Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tuesday Sermon: Advocates

If you ask anyone to tell you which holy days define the Christian Faith, people will generally say that it's Christmas and Easter.  These two days are, of course, both days that celebrate birth, but it is Easter that celebrates birth into eternity, as our exemplar, Jesus Christ, is the first to lead the way.  We are, what can be called, an Easter people.
          And in today's Gospel, we are told by Christ that He's leaving, but that He gives not as the world gives, in a way that is temporal, in a way that is fleeting, in a way that will fade.  He gives us peace, that which is beyond this world, that which is steadfast and will last forever.  And he will be going to the Father to advocate for us.
          Each time we say our Baptismal vows, we are reminded that we agree to advocate for Christ among the people here.  We have the peace Christ gives to us.  Think about that peace, that gift Christ gives.  Turn to Page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer, toward the bottom of the page.
          Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
People         I will, with God's help.
          Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People         I will, with God's help.
          Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People         I will, with God's help.
          Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People         I will, with God's help.
          Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People         I will, with God's help.
          Each of those statements provide us with active, action verbs – these aren't just words.  These are vows that exemplify that we are advocates for Christ here on Earth.  These are instructions on how we fulfill those baptismal vows. 
          And what does that look like?  Well, we have the first lesson this morning, where Paul was stoned, and left for dead.  The disciples came, surrounded him, and through Christ, healed him so that he got up, went to the city, grabbed Barnabas and started again.  We have an example of someone who never gives up; he just gets up and teaches the next day.  We have the example of the disciples, healing someone who has certainly been beaten down by the world.  And we have Barnabas who walks as a companion with Paul, ensuring that sometimes, there's strength in numbers. 
          Paul doesn't rail against the world here, but rather focuses on what's important – advocating for Christ.  In several of the translations of the Bible, there's a different connotation with the statement " I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me…"  If you hear, instead of "ruler", the word "prince", how does that change the meaning of this passage?  Christ has provided us with His peace, because the world is about to get ugly.  The prince of darkness has no power over Christ, and Christ has provided us with the peace that allows no worldly power over us.  But unless we step up, and fulfill our baptismal vows, provide those who don't know Christ with His peace, we are literally leaving them to languish under the rule of darkness. 
          The Psalm this morning speaks about the glory of God, about the kingdom which is everlasting, and about our own testimony, telling others of the glory of God.  "The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down."  In every vow of our Baptismal promises, we have God's help.  Our actions speak for us, advocate for Christ.  Listen for that voice of God that reminds us of the choice – in anything we do.  What is the best way to exemplify an Easter people, to draw people to Christ, and to teach them about the greatest gift He gave us?  Listen for that voice, and choose wisely.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sermon: Just as I have loved you...

