We Shall Be Like Him

risen christ

Resurrection by Piero della Francesca

a sermon from

April 22, 2012

Year B Easter 3

These Sundays after Easter we have a little time to unpack some of the impact of Christ’s resurrection. Today I want to focus on two implications of resurrection. Resurrection underscores the permanent importance of community and of creation.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus came back after he was raised from the dead? Once he was delivered from death and given victory over all that wicked and sinful forces had done, why did Jesus hang around at all? Why didn’t Jesus go directly to heaven and leave the earth altogether?

In Shawshank Redemption Andy digs an escape out of prison and sends a card back to his buddy Red. The card is postmarked Fort Hancock, Texas, with nothing written on it, but Red takes it as a sign that Andy is headed to that Mexican beach he always talked about. And the film ends when Red after parole is able to join him there.

Couldn’t Jesus just sent a kinda postcard from heaven, “Having fun. Wish you were here.” or just like Andy’s card just blank except for the postmark that says it all, “I made it.”

But no Jesus came back to his friends.

We recall ways Jesus said it. Luke 12:4: “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” John 15:14

John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Every resurrection appearance implicated the community. Mary Magdalene has a one-on-one experience, but what does Jesus tell her? ‘Go to my brothers and say to them”.

The followers see Jesus in Emmaus as he breaks bread of fellowship and what do they do? Immediately they go and tell the other disciples who are still in Jerusalem and suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. “Last of all he appeared unto me,” Paul says. But as we read the story Christ directs him to the community of believers he had orginally planned to persecute. And the rest of his life Paul is all about creating new communities of believers.

People today have all sorts of gadgets and props to mimic self-sufficiency. And being self-reliant is a virtue. But there is deep down in all of us a need to be part of a circle of friends, comrades, peers.

Jesus came back to his friends. Maybe that signifies that even when we have no more dealings in this world, the associations we have begun in this world will continue to be important to us. We cannot run from them. We ought not neglect them.

C.S. Lewis said that the one thing we know in this world that will be with us forever is other people. 1

In one sense this is comforting, to know that we are not done with people in our lives when death parts us. The separation is temporary. Now what if you have serious problems with that ex-spouse or the boss who mistreated you or the fellow down the pew who said that heartless thing you can’t forget?

The only way that the prospect of never being without those souls could fill you with anything like hope is if forgiveness is real, and reconciliation possible. I can imagine that some of the disciples may have been a little shamefaced at the idea of seeing their friend. Hadn’t one friend been the betrayer. Had not Peter the outspoken one, denied and put distance between himself and Jesus? Had not all but a few women run and hid while he was suffering on the cross?

Sin is not the main thing about us. God’s forgiveness reassures us that when we have let God down, failed in our intentions to be faithful, managed to hurt those closest to us, that sin does not get to be the last word.

Forgiveness must be the hardest thing we are called to do as followers of this Jesus. We nurse old hurts and find justification for our anger in recalling the ways we’ve been betrayed and lied to. None of these are things we lightly ignore.

One of the first things Jesus says to those disciples in the upper room both in John and Luke is “Peace.” Peace is overarching blessing of which forgiveness is a part. Forgiveness means that healing of the fractures in relationships is possible. The love Jesus has for his friends is larger than their failings. And for the sake of the future, we are released from our past mistakes.

I John reads: if we sin – literally keep on sinning– we have no part in Christ. But to be in Christ means that God grants us the opportunity to have a different future, one in which we grow more like Jesus.

But notice that in giving us his peace, Jesus is at the same time bidding us to give peace, to preach and practice forgiveness.

I John reads that those who are in Christ will keep growing until we are finally like Jesus. And he uses two words to describe what God is like. He is righteous– that is he works for justice. That includes liberating the oppressed and feeding the hungry and giving the poor a way to live and offering hospitality to mistreated and shunned.

God is at work to bring right and blessing to all.

The other thing that God is is pure. We ought to be pure as God is pure. Or maybe your Bible translates it holy. Which is to say that any attitude of meanness is missing. Any taint of exclusive self-serving is not there. We are “unspotted by the world.” as James puts it.

Any one who hope one day to see Jesus and at that moment be like him will go ahead right now and live a good life.

The focus of forgiveness is not on what you have been but on what by God’s grace and power you can become.

John Claypool tells a story that sums up the spirit of forgiveness:

Arthur Gordon was a southern lad who went to Yale and made good. …he was so outstanding …that he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship on his graduation and went for two fabled years to study at Oxford….

He came back and fulfilled a long-term dream by organizing or founding an avant-garde literary journal which he hoped would be a vehicle of his own and several other young writers’ careers. However, after two years it turned out that he was a better student than he was an entrepreneur and editor. In fact, through many foolish decisions, after two years the magazine folded, he found himself out of work and heavily in debt. It was his first encounter with failure.

A very significant right of passage for a bright young achiever. It turned out that he knew how to succeed; he did not know how to cope with failure. So he became very depressed, even suicidal. His family down in Savannah, Georgia, became quite disturbed about him. They were successful in getting him to an important counselor, a friend of the family, an old gentleman who practiced [on Manhattan Island.] in NY

Young Gordon went and poured out to the counselor his tale of lament and woe, all the self-recrimination that he was feeling for his failure. When he finished, the old counselor said, “I think your story is very similar to several others that I’ve worked with. Would you be willing to spend some time and listen to some recorded stories that I’ve got permission from these patients to share with others? I think there is similarity between their plight and yours.”

So he put on a cassette and there was a man’s voice. It was a father who had made several mistakes with a son in an earlier period. He had a great deal of regret for the pain that that was now causing.

The second voice was that of a woman. She made a very poor choice of a marriage partner. She had not handled the difficulties that ensued. She too was regretting all the things that were happening.

The next voice was that of a man, a high-placed business executive, who had made some unfortunate decisions earlier, and now was having to pay for them in terms of financial loss. He too was lamenting what he had done.

When the third voice ended, the counselor said to young Gordon, “Did you pick up a theme that was common through all three of those interviews? In their own way each was looking to the past and saying ‘if only, if only I had done differently, if only I hadn’t made certain mistakes.’ I don’t mean to brag by sharing with you that I was successful in helping all three of those people. They are today much more productive in their living. The secret to turning them around was taking them to substitute two different words for the words ‘if only.’ I was able to get each one of those persons to learn to say ‘next time’ instead of ‘if only.’

…And the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are given second chances on the same terms that we were given our first chance. God is not a perfectionist, but a loving father. Life is not a spelling bee, one mistake and down you go. It is rather like a potter’s shop where a patient artist takes a lump of clay and works with it, and works with it, and works with it until at last he gets it to the way he wants it to be. There is something bigger in the world than our sin, and that something is a merciful God.2

Grace/forgiveness is in some way the heart of Jesus ministry. His healing is a demonstration of grace. The disciples saw a man blind from birth and began speculating whether his parents’s sin was the cause of his condition or if somehow he had done something to merit it. Jesus dismisses their blame game. The important thing was what God was going to make of this situation.

When the paralytic was lowered through the ripped up roof, Jesus first word to him was “Your sins are forgiven.” before he said “rise up and walk.”

People who were healed felt they had been admitted back into community. The lepers could go home. The demoniac was sent back to his family. The woman caught in adultery was told “neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

The resurrection hope has within it a hope that sins can be forgiven and a forgiving community can come into being. A church characterized by grace and dwelling in the peace of Christ.

The story about a little boy who traveled to Yellowstone National Park with his parents. As he was standing near the railing at Old Faithful the geyser erupted in all its glory. Awed the shear majesty of the pulsating column of steaming water, the boy turned to a park ranger and said, “I want to buy it.” The ranger bent down and asked, “How much do you have?” The boy dug deep in his pocket and pulled out three crumpled dollar bills. The ranger shook his head and said, “That’s not enough.” The boy replied, “I thought you’d say that.” So digging deeply into another pocket, he counted out a quarter, a dime, a nickel, and three pennies—forty-three cents. The ranger looked at the boy and said, “You need to understand two things. First, $3.43 is not enough. In fact, $343 million is not enough to buy Old Faithful, because Old Faithful is not for sale. And second, if you are an American citizen, Old Faithful already belongs to you.”3

Jesus’s return underscores one meaning of the resurrection is we are forgiven. And resurrection speaks to us of a recreation of our future. We can become something more than we have been.

A second thing that resurrection should alert us to is the importance of creation. It is hard to miss the way Jesus demonstrates that he has a real body in these encounters. He ate with the disciples. He showed his wounds in his hand and feet.

The more I think about that the more I wonder. Resurrection does not take us away from bodily being. Resurrection does not mean the end of all desires, as some Hindus have tried to portray it. Jesus said, “I am hungry.” Desire is an integral part of what it is to be human.

Our bodies teach us that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot supply all our own needs. “I hunger.” “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” “As the deer pants for the water brook, even so my soul pants after thee, O Lord.”

The resurrection is the opposite of denial of the body– it is the confirmation that having a body is our destiny, that creation will not be snuffed out but transformed. that we will forever have yearning, experience delight, and feel with bodied selves.

