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Lord Save Me! (Sermon August 10, 2014)

Matthew 14:22–33 (NRSV)

Jesus Walks on the Water

(Mk 6:45–52; Jn 6:15–21)

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Bazzi Rahib, Ilyas Basim Khuri (1684)

Bazzi Rahib, Ilyas Basim Khuri (1684)

28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

This has been a whirl wind of a week for many of us. For some the primary elections were adding stress to our lives, not just for those running but the issues that were included for many to consider. Then we hear the stories around the world: War in Israel, War in Ukraine, War in Iraq, Iraq extremist bringing a new reality of persecution into the minds of Christians, and our nation flirting with the concept of entering into a new Cold War with Russia. It is about enough to make anyone question the point of everything, because if you were to just watch the news you would think the world was on the verge of collapse. But we forget that that is the point of the news, they want to break the latest big news story and the one to be the first to break the news of the collapse of the world is the one that wins.

Truth in most cases has taken a back seat to perception. Ideas are planted in our minds and then those ideas are being constantly fed by endless cycles of ideas working us all into a frenzy. To be honest it has been extremely difficult for me personally to not get caught up in the frenzy of the day. I read stories on the internet that break my heart for the people of Iraq as their nation and communities that have been in existence for a millennia have been destroyed by people claiming to be the hand of God. It works me into a near state of rage when I hear what has been done to the women and children. The inhumanity of it all actually puzzles me. What could cause a person to treat another as if they were garbage? Then I had to step back and consider myself and my own attitudes for a bit. What is my response? Am I calling out for vengeance? And could I participate in something nudging the line of inhumanity?

I bring this up because I feel that often we get caught up in this whirlwind of media and we often forget that there are real humans on the other side of the controversy. Humans that are caught in their own whirlwinds of trouble that are not the same as ours but just as real to them.

Life is filled with troubles and whirlwinds. That is why this scene in the gospel message is so important. Just after the greatest miracle the disciples had ever seen Jesus send them out on the boat, and a storm begins to rage around them. I want us to first think of this scene as we reflect of this passage. The waves are crashing over the edge of the boat, the disciple are bailing water out as fast as it comes in with the constant threat of everything ending at any moment as they are trying to pull the oars through the water to bring them to safety. Their very lives are at risk and where is Jesus?

Can you identify with these disciples? Their promised messiah was supposed to come in and take away all their troubles. Reestablish them as a great nation, a nation flowing with milk and honey so they would not have to struggle and toil. They had eaten manna from heaven coming from the hands of their teacher and friend. Yet the waves are crashing in, they are soaked and their muscles and bones ache from the wind chilled air. They looked into the face of their salvation and now they stare into the face of death.

How often do we feel like we are on that boat? Feeling like everything we have worked and hoped for is on the brink of destruction and we ask ourselves, where is Jesus? Where is Jesus, when the world all around us seems to be falling apart? Where is Jesus when children are being killed and displaced by a war they know nothing about? Where is Jesus when nations are being ripped apart by political ideology and the people they claim to protect are being left to fend for themselves? Where is Jesus when your health dwindles and your finances are shot? The waves of life crash all around us threatening to engulf us as we struggle to make it to shore.

Where is Jesus? I imagine the disciples crying this very question out to the howling winds. Where is Jesus? The very question so many today scream out in desperation.  Jesus sent these guys out into that storm, while he dismissed the crowd and went to the mountaintop to pray. Jesus sent them out onto the sea to face the storm, He sent them out there to struggle. I want you to think about that for just a moment, Jesus did not remove them from the struggle.

Now let us go to the mountain with Jesus. Jesus had just performed a miracle that would get people talking. Five thousand families just ate a meal that began as a ration for a single individual, those that were in the crowd had an idea of the future beginning to form in their minds. Their troubles were going to be over they might think. God was going to provide for their every need. Imagine the excitement, imagine the struggle Jesus must have had dismissing that crowd. Also remember that Jesus is still mourning the loss of his cousin, which is why he was in this particular place to begin with.  Jesus was emotionally and spiritually drained, but He knew what he needed.

There are always going to be struggles threatening our well-being, how we respond to those struggles are what makes the biggest difference. Jesus had a rhythm to his life that we can recognize as we walk with him and his disciple through the pages of scripture. Jesus made it his custom to worship in the synagogue, he took time to praise and encourage the faithful in the worship of the one God. He also would withdraw to an isolated place to pray, spending time in a deeper more intimate setting where He could commune with His Father. He would then go out into the community to minister to the needs of the people, healing the sick and encouraging the marginalized of the culture that they were not forgotten by God. This rhythm of life, this life of discipline that Jesus shares with us is one that will give us strengthen in the storms of life, it will give us direction, and allows God to walk with us.

