Thursday, August 13, 2009

8-2-09 "Live a Life Worthy of the Calling"

Preaching Text: Ephesians 4:1-16

A group of tourists were visiting a rather picturesque town on the outskirts of a well known city. As they walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. One of the tourists, in a rather patronizing way, asked, "Were any great men born in this village?"
To which the old man replied, "Nope, only babies."
Yet, that wisecrack answer holds a lot of truth. There are no instant heroes, there is no instant status or fame, whether in this world or in the Kingdom of God. Growth takes time.
We live in the instant age. There is instant coffee, instant credit, instant oatmeal, instant messaging, instant milk, instant oil changing, instant soup, instant breakfasts, and on and on.
Modern humanity can't and won't wait for desires to be met. People today demand instant gratification. So, at fast food restaurants we get fast food. And we complain if it takes five minutes instead of three.
We don't even have to wait in line at the bank anymore; those little ATM cards allow us to go to an automatic teller machine and make deposits or withdrawals. And now, for many, the computer allows instant banking, transferring funds, paying bills, and all the rest without even having to leave home. Today's kitchen has to have the now indispensable microwave. Because now many can’t even take time to cook. Just pop something in the microwave and in minutes, if not seconds, everything from a potato to a cup of coffee to a three-course meal is ready for consumption.
But still there are some areas of our living that seem impervious to this quest for instant gratification. Today, the passage of Scripture from Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus reminds us that there is no such thing as instant faith. While there may be cases of an instant conversion, there is no such thing as an instant Christian.
Being a Christian takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. In our Epistle reading for this morning Paul calls for us as Christians to Live Worthy of the Calling, to Which You Have Been Called. As we think about that, let's look at OUR WORK and OUR TOOLS. Paul says OUR WORK IS TO “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
To put it another way, we're called to help each other “grow up” in the faith. We called to help build one another up, in the faith. We're called to make disciples in our part of the world.
And this passage today tells us that it takes time for us to grow up, to become mature, in the Christian faith. We seem to forget in our age of instant convenience foods, products, and services that mature Christians are not produced by taking a couple of rounded teaspoons of freeze-dried Gospel, adding a cup of warm acceptance, adding quarter cup of grace and a quart of forgiveness. We don't add a sprinkle of the water of baptism, a pinch of hope and then fill it all with the Holy Spirit and voila, an instant, full-bodied Christian! The Christian faith is about growing and maturing in the faith. That's OUR WORK.
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus list our job description this way:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
You and I may not be called to physically go into “all the world,” but many of those who came before us, many of those who founded and nurtured this Church did. I wonder if the first pastor here, Conrad Heckmann, thought about the great commission, as it’s known, when he prepared to leave his native Germany and travel to the Missouri wilderness.
Now as the heirs of that work and that faith, we're more typically called to make disciples, to teach and baptize in OUR part of the world and to support the work of our fellow Christians wherever on this earth they may be. That's OUR WORK. We’re called to grow, both ourselves and others, in the faith. That's OUR WORK: to make disciples.
AND TO DO OUR WORK, WE NEED A SET OF TOOLS. Any time you build anything, you need tools, don't you? At minimum a carpenter needs a hammer, a saw, a tape measure, a level and a square. A mechanic needs a set of metric and standard wrenches. A seamstress needs needles, thread, scissors, straight pins, a sewing machine and cloth. An Ice Cream vendor needs ice cream, a freezer and a scoop.
Paul tells us in this passage that as Christians, part of our job is to be builders. We're called to build up the body of Christ by equipping the saints for the work of ministry. All tools in our toolbox have one purpose: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”
Let's briefly look at some of those tools.
1. BIBLE: Of course the first tool in our toolbox is the Bible. Scripture paints the background for and tells the reason and purpose behind everything we do. It's the Foundation of the Building we call Faith. It tells us who we are and Whose we are. It reminds us from the very beginning words, that all we have and all we are comes from God.
Harold LaGrone, sent me a letter this past week thanking all of us here for the wonderful reception and generous offering we provided as he shared with us the tremendous and vital work of the Gideon’s in providing free bibles in 181 countries around the world.
But Harold’s letter did not end with just that thank you. He has personally paid for 5 bibles to be printed and distributed in the name of St Matthew’s. He adds the note that we will never know in this life the good that those bibles will accomplish.
Four pastors were discussing their favorite Bible translations. One liked the King James because of its beautiful language. Another liked the New Revised Standard version. A third liked the contemporary version The Message. The 4th minister said, “My favorite translation was my Mother's.” The other preachers said they didn't know his mother had translated the Bible. “Yes, she did,” he replied. “Everyday she translated the Bible into life and it was the most convincing translation I ever witnessed!”
The Bible is an important Tool because it shapes and molds us into the people God would have us be. And when we are the people God would have us be, we make a difference in the world.
2. VISION: The second tool in the toolbox is Vision. You can't build anything unless you've got and idea or a vision about what should be built. When I was very young, I attempted to build a wooden wagon. Without any plans, I simply took wood and a saw and began to build. Suffice it to say, it didn’t turn out well—at best, the more or less finished product vaguely resembled an orange crate with wheels albeit it one that appeared to have perhaps been run over by a truck. I naively assumed that if I just started building the rest would take care of itself. At the very least my project lacked vision.
And as absurd as it sounds, many bodies in our Christian community are today building with design flaws so serious that even as they build, their foundation is crumbling, their walls are collapsing, because their vision of the Church and God’s vision of the Church are utterly and absolutely incompatible. The have forgotten about and basically abandoned that first tool we mentioned, the Bible, and when the attempt to substitute an alternative set of plans they are doomed to grief and failure. Someone once asked Helen Keller, “What would be worse than being born blind?” She replied, “To have sight with no vision.” When we invest ourselves and our resources in support of God’s vision, whether it's to support the ministries of St Matthew’s or ministries of the Church in the larger sense, we are saying that we have a Vision for what God can do. And more specifically with our money gifts, we are affirming a Vision of what God can do with that money and what God can do with us because we've given that money.
