what are we to do about this? How do we reconcile this call to be “unabashedly joyful” with all the real-world difficulties and struggles that we face?  Can we really “rejoice always,” or not?  Was Paul simply naïve and blind to what was really going on, or when he tells the Philippians and us to “rejoice,” does he have something else on his mind?

Perhaps part of the answer lies with Paul himself.  After all, here was a man whose entire ministry in Christ was marked by worldly persecution and ridicule; who was himself driven out of several towns and cities (often under the cover of darkness), and through the course of his life was also shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and exposed to death, danger, hunger, thirst, fatigue and cold, all for the sake of the Gospel!  At the time of this letter to the church at Philippi, it’s late in his life; Paul’s in prison again, this time under guard of the Imperial capital of Rome, and expecting at any moment that judgment will be rendered and he’ll be executed.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, it turns out that the Philippian church is full of problems: they are few in number; they’re filled with fear and doubt about the future, persecuted by everyone in the city; and what’s more, there’s in-fighting going on at just about every level of the church.

It was enough to make any of us throw our hands in the air and give up trying.  And yet, here’s Paul – who remember, is getting old and feeble and at a point where a bit of discouragement would be understandable – nonetheless saying, boldly and without hesitation, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say it:  Rejoice!”  In fact, Paul says this over and over again – sixteen times in only four chapters of this epistle (!) – and he can do it because this isn’t rejoicing merely for the sake of feeling happy, but because of the one in whom he rejoices.  Rejoice in the Lord, Paul says.  Rejoice in the Lord always!

It turns out that there are two basic types of joy: external joy, the kind that comes and goes with whatever is happening in our lives, and which is wonderful, but is finite and can be easily be displaced or destroyed at a moment of conflict or struggle; and internal joy, the kind of joy that comes from within.  When Paul talks about joy, he means the internal joy that the Lord himself places within us. The great theologian Karl Barth said it well when he wrote that the joy of which Paul speaks is “a defiant ‘nonetheless,’” which draws strength from the gospel story and “from laying one’s deepest concerns before God with thanksgiving.”  This is a deep joy that takes root even in darkness; joy that has its source in God’s great presence and God’s hope for whatever the future may hold.

To put it even more simply, it’s not so much rejoicing because of all the things that have happened to us in life; in fact, very often we rejoice in spite of all that has happened to us, and that’s because we look first to Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, and in us, and to us.  Our joy is to be “in the Lord,” and because of this, you and I can rejoice in all circumstances, even those that are difficult and painful and involve suffering; not because of what it is we’re going through, mind you, but because of the grace of the Lord; the hope, strength, love and understanding we’re given to see it through, no matter what!

A few years ago, Lisa and I were invited with some others to the home of a Jewish rabbi, to share in a Shabbat meal, that is, a Sabbath meal; that night we did everything kosher, the food and the liturgy, and it was wonderful.  Having studied some Hebrew in seminary, it was nice to hear the biblical prayers spoken in their original language; all the traditions that go along with eating in a Jewish household are rich and meaningful, and the music – yes, we all had to sing in Hebrew, folks (!) – was fun and very, very joyful!  And how do I know this?  Because most of the songs we learned to sing that night had a chorus that the Rabbi promised that even we Gentiles could sing: “Di, di, duh, duh, di, di!”   I could do that!

Actually, one of the songs we sang that night I’ve never forgotten; it’s called “Dayenu,” and it’s a song for Passover.  I would not presume to sing that one here today, but suffice to say that the lyrics are a long enumeration of all of God’s blessings to his chosen people, but with a twist: with every verse, we sang about what would have been had God not given one of those blessings!  “Had he brought us out of Egypt, and not fed us in the desert, but brought us out of Egypt, well, then, Dayenu,” which in Hebrew means, “for that alone we would have been grateful.”  It’s a fun song to sing, and what it reminds us is that no matter the challenges we face in the present moment, we still have this relationship with a God who is present and powerful and moving in and through our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to measure or fully understand. 

When we have that, friends; even when we can only perceive it as though it were the size of a mustard seed; well, that’s when we learn to “not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be known to God,” truly knowing that peace which passes our human understanding… and rejoice.

