More Than Meets the Eye

23324heaven

This week I was led to a cartoon on the internet of a man who was sitting on a tiny desert island in the middle of the ocean.  The caption read “Day 41 and all I still see is ocean”.  What the man didn’t see in the cartoon was that in reality he was sitting on the summit of an underwater mountain.  All around him in the ocean was all manner of  life, schools of fish, whales, porpoises playing and even a submarine was cruising by under the water, totally unseen and unknown by the man.  He didn’t see these things because his perspective was challenged by the circumstances in which he found himself.

Over the last week I have been reading about just such a man in the life of Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, who had the same kind of life view (as a man sitting on an island in the middle of the ocean) until a terrible illness came upon him and he was brought very near death for several days.  Upon awakening from a coma and regaining his life back, he wrote a book about his near death experience, a book that is currently in our library called ‘Proof of Heaven’

In his book, Dr. Alexander describes another life outside of this one that most believers already take for granted.  Most of us know without doubt that heaven is for real, some because we have been there in a near death experience like Eben Alexander, but most because we believe what Jesus told us about the place where he was going to prepare a place for us.

But Eben Alexander had not been one of those Christians who believed, in fact he was a nominal Christian who did not believe it at all – but through the mercy of God, he was given a chance to not only witness the life hereafter for himself, but was to be able to tell his story to others, so that maybe, they too, might believe.

Dr. Alexander has much to report in his book that should be of interest to nearly every one of us, but the main theme of what he has to say is what we believers already know; that God loves us and lives within us and is present in all of creation.  That the basis of everything is in a word . . . Love.

In today’s Epistle reading Paul tells us “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

The law that Paul tells us about is like the man sitting on a desert island in the middle of the ocean.  The law keeps us safe, but it also imprisons us in a one dimensional world view until faith comes and (Christ) is revealed to us.  We know that Christ lives within us and that we live within him.  Through the prayers and the liturgy and thru our personal meditation we know that we are in fact part of an existence hidden from our eyes . . . but not hidden from our hearts.  We know that Love is without a doubt, the basis for everything.  Not some theological, abstract, hard-to-fathom kind of love but the day to day kind that everyone knows and experiences-the kind of love we feel when we think about our families, our spouses and children, or even pets which we hold dear to our hearts.  In its purest and most powerful form, this love is not jealous or selfish, but completely unconditional.

Jesus showed us though his life and death and actions that this is the reality of all realities, the incomprehensibly glorious truth of all truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that ever will exist, and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it and embody it in all their actions   –  that God is Love.

That God is love was demonstrated in today’s gospel message, as Jesus meets a man possessed by a legion of demons.  The demons of course know exactly who Jesus is, and beg him not to be sent into the abyss, as they call it.  Jesus seems to agree to their request and instead sends them into a herd of swine nearby.  And so the man is saved, as are the demons, but only for a moment.  Because even the swine know that they are better off dead than to be the host of evil in the sight of God and they all run off a nearby cliff ridding themselves of evil even as they end their lives.

The gospel shows us that even as love has come into the world to save us, so even has evil been rooted in the world since the beginning in order to destroy us.  People of all ages have been subject to the evil of this world since the beginning.  In the Old Testament lesson this morning Elijah flees for his life because the believers of Baal and the king want to kill him because he spoke the truth just as the men of Paul’s day wanted to kill him because he spoke the truth.  And people of Jesus day killed him because He was the Truth.

And the truth is that God is love and nothing, neither death nor persecution nor tribulation can ever separate us from God’s love.

You and I were meant for a purpose that is so far beyond the existence of this world as a mountain is higher than the tiny ants that live beneath it.  How do I know this?  I know because the Christ who lives in me loves the Christ who lives within you.  I know, because I too have had a near death experience and it was nearly identical to many others that I have read about.   I know that that God lives in the love we share with each other and as a single consciencness among many millions throughout His creation.

But there are many today who are deceived into thinking that this life is all there is.  They are much like a man sitting on a desert island looking out into an empty expanse of ocean.  They have no clue of what is actually around them and because of this, they look to make the most of it by seeking power, glory, wealth and all the things this world offers those who willingly bend to its desires.

One of the worsee in this case was Adolf Hitler who took evil to an extreme not only by the murders and horrendous acts he committed against mankind but also by committing himself to the occult and to the worship of that which is evil in God’s sight.  It is said that Hitler invaded Austria at the beginning of WWII for only one reason, that was to recover for himself,  the spear of destiny.  This was the spear point that was used to finally kill Jesus Christ as he hung on the cross.  The spear tip, Hitler believed, enshrined within it a spirit of power (a demon) that he could use to bring about a new world order.  Had it not been for God and the saints of light fighting against the Third Reich, seventy-some years ago this month, we may have all been speaking German right now for the power of evil is great . . . but the power of God is far, far greater.

These days today are perilous times for a people of faith.  The world is slowly turning to embrace a spirit of evil that Hitler could only have dreamed of.  In the future Christ tells of a time when his followers will be persecuted and hunted down and killed . . . and in fact it is already happening.  The Vatican tells us that over 100,000 Christians died for their faith last year and the year before last.  The numbers are staggering but will indeed grow as the end draws near.

I believe that you and I and this church are needed at this time and in this place to offer hope and God’s love to a broken world.  It is through faith in your prayers and in our liturgy that we offer each week, that those who need us will find us, and indeed they already are.  This week we will surpass the 2,000 visitors mark on our website and thousands throughout the world will read this sermon this week that you have just heard today.  As small as you may think we are as a group, we are making a tremendous difference in the lives of those who have found this church.  And as long as we remain faithful to Christ, there is no telling what the future lies for us who believe in His Word.

Finally I would like to relay to you a paragraph from the man who had the near death experience, Dr. Eben Alexander from his book Proof of Heaven . . . “I was blind, but now I see,” now took on a new meaning as I understood just how blind to the full nature of the spiritual universe we are on earth-especially people like I had been, who had believed that matter was the core reality, and that all else- thought, consciousness, ideas, emotions, spirit- were simply productions of it.

This revelation inspired me greatly, because it allowed me to see staggering heights of communion and understanding that lie ahead for all of us, when each of us leaves the limitations of our physical body and brain behind.”   Amen

Making a Difference

oscars1

We begin today’s homily with a couple of questions.  Who last won the Olympic gold medal for downhill skiing?  Who, last year, won the Pullitzer prize for literature or for news reporting?  Who won the Super Bowl last February?  Who won best actor a few months ago?  I don’t remember . . . but perhaps you might.  We are today forever getting caught up in the moment . . . the great excitement of winning that builds up over the course of time culminating in a conclusion than seems to get forgotten before the next commercial or the next breaking news story.  We call the winners of these contests  . . . heros, triatheletes, geniuses, and role models and yet one or two years (or occasionally days or hours) later many are forgotten in the stream of time and their titles and prizes are conferred on others who are again forgotten . . . and the cycle continues with or without us until the next award, big game or sporting event.

It would appear that those which the world wants us to emulate are but a fleeting fancy in the winds of time brought to us by sponsors like Microsoft, Nike and Budweiser Beer.

But there are people in your life who you will have no problem in remembering.  These are those who made a difference, who helped get you through a significant turning point in your life.  They might have been a teacher or a parent or the old man down the street . . . but each provided a clue or an insight into the way the world works and added dramatically to just who it is that you are today.

