Tag Archives: Christianity

Contemplating the Mystics of The Church

Sermon for April 15, 2018:  This sermon developed from the images of Leawood, KS, Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass windows.  The images of those who continued God’s work after Jesus’ resurrection.  Today, the image of Saint Teresa of Avila was the inspiration for this sermon.

How many Christians harbor a seed of uncertainty about the resurrection?   Until we walk the same path that all must walk, there is no concrete evidence our logical minds crave to answer that lingering question.

In the lectionary’s scripture for this week there is a reading from I John 3:1-7.  This letter was written by John the Apostle, whose brother was James and father was Zebedee. Based on writing styles and historical research, the same person is believed to have written the gospel of John.

Scholars believe the first letter of John was written as a circularletter to be shared among churches.  The purpose was to reassure the early Christians and counter false teachings. The letter provides three descriptors of God:  God is light; God is love; and God is life:

Scripture connections:

I John 1:5-7  God is Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

I John 3:1-3  God is Love

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

 

I John 5:11-12 God is Life

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

 

Today’s world is consumed with logical thinking and the need for proof; Christianity is targeted as an outdated concept. Christianity cannot be boiled down to a code that computers can dissect and recreate with accuracy.  Christianity is simple but complex.  It is faith in what is known, but what is also not known.

As the weeks, years, decades, centuries distanced people from the events of that first Easter Sunday, The Church developed, evolved, and continued to share the story Jesus taught the Apostles and the earliest disciples.

The gospel written by the Apostle John differs from the other three and is sometimes identified as the mysticalgospel.  Why?  This gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus was God more than focusing on his physical human qualities.  God is light, love, and life.  The Word.

Scripture reconnect:

John 1:1-5, 9-14

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

     The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

     10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

     14 So the Word became human[a] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[b] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Church had the task of continuing God’s work as delivered through Jesus Christ. And The Church continues.  At first there was just the one denomination, as we would call it today, but the reality is that even in the earliest days, believers formed different cells focusing on different perspectives.

Some fled into distant countries to live together in isolated communities.  Others blended into community churches located in homes.  Differences developed based on national cultures, strange practices, eventually creating orders who taught and trained others to continue the work of the Apostles.

Leaders developed into Popes, and The Church that evolved into the most organized arm of Christianity became known as the Catholic Church.  An organized religion developed and The Church grew.  The evolutionary process has seen various movements for reformation and Teresa of Avila, who later was beatified as a saint, led one.

[Insert video introducing St. Teresa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn4v6atYpq8&t=0s&list=PLFlOzfWR7LMU3h-0LlX_QPiZWi_Lx_rFm&index=5]

Teresa of Avila lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisitions and is known as a mystic.  Admittedly this is an uncomfortable facet of Christianity that does not match the 21stcentury mindset.  Therefore, I turned to the Harper Collins’ Bible Dictionary:

Mystic:  one who has a direct experience of the divine presence, an intimate and transforming communion or union with God.  . . . Traces of mysticism are sometimes identified in the Pauline Letters, especially where Paul speaks of union with Christ.

With that definition as a foundation, the writings of John the Apostle can be understood as being mystical, too.  The words from his writings and the quotes from St. Teresa are similar.

As John wrote in his first letter, God is light.  An article from biographyonline.com explains that after a severe illness during which St. Teresa experienced a vision.

In one of her visions she saw an angel pierce her heart with a spear with a golden tip and the pain, instead of being debilitating, became a movement into ecstasy for the mystic.  As she herself wrote, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”  This event became symbolic of her life, that she was chosen in a special way to share in the pain of Jesus Christ. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/the-incredible-life-of-st.-teresa-of-avila)

Afterwards, Teresa shared her vision, and some clergy argued the vision was the work of the devil.  She lost her confidence in her own visions and raptures, sometimes called ecstasies.

The article, though, continues to explain more:

However, in the course of time, she became absorbed in deep contemplation in which she felt an ever-growing sense of oneness with God. At times she felt overwhelmed with divine love. The experiences were so transforming, she at times felt the illumining grace of God would wash her soul away. She was so filled with divine contemplation it is said at times her body would spontaneously levitate. Teresa, however, was not keen on these public displays of ‘miracles’. When she felt it happening she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away.