The disciples are struggling in the midst of the storm and where is Jesus? Jesus is participating in a holy lifestyle of constant communion with God. The disciples are struggling through in their own strength while Jesus calmly walks in confidence with God. The disciples are living in fear and self-preservation where Jesus is focused on the rhythm of life. Loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and loving and ministering to others.

The disciples are rowing for their lives as the wind is tossing them around the sea and Jesus calmly walks out to them. They scream in fear that death himself was walking to take them to their final resting place. Jesus calls out to them to, “take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Easy, right, just not be afraid as the waves are crashing all around you and someone is walking on water. This is an interesting image though. Waves crashing and Jesus calmly walking through the turmoil. Peter cries out to him, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Imagine the faith in that statement. Jesus grants Peter the command and Peter gets out of the boat. Imagine the confusion as the others watch this event unfold before them.

Peter with his eyes on Jesus walks out to him. The storm rages on but Peter walks. But the winds pick up and distract Peter from Jesus. His eyes once again move to the world and the chaos around him and he begins to sink. He takes a step, the wind picks up, the next step he descends a bit into the water but he takes another step as he looks around and again his foot goes deeper and deeper, slowly as he walks he descends until he is nearly under the raging surf and he cries out, “Lord Save ME!” The passage implies that he did not quickly sink but slowly, as his eyes were more and more distracted from Jesus he sank deeper.

Lord save me, Peter cries. He cries out because even in his lack of faith he knows that Jesus stands firm where others fail. Peter knows that Jesus has the strength and power to reach him before the waves overtake him. But still he doubted. He doubted that He could do what Jesus called him to do. He saw the waves around him raging on, and he doubted that if he was called to walk on the water that Jesus would provide the power for him to do so. But in the doubt he still believed that Jesus could provide the help he needed. Jesus reach out and caught Peter’s hand and they made it safely to the boat and the storm was silenced.

Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide the strength and power necessary for us to do what we are called to do? Do we doubt that Jesus is able to provide for us even though the storms rage all around us? Do we allow ourselves to be distracted by the waves instead of keeping our focus on Jesus? I so often sink beneath the waves. This is why it is so important to participate in meetings for worship. Because it is in worship that we are reminded and can help each other stay focused on the one that can accomplish through us what we are called to do. Worship is our time to encourage one another to look past the waves and whirlwinds of life and stay focused on the one that calms the raging seas. When we neglect meetings for worship we begin to sink, each step we take we slowly step deeper into the sea, deeper until we are nearly overtaken by the waves.

Worship encourages us, but prayer deepens our faith. It is in prayer that we converse with the divine and develop a relationship with the God who loves us. It is in the moments of prayer that we are inspired to take the step out of the boat into the chaotic world around us. It is in prayer that we learn and experience the grace and salvation of Christ, knowing that His hand will grab hold of ours when we need help.

And it is in ministry where we live the love of Christ with others. It is in our ministry where we become Jesus’ hands and feet for others. Lifting them out of the waves and into the calmness of the kingdom of heaven.

We often get distracted by the chaos around us. The politics of our nation distracts our attention from our callings to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world drowning in sin. The wars raging on our planet cause us to forget that Christ is the prince of peace. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, to become the instruments to bring the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. This is the full gospel, that God is all around here today as he will be tomorrow, and God lives in and through the lives of those that participate in that holy rhythm. It is through this rhythm that the miraculous happens, and we are able to see beyond the waves into the very eyes of God.

As we enter this time of holy expectancy, as we enter a time of communion and prayer with each other and God, let us imagine this seen through the eyes of the disciples as they struggle against the raging storm. Then let us look at the waves through the eyes of Jesus. What are the distractions that we have around us keeping us from experiencing the calm that Jesus wants for us? Let us look beyond those waves and step out of the boat and into the hand of Christ, who came to show us and give us Life more abundantly even as the chaotic storms rage around us. Let us become the people He has called us to be, a people Loving God, Embracing the holy spirit, and living the Love of Christ with Others. And let us become the hands and feet of Jesus that are willing to reach into the waves to pull friends to safety.