In my own life, I remember a man I worked with that my father affectionately called ‘the Alligator’.  Alligator had five kids and seemed to live on the brink of bankruptcy . . . but he was about the happiest guy I ever knew.  He convinced me when I was twenty, that getting married, was the best thing he ever did and the best thing any man could do.  This was at a time in my life when I was following a path that was quite different, one that did not include a wife or family.  I also, remember a priest, Fr. Benolken, at Church of the Resurrection in Chicago, where I worked for a few years.  He had been hired by a mission church in the Diocese of Chicago and found out shortly after that he had terminal pancreatic cancer.  It was the day after he had been told this that Barbara and I began attending the church there.  For the next two years I heard some of the most informed sermons and teachings I have ever had the privilege of hearing.  God used Fr. Benolken to show his congregation how to live . . . even as he was dyeing.  And I also remember Dr. Anton Barslaag, a biology teacher, and a Christian, at Kenmore East High School who instilled in us the sanctity of life in every living thing.  To this day I have a hard time killing a bug . . . I usually pick it up and toss it out the window.

All of us have similar stories I am sure.  These are the stories that animate our own story. In a very real sense it is the way in which God interacts with us through the hands and hearts and minds of those who mean the most to us.  We keep these memories locked safely and securely within us because they are a precious gift from a creator who loves us.  When you learn something important about life from a person, or a people, or from a culture, you need to accept it as a gift . . . it should be your lifelong commitment to preserve it and build on it because it is only in this way that we will grow.

 

From the Psalm this morning we read:

 

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!*
whose hope is in the LORD their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

 

How do you suppose God does all these things?  If God did these things directly, (as in the Gospel Story today) we would most assuredly call them miracles.  But because we do not actively search for God in these things, the many miracles that God does perform tend to escape our notice.   Miracles happen when two conditions are met . . .

One is . . .  that we need to ask

Two is . . . we need to believe

One of the greatest miracles I have witnessed was when my brother John was being prepped for a biopsy of a tumor on his larynx.  He needed to be put ‘fully under’ for the procedure, so I came to the hospital with my mother and my wife to anoint him with oil and pray with him.  During the course of the prayer I felt God touch him.  Before they took him to surgery, they did a final X-Ray for the exact location . . . in those few minutes the tumor had completely disappeared!  John made what appeared to be a full remission from cancer and was given seven additional years to live in which time he completely changed his life around.  Friends and family to this day still remark how he was re-invented after this incident.  John finally died knowing full well that God loved him and that the Purpose of life is . . . a life with a Purpose.

The Bible tells us that we should live a life in joyful expectation . . . expectation in the miraculous and in appreciation and in gratitude for all that God has given us.  We often hear in church the call to ‘praise God’ and to ‘give God the glory’.  These are really terms for gratitude and appreciation for all that he has done.

When we live in gratitude and appreciation for what we have been given, it lifts us from the feeling of being ‘required’ to do something to a better place of ‘wanting’ to do something.  For instance the law states that we are required to keep the Sabbath day, but a person living in God’s grace wants to keep the Sabbath, and desires to keep it out love and appreciation.  The Bible states that the tithe is required and yet a person in Christ desires to be generous to all . . . and searches for ways to help others even beyond the limits of the tithe.  We no longer need a law to tell us so, because the law is written in our hearts and minds.  In this way we have become God’s hands and heart and mind in the world . . . seeking out the hurting and unfortunate to help relieve suffering in the world.  This is at the heart of the Gospel . . . once we were outcast, but now are made whole and being one with the Father we are able to do his will wherever we may find ourselves.   No one knew this to be true better than Paul when he proclaimed to those who would criticize him . . . responding to them “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”.

You and I, and all believers, are living miracles of Jesus Christ in the world and can do great things when we believe.  Too often though, the world interferes with our mission and our purpose and we tend to be sidetracked by much of the gross commercialism and fear in which we find ourselves.  But to those who are truly called to be God’s children there are limitless opportunities to perform miracles in the world . . . . and just perhaps, we already have.

This week, I received emails and photos from two of our friends in East Africa.  One was from Fr. Samuel Kahene who wanted to send to you his thanks and blessings for the milling machine that was purchased last week and began producing flour for his community this week.  He mentioned that the Mary Joseph widows were utterly ‘speechless’ when he showed them the gift that Saint Nicholas Church provided for their welfare.  This new cottage industry will employ two men to run the machine who were among the orphans (now grown) that we are helping in Tanzania.

The other email was from Pastor George Nsamba of the Ugandan Mehodist Church, our mission partner there, who shared photos of the water project that Saint Nicholas Church installed at Maganjo Anglican Church in east Uganda, Africa.  The church there has 600 members that support two schools (an elementary and a middle school) with a total of 800 children.  The water collected at Maganjo makes it possible for the girls of the village to attend school now, where before they were needed to collect water at home.  This one water tank basically changed the future lives of over 300 people.

These two life giving projects show the kinds of miracles that God can perform when we give up ourselves to become His hands and heart and mind in the world.

And finally – a quote from C.S.Lewis:

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

 

Amen

The Big Lie

cranach lucas baal painting

Many years ago, when I was a young guy just 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 at all.  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 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 – as I had thought, but because I was German.  During the war, the Germans had tortured him with hard labor, they had abused his wife and killed 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 the loss of World War I. One outrageous lie 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 the scapegoat, 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 the god. The ordinary people ardently worshipped this god 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 appeared to be numerous priests and various classes of devotees.  During the ceremonies they wore appropriate 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 Germans 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 now considered mean and un-Christlike, 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 Christians 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 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.

I believe that we are failing the test of compassion. If the first requirement of compassion is that we tell the truth, the second requirement must surely be that we reach out to those who disagree with us with the Gospel. This means that we must develop caring ministries to make that concern concrete, and learn how to help everyone escape the powerful bonds of sin–even as we help others to escape their own bonds by grace.

If we are really a Gospel people; if we really love everyone (including homosexuals and abortionists) and other sinners; then we must be willing to reach out to them with a sincerity that makes that love tangible. We have not even approached that requirement until we are ready to say to everyone, “We want you to know the fullness of God’s plan for you, to know the forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God, to receive the salvation that comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to know the healing God works in sinners saved by grace, and to join us as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, living out our obedience and growing in grace together.”

Because such were all of us, at one time or another, in our lives . . . but the church is not a place where sinners are welcomed to remain in their sin.  To the contrary, it is the Body of Christ, made up of sinners transformed by grace. Not one of us here deserves to be accepted within the beloved.  It is all because of God’s grace that each one of us here has come out of sin.

Indeed, I believe we err if we call homosexuality or abortion, or any number of evils something other than sin.  But we also sin if we act as if these sins cannot be forgiven – because they can.  We cannot settle for the state of ambiguity in which we find ourselves . . . that is preaching truth without love or love without truth.

This week it was reported that a former gay porn star by the name of Jake Genesis turned from his previous life in pornography and returned to his Catholic roots and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  Mr. Genesis relates in his blog that he is now on a journey of “reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption” within the Church.  He knows God’s mercy is “infinite” and quite naturally, at the same time, he struggles to work out how and why he lived eight months of [his] life in absolute contradiction to who he knew he really was.

The story of our lives might be different from his, but we are all, nevertheless, on a similar journey. Jake Genesis’s story reminds us to pray for all victims, both adult and children, of a hellish world that he has managed to escape, because whether you might believe he was a priest or a victim of the Big Lie, God’s grace is sufficient and he is now truly free . . . and truly forgiven.