Mysticism is not common in today’s faith discussions, but St. Teresa is accredited with part of The Church’s reformation.  Being included in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS) connects her to the evolution of The Church. She is accredited with starting a new order that focused on the values of poverty and simplicity:

She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense. Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self-denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others, she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s Love.

God is love.  The gospel of John along with his letters emphasizes that God is love.  St. Teresa’s writings include quotes that echo John’s teachings:

  • “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
  • “The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.”
  • “We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.”

St. Teresa’s work clearly emphasized that God as love includes being a servant.  A few quotes from her sound very familiar to John Wesley’s most notable quote:

Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at Wikiquotes.com )

St. Teresa used these words:

  • “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
  • “If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything.”

St. Teresa knew God as love. She also knew God as life.

“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. . . . If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.”

In her visions, she experienced God’s love.  By the union with God through Jesus Christ, she saw God as life.  The metaphor that a nun is married to The Church simply means they are as devoted to the church as spouses are devoted, singularly, to each other. As a nun, St. Teresa’s life was devoted to God; God was her life on earth as well as after death.  In the biography, a fellow sister/nun describes St. Teresa’s death:

“She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.”

This final picture helps us to understand the mystical aspect of Christianity.  The Church cannot fully explain the complexity of God:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the figures who have carried the story forward along human history’s timeline, provide glimpses.

Even St. Teresa explains her mystical faith in God:

“They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will – with our thoughts, words and actions – to the will of God.”

As Methodists who know the words and works of John Wesley, St. Teresa’s words and work, we see that God is, God was, and God always will be light, love, and life—eternal life. To fully accept God in our lives, we, too, must be mystic at least to some degree.  There is no other way to know the reality than to rely on The Word—through reading scripture, through prayer, and through loving one another in any way that we can.

Closing prayer:

St. Teresa prayer life has also been the subject of study.  She said, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

Now, please join in prayer:

Dear loving, life-giving Father,

As we wake to the sunlight of the morning,

As we lie down to rest in the moonlight,

Fill our souls with light, love and life

Taught us by your son Jesus Christ

And guides us as the Holy Spirit.

May we hear The Word within our minds

So that we, too, may live as your children

Following and reflecting your light others,

Loving one another as we want to be loved,

And confidently believing you are life

Now and forever, amen.

In closing:

            Here we sit in the Midwest in our protestant church.  The story of The Church is filled with saints who carried the Word forward, beyond the geographical home of Jesus Christ.

Here we live in the 21stcentury in a culture far removed from ancient thought, yet the saints kept Jesus’ work alive.

Therefore, when we learn that someone in our contemporary world experiences God in a mystical way, the story can empower us even more.  For some, the following story sounds familiar, for some it will provide encouragement.  This is the Easter story now, in our own world  [Accessed on April 12, 2018 at http://www.carmelites.net/news/resurrection-in-a-kansas-backyard/:

 

Resurrection in a Kansas Backyard

APRIL 1, 2018 | GREGORY HOUCK, O.CARM.

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Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year in the Catholic Church, but for priests like myself it can sometimes be an occasion for sleepiness and maybe some crankiness. We’re cranky because the night before, the Easter Vigil, is a very large celebration in which the liturgy itself and the festivities afterward can go on for hours until early in the morning. Getting up the next morning for 7:30am mass can be pretty difficult.

 

This past Easter Sunday, I was helping out at a Carmelite parish in Kansas. It was a beautiful day; but that didn’t quite cut through the sleepiness. The aisles were choked, every pew taken, and I’m wrapping up one mass and preparing for the next when a man approaches me and asks me to give Last Rites to his dying father. Though this the last thing I want to hear at this moment, I tell him I can be there that afternoon, after the last mass.

 

Afterward, as I am plugging his address into the GPS in my car, I seriously consider blowing it off. I really need a cup of coffee and maybe something to eat. I need some time to rest. ‘I could show up tomorrow morning, no damage done’ I think to myself. But there was something quietly urgent about the man’s request, so I head over.

 

When I pull into the driveway, a crowd of people that could only be family is standing on the front lawn of the house. I think they must be waiting for the ambulance; I’m sure that because I hesitated, I am too late. But I find out pretty quickly that the family isn’t waiting for the doctor – they are waiting for me.

 

“Dad asked us to carry him out to the backyard to enjoy this weather,” the man explains. “We were afraid that if we stayed out back we wouldn’t hear the doorbell ring.” The family members– the dying man’s wife, two daughters, two sons, and a handful of college-age grandchildren – are pleasant enough, and as I am following them out to the backyard, I feel a bit calmer.