So we read of the final end that God will take away the hurt, death, disability, sorrow, the pain, but God will not eliminate “need.” We will always yearn for the gifts that God would bestow. Even as now we can eat everyday and yet find ourselves hungry tomorrow. This is an image of bodily resurrection.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.The Confessions of St Augustine.

The resurrection means that God is serious about creation. When he said that the physical world of atoms and stars, amoebas and oceans, birds and little children, all was good. God meant it for keeps. It may not stay the same. Caterpillars become butterflies, stars become super novae, Transformation goes on but creation is not destined for destruction. Resurrection means what God meant in creation will not be lost.

Resurrection urges us to listen again for the first time to the story of our creation. Wendell Berry sums it nicely:

God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. “Soul” here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discreet parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery. (SEFC 106)

I John says we are called children of God and we are that right now. And it does not yet appear what we shall be. But when we see Jesus we shall be like him. Not just morally. But in the most intimate and basic way our risen humanity will resemble the risen Lord.

In attitudes, bodily being, spirit, life.

Resurrection means that the way to God will not be by detouring around the physical world but by finding God by created stuff, the means of the Spirit. Baptized in real water, eating real bread, drinking the fruit of real vines, touching real bodies with caring hands, embracing real people. And caring for the real world at our doorsteps.

The world is not some deposit on which we can draw till it is gone. It was our commission to nurture it in renewable ways, and pray for its redemption.

Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.” – Dostoevsky

Christ comes back embodied and embodies ascends to the Father. We shall find him as we are the body called church, life of grace and forgiveness by which we know as first John says, that we are in Christ.

And just as much Christ bids us take up life in this world, the bodies that hunger and thirst; the body that delights in vision and sound, the body that tastes and understands and gives thanks.

We are on a journey toward Christ-likeness. Filled with assurance and good hope by the resurrection of our Lord. Confident that this journey shall lead us home.

1“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” Weight of Glory.

2“If Only to Next Time” by John Claypool, 30 Good Minutes, 1983.

3Easter Surprises, Easter Grace by Skip Jackson, Indianola Presbyterian Chruch, 2010

 

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Reflection on 9/11: Sorrow, Vengeance, Forgiveness

September 11, 2011   on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Exodus 14. Jonah, Matthew 18:21 ff

Many of us are old enough to remember the radio newscaster Paul Harvey. He usually had some report that was punctuated with “and now the rest of the story…” He would tell of some twist that put the whole thing in a different light, sometimes humorous, some times touching.

Exodus 14 is a pivotal moment. The events ten years ago were pivotal. I want to think about them but then to think about the “rest of the story.”

After the last plague all Egypt was eager to see Israel gone. The trouble had struck homes. God had told the Hebrews to be packed and ready that last night, to eat standing up, because things would happen quickly, and when Egyptians told them to leave they wasted no time leaving.

In chapter 14 they have come to the Red Sea or the Reed Sea– a big water obstacle at the boundary to the desert and freedom, when someone looks back and sees an ominous plume of dust rising in the sky. Pharaoh has once again changed his mind and it would be death or slavery again if he caught up with them.

Panic ran through the crowd and not for the last time someone began to blame Moses for leading them into trouble.

God spoke to Moses. “Tell the people to be still and watch the salvation of the Lord.”

The staff rose and with it the wind began to blow till the waters were parted to reveal a path through the sea.

Is it any wonder this story has become an icon for God’s people? Baptism echoes that way opened by God to freedom through water. It will be repeated years later when another generation crosses the Jordan into Canaan. It foreshadows the victory of God in Christ’s resurrection. It becomes the symbol of the Christian crossing death into heaven.

And John looks down the years and sees it at the end of history:

“They have conquered the beast … [They] were singing the canticle of Moses, the servant of God” (Revelation 15,2.3).

And African American slaves heard it and dared to hope in a God who would free them.

God made a way where there was no way. And he does again and again.

The crowd dashed to the other side running across that ground that had become visible. And then pharaoh’s forces arrived with all their sophisticated chariots and battle tested military forces and they thought they would cross too.

God just let the wind die down and the waters that had gone the other way came flooding back, Chariots were bogged in mud, sinking in quicksand, and the army succumbed to a tsunami of destruction.

The stunned Israelites could scarcely take it in. There was crying and hugging and shouting. And then Moses’ sister got a tambourine kind of thing out and began a chant that spread till everybody was singing and dancing it. (Exodus 15:22:) Sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea. Everybody joined in.

When they had run out of possibilities, God had stepped in and delivered them.

Some people have trouble believing such things ever happen. They say, “this is not in the Egyptian histories.” No, not very likely Egyptians would make a monument to failure, or write the history to immortalize a defeat. History for the Egyptians was propaganda for the empire.

Some say, “Well, it was the Reed Sea, not the Red Sea.” Conceded. The Okefenokee Swamp is not the Gulf of Mexico, but it would still be enough to keep you from going anywhere. Makes good sense that it was marshy swampy ground that gooped up the general’s chariots.

Some say it was a natural event that parted the waters. A clever geologist published a book a few years back that suggested an eruption in the Aegean, of the island of Yali, some 3600 years ago caused a series of tsunamis that parted the sea and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.

But mechanical and natural explanations miss the point. It isn’t as if God doesn’t use natural means to act. God uses Moses. God could use earthquakes. The blending together in an amazingly timely way of events can still be a miracle. As William Temple said, When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.

Some of us can testify to that in recent experience.

Not every problem needs Divine intervention. sometimes it is enough to have a boat and go to paddling. I will not doubt there is a God, if God leaves some things up to me or if I do not yet see God acting.

Well back to the party.

Miriam dancing, everybody singing. Those mean ole Egyptians all dead.

And now for the rest of the story.

Barbara Lundblad:

Long after the sea was crossed and the singing died out, the rabbis struggled with this story. Did the people walk into the sea or wait until the sea retreated? Did God part the sea only after the people showed their faithfulness by stepping into the water? To answer such questions the sages developed the art of midrash– stories to fill in the gaps, to deal with contradictions and confusion. In one story from the Babylonian Talmud angels were watching as the sea covered the Egyptians: “In that instant the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but He rebuked them, saying, ‘The works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in My presence.!'” [Cited in The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Legends from the Talmud and Midrash edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, translated by William G. Braude (New York: Schocken Books, 1992) 73. Footnote #11 gives the source as B. Sanhedrin 39b] A rabbi friend told me that over the years this midrash has been retold with God rebuking not only the angels, but the Israelites themselves.1

In Passover observances There are 4 glasses of wine for each person poured during the meal. They symbolize the four distinct redemptions promised by G-d to the Hebrews as told in Exodus 6:6-7.

“I will take you out of Egypt”,

“I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery”,

“I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power”, and

“I will acquire you as a nation”.

It is a meal of celebration. But before drinking the wine a few drops are taken from the glass and let fall. Blood red drops of wine, to remember the suffering of the Egyptians, mourning the death of the Egyptian first-borns and the drowning of the whole Egyptian army in the sea. A few drops of wine help to remember that the joy is not total because of the suffering of their oppressors.

The rabbis began to see that there was more to God than just Israel. God has a bigger heart than we sometimes imagine.

Some prophet wrote a “once upon a time” story to make the same point. In it a prophet named Jonah is told to go preach to Israel’s worst enemy. Assyria was legendary in its terror tactics: torture, killing young and old, demolishing towns, wiping out agriculture. Ten tribes of Israel went missing forever as a result of their total war.

God tells Jonah to go hold a revival in their capital Nineveh and warn them about Judgment Day.

Jonah doesn’t want to do that. Why, they might get religion and Jonah knew enough about God to think that God might forgive even Nineveh. And Jonah wanted nothing more than to see them all burn in hell for what they had done to his fellow Jews.

You know how he runs away in the opposite direction, which means he has to go by boat. And there is a terrible storm that make the sailors suspect supernatural attack. Had someone on board offended the gods? Jonah who had been hiding in the belly of the boat admits he may be the object of Divine fury and suggests they throw him overboard to get the storm to quit. Jonah in other words would rather die than obey God’s command.

But God plays a trick on this would be suicide by sending a fish to swallow him. And there in the belly of the fish Jonah finally talks to God for the first time in the story. He finally says yes, at which the fish vomits him on shore.

He is not a happy preacher as he comes into Nineveh, a speck of humanity in a sprawling sea of urban development. His obligatory sermons are short and full of hell fire. But God uses him even so and people get converted.

That would have been a good place for the story to end but the writer has yet to make his point. Jonah is pouting and depressed that God is going to forgive Nineveh instead of destroying it. Finally he breaks down and cries but it is because the vine he was sitting under for shade has died.

God gently asks him. “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

Even the animals.

In the gospel lesson Peter asks if there is not some limit to forgiving. When can just stop and wish somebody could go to hell?

Jesus said if you have been forgiven, would you want there to have been a limit?

