All posts by The Very Reverend Edward H. Ihde

Fr. Edward Ihde serves as Priest and Rector for the congregation of Saint Nicholas Anglican Church (ACA) in Buffalo, NY and Holy Cross Anglican Church (ACA) in Webster, NY where he brings into perspective thoughts and anecdotes from thirty years of ordained ministry. He is also Dean of the Western New York deanery

Wisdom of Ages

Stars

Back in the mid-seventies, I was transferred by my company to Chicago, Illinois.  While living there for several years, my wife and I would take visiting friends to the Chicago Museum of Art .  There, we would look at some of the most important paintings to be found in the U.S. and where, one painting in particular, always got to me.  It was a wall mural by Georges Seurat that really got my attention.   Seurat painted the most wonderfully detailed impressionist paintings with a technique he called pointillism.   He devised this method of painting which uses dots of paint instead of using brush strokes to create a picture. If you look at his paintings up close, all you will see are dots of color, but when you move away from the painting, your eyes form the dots into a picture.  For example, when you look at a picture in a newspaper or lithograph with a magnifying glass you will see only dots, but when you take away the glass, your eyes make the dots complete the picture or photograph.  Today we use the same technique in pixel technology which adorns the screens of our televisions, computers and Iphones.

I bring this up today because I find that sometimes the lessons we are given for a particular Sunday do not always tell the whole story – and unless we know what came before the verses and what comes after them, the story itself becomes for us a bit vague, just like all those dots under a magnifying glass.  Such is the case today, as Jesus enters Jerusalem – for this particular day we celebrate is the day of Visitation.  It is this self-same day that we celebrate on Palm Sunday each year in Holy Week where the people of the city have spread out palm branches along the road, singing out ‘Hosanna’ and welcoming Jesus into their midst as the King of the Jews.  And yet inside the city there are no tributes, there are no banners, there are no acclamations to this person who the people have proclaimed their King.

No – it was, in fact, business as usual, and Jesus laments the fact that here on this day, entered the King of Glory, and no one there – no one in the City of the Great King – knew who he was or what great event had transpired that day.

And so in today’s gospel lesson, we find out firsthand what happens when people are found to be not right with God, for in this story we see the only time in the gospels that Jesus becomes visibly angry . . . angry with a righteous anger because the priests and the moneychangers were in a league of corruption.  And so, because they knew not the day of Visitation – the Temple, the City and all who dwelt within it were cursed into oblivion happening only about thirty years hence when the Roman Army will come in 70 A.D. and totally destroy the city, the temple and everyone who lives there.

And so as the story today we know very well goes . . . the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem as prophesied by Zecharia as it is written ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’  But in the city the King found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. So, making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He quotes to them from the prophet Isaiah who wrote, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”  His disciples later remembered Psalm 69 where it reads, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The disruption of the moneychangers and the threat of exposure to collusion amongst the temple priests, was of course, ‘the last straw’ . . . which, a week later led directly to Jesus being arrested tried, and finally being crucified – mainly to silence him and his followers.

The Sanhedrin could not expose their corruption to the people so they conspired to charge Jesus with blasphemy by using false witnesses.  King Herod Agrippa and the other  temple leaders weren’t able to kill Jesus directly so they took him to Pilate who, being a shrewd politician, decided to try to swap him for Barabas, a known criminal, letting the people decide Jesus’ fate.  And so, as you know Jesus was convicted and crucified.

Covering up the truth of the messiah by murder was nothing new to the Jewish leaders of the day – in fact – it had happened before.  To find out more about this story we need to go way back to first book of the bible – not Genesis . . . as you might suppose- but to the first book ever written in the bible which is the Book of Job.

For within Job we find that the Creative God has laid out in the heaven for all to see a calendar of events stretching out through eternity . . .

8 He alone stretches out the heavens

and treads on the waves of the sea.

9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,

the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.

10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,

miracles that cannot be counted.

11 When he passes me, I cannot see him;

when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.

12 If he snatches away, who can stop him?

Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’

13 God does not restrain his anger;

even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.

And in the Psalm 19 of David we read . . . The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.  Day unto day they speak, and night unto night they show knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.

For it is in the stars of heaven that prophesied the coming of the great king – and it was astronomers from the east who saw the signs predicted by the prophets and came to greet the king on his arrival.  But it was Herod and the chief priests who were shocked to hear that the king had actually come – a king that they themselves were supposed to be looking for, but apparently had become complacent, thinking that ‘that King’ was for another age – not theirs.

And so, when they heard of the new born king coming as prophesied in the town of Bethlehem, that they set out to destroy him by murdering all the first born in that town.  Leaving us to remember from the prophet Jeremiah . . . “Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”

Today we have the technology to look back at the stars and constellations as they were in the past.  This is due to the clockwork nature of God’s creation and the mathematics that make everything work so precisely.  We know that the star of Bethlehem occurring on December 25, 2 A.D. was the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter and that the Magi visited Jesus when he was about two years old; and living in a house, as it written in the gospels, and not in manger as we depict the scene every year.  We also know that two years before that first December Christmas Jupiter was to circle the star Regulus (the royal star) signifying to the magi that a king would be born to the west.

These and many other celestial events were the prophesies that led to the coming of Jesus the messiah the first time into our world.  They were supposed to be kept track of by the priests throughout their generations but instead, the Temple leaders were distracted by power, greed and wealth . . . so when the events actually happened, they were not only unprepared but also fearful of what would actually happen to them if their deeds were to be exposed.

I wanted to bring to you today at least a small piece of the big picture so that you will know how truly great our God really is.  For before the earth was formed, the moon was, or life as we know it existed, all of this . . . the beginning, the fall, the redemption and the plan of salvation was worked out precisely in advance for all of us who would eventually be born here.

Evangelicals have always tended to have a good doctrine of redemption, but a bad doctrine of creation.  We have always tended to pay lip-service to the truth that God is the Creator of all things, but we have been mainly blind to its many implications.  The God we like to worship has been for us, one only concerned with the church and with our religion, as if his main interests were our worship services and prayer meetings attended by believers in the faith.

Don’t misunderstand me: God takes great delight in the prayers and praises of his people.  But I think we should now begin to see him also (as the Bible has always portrayed him) as the Creator, who is concerned with the secular world as well as with the church, who loves all people and not Christians only, and who is interested in the whole of life and not merely in religion.

This week, as we look up from our smart phones and view the lunar eclipse let us all consider and remember that it is the creative God who placed the moon in the exact orbit where an eclipse would be possible and made our moon spherical so that it would be absolutely perfect in its projection towards the earth.  Through the eclipse, He will give to everyone in the U.S. just a glimpse of the magnitude of his creation.  Let us pray that all who experience it will see God’s hand, not only in creation but in their lives as well.

But this isn’t the only sign in the heavens this year – there is another that is far more important.  In the weeks ahead there will occur the same sign that saw the birth of Christ that will play out in the night sky after 2,020 years have passed. On September 23, upon Jupiter’s exit from the constellation Virgo, on the Jewish Feast of Trumpets, we will be able to see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun).  At the feet of Virgo, we will see the moon.  And upon her head we will see a crown of twelve stars, formed by the usual nine stars of the constellation Leo with the addition of the planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars.   If this sounds oddly familiar it was written for us as a vision of Blessed John in the Book of Revelation – Chapter 12 . . . the rest you can read for yourselves . . . it has a surprise ending.

As you know, this will be my last Sunday with you here at Holy Cross.  Over the past year it really has been a privilege to worship with you and to share with you the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I think we’ve gotten a lot accomplished with the final word on the roof, with the selection and ordination of Tom Stone to the diaconate, and with the calling of Fr. Ludwig as interim priest, I think you are off to a terrific year in this place.  There are a few items that I wish that I had had the time for . . . but perhaps Fr. Ludwig can take up the flag for things ‘left undone’ which are mainly evangelistic in nature . . . like a new sign out front, a better functioning website, a parish photographer (which is really important to retain your history) and someday – new vestments.  These are all items that have a direct bearing on the perception by new people for they are all the things that attract folks in to hear your message.  And they work!  How do I know this? – well for past forty years I have seen struggling churches grow because they do outward looking kinds of things . . . and I have seen viable churches fail often because they only think inward and not outward.  So, continue as best you can to think outward and I believe everything else will fall into place.  I wish you all God’s speed.  Amen

Transfiguration

Transfiguration

In today’s gospel, we hear, once again, the story of the transfiguration of Christ.  And we wonder . . . was this a vision of in future? . . . or did it actually happen in the present, in those times when Jesus walked with his disciples?  Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the resurrection.  Do you suppose that, had they told, that somehow the plan of salvation would have been changed? . . . or perhaps ruined for them? . . . or for us?  We know that the future is not normally revealed by God in very great detail, but at the same time we can also assume that it is laid out clearly for those who have eyes to see it.