3. HOPE: the third tool is Hope. When there is Vision, or more specifically God’s Vision, as we find it recorded in the Bible, there is always Hope because Biblical Vision engenders Hope. That Hope comes through Christ Jesus. We have obtained access to the Grace of God through Jesus. He is the only letter of recommendation we need. We don't need any other references but his. His Signature, his Word, his nail-scarred Hands are all we need. He is our letter of introduction, our entrance fee, our resume, and letter of recommendation. He is all we need. His very presence fleshes out the Vision and gives us Hope.
4. FAITH: And when we have Hope, then we can have Faith. Which is the next tool in the toolbox.
The African impala can, with a single leap, jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.
During the terrible days of the Blitz, a father, holding his small son by the hand, ran from a building that had been struck by a bomb. In the front yard was a shell hole. Seeking shelter as soon as possible, the father jumped into the hole and held up his arms for his son to follow. Terrified, yet hearing his fathers voice telling him to jump, the boy replied, “I can’t see you!”
The father, looking up against the sky tinted red by the burning buildings, called to the silhouette of his son, “But I can see you. Jump!” The boy jumped because he trusted his father. Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known. That is faith. That is faith that casts aside all those fears that hinder our discipleship.
That is faith that casts aside our reluctance to give all that God encourages us to give. The faith of which Paul speaks that will allow us with the Bible as our guide, Christ’s vision supplying hope, enable us to live as saints equipped for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ speaking the truth in love.”
Finally, Paul says something else here; it’s about giving. He speaks about gifts, and more specifically about God’s gifts to us. There is not a Christian on the face of the earth without gifts. As to our gifts, they may not be the ones we want, they may not be the ones we think we need, but they are the ones Jesus needs us to use. We’ve talked about Faith, Hope, Vision and the Bible, but there’s one more tool that needs to be mentioned this morning.
5. GIVING: I personally think that the most effective tool we have in this Christian Toolbox may be simply our “GIVING.”
Giving transforms all the Tools in the Toolbox from hand tools to power tools. Giving reflects the attitude of our heart. Giving reflects our relationship with God. Giving is a mirror of the soul.
An old story tells about a farmer who came into the church office one day and said he’d like to speak to the “head hog at the trough.” The secretary was a little taken aback by the man’s attitude and told him that she was offended by such a crude reference to the Church pastor.
He in turn replied, “Well, I didn’t intend any offense. I guess I just have swine on my mind today. You see, I just got a $100,000 check from the sale of some prize winning Hampshire breeding stock and I wanted to give God his rightful due. But if you’re offended, I will make out this $10,000 check to the church down the street.”
To which the secretary replied, “No, no. You just wait. I’m sure the big pig is right there in his office.”
Have you ever noticed that for some reason, pigs and money do seem to go together. We save money in a piggy-bank. We work to “bring home the bacon” so we can “live high on the hog.” We don't ever “buy a pig in a poke” because we don't know what we're getting. When we spend a lot of money on frivolous things we've gone “hog wild.” Even in the life of the church, pork meets penny. The term STEWARD traces back to the medieval English title “STY-WARDEN” Or “STY-WARD.” Yep, a pig-keeper.
Jesus talked a lot about stewards and stewardship. And while the Hebrew word for steward had nothing to do with pig farming, nevertheless, stewardship of money was a very important topic to Jesus. The only subject he talked more about was the Kingdom of God.
Indeed, how we spend our money, what we do with our money has Kingdom consequences. Because whatever we have, isn't really ours. All we have belongs to God. We are simply Stewards, no matter which word you use, the English or the Hebrew, of all that God has put in our possession. We are simply stewards of God's stuff. One commentator, J. Oswald Sanders, summed it up by saying, “The basic question is not how much of our money we should give to God, but how much of God’s money we should keep for ourselves.”
In short, how we use this Tool of Giving determines how powerful the other Tools in our Toolbox are going be. Because the Tool of Giving empowers all the other Tools.
Early in their marriage, Billy and Ruth Graham were visiting a church where Billy was preaching that Sunday. During the offering, an usher came to the platform and pushed the offering plate in front of the guest evangelist. Billy reached for his wallet and pulled out what he thought was a dollar bill. As it dropped into the plate, he saw that it was his one and only ten-dollar bill. His heart sank as he saw the bulk of his financial resources disappearing into the church coffers.
To further complicate matters, the church treasurer failed to give him an honorarium for his services that evening.
On the way home he told Ruth what had happened. Instead of sympathizing, she said, “And just think—the Lord will give you credit for only one dollar—because that’s all you meant to give.”
Live Worthy of the Calling, to Which You Have Been Called. It's not the size of the gift that is at the heart of things. It's the size of the heart of the giver that matters. That's why your gift is important. Over the years, many improvements have been made to the property of St Matthews and many ministries both here and abroad have been funded and supported. No one person gave enough to build the structure as we worship within its walls this morning. No one person sustained the ministry and mission for our 162 years and still counting. Nor did 2 or 3 or even 10. It took many gifts, across many years. It took both large gifts and small gifts. And it took all the Tools in the Toolbox. So never think that your little bit doesn’t matter or isn’t enough. It's not the size of the gift that is at the heart of things. It's the size of the heart of the giver that matters.
Our giving takes many forms and I don’t want to diminish the importance of any of the ministries that we may individually and corporately support. The Bible laid the foundation for our Vision, which gave us Hope and Faith enough to say “Yes” to God's Vision when then enabled us to empower that Vision through our Giving.
Live Worthy of the Calling, to Which You Have Been Called. Some time ago, I read the following written by pastor and author Stu Weber:
"My youngest son is the third of three boys. The first two are high powered; the third is not any less high powered, but he’s the third out of three. By the time you’ve had a brother who’s All-Conference this and another brother who’s All-Conference that, there’s not much left for you to do.
As a Father, I worried about our caboose. He’s the most sensitive of the three. To encourage him, I spent a lot of time with him in the outdoors—camping, hunting, fishing. Anybody who has spent time in the outdoors knows that a pocketknife is essential gear—the man with the best blade gets the job done. So, whenever you’re setting up camp, you’re always looking for the knife.
My son Ryan had a pocketknife that became his identity. His older brothers always had to ask him to use the knife as we were setting up camp. That became his status in the tribe. He was the man with the blade.

