Message Archive

Sermons

15
Oct

Reality and Gentleness

Exodus 32:1-14  Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23  Philippians 4:1-9  Matthew 22:1-14

 

Our lessons this morning address the realities of life.  The reality of life is that we struggle; we become impatient and seek to intervene with God’s guidance; we like to be in control; and, blinded by our own self-seeking goals, we too often overlook God’s invitation into a life of peace and joy.  But, God does not abandon us, even when the realities of humanity lead us to feel forsaken.

Reality is a cost of our humanity.  In contrast to costly humanity, we could be God’s tin soldiers; God would wind us up and we would praise him.  We would be robotically polite to one another, each of us accurately and efficiently fulfilling our responsibilities to one another.  Perhaps there would be no evil or tragedy – certainly, there would be no violation of the Ten Commandments. 

Somehow, I suppose, we would have to be programmed to love God and love our neighbor, since that is where we experience God’s presence.  But, it would be love lacking free will – wind-up love, love out of a can, so to speak.  Well, I just get more and more confused trying to imagine life without the costs and frailties of our humanity – life without the joys and sorrows that are intrinsic in our humanity.  

God created us with free will, and with free will comes the reality of consequences.

In our Old Testament lesson, the people of Israel are struggling with the consequential realities of life in the wilderness.  In chapter 20 of Exodus, Moses goes up to meet God on Mount Sinai.  There, Moses receives the Ten Commandments and an assortment of other laws and guidelines mostly specific to worship.  Actually, there are thirteen chapters of these laws and guidelines that Moses is instructed to put into effect among the sojourning Israelites. 

As I said, it is in Chapter 20 that Moses leaves the people to go up the mountain.  We are now in Chapter 32, and God and Moses have become aware that their visit has gone on too long.  Feeling abandoned, as we read in our lesson, the people of God take matters into their own hands.  Deciding that God and Moses have forsaken them, they gather all their precious metal possessions, melt them down, and fashion a golden calf to serve as their god. 

A reality of our humanity is that sometimes we are not willing to be quiet long enough to listen for God’s voice; we are not willing to be patient with God’s will for us.  We want to take matters into our own hands, and when we do, we really foul things up, as did the Israelites in our first lesson.  And yet, the privilege and ability to foul things up is part of our gift of free will; every element of creation has the gift of freewill.

Christians for the 1st century had similar ups and downs.  From prison, Paul, writes to the church in Philippi addressing the reality of a conflict between two of the church leaders, Euodia and Syntyche.  Conflict is a reality of Church; Church is human relationship; conflict is a reality of our humanity.  The two women about whom Paul is concerned apparently are waging a power struggle within the church at Philippi.  Paul exhorts the Philippians to be patient as they seek to help Euodia and Syntyche.  Among other requests is the admonishment to “let your gentleness be known to everyone.”

Gentleness is, what the Apostle Paul would label, one of the fruits of the spirit.  This admonition to “let your gentleness be known to everyone” came to mind again and again last week as we blessed our precious pets; our pets teach us the necessity of gentleness. Even when they are disobedient, our pets require our gentleness.  Would we want them to be tin soldiers, marching about in complete obedience, fearful of our wrath?  Would we want them to please us out of fear of punishment?  No, our pet’s love for us is pure even when they fear we have abandoned them, and our love for them is pure even when they are disobedient.  Gentleness guides our relationships among the harsh realities of life’s struggles.  We are to help one another with gentleness; gentleness is a fruit that needs more reality.  

Yet, gentleness does not seem to be a reality of our Gospel lesson.  This lesson is the continuation of a tense conversation between Jesus and the elite religious leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem.  There are thousands of sermons here.  But, for today, I just want to highlight one message of the lesson, which is to be prepared – to be open and available to God’s invitation to life in communion with God and with one another.  Jesus emphasizes that, unlike the man without the proper wedding robe, we are to seek to be prepared when we come to the feast – to recognize the heavenly banquet of eternal life – to recognize our host as a friend and not a stranger. 

As confirmed by our Gospel lesson, judgment is part of the reality of our earthly lives.  As teachers and students and parents and policemen and wherever we find ourselves in our adult lives, we affirm that laws and guidelines and the necessity of judgment are part of the reality of our earthly lives.  Thus, we affirm the necessity of being prepared to follow the guidance of authority.

How is it that we are to be prepared?  Unlike the Israelites of our Exodus lesson who fell prey to mob mentality, be quiet; listen intently and patiently for God’s message.  Listen to the admonishment of the Apostle Paul, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.”  In spite of the difficulties you will face, never give up on God, be prepared, and “let your gentleness be known to everyone.”  Make that a reality of your humanness. 

Sometimes the costs of humanity seem so severe that we feel God has forsaken us, or that God has judged us unprepared, hopelessly disobedient, and tossed us into the outer darkness.  Human love and loss are a great paradox.  Don’t give up on God; in his infinite wisdom, he made us human.  In our wisdom, we accept the realities of our cost of humanity.  We truly would not want the wind-up life of a tin soldier even with its simplicities.

Remember our precious pets who teach us about patience and gentleness and the reality of God’s unconditional love even when we make such a mess of our lives with our impatience and disobedience and spiritual blindness.  When the realities of our humanity tear away at our faith, God calls us to be patient and gentle with ourselves and to let our gentleness to known to everyone as we accept Jesus’ invitation to the heavenly banquet spread before us now and in the age to come.

 

08
Oct

Cornerstone

 

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20  Psalm 19  Philippians 3:4b-14  Matthew 21:33-46

Our Old Testament lesson presents to us the Law sent down from God to Moses, preserved for us in the 20th chapter of Exodus.  This Law is the foundation – the cornerstone, if you will – of the religion that is the whole of life for the Hebrew people even to this day.

This Law that is summed up in what we know as the Ten Commandments is sheer gift to the people of God.  Their ancestors of many generations had lived in bondage in Egypt; now, they had been freed miraculously from the bondage.  The gift of the Law is given to guide their appreciation for the blessing of living and worshipping in freedom – a guide to becoming one with their creator and living in relationship with one another.

