Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Several years ago the actors William Holden and Natalie Wood were killed in alcohol related accidents. A drunk William Holden fell and hit his head on the side of a table. Natalie Wood drowned when she fell from her Yacht. A close friend and fellow actress, Stephanie Powers, commented on the accidents with these words, “Two of my best friends are gone; how can a God who is supposed to be kind and loving allow this to happen?”
We need to remember that, while life and life’s circumstances seem to bully us, that God is not a bully. God does not wish pain and suffering on us and it’s wrong to saddle God with it. Jesus was there with His disciples during the storm. I know that I would rather be in a storm with Jesus than spend the rest of my life in the calm without Him. What about you? Think about it.
Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)
1 "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.
This Sunday is the last in our, Half-Truths: Things the Bible Doesn’t Say, Series. We’ve learned that cliches and sayings like “everything happens for a reason, God helps those who help themselves,” and “God won’t give you more that you can handle” are not in the Bible and are often loaded with dangerous levels of toxicity and untruth. We will end the series with, Love the sinner; hate the sin, a phrase that totally misrepresents (in my opinion) the heart of the Gospel of Jesus.
When we say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin,” what we are really saying is “I will love only those I want to love, and I will hate, despise, and cast out those people who do things I have decided are worse than the things I do myself. In this way I can feel better about myself while condemning others.” It makes us the arbiter of grace and forgiveness, a role God never intended for any of us.
Our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ is to love others. For that reason, I would suggest that when we are tempted to say, “Love the sinner; hate the sin” that we just stop at “love.” Think about it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NRSV)
No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Psalm 46:1-2 (NRSV)
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
In a world where 10,000-15,000 people a day are dying from COVID and the stability of individual families and countries are being rocked to their core, I find the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” particularly cruel and insensitive. Whenever I hear someone use the phrase my skin crawls as if someone has run his or her nails over a 1962 chalkboard. I realize it’s a phrase meant to comfort but I believe it does the opposite. It leaves the recipient feeling dismissed and dejected.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we need more than trite religious aphorisms and clumsy cliché’s. We need listening ears, warm hearts, and helping hands. We need the healing touch of a savior who understands our pain and loss. We need a compassionate and loving God who understands that we are bearing the weight of more than we can handle. Think about it and I hope you will join me for worship this Sunday when we will continue our sermon series on Half Truths: Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Years ago, ABC news anchor Peter Jennings interviewed a religious leader who shared his testimony. In the interview, the man shared with Jennings that he had first attended church as an adult and as he did, he expected dramatic things to happen. After visiting a congregation for several Sundays, he found himself becoming frustrated. After the service, he found an official-looking man and asked him, “When do they do it?” “Do what?” the man replied. “The stuff!” “What stuff?” “The stuff in the Bible.” “What do you mean?” “You know, multiplying loaves and fish, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind. That stuff.” “Oh, well…” the man answered apologetically, “we don’t do that. We believe in it, and we pray about it. But we don’t do it.”
On that Pentecost day in Jerusalem, the disciples may have been wondering, “When do we do the stuff?” After Jesus’ ascension, they might have been concerned about what they would do next. Or perhaps they were afraid that their best days were behind them. Yet, as they gathered together, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled as the group experienced the power and breath of the Holy Spirit in and among them. Before his death, Jesus told his disciples that they would not be alone, for he would send the Spirit to be with them. Accompanied by his Spirit, the disciples would later scatter throughout the world, devoting their lives to witness and service.
This week, we celebrate Pentecost, which we sometimes call the “birthday of the church.” We celebrate that the Holy Spirit equips and empowers us not necessarily to do “stuff,” but to engage in relationship with the Triune God and to express that faith and love in every aspect of our lives. The Holy Spirit equips us with gifts and abilities, advocates for us, comforts us, intercedes for us, and abides with us so that we are never outside of the presence of God. How have you experienced the presence, the power, and the peace of God’s Holy Spirit in your own life and in the congregation of FUMC?
I look forward to worshiping with you this Sunday, online and in person, as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In Christ’s Love,
Psalm 10:14, 17-18, 18:6, 16, 121:1-2 (NRSV)
But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. 17 O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
“God helps those who help themselves” is probably the most misquoted phrase in the English language. In a recent study by the Barna Group, a religious research and visionary company, they reported 75% of Christians say the phrase is “the central message of the Bible.” 75% of the population obviously doesn’t know their Bible very well because the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is NOT a part of the Biblical cannon. In fact, the phrase runs contrary to everything the Bible is trying to say.