My birthday came around one year, and my family was planning a party for me. Earlier in the afternoon my youngest walked into my office at home where I was studying. At first I didn’t hear him; I felt him—I could sense his presence—and I turned around. He had chosen this moment because he wanted to give me a birthday present, but not at the birthday party. He wanted it to be just him and me. He handed me a present, and I opened it—it was his knife."
Live Worthy of the Calling, to Which You Have Been Called. When we want to express our love for God, we also delight in giving him what is most important to us. But God took the initiative in giving to us that which was most important to him: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth...”
And we can celebrate and commemorate that giving as we remember this morning the words of that Son, Jesus the Christ, “This do in remembrance of me.”

This is the Word of the Lord for Today; Amen and Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

7-26-09 "Whose Eyes?"

Preaching Text: John 6:1-21; Ephesians 3:14-21; Psalm 14

I want to begin this morning with two stories that at first may not seem connected but as you'll see, they really are.

One night a woman found her husband standing over their baby’s crib. Silently she watched him. As he stood looking down at the sleeping infant, she saw on his face a mixture of emotions: disbelief, doubt, delight, amazement, enchantment, skepticism. Touched by this uncharacteristic display and the deep emotions it aroused, with eyes glistening, she slipped her arm around her husband.

“A penny for your thoughts?” she inquired.

“It’s amazing!” he replied. “I will never understand how anyone can make a crib like that for under $100.00!”