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Working the Soils (Sermon July 13, 2014)

Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23Sower on Stony Ground

There is something powerful about a story. Stories have a strange power that can transport us from one place and time in to a totally different universe. This is why so many of us enjoy a good book or movie, those stories take us from our living rooms and transport us to worlds far in the future, or deep into history. A good story often has a theme that encourages us in some way. There is usually an obstacle of some sort that the main character must overcome. Or there may be some sort of ethical issue in which the story teller is prompting us to consider through the facilities of imagination. This is why some of the greatest teaching Jesus has are not in the explanation of scriptures, but the seemingly entertaining metaphorical stories he tells.

The seeds, it is a story that we have each listened to so often that I wonder if we really listen to it any more. But imagine you had not heard it. You came to the seaside to listen to this traveling teacher and the crowd is so large that to be heard the teacher gets onto a boat and floats out a ways using the terrain as a natural amphitheater. You are anticipating the message you are about to hear, and you are hoping that you will be able to see a miracle.

Jesus looks out at the crowd and begins to speak. There was a farmer that was scattering seeds, the seeds fell in various different places. Some fell on the path where the birds came and ate them, others fell in rocky soil and grew rapidly but quickly withered. Some of the seeds fell among the weeds and were choked out and others fell on good soils and produced an abundance. Then he looks out at the crowd again, says “Let anyone with ears listen,” and he sits down in the boat. The teaching is over because he has now turned his attention away from the crowd and is focused only on his closest followers.

Consider that for a moment. That was the entire sermon that Jesus gave at that moment. No further explanation, no deeper discussion explaining the metaphors to the masses, He simply told a story and left it hanging there in the air. Concluding by saying “Let anyone with ears listen.”

Often we think a story is just entertaining and fun, but often the deepest and most meaningful expressions of faith come from the simplest stories. These simple stories of overcoming obstacles and finding a pathway through a struggle our culture yearns for from the deepest parts of their beings. This is something that humanity has always loved. The story of your life is one of the most powerful things this world has ever heard. The story of how you struggle and found hope even in the darkness, is often a balm for the wounded hearts attached to listening ears.

The sower and the seeds. For many of us is a simple story of a farmer, but in ancient times it was not as simple as we might think. Notice the first illustration that Jesus uses, “Some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” The words used in this phrase to a listening ear is packed full of spiritual imagery. Although some birds were used as symbols of grace, and used in temple worship, birds were often seen as robbers in the culture. When a farmer had an infestation of birds their livelihood was stolen from them. As Jesus explains later to his disciples, the path is a heart that has been hardened so even though grace and mercy is scattered over that heart the hearer of the words do not sense it. Quickly the minions of evil rob that person of the words of life before the grace even has a chance to germinate. To go a bit deep the phrase, “ate them up,” is a term that is also used for devour, exploit, or to take advantage of. If we were to consider that for a moment we get a very different picture of these hardened people.

A path is a place where foot traffic has compacted the soil. A hardened heart is a heart that has been exploited and used, it is a person that has been abused by its culture so long that it resists any and all mercy. We each know these types of people, when you talk to them they are immediately skeptical and pessimistic.

Jesus continues, “Other seeds fell on the rocky ground, where they did not have much soil…” Rocky soil is a soil of transition, it is either in the process of being trampled and packed or nurtured to become productive. There is something there that responds to the seeds of grace, but Jesus says the sun comes out and they wither because they have no root. These rocky hearts are extremely vulnerable. They often respond to encouragement but can also be quickly turned away. I fear for these types of individuals, because often they can get caught up in the emotionalism of a moment but when their life experiences do not meet their expectations they can quickly become hard.

For example I was in a conversation with a leader of another denomination, this particular leader made an observation that there was a great deal of turnover in leadership among their group and he was reaching out to other Christian leaders for advice. This particular group was one that based the majority of their teaching on excitement, emotions, and blessing. In this leader’s group they would have leaders rise and fall away within a couple of months, leaving him questioning why. Groups like this are vulnerable to the rocky soil believers, they get excited about ministry and life with God and as long as there is not any struggle in their life, they continue to participate, but as soon as they encounter a difficulty they question everything about their faith. They enter into pastoral leadership, but they run into financial difficulties and resign, they begin to lead bible studies but then they have marital struggles and suddenly they question if God even exists. Many of these people then become hardened to the gospel because they tried it once and it did not work, they tried God and He did not bless them and in many cases they left in worse shape than they began.