Unfortunately, our American culture is saturated with the idea that whatever success we achieve in life is due to our own efforts. If we are not successful (by American standards) then we must be lazy. Thinking this way allows us to criticize those less fortunate, those who use food stamps, are on Medicaid, or maybe homeless. “God helps those who help themselves” creates a shell of callousness, insensitivity, and cruelty around our hearts.
Those who follow Jesus are called to see things differently. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, said that God initiates love and grace in our lives, even before we are born. God is not a cruel taskmaster who only steps in to help when we have shown enough resolve and perseverance to help ourselves. God is a God who is there in the midst of our shortcomings, failures, and sin. God is there when we help ourselves and when we are not able to help.
I like the analogy from Alexander Maclaren. In the analogy, he tells of a jar being lowered into the ocean. He says, “You can take a jar, lower it tightly capped into the deepest ocean, and when you draw it out again it will be as dry inside as though it had been in an oven.”
The point is that you can live your whole life surrounded by the ocean of God’s love but if you don’t open yourself up to that love, it will never fill your life. I would suggest that saying things like, “God helps those who help themselves,”keeps our jar (heart) sealed.
This Sunday we continue our series, Half Truths: Things the Bible Doesn’t Say. In the sermon, we will talk about the often-misquoted phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” and how we can reorder the words in such a way as to better represent God’s message of mercy, grace, and love to the world. See you online and in-person this Sunday. In the meantime, think about it!
1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (NRSV)
51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
A number of years ago, in another appointment, I received a phone call telling me that the daughter of one of my congregational members had burned to death in an automobile accident. The devastating news needed to be delivered to her mother. Forty-Five minutes later I stood at the front door of the mother, who had just buried her husband a few months before, hesitantly preparing to ring the door bell and deliver the bad news. After the initial shock, the question, “Why?” was repeated over and over again. I had no answers. The only comfort I could bring was a prayer and my presence.
So often in these kinds of situations—because we don’t know what to say—we say the wrong thing. We say things like, “it must have been God’s will,” or “everything happens for a reason.” As a pastor, I can find no reason why a vibrant young woman should die in a fiery car crash. Saying, “everything happens for a reason,” is not only cruel but theologically and Biblically misguided.
So why do bad things happen and can there be any good or meaning to come from them? I will attempt to answer these questions this Sunday as we begin our new series based on Adam Hamilton’s book, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say. You may purchase a copy of the book for $10 by calling the church office or stopping by the receptionists desk and purchasing you copy. I hope to see you in worship this Sunday and every Sunday during this series.
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Each year, when Spring finally arrives, we tend to get outside and work in our yards. We mow, prune, trim, and plant new flowers and vegetables. When those seeds, or seedlings, first go into the soil, they begin developing roots. Deeper and deeper into the ground they plunge, creating a network that will sustain the plant, providing nutrients and nourishment as it grows larger and begins to produce buds and/or fruit. There is a reason that the roots develop first. Without that network and support, the plant cannot flourish. In his teachings, Jesus uses a great deal of agricultural and gardening language. Here, in John’s Gospel, he invites us to consider God as the Master Gardener. “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower.” It is our connection to Jesus that sustains us, just as the roots sustain the plants in our gardens. Without being rooted in Christ, we will not find spiritual nourishment, nor will we bear fruit.
None of this happens in isolation. Just as branches cannot “go it alone,” neither can we. Jesus’ illustrations also make me think of the giant Sequoia trees which are known primarily for their great size, but which also have unique root systems. The roots of these great trees spread not only deep, but also far and wide. One single tree might have roots that reach over two hundred feet away. Within a grove of trees, all of the roots become interwoven and interconnected. So it is with the Body of Christ. Not only are we connected and rooted in our Lord, but we are also connected to one another.
As we prepare to worship together this Sunday, and hear this message of God the Vinegrower, consider:
- How deep are your roots? What has helped them to grow and to go deeper?
- How are you connected to the body of Christ?
- How are you abiding and connected to Jesus the True Vine?