          Peter said, "If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"  Peter recognized that limitations on God are entirely made of human hubris.  And yet, we often see people who decide to put words in God's mouth, or even more often limit other people by misrepresenting God's words.
          We know that in today's world, Christianity has spread far and wide, yet there are many who hear about Christ, and choose not to convert from their own religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, etc.  Given how divisive the over 40,000 sects of Christianity can be, is it any wonder that others may not be interested in joining a church that can't get it together?
          Christ said in today's Gospel as he was soon to be leaving, "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  Yet how often do we argue doctrine and tradition, putting words in God's mouth in order to create dogma?  Let's look at those words, and potentially figure out why it might be that others might not be so interested in joining us.
          Dogma is the definitive teaching of the church, meaning the entire body of Christ, which is to be believed by the members of the church.  The chief matters so approved in the church include the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which were defined by the first four general councils. Virtually all Anglicans recognize these councils as ecumenical and authoritative…  The judgments of these councils consequently rank as dogma.
          Christian doctrine is the rational exposition and illumination of the affirmations of the Christian faith as made, for example, in the Apostles' and Nicene creeds.  The difference here between doctrine, a teaching or instruction, is that it is not "officially" declared. 
          In Christian theology, tradition originally referred simply to that which had been handed down to the church from the prophets and the apostles concerning belief in God and God's redemptive work in Christ.  This was the oral tradition before everything became the authorized versions of the canon, authorized teachings of the councils, etc.  At the Reformation, most Protestant tradition became only that which could be found in scripture, or sola scriptura.  The Anglican church, as is our way, took a mediating position:  admitting the authority of traditions so long as they were not "repugnant [or contradictory] to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority." Anglicanism reflects balance in its devotion to scripture, tradition, and reason as sources of authority.
          So in these three words, we have dogma, that which the Church, as a whole, believes through the Word of God and through Faith; we have doctrine, which is where the various sects of Christianity believe; and we have tradition, which is how we practice what we believe. 
          Peter returned to Jerusalem, and immediately, the believers there began criticizing him, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"  Peter had to justify why he was eating with Gentiles, and eating unclean food.  For Peter, he didn't have dogma or tradition to back him up.  What he had was a message directly from God, sent to him three times with all sorts of animals, fish, fowl that descended to him in a sheet.  What he also had were the words of Christ, directly telling them, "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." 
          Jesus never differentiated between those like Him and those like the people He ate with, talked with, prayed with.  He loved every one of them as children of God, and He commanded us to love one another as He loves us. 
          Now, for us, this became dogma, since it is directly from the Scriptures.  There's no argument, no differentiation in loving one another.  He didn't say, love everyone, except those who worship differently than you, or those who follow different laws.  He didn't put in any qualifications.  There's a meme that's often seen out there saying, "Here's an idea:  You love them like I love you.  Make sure you take care of them and don't judge them.'  And some in the crowd asks, 'But what if they're gay or worship other gods?'  And Jesus responds, 'Did I stutter?'"  And yet, so often, we have allowed our traditions to get in the way, and forget that we have the words of Christ in how we should treat one another. 
          The following story appeared in the newsletter Our America;
          "Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about. Traveling alone in a truck with camper in tow, she launched out. One afternoon rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento in rush-hour traffic, a water pump blew on her truck. She was tired, exasperated, scared, and alone. In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping.
          "Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, 'Please God, send me an angel . . . preferably one with mechanical experience.'
          Within four minutes, a huge Harley drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard and tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck. Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.
          "The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: 'Hells Angels -- California'. As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, 'Thanks so much,' and carry on a brief conversation. Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, 'Don't judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you're talking to.' With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared."
          Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes into which we've relegated them."
          What would happen if all of us followed the commandment of Christ?  If we love one another as He loves us?
          "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
          'See, the tabernacle  of God is among mortals.
          He will dwell with them;
          they will be his people,
          and God himself will be with them;
          he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
          Death will be no more;
          mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
          for the first things have passed away.' 
And the one who was seated on the throne said, 'See, I am making all things new.'"

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Tuesday Sermon: Barnabas and Paul at Antioch

          Today's reading from Acts impacts the people down through history.  The first disciples of Christ became known as people who followed in Christ's footsteps, loving, healing and teaching people everywhere they went.  I am reminded of the Star Trek: Next Generation episode called Darmok – and anyone who's seen that episode knows immediately what I'm referring to.  Barnabas and Paul in Antioch were two disciples who were the first referred to as "Christians."
          But today, the question must be asked:  what is a Christian?  The basic answer that I was always taught was that a Christian is someone who believes Christ is the Son of God, who died for my sins and the sins of the whole world, that we should have eternal life.  That definition has apparently changed over the years, depending on who you ask.
          At its very base, the word Christian literally means a follower of Christ.  But as Christian sects began to arise, people began to discriminate between how people lived their lives as Christians and the methods by which they worship.  These days, the word Christian is often used as an adjective rather than a noun, and in today's political climate, it can often be used in a derogatory manner.  Before dismissing that concept, think about the difference between a Christian and a religion.  Think about our own actions, and ensure that you are following in Christ's footsteps.
          Oftentimes people will describe someone who is religious or has high moral values but who may or may not be a true follower of Jesus Christ as a Christian. Many people who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ consider themselves Christians simply because they go to church. But going to church, serving those less fortunate than you, or being a good person does not make you a Christian. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to a barn makes you a horse. Being a member of a church, attending services regularly, and giving to the work of the church does not make you a Christian.
          A Christian is a person who has put faith and trust in the person and Godhood of Jesus Christ, including His death on the cross as payment for sins and His resurrection on the third day. John 1:12 tells us, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The mark of a Christian is love for others and obedience to God’s Word (1 John 2:4, 10).  We believe that Christ gave us two sacraments – Baptism and Communion.  "Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.  The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family - the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit."  (Episcopal Catechism) A Christian is indeed a child of God, a part of God’s true family, and one who has been given new life in Jesus Christ. 
          Now generally, and we certainly hope it to be true, by truly being a Christian, our behavior, attitude and actions will reflect that we have chosen to be followers of Christ.  As I said in my last sermon, they will know we are Christians by our love.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sermon: They Will Know We Are Christians