And then there's the story about the young boy who came into Sunday school late. The boy's teacher knew he was usually very prompt and asked him if anything was wrong. The boy replied no, that he had planned on going fishing but his dad told him that he needed to go to church. The teacher was very impressed and asked the boy if his father had explained to him why it was more important to go to church than to go fishing. To which the boy replied, “Yeah, he did. Dad said he didn't have enough bait for the both of us.”

Why those two stories? Well, if you notice, they both have something in common. Like most jokes, and like most aspects of life, it all depends on whose eyes you are looking through. Well, it's the same in today's Scripture from John. John fills in those verses that were not included in last week’s Gospel reading from Mark. John fills in the gap, so to speak, with the stories of the feeding of the 5000, and Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm.

Mark puts those incidents in that portion of his Gospel we recognize as the 6th chapter to emphasize Jesus' prayer life and the busyness of His ministry. John, on the other hand, includes them here for a completely different reason. John wants us to really begin to see the difference between Jesus and the Disciples: between Jesus and the rest of us. John wants us to look at the world, the problems and blessings of life, and each other through the eyes of Jesus. Let's take another look at these events and attempt to view them through the eyes of each of the participants.

I. First, let's look at the episode of the loaves and fishes. Jesus and the Disciples had been followed across the lake. People came from all over not only to hear Jesus preach but to bring their sick as well. Jesus had spent all day teaching and healing and it was getting close to nightfall. Everyone was hungry. Unfortunately, they were in a deserted place, a lonely place. There was certainly no Corner Cafe; nor was there a Perkins, an Appleby’s, or even a McDonalds. There wasn’t even so much as a Quik Trip. There was nothing. Nada. Zip. It was already late in the day. And by the time the people gathered all their stuff and made their way into town, most, if not all, of the businesses where they might purchase sustenance would be closed.

Then Jesus says to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” And then in verse 6 John says, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Philip looked at the crowd, and if we had been there, I’m sure the look on his face would have said it all. There was no way they could stretch the budget to cover dinner for this many people.

Indeed that is precisely how Philip responds: “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite.” Not only Philip, but the other Disciples as well, knew they didn't have a prayer of being able to feed all these folks. Not even if they all gave up several month's earnings.

Andrew, even though he was just as befuddled as the rest, did remember a small boy with a sack lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish, who had offered to share.

And that's where they stood. The crowd was hungry. The Disciples were befuddled and feeling hopeless. A little boy was ready to eat. Jesus looked at the generosity of that boy and just smiled. Jesus looked at that lunch of bread and fish and the smile got bigger. Why?

Well, if you look through the eyes of the boy and his mother, those loaves and fishes were just another sack lunch - enough food for a day's outing or a day's journey. Two loaves and a fish for lunch, two loaves and a fish for supper, and one loaf to snack on or to share. It was the type of provision she would have prepared on all such occasions.

The Disciples looked at the crowd and then at the loaves and fishes and decided that boy's lunch wasn't even enough to mess with. There was barely enough there for one, let alone the 5,000. Instead of being moved by the generosity of the boy, the disparity between the food and crowd brought them to near panic.

But Jesus smiled, because when he looked at the five loaves and two fish, he realized it was just enough for the making of a miracle of Biblical proportions. Through the generosity of a young boy and the eyesight of our Savior, 5,000 were fed that day. And twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered.

The crowds were simply hungry and saw that they had nothing; and they were expecting nothing. The boy saw his own lunch and an opportunity to share. The Disciples saw the impossible. Jesus saw the makings of a miracle. You see, what you see all depends on “Whose Eyes” you are looking through.

II. Second, consider the episode of Jesus walking on the water in the middle of a storm. In this scene we see Jesus slipping off by Himself because of the crowds reaction to the miracle. He didn't want the acclaim they were going to give Him. The sun had set. Folks were beginning to go home or to settle down and set up campsites for the night.

Jesus was gone, so the Disciples decide it was time to leave, too. They all jumped in the boat to head back across the Sea of Galilee. But they didn't make it. About half way there, the sea started to get rough; really rough. And before they could do much of anything, they found themselves smack dab in the middle of a life-threatening storm. The panic they had so recently felt in trying to feed those 5,000 was nothing compared to the panic they were experiencing now.

If the storm wasn't bad enough, right in the midst of all their paddling and bailing, they looked up to see what they thought was a ghost walking across the water. The wind was blowing and the waves were crashing around this apparition as if it were nothing more than a hologram, a specter or a ghost. The figure seemed totally unconcerned. At least until it heard the cries of the Disciples as they struggled to keep their fishing boat from going down.