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 or a pornstar named Jake Genesis are freed by God’s grace from the bondage of sin and feel free to stand and declare their testimony–and when we are ready to welcome them as fellow disciples into our midst.   Amen

Plan Ahead

planAhead

This past Friday some acquaintances of ours happened to come by our house to ask if they could use our cabin for a few days.  Under normal circumstances this would have been fine with us, but last week we were having some problems with the electrical system so there was no power on at the cabin.  We explained to them that with no power it meant there would be no water, no shower, no heat and no toilet facilities.  This they took in stride and said, fine we we’ll go anyway.  It was my intention to go down on Friday night to fix the electrical problem for other guests, one’s that were expected to arrive on Saturday and stay through Memorial Day.  But these, unexpected guests would need to ‘make do’ with what was available to them.  About 4 hours after their arrival, one of the unexpected called to find out when we’re coming down . . . they found themselves, thirsty, cold, hungry and desperately needing to use the bathroom.  They found themselves suffering and in the cold because of two important reasons:  one, the cabin wasn’t ready for them, and two, they weren’t expected.  Had they been on the schedule we would of course have made the place ready for their arrival.

This little incident got me thinking about today’s sermon about a number of things going on today including a baptism, Memorial Day and Trinity Sunday all rolled up into one weekend.

I think most of realize that if we plan something (whether it be a vacation, a weekend, or a picnic) ahead of time, things usually work out as expected.  There are of course always those things that can prop up unexpectantly, but for the most part we know that things will work out.  For those who do NO planning ahead of time there is always the fear of the unknown, the worry that the money will run out, or in the case of our friends, they’ll be holed up in the wilderness in misery with no power, no heat and no water. This is how it works in the real world.

Well by no chance coincidence, this is how it works in the spiritual world as well.  The founders of our country knew in the beginning that if they founded this country on the basis of a firm belief in God, and if they dedicated this country to God, that the providence and protection of God would see the plan through.  We read, of course, from the words of the Declaration of Independence stating . . . We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  The founding fathers believed in a Creator and planned this country on the solid rock of a belief in God.  And so by turning toward God in this endeavor, God turned toward them and guided the nation into all truth and under the arms of his almighty protection.  But as you may be aware something has changed in the past generation . . . our country has turned away from God and belief by taking God out of the public square and replacing Him with a new religion . . . one of political correctness.  From the Book of Jeremiah we read a passage about another nation (Israel) also founded on a belief in God that turned its back on God.  It reads . . . ‘For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water.  And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!’ Jeremiah 2:13.   When Israel had done this evil, God abandoned them to their own ways . . . their country fell to invaders and the people were enslaved in captivity.

There are signs that God has not given up on us yet but it seems to me that the time is running out for us unless we do something . . . soon.

Just as we celebrate this Memorial Day how our country was founded on the blood of patriots and the rock of our salvation so to, do we celebrate when one community or one family or even one person is brought to Christ.  Today we baptize one child into the household of faith.  The Church has been founded on such as these and as long as there are believers who have accepted Jesus into their hearts there will be hope for a brighter future.   I am asked occasionally why we baptize small children who cannot know what is going on.  We baptize children as an introduction into the kingdom of God.  Is it the end of their instruction?  By no means!  Baptism is the initiation of a believer into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is by virtue of baptism that a child’s name is written into the book of life by the Holy Spirit.  Baptism is the foundation of a child’s faith, but each child will continue to have a number of opportunities in his life to renew his acquaintance with God, with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit, but it is this one initial act, through the faith of his sponsors, that a little child is made free from the bondage of sin and becomes an inheritor of the kingdom . . . and so it seems planning is everything.

Today is also Trinity Sunday which celebrates the mystical being of God, the Almighty in the three persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Along with the virgin birth, the dogma of the Trinity are two of the most difficult Christian concepts for people to understand.  This is mainly because we all know where babies come from and if there is a God, how is it that He is three?  Where does it say that in the Bible?  Well, it doesn’t say that at all.  And that is what we need to consider today.

Biblical scholars over the years have pieced together evidence from the Holy scriptures that infers the essence of God as three personalities if you will, yet one being.  The Father was addressed by Jesus on many occasions usually prior to a miracle; and in the Lord’s Prayer which we are all familiar with.  The advocate, or Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God was also addressed by Jesus when he told the Apostles that the Spirit would come to them only if he, Jesus had left them to prepare a place for them.  Jesus, the Messiah of God, was expected by the prophets throughout the Old Testament and is specifically described in Isaiah as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

From these few examples of the many verses in scripture, the church has stitched together a picture of God as three in one and as one in three.  Though God is totally unknowable by any of us, we have come to the conclusion that this picture is the most accurate way of describing the essence of God’s being.

In a book I read a few months ago, called Heaven is for Real, a six year old boy travels with his father in the family car and becomes involved in a horrible accident.  The boy’s father lives through this by the grace of God, but his small son dies of a broken neck and is revived only to be in a coma for almost a year.  The story is about the boy’s arduous, but miraculous recovery and his near death experiences and how God gives him the grace to return and to tell his tale.  It is a best seller and a true story narrated by the boy’s father who is a pastor.

The little boy comes back to describe what he saw and his experiences in heaven, how Jesus has a cousin there, and a horse; that God the Father sits on a throne but there are clouds of smoke hiding his face and winged angels are flying all around him and that the Holy Ghost is blue and other angels guard the walls surrounding the throne in heaven.  He goes on to describe other children in the presence of God’s throne and how he met a little girl who had no name but who turned out to be the boy’s sister who his mother had miscarried before he was born.  Every believer ought to read this book to get a better understanding of the reality which is heaven.

If God can be compared to something other than a Trinity, I believe that he might best be compared successfully as a family . . . though many voices, one force for good in the world.

The concept of the Trinity becomes easier when we come to the realization that we need not know all the facts or all the answers but to accept it on faith through the spirit of God.  Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’  The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus did not die for the sake of your religion, he died for you.  Jesus came so that those who would believe in this concept of the family of God, might choose to join Him and his Father and the Sprit in the heavenly kingdom.  Though we are separated from him in sin, the sacrifice of his blood cleanses us; enabling us to enter into the presence of God as a friend and not a stranger.  And so we stand justified in the presence of God and are welcomed as guests, soon expected, into the kingdom of heaven.

As Paul today wrote . . . Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Amen.

Pentecost . . . Birthday of the Church

pentecost

Today is the Birthday of the Church.  We who celebrate today celebrate 1,980 years of history beginning at the 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.  Do you remember this story from your Sunday School days?  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 in 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.  (It is also where we get the word to babel and also baby).

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 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.  Until one night, a man stood up and spoke in a very clear voice a language that was totally incomprensible to me and yet vaguely familiar in meter.  Next to me sat an Asian women who all of a sudden started to cry.  She asked the man how he had come to learn Mandarin Chinese as he was totally fluent in it and it was a very obscure dialect.  The lady had been born in the only part of China where this language was used.  The man said he had never been outside of Buffalo and that the language he spoke was his prayer language.  The lady then began to translate what the man had said.  It was the Lord’s Prayer, complete, right down to the Amen.

 

That is when I believed that this was all very real!

 

The charismatic movement in mainline churches 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 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 one of 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 last 1,500 years.  It is the way the 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.  All of you are welcome and in fact I encourage you to find out more about the charismatic movement.

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.

 

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 week, it may take 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.