I know… six weeks and counting in this time of quarantine and it’s all too tempting to let ourselves become sad and angry and embittered over what life and this world has “done” to us.  But it is faith in the wisdom, care and perfect mercy of God that strengthens us to transcend these difficulties of life so that we might know life’s real joy, which comes to us in Christ.  I’ve quoted a lot of songs today, but maybe the one we really ought to take to heart is the one about that “joy, joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts to stay.”  Because when others see such unabashed joy in us, they – and our world – cannot help but be the better for it.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

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A Question of Attitude

(a sermon for January 21, 2018, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Philippians 4:4-9)

I should begin here by confessing to you that the moment I sat down this week to begin writing this sermon, this very next sentence immediately caused me to “flash back” to a time when my children were much younger than they are now:

“I want to have a talk with you this morning about your attitude!” 

Believe me, I know how that sounds!  Granted, like most parents, I did have that conversation with my children back in the day; with the boys at some point when they were teenagers, and with my daughter, actually, when she was about five years old and imitating some obnoxious character from a cartoon show!  But I don’t want to give the impression that I’m giving you that kind of a lecture, because I’m really not; and besides, I don’t want you to be “rolling your eyes” at me the way my kids sometimes did back then!

That understood, however, I would like to talk with you this morning about… our attitude!  Because certainly attitude is a crucial issue for every one of us, most especially as adults; and moreover, because attitude plays into just about every aspect of our lives.  Health care workers, for instance, tell us again and again that whether we’re dealing with something as serious as a catastrophic illness or recovering from surgery or whether it’s something relatively simple as trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, having a poor attitude about these things can only make a difficult situation that much worse; while a more positive attitude might well contribute mightily to faster healing and making things better overall!  And we’re not just talking physical health, either:  a good attitude cannot help but have a positive effect on your day, your week, your work productivity, your family atmosphere and the state of your relationships with others.  By the same token a negative, “gloom and doom” attitude has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; in other words, expect the worst in things, or in people, and that’s pretty much what you’re going to get!  Simply put, a proper attitude is of utmost importance!

Chuck Swindoll actually expresses this very well: he says that “the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude,” he says, “is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, [or] than what other people think or say I do… we cannot change the past.  We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced,” Swindoll goes on to say, “that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”

I like that; and believe me, friends, when I say to you this morning that this is especially true as it applies to the spiritual life.  For you see, there are a whole lot of spiritual people out there who seem to be far more negative in their attitudes than positive!  These are people – ostensibly people of faith, mind you – who are more about what’s wrong with the world and people than what’s right; who are more willing to talk about everything they’re against and can’t approve of, than what it is (and who it is) that they truly stand for; whose very words and actions would just seem to betray that which they come and sing about every Sunday morning at church!

Truth be told, there’s a real cynicism that can be seen in a great many Christians today.  Now, I don’t know if it’s world-weariness, the by-product of  all the conflict and divisive rhetoric that surrounds us these days; if it’s about the kind of worldly culture that has long sought to pull us away from Christianity; or if it’s just what happens when you begin to feel like you’ve been living your own life in some constant state of fear and anxiety: but there are those who have let themselves get so caught up in an attitude of negativity that I have to wonder if they can even hear what Paul has proclaimed in scripture reading this morning, much less receive it:  Rejoice, he says.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, Rejoice.”

That particular verse from Philippians stands among the most upbeat, positive affirmations in the Epistles, if not all of scripture; certainly one of the most familiar to our ears.  It’s also, by the way, one of those verses that’s pointed to by those who would make the claim that faith in general and the Bible in particular have no real basis in reality! But I would suggest to you that such an attitude (there’s that word again!) represents a major misunderstanding of scripture, and one proof of this comes from Paul himself.

You see, by the time he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul had been in prison, probably in Rome and in miserable conditions, for upwards of two years; and, by the way, quite literally shackled to an endless series of Roman palace guards, waiting at some point to “stand trial” before Nero (in fact, here’s a not-so-fun fact: such was the cruelty of this imprisonment that the Romans would change guards every four hours, so that no one guard could ever begin to sympathize with Paul and perhaps be inclined to show him mercy).