 

Out back, the dying man is propped up on a lawn chair. After relaxing in the sun and visiting for a while, I bring out the anointing oil, as well as Communion, in case anybody wants to receive. The Catholics in the group have skipped mass, afraid they’d lose their father while at church, and they are relieved at not having to forgo Communion today. I perform the Last Rites ceremony, and then I talk briefly about the Easter Gospel from this morning’s mass. I talk about the Doubting Thomas story, and about how Thomas’s newfound faith in Jesus is its own resurrection.

 

After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?.’”

 

After distributing communion, the dying man asks to speak with me privately. Assuming he wants his confession heard, the family gets up and retreats into the house, and we are alone. After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?’

 

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he explains. “I’ve always had one or two jobs to keep food on the table. My kids – I think they knew I loved them, but I never told them that.” He pauses for a moment. He’s looking away from me. “I think they loved me, but they never told me that. We never said these things out loud – we just were a family.” He turns to me again. “But suddenly these last two days, being with them all the time, I know how much they love me. And I never really knew that before.”

 

As he speaks, I can feel my attention to his words sharpening. “I married my wife because she was the prettiest woman I ever saw – but I never really knew that her heart was so much more beautiful than that.” My Doubting Thomas sermon is starting to feel a little silly in comparison.

He stares out into the grass. “And I finally realized what I’d been missing my whole life. Today, after a few days with family constantly at my side, I finally got it. The whole point of life is to love. The reason we are alive is to love – and that makes this the best day of my life.”

 

I begin to understand that this man has just given me a gift – and that clarity like this is contagious. Love itself is a resurrection. The family returns and we sit around chatting for a while, and suddenly I am not so hungry, not so desperate for a cup of coffee. This man is approaching death, I realize, with joy; and that is a gift to his family too. They are not grieving so much as delighting in watching him exit with grace.

The next morning the phone rings in the rectory at an oddly early hour. It’s a representative from the nearby funeral home: “We’d like to schedule a funeral this week.”

 

“I know” I say to the voice over the phone. After hanging up, I’m sitting alone in silence for a few moments when I realize that tears are falling down my face. As a priest, I’m often called to be present when people die but, in truth, I’m generally not much of a crier. It dawns on me that my tears are not in sadness for the death of a man I barely knew. Instead, they are for the grace and privilege I felt at being witness to a resurrection on Easter Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Kansas.

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Mary Magdalene at the The Cross/The Tree of Jesus

Easter Sunday sermon:  The scriptures are embedded in the text, but I would also like to share that I am sharing some of the music from Jesus Christ Superstar during the service, also.  Please listen to Mary Magdalene’s song, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and the final song, “Jesus Christ Superstar” at its inclusion.  I was fortunate to see the Broadway production in 1972 with my high school classmates on our senior trip.  The fact that it is going to be a live performance this Easter Sunday on NBC will be a dramatic ending to this Easter Sunday.  

Let me introduce you to Mary of Magdala.  Her image is the final one in the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  She is sitting on a stone, weeping and alone—at least the artist has her pictured this way in the window.

The trial and the crucifixion is over and the very same people who were standing along the road cheering as Jesus arrived on a donkey one week earlier are now in hiding.  Mary of Magdala is not.

Mary stayed beside Jesus as he hung on the cross and died. Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and places it in his personal tomb late Friday just before Sabbath began. The first opportunity Mary and a few other women have to complete the burial practice was Sunday morning:

It was customary to wash the body and anoint it with perfumes and spices, not ever for embalming but always to control the odors. . . . The hands and feet were wrapped with linen clothes (grave-bands), and the face and head were covered with a small cloth and bound.  It was loving friends and relatives, mostly women, who prepared the body.  The Jews did not use coffins and did not embalm. [Accessed on 3-29-18 at http://www.bible-history.com/backd2/burial.html.]

 

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary of Magdala is first introduced by Luke earlier in the story of Jesus’ ministry found in Luke 8:1-3:

Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.

 

This introduction immediately follows the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet while at a dinner with the Pharisees.

But who is this Mary and why did she stay beside Jesus only to be the one who witnessed and recognized his resurrection first?