The transfiguration was given to the core disciples in order to build up their faith for what was about to come in the weeks ahead – that is the crucifixion.  They were given a vision of the future showing them what had become of the past and how the future was to be shaped in God’s hand.  The specific people who appeared with Jesus were Moses and Elijah.  These two are the only prophets in the Old Testament that no one knows what happened to.

Elijah, as you may recall was swept up in a chariot of fire into heaven, never to be seen again.  The scripture tells us that he will return as one of two final witnesses in the end days.  That is one of the reasons that the people who heard Jesus from the cross calling “Ali, Ali . . .” on the cross assumed he was calling out for Elijah.  And that is also, I believe why Jesus did not want anyone to know that Elijah had come in this vision.

Moses, as you may recall, was unable to enter the promised land due to a lost temper while working God’s miracle of cleaving the rock for water.  Scripture informs us that he died, but that God himself only knows where his body is.  The kabala (an ancient Jewish mystic book) relays to us a story that Moses refused to give the angel of death his soul and that God himself came from heaven to collect it.  God placed the body of Moses in a special place where it would not see corruption until the day of the resurrection of the dead.  Moses, we are told is the second witness who is to come at the time of the end.

It is not all that clear that the disciples who witnessed this event were aware of the implications of what the transfiguration meant.  But they were as startled as anyone would be if it happened to any of us.

So what does it mean for us in the present?  For me it is a significant reminder that all is, as it should be.  It is a sign from the past that links our present with the future work of God and the redemptive plan for all mankind.  The fact that Jesus called three men to witness this event is also noteworthy.  You may not believe one person who has seen a vision of eternity . . . but for three people to see the same thing and report back has to be either true . . . or . . . a conspiracy . . . but to what end?

The transfiguration is truly a lamp shining in the darkness as Peter describes.   It was given, not for the people of that age, but for you and me in this age, and all others who have followed Jesus into the future holding on to the truth and life of Christ’s Holy Church throughout its generations.  It was a sign that all is ready . . . all is right . . . and all will be carried out according to the plan of life and salvation.

 

For many, life is like a stream gently flowing to join a brook which joins other streams and other rivers and lakes until it becomes an ocean.  This group believes that everything . . . both good and evil is mysteriously being somehow brought together by God until everything that is, is cleansed and perfected as it gently flows into heaven.  They believe that as mankind continues to evolve, all the things that divide us will fall away and we will become one voice, one people, all going in one direction.  Our divisions will cease and all will be one with the Father of all things.  This is the more liberal approach to life’s plan.  It tells us that everyone will eventually join God in the end of time.

Then there is another group that believes that life is more like a tree.  As we continue to climb up the tree we are constantly faced with the struggle of a number of decisions to make as we come to a fork in the branches.  Do we turn right or do we turn left?  Do we embrace good or do we accept evil?  This philosophy states that there is only one way and that when errors in judgment or opportunity happen, we find that we need to retrace our steps and go back (or repent) in order to stay on the Pilgrims Way – which is the way of life.  This philosophy is uncompromising in its pursuit of perfection to be with God.  This philosophy is the more conservative approach to the plan of life.  It tells us that very few will join God in the end of time.

Now most of us know from experience that life is seldom a stream, but sometimes it is and we find that we can go with the flow.  And that life is not always a tree, but sometimes it is and we find we need to make a clear choice or take a stand.  Jesus tells us that he is a vine and we are the branches.  He tells us to bear the fruit of the spirit, which is love.  He tells us that he will help us to bear fruit by trimming us back when he needs to.  He tells us that he will give us living water to help us grow.  He tells us that his love is sufficient to get us through all the things that we encounter in life.  We need only to believe in the plan of salvation.

But, he also warns us that those who cannot . . . or will not . . . bear fruit will be cast aside . . . to make room for those who can.  This is, for most of us, a most terrifying statement, because all of us want to feel included in God’s plan.  I know that each time I read this warning in the Gospels, I sometimes cringe because I know there are some who are loathe to hear it.  And I wonder how can this be coming from the ‘Lord of Love’?

Back, many years ago, Barbara and I decided to plant two apple trees.  We planted one Golden Delicious and one Red Delicious tree.  They were small saplings at the time, but they grew and grew.  We never had the heart to prune them or spray them because we wanted pure apples with no chemicals.  But little did we know that this isn’t how you grow apples.  Before long the two trees were towering over our yard full of branches and thousands of leaves.

We did manage to get apples every year from them.  We got thousands of very small horribly sour little apples that fell from the trees full of worms.  Every year we cleaned up this mess and threw out  two garbage pails full of apples.  The fruit was inedible but the trees themselves were both magnificent, full of shade and promise.  We stilled loved them.  But as time went on, each year I thought about cutting them down because of the terrible mess they made, and because the fruit they produced really wasn’t any good for anything.

Conversely, in my travels throughout my career in Niagara County, I was always impressed in the fall to see wonderful red, ripe, juicy apples in the orchards dressed by professional apple growers.  These wonderful apples are hanging on some of the worst looking trees you ever saw.  They are all black and knarly and have horrible grotesque trunks.  But . . . they have wonderful apples.

The reason is, that, to grow fruit correctly, the dresser needs to prune the trees . . . a lot.  Sometimes they need to cut off whole branches to make them bear fruit.  They need to do this, not out of malevolence against the tree, but out of love to make it grow and produce the finished product . . . which is the fruit of the tree . . . and not the tree itself.

The point of all this is that love, though gentle as a lamb can be as ruthless as a lion when it comes to our own spiritual lives and the Church.  If God can be compared to Love, then Love can be compared to Living Water that rains down and gives life equally to both the just and the unjust.  But love never demands its own way, so God never prunes us unless we ask him to.  Those who are pruned bear much fruit and they bear it most abundantly.  Often, they are not people who live in gigantic houses or drive expensive cars.  Often, they are the very poorest of people with the very largest of hearts.  The plan of salvation is truly meant for them. But in the same way, if the vine is no longer useful and the tree no longer produces good fruit, it will be cast down and removed so that others can take its place.

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Ascension of Christ

ascension

Some time ago, a girl at the office and I had a wonderful discussion about death, funerals . . . and the life hereafter.  Life after death—immortality and spirituality—seemed to be on both our minds that week with the passing of my Aunt Helen.  Death and religion are topics that go hand in hand due in part by the mystery of ‘not knowing’.  If I were one of the nonreligious folks out there and picking out a new religion today, I think I would want one that spoke with clarity and authority about life beyond the grave especially since we all seem to be just a nudge closer with all the terrorist attacks we’ve been experiencing lately.       But ironically, if we were to take a few months and study the writings of other religions, we would discover that the history of all their founders stops . . . abruptly with their death.  Like everyone else, their bodies have all wasted away in the grave. What do you suppose Buddha (Budism), Mohammed (Islam), and Krishna (Hindus) are doing now?  What do you suppose are their plans for the future? Not even their most devoted followers would know the answer.      But, the Christian faith is different. The written record of God’s Word and countless eyewitnesses confirm that Jesus Christ was God’s Son. He died on the cross for the sins of the entire human race. God raised Jesus from the dead bodily. These are the facts that set Him apart from every other religion in the world. The question remains—can He speak with the authority that we need, about life after death?      Several years ago a bank in Binghamton, New York sent a floral arrangement to a business that had recently moved into a brand new building . . . but there was a mix up at the florist, and the card sent with the arrangement read, “With our deepest sympathy.” The florist apologized, but became even more embarrassed when he learned that the floral arrangement he sent to a funeral home read, “Congratulations on your new location.”      The Church has good news for you, today (and every day for that matter). After Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, He moved to a new location. He ascended into heaven! And that is, in part, what we celebrate this week.  In out Epistle this morning we read . . . “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was departing, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them; and they also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’”      The disciples of Jesus visibly saw Him rise from the ground. The Lord, clothed in His resurrected body, moved from this material world into the spiritual world. His followers were stunned! Two angels appeared to them and told them that Jesus had been taken up into heaven.  Life would go on for these disciples, but of course, they would never be the same again. The ascension of Jesus Christ changed everything for them . . . and for us.

We who are left . . . continue, as is our duty, to keep forever the jubilation of Christ’s Easter resurrection and to live out in joyful expectancy, Christ’s imminent return.

But we wonder; how can we do that?  How is it possible to live out our lives in expectant jubilation in a world that is so fraught with hatred, problems and abuse?  It is only possible because the Holy Spirit is here within us.  Jesus told his followers that if he didn’t return to heaven, the Holy Spirit would not come.  But because he went to the Father, the Holy Spirit was given to all those who believe to strengthen and to help them in this world.  We call this help and consolation ‘Grace’ and the ability to reflect it in our lives we call ‘Spirituality’.