In Christ’s Love,
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
In, The Shepherd, a book by the English writer Frederick Forsyth, there is a young R.A.F. Pilot who, in 1957, was stationed near a British air base in Germany. In the story, the pilot desperately wants to get home for Christmas. He wants to be with his family. His hopes are dashed when his commanding officer tells him that he will have to stand duty on Christmas day. Resigned to a lonely celebration, he is overjoyed when on Christmas Eve his C.O. tells him he is released from duty. He has permission to fly home to be with his family.
The young pilot wastes no time and quickly takes off in his single-seat Vampire fighter jet. Aloft, he heads toward the North Sea under a moonless sky. It is a short 400-mile-hop to his home in England. Ten minutes over the North Sea, trouble strikes as the plane’s electrical system fails knocking out the radio and most of his instrumentation.
His compass and standby compass also fail. He is alone and fighting a rising sense of panic. He has 80 minutes of fuel. He then remembers his training—in such emergencies, descend to a lower altitude, slow your airspeed and fly in a triangular pattern, two miles for each leg so those monitoring the radar will maybe spot you and send help. Will help come the young pilot wonders. He begins to pray to God, “Our Father, O lead me home!”
Suddenly, the pilot spots a dark object beneath him. It’s a plane. It dips its wings and signals for him to follow. The pilot leads him to the landing strip with a lighted runway. As the pilot gets into his landing pattern, the other plan banks and disappears into the night.
In aviation parlance, such a plane is known as a Shepherd. Safely on the ground and having made his report, the pilot heads for home. It is now Christmas morning and the pilot lifts his face to the sky and thanks God for the unknown Shepherd who found him and led him out of danger.
Interestingly, the story of the shepherd has been read nearly every Christmas Eve since 1979 in Canada on the CBC Radio One news program As It Happens.
Metaphorically speaking, we all face those dark nights with no moon when all systems have failed. In those times we need a shepherd. Christ is the shepherd. While the world seems to be pursuing us with negativity, mistrust, anger, loneliness, and pain, Jesus pursues us with mercy and grace. The good shepherd has a way of coming into the worst that can happen to guide us home. Think about it.
Frederick Forsyth, The Shepherd, (England, Hutchinson Publishers, 1975).
Luke 24:36-48 (NRSV)
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
I’m reminded of a story Frederick Buechner told in his book, The Clown in the Belfry. He wrote that a friend of his died in his sleep. He was 68-years-old. He died in March and Frederick and his wife visited his widow in May. During the night Buechner dreamed about his friend. He dreamed that he was standing in the bedroom in his navy-blue jersey and white slacks that he often wore. Buechner acknowledged that he was glad to see him. He then asked, “Are you really there, Dudley?” He answered that he was. Buechner’s friend then plucked a strand of wool from his jersey and tossed it to Buechner. He caught it between his thumb and forefinger. It seemed so real that it startled him awake.
He told his wife and the widow about the dream. His wife said that she saw a strand of wool like Buechner described on the carpet as she was getting dressed. She was sure it hadn’t been there the night before. Buechner immediately rushed upstairs to see for himself. Sure enough, there was the strand of wool that his friend had tossed him the night before. Buechner admitted that he didn’t know what to think but that he cherished it and believed that in some way, his friend was there.
In another book, Buechner says this about doubt:
Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.
I have been to Caesarea Philippi many times. It is the place where Jesus confronted Peter and some of the other disciples with a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples responded by saying, “Well, some people say John the Baptist, other Elijah, and still others say Jeremiah or maybe one of the other prophets.” Jesus then pressed them and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” A confident and bold Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
That is a faith statement. There are times when Peter and the other disciples doubted but their faith kept them focused on what they believed in their hearts. There are thousands and thousands of voices in this world, that given the opportunity, will create doubt in our hearts and minds. But I say to you that even in my moments of doubt, I am fully hitched to the belief that God reached down to the earth through his son. I believe that Jesus died for us and came back on the third day so we might know God fully today, tomorrow, and for years to come. That is my solid rock and all other ground is sinking sand. Think about it.
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
In 1974, the New York Times published the obituary of Fred Snodgrass with the headline, “Fred Snodgrass, 86, Dead; Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.” Snodgrass was playing center field for the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series. As the game was tied in the tenth inning, Snodgrass dropped a fly ball which led to his team losing the game and ultimately the series. There were sixty-two years of life in between the fateful error and his death; yet, history remembered him for a dropped baseball at the age of twenty-four.