Jesus continues to speak about the seeds that fell among the thorns and were choked. These are lives that are filled with various worries and distractions. Lives that have so many demands on time and attention that there is no room for anything else. These people by in large are good people, these people if you were to ask them actually say that they believe in God, but they are just unable to grow in their faith because the soils of their life are filled with other things. Our culture by in large is filled with people like this. We are a busy people. We juggle multiple jobs and our family. We have debts that need repaid and mouths to feed, even when we have a few hours to relax we fill that time with things that are equally as demanding as everything else. We like the idea of God, but a relationship with God is just something that will have to wait.

Jesus is teaching to people that understand agriculture. Those listening to this story, if they themselves are not a farmer, know someone who is. They have each observed each of these sorts of situations. They experienced birds robbing them of crops by eating the seeds, they have seen plants quickly taking off and withering away as the temperature rises, and they have seen the weeds choke out the plants that they hoped would feed their families. They also know that the earth is constantly changing and that with proper and intentional care any field can become productive.

Often when we listen to this story we look at it from a position that all soils and all people will not or cannot change. That is not the case. Good soils can become bad and poor soils can become good if we work with them according to their specific needs. So we must then consider what we as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus should do to prepare lives for the seeds of grace? The goal of our efforts is to harvest of the planted seeds. We first keep that goal in mind, but we also have to recognize the situations around us. Jesus is saying to these listening ears in this simple story, that just like a farm a relationship with God takes a lot of work. This is the reason Jesus came to live among us, to show us how to tend the fields of life. It is through the life that has joined into the spiritual rhythm of Jesus’ example that we are able to tend the fields of our community. The rhythm of worship, prayer, and service are similar to the efforts a farm employs in the fields.

The work first begins in our own lives, because we cannot share with others what we ourselves do not possess. When we enter into the spiritual rhythm Jesus has shown, we remove the weeds as we learn through worship and prayer what areas of our own lives can be simplified, and as we simplify our lives we can then encourage others to simplify theirs as well. When we intentionally make time to pray we quickly recognize all the things that are making demands on our time, examine those demands and weed out the ones that are distracting us from the goal of a harvest.

We also may observe not only weeds but rocky areas that prevent deepening roots, things that may threaten our very faith. What do we do to remove these rocks? Rocky soils are everywhere on earth. Ireland is considered to be the Emerald Isle, but the field though rich were also filled with rocks left buried after the glaciers of the Ice age receded from the land. For the farmers in Ireland to use the land to grow crops they had to dig into the ground and pull these rocks out, and they would then carry them to the edge of the field and stack them up. Eventually they removed so many rocks they build walls between the fields, walls that have become monuments to the persistence and dedication of man to survive. In our lives rocks could be many things. They can be addictions or choices that we may not be able to overcome on our own. This is where the church is so important, because it is in the church where we find others that have had similar issues and are willing to help us dig and carry the stones to build monuments of grace. To remove the rocks from the soils of our community requires the Disciples of Christ to become vulnerable and open to others. We become willing to share the areas of life that we have struggled and are willing to help others if asked. It also requires us to be willing to ask for help when we see a need in our own lives.

Prayer and worship assist us in removing the weeds and the rocks of our lives, but it also opens our eyes to be able to see the areas of our community where the seeds of grace are being devoured by the wild birds of the evil one. In the spiritual rhythm Jesus taught and showed us that worship and prayer leads us into service and ministry to the ones least in the community. These are the people that have been exploited and trampled and are so hardened in life that they cannot even begin to contemplate God. But hard soils can be remedied. It requires us to get out into the community to constantly work the soil, using the gifts and tools that God has given us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and help cleanse the ones that are unable to help themselves. These are the ones that will despise us and persecute us but they do that because they have hardness in their hearts and the grace and love of God is being snatch away before they have a chance. To break through the hardest soils requires time and work. Breaking up the soil in to chunks and then letting water seep in, then as it dries up you work it again until you get just enough soil that the seeds of grace can begin to take root.

It is those hard areas God wants us to labor. These are the ones God is calling us to share our lives and our stories to. Those are the ones we invest our time into, and expend our gifts. Working back and forth, up and down, always laboring even if we never seem to see any results. Then suddenly after a while we may see little glimmers of hope, and little shoots emerging in the cracks.