Spirituality is what sets the believer apart from the world.  Another word might be ‘holiness’ but it is too often misunderstood as ‘religious’.  You may not be able to practice religion in your school or workplace . . . but you are always able to practice your Spirituality.  Spirituality is that nagging something that sets one person apart from another.  You can’t quite put your finger on it but there is definitely, something there.  You might recognize it as inner peace, or a sense of calmness in demeanor.  It might come as abundant generosity or loving concern.  It might come in a hundred ways that are impossible to describe . . .  but what you do sense is a definitive difference in that person.  A person of God’s own choosing . . . someone set apart from the world . . . and yet in the world.

One of the truly inspired ways to grow as a Christian is to create a bridge between one’s Spirituality and one’s Work.  Right or wrong, people today are defined by what they do for a living.  Students, doctors, pharmacists, laborers, housewives always tell us what they do when we meet for the first time.  It seems to be some kind of a defining signal between people.  So why not take advantage of it and make Spirituality more a part of your defining signal?

When I suggest that spirituality become a more integral part of your life, I can almost hear the reply, “I’d love for that to hap­pen but I’m just too busy, I have to go to work.” If that sounds familiar, this is a strategy I have found helpful:

To create a bridge between your spirituality and your work means that you take the essence of who you are and what you believe into your daily work life. You dismantle the dichotomy that so often exists between your spiritual life and that which you do for a living.  It means that if kind­ness, patience, honesty and generosity are spiritual qualities that you believe in, you make every effort to practice those qualities at your workplace. You treat people with kindness and respect. If someone is late or makes a mis­take, you try to be patient.  Even if it’s your job or appropriate to repri­mand someone, you do so from a place of love and respect. You should be as generous as you can be—with your time, money, ideas, and love.

In a way, our place of work is a perfect environment to practice spirituality. If you work in a place like I do, on any given day you have many opportunities to practice patience, acts of kindness, and forgiveness. You have time to think nice thoughts, smile, embrace others, and practice gratitude. You can also practice being non-defensive and a better listener.  You can try to be compassionate, par­ticularly with difficult or abrasive people. You can practice your spirituality in virtually everything that you do. It can be found in the way you greet people and deal with them in conflict. You can exhibit it in the way you sell a product or service—or the way you balance ethics with profit. It’s literal­ly everywhere.

I have found that there is something really comforting about creating this spiritual bridge. It reminds me of a higher purpose, a higher calling as a Christian in the service of God. It puts your problems and concerns into a broader context. It helps you grow from your difficult experiences rather than becoming hopeless or overwhelmed by them. Even if you have to do something terribly difficult such as firing someone, for example, you do so while remembering your humanity Or even if you are fired or dealt some other tremendous “blow” or hardship, there is a part of you that knows there is a reason. Having faith helps get you through difficult times. It doesn’t mean that difficult times become easy—they just become a little more man­ageable.

One of the nicest things that happens to people as they create a bridge between their spirituality and their work is that “small stuff’ real­ly does begin to seem like small stuff. Invariably, the same things that used to drive you crazy don’t seem at all significant. You’ll be able to take things in stride, move forward, and stay focused. So, in a roundabout way, becoming more spiritual at work or school helps you become even more successful than you already are.

The important lesson for all of us to remember today is that this life is not all there is. Jesus Christ has spoken with clarity and authority about life after death. He ascended into heaven. He stepped from this world into the next world. He has left us . . . and yet we are not alone.  We are in the world, but not part of the world.  In the first century, the disciples were changed forever. We too should be radically changed ourselves as we strive to love others and to reflect the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our schools and workplace through a renewed sense of our Spirituality and what it truly means to be a Christian.  Amen

 

 

The Holy Name

For the past few weeks I have been thinking about the feast of the Holy Name and what it should mean to us today.  Back in the days of our youth, the 1928 Church Calendar recognized this feast as the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus.  But in more recent times we have become a bit squeamish with the word ‘circumcision’ and this holiday has become secularly known as New Years Day, but in many churches, it is known as Feast of the Holy Name.

About once every seven years or so, the Feast of the Holy Name (or New Years Day) falls on a Sunday.  When this happens, the feast day always pre-empts Sunday, so this year there is no first Sunday after Christmas and that is why we celebrate the feast of the Holy Name today.

But, in order to understand this feast day, we really need to go back to the gospel for today and find out more about what is happening in today’s continuation in the reading of the Christmas story.

As you should know, Jesus was a Jew.  He became Jewish on the eighth day of his life when Joseph took Jesus to present him to the temple priest for circumcision and to receive a name.  Today there is a lot of controversy over the custom of circumcision, but in the days of Jesus and even to this day, all males who are born into or who are converted into the Jewish faith are required to be ritually circumcised as part of the ancient covenant between God and the children of Abraham.  It was only through a personal sacrifice, which to the Old Testament Jews meant, the literal separation of blood and flesh that the covenant could be consummated.  The covenant was a contract and was done, as I understand it, for a very mystical but also a very practical reason . . . so that a man might be permitted to hold the Torah, the Law and the Prophets, in his hands and interpret its meaning.  In this way, all Jewish males are in fact ministers of the word once they attain the age of reason called bar mitzvah or son of Israel, subject to the law.

The practice of initiation through circumcision was one of the first controversies settled by the Christian church fathers. The Jewish converts into Christianity wanted to continue this ancient practice and require that every male who adopted Christianity be circumcised in the tradition of the covenant with Abraham.  But it was Paul, himself a Jew, who argued against this because as he put it, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and faith in his blood, there is no longer a need for an outward sign of the covenant because we have all been reborn in the Spirit and are adopted through God’s grace into a new covenant (also born of the separation of blood and flesh but thru crucifixion) between God and all of mankind.  You can imagine that many of the men of the early church were quite relieved at this far reaching decision. 

But for Jesus and Joseph this was all quite normal and it was at this point that Jesus received his name, which in Aramaic is Yeshua and in Latin is Jesus, both meaning literally, ‘Savior’.  But the interesting part of the story is that Jesus did not receive his name from his parents or his family, like most kids.  If you remember, it was Gabriel who told Mary at the annunciation that she was to name the child ‘Jesus’ and that he would be great and be called the Son of God and that he would save his people.  And so, it was that God himself named Jesus.

Names are of great importance in Holy Scripture.  In the Old Testament God reveals himself to Moses and pronounces his name.  Now the name of God is steeped in mystery because the priests of the temple did not want the name to fall into the hands of evil men.  The closest we have come to know it is as ‘Yahweh’ which means ‘The one who causes things to happen’ or ‘the Lord’.

Think to yourself for a moment where you would be without your name.  Like the ‘bulletproof monk’ you would be like the wind.  No one could control you if they could not call on you.  You would be invisible, wouldn’t you?  Names are one of the most important things that define us.  Our names, both first and in many cases last names all have meanings, many of them hidden within our family’s history.  My name, Edward for instance is Anglo Saxon and means ‘Guardian’.  I have known this all my life and have often felt that it has defined part of who I was to become as I grew up.  Many people I know have been greatly influenced by the meaning of their names, especially among the clergy.  Three that I can think of right off the top my head are Fr. Amend, Fr. Love and Fr. Harry Grace.

Right up there with the gift of Free Will, one of the greatest gifts we have been given is the ability to name things.  If you remember from the story of Genesis, it was God who called the firmament heaven and the land earth.  It was also God who named the sun and the moon and day and night.  But then, as the story goes, God made man and named him Adam and he gave to Adam dominion over all creation as the text reads from Genesis . . . ‘And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was the name it was given.’

One of my favorite paintings is a very famous one called ‘the Ancient of Days’ by the writer/artist William Blake.  It depicts God the Father as a weathered windswept ancient man with a giant pair of dividers in his hand hovering over the earth as an architect over his design.  As the great I AM ‘who causes things to happen’, God provides all the mathematical equations, the laws of gravity, motion and thermodynamics, a design and a platform in time and space on which his creation is based.  In all this expanse of the universe, God creates galaxies and suns and planets in their courses but gives names to only a few things that we know of . . . they are the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, heaven, Adam, Israel, Paul, and of course, Jesus.  The rest, for some reason known only to Him, he leaves up to us to ponder, to discover and to name like a gigantic game of Pictionary.  And we’ve been trying to figure it all out ever since.

Today we celebrate the one name that God shared with all of us, a name that is on par with all of creation itself, the name of Jesus, at which all knees will bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.  I believe that this is just how important this event of the incarnation was.  For at the naming of Jesus and the passing of the Davidic Kingdom to our Lord, time itself began afresh thanks to the forethought by the church fathers at the Year 1 and continues in every land and nearly every language two thousand and seventeen years later until this very day.

Jesus was named Savior whom we call the Christ (the anointed one) who came to earth for one reason and one reason only.  That was in fact his name’s sake . . . that he would be anointed the savior of his people. 