Courage . . . Faith Under Fire

    courage4

In today’s first reading Paul faces a perplexing problem.  On the one hand, it was apparently God who caused an earthquake in order to open the gates of Paul’s prison.  On the other hand, Paul knew that if he and Barnabus were to escape, his jailer would probably be killed because he failed to control his prisoners.  Paul makes his decision to stay in his open prison and help convert the jailer.  In the story, we read, that not only is the jailer converted but, through Paul, the jailor’s whole family is converted to Christ because of this one decision by Paul to be God’s disciple.

This is a story about discipleship, about what happens if you follow God.  It is the story of every disciple – every single disciple.  Basically, you’ve got to ask yourself. . . If you are a Christian, did God not call you?  Has God Himself not set you free?  Has God Himself not commissioned you?  And ultimately, as God not given you a completely new set of problems because of this?

However, these are the right kinds of problems.  Problems, like Paul has today.  But, have you ever thought there are problems that God never intended you to have?  Right now, there are probably burdens that you are bearing which God never intended you to bear.  Those problems may even be consuming your best energies.  In my own life I have occasionally faced the wrong kind of problems.  Several years back I felt that almost all the responsibility at my work place had fallen on my shoulders.  When a problem needed solving, it was Ed that solved it.  When a computer glitch happened . . . again, it was Ed that they came to fix it.  If a customer had a problem, it was to Ed that he was referred.  Over the years Ed did just about everything and made himself indispensable to everyone until one day Ed had to ask myself, ‘What the h–l are you doing to yourself?’  Actually, I don’t think it was Ed who said that.  But the voice went on, ‘you can’t sleep, you can’t escape the phone calls, faxes and e-mails, you are working day and night for people who are basically not grateful and . . . you need to quit!’  After which, I can remember, there was what is called ‘a pregnant pause’ on my part.  What do you mean . . . QUIT?  I’m fifty-five years old…where am I going to go?  To which God responded, ‘I’ll figure that out, you just get ready to leave’. And so I did.

There is quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans that states ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’  I have always known that, but sometimes it becomes a little harder to believe when the rubber meets the road, sort of speak.  But, I was so miserable that I thought I would give it a chance, and for six months I worked as if the end was coming, all the while trusting God that He would provide a way out.  And I’m happy to report, He did not let me down.  The people at my job were in shock for a week when I told them I was leaving, but there was no turning back.  Not only did God provide the same job with fewer hours and more help, but also more pay and more time off.  The decision was set because I believed that this is what God wanted for me to do.  If I hadn’t absolutely believed it, I most certainly would never have done it.  I was unemployed for week while I waited for the new job to start.  And do you know what? . . . It felt great . . . it felt like freedom.  And I think that is what God was trying to get across to me.  And I think that is what God tries to get across to all of us . . .  that within his love you will find perfect freedom.

This week as the story about the abuse of the three kidnapped women surfaced, I have wondered about the motives behind the mind of the accused perpetrator.  You have to wonder why these acts were seemingly, not a problem for him and you really have to wonder why.  We who live in a civilized society find violence of this type completely repugnant to our way of life.  You have to wonder how this man could be so inclined to perform these acts and yet be a product of a civilized society that embraces freedom and liberty above all else.  How is it, I wonder, could he choose to do something so wrong?

You and I, like Paul, are always given difficult choices in life.  Some of the problems we get dealt are indeed difficult, but never without a choice.  We have the power always to choose life and light, although sometimes it comes at a very high cost.  It is reported that one of the men who ‘blue the whistle’ in Benghazi now hides in fear.  But, I cannot but think that he did the right thing.

The orthodox churches and dioceses in the Episcopal Church who left for moral reasons and for what they believe some years ago are today, also paying a dear price, through litigation and the loss of jobs, money, and property.  Was worth it to them?  I really have to wonder.

All of us travel down the road of our lives as free beings made in the image of God.  Personally, I really doubt God sees us as Anglicans or Episcopalians, or Roman Catholics, or Lutherans.   To God, we are either believers or unbelievers.  There is no gray area of ‘almost believer‘ or ‘nearly a believer’.

At each fork in the virtual road of life he gives each of us a choice, and at every fork he asks us to choose life.  As desciples of Christ, it is sometimes our pleasure to choose what is right, and sometimes it is in trepidation that we are obliged to choose what is right in spite of our personal thoughts and feelings.  What we need to understand is that true discipleship carries with it the burden of courage.  And courage is actually faith under fire.  Very often we need to make life changing decisions that affect everyone around us.  They are not easy to make.  They take a lot of soul searching and planning.  But, if we believe, (truly believe) that God is in our corner, there is nothing that we cannot face, there is nothing that is insurmountable.  This goes for changing a career, having a baby, getting married, getting a divorce, quitting a bad habit or simply starting one’s life over again.  Paul and Barnabus knew this to be true, and so did our Lord Jesus Christ when he willingly went to the cross to die for our sakes.

Perhaps Paul explained best in his letter to the Romans when he wrote:

For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s possession.  Once we are God’s there is nothing else that matters.  Amen

City of God

treeoflife

When I was small, one of my family’s favorite vacationing and visiting spots was the City of Toronto.  I remember prior to the first time I ever went there, while we were planning the trip, I asked my father what Toronto was like.  He tried to describe it to me in every way that I could understand.  He told me of the trolley cars, and the tall buildings, and unique architecture and the ocean going ships in the harbor.  He told me about subways, and the Planetarium and the CNE and how we would see all this for ourselves when we finally got there.  This all seemed very remarkable to a five year old who had never ventured outside of Tonawanda.  As the days came and went and the excitement built and as the hour arrived to leave, I remember sitting in our car both in awe and in a little fear what this adventure would be like.  It was for me, like some mystical place, where dreams might come true.  As we traveled closer to Toronto, my dad told me to keep an eye out for the city in the distance, because even as far as we were from it, we might be able to see its tall buildings from 40 or 50 miles away.  I remember I sat in my seat, mesmerized, looking at the horizon, waiting for some clue to this magical place.  And then suddenly, as the morning fog lifted in the distance, I was able to make out gleaming skyscrapers reflecting the morning sunrise, brilliant white and marble against a clear blue sky.  And in my own little five year old mind, all I could say about the whole experience was one word  . .  . OZ!

One of the beliefs that we humans hold in common, whether Christian or Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem or Jew is a story of a great place where we will one day live in eternity.  We might call it Nervana, or Paradise or Heaven, but in reality it is the place described in the epistle reading today as the City of God.  Countless prophets have tried to describe it to us as a place of abiding peace, of everlasting light and a place of healing for both the spiritual and physical soul. It is also described as a place for the healing of nations and peoples.  One of the main themes of all religions regarding heaven is that it is a place of living water.  In the vision of Revelation to John, a river of Living Water runs down the main street and in its midst stands the Tree of Life.  You might remember the Tree of Life appears in Genesis, the first book of the Bible and then, after the fall of Adam and Eve, it mysteriously disappears until the last book of our bible when it is found in today’s vision of heaven.  It is this tree that takes its own life from God the Father that gives eternal life and healing to all creation.  It is the fruit of this Tree of Life that we lost at the fall and it is this fruit that we will re-gain in the new life of the resurrection and eternal life.