Here was a double terror: a horrific storm at sea that was terrorizing even to the most experienced sailors on board that was now compounded by the sight of a ghost walking on the water and bearing down on them. To say they were terrified is an understatement of monumental proportions. What person in their right mind would not have been frightened beyond description? I’m sure we would have been, too, but not Jesus.

If you look through the eyes of the people who lived around the Sea of Galilee, it was simply a source of fresh water and something they had to go around or across to get to the communities on the other side. For some of the Disciples, the Sea of Galilee was the site of their livelihood. The sea fed and clothed them. It was their friend, harsh at times, but still their friend. For others of the Disciples, it was more like the subway or mass transit. It was a means to get away from the crowds and a way to get to the other side.

The storm was both friend and foe. Most of the time, the storms and the rain they brought were seen as a blessing; unless, of course, you were camping outside like many of those 5,000. Or unless you were like the Disciples and caught in the middle of it on a boat you're not sure you know how to handle. For Peter, James, John and Andrew, this was probably something they had faced many times before. But they had eight other inexperienced crewmen who had probably never faced a storm like this. So, the storm filled them with fear. And then along comes Jesus and proceeds to scare the wits out of all of them.

You see, while the people and the Disciples all thought of the lake as something to cross or go around, He thought it was the perfect place for a midnight stroll. Jesus had been trying to get away by Himself to pray and refuel with God. But on this particular occasion, even the lonely and deserted places were crowded. Jesus knew there wouldn't be anybody following him out onto the lake, so He decided to take a stroll on the water. Perhaps it was because He was so deep in thought and prayer that He apparently didn't even notice the storm until He began to hear the cries of struggle from His Disciples. The Disciples viewed the storm as something life threatening and something to fear. Jesus viewed the storm as an opportunity to show the power of God and to teach the Disciples about faith. And with one word, Jesus calmed the storm.

III. So, Third, what does any of this have to do with us? Well, I think it's a lesson about life. Because all of life depends on through “Whose Eyes” you look at it.

As I pondered that proposition, I remembered a little item that crossed my desk a while back entitled, “Through Children’s Eyes.”

"When I look at a patch of dandelions, I see a bunch of weeds that a trying to take over my yard. My kids see flowers for Mom and blowing white stuff you can wish on.

When I see a mud puddle, I step around it. I see muddy clothing and dirty carpets.
My kids see dams to build, rivers to cross and worms to play with. They see an opportunity and they sit in it.

When I feel wind on my face, I brace myself against it. I feel it messing up my hair and pulling me back when I walk. My kids close their eyes, spread their arms and fly with it, until they fall to the ground laughing.

When I hear music I like, I become self-conscious about my lack of rhythm and the way I might sound; so I sit quietly and simply listen. My kids feel the beat and move with it. They sing out the words, and if they don’t know them, they make up their own.

When I see a poorly dressed or unkempt stranger who smiles at me, I see a possible derelict who probably only wants money and I look away. My kids see only a person who is smiling at them, and they smile back.

When I pray, I say grant me this and give me that. My kids say, “Hi God! Thanks for my toys and my friends. Please keep the bad dreams away tonight, and if its not asking too much, I don’t really want to go to heaven just yet—I would miss my Mommy and Daddy."

It makes a lot of difference through whose eyes we view life every day we are on earth. Sometimes, as this recitation suggests, our vision is better as children and then as we grow we lose vision not only physically, but spiritually as well.
Too often, I see many of my opportunities for service to God, only in my rear view mirror. Why, I wonder, is my vision at times so faulty? In our Response this morning, the Psalmist reminds us, “The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:2-3) Simply stated, all of humankind’s best efforts, in the eyes of God, profit nothing. But, be that as it may, that is not God’s final word on the subject. His final word was delivered to humankind in the form of a cross and an empty tomb. God’s final word to us was Jesus.

There is an old story that speaks to this point, but the names of the individuals involved have been lost to history. The language may seem a bit archaic as well, but I will not change a word of it. Many years ago, in the City of Chicago, one cold, dark night, a blizzard was setting in. A little boy was selling newspapers on the corner as people passed in and out of the cold. The boy was so cold, however, that he had stopped even trying to sell papers. He walked up to a policeman and said, “Mister, you wouldn’t happen to know where a fellow could find a warm place to sleep tonight would you? You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner there, but it’s awfully cold tonight. Sure would be nice to have a warm place to stay.”

The policeman looked down at the little boy and said, “You go down the street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When someone comes to the door just say John 3:16 and they will let you in.”

So he did, he walked up the steps, knocked on the door and a lady answered. He looked up and said, “John 3:16.”