Mr. Snodgrass reminds me of Thomas the disciple. Thomas is frequently remembered with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” His declaration that he needed to see and touch the resurrected Jesus in order to confirm the reports of his friends became a defining moment. Just as Fred Snodgrass was more than a baseball player (he was also a husband, father, grandfather, friend, banker, rancher, and mayor), so Thomas was more than a doubter. Thomas was a devoted follower of Jesus. He was inquisitive and honest. According to Christian tradition, he became a missionary and martyr.
As we read John’s account, we notice that Jesus does not reprimand Thomas for his questions. Jesus meets Thomas exactly where he is and invites him to see, touch, and believe. As we continue in the season of Easter, Thomas invites us to consider: Where have we encountered Jesus? How have we wrestled with our own questions of faith? What has helped us to confess Jesus as our Lord in the way that Thomas does?
I look forward to worshiping with you on Sunday as we continue to celebrate and worship our risen Lord.
In Christ’s love,
John 20:1-18 (NRSV)
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
I believe Mary was at the tomb on that first Easter morning because she had experienced the freeing and transformational love and forgiveness of Jesus in her life. Scripture tells us that Mary was the one for whom Jesus cast out the “seven demons.” I don’t know what Mary’s “Seven demons” were but Jesus brought them out of her life. We carry the burdens of guilt, anger, self-loathing, self-centeredness, hate, racism, sexism, and so many others with us. Only Christ can bring forgiveness and healing. Only Christ can love us with enough love to bring regeneration and spiritual wholeness into the dark corners of our existence.
One of my favorite stories comes from the Catholic Priest Anthony de Mello’s, The Song of the Bird. It is the story of a monk who finds a very precious stone and keeps it in his knapsack. One day he meets a traveler in need who asks the monk if he can share some of his provision with him. The monk opens his knapsack to share his food when his fingers find the stone. He takes the precious stone out of his knapsack and gives it to the traveler.
The traveler goes on his way, overjoyed with the unexpected gift of the valuable stone. However, a few days later, the traveler catches up with the monk again. When he finds him, he returns the stone, and makes a request, “Please give me something more precious than this stone. Please give me that which prompted you to give the stone to me.” We share something more valuable than any precious stone when we offer love and forgiveness to others.
An author that I have enjoyed over the years is a fellow named Donald Miller. He tells this story in his book, Blue Like Jazz:
A long time ago I went to a concert with my friend Rebecca…The tickets were twenty bucks, which is a lot to pay if you’re not on a date. Between songs, though, he told a story that helped me resolve some things about God. The story was about his friend who is a Navy SEAL. He told it like it was true, so I guess it was true, although it could have been a lie.
The folksinger said his friend was performing covert operations, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend’s team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room, the folksinger said, was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really American.
The SEALs stood there not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everyone out. One of the SEALs, the folksinger’s friend, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? He said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.
I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told. I liked the idea of Jesus becoming man, so that we would be able to trust Him, and I liked that He healed people and loved them and cared deeply about how people were feeling.
There was no stone big enough to contain the love of God in Jesus Christ. There is no hole deep enough or death strong enough to keep us away from Christ’s love. Our decision, like Mary’s and the hostages, is will we follow our rescuer? Think about it.
Mark 11:1-11 (NRSV)
1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, "What are you doing, untying the colt?" 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
My innate curiosity causes me to wonder why the owner of a donkey would let a group of strangers requisition what was probably his most valuable asset. Why did he turn his donkey over to the disciples? Were arrangements made ahead of time? Did Jesus and the owner of the Donkey know each other? While these may be important questions for an inquisitive mind, I’m not sure they are the most important questions. What’s important from my perspective is that the Lord had a need and the owner of the donkey responded. That leaves me wondering; when the Lord has need of us, can we or are we willing to respond?
John Wesley, the founder of our denomination, is considered by many to be one of the leading scholars and theologians of his time. Wesley read eight languages, wrote some 440 books and pamphlets and had an intellectual curiosity far beyond most of his peers. Not everyone was impressed. One woman wrote to him, “Mr. Wesley, I have been instructed by the Lord to tell you that He has no need of your learning.” To which Wesley replied, “Madam, while I have no direct word from the Lord on this matter, I feel constrained to tell you that the Lord has no need of your ignorance, either!”