But how is it that the tree of life and the importance of living water transcend the boundaries of belief?  Is it possible that all religions have a common source?   As you may know, I work in Niagara Falls.  Over the course of my many years working there, I have noticed one group in particular who sort of ‘hang out’ there.  During certain times of the year, the local restaurants overflow with Japanese people.  They seem to be everywhere.  I mentioned this to a local one day and his explanation took me by surprise.  It seems that a particular sect of the Japanese Shinto religion believe in the healing power of certain ‘living waters’.  I thought to myself at the time (thinking about the antiquated chemical factories I often work at in the Falls), “Where are they going to find living water around here?”  But, as it turns out, Living Water to them is unsalted (fresh) water that is flowing (or falling) and that, as it turns out, is the exact definition of Living Water in the Bible.  Water that is flowing or falling, just like Niagara Falls . . . the Greek word for it can be translated as ‘quick’ or ‘lively’.  And so the Shinto believers come to Niagara Falls ‘en mass’ to experience the power of living water falling down the Niagara rapids.

As you may be aware, one of the main draws of the Hindu Religion is the River Ganges, but its second and more mystical draw is, of all things, our own Lake Ontario, because of its fresh water qualities and the fact that it is fed by the Living Water of Niagara Falls.  Each spring, Hindu pilgrims travel to a particular spot near Olcott Beach to bath and be refreshed in the living waters of Lake Ontario.

So, does moving water promote healing?  Ask anyone who has undergone whirlpool therapy and you will get a resounding ‘yes’.  During the 1800’s people came from all over the world to just stand in the presence of the water of Niagara for the feel of its roaring thunder.  Obviously, they came here to see a natural wonder, but mostly, they came for its healing properties.  We who live here probably don’t give two thoughts about the fresh water that surrounds us, but most of the world, about 3/5, do not have access to clear drinking water.  In Western New York, we have 20% of the entire world’s supply less than 5 minutes from our church. Unfortunately, in the not too distant future this water will become as important to the world as oil is now.

But there are other types of healing that are not directly water related.  In today’s lesson Paul and Barnabas heal a man with a birth defect.  To the people of the time, and even to us today, this was truly a miracle.  Today, doctors can easily heal a broken arm or a leg, but how often do you hear of some one being cured of a genetic defect?  But to God though, all things are possible, and that is why as the story today continues the people start to pay homage to Paul and Barnabas as the incarnation of their gods Zeus and Hermes in human form.  In the expanded story, Paul explains to the Greeks that he is a man like any other but is simply preaching a new way to perceive the Divine though God’s only son Jesus Christ . . . that God has been working and continues to work to get his message across to all the peoples of the earth.  How? By sending life giving rain (living water if you will) and all kinds of fruit and all types of food in its season within an ordered universe making the heart glad and his people rejoice in living.

Paul tells us that God is all around us and comes to us in the natural wonder of creation if only we have the eyes to perceive him and the ears to ear him.  The rain which falls from heaven falls not only on the just and merciful but also sustains those who are cruel and evil and gives life to all creation.  The food we eat sustains us and all those around us.  The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink are the gifts of the God of Life who lives within his creation as the sustainer of all.  These are the proofs that Paul gives that God exists.

But there are other less tangible proofs.  One the best is the one we celebrate on Mother’s Day and that is a Mother’s love for her children.  Many think of God solely as a father . . . loving but stern, forgiving but just, peaceful but forceful, but in a great many ways God can be compared to a mother . . . nurturing, loving, caring and sustaining.  To me it would seem that God can be described either way without ambiguity.  Perhaps that is why the new revised translations embrace the word ‘God’ over Father.  Jesus of course called God ‘Father’ and also used the Aramaic word ‘Abba’ which means ‘Daddy’.  But in the same breath it was Jesus who described God as mother when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing”.  And so we have mystery . . . but do we?

Child Trends, a center-left child welfare organization reported recently:

“Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two-biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.”

What does this mean?  It means that it was no accident in how God ordained and ordered marriage as making the most sense to bring children into the natural world.  The union of a man and a woman, a mother and a father brings to a relationship a balance of proportions that mirrors the essence of the Divine.  And it is only out of these two opposites that new life can be created.  But how life is brought forth through both the ecstasy of sexual expression and the pain of birth gives us an even clearer vision of the way God thinks.

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  Jesus goes on to explain just who this ‘we’ is.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the Comforter and Guide, a God of three in one and one in three offering himself to be with us, to live in us, and to give us counsel, direction, spirituality and peace . . . but only if we ask him to . . . this belief in the Trinity being a basis of orthodox Christianity.

As you may be aware, today, orthodox Christianity is under attack from every side, more so than any other religion, simply because it is the only one that is based on the truth.  The enemies of Christ could care less about Islam or any other false religion.  Satan doesn’t need to destroy them because they ARE false and thereby help his cause by luring others away from a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  You have to consider the fact that if Christianity were a lark, no one would waste their time trying to tear it down.  Atheists would be just that – neutral, non-God believing people, shaking their heads at the simple-mindedness of others who believe in silly gods.  But instead many of them see themselves as anti-Christian crusaders (and rarely anti-RELIGION crusaders).  Why?  Because Christianity is true.  It is exactly as Jesus himself foretold in the Gospels: “Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake… You will be handed over by your parents, your brothers, your relatives, and your friends; and some of you will be put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.” (Luke 21:12, 16-17, GNB) Personally speaking, these single-minded attacks on my faith actually emphasize the fact that Christianity IS the one, true faith, and are a comfort to me in my belief and should be in yours as well.

We have heard much in the news lately about abortion and homosexual marriage.  The mainstream media has done a great job in trying to convince all of us that these subjects are about fairness and justice, but in fact they are neither just nor fair.  Abortion is about the death of a human soul, it is about Satan’s continuing attempt to legitimize the wholesale disposal of God’s people in these end times.   And, if you examine it closely, gay marriage is not really about marriage at all . . . since the great majority of Gay people do not want to marry . . . but it is a desire that society legitimize a lifestyle that is not intended for the purpose of family or pro creation.  It is about making the sacrament of marriage irrelevant to the masses and replacing it with a lie.  Both are about taking something that God ordered as a way of life and twisting it into something quite unintended by the Holy Spirit.  I am aware that we may each hold differing opinions on these two subjects.  Your opinion may be quite different than mine, but, in the end, it is left to the Church to safeguard the faith once delivered from the saints.  As we have witnessed for ourselves, when a church upholds what is heretical and evil, it risks much and will wither and die.  When it upholds the truth, it will flourish and grow.  These are biblical truths that cannot be denied and so this church will continue to stand for the truth for as long as we are able with Christ being our guide.

God has over the ages been present with us through the natural world.  He has made himself known to us through his creation and in the parameters and order of married family life.  He comes to us daily  . . . in living water . . . . as rain, as waterfalls and even in our personal daily shower.  He provides living water to refresh us, food to nourish us and love to sustain us.  He has done all this to make himself known and has revealed himself in all religions and in all beliefs throughout the whole world and across all of time.  But it was through the willing sacrifice of God’s only son, Jesus Christ that we have been given proof positive of God’s existence and his abiding love for us.  It is through Jesus Christ that we are truly made free and inheritors of the City of God that awaits those who truly call upon his name . . .