To understand the importance of the name ‘Jesus’ we must go forward in time from Bethlehem to about 33 years into the infant Jesus’ future.  Here we will find him at Passover with the disciples where they will break bread together, and during his last hours with the disciples before he dies Jesus will offer up broken bread and wine poured out as a perpetual memory of the coming sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross.  Because, just like the sacrifice of circumcision that required the separation of both flesh and blood, the new covenant that God had in mind also required personal sacrifice in order to consummate it.  It was Jesus who was appointed from the beginning to be that sacrifice, appointed by his Father from before he was born in order to save his people from their sins.  For in the very hour that Jesus was hung dying on the cross, what some may have not realized is that the Passover lambs in the temple were being sacrificed for the sins of the Jewish people.  This is why the Church calls Jesus the Lamb of God. . . for in so doing, by willingly going to the cross and taking onto himself the sins of the whole world, Jesus became the means of a sacrifice that would save his people.

So what should the Feast of the Holy Name mean to us in this place and at this time?  For me, it gives me peace in knowing that all is as it was destined to be, that the order of the universe which was broken by man’s sin has now been restored and that believers in Jesus the Savior live in victory over the grave.  It gives me hope that the miraculous story of the incarnation will continue to unfold through future generations as the church cycle of seasons continues and until we are all finally called home.  And it gives me a feeling of deep and abiding gratitude that God would humble himself to live among us as one of us and to offer his life so that we might live in him; and finally it gives me a feeling of resolve to live a life worthy of his call to me as a servant, as a brother and as a friend.

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The BIG Lie

Many years ago, when I was just a young guy starting out in the business world, I was promoted into management by a national retail chain.  The stipulation was that I was to transfer to a new Chicago Store where I would be re-located for the foreseeable future.  At the time, Barbara and I were all for this move and we left Tonawanda with high hopes and maybe a little trepidation.  Upon arrival at the store, I came to meet my assistant manager named Joe Zaborowski dressed impeccably in a starched long sleeved shirt and tie and polished shoes, who as it turned out was sixty-two years old, and had been working for the company for nearly twenty years – but never made it to a manager position.  I, on the hand, had worked for the company less than two years, and became the youngest manager ever promoted in the company at age 25.

To say that Joe seemed upset upon meeting me was an understatement and I had the distinct feeling this situation wasn’t going to work out well.  It is difficult enough directing others to do things but to direct someone who could be my grandfather was a little too much to bear.  But I decided I would make a go of it.

Over the course of the next year or so, Joe became increasingly cynical about the way I ran the store and became angry with me on numerous occasions over things that seemed pretty insignificant to me at the time.  It finally got so bad that I finally had to ask him what the problem was.  Why was he so belligerent towards me all the time?  I was worried that I might have to have to ask him to be transferred.

When I finally asked the question, Joe looked at me with a certain frown of disgust.  He rolled up his starched white shirt sleeve to reveal a tattoo scrawled on his arm.  I was shocked to see that it wasn’t just any tattoo, but a number given to him in a Nazi concentration camp.  He had been interned with Jews at Treblinka in Poland . . . and he hated me – not because I was young – or his boss – as I had thought, but it was because I am German.  During the war, the Germans had tortured him with hard labor, they had abused his wife and murdered his children and so he hated all Germans, even those who were American descendents of German immigrants.  Well, it took a while, but Joe and I eventually became friends over a couple of years through a building of mutual trust in each other.

Joe had lived through the greatest lie ever told.  By the time Nazism arose in Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism was nothing new. The Jewish people had suffered a long history of prejudice and persecution.  Anti-Semitism was manifested in a sweeping national policy known as “the Final Solution,” which sought to eliminate all the Jews from the face of the Earth (sound familiar?).

To accomplish this, Adolf Hitler and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, launched a massive campaign to convince the German people that the Jews were the real enemy of Germany.  Having taken control of the national press, they spread numerous lies blaming Jews for all of Germany’s problems, including their loss of World War I. One outrageous lie they told dating back to the Middle Ages claimed that Jews engaged in the ritual killings of Christian children and used their blood in the unleavened bread eaten at Passover.

Using the Jews as a scapegoat, Adolf Hitler and his cronies orchestrated what we now would call “the big lie.” This theory states that no matter how big the lie is (or more precisely, because it’s so big), people will believe it if you repeat it often enough. Everyone tells small lies, Hitler reasoned, but few have the guts to tell colossal lies.  Because a big lie is so unlikely to be untrue, people will come to accept it and believe it.  And because the Germans believed it, the Jewish people in Poland and Germany were rounded up and interned in concentration camps and many millions were killed or exterminated, all on account of the Big Lie.

Today’s Old Testament lesson describes another, even Bigger Lie, that the prophet Elijah exposes today to the people of Israel.  The cult of Baal celebrated annually his death and resurrection as a part of Canaanite fertility rituals. These ceremonies often included human sacrifice and temple prostitution.

Priests of Baal taught the people that Baal was responsible for droughts, plagues, and other calamities that directly affected them.  People were often worked up into great frenzies at the prospects of displeasing this god Baal.  In times of great turbulence human sacrifices, particularly children, were made to Baal and another god called Molech.

The religion of the god Baal was widely accepted among the ancient Jews, and although it was put down at times, it was never permanently stamped out. Kings and other royalty of the ten Biblical tribes of Israel worshiped this god. The ordinary people ardently worshipped this god too because they believed that their prosperity depended on the productivity of their crops and livestock.  The god’s images were erected on many buildings. Within the religion there were numerous priests and various classes of devotees.  During the ceremonies they wore appropriate the robes. The ceremonies included burning incense, and offering burnt sacrifices, and occasionally consisted of human victims. The officiating priests danced around the altars, chanting frantically and cutting themselves with knives to inspire the attention and compassion of the god.

In the Bible, Baal is also called Beelzebub, one of the fallen angels of Satan of which Jesus spoke on numerous occasions.

Into this mix came Elijah, severely outnumbered by the priests of Baal and challenged them to a sacrificial duel of sorts that put their god, Baal against the God of Abraham – the Ancient of Days.  As we read in the story, upon the sacrifice to Baal, nothing happened, even after the priests cut themselves and begged Baal to come; but upon the sacrifice to God, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice and the water that surrounded it.  The lie became impotent when the truth became clear, and the people in the story gave up their belief in Baal and chose instead to follow God.

In Galatia (which is in central Turkey) the Apostle Paul came to realize that some of the people he had taught had come to believe in a lie taught by others when Paul was absent from them.  He writes to them saying “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  The church of Paul’s day like the church of Elijah’s day fought heresy, corruption and lies told by the enemies of God.

Today Christians face many of the same challenges that were faced by the ancient Israelites, by the Galatians of Paul’s day and the German people of not so long ago.  The Big Lie today is that somehow God has changed his mind, and that Biblical truths are now outdated and no longer apply to anything we do in the modern world.  Christians who hold an orthodox view are now considered mean and un-Christ-like, homophobic and without compassion.  The Big Lie of today tells us that people should be allowed to have sex for recreation and to murder their unborn for the sake of convenience (just like the Canaanites).  They should be allowed to marry whomever they wish (male or female) as many times as they wish (and probably soon to be with as many as they wish at one time).  The Big Lie tells us that everyone should be allowed to worship God the Father along with any other god (or no god) as suits their preference . . . and the institutional church and the government have decided to go along with this because it is the ‘will of the people’ and we are a ‘democracy’ where majority rules.  And so, if you stand against climate change, against abortion, against equal marriage, against redistribution of wealth, (and soon to be) against euthanasia, you are deemed un-American, unpatriotic, unchristian and possibly an enemy of the state.  These are the challenges that we face today as Orthodox Christian believers in a world that has fallen for the Biggest Lie of all time.  We, like Elijah today, are vastly outnumbered by the priests of this new religion based on a lie . . . but like Elijah, we have something the our adversaries do not have . . . we have the Truth and it is the truth that sets us free, but like Elijah shows us, the truth takes great courage to reveal it to others.

I have found that courage is quite rare in many Christian circles. This explains the surrender of so many denominations, seminaries, and churches to the current liberal agenda. But no surrender on this issue would have been possible, if the authority of Scripture had not already been undermined by leadership in the church.  And yet, even as courage is required to combat this fall, these times call for another Christian virtue as well, that of compassion.

True compassion demands speaking the truth in love . . .  and so here is the problem we face when encountering the Big Lie in the world today.  Far too often, our courage among the orthodox is more evident than our compassion. In too many cases, the options left to us seem to be reduced to these . . . liberals preaching love without truth, and conservatives preaching truth without love . . . all this with the immortal souls of men and women hanging in the balance.

It is only Christians that believe in the intrinsic worth of a human being, because of the doctrines of creation and redemption.  God made man male and female in his own image and gave them a responsible dominion over the earth and its creatures.  He has endowed us with unique rational, moral, social, and creative faculties, which make us like him and unlike the animals.  Human beings are indeed godlike beings even though we are fallen from our sublime origin, and our godlikeness has been severely distorted.  But it has never been destroyed.  The Bible is clear on this.   Christian teaching on the dignity, nobility, and worth of human beings is of the utmost importance today, partly for the sake of our own self-image and partly for the welfare of all society.  When human beings are devalued, everything in society goes sour.  Women and children are despised; the sick are regarded as a nuisance, and the elderly become a burden; ethnic minorities are discriminated against and capitalism displays its ugliest face as labor is exploited in the mines and factories and criminals are brutalized in prison and opposition opinions are stifled. Places like Treblinka are invented by the extreme right and the Gulag is invented by the extreme left; unbelievers are left to die in their lostness and there is no freedom, dignity, or carefree joy; human life seems not worth living, because it is scarcely human any longer.