Centuries later, we have this allegorical parable from the Gospel of Matthew, which we have read just now, in which Jesus clearly convicts the religious leaders in his audience of failure to accept and follow God’s Law sent down so many centuries ago.  As religious leaders, it is their role to guide the people in understanding and following the law.  Instead they have misinterpreted and misused the law, abusing their positions of power.  They have failed to interpret the Law as a gift that guides the people in becoming one with their creator and living in relationship with one another as God intends.  Jesus is speaking to all of us who fail over and over to acknowledge and keep sight of the cornerstone of our faith.

Jesus quotes from Psalm 118:  “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Jesus condemns the religious leaders for failing to connect with the Son of Man who has come.  His parable indicates Christ’s expectation that they will collude in is earthly death.

Jesus Christ is the cornerstone.  The connotations associated with the cornerstone are interesting food for thought, and I think we would all agree that “cornerstone” carries much more of a spiritual metaphorical image than a tangible brick and mortar image.  Inscriptions on cornerstones are significant symbols of beginning and preservers of history – some even contain time capsules or relics of saints.  There is a wide range of tradition associated with cornerstones.

Cornerstones mark our beginnings.  And, we should not forget that cornerstones mark our endings.  We lay the cornerstone; we follow the guidelines laid down for our building project – or, we might say, our lives; and, in the end, we return to our beginning – our goal is to keep focused and to return to the cornerstone – the foundation of our faith.

In South Nags Head last week, we decided to ride down to Oregon Inlet to check the progress on the bridge.  What a mammoth, unbelievable feat of engineering.  Building is taking place from the north shore of the inlet, the south shore of the inlet, and in the middle – the highest section of the high-rise span.  It is inconceivable to me how these calculations will come together so that the three sections will meet as intended.  The tiniest fraction of an inch of miscalculation will result in three disconnected constructions that go nowhere.  How glad we are that God allows us mercy in our miscalculations, when we lose sight of our cornerstone. Even then, God stays connected and guides our reconnection.

Our foundation – our cornerstone engenders our lives.  We keep sight of that foundation in order to connect with one another and with all creation as we work toward the perfection of our circle of life.  We have to connect with one another.

The monstrous act of evil that gloried in the killing of innocent people in Las Vegas last week was carefully calculated.  The murderer was an accountant and a gambler and a calculated killer.  And, it is obvious that he had made every effort to disconnect with humanity in the months, or perhaps years, before this strategically engineered travesty.  I can imagine that once his life is analyzed from beginning to end, we will find broken human relationships that created this disconnected member of human society.

We can blame the guns; we can blame the police; we can blame the government.  We don’t like to blame ourselves for neglecting our own responsibility to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and the evil powers of the world – to turn to Jesus Christ and to put our trust in his grace and love.  These are the vows we take when we are baptized in to the Body of Christ.

We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ; it is our purpose to connect – to be connected and to remain connected.  It is our purpose to keep sight of our cornerstone – to be vigilant constantly for the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst – and the presence of evil in our midst.  We look into the eyes of the people we encounter in the most casual of circumstances; we listen; we tune in to the hurts and the frustrations of the people around us.  We all want our voices heard.  We don’t necessarily have to have our way at all times, but we want our voices heard in the decision-making process.  When voice go unheard, ill will ferments.

It is the gift of God’s guidance, first brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, that is our cornerstone, leading us to live in relationship with God and with one another.  We cannot allow the World’s increasing desire for disconnection to divert our sense of cornerstone – our beginning and our ending quest toward everlasting life where north and south meet at the highest point to become one in Christ.  As tenants in the vineyard, we are one body, in union with God and each other with Christ as our cornerstone.

01
Oct

Latecomers

Exodus 17:1-7  Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16  Philippians 2:1-13  Matthew 21:23-32

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

In the setting of our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus encounters the less than welcoming high priests entrusted as God’s representatives in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus did not come here to the Temple in Jerusalem to bask in the revelry of his glorious entry.  Jesus came to Jerusalem to clarify God’s message of grace and mercy – a message that had been distorted by many of these religious leaders – distorted even by those who considered themselves called by God to their positions of power and prestige. 

Through this parable of the two sons, without incriminating himself, Jesus is making the point that the religious leaders have accepted their call to be God’s representatives, yet they have dishonored that commitment – they have said yes and then reneged.  On the other hand, there are others to be gathered into the kingdom, often those less typically identified as God’s representatives.  These, who come later, Jesus identifies as the tax collectors and prostitutes – those who are seen to have forfeited their lives by extortion and degradation.  These latecomers are those who first say “no” to God’s call, but later recognize and respond to God’s call; these come late, yet when they come with great intention, they come humbly and faithfully to follow the will of God. 

Through God’s grace and mercy, the door remains open to tax collectors and prostitutes as well as to these spiritually short-sighted religious leaders maintaining the Temple.

Among these religious leaders of the day, we could imagine a young man by the name of Saul.  Born a decade or so after Jesus and reared by diligent Jewish parents in Tarsus – modern day Turkey, the young boy Saul likely fulfilled the dream of being accepted to study in the Temple in Jerusalem at the feet of the great leaders.  And, as he grew and learned more of Jesus of Nazareth and his followers, Saul came to despise those of the movement whose message often challenged that of the chief priests.  As a non-believer in this movement, Saul set out with great intention to extinguish the movement through persecution of the followers of Jesus. 

But the life of Saul of Tarsus was to take a dramatic turn on the road to Damascus where he encountered for himself the crucified and risen Christ.  As Saul was seeking to carry out the persecutions of the followers of Christ, he, Saul himself, was transformed; he became Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, known as the most prolific of all Christian writers and the most famous of all leaders of the early Christian movement.  We read from Paul’s epistles nearly every Sunday.

Paul could represent the son in our parable who said, “I will not go, but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard” – witnessing, founding church houses, writing, shaping the early Church, setting down guidelines for how the Church is to be formed and lived out, and, later, traveling by sea to Rome where his life ended in martyrdom.  