The lady smiled and said, “Come on in, Son.” She took him in and sat him down in a split bottom rocker in front of a great big old fireplace and she went off.
He sat there for a while, and thought to himself, “John 3:16, Boy, I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm.”

Soon she returned and asked him, “Are you hungry?”

He said, “Well, just a little. I haven’t eaten much the last couple days and I guess I could stand a little bit of food.”

The lady took him into the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn’t eat any more. Then he thought to himself, “John 3:16, Boy I don’t understand it but it sure makes a hungry boy full.”

Next came a huge bathtub filled with warm water followed by a big old feather bed where the lady tucked him in and told him to sleep well. As he lay there in the darkness and looked out the window watching the snow continue to fall on that bitterly cold night, again he thought, “John 3:16, Boy I don’t understand it but it sure makes a tired boy rested.”

In the morning, the lady returned and took him down to that same table full of food and that was followed by his being seated once more in that split bottom rocker in front of the same fireplace. Then the lady open her bible and asked the boy, “Do you understand John 3:16?”

He acknowledged that he did not and the story goes that she then began to explain with joy and enthusiasm John 3:16 and this same Jesus. The surest way for anyone to learn about Jesus is when his disciples share through word and deed the good news that is within us.

It would not be wrong to say that this unknown woman on a night long ago saw that young boy in the same way Jesus saw that young boy—and that made all the difference.

As Disciples of Jesus, we're still called to look at life through His eyes. We're called to see others with the same love and compassion with which Jesus views each of us. But is that really possible? In our Epistle reading for this morning the Apostle Paul affirms prayerfully that it is not only possible; it is essential. Listen again, Ephesians 3:16-19, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”


We're called to look at life's situations through the eyes of Jesus. And when we do, the scriptures promise it will indeed make all the difference in the world. And we will make a difference in the world.

A tiny but dignified elderly lady was among a group attending an art exhibition at a newly opened gallery. Suddenly one contemporary painting caught her eye.

“What on earth,” she inquired of the artist standing nearby, “is that supposed to be?”

He smiled condescendingly and responded, “That, my dear lady, is supposed to be a mother and her child.”

“Well, then,” snapped the little old lady, “why isn’t it?”

Maybe it’s appropriate to ask ourselves on occasion, if, as Christians, the world we are seeing is the one were supposed to be seeing and if not, “why isn’t it?”

You see, it really does matter whose eyes you look through. Whose eyes are you looking through? Does it seem that you see opportunities for service to God most clearly only after they have passed you by? Are there storms in your life that have you quivering in fear? Are there crowd-sized situations in your life for which you feel you have only the most meager of supplies? Is there a lake to cross or a ghost from your past haunting you?

Believe me, all of these can be changed. All of these can be used as opportunities to glorify God. You see, it all depends on “Whose Eyes” you look through. The solution is unchanged even after 2000 years: the eyes still have it and the eyes belong to Jesus.

This is the Word of the Lord for Today. Amen and Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

6-21-09 "Fear and Faith"

Preaching Text: Mark 4:35-41; I Samuel 17:32-49; II Cor 6:1-13

Richard C. Trench was Archbishop of Dublin at the end of the nineteenth century. In the last two years of his life he fought with great courage a progressive terminal illness, which left him increasingly paralyzed. On one occasion he was a guest of honor at the banquet of the Lord Mayor of London. He seemed to be growing more and more uncomfortable until someone asked if he felt well enough to continue. “It has come at last,” he murmured. “Complete paralysis of my lower left hand side. And yet with Christ as my companion, I shall endure it with courage.”

At this point the lady sitting next to him leaned across and gently said, “Your Grace, would it be any consolation to you to know that for the past quarter hour it is my leg which you have been pinching?”

Many people have been helped by the prayer of serenity, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” However, the prayer doesn’t go far enough in realizing that the Lord is with us in whatever our situation. And he may bring us deliverance out of the situation or grace within it.


As we join the scenario of our Gospel reading for today, by looking back at Mark 4:1, we find that as Jesus began to teach by parables, so many people gathered around him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee that “he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake.”

Now resuming beginning with v. 35, “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ ”

Of course, the four fishermen among them were familiar with storms on the sea. Northeast of the Sea of Galilee is the area we refer to today as the Golan Heights. It is in this mountainous terrain that sudden violent windstorms develop frequently and with little or no warning they can move rapidly out onto the Sea. And that is exactly what happened on this occasion.

The sea had been calm when they set out. But suddenly and without warning, a strong wind was buffeting the sail and waves were crashing over the side of the boat – “so that it was nearly swamped.”