But when human beings are valued, because of their intrinsic worth, everything changes: women and children are honored; the sick are cared for and the elderly allowed to live and die with dignity; dissidents are listened to; prisoners rehabilitated, and minorities protected; workers are given a fair wage, decent working conditions, and a measure of participation in the enterprise; and the gospel is taken to the ends of the earth.  Why?  Because Christianity believes that people matter, because every man, woman, and child has significance as a human person made in the image of God.

The real church; i.e. the genuine Body of Christ reveals itself by courageous compassion, and compassionate courage. We see this realized only when people like my friend Joe Zaborowski are freed by God’s grace from the bondage of sin and feel free to stand and declare their testimony–and when we – as Christian believers – are ready and able to welcome them as fellow disciples into our midst.   Amen

Pentecost

Today is the Birthday of the Church.  We who celebrate today celebrate nearly two thousand years of history beginning at our reading from Acts today as the tongues of fire settled on the apostles, and as the story reads:  ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’.

Today from the book of Genesis we read again about the story of the building of a great city and of the Tower of Babel in modern day Iraq.  We should remember this story from our Sunday School days       how the leader Nimrod was a king so drunk with his own power that he ordered a tower built as high as heaven.  When it was complete, Nimrod ascended the stairs to the very top of the tower.  Do you remember why?  It was to shoot an arrow into the eye of God.  Nimrod had decided that there should be only one God to rule the earth and by symbolically killing the God in heaven, he was about to take the place of God on earth.  But what happened?  Because God had envisioned this as only the start of mankind’s ascendancy on earth, He said, ‘Let us go down and confuse their language’ because the people had become very evil in the sight of God.  And so all the people who Nimrod had ruled began to speak and hear different languages.  And so, Nimrod’s power was diluted because he could no longer influence his followers or lead them in the way he wanted them to go.  And so, as the story goes, the people dispersed from the tower of Babel and went off to find others who spoke the same language.  These groups left the country and settled in families, clans and nations over the face of the whole earth.  The people who were left, including Nimrod and a few of his followers named the city ‘Babylon’ because it was here, where the tongues of men were confused by God.

But the Day of Pentecost changed all that.  Pentecost is God’s reversal of the action he made at Babylon 4,000 years before.  By giving the followers of Jesus the gift of tongues, God gave back the ability of men to speak as one voice, to the great works and creation of God.  God, in effect, gave the power to the Church what he had taken from mankind a long time ago.  Jesus predicted this when he told the disciples that if he didn’t return to heaven, the Spirit would not come.  But if he did return, God would give his Spirit to all who asked and great power to all who confessed Jesus as the Son of God.

As I grew up in the church, it became apparent to me in the early seventies that we were missing something.  I knew we loved God and we believed in his Word, but when I read the various readings about tongues and the interpretation of tongues, I wondered how was this possible, and if it was possible in the days of the early church, why wasn’t it possible in today’s church?  And so I began to search out prayer meetings, which were the beginnings of the charismatic movement of the day.  I am not sure many of you remember the early seventies, but there was a movement brought about by the Spirit in those days that provided an avenue for Christians to seek out all nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.  As you should be aware by now there are nine gifts of the Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.

Most of us, no doubt, have no problem with wisdom, knowledge or faith.  But, many of us might start to get uneasy at healing, miracles, and prophesy.  And there have been some in the past who have gotten downright angry at the discussion of discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues.

But it is as true today as it was back in the seventies that fear breeds contempt and the institutional church at that time was very much in fear of the whole notion of discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues.  They looked upon it as some kind of occult or voodoo even though it is clearly part of our Christian heritage and a blessing on the body of Christ.  The Episcopal bishop at the time did his best to quell this interest in the spiritual gifts by banning charismatic meetings from diocesan churches.  People who had an interest in developing these gifts had to meet in homes and in secret.  There were many hurt feelings and harmful accusations as Christians pigeonholed each other as ‘you’re one of us’ or ‘you’re one of them’.  The Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians and the Methodists all had the same problem with their clergy and their hierarchy.  But there were two places where the charismatic movement was embraced.  One was the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship and the other was the Franciscan Community at Corpus Christi Church on the east side.

For about five or six years I went to weekly prayer meetings at Corpus Christi Church on Clark Street.  There, I had the privilege to witness the awesome power of God in the lives of many believers in the charismatic movement.  Here was a place where tongues were sought out and interpretations and discernment was revealed.  At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on.  Many would sit quietly for what seemed like an eternity praying for the Spirit to come upon them.  Then . . . as if on cue everyone began speaking in languages that I had never heard before.  I thought at first, this is impossible!  But my interest was piqued and I decided to continue to look for proof that this was all real.  Others, many others, were in the same position as I.  We were curious, we were startled, and we were skeptical, all at the same time but we remained open to the Holy Spirit and witnessed for ourselves many proofs that all of this was indeed, very real.

Much like the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the days of the apostles, the charismatic movement in the mainline churches of the 70’s ended almost as quickly as it had started.  Those in the movement began to believe that God the Holy Spirit had come upon the Church to begin a new work, just as he had come upon the church in the early days that we read about this morning.  From this movement many new churches were founded and new ministries established.  Churches were formed that were non-traditional and based on the outpouring of all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  That is what is meant by the term ‘Full Gospel’.  Today, as I mentioned, the Full Gospel Church is among the largest churches in WNY.

So you might wonder.  What are we doing wrong?  Why aren’t we Anglicans raising our voices in tongues and being slain in the Spirit?

You have to know that not all are led to this kind of worship.  As the Bible says, there are a variety of gifts and varieties of services, but it is the same Lord who activates them all.  To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  The proof of ‘our’ pudding as Anglicans is in our liturgy and in our tradition.  It is the way we have worshipped for the past thousand years or so.  It is the way the Holy Spirit came to us originally.  The charismatics are not wrong, but neither are we.  We are simply different in our approach to the presence of God in our lives.  Our current bishop would encourage all of us to become more empowered by the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is one sure fire way to liven things up in our church.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from all this was written by Paul to his letter to the Corinthians (and I am sure you will recognize it):

1: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.

3: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing.

4: Love suffers long, and is kind; love does not envy; love is never puffed up,

5: Love does not behave unseemly, love is not easily provoked, love thinks no evil;

6: Love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

7: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8: Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9: For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10: But when that which is perfect comes, then that which is in part shall disappear.

11: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

12: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

13: And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So how do we know when the Spirit of God has come into our lives?  Where is the proof?  Scripture teaches us that the work of the Spirit always involves change . . . sometimes small changes and sometimes enormous, even profound changes.  It was the Spirit of God in the book of Genesis that moved over the waters of creation and established life on earth.  It was the Spirit of God who came upon the buried Jesus who restored him to life in the resurrection of the dead.  And it was the Spirit of God who came at Pentecost to embolden the apostles in order to complete the work of the church.  Therefore, it is in change that we see the proof of the Spirit in our lives when we ourselves are changed from what we were to what we are . . from when we first received that spark that drove us from our unbelief to unshakable faith.  For it is this change in our lives . . . that point in our lives where change occurred that proves not only the workings of the spirit in our lives, but also proof of the truth to the existence of God.  For once we were lost in our sins, but through the power of God we were raised by the Holy Spirit to a new life as children of God.

It is only when we reflect on the truth that our heart will catch fire in the Spirit.  Think of the Emmaus disciples on the afternoon of Easter Day.  The risen Lord joined them on their walk and explained to them out of the Scriptures how the Messiah had to suffer before entering his glory.  Later, after he had left them, they said to each other: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ (Lk. 24:32).  This inner burning or change of the heart was a profound emotional experience caused by the Holy Spirit, but it was Jesus’ biblical teaching which prompted it.  Nothing sets the heart ablaze like the truth when we hear it . . . and it is this truth that we seek in sermons and in the scriptures each week as we gather together in church.

I will end with these words . . . if you desire one (or more) of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you need only ask in prayer every day.  It may take a week, it may take a month, or a lifetime, but God will answer you and the Spirit will come, I guarantee it.  When it happens, please come and tell me about it. Amen.

Doubt

The Easter story continues today a after the resurrection when the disciples, we are told for fear of the Jews, have locked themselves in an upper room.  It is here that Jesus suddenly appears to them.  When Thomas hears of this upon his return he, of course, has a hard time believing the disciples.  A week later Jesus appears again so that Thomas might believe, and so he does, by touching the risen lord with his own hands and seeing him with his own eyes . . . and so ‘doubting Thomas’ became ‘believing Thomas’.