          Our Gospel lesson this morning was pretty clear:  Asked, "If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep." 
          There is a song written in the 1960s called "We Are One in the Spirit", written by the late Fr. Peter Scholtes.  The refrain of that song states, "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."  This song was actually based on a saying that arose in the 2nd Century CE:  "Behold, how they love one another."  This concept has obviously been around a long time, but where did it come from?
          Aristides was an Athenian philosopher, who was given an assignment by the Emperor Hadrian to report back about the Christian sect that was rapidly growing and causing so many problems among the people with their worship of the One God.  His observations were recorded in what became his "Apology of Aristides", which became a defense of the Christian faith, and a statement of what became his own beliefs.  In his report to Hadrian, he described the Christian history and beliefs, stating:
"Now the Christians, O King…have the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself graven on their hearts, and they observe, looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. They commit neither adultery nor fornication; nor do they bear false witness. They do not deny a deposit, nor covet other men’s goods; they honor father and mother, and love their neighbors; they give right judgment; and they do not worship idols in the form of man. They do not unto others that which they should not have done unto themselves. They comfort such as wrong them, and make friends of them. They labor to do good to their enemies: … As for their servants or handmaids, or their children … they persuade them to become Christians for the love that they have towards them; and when they have become so, they call them without distinction “brethren.”
          They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. … If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him, as it were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God … And if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him.

Aristides concludes his report thus:
And I have no doubt that the world stands by reason of the intercession of Christians.  But all other nations are deceived and deceive themselves, rolling themselves before the elements of the world, according as the sight of their understanding is unwilling to pass them by.  Walking in darkness because they are unwilling to know the truth, they stagger against one another like drunken men and fall down.[1]

          The commandments from Christ state:  "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."  The reason I bring this up is because "love" is a verb; it's an action that reflects the emotion.  If the actions don't match up to the emotion, then it is a lie.  And if our own actions aren't matching up with the love of Christ that is to be known by others through our love, then it is up to us to change our own actions.  The thing is, while these are duties that we choose as Christians, these are blessings that Christ gives us to perform in joy.  If we see Christ in our brothers and sisters, then the commandment to love is one that allows us to show that love to Christ, every time.
          Richard Rohr, a globally recognized ecumenical teacher and Franciscan priest states: 
"Christianity is a lifestyle – a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving.  However, we made it into an established "religion" (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself.  One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one's "personal Lord and Savior" … The world has no time for such silliness anymore.  The suffering on Earth is too great."[2]

          "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish."  Jesus never once told us to worship him, or to argue over the right way to do it.  However, 24 times in the Gospel, Jesus says, "Follow me."  Our responsibility as baptized Christians is to follow in Jesus' footsteps, to love, in our actions, all of our neighbors, and to let people know that we are Christians by our love.

[1] A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337, pg. 59-62
[2] Adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sermon: Consequences