So here’s Paul, facing a dismal future that would almost certainly include his execution at the hands of Nero himself; and yet, still, Paul is able to say “I rejoice in the Lord greatly;” (4:10) and what’s more, he’s able to say these Philippian Christians, and to you and me, you also rejoice!  “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”  As The Message translates this, “Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  [And] before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful,” Paul concludes, “what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  It seems incredible that Paul could maintain such a positive attitude and rejoice in the midst of all of that he was suffering, but in the end, you see, it was not a shallow idealism that was guiding him; it was optimism fueled by his relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, we need to understand here that there is a huge difference between idealism and optimism.  To be filled with idealism is to live unto the notion that everything is wonderful in life, that things will always go well, and that nothing in the world can ever truly be wrong; you know, “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”  And don’t get me wrong, idealism is fine to a certain extent; it’s idealism that inspires hope and dreams, and it’s what moves people to higher vistas in their lives; but ultimately, idealism can also be unrealistic, given the world as it is.  The truth is that those who live wholly unto idealism and who carry on as though everything is always sweetness and light are bound to come crashing down to life’s harsh realities; and that cannot help but do damage to the spiritual life.  The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it well: “Idealism is a greater threat to faith than [even] despair.”  It’s no coincidence that some of the most negative people you’ll ever meet in this life are “burned out” idealists.

Optimism, however, is something different: optimism, at least as it is understood biblically, is ultimate hope.  An optimist knows that life is going to be rough; understands that stuff can be bad and that sometimes we’re going to get hurt, but also knows that good things can and will come through in the end.  A good analogy, I think, is to say that an optimist is something like a marathon runner:  he or she knows that the race is hard, that running may well tax every bit of residual strength they have, and wait… just when you think the race is over, “Heartbreak Hill” is dead ahead!  But the optimist’s attitude is, it’s going to hurt, yes, but I will win this race!

By the same token, Biblical optimism is the attitude of accepting difficulty, but expecting victory.  It is to be looking for God’s hand at work in every situation – the good, the bad and the ugly – and to know that God’s strength and hope pervades any suffering and struggle we face; it is to live expectantly unto what God will be doing in and through our lives; and it is to purposefully live with a positive attitude in a negative world, facing the day with the kind of confidence that comes in knowing that whatever else comes down, we will be able to find the wherewithal to do as Christ himself inspires and leads, including rejoicing in the darkness of a prison cell!

And no, in times such as these, it’s neither an automatic nor easy process to adopt that kind of an attitude, but it’s within such a positive, spiritual stance that we are able to truly embrace the kind of unending hope and redeeming joy that each one of us longs for in this life. Rene Schlaepfer, a pastor and writer out of California, makes the point that while many in the world view positive people as naïve and shallow, “as someone has said, ‘cynicism is just intellectual laziness.’  It doesn’t take any character to be negative,” he says; “it doesn’t take creativity to be negative about [the things] you see… it doesn’t take any deep spiritual maturity to be upset [about everything]… it takes perspective to be positive; it takes wisdom to be positive; you have to be spirit-filled to be positive.”  It takes work, friends; but in the good news that is ours in Jesus, and “in the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” by grace we are given that which we need to weather the storms and challenges of this life; so that we might truly “rejoice in the Lord always” as we do.

And I don’t know about you, friends, but I want to rejoice in the Lord, and in life… I need to rejoice in it! I do not believe that life should be something that is merely endured and trodden through; I believe that life, most especially as a Christian, is to be an exciting and joyous experience; that every moment of it, be that moment joyful or sorrowful, should be filled with dynamic power.  Beloved, as believers, we are being called to live lives that are thrilling to behold, exciting to watch, ennobling, enkindling, enabling, and enthusiastic. Because of faith, who we are and what we do in life ought to have a vibrancy about it that’s unmistakable; and let me also say that it can, and it will, make a difference in the world!

But how that happens, and if that happens… in many ways, it’s a question of attitude; yours and mine.

The late Mike Yaconelli, in his book, Dangerous Wonder, writes beautifully of how the Christian life can accurately be compared to a roller coaster ride; but not one of the newer rollercoasters where they strap you in and but bars around your shoulders; rather one of the old fashioned ones where you sat on a bench with only one skinny metal pipe in front of you!  In other words, “suddenly you are strapped in and you think, I’m going to die!  Then you begin the long climb up the track of [spiritual] growth… and you think, Hey, no problem, I can follow Jesus anywhere, and then – ZOOOOOOM (!) – you crash into the twists and turns of life, jerking left then right, up then down, and fifty, sixty years go by and – WHAM! – you’re dead.”   But, writes Yaconelli, “if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depth of my soul, ‘What a ride!’”

The Christian life, he says, “is the breathtaking, thrill-filled, bone-rattling ride of a lifetime where every moment matters and all you can do is hang on for life dear… most people believe that following Jesus is all about living right. Not true.  Following Jesus is all about living fully.”  And to live fully means to take the ride… and to do it with joy, and spirit, and optimism along every turn.