You must know by now that doubt is a part of life. It is taught to us from an early age. At some point someone tells us a lie, perhaps for a good reason. But once we discover that we had been lied to, the seeds of doubt are planted in us . . . forever. And the seeds of doubt grow and can become a chokehold on our life. The next time that same person told us something we questioned whether it was true: and so we doubted.

Doubt is necessary for survival in this world. If we believed everything we were told, we would soon be in trouble. So if someone tells us their product is better than another we question their word. If the government tells us it will do something to help us, we question its motives. We have all been lied to, and so out of self-defense we distrust; and we doubt.

Doubt may be necessary in this world, but it can be dangerous. Doubt may save us from believing a lie, but it can also keep us from believing in the truth. How many times has a person in a bad situation been told, “Take my hand; I can help you. Trust me.” And because they doubted, they perished. But worst of all, doubt about spiritual things can challenge us emotionally. A person who doesn’t know what to believe about God is like one who is alone and lost. Doubt can grow to become a whirlpool that threatens to pull a person under and drown him in fear.

The prime example of doubt in the Bible is of course Thomas in the Gospel lesson this morning. We often call him “Doubting Thomas,” but he is no different from us. We all have doubts as he did . . . and under the same circumstances, we would probably doubt as well.  He had been gone from the room when Jesus appeared, and he did not see him the first time. So when he came back everyone was excited and they were saying that Jesus was alive.

We need to consider this from Thomas’ point of view. He had seen Jesus crucified. The Romans had nailed him to a cross. And then . . . a day or two later the women and then the rest were saying that Jesus was alive. The physical evidence was pretty clear. Jesus had died. He was pronounced dead and he was dead and buried. It was obvious to Thomas that the disciples were the victims of some kind of group hysteria. Their grief had driven first the women and then the men into the delusion that Jesus was still alive.

We really can’t blame Thomas for doubting the resurrection. The other disciples had doubted too, before they saw Jesus for themselves. Under the same circumstances, I think that to doubt would be natural. When someone tells us something that is totally unbelievable, no matter how much we normally trust that person, we will doubt. We should not blame Thomas for doubting. Instead we should acknowledge that we are more like him than we want to admit. And then we should try to learn from him.

I myself have a special kinship with “Doubting Thomas.” I too have doubted the existence of God.  In my second year of college I was working two part-time jobs and going to school full time.  The stress of it all was apparently too much for me and I contracted hepatitis A, which is a sometimes fatal liver disease.  All my hopes and dreams for the future suddenly came crashing down on me as I lay in quarantine on my bed in horrible pain for nearly six months.  I went through all the trauma of distress . . . from depression, confusion and self doubt, to anger, thoughts of suicide and finally giving up my life to fate.

In the beginning of my distress I prayed every day for a miracle that would get me out of that bed and back to my normal life.  Near the middle, I began to have the fear that God had abandoned me and so I stopped praying.  Near the end I abandoned God because I began to doubt that he existed at all . . . until one night, at the height of the pain, when all hope was lost, I called out for Jesus to save me.  Suddenly my room became blinding bright and I felt a warmth and peace that gently swept over me from head to toe.  There was also an incredible sound or rush of music like a million instruments playing a million notes all at the same time that I will never forget.  When it was over, I knew that the Spirit of God had come upon me and that I had been healed.  A few weeks later, except for my yellow stained skin, it was as if nothing had even happened at all.  My liver was back functioning and the pain was totally gone.  Because of this, my faith became unshakable because I had come to believe with certainty.  God had graciously taken my doubt and had turned it into belief.

We call him “Doubting Thomas,” but doubt is only half of his story. The other half of the story is that Thomas finally came to believe as well. A week after Jesus appeared to the other Apostles he appeared to Thomas. Jesus obviously came just for Thomas’ benefit. He came to give Thomas the proof he thought he needed to believe. And in the end Thomas said, “My Lord and My God.” Doubting Thomas had doubted that Jesus was even alive. But Jesus came and changed Thomas and in the end “Believing Thomas” confessed that Jesus was God. God had taken this prime example of doubt and turned him into an example of belief.

We are all doubting Thomas-es. We all doubt, especially about religion. Perhaps we doubt that we are saved. “Do I trust enough? Was I baptized the right way? Is my faith strong enough or is there something I still need to do?” Perhaps we doubt the Bible or the way people interpret it.  And we think, “Maybe God really isn’t very loving.  Maybe someone made it all up.  Maybe there is no God.” Or maybe like Thomas we doubt the resurrection. “Maybe Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Maybe he was just a good man who is dead.” And sometimes we may find the things some preachers say that make our doubts even worse.

We learn two very important things about doubt from “Doubting Thomas” and “Believing Thomas.” First of all, doubt is part of the human condition. Don’t blame Thomas or yourself for doubting. We all doubt and at times doubt is necessary. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for doubting, nor does he condemn you.  Second, God can turn doubt into belief.  God took Thomas, the prime example of doubt, and turned him into a prime example of belief.  He did the same thing for me . . . and he can do the same thing for you.

Finally, I would suggest to you that doubt is necessary to life. Without it we would believe every lie that people tell us. But we mustn’t let doubt rob us of the true joy that God is able to offer us at Eastertide. Jesus appeared to Thomas to take his doubt away. And he ministered to me to give me healing, faith and peace when I needed it most. When we doubt, we must acknowledge that doubt, and give it to God, because God, can and will, take the turmoil of doubt and transform it into the peace of faith. God took “Doubting Thomas” and transformed him into “Believing Thomas,” and God can do the same for all of us.

Eastertide teaches us that dying on a cross and going to hell was the last redemptive act of Christ’s ministry on earth.  He didn’t go there because he wanted to, he went there because he had to, he went there to unlock the prison of hell and to lead all those who were bound there out of that place.  To share with him, in his Easter resurrection.  He came here to earth not only to save those who were living then and those of us who would be born in the future, but also to save those who had lived and died before he came.  And he did it all by willingly taking up his cross on our behalf.  This is what makes Easter so exciting and so mysterious at the same time.  That God was willing to come, to take on our humanity, to live and die as one of us all so that we could be delivered from the distress of our sin and walk into heaven as the redeemed and blessed of God.  Amen

Tradition

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A few months back someone (I can’t remember who – so I might be a little off on the details) told me a story about a young lady who was teaching her friend how to cook a turkey.  She learned to cook a turkey using her family’s favorite recipe which was to cut off the drumsticks and to bake them separately in the oven next to the turkey.  Her friend thought this somewhat odd and asked why she did it this way.  The young lady responded that that is the way her mother taught her to cook a turkey.  This got a family discussion going to find out why this was done.  So they went and asked her mother why she did it this way, to which her mother responded, “well . . . that’s the way my mother taught me to cook a turkey” and so she always did it that way.  So finally when the whole family finally got together for Thanksgiving the subject came up again, so they went to the grandmother and asked her why she taught the mother to trim the drumsticks off the turkey before baking it.  To which she responded “well, that’s the way my mother taught me and so I always did it that way.”  So finally they went to the great-mother and asked her why this was done – to which she responded – “well deary . . . I had to do it that way because I didn’t have a pan large enough to cook a whole bird.”

The point of this story is of course that at times people get can get side tracked, through no fault of their own because of the way they were taught or because of some family tradition that may have developed over the years.  Eventually the tradition becomes so engrained that the original reason behind its meaning is lost – sometimes forever.

That is exactly what had happened to the religion of the Hebrews at the time when Jesus came to earth.  The Jewish religious leaders had so enshrined the traditions of their faith and the letter of the law into their lives that they had completely forgotten the meaning behind the religion that they preached.  This difference was what Jesus came to correct and it is why he would eventually be executed by the religious leaders of the day.

The scribes and the Pharisees believed that the changes Jesus preached of were blaspheming the essence of the law of Moses as they had received it; which they were practicing to the best of their ability.  What they didn’t know, and what Jesus was trying to teach them, was that they had been so engrained in their tradition and in the letter of the law, that they had lost sight of the heart of the law which was given to the children of Israel as a way of making them a holy nation – set apart from the world – as a light to the nations in order to show the world God’s mercy and salvation for all mankind.

The Pharisees believed that the word of Jesus negated the law of Moses and the precepts on which it was founded and so they wanted him killed.  But Jesus spoke of his coming as the fulfillment of the law and not its removal.