While Wesley’s response is a little strong for my liking, the truth is whether you consider yourself scholarly, uninformed, or just middle of the road, the Lord has need of you. Jesus needs a donkey. It is not the only time Jesus asks for something. Think about Zebedee when Jesus enlists his sons, James and John as disciples causing them to leave their father behind holding the nets, so to speak. Or consider the reaction of Peter’s wife when he comes home and announces that he is walking away from his work to go fishing with Jesus! Then, there is the young boy in the crowd of people at Galilee who loans his barley loaves and fishes to Jesus so He can feed the multitude.
I would suggest that Jesus is serving notice on you and me. He needs each of us. Will you respond? Think about it.
Galatians 5:16-17 (NRSV)
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
Humans are like a dog I used to have. The dog came from a litter of puppies my brother and I found in a barn located close to the parsonage in Haysville, North Carolina. We quickly recruited all the neighborhood children to help us find good homes for the orphaned puppies. After a day of knocking on doors, we found homes for all of them except for the runt of the litter. My brother and I took him home.
We named the puppy “Ha Cha,” the Quechan Indian name for “Dog.” The name suited our new puppy since he was nothing more than a Heinz variety mutt. After a year or two, the residents of Haysville started calling him “The Mayor.” Everyone in town knew Ha Cha. Every afternoon he made his rounds visiting the uptown businesses and a variety of homes, mostly places where he could get food.
Ha Cha was a scraper, a fighter. It wasn’t unusual for him to come home with a cut or scrap of some kind. His left ear was in two pieces as a result of it being torn or cut during one of his escapades. Ha Cha loved chasing cars. This left him with all kinds of battle scars including the eventual loss of part of the left ear that was previously torn in two.
Ha Cha was not a handsome dog. In fact, he was ugly. Ha Cha was homely but he wasn’t dumb. We trained him to roll over in order to receive his dinner. He became so skilled that when we called him for supper he would come running through the neighborhood, start rolling at the edge of the yard, and roll all the way up to the front steps landing on all four of his legs, panting for his food.
As hard as we tried, though, we could not stop Ha Cha from chasing cars. One day Ha Cha chased a Ford Mustang down the road after it passed our house. The front wheel caught him, pulling him under the car. As he rolled out from underneath the car, I figured he was on his way to dog heaven. But Ha Cha emerged landing on all fours just like at supper time. He took off yelping and crying. Later he appeared in our yard licking his wounds. It wasn’t long, though, before he was back to his old shenanigans—chasing cars, putting his life at risk.
If there was a twelve-step program for car chasing dogs, Ha Cha needed to be in it. Unfortunately, his lust for chasing cars caught up with him. When we moved from Haysville, we gave Ha Cha to a neighbor. The neighbor reported to us several months later that Ha Cha died after being run over by a car.
Ha Cha reminds me of our propensity to do those things over and over again that can harm our spirits and kill our souls. We desire those things that we know are harmful and yet we continue to seek them out like a dog chasing after a car. Lust—misdirected desire—is like being shackled to a lunatic. It is craving salt by a person who is dying of thirst. Lust confuses us into thinking that what we pursue is what we need.
What we pursue is, at least to some degree, an indication of what we desire. God wishes for us to desire him. God is always pursuing a relationship with us. So, are you following those things that will bring positive and healthy change in your life? Are you pursing God and God’s ways or are you like Ha Cha chasing every car that comes along thinking that will bring satisfaction and fulfillment to your life? Think about it.
Luke 12:13-21 (NRSV)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15 And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." 16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
The main character in Leo Tolstoy’s short story, How Much Land Does a Man Need, is a peasant farmer named, Pahom. Pahom often says to himself, “Busy as we are from childhood tilling mother earth, we peasants will always die as we are living with nothing of our own. If only we had our own land, it would be different.” By sacrificing, scraping together meager savings, and even hiring out his son as a laborer, Pahom and family manage to buy a 40-acre farm. Harvests are good, the family prospers, but Pahom is not content. He wants more land.
One day a stranger arrives in the village and tells of a distant country, where land can be acquired very cheaply. Pahom cashes in his assets and travels to the country where he learns that for 1000 rubles, he can purchase all the land he can walk around between sunrise and sunset. The procedure is simple: find a fixed starting point, deposit your money, walk out your boundaries, but by sundown you must return to the starting point or you forfeit the 1000 rubles.