I think that’s what Paul was saying to the Philippians, and us, when he said, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… think about these things,” and, most importantly, keep doing those things.

It’s all a question of attitude, you know.  May our life’s faithfulness be of such an attitude that one day, we also might be able to say with great satisfaction, “what a ride that was!”  What a ride!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Epiphany, Epistles, Faith, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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Guided Into Truth

IMAG0228(a sermon for June 29, 2014, the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on John 16:12-15 and Philippians 4:4-9)

(Pastor’s Note: What follows is the message that was intended for last Sunday, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the Christian Ministry.  I’d been told by the church leadership that there was to be “something” in commemoration of that event, to “not ask any questions,” but that I should go ahead and plan worship and preach as I usually would.  Then, of course, in a delightful plan fueled by love and laced with misdirection, deception and a couple of outright lies (!), the congregation planned their own wonderful service for the day, a celebration I will always remember!  I was also firmly instructed to not write a new sermon for the following week, but to deliver the one I’d already written and further, “not to change it at all,” as usually is my wont to do… and aside from a couple of “minor” edits, that’s what’s presented here!)

So… what does it take to get to 30 years of pastoral ministry?

It’s a question that, trust me, has weighed mightily on my mind and heart as of late!  I can tell you, for instance, that it takes patience, persistence and a fair amount of work; to say nothing of the all-encompassing and often inexplicable drive to crank out sermons week after week, year after year, in the furtive hope that once in a while, maybe you might actually preach the word of God  in the process!  It’s weddings and funerals, baptisms and confirmations; it’s candlelight Christmas Eves and sunrise Easter mornings; it’s about a zillon “goofball” VBS songs on the guitar, and getting to see those kids who once embarrassed their parents during the children’s sermon grow up to have children of their own in the Sunday School!

It’s pastoral calls and home communion; it’s bedside vigils at the hospital; and it’s being quietly present with a family in crisis… even as your own heart breaks along with theirs.  And, yes, it’s the regular stuff that happens day to day in this job: the ongoing cycle of committee meetings, stewardship campaigns, bulletin prep and constantly checking for things like if the heat’s been turned down or if the coffee pot’s plugged in.  But it’s also discovering that there are untold blessings in every single one of these things; that there’s as much holiness to be found at a church potluck as anywhere else, and that whether there happens to be 200, or 20, or 2 people who show up on any given Sunday morning, there will the Lord be in the midst of them!

In that regard, I can also tell you that it takes people.

It certainly took people like my mother and father, who not only loved me and raised me up right (!) but who were always my biggest cheerleaders and staunchest advocates when as a young man I answered the call to ministry (my mom is still the first one to push the “like” button when I post a sermon online!).  It also takes a great wife “like the one I got;” Lisa, who’s walked with me on this journey almost all these 30 years, my best friend and my cherished partner not only in life but also in ministry (because trust me when I tell you that being a pastor’s spouse is a calling all its own!); as well as our three wonderful children who not only accepted the dubious mantle of “preacher’s kid” that was thrust upon them, but who, each in their own way, embraced it in becoming the wise, creative and caring adults that they are.

It’s also taken all those folks who’ve been the heart and soul of the many congregations of which I’ve been a part over the years: it’s the Deacons and the Trustees and the choir members and the church organists and the Sunday School teachers and the Women Fellowship ladies and especially all those folks who are always there in the pews, come what may, Sunday after Sunday; the ones who are the first to arrive and the last to leave.  It’s people like “Gustie” Chase in the church where I grew up, the sweet, elderly lady who was the very first person to call me “pastor” (when I was all of 15 years old and had just preached a “sermon” at a youth service at the church), and kept right on doing so in the years that followed. It was people like Kay Shepherd, a member of the Hallowell church I served, who after worship every Sunday greeted me with a warm hug and ever and always the admonition to “be bold, pastor, be bold!”  And it was people like Len Libby, one of the pillars of the Scarborough church and the chair of the search committee that brought me there:  a man who was greatly respected and admired by all, and even feared by a few (if, for instance, a youth came to church wearing a baseball cap, frontward or backward, he’d be the one to knock the cap off his head, adding firmly but not unkindly, “You remove your hat, young man, and have some respect.  This is the house of God!”  And, believe me, none of those youth ever got caught wearing a cap in church again!).  It was all these people over the years, so many I could tell you about, whose living faith has been a source of inspiration for me; most especially in those moments when my own well began to run dry.  It’s even those few individuals along the way who proved to be, shall we say, difficult, because if nothing else, they managed to teach me that patience I mentioned earlier! Because it’s true what they say: the church is not a building or a program or a business; it’s people, people of every size, shape and persuasion gathered in the powerful name of Jesus Christ; and thanks be to God for you all!