No, as a matter of fact, not to be forgiving says that you believe in a system of people being on the hook indefinitely for their mistakes. It is to say that once you have messed up, things can never be right again. Do you really want that to be the way the world works? Do you really want that to be the way God is?

When 9-11 happened there was grief. There had to be sorrow for all those 3,000 lives lost in NYC, DC and the fields of PA. Then the stories of some of the lives, the dreams, the hopes, the bravery of so many who went to their death that day.

There was fear because we suddenly all knew that being in America could not protect us from terrorists.

And that fear often erupted into anger and suspicion which fueled a war and ignited intense prejudice against Muslims and Middle Easterners generally.

We should mourn. And it is right for us to be wary and take appropriate precautions. But the anger and suspicion so easily misguide us.

Jesus taught us that God not only cares about justice and judgment. God cares even more that bitter stories have a better ending. That sinners see the error of their ways and turn back to righteous ways. That the lion and lamb lie down together, and there is peace not killing. That the future can be anticipated with hope and not fear. God wants to reconcile the world to God. And the only path to that other ending is by forgiveness.

When we return vengeance for vengeance, the terrorists have succeeded in making us one of them.

So what I want to hear again about 9/11 is how some risked their life to save others. How survivors and the loved ones of the victims have made of the horror a new start with deeper concern to make the most of life, to work harder for peace, to do something to make the world a different kind of place. How they maybe work a little less hard so they can pay attention to the people in their lives.

I don’t want to celebrate how many bombs we dropped, but how many schools we built. I don’t want to focus on how many suspects we have eliminated but how ——

God is always at work with those who are willing to bring good out of even the most terrible experiences. (Roman 8:28)

Bin Laden is dead. That alone does not mean the end of Al Qaeda or final victory over the sources of these who hate and destroy.

Ann Frank

Anne Frank, the young girl who died during the Holocaust, wrote these words in her diary, and they seem as appropriate today as they were then: “I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen; otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until ALL mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”

Not till hearts have been changed.

The rest of the story is God’s love for the fallen as well as the rescued. His continuing love that leaves the possibility for a different ending.

We are called to follow such a lord and to live by peace, hospitality, forgiveness.

Receive each other– not to judge but to encourage in some way.

As far as it depends on you live at peace with all (Romans 12).

Richard Rohr writes, From the perspective of eternity, we are all caught up in the web of good and evil, we are all complicit in evil and we are all capable of good, and it is inside of that web that God liberates us for love and for life.

…………………..

On 9/11 when the towers were falling in New York City, an Islamic Arab from Palestine was running for his life in the surging crowd when he stumbled and fell. Paralyzed with fear and unable to get up, he was trampled within seconds by hundreds of feet rushing past him. Then the man felt an arm on his shoulder and a voice speaking to him. “Get up, brother! We have to get out of here.” Unable to stand because of his injuries, he felt himself being picked up. Again he heard the voice: “Brother, we have to get out of here.” Half dragged, half carried down many stories, the man finally emerged from the building leaning heavily on his rescuer. As the injured Palestinian turned to thank the person who had carried him to safety, his eyes widened, for the person who had called him “brother,” the man who had saved his life, was a Hasidic Jew. He had risked his life for an enemy. Who would do such a foolish thing? (TILDA NORBERG, Ashes Transformed: Healing from Trauma, Upper Room Books, 2002, pp. 54-55)

………………..

There was a bus sitting at a bus stop one evening. Passengers were getting

on the bus. An old man stepped on the bus. His clothes were disheveled,

and he smelled of alcohol. He staggered down the aisle and dropped into a

seat. A young man was sitting opposite to him, returning home from church.

He wore a nice suit, and he clutched a black leather Bible in his left

hand. The young man turned to the old man and said, “Mister, you are going

to hell.” The old man jumped up, and his eyes grew wide. He said, “I knew

I got on the wrong bus!”

Paul wants us not to be like that young man, clutching our opinions, passing

judgment on the person next to us who is different. Paul here is in keeping

with the teachings of Jesus, who said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not

judge, or you too will be judged.” The flipside of a nonjudging life is a

merciful life. So also Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will

receive mercy.”

Amen

 

The Church that Tells the World

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by Hi Qi

Sermon on Missions

Year C Easter 6

May 13, 2007

This Eastertide we have looked at some of the characteristics of the community which is generated by the resurrection. The scriptures have invited us to consider the church that speaks out even in face of oppression, the church that celebrates the gifts of everyone.

Last week we thought about how it is incumbent upon the church in our time to speak up and take action in response to the environmental crisis we face.

Today the scriptures invite us to think about the church that spreads the gospel, that crosses boundaries and tells the world about our risen Savior.

Of course that has been one of the concerns of our special Sunday School hour study, “It’s Time.” Dan Vestal asked the question about being church in our time, in this different context, this changed world. What is important not to lose, what is the core, how do we meaningfully live as Christians in our time. And one of the issues, a central issue, is the change in understanding mission and evangelism and witnessing in our generation. I want to explore that today in this sermon.

The story of Acts is about the followers of Christ crossing boundaries with a message about Jesus. In Luke’s version of the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers that they will receive power from on high and will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the world. It requires boldness to tell the gospel in your own culture. Sometimes, to tell your own people, the folks you know best, is the greatest distance, because difference is not something we just encounter between ourselves and foreigners. People of the same family, the same town, the same church, can view life in opposite ways. Peter declares that the crucifixion was a terrible mistake which God has reversed in the resurrection. He keeps driving this point home despite warnings and jailing and beatings. The power from on high allows him to speak out among his people and within his own culture.

By Acts 8, we find the church exploding beyond Jerusalem. The gospel reaches, in this one chapter, the Samaritans who were people Jews shunned, a person with magical superstitious background, and someone as racially different as an African from Ethiopia. By chapter 10, Peter is being propelled by a Divine vision to take the gospel to a part of the hated Roman occupation, crossing both the gentile boundary and political boundary. And in today’s reading (Acts 16) Paul is given a dream in which a man in Europe is crying out “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

French exegete Lucien Legrand sees that Peter’s ministry took him many places but it was primarily among the diaspora, the Jews scattered all over the world. Paul’s ministry increasingly addressed itself to places where there was little Jewish presence. There were not even 10 Jewish men in Philippi to make a synagogue. There were only a few women worshiping God on the Sabbath at the river bank. Apparently Philippi had a strong anti-Semitic atmosphere. The gospel breaks into a city that is largely non-Jewish. The text today marks the point where this new phase of the spread of the gospel begins. New people groups come into the church. And Lydia becomes the NT equivalent to Annie Armstrong, raising money to support Paul’s further missionary endeavors and being his lifeline when he was in prison. It all started with this dream, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Truth be told, if Acts were complete, it would tell of the spread of the gospel to Egypt, of Thomas taking it to India, and even further east. For the church was planted in these directions early on too. But it is significant to us in this room, most of us of European descent, that the Spirit pushed Paul our direction. In this passage Paul leaves Asia-modern day Turkey, for the Greek peninsula. For the next 2000 years Europe would become increasingly become the center of Christianity. And you really cannot make sense of the history of Western civilization without taking into account the impact that made. It brought a unifying force over these diverse people, it laid the foundation for science, it spread literacy as a means for spreading the Bible. It planted a notion of justice and peace, a new understanding of virtue which included humility, charity and service. Even granting other influences, Christianity was an indispensable part of the Western character and achievements.

The flowering of these achievements led to the prosperity and inventiveness that issued in empire building, exploration, exploitation and colonialization. The global economy is really an old phenomenon.

Riding on the coattails of economic expansion, in 1792 William Carey, who read Captain Cook’s tales of exploration in one hand and the New Testament in the other, wrote a book An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means to Reach the Heathen. This Baptist led to the founding of a missionary society to raise support and to pray for Christians who would go to foreign places opened up by exploration, migration, and trade to tell the people with whom they now had contact the message of the gospel. It began the modern mission era. Soon all manner of denominations were following suit. There had been missions before, but this was explosive due to the greatly increased economic trade, colonial expansion, and widespread presence of European empires.

There was a sense that we had a lot to offer these foreign cultures. Our technology, our mechanical skills, our medicine, literacy in some cases, science, a wealth of historical knowledge, a notion of equality and liberty which would eventually undo the colonialization itself, economic organizational ability–and of course the gospel. Christians then did not draw hard lines between the gospel of Christ and the gospel of their culture. The gospel was given and received mixed with a lot of the European ways.

There are still people groups living beyond the reach of these last 200 hundred years of mission effort. Still people who have not heard of Jesus, who do not know the fuller way God has revealed God’s self among the Jews and in Christ. It is not as if these people have no consciousness of the Divine. It is not the case that they lack all awareness of good and evil. But we have some news about God to share. God’s love, Paul writes in II Corinthians, controls us, constrains us, directs us to share what we know and what we have with the rest of the world. And to do it in loving ways.

It is always the case that we still need to hear the gospel ourselves lest our efforts become proud and self-serving. But if God’s love for the world controls us we will want others to know and have what we know and have.