Before daybreak the next morning Pahom is ready. He is taken to a broad, fertile plain where officials help him select a starting point. Pahom pays the rubles and begins walking toward the rising sun. But each time he reaches a point of return, he decides he can encompass more land and so he walks farther. At noonday he realizes he has taken in too much. “If only I had not wanted so much,” he moans. So, he makes a diagonal move and hurries back to the starting point. He increases his pace to a run as the sun slowly descends. He runs so hard that he is on the verge of collapse. He hears the officials shouting. summoning his last bit of strength, he sprints toward the starting point. As the final rays of sun disappear, he gives a cry and falls forward before the officials. “Ah, you’re a fine fellow,” they say. “You have gained much good land.” But Pahom cannot hear their comments, his heart has failed and he is dead. They dig a grave for him, six feet long and three feet wide and bury him. It was all the land he needed in the end.
The Greek word for greed, pleonexia, literally means: “The yearning to grasp more than is needed.” So how much is enough? Enough to feel successful? Enough to feel secure about the future? Enough to find recognition and status? How much is enough? Think about it.
Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
This story rocks me back on my heels. Out of the blue, the master calls his servants in and drops a huge amount money into their pockets. How much? Well, a talent according to some commentators is equal to over five years’ worth of wages. Get your calculator out and crunch the numbers. The first servant receives twenty-five years’ worth of wages and the second a decade’s worth. That’s a lot of money! What would you do if someone suddenly gave you twenty-five, ten, or even five years’ worth of wages? You certainly wouldn’t bury it in the ground!
And, yet, the Biblical scholar Eduard Schweizer says that the Jewish law of Jesus’ day reads, “Whoever immediately buries property entrusted to him is no longer liable because he has taken the safest course conceivable.” The one talent man is following the law. Why is the master so upset with the servant who buries his treasure? Why is he so angry? The servant is following the law.
Jesus often talks about those who give their money away (Zacchaeus) and those who give sacrificially (The widow’s mite). This is the only instance that I am aware of where Jesus encourages investment and profit. What’s the point? I believe Jesus is using exaggeration (Hyperbole) the Master is upset because the servant doesn’t do anything with what he is given. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where He will give the world the greatest gift it has ever received. What are we doing with the gift? Where are we investing our gifts, talents, passion? Will we buried them in the ground?
Let me try to make my point with this illustration: Many years ago a pastor from the U.S. was in northern Canada to preach at a friend’s church. He wanted to write a letter to his wife but he did not have any stamps. So, he walked down to the local post Canadian Post Office to buy some. When he put his money on the counter, the clerk refused to take it. “That is U.S. money,” the postal clerk said. “We only take Canadian money.” The pastor could not buy any stamps with the money in his pocket. He had not exchanged his money. The money he had was useless to him.
All of us will eventually move to a new country. It’s called heaven. The only way to take anything with us is to exchange it for something worthwhile before we leave. The question at this point is, where are you investing your God given resources? That is the question we are being asked in Jesus’ story. Are you using your gifts and resources for something that will last, something that will matter? Are you making a difference with what God has given you? Think about it.
For as pressing milk produces curds, and pressing the nose produces blood, so pressing anger produces strife.
There is an old story about a DIY catalog company who received the following letter from one of their customers:
I built a birdhouse according to your terrible plans, and not only is it much too big, but it keeps blowing out of the tree.
The firm sent their disgruntled customer a response:
We are sorry about the mix-up. We accidentally sent you a sailboat blueprint. But, if you think you are unhappy, you should read the letter from the guy who came in last at the yacht club regatta.
There are many things that cause us to become angry, especially if we believe that another party has wronged us or treated us unfairly. Like an unhappy customer, ongoing anger can lead us toward blame, delusion, and even destruction. As an old English proverb says: “Anger is often more hurtful than the injury that caused it.” Continuing to cling to anger prevents us from clinging to things like: compassion, kindness, patience, and forgiveness.
In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul invites us to release our grip on anger so that we be renewed in a way that reflects the One whom we follow.
As we respond to that invitation, let us consider: How does anger prevent us from reflecting the image of God within us? In what ways does it disrupt or distort our relationships with God and other people? How is God calling us beyond the hurtful behaviors that stem from anger? Let’s think about these questions as we embark upon week three of our 7 Deadly Sins series. I look forward to worshiping with you on Sunday via live stream.