But most of all, friends, (and here’s the message for today!) it takes a Spirit.

What’s interesting is I’m realizing that everything I just said to you about getting to this point comes solely by virtue of 20-20 hindsight!  But back 30 years ago; quite honestly, I was, to say the least, very green where ministry was concerned – sincere, earnest, enthusiastic, yes – but essentially clueless!  What I did have was this strong sense of calling; a clear understanding that I was being led to become a pastor.  Beyond that, however, it was pretty much a mystery and very much a “learn as you go” process; but that, of course, is precisely what a journey of faith is all about.

Thankfully, however, we never venture into that mystery alone.

On the night of the arrest that led to his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  Jesus knew, you see, that his disciples were about to walk into this big, vast, mysterious, dangerous future; and that right then they couldn’t even begin to grasp what they were going to have to face by virtue of being his followers in the world, the utter scope of this incredible good news that very soon now they’d be sent to proclaim to a world that stretched far beyond the shores of Galilee.  There’d be challenges they’d have to face and suffering to endure: there would be a cost to discipleship, but there’d also be a joy in believing that would sustain them in their darkest hours; and the thing was that it all just about to unfold, but for now it was simply too much for them to bear, and Jesus knew it.

And that’s why he promised them – and us – a Spirit to be there amidst the journey.  “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus says, “he will guide you into all the truth… he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Not in the sense of divination, of course; Jesus is not talking here about some faith-based “spoiler alert,” because the truth is every one of us will already know about the future… just as soon as it becomes the present!  No, this will be a spirit that, as The Message translates it, will “help make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that [Jesus has] done and said.”  And what a gift that is; to know that whatever the situation or challenge we’re facing; whether the path we’re walking is one safe and smooth, or one fraught with danger; no matter if we’re, in the words of the Psalmist, “[rising] on the wings of the dawn… [or settling] on the far side of the sea,” (139:9 NIV) God’s Holy Spirit will be present with us and within us; ever and always guiding us into God’s truth!

Friends, I want to tell you this morning that not only do I believe this with all my heart; I also depend on it, and if there’s one thing that I can point to that’s gotten me to this place 30 years later as a parson and a person, it’s that.  And it’s this same Spirit; this Spirit of truth that Jesus himself said would take what is his and declare it to us that gives each one of us the strength and the courage we need for the living of these days; and, I might add, the joy of it as well!

God’s guiding Spirit is how we can go out from this place today and face the unknown with all boldness; ever and always choosing to think (and to act!) on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing” and commendable; to exemplify in our lives that is filled with excellence and worthy of praise, and to do so because through his Spirit of truth, the Lord has shown us how.  It’s how we nurture a relationship with the Divine that will carry us from day to day, season to changing season, and “from age to age the same;” it’s how we discern moral and ethical truth in a world and culture that more often than not prefers to keep things muddled and woefully ambiguous; and it’s what will lead us forward, so that each one of us may begin to discover our own unique, God-gifted purpose of life!  It is good news indeed that by the grace of God and through his Holy Spirit, even now you and I are being guided into all truth!

You incredible, wonderful people have honored me last week with a celebration of 30 years of ordination to the Christian Ministry, and I continue to be truly humbled by your thoughtfulness and love.  I thank you so much; not only for all of what you’ve done for this milestone in ministerial calling, but truly for all the kindnesses you’ve extended to this pastor, and to his family, over the past two years we’ve been together as pastor and parish. You have been, and continue to be, amongst our life’s greatest blessings!

I said something to you last Sunday, and it bears repeating: that we need to understand that ultimately, none of this is about me, or even about our church; nor should it be.  This is about the Lord who gives us life both abundant and eternal in the life to come; and who offers us up redeeming, saving love which never, ever fails.  It is God in Jesus Christ our Lord who deserves our praise and celebration; the God who has brought us rejoicing to this day, this same God who by his Spirit will guide us into all truth as now, the next part of our journey begins!

So what else is there to say today, except: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say… Rejoice!”

Thanks be to God, beloved; thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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