For our modern perspective, some of us said “yes” early, having never known what it is to be without the Church in our lives.  From earliest childhood, Sunday meant Sunday School and church attendance; summers included Vacation Bible School and Church camp; Wednesday evening was the time set aside for choir practice and prayer meeting.   Others of us knew nothing of that lifestyle.  And for most, our “church life” is something in between – ebbing and flowing through our lives.  Yet, we are all here today. 

For those who said “yes,” faith has been pursued with great intention since early age; for others, even if we went through the motions, we did not become intentional Christians until a later time in our lives.  Perhaps, being intentional about your Christianity is still not something you consider consciously, though you are present and continuing to seek a greater awareness of God’s presence.

Regardless of where we’ve been along our faith journey or where we are going, we all stand redeemed.  The wretched Saul who, like the religious leaders in confrontation with Jesus in the Temple, believed himself to be pursuing God’s call, though that call was corrupted from his distorted view of God’s will for his life.  God would change that dramatically on the Road to Damascus.

Similarly, time and time again throughout history and today, those we would consider to be the most unlikely – the most wretched of souls – have found God’s redemption made available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  John Newton, the eighteenth century Anglican priest and author, had lived a scandalous previous life of drunken debauchery.  As the son of a highly ranked officer in the Royal Navy, Newton spent much of his early life as a sailor who was picked up and brushed off after many a drunken brawl that led to his near demise more than once.  Finally, pulling himself together well enough to become a financially successful ship captain, John Newton invested in the highly lucrative business of transporting slaves across the sea.  Early on, John Newton was a well-known slave ship captain.

Yet, in a fantastic demonstration of God’s ever present offering of the gift of grace, John Newton turned from his wretched abhorrent life; the seeds of faith having been sown in early childhood by Newton’s mother; finally, those seeds sprouted.  Late in life, John Newton began seeking God’s will for his life.  He was ordained into the Anglican faith. 

Today, John Newton is best known for penning the words that were the source of his guidance into a hymn that almost everyone knows regardless of the degree of “churchiness.”  The hymn is Amazing Grace – penned by this former slave ship captain.  John Newton had come late, but he was redeemed nonetheless.  The poignancy of the hymn is accentuated, not by the fact that it was created by an Anglican priest, but because it flowed from the fervent converted heart of a former slave trader who for so many years said “no” to God’s call, but then said “yes” with the greatest intention.

John Newton and the Apostle Paul first said “no” but then came later to the vineyard.  And, Paul continues to speak to us in his timeless epistle writings such as these words included in Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi that we have read today – words known as the Christ Hymn.  Paul writes to the Philippians from prison.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” 

Say “yes” with great intention, to the ministry to which you are called by God.

As the Body of Christ, we are representatives of Jesus Christ; we have said “yes” very publicly to the work of the vineyard.  The world is watching to see if we will distort God’s message and renege on that call or accept it with great intention. 

Few understood this truth better than the latecomer, the Apostle Paul, reminding us:  “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  [Phil. 2:13] – enabling our work in the vineyard, it is never too late to say yes and to go.

 

24
Sep

A Day’s Wages

Exodus 16:2-15    Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 Philippians 1:21-30 Matthew 20:1-16

The landowner/employer of our parable from Matthew’s Gospel does not follow the expectations of society in his decision to pay all the laborers the same amount regardless of whether they worked all day or only one hour.  We might agree that it seems outrageous, but we cannot deny that the employer does not violate the commitment he had made to his workers.  The employer is free to reward his workers as he determines is best, and he does so. 

As for the gift of God’s grace, the wages are distributed by the good employer without discriminating who came early and who came late.  God’s grace does not differentiate.  Fortunately, none of us receives what we deserve; our heavenly reward is not based on our rank or our place in line – God’s grace is that that we receive that we have not earned – that that we cannot earn.  God’s grace throws earthly human conventions to the wind and God’s grace is awarded freely and in keeping with His eternal covenant.

God’s promise is to provide for our needs.  Each time we pray together our beloved prayer as the Lord has taught us, we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” – not just “Give us our daily bread,” but “Give us just for today the bread we need.”  

The daily bread of the Israelites was manna in the wilderness about which we read in our lesson from the wonderful story of the Exodus.  Like this daily bread for which we pray, the manna was perfectly tailored to the needs of the sojourning Israelites just for that day with adjustments to meet their needs for the Sabbath.  It could not be hoarded or held for another time – sustenance just for that day, anything beyond the daily amount became infested with worms. 

The manna was not earned; it appeared with the morning dew without any effort required by the Israelites to prepare or provide it.  There was no differentiation between those who had the ability to work for it and those who did not.  It was sufficient to satisfy hunger, but it was not fancy.  In fact, it’s a little gross to describe.

The manna is explained by Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim as a natural phenomenon in the Sinai Peninsula – the area through which the Israelites fled when they escaped from Egypt.  I quote in detail, “a type of plant lice punctures the fruit of the tamarisk tree and excretes a substance from this juice, a yellowish-white flake or ball.  During the warmth of the day [the flake or ball] disintegrates, but it congeals when it is cold.  It has a sweet taste.  Rich in carbohydrates and sugar, [the substance] is still gathered by natives, who bake it into a kind of bread (and call it manna).  The food decays quickly and attracts ants.” 

We read also of the quail provided by God for meat for the Israelites.  Regarding the quail, [Fretheim says] “migratory birds flying in from Africa or blown in from the Mediterranean are often exhausted enough to be caught by hand.  Such gifts of God’s good creation are placed at Israel’s disposal; but what they do with the gift [says Fretheim] is not an insignificant matter.”[1]

So, even though miraculously provided, the food from which the Israelites are fed is just the ordinary stuff of life – God taking the ordinary gifts of nature and making them holy – providing sustenance for His people.  Neither the Israelites nor God considered this system of food provision to be any big deal.  It was God’s way of satisfying the grumblings and ungratefulness of His people in the wilderness, which even for God seems to be an impossible task.  We read the words of the Israelites from our text this morning, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Would we, like the Israelites, prefer to be in bondage and well fed rather than free and hungry?  Would we, like those in our parable from Matthew, prefer to be standing idle in the marketplace as the laborers who came late to the vineyard, rather than coming early to work in the heat of the day?  After all, the reward at the end of the day is the same.  

