Friday, June 22, 2012

"Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?"

Gospel Reading:  Mark 4: 35-41
          That evening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let's cross to the east side.”  So they left the crowd, and his disciples started across the lake with him in the boat. Some other boats followed along.
Suddenly a storm struck the lake. Waves started splashing into the boat, and it was about to sink.
Jesus was in the back of the boat with his head on a pillow, and he was asleep. His disciples woke him and said, “Teacher, don't you care that we're about to drown?”
Jesus got up and ordered the wind and the waves to be quiet. The wind stopped, and everything was calm.
Jesus asked his disciples, “Why were you afraid? Don't you have any faith?”
Now they were more afraid than ever and said to each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Hebrew Scripture Reading:  Psalm 107:23-32
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

Message “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
            Sometimes when we read scriptures like the short section in our gospel reading, we may miss some of the impact, especially if it is such a familiar story.  Here is a trick I’ve learned that helps me get a better understanding of scripture; imagine yourself as being there and living the events.  Try to see it through the eyes of the different people in the story.
            Imagine with me for a minute.

            You have just spent a long and active day with Jesus as he was teaching and touching multitudes of people.  Hoards of sick and disabled people have been brought to him for the healing of their bodies, minds and souls.
With compassion he has reached out to them all.  And you’ve been there to assist.  You’ve touched, supported and carried the lame, the infirm and even the lepers.  At times, the thought of touching them made your skin crawl.  You were both repulsed and blessed by the work this day.  Now you are hot and sweaty and you stink of too much humanity in too close quarters.
            Now towards evening Jesus says, “Let us go to the other side of the sea.”.
            This sounds like a great idea to you.  You’ve grown up on and around this sea and the idea of getting away from the noise of the crowds is appealing to you.  You remember lots of idle days drifting in the peaceful solitude of the sea. 
            Maybe you’ll even get a quick dip in the water before getting into the boat.
            The evening breeze is beginning to blow cool across the water.  Yes! This will be a fine time to be sailing.
            You help your friends pull the ropes that raise the sail and help to haul in the anchor.  You are on your way.  The cries of the gulls that follow your boat sound all too much like the cries of the crowds that follow Jesus where he goes.
            You marvel at the things you have seen him do and the things he has said. You shake your head in wonder, knowing you only understand a small part of what he says.  Who is this man that you’ve known for such a short time?  How is it that he, a carpenter’s son, can command such authority?  You have so many unanswered questions about this rabi who has called you to be his disciple.
            You focus once more on the world around you and realize that you are sailing parallel to the coast about seven miles at sea.  You notice the wind picking up a little and the water is becoming a little choppy.  However, this isn’t so unusual at this time of year.  And you actually find it a little refreshing to have a little of the spray in your face and the wind in your hair.  Yes! It is great to be alive and sharing this time with your friends and your teacher. 
            The evening stars are visible in the dusky orange of the sky. Then you notice that Jesus has gone to sleep on a cushion near the stern.  Well, he certainly deserves the rest and you take a blanket to cover him as he sleeps.
            Suddenly, you are jolted from your feet.  Your first thought is that you’ve stuck something big, another boat perhaps.  But then you realize that it was a huge wave hitting the boat broadside.  It seems to have come out of nowhere.  And It didn’t come alone either there are many more marching behind it.
            Just then the wind hits and it hits hard.  The force of the gale rips loose one of the heavy lines to the sail.  The knotted end has just struck one of the crew with the force of a professional fighter.  You’re sure that he has some cracked ribs but you will not have time to help him until that sail is secured.
            You assist those that are struggling to lower the sail before any more damage can be done.  Fighting the wet canvas is like wrestling a crocodile but you’ve finally got it down and stowed away.  The salt water stinging your hands makes you notice the red, raw rope burns from fighting the lines to the sail.
            The sea that was so calm a short time ago now looks like a land of liquid mountains dancing around you.  The swells are so deep that you can no longer see the shore and the stars have been blotted out in angry dark clouds.  The boat is swirling like a leaf in a whirlpool and you have lost all sense of direction.
            As if the storm-driven sea-spray wasn’t enough, now lightening rips open the belly of those clouds and the sky is as wet as the sea.  The boat is being swamped.  Everyone is scrambling for a hand hold so no one has a free hand with which to bail. 
            The boat is now bucking side to side and end to end like some crazed animal.   At times is nearly completely airborne before crashing once more into the sea. It takes all your strength to just stay in the boat and your fear is that the boat will capsize and dump its human cargo into the deadly sea.
            Impossibly loud above the fury of the storm you hear a horrendous crack and realize that one of the main cross braces has just splintered.  Before long this boat is going to implode under the force of the waves and wind.
            That is when you notice Jesus still sleeping.  How can he sleep at a time like this?  Doesn’t he know that we’re all going to die?  Doesn’t he care?
            You crawl through the broken rigging to where he sleeps and wake him. 
            To your amazement, he yawns, stretches and asks why you are so afraid. 
“Is your faith so weak?” he asks.  Then, in the midst of the storm, he stands firmly, raises his hands and says, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately the squall stops and the sea becomes flat as glass.
            You had been frightened beyond measure by the storm but this display of his power is even more frightening. 
            You had no idea. 
            Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey?