          As Anglo-Catholics, our church created what has been historically called the via media or the middle way.  We love traditional worship, but we also want to ensure that the words we say are meant with all our hearts, and not just memorized and said by rote.  At the same time, we believe that all people should be welcome in the Church, and that Christ's instruction to us is to love God and love our neighbors.  Not to judge others, as that's His job.  But one of the major differences between the Catholic and Protestant churches, is that we believe that grace is unearned, without justification, and given to us as the unmerited favor of God.  He gave His only Son that we should have eternal life.  That consequence is as a result of saying yes to God.
          Today's gospel lesson and reading from Acts, however, show that forgiveness is not something we earn, just as grace is not.  It is granted to us.  At the same time, however, consequences still happen.  For every action we take, we experience the consequences, both good and bad, and people have a tendency to start to doubt whether grace and forgiveness exists, particularly at times when life may suck.
          Peter, our beloved Rock, was actually forgiven for denying Christ three times before he ever did so.  Christ had told him that by the time the cock crowed, he would have denied Him three times:  being with Him, following Him and eventually knowing Him.  Christ forgave Peter ahead of time, even with the warning. 
          In today's gospel, Christ begins to allow Peter to experience his own consequences.  First, He asks him three times, do you love me?  When Peter assures him, even to the point of feeling hurt that Christ would repeatedly ask such a thing, he is given an instruction.  Feed my lambs, tend my sheep and feed my sheep.  Not only does Christ provide Peter the opportunity to acknowledge Him again, but He's giving Peter the consequence of once failing to believe, and now reaffirming his belief.  Christ is leaving His church to Peter to establish.  But He also gives him a warning that life is not going to be easy, and toward the end of his life, the people around him are going to lead him to what will eventually be his death.  His consequence of saying yes to Christ, while here on earth, is to establish the Church, to teach people about Christ, and to know that life is not going to be particularly easy or pleasant.  What Christ works toward getting across to all who believe in Him, is that through His own death and resurrection, we will have eternal life with Him.  That, too, is the consequence of saying yes and believing that Christ died for our sins, once, for all, and through grace we will have eternal life.
          Edward Bloom, the central character in the movie Big Fish, is a man who delights in telling stories.[1]  One of his mythic stories goes like this:  One night when Edward was only 10 years old, he and four curious friends hiked into a swamp seeking a ramshackle, vine-covered home and hoping to get a peek at the house's occupant-an old woman who was reputed to be a witch. It's only when they're crouched in the undergrowth peering at the eerie house that one of the young friends informs the others of rumors regarding the witch's menacing, mystical glass eye. "They say," he tells his companions, "that if you look right at her awful glass eye, you can see how you're gonna die." Quivering at the horror of such a possibility, the friends begin to dare each other to approach the house and knock at the door. It's a hard sale, though, for these youths are clear that they're not at all interested in catching a glimpse of their demise in a witch's enchanted eye.
          How many of us would react to having this choice?  Reading the final scene in John's Gospel could make a person feel like one of the children in Edward Bloom's story, for this text invites its readers to crouch in the bushes silently quaking as Peter looks into the eyes of his beloved Lord and catches sight of his life's end. The proverb, Jesus tells Peter, speaks about loss of control. If there's anything that we care passionately about in this culture, it is control. We want control over our destinies, our finances, our schedules, our emotions. As we grow older, one of the most frightening things that we can contemplate is a loss of control. Will I lose control of my body, my choices, and even my thoughts? Will I be able to dress myself and drive my car or will someone else be fastening a belt around me and taking me places I don't want to go? Jesus tells Peter that his destiny is to lose control. What a strange choice of parting words to speak to a dear friend. Is that what we can expect from God? If we confess our devotion to Jesus, will he also look us in the eye and promise that our fate is to lose control?
          After the four friends looked and saw their own horrific deaths, Edward has not gazed at the eye. He could leave without looking back, but curiosity gets the better of him, so he says to the woman, "I was thinking about death and all, about seeing how you're gonna die. I mean, on one hand, if dying was all you thought about, it could kind of screw you up, but it could kind of help you, couldn't it, because you'd know that everything else, you can survive?"  In the movie, Edward looks, but the camera stays on him, not on what his death will be.  We study his features as he witnesses his death.  He stares, transfixed, and then with a smile, he says, "Huh, so that's how I go."
          After Jesus tells Peter about his death, after Peter smiles and thinks, "Huh, so that's how I go," the Christ speaks two simple words, "Follow me." It's a challenge that Peter has accepted before and one that he will keep accepting until he breathes his last. For when fear has been vanquished and when control has been ceded to God, then following and service become possible.
          In the same way, Christ uses His clue by four on Saul, a Pharisee who has been persecuting the Christians.  Christ asks him, "Why do you persecute me?"  Christ has granted Saul a new name, a new life, and grace and forgiveness for his sins.  But the consequences of his past life will lead to a life filled with purpose, along with much pain in imprisonment, persecution and again, a painful death.  And again, turning around, following Christ, and leading so many others to Christ over the centuries – allow him to know that he already has eternal life with Christ.  His consequences help to form the early church, providing structure to the Church, and wise guidance to those who are where he has been.  Once again, he just has to cede control to God, and follow where he is led.
          So when we know through faith that we have been saved through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can say, "Huh, so that's how I go," no matter what that might be, because through faith, we have life eternal.  We practice as Episcopalians the middle way, and as we experience our own consequences, if we cede that control to God, we know that we're part of His plan, and we just have to follow Him.

[1] Taken from "Looking Death in the Eye", sermon by Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, April 25, 2004.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sermon: Doubts