Just the ordinary stuff of life – a day’s wages.  Whether we come early or late, God’s grace is the same.  But, let’s think again of those laborers who worked all day in the heat.  Let’s think of that day as the time of our lives spent with the knowledge of the presence of Christ.  God’s grace is the same at the end of time, but what of our time spent on earth here and now in the knowledge of Christ – in the work of the vineyard.  Is that not itself our special gift?  Are we not rewarded every day that we spend in the Body of Christ doing the work God has given us to do? 

Give us this day, our daily bread.  Take us and all the ordinary stuff of life and make it holy in your sight – just for today, that’s all we can ask.   This is the gift that is turned aside by those who stand idle in the marketplace or those whose existence is in earthly rewards while held in bondage by their ignorance of the love of Christ.  Our daily labor within the Body of Christ is our gift.  We have no need to grumble with God’s providence – though we do grumble like the Israelites.  And, God continues to respond to our grumbling by continuing to take that that is gross and ordinary – making it holy for his purpose of good.

God’s eternal grace is the same for all, but our gift for today is to live in the knowledge and love of Christ. 

Give us this day, our daily bread.  Heavenly Father, give us this day to spend in your presence; your provision is enough – the gift of your grace freely given – just for today. 

17
Sep

Forgiveness

Exodus 14:19-31  Psalm 114   Romans 14:1-12  Matthew 18:21-35

Debt and punishment, forgiveness and mercy are carried to the extreme in the parable we have just heard of the unforgiving slave.  In this parable, we are told that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to the king whose slave owes him ten thousand talents.  For perspective, let us consider that one talent was worth six to ten thousand denarii, one denarius being a day’s pay.  Ten thousand talents, then, could amount to as much as ten thousand denarii times ten thousand days equaling 100 million days of work, which figures out to roughly 274,000 years of labor.  You can check my math, but even if I am off by several decimal points, we are assured that it is an inestimable amount and, certainly, a debt that is humanly impossible to satisfy. 

We learn though, in our story from Matthew’s Gospel, that the king takes pity on the slave and his family and forgives the massive debt.  Again, we experience the extreme when we register the enormity of the debt forgiven.  Only then, can we see the true greatness of the king’s mercy.

Sadly, however, we read that the slave, released of the life-threatening debt, goes his merry way and, upon encountering his fellow slave who is indebted to him, finds no pity for this former cohort – tossing him into prison for his inability to pay him the debt he owes.  And, when the word of this merciless injustice reaches the king (or lord, as he is referenced in the later verses of our lesson), the king hands the ungrateful and unforgiving slave over to be tortured until the fathomless debt is paid – thus, tortured for eternity.

Like the slave of our parable from Matthew, we go to God to beg forgiveness.  We pray daily as we will pray in just a few short moments when preparing to come together to the Lord’s Table.  In that daily and most familiar of all prayers, we ask that God will “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Or, as a four-year-old was known to say, “Forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”  [Sins, debts]

Seriously, do you hear these words?  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We are asking to be forgiven of our sins equivalent to our willingness to forgive those who sin against us.  Thus, when we limit our forgiveness of others, we confess our recognition of the limit on the forgiveness we are due in return.  We admit to our unworthiness of God’s mercy.  Our prayer acknowledges that when we are not willing to forgive the sins of our neighbor against us we acknowledge God’s justification for not forgiving us for our sins.

Our God is a merciful God and we know that we are justified by grace through our faith.  At the same time, we cannot deny that these Holy Scriptures speak of judgment for our conditional, or limited, or complete lack of forgiveness of others.  This judgment for conditional forgiveness is more imaginable when we bring forgiveness into the domain of something more human and tangible to which we can relate.

I offer an illustration from a story told by Rabbi Harold Kushner:

A woman in my congregation comes to see me.  She is a single mother, divorced, working to support herself and three young children.  She says to me, “Since my husband walked out on us, every month is a struggle to pay our bills.  I have to tell my kids we have no money to go to the movies, while he’s living it up with his new wife in another state.  How can you tell me to forgive him?” 

I answer her, “I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did was acceptable.  It wasn’t; it was mean and selfish.  I’m asking you to forgive because he doesn’t deserve the power to live in your head and turn you into a bitter angry woman.  I’d like to see him out of your life emotionally as completely as he is out of it physically, but you keep holding on to him.  You’re not hurting him by holding on to that resentment, but you’re hurting yourself.” [1]

For this young struggling mother, the eternity of torture was the result of her unwillingness to release the anger that was eating her like acid from within, tortured by the bitterness she held.  She could not be expected to forget the hurt and the brokenness, but she does have the capacity to deny it power over the goodness of her life and, in turn, the lives of her children.  Try to imagine God harboring such resentment toward us for our sins; not being able to respond with care and kindness to others of his children because he is mired in resentment for our lack of faithfulness.  It is a frightening scenario.

As God’s mercy and forgiveness are without limits, so should be our mercy and forgiveness toward our neighbor for our own personal good and the good of all. 

Whether God is parting the enormous depths of the Red Sea to preserve his chosen people, or forgiving us of the inestimable burden of our sins, or taking the most evil-driven human acts of tragedy and terrorism in our world and bringing from it the best of human goodness – it is all part of the unimaginable truth of God’s redemption of humankind.  We are redeemed through God’s coming to earth to live among us and to illuminate for us the truth of the enormous gift of forgiveness.  

Perhaps in recognizing the enormous weight of our debt (Blanchard), we can begin to conceive of the enormity of God’s mercy.  Surely in recognizing the depth of God’s mercy, we can forgive others who have hurt us and, in the peace of that forgiveness, we can reject the forces that seek to distract us from the truth of God’s redemption of us through His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 


[1]  Harold S. Kushner, “Letting Go of the Role of Victim,” Spirituality and Health, Winter 1999: 34.