The church still sends and it still goes.

But the world has changed. In the last 100 years the results of the mission movement has been that the world has altered.

Redistribution of Christianity. In 1800 it is estimated that 86% of Christians were in white European nations in the Northern Hemisphere. As we began this century, 60 % of Christians in the world are in non-white, non-European peoples1. This is not simply because Christianity has grown phenomenally in Africa, South America, Korean peninsula, but because at the same time Christianity has lost ground in Europe, which is also facing a population decline. It is, I think, significant that Christianity is robust in America, some say it is paradoxically because the church here has no support from taxes. The church benefits from separation of state and church and the freedom of speech and religion.

The first change is that geographical location of Christianity. The result of the mission movement is that Christianity is now in virtually every part of the globe. 33% of the world professes Christianity. Countries like Zimbabwe were 5% Christian 80 years ago and now are 60% Christian. The largest Christian congregation in the world is the 800,000 member church in Seoul in South Korea, under pastor David Yonggi Cho.

Resurgence of Other Religions. Another change has been that for the last two centuries the other great world’s religions were passive as Christianity expanded in its missionary zeal. Today there is an awakening of zeal in Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism that aggressively asserts itself into other cultures. We often fail to see ourselves as the rest of the world sees us. The West has been discredited in the eyes of many of these other peoples. Our war, our nuclear development, the moral laxity of our culture, our consumerist wastefulness are deeply offensive to many people of other cultures. They do not automatically think that what we have to offer is a good thing.

Cultural Backlash. The third change has been a reversal in the tide of power and influence. As Leslie Newbigin, the great missionary leader and theologian who served so many years in India wrote, “For vast multitudes in Asia and Africa, the great fact of our time is not the so-called East -West conflict; it is not the conquest of interplanetary space by man. It is the ending of the era of the dominance of the white races.”

In this new context a missionary is not always an asset to missions. Despite all a missionary’s gifts and abilities, Newbigin writes, “his foreignness, his imperfect understanding of the language and the culture of the people, and his obvious connection with the former colonial power may make him in many situations a liability. He may fail to detect the aroma of colonialism that still tends to hang about a mission station even in countries where the colonial era has ended in the political sphere.”2 In nations where the native churches have become mature, missionaries from the West should see their role increasingly as partners with native leaders.

The way we do Missions is changing. In the last few decades the number of lifelong career missionaries has dropped. Career missionaries today may be more likely to be consultants in church organization, management training, theological, pastoral care, and Biblical expertise, going where needed. The greatest percentage of people involved in mission today are short term volunteers: medical doctors and nurses, people skilled in construction, publishing, broadcasting, agriculture, epidemiology going to work with career missionaries or in partnership with indigenous churches.

Leslie Newbigin said, “the first and fundamental thing that needs to be said about the pattern of the Christina missionary enterprise is that we must recover the sense that it is the enterprise of the whole church of God in every land, directed towards the whole world in which it is put. ..We need to think of it in terms of the whole argument of the Ephesian letter, as the working of God to break down the middle wall of partition, and to provide the place of reconciliation where all races and people are brought together in a single body through the cross.” (Eph 4:15-16). 3

The whole world is the home base for mission. Every where there is a church there is a mission field next door. You may not have to get on a plane to find your Macedonia.

The love of God is exhibited in care for the needs of the world. “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Where there is oppression we work for liberation. Where there is starvation we feed. Where there is disease we go to heal. Where there is illiteracy we teach. Where there is abuse and neglect we re-parent parents and children. Where there is chaos of violence we plant seeds of forgiveness and peacemaking. We work for the healing of the world in the name of the God who reveals himself in Jesus.

“The love of god controls us” and the cry of the worlds needs beckons us.

South African theologian David Bosch wrote that in churches coming into the modern era saw the “marks of the true church” was wherever the gospel is rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and (they sometimes added) church discipline exercised. Church is conceived in this view as the place where a Christianized society is cultivated…Popular grammar captures it well: you “go to church” much the same way you might go to the store. You “attend” a church, the way you attend a school or theater. You “belong to a church” the way you would a service club with its programs and activities. In the 20th century, Bosch went on to say, this self-perception gave way to a new understanding of the church a as body of people sent on a mission. Unlike the previous notion of the church as an entity located in a facility or in an institutional organization and its activities, the church is being reconceived as a community, a gathered people brought together by a common calling and vocation to be a sent people. A global church bears responsibility for its own place as well as for distant places. The church of every place is a mission sending church, and every church is a mission receiving place.

Psalm 67 repeats the Aaronic blessing “The Lord bless you and keep you.” But why does the Lord bless his people? That all the peoples of the world —

  • May know God’s instructions for life: verse 2–“That Thy way may be known on the earth.”

  • May come to praise God: verse 3—”Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; Let all the peoples praise Thee.”

  • May rejoice in God: verse 4—”Let the nations be glad and sing for joy.”

  • May reverence God: verse 7—”That all the ends of the earth may fear Him.”

God blesses us so that we might glorify His name among whom? Among those who are already believers? Among those who call themselves Christians? Among other Americans? Among those who are similar to yourself?

1 Kings 8:60. The Israelites have just completed the building of the temple. King Solomon offers a lengthy prayer, in part asking that God would meet His people’s needs. He then gives the reason why God should bless His people in this way: “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.”

Solomon asks for blessings, so that all people everywhere might know that there is one God, that all other so-called gods are false, and that Yahweh, the God of Israel is that one true God. He asks for blessing so that the true God might be glorified.

“There is no conflict between glorifying God and the gladness of the peoples. The peoples have joy as they glorify God. Indeed, the more joy they have in Him, the more they glorify Him.”4

“It is not said, Let us praise thee, O God; but let the people praise thee, and let all the people. For here is expressed the longing of the pious heart, and its fond desire that God should be praised and magnified throughout all lands and by all people of the round earth.”– Spurgeon

———– We are blessed

80 % of the world lives in substandard living condition

50% of these are malnourished

25% less than $2 day

40 % less than $4 a day.

If we enjoy more blessings, what are we do with blessing? We dare not pray God bless only us.

The only way we can ask for blessing is that we would use it to glorify God.

Benediction is not prayer, but a blessing. Here the benediction is made as a prayer. For ongoing blessings. The presence of God is the blessing Israel had.

The central verses say we are blessed that the whole world might know that God rules the world justly. The reason we are blessed is that we may be the source through which the world may know that there is a just ruler over the earth despite all the justice. One day we will all stand before this judge. We are to bring the foretaste of the rule of Jesus. We are to bring the sample of the love of God. Through our humility, our generosity, our sacrifice, our mercy the love of God will come near.

In the new global village, the world is in our back yard. Shall we be the presence of Christ to the neighbor in our time?

Amen

1Wilburt Shenk, “The Transfiguration of Mission: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Foundations. Excepted in New Wineskins: Faithful Mission in the 21st Century, ed Rena Yocum, p. 5

2From A Word in Season (1994).

3Wineskins, 25.

4Sermon from Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA in 02.

 

Eastertide: Shepherd Sunday

205653aac9da156ecda91f7ba82a825a-catholic-art-religious-artThe Good Shepherd

Year A Easter4

John 10:1-10

During Easter season each year, we read a different portion of John 10 along with Psalm 23. Probably no image is more common than the Lord as shepherd. Sheep herding was something as common in the middle east as gardening was to our grandparents. Even after they became less nomadic most everyone in Biblical times could find people who had few sheep.

When David was anointed by Samuel to be the next king, he had to be brought in from tending the sheep. “Oh, yeah, we got another son, but he is just a pipsqueak. He’s out looking after the sheep.” You get the idea nobody thought it was a job that prepared you for promotion.

It was not the most prestigious chore, but someone had to do it. Sheep were not good at self-managing. Easy target for prey, defenseless against rustlers, and stupid enough they easily could get into fixes they could not get out of. Someone had to be there to watch over them. If they were to thrive it helped to have someone who could anticipate the weather, rotate their pasture, lead them around dangers, and find springs in the waste country.

I have no idea who first of all saw the connection between these skills and the skill needed to be the leader of people. It was at least as old as the Gilgamesh epic,sometime in the fourth millennium B.C. Those clay tablets refer to the king as the shepherd of the people.

The OT is likewise filled with images of kingship as shepherding. For ancient people there would be in fact a political implication in the Psalm 23. “The Lord is my leader, my boss, my king.” That is in there. But it cuts the other way too. The psalm describes what a good king, or political leader would be like: someone who take the job of caring for sheep seriously. Not only their protection against danger, but their material and psychological well being. What would cause the sheep to thrive, to have peace and fulfillment?

I Peter describes a “bishop,” a leader in the church, with the same terms. To this day a Catholic bishop carries a crozier, a shepherd crook to indicate their “pastoral” call.

Political leaders, that is to say leaders of the polis, of the community, the city, the state, the nation, the world, ought to be about tending to the conditions which will cause the people to thrive and be at peace.