This was one of those occasions that literally required, “all hands on deck.” Now naturally, we would expect Peter, Andrew, James and John – the four fishermen – to take charge and direct the others in trimming the sails, balancing the boat, bailing out water… Indeed, in a crisis like this, there was absolutely no room for a casual observer—preferring to just sit this one out was simply not an option. But, v. 38, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” Some people will sleep through anything! Jesus, of course, was thoroughly exhausted. His divinity was about to revealed, but here we see his humanity. It had been a heavy day of teaching, ministering, healing… The crowd was demanding. He needed a break – “Let us go over to the other side” (v. 35b).

Jesus also lived in full confidence in the Father’s purpose for his life. He had no sense of panic, even amid wind and waves. He also had practical confidence in his friends. With a sea-worthy boat and a good skipper – no problem!
But even the seasoned fishermen were scared in this storm! It looked beyond their skill and boat to stay afloat! “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Fear and Faith

The outcome was that Jesus commanded the wind to be quiet and the waves to be still – literally, v. 39, “he rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

Following this dramatic action by Jesus, we might well have expected to read that the situation quickly returned to normal. But, look now to v. 40, “He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ Striking, isn’t it? The storm is past but they are still afraid—far beyond afraid, actually—look at v. 41, “They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.’”

Fear and faith… We customarily think of doubt and unbelief as the primary factors that keep people from faith. But a close examination of our Gospel text for this morning reveals that, perhaps more often than we realize, it is “fear” preventing faith. But the fear seen here in relation to faith is quite different than how we might normally envision it. Because there is, of course, a healthy fear that keeps us alive and well. It moves us into action and sends us in prayer to God. That is a fear, which goes hand-in-hand with faith. Proverbs 1:7, reminds us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” That is a statement about faith and the life of faith—about God and our need to relate to him.

But the fear of the disciples in the storm was an unbelieving fear – Jesus doesn’t care about us! At the end of the story they were filled with the fear of uncertainty—we are Jesus’ disciples, but who is he really and how can we relate to him?

And here, then, is the reason for the response Jesus makes, not only to those disciples, but also, to all of us as well. Because here were the disciples in total disarray, their fragile faith pushed aside by this paralyzing fear of uncertainty and disbelief.

We need to understand that genuine faith in God doesn’t ever mean we do nothing! It is highly unlikely that we will ever be asked to take up our slingshots and go one on one with a giant, but true faith will move us to use our skills – and our bailing buckets!

This incident from our Gospel reading for this morning brings to mind another storm as recorded in the Scriptures. In the 27th Chapter of Acts, Luke records all that transpires as Paul is being taken as a prisoner to Rome. This journey, you may remember, becomes necessary when Paul asserts his rights as a Roman citizen. In any event, as the sea journey progresses, they find themselves caught in a storm so violent and persistent that Luke writes, v. 20, “we finally gave up all hope of being saved.” Then one bleak morning Paul comes out and says (v. 22-25), “But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me” (v. 22-25).

Paul’s faith in God was always complemented by fear—but fear only in the sense of reverence—a relational reverence of love and trust that always resulted in action. Paul was trusting in the God, “whose I am and whom I serve,” as he puts it, So, he then adds, all of us can take heart – all of us will be safe. But we do need the sailors to stay on board (v. 31). And we need to eat food if we are going to survive (v. 34). That is the kind of faith that Jesus saw lacking in the disciples as they were consumed by the paralyzing fear of doubt even after the storm had ended.

Living by Faith

This old story has many forms, but it helps make the point. A family was on vacation in an isolated cabin in the woods. There was no electricity and no running water. The only gas was from a camping stove. At bedtime, the young daughter was extremely brave about going upstairs with her mother by the light of a candle. But a puff of wind blew the candle out, leaving them in total darkness. Now, the little girl was afraid. But the mother sought to reassure her saying, “I’ll go back downstairs to get the matches, but don’t be afraid – Jesus is here with you.”

“But Mommy,” replied the daughter, “Why don’t you stay here and just send Jesus for the matches?”

Now fear isn’t entirely a negative. It is a normal healthy protective response but one which, without faith, can overwhelm us to the point that our ability to act is paralyzed. Yet, as we have noted, there is a healthy “fear of God”.

Martin Luther once said, “Being afraid of God is different from fearing God. The fear of God is a fruit of love, but being afraid of him is the seed of hatred. Therefore we should not be afraid of God but should fear him, so that we do not hate him whom we should love.”