            I’ve tried to take you on a scary ride with the disciples by the storm through their eyes.  And to get a feeling of what it must have been like riding out that storm.
            While I was telling the story, where you remembering some of the storms that you’ve been through in your life?  Were you thinking of those times when it seemed that everything was coming apart at the seams and you no longer were in control?
            Jesus said to his followers, “Oh you of little faith, why were you afraid?”
Now listen, it wasn’t that the disciples didn’t have faith.  They had faith.  They had faith that the boat would get them to the other side of the sea.  They had faith that they could navigate to where they were going.  They had faith in their strength and ability to raise and set the sail and manage the tiller.  They had faith that they were in control.  They had faith … but their faith was misplaced.
            We aren’t that much different, are we?  Amen?  Don’t we tend to rely on our own strength and resources… until they fail us?  Be honest now!  Certainly I’m not the only one who does.  Am I?
          Hear this: God doesn’t want to be our life preserver.  I’ll wait to let that sink in.  God does not want to be our life preserver.
          He doesn’t want to be the last resort.  He wants to be the first.  Remember, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”?  When we put our self-will, self-direction, and self-reliance before God’s-will, God’s-direction and reliance on God, we are making them our god ahead of the true God.
          You see, He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives down to the smallest minutia.  Remember, Matthew 10:30. “The very hairs of your head are numbered.”.  … Yes, I know that it easier with some of us … But the point is that no one loves us more than the one who created us. 
          Did you know that God has our names tattooed on him? Isaiah 49:16 reads, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”  Okay, so not really a tattoo.  And it doesn’t say that it is our names either.  We are engraved, carved into the hands of God.  That is how much He loves us.
          And he craves a relationship with us.
          So when Jesus was questioning the disciples about their faith, he was pointing that out that they should have been in such a close relationship that they realized they were being cared for by the one who created the wind and the waves.
          They had nothing to fear.
          Okay, let’s get something clear here.  Jesus doesn’t promise that we will never have bad things happen to us.  He does promise that he will be with us through the bad times.  He also promises that, if we will let him have control, he can take even the bad things and make them work for our good.
Romans 8:28 “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
          So, the choice is ours; we can go our own way and deal with the storms of life on our own.  Or, we can walk with God, even though the valley of death, and still be comforted.  That is the only way that we can answer the question, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

Saturday, June 16, 2012

“Are you posted on God’s Refrigerator?”

 John 3:13-21
            No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there.  And the Son of Man must be lifted up, just as the metal snake was lifted up by Moses in the desert.  Then everyone who has faith in the Son of Man will have eternal life.
            God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people.  
            He sent him to save them!  No one who has faith in God's Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn't have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God's only Son.  The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light.  People who do evil hate the light and won't come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done.  But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.

2 Corinthians 5:11-18
            Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.  For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.  And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
            From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciles us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