Jesus is very blunt is saying that the shepherds who have come before him have had other agendas. They have been thieves and robbers– as much or more concerned about their own well-being and profit than they were in the well-being and thriving of the sheep. Jesus is saying that he is the first to have no self-advantage out of taking care of the sheep. He is focused on the good of the sheep . His good is in their fulfillment.

The commercial comes to mind of the two California steer admiring a cow luxuriating in a water hose. The tag is that the best milk comes from the happiest cows. The good shepherd in this picture is not into lamb chops, but happy safe sheep.

Jesus says he is not about killing or stealing, but about life and life to the max.

In the course of the tenth chapter Jesus twists this metaphor of being a shepherd almost beyond recognition. In the passage today is “I am the gate.”

The shepherd is the gate. As befuddling as that is, some commentators point out that it can be taken literally. In situations where sheep spent the night in cave or in some natural or man-made enclosure, the shepherd often slept in the entry opening so that nothing got in without his knowledge and nothing left without waking him. He was the thing that completed the enclosure and kept the sheep in and safe till it was time for them to get out there and graze.

Is Jesus saying that nobody gets into the fold without passing by him, and nobody can wander out of the fold without his noticing? There is that, but there is also this: Jesus says anybody who tries to get into the community some other way than through him is up to no good. They are up to using the community and not becoming part of it.

I am more struck by the fact that if Jesus is the gate, the purpose is not to fence us in. Jesus is a gate who opens. He opens to let the sheep go out and graze at liberty and he closes to keep them safe from the dangers of the dark. The gate is a symbol of safety and freedom.

The life Jesus offers to those who follow him is not one of “You can’t do this and you must do that.” There are safety limits, yes, but life in this fold is not primarily about limits, but about possibilities. Not just about survival, but about fullness of life.

I wonder if the national attention on the Terri Schiavo’s quandary was not an indication that popular culture confuses life with biological survival. ( Not to mention the fact that there were people who were not interested in the case just for Terri’s sake but for how it could further their agenda. Or maybe we should be charitable and say that they had mixed motives for being interested in it. Even before she died we heard some promise they were going to use the event to change the get different kind of judges appointed to the court. Several “Christian leaders” plan a media event with a senator to argue that we need to replace “activist judges” with judges who do not have an anti-Christian agenda. Look out. The founding fathers were wise to say judges ought to be shielded from momentary popular emotions.)

The sad tug of war between those who said Terri was being killed and those who said she was being allowed to die highlighted for me the confusion that exists for a lot of us between survival and fullness of life.

The Greek thinkers were right who maintained that to cause destruction in a person’s virtue was worse than murder. Does our culture conceive of that?

This past Wednesday in morning Bible study we explored three words for life in the NT: bios, psyche and zoe. Just as “love” has to cover trasnlation of four Greek words, these three are all translated by the one word, “life.” Both bios and psyche pertain to natural life which involves breathing and digesting and heart pumping, while zoe is life which partakes of divine meaning and participation in the eternal. In the Septuagint God breathes zoe into the clay and it becomes a living psyche.

In the Hebrew revelation, it is impossible see zoe in a human aside from some kind of body. For us to have Zoe there must be some kind of psyche. Life beyond this world would requires resurrection. But it is quite possible to imagine having pysche without much zoe. That is of breathing, digesting, moving, surviving without much awareness of God or our own spiritual side.

Jesus does not offer that we will have unending existence in this world, but that we will come to have a new depth of life. And it is only this new and deeper life for which the promise of undefined duration could be a blessing.

What would eternal life without God be like? That is the very definition of hell! To be without God now or in eternity is to suffer hell. What would unending existence be without abundance? It would be purgatory.

(Craddock) A preacher announced he was going to preach next Sunday on the member of the church he would want most to go to hell. Everyone came that Sunday. They were secretly a little disappointed when he named a sweet teacher of the boy’s Sunday School class. But he got his point across. He thought if she were there for a couple of weeks she would convert everyone there and the whole place would be emptied.

I concur with those who hope that hell is as empty as the mall at midnight. I don’t deny there is a hell. I just hope and pray it won’t get much business. Who would wish unending existence without abundant life?

There is limited blessing in a culture of life, if it does not foster a culture of eternal life. What we want is life now to be full and abundant. We ought to be more concerned with zoe than bios.

After Pope John Paul II’s funeral, I heard a lot of talk on the radio about death and religion. A Hindu called in one talk show and said he believed that the pope was in heaven, because, as he understood the Upanishads, a person who was in heaven in this world would know heaven after death. He went on, One could not expect something after life very unlike what had characterized their life before death. He believe that the pope had lived in heaven already here.

That harmonizes with my Bible! If you want eternal life you ought to want it now.

The rich young man comes to Jesus and asks “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said “keep the commandments.” This is exactly what God said to Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy. “I put before you the way of life and the way of death, blessing and curse. Choose life; choose the blessing. Why would you want to die, for goodness sake?” The way you live is your choice of whether you are headed to death or to life, whether your life is under blessing or curse. Whether you are headed to a pointless existence or a life that is constantly opening up on new vistas and opportunities and blessings. Whether you are approaching a dead end or a open road.

The man bragged that he had kept those commandments. So Jesus said there was only one thing left. Don’t be afraid to let it all go. To stop holding onto things and let your life be 100% for others. You can fly! You can float!

The young man left shaking his head like a disappointed bargain hunter at the jockey lot. Jesus was asking too much.

Well, Jesus asked, what ought a person be willing to give for life abundant? Whoever is not willing to give up psuche/bios for any reason will never find zoe. Whoever is not willing to sacrifice their self-centered life will never have self-fulfilling life. That is, if you never come to cling to something that is more valuable to you than your continued earthly existence, then you are poor already even if you aren’t aware of it. If you cannot imagine dying for anything, then you have put the wrong price tag on a constantly depreciating commodity. Extending earthly existence indefinitely is not much good without quality of life.

The magical dried “monkey’s paw”, in the fable of the same name, grants its possessor three wishes. Each possessor in the tale wishes for something that they think will make them forever happy, but each thing wished turns out to be not a blessing but a curse, such that the last wish is always for death.

If what we wish for is anything other than to live in and by God’s generous love, we have chosen death, even if we don’t realize it yet. Whatever else we hoped for in the end would without God cause us to yearn for the end, for death. And in the assurance of God’s forever love you will discover the trust to let go of this life.

What we need is a culture of eternal life– Of helping people discover the ultimate relationship that not only makes physical existence rich and full, but enables us to die in this world without despair.

Father Zosima in Brothers K, in a passage that is as religiously insightful as any written, advises a woman who is unable to imagine or hope for eternal life that she will only come to understand or hope for eternal life by living gracious love toward others. Growing in the love of God now gives us an experience of life that would could go on forever without ever becoming boring and empty.

Jesus says I came to give life in fullness, life of coming and going, knowing and being known, free and secure, of being valued intrinsically and being worth having forever. Oh, Good Shepherd we would follow! AMEN

Let us affirm our Faith (using Psalm 23)

Who is God? Who Am I?

knippersmoses-and-the-burning-bush1 Year A Proper 17

August , 2011

Exodus 3:11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” …. 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” …” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 

It does not happen every time, but sometimes the three readings for a Sunday have an interesting conversation with each other, bringing things out that we might not have noticed at first.

It is like that today for me. In all three readings there is a connection between understanding God and understanding myself.

Paul takes eight chapters in Romans to paint a picture of who God is by telling us what God did in response to the mess of human history, the messiness of sin which is part of every individual story, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” He rises to heights of poetry talking about the triumph of God’s love in Romans 8. “For I am persuaded that nothing- nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” God in Christ has gotten into the middle of all the mess and turned history in a different direction.

And then comes chapter 12, which Paul begins, “therefore, by the mercy of God which I have just explained I beseech you to be different.” And he goes on to talk about who we are now that we have received the grace of God and trusted it: we live a different way. Who we are is different. We are not like the world; we are being transformed because we now think about it all differently. We see now what we missed before. The mercy of God makes us merciful.

John Calvin, the Reformer wrote this insight in Institutes of the Christian Religion, – “without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God,” and conversely, “without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self” (I.i.1-2)

The more we know about who God is, the more we will find who we are.

The gospel reading comes from Matthew 16. (It will help to look at last week’s reading along with this week.) Jesus has disciples on a mountain retreat when he raises the question “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples report the gossip, what people are making of this man. Then Jesus looks them in the face and asks that supreme question, “And who am I to you?” Who is the I AM that is Jesus.

And you know Peter’s famous answer, “you are the Christ, the son of God.”

And in response Jesus tells Peter who he is. “You are Peter– rock.” Because that expresses a mission of his life. – “and on you I will build my church.” Knowing something more about who Jesus is leads to knowing something new about himself, in particular it puts Peter where Jesus can place a calling on him.

Today’s reading from that chapter begins when Jesus on the basis of identifying himself with the Christ goes on to identify the Christ with the Suffering Servant. The course he is on leads to persecution and beatings and death, Peter objects. “If you were the Christ, you would have the power to avoid suffering, to leave unpleasant dark side of life, to get away.” That is so much like the tempter’s ploy “If you are the Son of God, why be hungry? If you are the Son of God, nothing bad will happen to you even if you jump off the temple.”