10
Sep

Relationships

Exodus 12:1-14  Psalm 149  Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said,  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Some years ago, in conversation with a fellow Episcopalian who is a member of a parish that at that time was dealing with some difficult conflicts, my friend said to me, “We go to church to praise God, and if all these conflicts keep me from being able to praise God, then I’ll just go somewhere else. “

Conflicts within our church family are enormously painful and disconcerting.  Is it too much to expect the church particularly to be a rose garden of loving, Christian fellowship?  It is not uncommon to hear:  I don’t really see the need to be in church; I can praise God wherever I am – on the golf course, or on a mountaintop, or in a fishing boat on the lake, or lying on the beach – just God and I.  Who needs all these other people – especially if I’m challenged to deal with conflict?

Yes, we need time alone with God, but that is not an end in itself.  We need that time alone with God so that we can listen for his guidance in how we are to live in relationship with our neighbor – how we are to obey God’s commands when two or three are gathered together.  Worship and praising God are not meant to be limited to a simple relationship between God and me.  Jesus said,  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Worshipping God is about relationship – human relationship; in all human relationship we encounter conflict at some point.  So, where is God in our relationships and in our conflicts?  God’s presence is affirmed in a variety of ways.

First, building relationships with God’s people requires discovering a refreshing yet challenging reality about God’s law.  God’s law, so easily misinterpreted, is intended to guide our relationships with one another rather than provide impetus and opportunity for God’s wrath.  Remember, we are not punished for our sins; we are punished by our sins.  When we sin against one another, thus violating God’s law, we disrespect human relationship and we should expect to receive God’s discipline.  As a simple illustration: human decency dictates that we don’t allow a child to bite another child without discipline.  We don’t “make up” this no-biting rule just because we want an excuse to punish our children; we teach our children to abide by this rule because it is imperative to healthy and safe human relationships.  It would be an injustice to allow the child to believe it was acceptable to go on biting his playmates.

A Florida sheriff being interviewed regarding hurricane evacuations stated, “We’re not requiring you to evacuate in an effort to punish you; we’re requiring you to evacuate because we want to save your life.”  God sends down his laws for us because he wants to save our lives – that’s a gift.

Each of our lessons this morning seeks to increase our understanding of the connection between God’s laws and our relationship with one another – to see God’s commandments as a gift – a gift of instruction to guide us in our relationships with our neighbor – our neighbors being our closest family members and farthest strangers, our fellow parishioners and those outside the church, the ticket booth attendant at the parking deck who hands us our change with a smile and the driver behind us at the traffic light blowing the horn.

Thus, Jesus is speaking about the essence of relationship and this is where we begin to better understand the essential role of God’s law in human relationship.

Secondly, God affirms his presence through his faithfulness, and that faithfulness is dependent upon and manifested in relationship.  To be faithful requires relationship.

Today’s Old Testament lesson of the Passover narrative from the Exodus is an important expression of God’s intent to be faithful – to keep his promises to his people.  All the blood and the smearing of the blood is a little gruesome, but the most important message of the blood on the doorposts and the lintel in not in the sign of the blood itself, but that it is the sign of God’s divine promise – the promise of life and vitality, which blood symbolizes – the promise of an eternal relationship of life and vitality.

Finally, the third consideration of the connection between God’s law and human relationship is that it is all about love.  In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul echoes the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is not that we dismiss the Ten Commandments sent down by God from Mount Sinai when we quote Jesus’ “greatest” commandments” – Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is that Commandments 5 through 10, which address our relationship to others, can be summed up, as Paul says, in these words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  These six commandments are very specific:  You shall not commit adultery, murder, steal, covet, or lie, and you should honor your parents.  But, if we love without fear, love as Jesus has shown us to love, there is no need to name the specifics – these acts of sinfulness will not occur.  As we read today from Paul, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

As much as we try, we cannot legislate human relationships.  We can institute laws against violence and laws seeking to control actions that degrade and exploit the human family, but we cannot legislate the root cause of the anger that leads to shattered lives and relationships.  And, no legislation can erase the hurt and mistrust that are the cause and effect of broken family relationships.  Jesus charges us to strive for the ideal in seeking to mend the root causes of broken relationships – to experience the presence of Jesus Christ whenever two or three are gathered together.  This is our mission and ministry that is our focus of celebration on this Welcome Back Sunday.

We are encouraged to keep seeking the gift of God’s guidance through the joy-filled times and the difficult times; God’s Law is set down for this purpose.  God is faithful, and faithfulness requires relationship.  Through faith with God’s guidance, we learn to love our neighbors without fear – to abide in love – to follow the law of the new commandment – to listen for our own personal calling to ministry.

There will always to be those among us who are difficult to convince that it is the conflicts in our relationships that keep us looking to the gift of God’s law for healing.  We praise God in mending the broken relationships – not escaping them, and thus, making us stronger.  In our relationships with one another as the Body of Christ, we come together in worship to confess our sins against God and each other, looking to God’s guidance for healing.  We exchange the peace that comes from being forgiven and forgiving one another.  We come time and time again as one Body of Christ to His Table to receive the Holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.

We come together for God’s guidance in mending and strengthening our relationships and we go forth from here with God’s guidance to love and serve the Lord in peace – seeking to mend the broken relationships of our world.  Where two or three are gathered – wherever there is human relationship – God through Jesus Christ is there.

06
Sep

No Separation

Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39  Psalm 139:1-11  John 14:1-6

 “In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike.”

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is assuring us, as he assures his disciples, that he goes ahead of us to prepare a glorious dwelling place for us in his Father’s house.  Jesus, speaking on behalf of the Father, assures us that God does not break his promise to his people; God is with us in the present, and God is with us in eternity; we simply need to acknowledge that presence.

God, in the human person of Jesus Christ, came to earth for the purpose of living and dying as one of us.  As we affirm in our creed, our Lord died an earthly death and descended to Hell; there, he looked into the face of evil and death, turned and walked away to rise from the dead, overcoming death, reigning triumphant over death.  The human Jesus of Nazareth – the divine Christ the King has vanquished death – our greatest earthly fear vanquished – that we may have no fear of our earthly death – that we may be assured of a glorious and eternal dwelling place being prepared for us in the eternal house of our heavenly Father. 