In Christ’s Love,
Luke 22:24-27 (NRSV)
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
I remember, many years ago now, eating lunch with Taylor at her school during National School Lunch Week. Taylor was in the second grade at the time. We lined up with her class and walked to the cafeteria in a single file line to receive our tacos and burritos on school lunch plates sitting atop the brightly colored cafeteria trays. Beverly and I sat in tiny little chairs with our knees bumping the bottom of the tables. There's nothing like eating in an acoustically live room with a bunch of second and third graders!
After the meal, we lined up to dispose of our leftovers and trash. Paper products went into one can and leftover food went into another. We handed over our silverware and compartmentalized plate to be scrubbed, washed, and disinfected by a giant stainless steel commercial dishwasher. We then lined up single file again to be led back to the classroom where the parents were dismissed.
While standing in line one of Taylor's classmates looked at me and asked, "Are you Taylor's dad?" "Yes I am," I replied. "Were you there when Taylor got stitches in her knee?" (Taylor had fallen at a church choir picnic requiring stitches). "Did she cry?" "No she didn't," I said. "Did you buy her a present?" "Why do you ask?" I inquired. "Well, you're supposed to buy us presents when we're good."
And the disciples being envious of one another and desiring a position of power asked Jesus, "What is our award for being faithful disciples? Who among us will sit on your right and who will sit on the left?" Unfortunately, our lives are often shaped by envy and the expectation of reward. As disciples of Jesus, our lives are better shaped by wanting what we need—the grace of God in Jesus Christ. There is no joy or benefit in envy. As William Arthur Ward once said, "Blessed is he who has learned to admire but not envy, to follow but not imitate, to praise but not flatter, and to lead but not manipulate."
As Bishop Willimon says in his book, Sinning like a Christian, "Envy is the child of hate, by implication, to Envy our neighbors goods is not only to despise ourselves but also to despise God. To regard our lives as diminished, in comparison with our neighbor's life, is to despise the God who gave us our lives as they are. It is to say that God made a mistake in making us as we are, in giving us the gifts that we have been given, and by implication, in making our neighbor and giving our neighbor the gifts that have been given."
Be grateful for who you are as a child of God. Be grateful for your friends and neighbors and the gifts they have. Will you sell your soul to envy or fill your life with gratitude for all that God has done for you? Think about it.
Pride is the only disease that makes everyone sick but the one who has it.
Philippians 2:1-8 (NRSV)
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Leonard Sweet tells the following fable about a frog. It was getting cold in the autumn and Mr. Frog saw the geese flying south. He figured that the chill of the autumn days would be getting even chiller. Wouldn’t it be great to go south like the geese?
One day when two geese were resting alongside his pond, he said them, “I’d like to fly south with you.” They said, “Well, if you figure out a way we can get you south, we’d be happy to take you.” So he thought about it for a while. He scurried away and a few minutes later he came back with a very strong piece of cord, he said, “Now, if one of you holds this end in your beak and the other holds this end in yours, I’ll simply hold on in the middle with my mouth and then I can fly south with you.”
So they put the ends of the cord in their beaks, and the frog grabbed on in the middle with his mouth, and off they took southward. After a while he begin to feel the warm air. He was already looking forwarding to spending the winter months in a warmer climate.
After having flown a few hours, taken a rest and gotten hooked up again, they were flying low over a farmyard. A cow looked up and was amazed at what she saw when she observed the geese and frog flying overhead. “Whose genius idea was that?” She asked. In a moment of pride, the frog said, “It was mine!” Having let go to respond to the cow’s compliment, the frog fell from the sky and ended up being a green splat at the cow’s feet.
Pride is part of our inner self that always desires to be better than others. As someone has said, “It germinates in the swamps of comparison and competition.” As one of the seven deadly sins it is probably the root of the others—envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. Pride is the most seductive and ultimately the most harmful. Pride is holy halitosis. Like all bad breath, you’re generally the last person to know you have it until it is too late. Think about it.