Jesus boldly tells Peter, “that is Devil talk. You are looking at it as so many humans, but that is not the way God looks at things.

What does that mean? It means that God is the kind of God who steers straight into the places where things are going to be tough and gives witness where it is dangerous.

That is the kind of Christ Jesus is and if you are going to follow me, anyone who takes following me seriously had better be ready for rough roads. It isn’t that we have to bear the cross Jesus bore, but if you live life like me, if you tell the truth and love the least and associate with the lost, you will find your share of trouble and bother and inconvenience and maybe even death.

But whoever makes their life all about avoiding the difficult, the sad, the dangerous, will end up having no life at all. If they strategize so as never to have a broken heart, never to be touched by grief, never get involved with struggles of the oppressed, they will have succeeded in missing a life thick with meaning.

Whereas Jesus says whoever ends up suffering because they lived for me will discover life’s glory and be vindicated in the end.

The more you know about this God who is passionate about redeeming broken humanity, freeing the oppressed, healing the sick, bringing home the outcast, restoring the sinner. The more you know about that God, the more you will be on the hook to do something yourself.

In the reading from Exodus Moses encounters God in a burning bush that refuses to be burned up. He draws nearer, his hair standing up with a sense of awe. A voice tells him to take off his shoes for he is on holy ground.

Then God introduces himself. “I am the god of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.”

But now God goes on to say, “I am the God who cares about the suffering.”

And I am calling you to go lead them to freedom.

“But what is your name? What shall we call you? When they ask, who shall I say sent me?”

“I AM I AM. Say I AM has sent you.”

A lot of dedicated work has gone into unpacking the name. That mysterious name so holy that Jews will not pronounce it but say “LORD” instead.

We know that it is tied up with “life” God is living.

In fact, it is part of a sentences. God is not pure being abstractly. To be alive for God means to be present personally, to see the affliction, to hear the cries, to know their suffering. God is watching, listening, feeling. and therefore God will act.

There is, some scholars tell us, a future in this I AM– I will do what I do, I will be who I am. This God is not bound by predetermined outcomes, he can create some new option.

Today we witnessed the baptism of four young people. In coming to know Jesus they felt a call to follow Jesus and to be personally related to the God who comes to us as Jesus.

Who am I? Well, a Christian answer is that I belong to Jesus. And as they grow in faith, we pray that they, we pray that we also, will catch a little of the passion of God for the needs of this world.

The more we know about who God is, the more we will find ourselves being called to a new self.

After God lays a call on Moses, he asks “Who am I [to do this]? I am not the person you are describing: someone who can go confront powers and lead people and be a spokesman. Moses self-inventory did not come up with all the qualifications he imagined were required for the job.

That is not me.

By yourself, no. But I will be with you. I AM with you.

If God is with us, it changes who we are. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

1. Sometimes we worship God as creator and give thanks for all the things that are so right with the world. For food and air and another day to live and the people who love us and whom we love. But God the Creator is also the God who redeems. God is not satisfied to settle for the good parts, and let the rest of the world go to pieces.

God rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep. And God calls us to share his investment in this world and his concern for the poor, the crushed, the sinner, the lost, the oppressed.

You don’t have to look for a cross; if you love enough the cross will find you. Your heart will be broken for others.

Children concerned about mosquito nets and how it can prevent malaria. They have challenged us to join them in purchasing those nets. They care and the act. and so they follow Jesus, they join God.

2. When God introduced himself to Moses he at first does it by talking about his connection with people Moses knew about. Sort of like when you tell someone that you are a relative of someone they know or that you come from their hometown. You are connected through that other person or place.

Moses realizes he does not know God for who God is. He wants a name. Who shall I call you?

In the process God becomes not only the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, but now the God of Moses.

God went on: “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.” God is not only beyond all words; God’s name is attached to human names: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, the God of Mary Magdalene and Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King. The God of Barbara. And there is always a blank space for you to add your own name. You see, God has a very long name and by this name God will be known forever. Mystery and revelation. Majesty and earthiness. Immortal, invisible, and inefficient–the Holy God waiting for you and me.1

In the funeral service at which he was killed, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador said, “You have just heard the word form the Gospel of Christ, that we must not love ourselves so much that we refrain from taking the risks of life that history today requires of us; and you have hear that those who seek to avoid danger will lose their liver. On the other hand, those who give themselves up in service to others for love of Christ, they will live; just as the grain of wheat that seems to die, but does not. If it does not die, it will remain alone. There is a harvest because it dies, because it allows itself to be sacrificed in the soil, to be undone, and bey being undone it produces the harvest…..May this broken body and this blood shed for humankind nourish us, so that we too may give up our bodies and our blood to suffering and to pain, like Christ; for our people . Let us therefore come closely together in faith and hope as we pray both for Dona Sarita and for ourselves (at that moment, shot was fired.)

6.25 on the evening of Monday 24th March 1980 in San Salvador – with the country on the brink of civil war. Archbishop Romero was celebrating a memorial Mass in the chapel of the Divine Providence cancer hospital. He was completing his homily which was a reflection on St John’s gospel, chapter 12 – “Now the hour has come for the son of Man to be glorified. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” He concluded and moved to the centre of the altar to pick up the chalice and the paten with the words “this body broken and this blood shed for human beings encourage us to give our body and blood up to suffering and pain as Christ did – not for self but to bring justice and peace to our people…”

The more we know about God, the more we discover our calling.

Amen.

1Barbara Lundblad, “Turning Aside” 30 Good Minutes, March 5, 2000

In the Middle of Storms

June 24, 2012

jesusinstormatsea

by Delacroix

1 Samuel 17;  2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

I am struck by the contrast of today’s readings  with last Sunday when we were reading about the slow, steady, quiet growth of the Kingdom of God. Like seeds “automatically” coming up after being sown, spreading like weeds without much coaxing. And we saw how God chose the overlooked, youngest Son of Jesse to be king, out of the limelight of courts and reporters.

Today in contrast to  the quiet, unobserved growth of the kingdom, we have a threatening storm, a fearsome giant, and a list of hazards,both natural and man made,Paul has dealt with on missionary trips. These are definitely “on the other hand” sort of lessons.

When Jesus had finished all the hopeful parable of the invincible, steady, quiet coming of the kingdom of God, he got in a boat “just as he was”, not a suitcase or toothbrush. Just him. And when the boat left the shore behind, he promptly fell asleep. However much the story ends in stressing his divinity, let us not miss this picture of Christ’s utter humanity exhausted with a pillow under his head.

And a storm comes.

Storms will.

Trouble comes into every life.

Now I know you could have gone to some church today and heard some preacher assure you that if you keep your nose clean, tithe, and really have faith– that some bubble of protection will insulate you from anything going seriously wrong. But I think that is a lie. And you know it is a lie too.

Back when I was in divinity school I was driving home to SC and giving a friend who was from Greenville a lift too. Things were going great till we got to Charlotte and the race traffic was merging into I-85. I know they have improved all the traffic flow since, but it brought the interstate to a standstill. I had been sitting there just a while when I glanced back in my rear view mirror and saw someone barreling down behind me with her eyes on the visor mirror while she putting lipstick on. I braced for the crash and tried to point my tires off the road show I wouldn’t get crushed between her and the car in front of me.

The car was totaled. It did not matter that my tires were good and my inspection up to date, that I had been obeying the speed limits and watching the road.

Things happen to you that you in no way cause or did anything obvious to deserve. I don’t care if you have good karma. It won’t stop getting hit by somebody with bad karma.

Some trouble we do make for ourselves. But sometimes trouble just comes at us. And here is a disturbing thought, having Jesus on board did not keep the waves out of the boat.

Paul certainly knows that from personal experience. In today’s reading he recounts for a second time the stuff he has been through– well at least some of it– run out of town, shipwrecked, beaten, jailed, falsely accused, jeered. And the worse it yet to come– as tradition reports he will be martyred in Rome by Nero.

Despite all this, Paul seems to feel he is doing the right thing being a missionary. “I have nothing, but I have everything.”

I have known people like that, who had little but were so good hearted, and happy and nurturing and generous you’d never think of them as self-pitying.

And I have had the pleaasure of knowing people who have a lot of this world’s goods but didn’t let it go to their head. Paul says “have as if you didn’t have ” that is, don’t let what you have define you– because in God’s eyes it doesn’t.

And if you don’t have– don’t have as if you had– because poverty doesn’t define you either. “I have learned I can do all things through Christ.”

Paul writes about a thorn in the flesh in chapter 12 of this letter. “God, you know I could serve you better if you had pity and removed this thing that holds me back and makes me miserable.” God said, “no” God said, it is going to be all right, because you may have the thorn, but you will also have my grace. My grace will be sufficient.

Trouble comes and sometimes God just leaves us in it. It sets up camp and stays a long time.