In this portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, he prepares his struggling believers to face the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  In previous verses, Jesus has told his followers that where he is going they cannot follow just now.  Jesus is seeking to help them better understand their own earthly deaths in relation to the promise of eternal life – to accept the darkness in juxtaposition with the light.  Jesus wants his disciples in his audience and us, his disciples of today, to be better aware of our own unity with Christ as believers – to know that we are one with Christ – to trust that God, through Jesus Christ, has kept his promise to redeem his people and all creation.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.” 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said, as he anticipated the Crucifixion and Resurrection and sought to prepare his disciples for this horrific chain of events.  We heard, also, the words of the Apostle Paul as he reassures us in his letter to the Romans that nothing – nothing – can separate us from the love of Christ and the eternal dwelling place he has promised.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

It is we, in our human brokenness, who seek to separate ourselves from Jesus Christ.  And, Satan smiles.  Satan nips at our heels, implanting temptations of all descriptions, tiny and massive – temptations of fear, a sense of being alone, feelings of being unloved or unworthy or inadequate, the perceived need for luxury, denial of the reality that life holds together both the dark and the light. 

And, so, rather than drawing ourselves closer to the love of Christ for strength, too often we seek insulation in our addictions – seemingly harmless addictions that are relatively unnoticeable, or life-threatening addictions, physical addictions or emotional behavioral addictions – any behavior that seeks to separate us from the pure love of Jesus Christ, any behavior that brings anxiety in the place of our faith.  The space in us that is cluttered with anxiety is space that has closed the door to God’s light.  Our prayer is that our anxieties will be replaced with faith – that our anxiety of addictive behavior will be replaced by a more powerful addiction to prayer and faith in whatever time we have on earth. 

We are not promised physical healing – all of us will eventually succumb to the wearing out of our earthly bodies; but God promises spiritual healing to all.

Barry Butler’s earthly body was beyond physical healing, but Barry was healed spiritually as God has promised.  In the last weeks of his earthly life, Barry was eager for prayer and healing oil, confession and absolution, and Holy Communion at his hospital bedside.  Barry was at peace that he was redeemed in the love and light of Jesus Christ.  He knew he was loved by God; he acknowledged God’s presence in the healing grace of loved ones and strangers who surrounded him, bringing comfort and encouragement. 

In spite of Barry’s addiction, God did not and does not love Barry any less; we cannot be separated from the love of God.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less than he loves us; there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more; God’s love is pure and divine and unconditional.  Barry was a father; he understood a father’s unconditional love for his child. 

God doesn’t love us IF we are “good”; God doesn’t love us BECAUSE we are “good”; God loves us because GOD is good; God loves us SO THAT we can be “good.”  God wants only what is truly best for us.  Acknowledging our lack of separation from God -acknowledging God’s unconditional love, we desire to do those things that are pleasing in God’s sight – to be strong in the face of temptation and pitfalls, to seek faith in the place or anxiety.

Barry knew the love of God through Jesus Christ.  As a young child growing up in this parish, the seeds of Christ’s love were planted; the light of Christ shined in his heart.  You see that light shining in his smile in the memorial video that has been prepared.  Barry walked as a child of the light; the light was there always; Barry dwells now forever in the light of Christ’s love; there is no darkness at all – no anxieties, no fears, no pitfalls, no pain – FOREVER. 

 

 

 

03
Sep

Dark Waters of Discipleship

Exodus 3:1-15  Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c   Romans 12:9-21  Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

I trust that none of us has gotten through this past week without witnessing the reality of God’s children of all shapes and sizes and ages and genders and skin colors offering their lives to save others of the same wide variety of descriptions – no questions asked – God’s children risking their lives to save total strangers who, nevertheless, are their neighbors, in this case, neighbors threatened by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey. 

I wept at the news coverage of the miles and miles and miles of pickup trucks waiting patiently in line along a Texas interstate towing bass boats and jet skis and anything seaworthy that could maneuver the swirling storm waters and provide safe rescue.  I even have had to rethink my snobbish opinion of the uselessness of obnoxious Monster Trucks – if you travel to the Outer Banks, you have passed the home of the Grave Digger of Currituck County fame.  The tragedy of Harvey is a Monster Truck paradise; riding above the floodwaters, it is the Monster Trucks that are towing the all-powerful military troop carriers out of the muck and mire.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The outpouring of love and concern in the face of tragedy that we have witnessed this week confirms for us that we must live through this world – not around it or above it.  Those putting their physical lives in danger for the pure unadulterated call to save a life or bring warmth and comfort to those who are suffering bring clarity to the complexity of Jesus’ words that we hear this morning.  We live through the world, understanding a little better each day, as our faith journey carries us along, that losing our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ is the immeasurable blessing. 

All over the world, our military, our law enforcement officers, our fire fighters and EMT’s, and “ordinary” good Samaritans offer their physical lives and wellbeing to save others and, thereby, find the greater blessing.  Perhaps we will be called to risk our lives for the life of another, or perhaps we will be called to give our life in other ways; all of us are called to put aside our human luxuries and self-serving actions that distract our focus from our call to ministry.  In giving our time and talents, in seeking discernment of our calling, we find the greater blessing.

Jesus offers crucifixion to those who follow him.  Jesus refuses to deny the dark side of the world – the dark side of humanity, which is the cost of our discipleship.  God came to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ in order to live through the world – to live and die as all of us live and die – living through the world, acknowledging the tragic dark side of humanity while embracing the light of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel lesson we read again of Peter – fresh from receiving the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven as we read last week.  Perhaps Peter is feeling a new sense of boldness, as we read today, Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking openly of his eminent suffering, death, and rising again – all of which would be the necessary culmination of Jesus’ earthly life.  Peter sought to deny the dark side; Peter, quite unaware and innocently, sought to align himself Satan in denying the divine necessity of God’s plan. 

Wouldn’t it have been so much easier and pleasant to continue on with life as the disciples had known it?  Peter and his companion disciples had already given up their previous lifestyles and occupations in order to follow Jesus.  How could Jesus now speak so definitively and fatalistically of suffering and death?  The disciples’ clarity of Jesus’ words would come only after experiencing the darkness of the Crucifixion, which was the necessary element of the Resurrection that would overcome that darkness.