           Our gospel reading clearly defines the depth of love that God has for us.  In Jesus own words he declares that because God loves the world he would send His own son (in truth a part of Himself) to earth to live as a man and die the death of a criminal so that the world could be brought back into right relationship with his holy self.
               Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth gives us advice on what changes have happened because of Christ’s sacrifice and what it means in the lives of believers.   
               To better understand his opening statement about knowing the ‘fear of the Lord’, we need to understand that he had previously been addressing that future time when all will stand before God to be judged for what they had done or not done in their earthly life. 
               Thus, the fear of the Lord, is really the fear of having our weaknesses, our failures, our sins exposed in the bright light of God’s presence. 
               Imagine yourself standing in the brilliant physical presence of the Living God as your life is reviewed minute by minute.  Remember, we have all of eternity to watch as the film unrolls a frame at a time.
               That’s a scary thought.  Amen?
               Well, praise God, Jesus blood has been poured all over that film and erased every sin that we’ve confessed. Hallelujah!
               Paul states that this cleansing is his motivation for persuading others of the saving power of grace given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
               Paul understands that he has nothing hidden from God even now.  And he also tells his readers that he has been open and blunt with them about his trials and tribulations as well as his accomplishments.   This he says is so that they can ‘boast’ about him.
               Doesn’t Boast seems an odd word to apply here.?
               Usually when I think of boasting, it brings to mind the braggart.  
               As a matter of fact, I have an image in my mind of the boxer, Mohammad Ali, taunting his opponents before and during the fight. 
               Some of you are too young to understand that reference but perhaps you can relate it to someone you know or know of that has such a high opinion of themselves that they deride others whom they consider to be of lesser stature.  That is what we generally think of as boasting.
               However, parents, have you been known to boast about the wonderful thing that your child has done or said?   
               Come on be honest! 
               How many have pictures of your kids or grandkids in your wallet or on your phone? 
               And why do you have them? 
               So you can show them off to unsuspecting friends and coworkers … maybe even the person behind you in line at the grocery store?  Amen?
               That is a different kind of boasting.  It is not self centered but other centered
               I want God, my heavenly Father, to be so proud of me that he has my pictures and awards plastered all over his refrigerator!  How about you?
               That is the type of boasting Paul is talking about in this passage. 
               He wants his readers to repeat and retell his story.  Not for his glory, but so that the glory of the Lord can be seen in the telling of the tale.
               Paul is urged to continue with his witnessing about Christ because he is convinced that it is through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection that he and all of us will be changed
               Part of that change is that we will no longer live our old lives but will take on the life of Christ in this world. 
               In this present age, we are the hands and feet, the ears and lips of Christ to those with whom we come into contact every day.
               Wow! How do we live up to that, Church?
               Here is what Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.”  
               A human point of view?  
               We all know what that is, Amen?
               It is with us every minute of every hour of every day. 
               The human point of view is that “I am the center of the universe and everything resolves around me.” 
               It is that selfish human nature that makes us cry as infants to be cared for, comforted, and fed. 
               That nature changes only by degrees as we grow older.  
               The very Mature among us may be able to rise above that nature for a few minutes every once in a while, but, outside of the Spirit’s power, we are unable to maintain and sustain it for long.
               That human point of view is what helps us separate the world into ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Those that are like us are ‘good’ and ‘right’.  Those that are different than us are ‘bad’ and ‘wrong’. 
               And let’s face it … some people are just a waste of skin … right?
               That human point of view is what allows us to draw a boarder on a map and hate the evil others on the other side. 
               That human point of view helps us to judge those of a different skin tone as less than human. 
               It encourages us to judge those in higher income brackets as greedy, money grubbing and materialistic.
               And those in lower income brackets as lazy, shiftless, drains on the economy.
               People with addictions and dependencies are just weak, gutless losers.
               People living in alternate life styles are immoral and perverted.
               People who have opposing beliefs about politics are just plain crazy … right?
               And people who have different religious beliefs?  Well, we are willing to kill them to convince them that they are wrong!
               I am meddling a little here aren’t I?
               I hope that I’ve stepped on a few toes.
               Because, if we haven’t seen ourselves in any of these examples, … well, then we are not looking hard enough!
               I know where my personal prejudices are. 
               The thing that sets me off in a tirade is ‘stupid people’.  
               I saw a post on Facebook that, Lord forgive me, made me chuckle when it said, “Let’s just take the warning labels off of everything and let nature take its course.”  
               You see, I’m a fairly smart guy. 
               And I can say that without either boasting or feigning humility because I had little to do with it. 
               It is the result of good genetics, proper education and a personality bent toward seeking knowledge and wisdom. 
               You see, the problem arises when I begin to think that this God given intellect makes me “better” than someone who has more challenges.   Ouch!
               I am convinced that God has a wonderful sense of humor. the reason I know this is because he has led me to have a ministry with Alzheimer and dementia patients. 
               I am now dealing with people who have literally forgotten what number follows another.  So, even when they are still able to read the words in our song books, I have to go around the room and help them find the page. 
               Now understand that I don’t consider these patients to be stupid.  They have a disease that has robbed them of their memories.  But working with them has softened my heart toward those people I have considered ‘stupid’, people who, when faced with a choice, seem to always make the wrong one.
               You see, once again, “everything has become new” in me.  And can be in all of us. 
               Therefore, no longer view others from the human point of view.  View them from God’s point of view, as a person to be loved. 
               Somebody said that the only people I, as a Christian, am allowed to hate are the people that God did not create.  I like that.  It narrows down my choices to zero.
               At the same time, it means that it broadens the scope of who I am to love to everyone that God loves. 
               And God loved ALL of us enough to reconcile himself to us through Christ.  Should we do any less than reconcile ourselves to ALL of God’s creation
               For you see, Paul wasn’t the only one given the ministry of reconciliation. 
               We, you and I, have also been given the command to go into the world and declare the good news that God and man are now reconciled through the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ. 
               It may not be necessary for us to go off to foreign lands to tell people the good news.  (Although some are called to do so.)  We have plenty of people around us at home, at work, among friends, among acquaintances, and strangers we meet in our daily lives.  These are the people of OUR world that need to hear our story, just like the people in Paul’s time needed to hear his story. 
               The gospel is easy to tell.  Jesus explained it this way, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. 
               He sent him to save them!”
               From there the story becomes personal.  We, like Paul, have our own story of who Christ is to us and what he has done for and in us.  It is not necessary to have a degree in theology to tell OUR story.
               All of our stories are different and unique.  However, they all have a couple things in common.  We were sinners.  Now we are sinners saved by grace.  Don’t be shy about admitting your weaknesses or shy about telling of God’s strength.
               And who knows, maybe someone will retell our story and ‘boast’ about us, that God may be glorified and sinners brought to reconciliation.