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:   And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.     Amen

5th Sunday of Easter

Water

Let us pray; Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ we come before you in this place of worship to obtain your life giving water. Please refresh our spirit with your forgiveness and constant love. Help us to receive your word that it may direct our thoughts and actions. In your name we pray. Amen.
I’m sure each of you has seen the tragic events of the last few weeks unfold in great detail on your television screens, over the internet, in newspapers, through tweets on your phones or through Facebook. The tragedies in Boston, Texas and other locations remind us of the fragility of our lives and how quickly they can be forever changed.
On a mildly foggy Sunday morning in late April a mother, father and their son were driving their family van down a country road to attend their regular church services. Coming from the other direction a Ford 150 pickup truck started to cross the double yellow line. The family van veered toward the shoulder of the road in an attempt to avoid a head on collision but the pickup continued across the yellow line and struck the family van head on, striking the driver side door post. As a result of the collision the front axle of the pickup was dislodged and ripped free of the truck, the van’s front wheel drive engine and axle were torn from their position and the driver’s side of the van was caved in. The mother and son sustained some cuts and bruising that were treated to heal in a few days; the father, who was the driver of the van, had a collapsed lung, shattered ribs (nearly puncturing his heart), compound fracture to his leg, puncture wound breaking the lower leg, fractured elbow, fractured wrist, hyper extended shoulder, glass embedded in various places on his body and various cuts and abrasions. The father was to spend 8 weeks in the hospital and another year in recovery. Later it was learned the driver of the pickup truck had spent the night before the accident at his to be brother in laws bachelor party drinking the night away and driving home on that fateful Sunday morning.
All of these events can crush lives, causing such grief and turmoil that they never recover. But these events can also become the vehicles that allow God to enter in and change lives forever. How can we assure ourselves that we can withstand great difficulty in life? Is it even possible? I say we need to fill our spiritual canteens with the life giving water. When we enter into deserts of destruction and upheaval we can be more prepared to survive. The deserts to be survived might not be our own but that of a close friend or family member.
In John 7:37 Jesus said; “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
We as mere mortals are not able to know the mind of God except through the teaching we have been given through scripture. Scripture opens our minds to the mind of God and says that during times of great distress we will not be alone; our hearts will be filled with rivers of living waters; filled with God’s love and spirit that reassures us of a greater good as the purpose for our lives.
Psalm 16: verse 8 we read
8 I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Matthew 28
20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Psalm 23: 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

2 Corinthians 4: 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4: 16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

These verses give us great strength, lifting our spirits during the darkest of times. Over and over again we hear stories of great pain that turns into God’s spirit of great joy being brought to others.
This week we heard about the man with a boat in his back yard. One of the Marathon bombers was found hiding in his boat, the man called police and gun fire ensued and his boat was shot full of holes. People felt sorry for the man and raised funds to buy him a new boat. The man has turned the funds over to help the victims of the bombing. He could have enjoyed a new bigger boat, because he had really loved his boat, but God led him to love his neighbors; those in greater need.
In our lives we are faced with many difficult situations; family relationships that fall apart, jobs that have been lost, personal health that fails. How do we continue on through these difficulties?
Scripture helps us giving us direction and reassurance as in
Our Epistle lesson from Revelation 21:1-6 which reads;
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”
We have only a few choices when difficulties or calamities strike us; we can give up and sit on the side of the road and let life go by, we can become cynical and pull those around us into the deserts we are contending with or we can trust in God to be with us to provide the spring of the water of life that will assure us we are not alone.
How do we reach out to God during the difficult times; we are given His word. Through His word we are reassured of His love for us. That He is always present with us. The man that laid in ICU for a week and then spent another seven weeks in the hospital and the next year in recovery experienced God’s presence in the hospital room while praying and reading daily scripture. God gave healing to the man and changed his life forever. The man went on to go to seminary and serve in missions, hospitals and hospices bringing the life giving water to thirsty people. God has received such glory through the life giving water that fills many people’s lives and is shared during times of difficulty.
God calls each of us today to drink from scripture, to leave the deserts of our lives and experience the great joy of lives that love each other. We are afforded such lives as a result of the sacrifice our savior Jesus made on the cross; dying for our sins, rising from the dead conquering death and sin and ascending into heaven where He makes a place for us where no one will be thirsty and no one will ever experience the deserts found in our earthly lives. God bless each of you today and always.

The Road to Damascus

Pauls Conversion

Some time ago, on television, there was a program about Saint Paul. The announcer was taping from the Vatican in Rome and was interviewing a number of people to answer the question “Who was Paul?” The funny thing about their answers was that not one person knew who Paul was. Some said, “one of the disciples”, while others just shrugged their shoulders not knowing what to say . . . all the while standing outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the Vatican.
Today’s first lesson describes what happens to Saul of Tarsus (later named Paul) on his way to the Jewish temple at Damascus. Do you remember what his mission was? He was a prosecutor of believers of ‘the Way’ (the original name of people who followed the teachings of Jesus – today we call them Christians) and he was hunting them down, one by one, both men and women, to bring them back to the temple at Jerusalem to stand trial for blasphemy. He believed at the time that the Jewish religion needed to be cleansed of the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. But, of Course, Jesus had another idea.
In order to get Saul’s attention, Jesus struck him blind for three days! I don’t know about you, but that would sure get my attention. And after a series of supernatural type events of healing, conversion and baptism, Saul went on to be Paul, one of the first apostles chosen outside of the inner circle of disciples. It was Paul who nearly single handedly converted the entire Roman Empire to Christianity. It is largely because of Paul, that we, who are of European descent are sitting in these pews today. One of Paul’s letters is read nearly every Sunday of the Church year. It was Paul who came up with the idea of ‘Justification by Faith’. It was also Paul who got the former Jews to accept male converts without the need of circumcision. It was also Paul who proclaimed that the dietary laws did not apply to non-Jews who became Christians. All this, from a former enemy of the original twelve, an ultra conservative orthodox Jew who hunted down fellow Jews to have them put on trial for their religious views and for believing in Jesus Christ. What do you think happened to change his mind?
This is, of course, the kind change that comes from an encounter with Jesus, even today. We may often kid each other about people who we consider ‘Jesus Freaks’, but if there was ever a poster child for a Jesus Freak, it had to be Paul. Here was a man who made a complete 180 degree turn around in his life. Here also was a man who was put in prison for his faith and chained like an animal and finally martyred for his faith like the Lord he had come to trust and love. Here also was a man who was made into an example for all believers to follow . . . a misguided person set straight by God’s own hand.
Many people that I have known in my life have had an encounter with Jesus. Fortunately, I guess, none were struck blind for three days, but some have had to go through some extraordinary lengths to be set on the right track. One of my friends at work was, admittedly a horrible hot head and a drunk who found Jesus in a prison cell. Today, he is still a hot head but has taken steps to control his temper and his drinking habits. Each week he attends Bible Study and a church group. He now holds down a full time job and is on way to becoming a success in life. Another friend was a prostitute before she also, was put into a jail cell and found the freedom of Jesus behind bars. I am sure that you know yourselves, many people who have had dramatic changes in their lives by accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
So why do you suppose that with so much good going on and so much change happening in the lives of people due to Christianity, why aren’t our churches filled with believers? To answer this I want to tell you a story that happened to me some time ago:
At work, we had been doing a finish remodel of a Rite Aid Pharmacy that was open 24 hours a day. We happened to hire a new guy, an extra carpenter, to help out. Since this new guy was hired by our superintendent and didn’t know me, he asked one day if I was a salesman. One of the other carpenters said ‘No way . . . he’s your boss!’ At the time, I sort of agreed with him. But then I got to thinking about and in reality I was a salesman then and still am . . . and in fact we are all salesmen to one degree or another. A salesman convinces others to buy his product or service. A carpenter sells his time to his employer. A doctor sells his skill to his patients. A teacher sells her knowledge to her students. And so on. As a preacher, I am here to sell you (actually to persuade you) to an idea of what it is to be a Christian. As a believer, you are here to learn new ideas that you can pass along to those you know. But do you? Obviously Paul did to the people he knew, or most of us wouldn’t be sitting here today. But what about the people you know.