We are all called to ministry – even Monster Trucks have found their calling.  It is not an easy way; Jesus never suggested that it would be easy.  In fact, Jesus made it plain from the beginning that the call to discipleship is costly; there are swirling storm waters waiting to consume us.  As Dietrich Bonheoffer phrased it, “When Jesus calls us, he bids us come and die.” 

When Jesus calls us (and Jesus calls all of us), he bids us die to our old selves, die to our temptation to align ourselves with Satan in denying the reality of the dark side of discipleship, die to our fear of the swirling waters that seek to dissuade our calling to discipleship.  When Jesus calls us, he bids us to live into our salvation by remaining focused on his presence that allows us to keep walking toward him through the storm. 

Paraphrasing Richard Rohr:  God does not love us if we become disciples; God loves us so that we can become disciples.  God does not love us because we risk our lives – physically or otherwise – to save others; God loves us so that we recognize our call and so that we are able to save others in the name of Jesus Christ his Son. 

God’s call is not always as obvious as the “burning bush” was for Moses when he was called to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt.  The Apostle Paul reminds us to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.  Our ministries are as vastly diverse as the sea, and Satan is there to nip at our understanding and perseverance – as he nipped at Peter’s. 

Our neighbors in this community and throughout the world, in Texas and our inner cities and East Asia and the Middle East are suffering.  The time has come to take note of your burning bush, to climb into your Monster Truck and hook up your flat-bottomed boat, and get in line to receive God’s instructions.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior will find it.”

 

20
Aug

Embrace

Genesis 45:1-15 Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15:10-28

On Thursday, Mary Beth and I attended a conference on Alcoholism and Recovery.  One of the keynote speakers is a recovering alcoholic and son of an alcoholic father.  This middle-aged man had become addicted to alcohol by the time he was fourteen.  He credited the Church with the impetus for his recovery.  As a teenager, he had been invited to attend church by a friend’s family.  He had never forgotten being greeted with hospitality, being called by name, and being embraced by that church family.  This experience would plant the seeds that would give him the strength and courage in faith to redirect his life.

This impact of being embraced in unity with God’s people has remained in my thoughts as we consider today’s lessons and as we consider the unsettling environment that seems to prevail in our country.

Time and again through Matthew’s Gospel we encounter biting criticism directed at the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  In our lesson today, Jesus condemns the Pharisees as blind guides leading the blind.  Jesus, throughout his ministry, has his harshest words for these religious leaders called to represent God among the people.  Jesus rebuked them for using their positions to show preference to those of higher social status and to exclude and show contempt for those they considered less favored by God – those who most needed to hear the message of God’s mercy.  As representatives of God, these leaders had distorted the image of God; they had not embraced God’s people; their irresponsibility was inexcusable.

Jesus bravely and consistently confronts the contemptuous actions of the Pharisees, knowing these reprimands will foster the toxic environment of collusion against him.

We, the Church, cannot let this message fall on deaf ears; we need not dismiss Jesus’ harsh words as a message meant for these 1st century religious leaders only.  We digest these words and evaluate our own unjust tactics that distort the message of God’s mercy and exclude those we might consider undesirable.

And, yet, in this strange twist of activity, Jesus seems himself to be caught up in a demonstration of exclusivity.  His words to the Canaanite mother of the demon-possessed daughter are harsh and shocking to us.  As a Canaanite non-Jew, it would not be uncommon for her to be labeled a “dog.”  Gentiles by definition were non-believers, no better than dogs in the eyes of faithful Jews who by law were not to interact with them.  Yet, does Jesus consider her to be a dog?  Does Jesus truly believe that this woman is not entitled to mercy – that only his own people – the Jews – are embraced by God’s mercy?

We could speculate that Jesus responds with extreme satire in an intentional attempt to attract his audience’s attention with his outrageous words – thus making his point in a much more powerful way.  Regardless of Jesus’ motive, he does get our attention, and he raises our apprehension in a way that draws us into the need to seek further understanding.  We immediately tune into the message; we look on in amazement as the woman’s desperate assertiveness prevails over Jesus’ initial refusal to show her mercy; Jesus’ actions are redirected, not just in this encounter but from this point forward.  No longer would the mission be confined to Jesus’ own people to the exclusion of Gentiles.

The message is clear; there is no exclusivity in God’s mercy.  Jesus’ mission as recounted for us by Matthew would, from this point forward, be expanded to the Gentiles – embracing any and all who came seeking redemption and healing.  God, through Jesus Christ has redeemed all creation – all are drawn into the embrace of his mercy.

This message is reinforced in the events of our saga from Genesis in which we find Joseph demonstrating God’s unrestrained mercy when confronted by his brothers.  These were the same brothers who had so cruelly sold Joseph into slavery and convinced his father Israel that he had been killed by a wild beast.  Joseph, carried to Egypt by the slave-trading caravan, had risen to great prominence in the court of the Pharaoh.

The scripture tells us that, as Joseph’s true identity was revealed, the brothers were “dismayed.”  Understandably, they would have reacted with fear when realizing that this high-ranking officer of the Egyptian court was indeed the brother whose life they had sought to destroy.   Now, their lives were held in his hands as he, only, could provide the grain they needed to save the House of Israel from obliteration by famine.

Joseph looked realistically at the past, surely remembering the turmoil he had suffered as the result of the evil deeds of his brothers.  But, Joseph recognized that God had converted these evil deeds into good far beyond human ability or ingenuity.  The culmination of the brothers’ evil deed, converted into God’s good, allowed for Joseph to be the remnant that would preserve his people.  Joseph gave thanks to God for his mercy and, in turn, showed that same mercy to these brothers who had come seeking sustenance.  In a position to seek horrendous retribution, Joseph chose instead to embrace his brothers, restore the broken relationship, and provide the means of a prosperous future for his people.

Joseph could not wipe away the anger and suffering of the past; but, Joseph with steadfast faith in God’s guidance found spiritual healing and growth that led to restorative justice for his brothers.

Jesus’ initial outrageous response to the Canaanite woman draws our attention to our own unjust treatment of others.  As Jesus’ subsequent reaction highlights the turning point in his mission, our own spiritual growth comes to turning points, challenging us to put away our prejudices and embrace one another in unity as God’s children.