So…Where is the good news?

God may not prevent storms, but God does not abandon us to the storms. The storm does not have the last word.

Bottom line– don’t be afraid, trust God, who is greater than the any storm.

That trust makes you brave to face anything. David faces Goliath, runs out to him. Faith shakes fear loose and makes you brave and daring and inventive.

There is a lot of flap in the news about the Vatican’s decision to come down hard on the nuns for writing frankly about sexual ethics and the desirability of women having priestly functions. Vatican slapped them down, but a lot of lay Catholics are saying people are not going to buy it. They know the work these women have done sacrificially and bravely in places of need, violence, desperation. Don’t mess with the nuns.

Remember the “Kony 2012” video that was an Internet hit earlier this year, about an African warlord named Joseph Kony? One of the few heroes in the long Kony debacle was a Comboni nun, Sister Rachele Fassera.

In 1996, Kony’s army attacked a Ugandan girls’ school and kidnapped 139 students. Sister Rachele hiked through the jungle in pursuit of the kidnappers — some of the most menacing men imaginable, notorious for raping and torturing their victims to death. Eventually, she caught up with the 200 gunmen and demanded that they release the girls. Somehow, she browbeat the warlord in charge into releasing the great majority of the girls.

Kristof writes: “I’m betting on the nuns to win this one as well. After all, the sisters may be saintly, but they’re also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian archbishop in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in a memoir that he once asked a convent if it could supply two nuns for a community literacy project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop.

The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,” the mother superior told him later. “I cannot disobey him in that.” She added: ‘I will send you three nuns!’” 1

You know, you could be scared out of doing the right thing.

Francis Bacon, quoting Montaigne, wrote “If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man.”

The  Israelite army was afraid of Goliath. Their consciousness was flooded with the threat he presented.

David was more conscious of his trust in God than the intimidation of Goliath. And so he acted bravely in the face of that danger, not thinking his five stones inferior to the brass and iron of the giant’s armory.

If you have the proper fear of God we will not be intimidated by anything we have to face in this world.–Augustine

Psalm 18.1 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

Psalm 91 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High/Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;/My God, in Him I will trust.”

3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler/And from the perilous pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with His feathers,/And under His wings you shall take refuge;

His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,/Nor of the arrow that flies by day,

6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,/ Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side,/ And ten thousand at your right hand;

But it shall not come near you.

8 Only with your eyes shall you look / And see the reward of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,/Even the Most High, your dwelling place,/10 No evil shall befall you,

Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;/ 11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,To keep you in all your ways.

12 In their hands they shall bear you up, /Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

Four Old Women – John Upton Messenger Spring 2012:

“It was during the last trip to China that I had an opportunity to visit and preach at a church in Hangzhou, a city southwest of Shanghai. After all the services that day there was an opportunity to have lunch with the pastor. The church cornerstone indicated that the church had been built in 1888 and therefore had seen many changes in China in its lifetime.

“So, I asked the pastor over lunch how the church had endured the Cultural Revolution era. The pastor leaned back in his chair, relaxed, and smiled a big grin and said, “That is an incredible story.” I asked if he would share the story, which he did.

“He recalled first the impact the Cultural Revolution had on Christians and on the church. Bibles were confiscated and destroyed. In front of that particular church thousands of bibles were taken both from the church building and from church members. They were gathered in a huge pile and subsequently burned as a lesson for all in the community. The ministers were carted off to western provinces for reorientation and to work in propaganda camps. None of the ministers who served the church in those years were ever seen again.

“Church members were told they would not be able to gather in the church for worship or for any other reason. If they did they would be arrested and taken to reorientation camps as well. Many of the church leaders were eventually taken and, along with the pastors, disappeared.

“It was a frightening time for members of the church and for Christians in general. They could not carry bibles; attend any church; pray in public; speak of their faith in any way, including with family members; and could not gather together for religious purposes of any nature.

“Family members could not be trusted. The government was thorough in its intimidation and scare tactics. Consequently, the church was completely shut down and essentially destroyed.

“That was true, he said, except for four older women in the church. They continued to gather for prayer and quoting of scripture as best as they could remember. The authorities wanted to arrest them but a high ranking government official just laughed when he heard of them meeting and said, “They are just four old women. They can’t do any harm, let them be.” So, they continued to meet for literally decades.

“At one of their meetings one of the ladies said that they have been enjoying their fellowship each week for years but did they think that maybe God wanted them to do something for him besides enjoy the fellowship. They were poor and totally disregarded by everyone, including their own families, but they began to pray about something they could do. After much prayer they felt a conviction to make a contribution to someone’s life so they identified a young man who demonstrated much talent in their neighborhood and decided they would put together the meager resources they had among themselves and help him attend college. He was very bright and gifted but came from a very poor family that could never have the resources to send him to school.

“The young man went off to college with their support. Several years later when he graduated he came back to the four ladies to thank them for believing in him and encouraging him and giving him a future. He asked if there were anything he could do for them to express his appreciation. They said yes, could he find a bible for them to have. It had been over 20 years since they had seen one. He immediately told them that was against the law and he couldn’t do it. They thanked him for listening to them anyway.

“In a few days he actually found a bible and quietly took it to the ladies. They were thrilled and held it close one by one. Then he made a mistake. He asked if there were anything else he could do for them. They said, “Yes, would you please read it to us? None of us can read.” So, he began reading.

“As he read to them for several weeks he noticed that he was reading more for himself than for the ladies. He found that he was being drawn to the gospel he was reading. It wasn’t long before he became a Christian himself.

“The pastor paused, looked at me, and said, “I was that young man they helped.” That day when I preached at that church there were over 25,000 in total attendance from all six worship services. I knew that day I had just heard a Pentecost story. The wind of the Spirit is blowing and there is no one at the margins, including four older women.”

Yes, Jesus cares, but it does not mean we will not go through times of danger, suffering, or even death.

The French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil was born to agnostic parents. She suffered all of her short life from health problems. She fought in the Spanish Civil War and participated in the French Resistance in World War II. Along the way, she came to embrace Christianity. In the midst of a particularly difficult time of suffering, Weil had an experience of Christ’s presence. She has been reciting the George Herbert poem “Love” as she often did in the midst of violent headaches. Weil writes:’ It was during one of these recitations that…Christ himself came down and took possession of me…I had never foreseen the possibility…of a real contact, person-to-person, here below, between a human being and God…. Moreover, in this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination had any part; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love” [Simone Weil, Waiting for God (New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951), 69].

Reynolds Price tells of an 87-year-old woman who wrote to him about one of those moments in which the clouds scatter, the darkness lifts, and we see Jesus. She was facing her own time of difficulty as she was going through exhausting medical tests in preparation for surgery. One day she had a kind of vision. “I went out along the Galilee hills and came to a crowd gathered around a man, and I stood on the outskirts intending to listen. But he looked over the crowd at me and then said, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘Could you send someone to come with me and help me stand up after the tests because I can’t manage alone?’ He [Jesus] thought for a moment and then said, ‘How would it be if I came?'” (Letter to a Man in a Fire, 30-31)(from a sermon by Lewis Galloway.)

Amen.

Augustine comments on this story

Augustine : “Don’t forget the presence of Christ. When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind; when your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune—shipwreck. Why is this? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him. Now what was your desire? You wanted to get your own back. You have forgotten that when Christ was being crucified He said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Christ, the sleeper in your heart, had no desire for vengeance in his. Rouse Him, then, call him to mind.”

1We Are All Nuns” By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, NYTimes, April 28, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/opinion/sunday/kristof-we-are-all-nuns.html?_r=3

In Our Weakness

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJuly 8, 2012

2 Samuel 5: 10,  2 Corinthians 12:2-10,  Mark 6:1-13

Did you hear Paul’s testimony to the unusual vision he had? It reminds me of all the books about near death experiences, like Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, about the experience of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor. And there are scientists working on whether the mind can have a life without the use of the brain. Whether people who deeply love each other can affect each other over a distance. All very strange stuff.

Now if we took time this morning we could go back and see that the reason Paul talks about his experience is that some of his critics have tried to convince the church that he lacks credentials to be preaching about Jesus. Corinthians are very susceptible to impressive talkers, spiritual tall tales. . From time to time people accused Paul of being a liberal whowould preach that just anyone could be saved, whether they lived like observant Jews are not. Others mocked him for his lack of eloquence. Some think that his name “Paul” was a shorten form of Paulus– “shorty”.1 “Not an impressive speaker,” they complained ,2 Cor. 10: 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Some were jealous of his impact, planting churches in city after city.

So from time to time, Paul defended himself. Phil 3:4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

In I Corinthians 14 he responds to those who feel superior because they speak in tongues, “18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

Similarly here he feels forced to testify that he has some remarkable spiritual experiences to match any these interloping preachers talk about. “I was taken up into the third heaven.” This is heaven to the third power. The third was according to some Jewish writings the place where the righteous dead awaited resurrection day.