The Pharisees and the Jews were not the only ones to get it wrong over the years.  John Stott, a noted evangelist, reminds us in his writings that ‘throughout its long and variegated career, the church has seldom cultivated a humble, sensitive attitude of listening to God’s Word.  Instead, it has frequently done what it has been forbidden to do, namely, it conformed to the world.  It has often accommodated itself to the prevailing culture, leaped on board all the trendiest bandwagons and has hummed all the popular tunes.  Whenever the church does this, it reads Scripture through the world’s eyes and rationalizes its own unfaithfulness.  Church history is full of examples.  How was it that the Christian conscience not only approved but actually glamourized the Crusades to recover the holy places from Islam – an historic blunder by the church which the Muslims have never forgotten and which continues to obstruct the evangelization of the Muslim world?  How is it that torture during the Spanish Inquisition could ever have been employed in the name of Jesus Christ to combat heresy and promote orthodoxy?  How is it that for centuries Protestant churches were so inward-looking and so disobedient to Christ’s Great Commission that they refused to preach the gospel in India, Africa or South America?  How is it that the cruelty of slavery and of the slave trade were not abolished in the so-called Christian West until eighteen hundred years after Christ?  How is it that racial discrimination and environmental pollution have become widely recognized as the evils they are only since World War II?  These are just some of the worst blind spots which have marred the church’s testimony down through the ages.  None of them can be defended from Scripture and all of them are due to a misreading of Scripture, or to an unwillingness to fall under its authority.      And so you see, even the church can succumb to blind heresy and questionable doctrine based on tradition and false teaching which continues in some places and in some churches even to the present day.  So it isn’t only the Jews who have gotten it wrong – it has been the Church as well.

Like all of the prophets in the Bible, Isaiah, in today’s reading was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah who would turn the hearts of the people away from what they were doing wrong, but towards the truth of what is real in the eyes of God.  As we heard read today . . .

 

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not    perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert

The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches;

for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert,

to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

 

And today, having visited the wilderness of Israel, I can tell to you that I have seen rivers in the desert that have been built to bring water to all the people and animals living there.  Where once there was only rock and dry land, today Israel’s deserts produce strawberries, bananas and grapes through controlled scientific conditions that are not seen anywhere else in the world . . . a 3000 yr old prophesy from Isaiah, fulfilled in our own lifetime . . . so that God’s own people might see it and declare his praise.

So intense was the tradition of the Jews instilled into the hearts of all its people that Paul today explains to the Church in Phillipi that . . . “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law . . . blameless.”  And that is exactly what the Pharisees believed, that of all people, Paul (or Saul as he was called by them) was blameless because he was a Jew acting within the Law of Moses to weed out blasphemy from among its ranks.

But in Christ, Paul became awakened through the Spirit of God that his tradition and his Jewish pedigree would not hold him blameless, that in fact it was the law itself that would actually be the instrument that would utterly condemn him . . . and all of us in our sins.

And so he goes on to explain to them . . . “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”  For there is no righteousness, except in Jesus Christ who is the fount of all blessing and of all truth.

Which is the reason that in the Gospel lesson today, Mary celebrates Christ’s presence by anointing his feet with the oil of narda, a kind of extract found only in India that by the standard of the day cost about a year’s wage of 300 denarii or equivalent to about $6,000 dollars today.  To which of course Judas Iscariot objects because, as he put it, the money could have fed the poor – but to which the writer insinuates Judas may have wanted the money for himself – which if you think on it, as I have over the years, might have helped him in his final decision to betray Jesus.

But Jesus says no – that we will always have the poor with us – and we will only have the Lord of Life here for a few more days.  So it was important that this time be holy and set apart so that the Messiah, while with us, could be prepared in an appropriate way before beginning his final journey to Calvary.  For it was shortly after this supper in Bethany that Jesus sets off to Jerusalem to the cheers of crowds waving palm branches with the shout of ‘Hosanna’ – meaning literally ‘Our Savior’ –  and blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The anointing with oil before a battle or before a long journey or for an illness was a very common thing in the days of the apostles.  The church continues this practice in the Sacrament of Holy Unction which is the visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace wherein God bestows on us a special blessing of help in all the situations of life in which we find ourselves.  The oil we use for blessing is called the oil of gladness and is very similar to the narda of the reading today.  It is a mixture of myrrh and frankincense and we offer it to everyone today during communion.  As in the gospel lesson today, its blessing and its unusual scent is a reminder of God’s presence in our lives as we head towards Holy Week and the cross at Calvary.

Amen

Laetare Sunday : On the Prodigal Son

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Back when I was little, my brother and I had what you might call a love-hate relationship. This probably stemmed from the fact that I was the second born son and arrived on the scene when my brother was three and at the height of his need for attention. I guess he saw me as a family interloper and decided that I had far too much love being shown my way, at least far more than he was willing for my parents to give me. I can remember being picked on and hurt by him most of my very young life. It finally got so bad that when I was about nine, my dad finally decided to do something about his constant bullying me and took my brother out into the garage beat the crap out of him (pardon my French). My mom and I stayed in the house quite fearful that my dad might actually kill him. Our garage was attached to the house, so we could hear just about every thump, every bump and scream. This episode in my life so scarred me that, from that point on, I vowed to avoid conflict of any kind in my life (and still do to some extent). This was for me a life lesson that has stayed with me throughout my years.
We, all of us, have lessons to learn during this time we call life, but these lessons become far more acute during times of personal stress, illness or the death of a family member. As you may know I have had my share of experiences with illness and death. Back when I was 18 I had contracted hepatitis during which time I spent nearly a month at death’s door. Sometimes I thought surely death would come at any moment. Many times I remember waking up actually disappointed that it had not come, for I was (at least I thought) ready for it. But I didn’t die then, and I didn’t die later when I came down with a life threatening pneumonia. I believe that I am still into learning the lessons of life, perhaps my final lessons. These lessons, I believe, are sent from God and are the ultimate truths about our lives . . . in fact they are the secrets to life itself.
The scriptures point to the fact that each of us has within ourselves the capacity for tremendous good as well as the capacity for the greatest of evil. We each hold within us what could be described as a Hitler and as a Mother Theresa. The Mother Theresa refers to the best in us, the most compassionate in us, while the Hitler refers to the worst in us, our negatives, our shallowness and our faults. The lessons in life should be on working on our smallness, getting rid of our negativity . . . but at the same time finding the best in ourselves and in each other. These lessons usually are learned in the windstorms of our life. They are the very things that make us who we are. It is through religion, that I am convinced that we are here to help heal one another spiritually, to bear one another’s burdens and to help ourselves by helping the least among us.
When I speak of learning lessons, I’m speaking about getting rid of unfinished business. Unfinished business is about anything in your life that stands between you and true happiness. When you finally complete any part of this task, it is as if a burden is lifted off your shoulders and you can declare yourself free, it is this freedom that God desires for every single person and all of his creation, for it really is the gift of God that passes all understanding . . . it is called wisdom . . . and it comes to us all as a free gift from on high.
Today’s gospel story of the prodigal son shows for us, what many of us may need go through in order to gain this kind of perfect freedom. Here was a son who decided to go his own way. Armed with his father’s money, he goes out into the world to find happiness, all the while squandering what he has been given, as the bible says, on riotess living. But in the end, he finally comes to his senses and goes home thinking that even his father’s servants have it far better than he does.
Jesus was trying to explain to us in this parable that sometimes the answers to the greatest of life’s lessons are to be found in great pain and in suffering. We may find many things on this long, sometimes strange journey we see as our life, but mostly, like the son in the gospel story . . . in the end . . . we finally find ourselves and who we really are and what really matters most to us. We learn from the peaks and valleys of life what love and relationships really are. We find the courage to push through our anger, our tears and our fears and ultimately our stubborn pride. But in the mystery of all this, we discover that we have been given all we need to make life work . . . in order to find true happiness. Maybe not perfect lives, maybe not storybook endings, but authentic lives that can make our hearts swell with meaning.
But the story does not end there because the son, though he found himself, returns to the father to humbly offer himself for hire in his father’s service. And the father who hopefully, like any good father would, runs out to greet his son proclaiming that his son, who was once dead, is now alive. The father forgives all and welcomes his son back into his loving embrace . . . one of the greatest stories in the bible. Why? Because it mirrors for us how God thinks and acts each time one of his children repents of sin and error and returns to God’s fellowship. It demonstrates to us God’s infinite capacity to forgive and his great mercy in pardoning our offenses.
Many of us may remember the prayer from Evening Prayer. It is the prayer of the penitent and reads like this:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred,
and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have
followed too much the devices and desires of our own
hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have
left undone those things which we ought to have done; And
we have done those things which we ought not to have
done; And there is no health in us.
Those of us who profess a faith, and who engage in quiet personal confession on a weekly basis, ideally preceded by some degree of sincere internal reflection, are often considered by the world as unhealthily ‘weird’. It is in fact why the world hates Christians and Christianity as a religion, because Christianity compels us to not only acknowledge our faults but also to beg forgiveness, something the world could never do.
Confession is always slightly uncomfortable, and a repulsion to accept responsibility for our actions and adds to the cultural resistance to a religious practice that many unbelievers struggle to understand, much less accept. The difference between religious confession, as opposed to public-media confession like we hear from those who publically proclaim their ‘mea culpa’ like Lance Armstrong or Oprah, is that within the framework of Christianity, we are actually supposed to mean it.
I think that most of us sitting in this room believe in the old adage that confession is good for the soul. Today I would like to relay to you why we are encouraged confess our sins.
The first thing to say that may surprise non-believers; and that is confession is for our benefit, not God’s. God is not to be pictured smiling at us, watching us squirm while we confess. The short of it is that God already knows our sins; He has numbered them as precisely as He has numbered the hairs on our heads. Even more surprising is that within our understanding, Jesus has already paid the price for them. The deal has been closed, and all that is happening is that our Lord awaits our arrival each week, just like the prodigal son, to reclaim our inheritance. Very often the only one seemingly not in on the secret is our own selves.
If we tell God what is on our account, and ‘own’ our share of the sins of the world, gratefully claiming the gift of forgiveness that is offered for sincerity, then we can receive his forgiveness in the absolution that always and reliably follows true and unfeigned repentance.
It really does work for us, but it requires honesty, integrity, and, unlike its secular and pale equivalent, there is an expectation that we shall follow that repentance through . . . not only with the intention of leading a ‘godly, righteous and sober life’, but also that God will ‘forgive us our trespasses – as we forgive those who trespass against us’. ‘Go and do thou likewise’ applies to forgiveness as well as to charitable action.
The problem, of course, is that many of us are as addicted to sin as any substance abuser: we know we shall be back again next week with a conscience laden with more guilt. Even in the most ungodly of Church circles, few would dare suggest skipping the confession. It is that important to the life of the believer.
Yet it is also good if confession and the acceptance of absolution results in an encouragement to others to follow that path that leads towards the answers to life’s problems on the way to grace.
In his death Jesus did something quite final, absolute and decisive which enabled him to cry out on the cross, ‘It is finished’; something which was described by Paul as ‘one sacrifice for all sins forever’; something which turns Christianity from pious good advice into the glorious good news which we proclaim each week and transforms the characteristic mood of Christianity from the imperative (do) into the indicative (done); which makes evangelism not an invitation for men to do something, but truly a declaration of what God has already done it in Christ.
And we wonder how could God express simultaneously his holiness in judgment and his love in pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner could receive the pardon.
Life shows us that we sinners still will have to suffer some of the personal, psychological and social consequences of our sins, but the penal consequence, the deserved penalty of alienation from God, has been borne by Jesus Christ in our place on the cross, so that we may be spared it . . . and that is why Christians can proclaim that indeed . . . Christians are not perfect . . . . only – forgiven. Amen