These words of scripture carry a pertinent message for us today in regards to the frustrating and frightening events in our country.  The Bible is a living organism; from these words of eternal wisdom, there is constantly refreshed guidance that remains relative regardless of the passing years.

I shutter at the thoughts of the environment that breeds the superficial arrogance and hatred of white supremacists.  In what sort of families and households must these misdirected individuals be reared?  Where was the Church in their childhood?  I’m told they represent far less than 1% of our population; why are they given a voice to inspire violence?

And, I shutter at the sight of non-white youth rushing city streets with their faces taunt with anger and hatred, heavy pieces of chain and crowbars drawn back ready to strike in anticipation of their perceived enemy.  Where did they learn such fear-inspired hatred; who fostered such anger in them; how did they inherit such little value for their lives and the lives of others?  Where are the religious leaders who are called to be representatives of God in the lives of these young people?  We, the Church, bear that responsibility.

Somehow, we must have the courage to take on the task of addressing the true underlying causes of this violence with all parties taking appropriate responsibility for wrong actions.  Like Joseph and his brothers, we cannot erase the evil deeds in our past – whether in our personal family history or our country, and any efforts to do so can only be detrimental.  Rather, we reexamine our history realistically with God’s guidance and we move forward toward spiritual healing and growth.  It’s hard work that must be done; it must be done with open hearts and lowered voices and a willingness to be listeners.

Only the mercy of God through the grace of Jesus Christ can lead us to restorative justice.  Only the mercy of God through the grace of Jesus Christ leads us to embrace one another truly in unity as God’s people now and forever.

13
Aug

Remnant of Faith

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

“You of little faith; why did you doubt?”

Our account of Jesus and Peter walking on water would appear to be a miracle account.  Certainly, if you or I were to walk on water we would consider that miraculous.

But, as in so many of our accounts of Jesus’ actions, there is a much deeper meaning and message than simply a demonstration of our Lord performing miraculous actions and deeds.

This evening sea voyage for the disciples as described in our Gospel lesson comes in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 men plus many women and children.  We read that Jesus, after the feeding, instructed the disciples to get in the boat and “go to the other side” as he dismissed the crowds and retreated to a quiet place on the mountain to pray.

Thus, as the disciples set out on their evening voyage across the sea, their minds were undoubtedly struggling with the events and signals of the day past.  Mesmerized by Jesus’ teaching, the crowd had remained well up until a time when they would have grown very hungry.  Quite shockingly, Jesus had insisted that the disciples would feed the people.  And so, from the crowd was produced a meager offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish – a remnant of physical sustenance.  Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, blessed them, and gave the loaves and fish in their bounty to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.  All were fed and satisfied and twelve baskets of broken pieces were gathered from that that was left.  From this earthly remnant of sustenance, in the hands of Jesus Christ, freely offered and blessed by God, all were fed and satisfied.

It would seem that walking on water would not be such a big deal in comparison.

As Jesus approached, Peter stepped out of the boat on faith – faith representative of the faith of all the disciples – “little” faith as described by Jesus.  Even so, as long as Peter walked upon that faith, with eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, his path was clear and sure.  Distracted by the storm, taking his eyes away from Jesus, allowing his anxiety to inhibit his faith, Peter began to sink.

“You of little faith; why did you doubt?”  It was not a quantity or quality of faith that Peter needed to continue his straight path upon the water toward Jesus; it was the faith the size of a mustard seed – a remnant of the faith that had so bountifully fed perhaps 10,000 people on the previous evening.

We look to the preservation of this remnant of faith.  The greatest extent of darkness cannot extinguish the light of one tiny candle.  Our remnant of faith is not to be extinguished.

Evil, death, and sin cannot extinguish the good of God.  The saga of the sons of Israel illustrates this truth.  As we continue our journey through the history of God’s people in our Old Testament lesson from Genesis, we read today of the cruel jealousy-based actions of the older brothers of Joseph – the favored son of Father Israel.

At this point in our story, Jacob has been renamed Israel by God as a sign of the irrevocable covenant between him and God.  Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel along with their two handmaidens have born twelve sons to Jacob – Father Israel.  Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife died after the birth of her second son Benjamin; her first son being Joseph; Joseph’s preferential status in the house of Father Israel was overtly obvious.

We remember from our childhood the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors.  The element of the story we likely did not hear about as children was the bitterness and jealous reaction of the other sons of Israel to this favored sibling.  We probably did not focus on the arrogance and irritating cockiness of Joseph who lavished in his superior status as the favored pretty boy of his powerful father.

Our Old Testament lesson describes the brothers’ revenge on Joseph – a cruel and evil scheme.  But, amazingly, the outcome of this cruel scheme will be converted by God’s good into the preservation of the House of Israel.  Joseph, spirited to Egypt by these slave traders, the unwitting vessels of transport, will find himself preserved through faith for the specific purpose as the remnant.  Joseph will remain faithful to the God of his Fathers in spite of the obstacles he will face in Egypt.

As for the disciples, there are storms encountered by Joseph and his brothers; storms are quite common in the lives of God’s people.  But, God will stand by through the storms and the remnant will continue to be preserved by faith.

Jesus does not always calm the storms of our lives, but he never leaves us to weather them alone.

Just as God redeems Jacob and his sons of their evil deeds – taking the evil deeds and bringing good from them, just as God through Jesus reaches his hand out toward Peter to save him from sinking – So, God redeems us through his Son Jesus Christ and, with our eyes firmly fixed on his will, lifts us out of the raging waters of chaos.  In faith, we take that hand that is reaching toward us.

We have only to stay focused on his face in the storms and to take the hand reaching down to us as we are slipping beneath the swirling tempest, only to hear and respond to the most frequent and most difficult demand that God asks of us – Do not be afraid.

The remnant is preserved.  Why do you doubt?  In times like these – in our country, in the world, in the Church, in our family life, hold fast to that remnant that unites us in God’s good; nourish that remnant.  Keep focused on the presence of Jesus Christ with outstretched hands; keep walking toward those outstretched hands.