I am told that at St. Matthew’s, down the street, Fr. Bowles ended every service with the words, ‘The mass is ended and now the service begins!’. Fr. Bowles was right, because that is why we come to church, so that we can serve Christ in all others (especially those outside the church).
But how to you know when you have seen the Lord in others? How do you see Christ in all others? The disciples, in today’s gospel story, were met by a stranger on the shore, who told them where they might find some fish. At first they did not recognize the stranger as Jesus, but after they had hauled up 153 fish their eyes were opened and they knew they were in Jesus’ presence. Now of course this was after the resurrection, and you kind of have to wonder, what were the disciples doing fishing for fish, when they were suppose to be out fishing for men. I think Jesus came to remind them of their real destiny. I think Jesus comes to us too, to remind us of our true calling as followers of ‘the Way’.
Back at the Rite Aid where we were working, there was all kind of commotion going on, all at once. There were ceiling tiles being replaced, shelves being restocked, cabinets being installed, customers milling about and cash registers ringing. In the midst of this chaos, a voice asked, ‘How can you be so calm in the middle of all this commotion?’ It was the new carpenter speaking in my direction. What I should have said at the time was that ‘It is the peace of God that passes all understanding’, but unfortunately what came out was ‘For me, it’s just like being at home!’ So you see, even I can blow a perfectly good opportunity to sell my religion.
If we are lucky, Jesus comes to us again and again in spiritual encounter and renewal. He comes most markedly for me in the Holy Eucharist, in the prayers, and in the wonder and beauty of the natural world. For the apostle John he came in a vision of glory as he wrote the Book of Revelation in the reading today . . .

I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Too many of us attempt to hide from God in our work, or in our play. Like the disciples in the Gospel story, we want to go off fishing when we should be working towards the kingdom. A few of us, like Paul, have great potential, but can only unleash it by being hit on the head, or by being made blind, or by being imprisoned. Sometimes I wonder just what God sees in any of us. But you know, he truly does love each and every one of us, with all our faults and folly. And I believe that is what he wants you to know today. Amen
 

Second Sunday of Easter

Risen Christ

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! This Lord’s day, wherever you are, no matter what may be your worry or fear, a risen Savior, a conquering Christ, comes to you and says, “Peace be with you.” In faith, that peace–Christ’s peace–can be yours.

Not so long ago I read about a woman who had driven about 50 miles to visit an old friend. They had a wonderful time. Unfortunately, when it was time to go home, she found out that her keys were locked in the car. Normally, in her town that would be no problem. But where she was, there was no auto dealership that might have a master key for her vehicle. The local locksmiths, after some conversation, said they couldn’t help her. Finally, as her worries increased, and having rejected the idea of trying to break a window, the lady resorted to her last resort. She called her husband.

As she stood by the side of her locked car, she continued to talk with her sympathetic friend. They discussed how her hubby would never, ever, let her forget this little incident. It was during the course of their sensitive sharing that her friend tried one of the back doors and found it to be open. Quickly, the lady got on her cell phone to call her husband, but he was already on his way to rescue her. Worried, the friend commented. “If your husband was going to be upset with you for having to make the drive out here because you locked your keys in your car, just how angry is he going to be when he finds he made the trip for no reason at all?” To which the lady replied, “I don’t think he’ll be upset at all. That’s one worry I can take care of.” And with that, she stepped over to the car, locked the back door, and slammed it shut.

It probably would be a wonderful thing if we could all take care of all our worries by pushing a button and slamming a door. Unfortunately, most of our worries don’t seem to be so easily solved. Think about it. When you share your worries with a friend, they usually say something sympathetic like, “Hey, hang in there, this is going to be all right. Things will work out just fine. You’ll see. You’re worrying about nothing.” Occasionally they will say, “Hey, things could be worse, you know,” and then they tell the story of somebody who had things so bad that, in comparison, the Old Testament sufferer Job, would have felt pretty good about his situation. I’ve seen people, people on their deathbeds, who wanted to talk about their leaving this world, and the family stopped all conversation by saying, “Don’t talk that way. You’re going to beat this thing and get better. You’re just having a temporary setback.”

Now, I know and you know that all of those speakings and sayings are offered with the best of intentions. But those sayings, no matter how sincerely they are given, are in the final analysis, and when all is said and done, pretty empty and meaningless. There is nothing behind those words other than hope and a belief that sometimes things simply just can’t get any worse. We don’t know that things will get better. We don’t know that these worries will dissolve. We don’t know that these concerns will dissipate. We have to confess that when we say, “Things are going to be fine,” we have no way of making that happen, and we don’t have the ability to make our worries go away.

Worry. A number of years ago (August 22-24,1997), the Sunday supplement magazine, USA Weekend, ran a cover story titled: “Fear: What Americans are Afraid of Today.” After interviewing what was said to be a scientific cross-section of the country, the magazine listed the things that Americans feared the most. Fifty-four percent said they were afraid or very afraid of being in a car crash. Fifty-three percent were afraid or very afraid of having cancer. Fifty percent were afraid Social Security would fail. Forty-nine percent were afraid of not having enough set aside for retirement. Thirty-six percent were afraid of getting food poisoning from meat. Thirty-five percent were afraid of coming down with Alzheimer’s. Thirty-four percent were afraid of pesticides and their food, and 33% afraid of becoming a victim of personal violence. Thirty-two percent were afraid of being unable to pay their debts, and 25% were afraid of natural disasters. When people were asked about the cause of their worries, nine out of ten confessed they thought the world is less safe today than it was when they grew up. Almost half felt they were unsafe taking a nightly stroll within a half-mile of their home. Twenty percent of all the people said they were afraid of being struck down by a terrorist bombing while they were in a public place. Now understand, that poll was made before the tragedy at Columbine High School; it was made before the terrorist tragedy of 9-11; it was made before the tsunamis that rocked the world. The world has changed since that poll was made. People’s fears have changed since 1997. One thing hasn’t changed. People are still afraid. People still worry.

We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Worry has been part of our psyche since sin entered the world. After Adam and Eve chomped down on the forbidden fruit, they were afraid to meet with their Maker. Their son Cain was afraid that people might murder him. Jacob was afraid his brother might kill him; Moses was afraid God’s people might not listen to him; King David was afraid his son might overthrow him; Elijah was afraid that he was the only believer left; Christ’s disciples were afraid that the same Jewish leaders that had worked so successfully, so efficiently in bringing about the crucifixion of Jesus, might now be looking for them. Was their fear legitimate? There is nothing in Scripture which indicates that they were marked men; nothing which shows they needed to hide behind locked doors. Of course, fear does not have to be based on fact, to make a person tremble. People who are afraid of flying may know, statistically they are safer in the air than they are in their own automobile, but that knowledge doesn’t take away their fear. The average person may know that the audience to which he is speaking will not really start shouting nasty comments, or rush the stage with intent to do him bodily injury. Still, most people are afraid to speak in public. Most children know that a bad report card will not cause mother and father to take their names out of the will and send them off to an orphanage. Still, that doesn’t stop them from fearing the day the postman delivers that bad progress report to the family’s mailbox.