The Secret of Life

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Several years ago when the kids were younger we re-visited an old friend in a board game called ‘Candy Land’. I’m sure most of you played it when you were little and know what it is about; but it came back anew to me as I played it with my grandson Luke. It was Luke’s first time. We were out at the Hill and he was about five at the time. I must admit that I was unprepared for the number of questions I got from Luke as we played. He wondered ‘Is there a real Candy Castle’ and ‘Why do I have to go backwards through the candy cane forest to get there?’ Why are there gooey gumdrops that make you get stuck and lose my turn? How come I can’t take a shortcut – but you can? Why does Lord Licorice have pointed ears? . . . . and so it went, on and on and on. We played two games and Luke won the first one, but on the second game Luke nearly won on the first few cards but then started to have a lot of set backs that were so devastating to a kindergartener that he finally gave up in humpf and said . . . ‘you win Grandpa, I don’t want to play this game anymore’ . . . . and so we went on to another game; the game of Life.
I really never realized it before but board games teach us a lot about life. Our little yellow and red mini people face much the same hardships that we face in real life. They get stuck. They have reversals. They gain rewards. They suffer losses. And in some games they even pay taxes and can end up in jail! . . . such is life.
And that of course begs the ultimate question in the game of real life. Is it all a game of chance? Just how much influence does God have over the advances and set backs in our lives? I think God probably gets blamed for a lot of things that happen to our detriment and probably doesn’t get enough credit for the things that happen to our benefit. But where do you think God stands in your life . . . on the outside as an ambivalent observer or on the inside as an active participant? And if God is there with us, where is Satan and how does he fit into the equation of our life? These are the questions we want to explore today.
In the Old Testament lesson this morning, Abram bemoans the fact that he is soon to die and will leave no heir to inherit his land or possessions. You have to remember that Abram is in his 90’s and Sarah, his wife, is probably in her 80’s, so their chances of having a child of their own is zero. And so Abram laments the fact and says to (God) “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” But of course this is kind of hard to believe and Abram asks God to prove it . . . which he does and then nine months later as you know, Isaac is born to Sarah and Abram.
So if this is a game called Life, was this some kind of a magic Chance Card or is it a story of faith? Many, over the years, have said that it was a complete fabrication, because everyone knows an 80 year old woman cannot have a baby . . . yet today we read of grandmothers carrying their grandchildren to term while acting as surrogate mothers for their daughters who cannot have children. What, even in our lifetime, would be considered science-fiction has become fact. Is it the work of God or science or of chance, know one knows for sure?
In our New Testament reading Paul writes to the Philippians to beware of others who are enemies of the cross of Christ . . . “Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things”. These are those who we might call hedonists who are self indulgent and seek only pleasure out of this life. They are the enemy of the cross, not because they do not believe, but because they refuse to pick up their cross and follow Jesus. They are obsessed with avoiding any kind of pain in the world. They are those who are tied so strongly to the world and its pleasures that they cannot see the forest for the trees.
A number of years back Johnny Carson had Archbishop Fulton Sheehan and one of the tele-evangelists on his show for a chat about religion. The subject of the ‘god of this world’ came up and how he owned everyone on earth. Bishop Sheehan mentioned that if it wasn’t for the god of this world human beings would truly be free. The tele-evangelist became incensed at the Catholic bishop and started defending this god as necessary to every man’s salvation, that this god made every person and that all creation was his. At which Bishop Sheehan calmly informed the clergyman that the ‘god of this world’ is not Christ but Satan; that everyone in world was given over into slavery to Satan the day that Adam fell. What this showed was that many (even the elect) are so deceived by evil that they reject what is real and cling to what is a sham. Case in point is a Discovery Channel program that aired recently on the “Lost Tomb of Christ”. Does anyone here actually believe that something as significant to Christianity as Christ’s Tomb could be lost? I wonder . . . At any rate there will be many who will eat this up as fact because it was brought to them by television, and everyone knows that if it’s on television or the internet then it’s got to be true.
And finally today we have the gospel of Luke that recounts for us the steadfast resolve of Jesus to see His plan through to the end. The enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, even they, were concerned that King Herod was out kill him, and came to him to warn Jesus on the Mount of Olives of the plot against him. But Jesus already knew of his impending suffering and death on a cross because it was, in fact, ‘the plan’ for our salvation, even from the beginning. Jesus shows us that the ultimate measure of any person’s life is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. If we are to follow Jesus, we must be willing to take up our own cross and follow him.
God is not about destroying lives and He should not be blamed for the problems in this world. Not all circumstances in this world or the decisions that are made are God’s will. Some are simply chance happenings, others, of course, are more malevolent.
We must remember there is a god of this world who is crafty and very deceptive. Many do not recognize his deceitfulness because the workings of Satan and of evil can be very subtle. Some of the work by him or his minions may seem harmless at first. However, ultimately, their goal is to bring about darkness to this world through pride, theft, murder, lies, and utter destruction.
We don’t have to get all ‘spiritually freaked out’ running to and fro looking for devils and saying the devil made me do it. That is a false statement because the devil can’t make anyone do anything . . . he can only use someone if they allow it to happen. Just remember when you see and hear of something really terrible happening, somewhere down the line, the devil is most likely responsible for planting the seeds of doubt and desperation.
Our lives are a lot like the games we play, they are about choices and about chance. We all have problems to solve and we all have battles to fight. It can be a challenge at times but we need to know that God continues to hold things together even when it looks like they are falling apart. What do you think holds this planet, this solar system, this universe, and all the heavens all together? It is held together by a harmony of forces far beyond our ability to understand. Chaos can never hold anything together. If God was not in control we would all be wiped out in an instant and everything would fall into darkness.
We all have responsibilities and we all need to make the right decisions for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for this world. We need to be able to deal with situations and be able to overcome whatever this world may throw at us. When we are in tune with God, he does have a will for us and an answer for everything. Nothing catches God off guard no matter what the struggle you are facing or what is going on in your world. All He asks is for us to go to Him in faith, just like Abram in the story this morning. If and when you do, miracles will begin to happen.
My grandson Luke was looking for the secret to winning at Candy Land. But, he was really looking for what we all want to know . . . i.e. the secret to life. Well, the biggest secret in life is that there is no secret. Whatever your goal is, whether it’s a game, a career, a marriage or a life, you can get there if you’re willing to work at it. But for Christians, knowing Jesus Christ is with you in all things, in all places and in all circumstances makes one’s life so much easier. Amen.