Paul says he is not even sure whether he was in the body or out of the body. But he felt he saw things too wonderful for words. A lot of folks who have had that kind of experience say it has changed the way they see the world; they have an absence of fear of what lies beyond their death. They have an inner conviction of the truth of God’s eternal hold on us.

Paul did not know exactly what to make of it, and he went through it. I am not sure what to make of stories of near death experience either. I guess we just need to keep an open mind.

Paul did not talk about what happened. Here it is 14 years later. And he speaks of it as if it happened to someone else. He is being modest at the same time he is testifying to something wonderful.

This SUMMER’S blockbuster movie Bruce Almighty, a television newsman is given a set of divine powers, including the capacity to perform such miracles as the parting of a bowl of tomato soup, a la Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. When God wants to communicate with Bruce, God displays a telephone number on Bruce s pager. In the weeks after the movie’s release, anyone who shared God’s seven-digit number was besieged with calls from cranks, practical jokers and a lot of people desperate to connect with God.”2

 Now some of Paul’s critics would take an experience like this as a credential of their importance and authority. But Paul goes on to turn that upside down.

Listen. “To keep me from being to puffed up by the exceeding abundance of the experience, God gave me a thorn in the flesh to keep me humble.”

So now we go from glory to suffering in one line.

We do not know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Something he could not overlook, something hampering him. You know it is hard to care about someone else’s problem when you have a toothache. It is hard to concentrate on your job when you have a migraine. It is hard to be optimistic when you are in pain.

We don’t know what ailed Paul. Some said it was malaria, or near sightedness, or speech impediment, or epilepsy. Tertullian had heard that the apostle suffered from a severe pain in the head or ears, and assumed that this was his thorn in the flesh. Chrysostom thought that the reference was not to a physical infirmity, but to the opposition of adversaries Augustine wondered if it could be a persistent temptation. We don’t know what it was. What is yours?

Is there something that if you could just get rid of it, you think everything would be smooth sailing?

We all think about what we could be if we just had less problems and more power. Little boys are fascinated with superpowers and imagine what it would be like. Little girls seem to have more domestic fantasies of beautiful princesses.

Some of us never outgrow the fantasy of having power of one kind or another, to wish away trouble or to woo the world our way. If God would just take away my problems, I would  be able to do so much more. If I could win the lottery. If I could be somebody else……

I have heard some preacher complain about certain folks in his congregation and dream aloud about going to a church without fusses and hurt feelings and disagreeable, half-hearted folks. A wiser preacher suggested he find a good church without a congregation. You can chase the mirage of a perfect situation all your life.

Take this thorn away. All the bundle of things that confine us, limit us, frustrate us.

Rabbi said there are six people in any marriage. Three for each partner: The first is the person you imagined you would one day marry– that dream may hang on; the second is the person we think we have married, and the last is the person we actually have married. And the secret to making a marriage work is learning to accept and encourage the real person in our life who is not perfect.

Paul does not report any revelation from his time in heaven; but he tells us what God said to him about his suffering: “My grace is sufficient.” There are things that weakness can teach us that we will never learn when everything is going smoothly.

That is, grace works in the middle of the real weaknesses of real people. You don’t have to have things perfect , or be perfect yourself, to do real good.

Here is the thing about being a mature adult Christian. It is not that you have it all together, but that you have learned to depend on God when you hit your own limits.

How does Paul put it in Romans 8? We don’t always know how to pray as we ought….but the Spirit helps us in our weakness and takes up our wordless sighs and finishes our prayers.

How does Paul put it? I prayed to God three times – and God was silent. He did not give me the answer I was asking for. The thorn was still there. What does it mean? Paul heard this: “My grace is sufficient for you.” We can admit our weaknesses, because we lean on God’s grace and strength.

I remember being at a Bible camp the last night when I was just a young man. The service was a time for people to come, light a candle, and talk about where God was moving in our lives. There was a long embarrassed silence for a while. But sometime late in the service the preacher’s own kid came forward and broke down. It kind of surprised us. He hhadn’t been  seemed to have it together, a junior counselor, someone we looked up to. And he broke down and said he realized that he was not the person he had tried to make other people think he was. He had pretended to be better than he really was. His father put his arms around his shoulders as he cried. In that brokenness we saw grace lighten his load.

The sufficiency is not of ourselves. We are not good enough. We cannot make God’s kingdom come. We cannot control others’ responses to the gospel.

When Jesus sent out those disciples he sent them out in blatant weakness. “‘no bread, no bag, no money in their belts’ (Mark 6:8)– (we read in the other gospels – no weapons either.).When those disciples hit the road, they had nothing to show for themselves but the power of Christ.”

He even prepared them for the times they would fail – then shake the dust off your feet and go to the next town. “Shake it off.” and go on.

Paul has not only put up with this thorn in his flesh, he as had to endure being mocked, misunderstood, bad mouthed. The service of Christ is not always a ticket to fame and fortune. You try to help and someone doubts your motives, you sit with the sick and catch their cold, you go to visit and have a flat tire. You heard about the lifeguard who was fired for a while for rescuing a man who was drowning outside his assigned area. We have this treasure in earthen vessels and sometimes the container gets roughed up and begins looking pretty ragged.

But miracle of miracles, the realm of Jesus keeps taking hold in spite of our limits. Indeed sometimes God uses our limits to extend his grace.

We do our best, don’t misunderstand me, but don’t we often feel that our best has not been enough? We scatter the gospel seeds and wonder if any will come up. If anything will change, if people will ever change?

We are only charged to remain faithful. To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

What comes of it? God knows. We will trust God for it all.

David was victorious in the end not because he was the best armed, but because of this remarkable trust he had in God. “David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.”

Paul had an astounding spiritual experience of paradise. Then the world collapsed back into the usual difficulties. Wouldn’t we think that the special experiences of glory would be a proof of our closeness to God? We want them for our reassurance and maybe, just maybe, so we can brag at testimony time.

Oddly enough, Mark seems to point to the fact that our faith is not founded on miracles. Just the opposite. Miracles are impossible without faith. Jesus could not do anything miraculous for the people in Nazareth because there was no faith in them.

Faith is not faith if it depends on a diet of miracles to stay alive. Faith proves itself when it hangs on to God, to serving, to doing right, even when times are tough, prayers not answered, when we are not sure what to pray for, when we struggle with doubt but keep living obediently.

Perhaps I’ve told you about visiting a charismatic Catholic home group with my Catholic friend, Jim. The Bible study was good. The songs were easy to catch on to. I was all ears when we prayed and some spoke in tongues. The welcome was warm.

Another guy was visiting. He wanted to show his spiritual stuff a little. And he bragged just a little about having the gift of discernment and of healing. He would use it to “God’s glory” fixing people who needed healing.

First, he found people whose hearing was not up to snuff. Have you heard the story?:

An old man is wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night,he while his wife is sitting in her lounge chair, he goes behind her and says softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?” He gets no response. He moves a little closer and says again, “Honey, can you hear me?” Still, he gets no response. Finally he moves right next her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?” This time she looks up with surprise in her eyes and replies, “For the third time, Henry, Yes, I can hear you!” 3

I have to admit I was skeptical when the man healed people of problems they had never noticed: that one leg was slightly shorter than another. That one ear did not hear as well as the other.

Then he turned to our gracious hostess, a woman who sat in her chair with crutches close by. She was a victim of polio years earlier.

He asked, “Do you believe that God can heal you tonight?”

Yes,”

Do you want to be healed?”

Yes.”

Do you want to ask for that healing?”

She said quietly and gently. “Oh, I have asked God several times, and he said ‘No.’”

“Most gladly therefore (because of the Lord’s reply) will I rather glory in my weaknesses (than pray that they may be removed). in order that may rest or tabernacle upon me the power of Christ.”

It may take faith to be healed.

But I know it takes faith not to be healed and still trust God.

And of all the things said and done that night, hers was the testimony that has stuck with me the most. In her courage I sense a charismatic gift of a different kind. A charismatic faith.

Can we take our life in all its brokenness and be all right about the unspectacular? Can we be content, as Paul said , whether we have much or only a little?

The call of Christ is to humble, self-forgetful service not attention getting self-glory. In this we find the presence of Christ.

“You have my grace and that’s enough. For my power is being made perfect, even in your weakness.”

1Biblical name derived from the element ‘paulus’ which means little, humble. Paulus (Latin) is an old form of Paul. Paulus was originally a Roman nickname, but it soon evolved into a given name after the Classical era.

2Joanna Adams, Christian Century, June 28, 2003.

3A poor pastor who was delivering his sermon when a gentlemen in the back pew

turned his head to one side, put his hand to his ear, and said, “Louder.”

The preacher raised his voice somewhat and continued with his sermon, which was

not too inspiring. After a few minutes the man said again, “Louder!”

The preacher strained even more and continued on, but by now the sermon had

become quite boring. The man said again, “Louder!”

At this point a man on the front row couldn’t stand it any longer and yelled

back to the man in the rear.

“What’s the matter, can’t you hear?”

“No,” said the man in the back.

“Well,” said the man down front, “move over, I’m coming to join you.”