2 kings 2:1-12
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
Some years ago, a family purchased a new satellite dish and several of their neighbors gathered to help them install it on the roof of their house. All together, the group only had the simplest of tools and were struggling to make any progress securing the dish until a new neighbor who had recently moved in down the street appeared with an elaborate tool box. He had everything they needed to install the new dish and ensure that it was secure. When the job was complete and the neighbors stood in the col-de-sac admiring their work, they spoke to their new neighbor, thanked him for his help, and inquired about his tool box. “What sort of things do you create with all of those fancy tools?” Looking at the group, he smiled and answered, “Friends, mostly.”
What makes a friend? What qualities do we find in our close friends? Within the body of Christ, we are called to community through what some writers call “holy friendship.” I invite you to reflect on the people who have made a significant impact on you, and on your spiritual journey, as we prepare to worship together on Sunday. We will focus on this passage from 2 Kings and consider what the prophets Elijah and Elisha might teach us about holy friendship.
This Sunday is also our annual United Methodist Women’s Sunday, a special day to highlight the ministries of the UMW both here at First United Methodist Church and throughout our global United Methodist connection. I look forward to worshiping with you at 8:45 and 11:00 via livestream.
In Christ’s love,
John 1:43-51 (NRSV)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49 Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
You may have heard the story about the fisherman who invited a business associate along on a fishing trip. The associate had never been fishing. After a lot of help, the associate finally got his line into the water. Both were sitting quietly in the boat when the novice asked a question. “What do you call the little round thing with the red and blue stripes that’s attached to the line?” “That’s a float.” Replied the fisherman. “And How much does a float cost?”asked the business associate. “Oh, that one cost about 20 cents,” replied the fisherman. “Well, I owe you 20 cents. Said the associate. “Mine just sank!”
I’m not a fisherman but I do know that when the float sinks that there might be a fish on the other end of the line. That’s about all I know about fishing. I don’t own a fishing pole, a hook, or a float.
Our text for this week tells us that Peter, James, John, and Andrew are fishermen. Because of my lack of fishing experience, my first response to these fellows leaving their nets to follow Jesus is, “So what!”
But then I remembered that to Peter, James, John, and Andrew, fishing was not a sport. It was the way they made a living. Fishing was more than just a Saturday afternoon outing with the gang, it was their life and lively hood!
It is really something that these four men left their nets to follow. “Follow me!” Jesus said. Their lives were changed forever. Jesus is still saying, “Follow me!” Jesus is calling you and me to follow. Think about it!
|Mark 1:1-18 (NRSV) |
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news." 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
The story is told of a Middle Eastern gang who robbed a caravan. One of the men received a pocket watch as his share of the loot. The man had never seen a watch. When he heard it ticking, he thought it was alive. When the watch stopped and it ceased to tick off the seconds, the man took it to the chief of the robbers and told him that the watch that once was alive was now dead. “It was not alive,” said the leader, laughing at the man’s ignorance. “Those things are made by special artisans who work in Damascus. You need to take it to one of them.” The robber sadly went away with the silent watch. As he sat on the ground playing with it, he accidentally turned the winder and the watch began to tick again. The man leaped to his feet with a shout of joy and ran to the chief. “I don’t care for your artisans in Damascus, what are they to me? I myself know how it works.” The bandit was so elated at having found how to wind the watch that he thought of himself as clever as its maker.
We live in a technically advance world and can do so many wonderous things. Then, along comes a virus to remind us that we still don’t know everything and are not in control. So what do we say about the God who “split open the heavens,” and said to His only Son, “with you, I am well pleased.”Martin Luther believed that we need to pause each and every day and remember that we are Baptized. We need to remember that we are created and loved by God who is the beginning and the end of life. Luther said that we need to constantly see ourselves as “Weak in faith, cold in love, and faint in hope,” which makes us hunger and thirst for God and prevents the self-righteousness that gets us in so much trouble.
We stay out of trouble when we remember, as Leonard Sweet says in his book The Jesus Prescription for a Healthy Life, that
The water is a symbol of chaos. Faith is learning that you are part of the sea that is God, a sea that is powerful, uncontrollable, always changing and always leading to new complexities. Faith is also trusting the God who created the waters, even giving ourselves to the waters in trust of the God who holds us and carries us. Faith is our ability to trust Christ with our lives as we trust the water with our bodies. The water will carry you. Christ will not let you down. It’ s easy to trust God too little. It is difficult to trust God too much.
So, remember your Baptism, be faithful, and trust God. Think about it.