It is obvious that Luther is drawing a distinction between fear as in a sense of awe or reverence and the idea of being afraid. Used in the first sense it is indeed conducive to love but in the second sense it inspires only hatred or loathing. Perhaps when Luther penned those words, he was recalling the words of the apostle recorded in I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

I do not understand why anyone would ever choose unbelieving fear over faith. Why would anyone reject God’s gift of eternal life when the price has already been paid? The promise is clear—Jesus offers to see us safely across to the other side.
Have you ever feared driving over a high bridge? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, some people are so afraid of such bridges they will drive hours out of their way just to avoid them. Others try to cross but have a panic attack in the middle of a bridge and can’t go on; they block traffic.

But there is a solution to this problem, consider this from the Ludington Michigan Daily News, 3/6/1997:
Call it the Big Mac attack. For motorists too fearful of having to drive five miles hundreds of feet above the Straits of Mackinac, employees with the Mackinac Bridge Authority will drive their vehicles across the span for them.
The bridge authority has offered its Timid Driver Program since the bridge spanning Michigan’s two peninsulas opened in 1957.
Last year [1996] 1,027 drivers took the authority up on its offer, the Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday. “They try to apologize,” operations manager Chum Frazier said, “but we say, ‘you’re not the only one!’”

Timid southbound drivers can ask for an escort at the toll booth, while northbound drivers can call from a courtesy phone. Security or maintenance workers drive the vehicle across the bridge for them.
Requests for escorts haven’t increased since Sunday, when a Macomb County man died after his Ford Bronco plunged from the bridge, nor did they increase after a Royal Oak woman died when her Yugo plummeted from the bridge in 1989, Frazier said.
Frazier said that after providing 100 escorts himself during 25 years with the authority, he still doesn’t know why crossing the bridge frightens some people. “Some are so scared they feel like if they can grab hold of you, then you’re their security,” he said.

A behavioral expert said most people are at least a little anxious about crossing the Mackinac Bridge. “The sound of your tires on the metal grating is unusual,” said Dr. Joseph Himle of the University of Michigan’s Anxiety Disorders program. “And it’s so high and so long. And most of us don’t have the opportunity to get used to it, since we only cross it twice a year.”
Himle treats people fearful of crossing bridges by having them drive repeatedly across short bridges, then gradually longer ones. He said that works for about 3 of every 4 patients.

Ruthie Visnow of St. Ignace lives within sight of the bridge. Her husband is a bridge maintenance worker, and her grandfather was former U.S. Senator Prentiss Brown, first chairman of the Mackinaw Bridge Authority. But she told the Free Press she rarely can bring herself to cross it. “I miss a lot of things because of it,” she said. “I missed most of my son’s away games in high school athletics. I can’t make myself go. I drive down there sometimes and can’t go across.”

Indeed, there are those times in life when the threat seems so vast or so high that we fear to continue. Illness, economic hardship, political unrest, family strife, the list is seemingly endless. But suppose you had a friend who could guarantee to get you through no matter what the threat. The disciples had such a friend right there in the boat, but yet they didn’t understand.

We need never be likewise confused, because we know the end of the story. We have that friend to see us safely across no matter what—that’s the heart and soul of faith in Christ.

The Scriptures tell us over and over that we are to live by faith and not by fear. That’s what “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;” is really all about. When we understand the Father’s great love for us even while we were yet sinners, when we acknowledge the Son, Jesus Christ, as our Lord and Savior, when we open our lives and hearts to daily fellowship with the Holy Spirit … nothing in life should ever lead us to be “terrified”. Thus are we called to live by faith and not by fear. But what does that mean in the practical realities of our daily living?

Living by faith means that at the center of our being there is the confident knowledge that God has loved us, redeemed us and welcomed us into his family. In repentance we find forgiveness and the assurance that we are his children and we can depend on his promises.

Living by faith means that we are depending on all the resources that God makes available to his children. He has promised to be with us. His grace is going to be sufficient for us. His Word will guide us. His Spirit will be within us with enabling power.

Living by faith means that, while we may not know the details of life, we are sure of the outcome. We rightly make our plans. Yet, finally, it is not for us to know all the details. We can very much want a particular outcome, but our trust is in God, no matter what.

In our Epistle for this morning, Paul again provides some graphic insights into what real faith may genuinely require. II Cor 6:4-8, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;”

I don’t know, if Paul’s experience is any indicator, maybe you will need that slingshot after all. In any event, while bridges aren’t the only things causing fear in people’s hearts, in any terrifying situation the quickest way to overcome the paralysis of fear is to do like those motorists—turn the wheel over to someone else. Turn the situation over to God and then trust him. In life, you have to cross that bridge, but the assurance is; you need never do it alone.

Who is this Jesus, that even the wind and the waves obey him? Revelation 5:12 answers with this, He is the very Son of God who is “worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Let us never live in fear, but always by faith in him — Christ Jesus, our Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord for Today; Amen and Amen.