Let anyone with ears listen. Each of us have areas of hardness and areas of goodness. There are areas in our lives where the seeds of grace rapidly take hold and wither away and areas where they yield much fruit. Let us not forget that there is always room to improve. Let us not neglect our own spiritual lives and allow the weeds to encroach on us and begin to choke out our life. And let us be willing to engage our community even though we may face persecution of various types. Working in those hard areas showing and living the love of Christ even among those whose lives have been trampled and exploited in various ways. Soils change, and Christ is calling us to labor in His fields. Getting into the fields to pull the weeds, dig out the rocks, and break down the hardened pathways.

As we enter into a time of open worship and communion as Friends, let us examine our lives and identify the rocks and weeds keeping us from enjoying the abundant life in Christ. Let us also be open to the Spirit’s leading and see where God may want us to focus our time and talents in the lives of the least in our community. Let us have ears to listen.

Fear or Peace? (Sermon June 22, 2014)

Scripture: Matthew 10:24-39

 

The past couple of weeks I have encouraged us to consider the future of the Church. At times I may have set some of us a bit on edge, but there is a reason for this. We live in a world of constant progress and change. This leaves each of us having to face the ever-changing culture around us and examine our faith and lives.

 

This is not exactly the most pleasant feeling. Just when we believe we have everything figured out something happens that causes us to question yet again. What in our current culture is causing this?

 

Today’s passage we meet Jesus speaking with His disciples as He is sending them out into to minister among the people. He is sending them out to minister to the people of Israel in a manner quite different than the people of faith are accustomed to. Jesus does not send His disciples to the righteous people of but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons. Sending them out without payment, taking no gold, silver, copper, bags, or tunics. This is not exactly the most common form of ministry during that day. But Israel had seen ministry like this before, during cultural shifts where something was about to change within the religious community that would change the future direction of the religious community. In each case these shifts had a prophet that began to minister, and in many cases only after the prophet lost their life did the religious see the value of their message.

 

Cultures shift there are technological advancements, that move into industrial advancements, bringing about economic advancements, that give way to a satisfied life, and then almost as suddenly as the good life hits there becomes a new challenge that causes us to question things. We have been faced with these sorts of challenges during the past few years. Technology has advanced rapidly, industries have developed around these technologies that have caused the economy and our standard of living to advance and then there is a correction that causes us to feel a pinch. These are cycles of life. But even when the recession was at its worst the changes to our society that the advancement had brought on still remain. If we are honest, there are luxuries that we have come to expect that many of us never considered doing without in the hardest times. Our culture as a whole still purchased Internet service the industry that drove the economy prior to the recession because we have come to see this not as a luxury but as a necessity. We still as a whole held on to our cell phones but many had allowed our landlines to go unused, again because our culture views that the wireless lifestyle is of greater value.

 

But there are some within our culture that were hit harder than other. Our culture advanced to the point that most employers only accept applications online, so those that lost their Internet connection became unemployable. And as they sunk deeper into the economic whirlpool they would eventually lose connection with the culture at large. There were some who were judged by the culture as being the cause of the problems and received harsher treatment and others received assistance. I do not wish to rehash the past decade of hardships but I mention this only to allow us to see that our culture is not the same as it was a decade ago, it is not the same as it was twenty or fifty years ago and to be honest we would not want to go back to those days because the comforts we enjoy have become too important to us.

 

Israel at this time was in one of those pivotal moments in history just as we are today. Jesus is sending his closest friends and his most dedicated students out into this volatile community where fingers a being pointed and blame is being place to minister. Sending them to minister to the ones left behind by the cultural mechanism that had left them behind. Jesus warns them that they will be faced with challenges that they may not expect but to stand firm in their faith and commitment to Him. “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…” Jesus says to them.

 

Jesus was causing trouble in an already troubled era, He was shining light onto the practices of the people that said one thing but often lived another. The leaders of the were threatened by His ministry because he was building up a following among those people that they would rather have left in obscurity and as a result they called him a servant of the devil.

 

Let us just sit there for a moment. The religious were calling the one we call Lord, king and master, Beelzebul or the lord of the flies. Why? It is difficult for us to even consider such words being spoken of Jesus because we hold His very name in high esteem. But I want us to consider how easily we use words against those around us that we do not agree.

 

We live in a time very similar to this. We live in a culture that seems to be split and people on either side are hurling insults or worse across the chasm, yet neither side is actually seeking to do anything of real value, and woe to anyone who might happen to have a view that does not completely hold to the party line. It is difficult to live in eras such as these because you are damned either way, unless there happens to be a different path all together to begin to tread.