          In today's gospel, we see Thomas, the twin, doubting the existence of Christ through resurrection, without physically seeing Him, feeling the holes in His hands, and the gash in his side.  Prove it! is often a taunt from childhood days when someone has done you wrong, but you have no evidence to back up your word.  And Thomas, just on seeing the risen Lord, realizes that all his doubts are settled; his faith is secure and solid.  "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."
          But doubt is a very important part of life as a human.  Because of doubt, we have the scientific method – prove to me that you can repeat the same experiment and achieve the same results.  That method has gone on to achieve scientific and technological wonders.  At some point, however, doubt enters the picture.  The question becomes, just because we can do something, should we?  That's a question of ethics.  And where do your ethics come from?  Is there a line you don't want to cross?  Why?
          Now the first lesson this morning actually ended before the portion that really fascinates me.  Luke wrote, "When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them [the council members], 'Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!'"
          In this instance, doubt works the other way – we can doubt them, but ignore them, and either they will fail, as all others have failed, or they speak the truth, that Jesus the Nazarean was the Son of God, and they have the power of God with them.  If it is the former, then they will fail and all who might have been interested in following them will also fail.  We will have a better society as a result.  But if it is the latter, then perhaps we should withhold judgment and thus claim righteousness.
          Withholding judgment about things is not a new concept:  many thought a western trip would not find a passage to the New World – and while Christopher Columbus missed the continent, he did find the right route.  The idea of getting to the moon was doubted in its entirety – just like the Wright Brothers decades before a manned flight.  But the people making these decisions with certitude actually accomplished it, despite all the doubts.  But would they have advanced as far as they had without doubts?  Where is the challenge in doing something where you couldn't fail?
          There's an interesting movie that came out in 2008 called "Doubt".  To provide definitive answers to the questions raised in this story would defeat the purpose of the writing of it. Thus, as soon as we think we have the characters figured out they provide a twist to their personalities that cause us to shift our conclusions.
          The plot of the movie is a bit convoluted, but, it is set in 1964, just after Vatican II, but still meeting resistance to the changes to come.  A Catholic elementary school has just admitted its first Black student, a 12-year-old boy transferred from public school. The principal, a rigid disciplinarian nun, and the liberal parish priest are both concerned for the boy's welfare in a predominantly Irish/Italian parish. The principal becomes convinced that the priest has, or is planning to have, an improper relationship with the child and is determined to force the priest to leave the school. A third compassionate person is the boy's mother, who has another point of view. The fourth person is a young teacher who is concerned but confused by the conflict between the nun and the priest.
          But one of the lines in a sermon by the priest is, "Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty."  Think about that concept.  Doubt helped to create the Protestant Revolution.  Doubt created questions that have led to every conspiracy theory in existence.  Think about that dichotomy.
          Think about how "reasonable doubt" is built into our criminal justice system.  And it is that reasonable doubt that Gamaliel requested the Pharisaic Council to exercise with regard to the disciples.  It won't cause them harm in keeping an open mind, but might cause severe harm to potentially set themselves against God.
          So, while Doubting Thomas tends to get a bad rap because he has seen and come to believe and those who come to believe without seeing are blessed, doubt can play a rather important role in our lives.  We just have to know when the right time to trust and have faith is.
          One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."
          Our Father sees us, and guides us.  The Holy Spirit is ever moving with us, and sometimes, doubt is a tool in the Holy Spirit's toolbox.  Know when to listen, when to trust, when to obey – and know when to doubt, to question, before moving forward.  Trust that guidance to be present, and listen for the voice of God.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Tuesday Sermon: Take a Step

Take a step.

On the road to Emmaus, we see two men walking , when they are joined by a stranger.  Their concern was that with Jesus dead, their hope that He would be the one who redeemed Israel was also defeated.  Now they weren't certain what to do.

Take a step.

In Acts, Peter and John were on their way to the temple when they came across a man lame from birth.  Through the power given them by Christ, and invoking the power of Christ, Peter commanded the man to stand up and walk.

Take a step.

Our Psalm today tells us:  "Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.  Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered." 

Take a step.

Christ said to the men on the road, "'Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?'  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures."  We've been told from time immemorial that these things would happen, that all things are possible through God's strength and presence.  We have to trust in the works and words that God has said, repeatedly. 

Take a step.

God knows so much more, and He knows the future perfectly, so we have to step out in obedience first. Faith is taking that first step of obedience.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."  We tell our children to do certain things before they fully understand, right? They don't yet know that greater harm will come to them if they don't do as they're told, at least not yet. It’s only after they grow older that they finally see the wisdom in why we asked them to do it.

The Road to Emmaus was a physical road in the Bible, but how many times do we forget to look and find the face of Christ walking with us? With each step, God asks that we remember we're not alone. He is always with us – in the faces of His children, in the tasks of helping our neighbors, in the love for our families – in the lame man at the Beautiful Gate.  How often as we serve do we remember to thank God for His presence, His guidance, His gifts that allow us to help those in need? How often do we truly set aside the busy-ness of our lives and acknowledge the Holy Spirit pervading every act, every person, every situation that we often perceive as a problem or hindrance?

Find your own Road to Emmaus and remember to not just hear, but to listen – for all that you need is already there.  And all that you can accomplish is within your grasp, as you take that step in faith, and walk with Christ.

Take one step.  It will lead to another, and another.  Take a step in faith.