No, fear doesn’t have to be based on fact to be real. Fear is fear and worry is worry. They come. They are there. And that is the way it was for the disciples who, after Jesus’ crucifixion, locked themselves away. Their fear told them, “Keep a low profile; keep your head down; try to blend into the woodwork and wait for this whole Jesus thing to blow over.” Considering their situation and their worries, it was probably a good plan. It might have been a most effective plan, except for one totally unanticipated, relatively major glitch in their plan: Jesus showed up. Now they shouldn’t have been surprised. Jesus had said that He would rise on the third day, but when He said those words, His disciples didn’t understand. That’s why, when beaten Jesus, whipped Jesus, spit-upon Jesus, nail-pierced and crucified Jesus, a-spear-through-His-side Jesus showed up, they thought they were seeing a ghost. Was it wishful thinking or mass hysteria? No, it was neither of those things. This was a living Jesus who miraculously brushed past locked doors and stood among them. This was a resurrected Jesus who was able to talk to them; who ate with them; who held out His nail-pierced hands to them; who showed them the heart wound between His ribs. That Jesus showed up and said, “Peace be with you.”

When Jesus said, “peace,” He was saying to those who heard Him: “be well”; “be whole”; “be at rest.” Now coming from anybody else other than the Son of God, the world’s Redeemer, those words would be no more than wishful thinking and upbeat optimism. Coming from Jesus, they are everything. Hundreds of years before He was born, the prophet Isaiah (9:6) promised the Messiah would come, and He would be “the Prince of peace.” When the angels announced His birth to the shepherds who were watching their flocks in the fields of Bethlehem, they said that He would be “good news of great joy” for the entire world. They promised that He would bring “God’s peace to men on whom the Lord’s favor would rest.”

Time and again, when He had been doing ministry, Jesus had shown His Divine ability to bring peace in the most unlikely situations. When the disciples were caught in a ship-sinking storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus spoke to wind and wave commanding, “Peace, be still”; and the storm was silenced. When a woman who had had an unclean issue of blood for 12 years was healed by touching His robe, Jesus said, “go in peace, your suffering is at an end.” When a woman who had led a questionable life worshipped Him, He silenced her detractors, forgave her sins, and sent her out to lead a new life, a forgiven life of peace (Luke 7).

And now, three days after His Body had been bruised and battered; three days after He had declared His work of redemption finished; three days after He had died, He stood once more before His disciples and said, “Peace.” At that moment the world of the disciples changed. They had visible, tangible proof of God’s power. No longer would death be the ultimate cause of fear. No longer would the devil have the last word. No longer would they be alone. No longer did they have to be afraid. The Christ who had conquered the grave, even as He had with His perfect life and Godly power, conquered suffering and sin, would defeat their dreads as well. That day, they knew Jesus’ commendation of peace was not just a wishful word, it was backed by living, resurrected proof.

It was with that proof the disciples were transformed. One day they were hiding in fear of their lives, a short time later, after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, they became lions for the Lord. Confronting councils and kings, they shared the story of the Savior’s salvation. They told all who would listen, and many who would not, that recovery and redemption is guaranteed to all who, by the Spirit’s power, have faith in the atoning Lord. When they were told to keep silent, they replied, “We must obey God, rather than men.” When their lives were threatened, they, and those who came after them, fearlessly replied, “Do your worst; my Lord has already done His best.” They were unafraid, un-intimidated; they were unstoppable. Which is why, as a distant inheritor of the message of peace, the disciples pronounced with such boldness, I want you to know, that the peace which Jesus brought to that locked room of disciples is still there. Jesus still comes and says, “Peace be with you.”

It was a number of years ago I heard about a woman who was washing dinner dishes. She got toward the end of the pile and stopped. She stopped with a coffee cup in her hand, and asked herself, “How many times have I washed this cup?” Then she became afraid. She asked herself, “Is this all there is to life? Is this all I’m supposed to be?” The lady set down the cup, went to her bedroom, packed a small suitcase with a few of her belongings, and quietly walked out the front door.

That evening, from an undisclosed location, she called her husband and told him that she was physically all right, but she just couldn’t face her life and she wasn’t coming home. Worry and fear had a stranglehold on her. Eventually the husband hired a private investigator to locate his wife. It was easy enough for him to find her. She was holed up, liked the disciples, behind locked doors. She was in a budget motel in a city about 200 miles away. The husband, with the investigator’s report in hand, dropped off the children at grandma’s and went for a drive. He knocked on the door of his wife’s room, unsure as to how he might be received. He heard the lock turn and the door slowly opened. His wife looked at him in silence, and then fell sobbing into his embrace. She said, “When you called, I heard words. When you showed up, I knew how much you loved me. You had sought me out; you had come for me.”

When Jesus says to His disciples, “Peace”; when He speaks the same to you, you can be sure that He is not just uttering words and wishes. The love of God is more than so much sounding brass. Jesus, in love for us, sought us out by coming down from heaven. He came for us, became one of us, so that we might be forgiven, so that we might be saved. He showed His compassion and concern for us in the life He led; in the death He died; and in the resurrection which offers eternal life and everlasting peace to all who with repentant hearts, are turned to Him as their Redeemer, their Substitute, their Savior and Friend.

This is what I want you to know. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, Jesus offers a powerful peace which is for all people. What is your worry? Take a moment. Think about it. Bring it to light. How long has that worry been hounding you? Robbing you of sleep and goading you with guilt? What is your worry that is robbing you of hope, happiness and good humor? What is that worry which is ruining your life? You have tried to push it down, push it away and deal with it. Worry isn’t so easy to get rid of. Still, Jesus comes and promises peace. By the Spirit’s power, believe with all your heart that Jesus, who has the ability to defeat death, who can ignore locked doors, has the power to conquer your worry as well. Believe that the Christ who gave His life for you on a cross 2,000 years ago, loves and wishes to help you.

The apostle Peter said it, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Peter should know. Peter had plenty to be worried about. He tried to talk Jesus out of dying for us; He fell asleep on His Master, when he had been asked to stay awake in prayer; he had, in the courtyard of the high priest, three times denied ever knowing his Lord. That is more than enough to worry about. Still, Jesus took all of Peter’s worrisome shortcomings and failings, forgave them, and empowered Peter to become one of His best and greatest witnesses. That life transforming change can be yours as well. Let the Lord take the worry off your shoulders. Cast your care upon Christ, knowing He cares for you.

The apostle Paul said much the same: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything … And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7 excerpts). Paul be anxious? Paul should know about anxious. He, who once with a burning vengeance hunted down, arrested, and executed Christ’s followers, was given forgiveness. In Jesus, he found the peace of God which transcends all understanding. He was given God’s peace which dispels anxiety and recreates hearts, minds and lives. He was given Christ Jesus. The same Christ Jesus that should belong to you. The same Christ Jesus that can take care of your worries.

After the tsunami which took place, I read about a Christian lady, a resident of the Philippines, who seemed calm enough, even though all around her were worried. After things had begun to return to normal, some people asked her, “Aren’t you afraid of another earthquake and another tidal wave?” The lady quietly confessed, “No, I’m not. You see, I rejoice to know that I have a God Who is big enough and powerful enough to shake the world. If He’s big enough to do that; He’s big enough to take care of me.”

May the peace of our savior Jesus comfort you and give you the strength to reach out to those around you that are looking to shed the fears of this life. His peace will calm, you and me and all those who call on His name and believe.
Amen.

Sermons and Other Stuff