 

Jesus sent his most devoted students out into the world to minister to those left behind in the culture, He sent them to preach the Gospel, to tell the people living among them that the Kingdom of God is near. They were to preach this in a place where for many, it seemed that God was nowhere to be found.

 

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” These words and those that follow are some of the hardest words to contemplate in all of the New Testament. What exactly is Jesus say? Is He saying that we must go forth proclaiming the Gospel with a sword in our hands beating the infidel into submission? In the past years I have actually heard this being proclaimed throughout the church in many ways, I have read articles demanding this just in the past week. But does this fit with the character of Jesus?

 

I have sat with this passage studied it and prayed with it over this week. Questions came to mind that were not really comfortable. What exactly is peace? What is the sword that Jesus speaks of when we know that Jesus eventually says those that live by the sword die by the sword? It leads us to even question the very point of why we have entrusted our lives to God in the first place. The answers to these questions shake what we know as church to the very core. Because to often we have come to believe that if we have faith our lives will be perfect. But Jesus is literally saying, “I have not come to bring that sort of life.” Peace is freedom from worry, harmony, tranquility, and in some cases welfare and health. These are the things that churches across our nation have been preaching for the past century. But that sort of peace is a selfish peace.

 

Jesus did not come to us to give us the good life, he came to restore and heal the relationship between God and His creation. This is where the sword comes in. Jesus is not speaking literally in this passage but figuratively. The sword is a representation of discord or unease, division and conflict. He is saying to His disciples if you move forward with me there will be trouble, but it will be worth it.

 

These men live in a nation that is divided between two major camps. On one side is the status quo those that control the temple. On the other stand the righteous the ones that say if you perform certain things correctly, God will give shower you with blessings. Each party works to grow their influence over the people, leaving many behind to suffer. Those that control the temple demand perfect sacrifices, and they will provide those for a price. Some offer a life of devotion that they will teach you for a price. Jesus comes in and gets between these parties offering something different freely. He speaks to the lame telling them their sins are forgiven and then tells them to walk. By doing so those in the two parties are left without influence, if he can forgive sin there is no need for the sacrifice or the devoted life to earn favor.

 

This does not bring peace but discord. He is turning the entire cultural perspective of faith upside down. He did not come to bring these two parties together but instead to render both useless. Why?

 

Both of these views use fear. They use fear to control the people for personal gain. They distort the truth of God to hold power over those around them. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is near. This means that God is in our midst all around us. Fear is a weakness of faith. Fear does not believe in God, but places faith in our own abilities. There is no love in fear, no light only darkness.

 

We live in a culture of fear. This fear is not only in the world, but churches across the nation promote fear. They fear Islam, they fear the loss of our way of life, and they fear the loss of control over the nation. The world fears because they have nothing else to rely on but themselves. The church should not fear because our faith is in someone that overcomes the world. But why then do we fear?

 

We fear because we have not been faithful to the one that preserves our souls and have chased after other gods. We have grown comfortable in our own abilities and have neglected the relationship with our God. We have become intoxicated with power over our culture and have neglected our calling. We fear because we know that we have not been good and faithful stewards of the gifts that God has given us. Our faith in Jesus is not bringing peace but the sword. We lash out at those around us casting blame on others instead of placing it where it should be. We have failed our nation because we have failed to love. But perfect love cast out all fears.

 

Jesus says, “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” Jesus is calling each of us to come out of the shadows of fear and to walk with Him into the light. To follow Him in His life and His lifestyle as we move forward into the chaotic world around us. To not worry about what others will say or do, because none of that worry will accomplish anything, but instead to teach that God is near each of us today and always. God will lift us out of those shadows and set us on a new course. We live in a new era; one where we have the ability to communicate and encourage in ways history could never have done before. Yet still we are called to minister right here in our community encouraging those people God has given us to walk along with as we become more like our teacher and master.

 

We are called to become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. That calling and that mission is not one dominated by fear, but one inspirited by relationship. That relationship is fueled by the spiritual rhythm of Jesus’ own life of worship, prayer, and service to others. If we are to walk in that path it will cause discord and discomfort for those that refuse, but it will also provide a peace that passes understanding. But we must first face our fears and ask ourselves whom do we believe? Do we believe in only in ourselves and our culture, or do we believe in God? Let us reflect on these as we enter into a time of prayerful contemplation and communion with God and each other in open worship.

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