Research shares insight into the character Mary Magdalene, but the reality of this woman cannot be definitively identified with factual details.  The possibility of her relationship with Jesus being more than a disciple is the subject of movies.  The research cannot refute it, but the fact does not change the importance of Luke’s and John’s reporting of her presence at the resurrection.  And, if the possibility of the intimate relationship with Jesus is true, the morning of the Resurrection may actually be more believable.

The Gospel of John reports the morning’s events to the earliest Christians:

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

     Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

     11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in.12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

      14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

Who is Mary Magdalene?

Why did this woman stay beside Jesus through the crucifixion?

Why did Jesus speak to her that Sunday morning?

Mary came from the city of Magdala, a trade center, and probably was a successful businesswoman in the textile industry. She was afflicted with seven demons according to the scripture.  The story does not explain, but you know the demons that can cause one to lose focus. Maybe she was mentally struggling with manic depression.  Maybe one demon was physical pain from something like endometriosis or rheumatoid arthritis. Maybe she had a strawberry birthmark that caused her embarrassment.

The demon does not matter, but what the story tells us is that Jesus loved her unconditionally and healed her from the demons. Such unconditional love is the message that Jesus delivered.  Mary chose to accept that unconditional love and responded in a manner that she became a disciple—maybe even one of Jesus’ inner circle, an apostle.

Put yourself in Mary’s place on that Sunday morning. Would you have been sitting on that rock weeping?  Or would you have been one who had gone into hiding?

Mary’s story continues as she arrives at the tomb early Sunday morning.  Her sorrow keeps her steps slow and heavy.  Her head remains downward.  She carries the supplies she needs to complete the burial ritual.  There is no joy in her heart, in her step, nor in her expression.  Her eyes are red from the tears shed over the past several days.  Her hair is a mess.  She has no reason to fix herself up.  She is raw.

And as she reaches the tomb, she looks up.  The stone is rolled away from the opening! The exhaustion she feels turns into agitated confusion.  Why is the tomb open?  Why is the tomb empty?  New tears begin flowing now from confusion and uncertainty and even fear.

Then she turns and sees a figure.  Out of context.  Out of a mind.

And the figure speaks to her. Only when he addresses her in that familiar tone she knows so well, “Mary”, does Mary of Magdala recognize Jesus.  In John, the story continues:

     16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

     17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

     18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tears turn to joy!

Mary carried the news to the other disciples.  She knew where they were.  She knew the importance of reporting what she saw—who she spoke to. The story of Jesus’ ministry must continue and she who may have been the most emotionally connected to Jesus now had to take a new role—deliver the message of his resurrection.  He still had work to do and even though she wanted to hold him, she couldn’t.  Her faith caused her to move into action.

In a male-dominated culture, where Jesus treated the women equally, Mary Magdalene recognizes the truth of the resurrection. Jesus is alive and all the disciples now must carry the story forward.  They must live as Jesus taught them.  You, too, even 2,000 years later are to join in the task of telling the good news, living the Christian lifestyle, and loving one another as you want to be loved.

Why did Jesus speak to Mary that Sunday morning?

Because he lives.  [Conclude with the music, Because He Lives.]

Closing prayer

 

Dear ever-loving Lord,

May we experience the joy

Mary of Magdala did

As Jesus called out her name.

May we hear God call our names

As Mary Magdalene did

Knowing we, too, are with you

Now and forever.

Guide us to understanding.

Guide us to commitment.

Guide us to serve

One another in love,

Unconditional love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

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The Family of Abraham

Sermon given on Sunday, March 4, 2018, the 3rd Sunday of Lent during which the sermons are focusing on the Old Testament families and the lessons for the 21st Century

Scripture connections:

Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

     So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed. . .

 

Genesis 12:7-9

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

 

Genesis 13:1-3

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

 

Genesis 18:3-8

     “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

     So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

 

Genesis 18:13-14

“Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

 

Reflection: The Family of Abraham

How many of us would pick up and leave our homes without knowing where we were going or how we were going to make a living? How many of us would trust our own “hearing” if we thought God was telling us to do just that?

Dare I suggest that if we ‘hear’ God talk to us, we would demand some verification that it was God speaking. As a people, a culture, we question everything that we hear, even demanding some form of proof. We certainly would not just pack up and leave like Abraham did.

In Genesis 12, there is a key to the importance of the scripture. Look closely at the six clauses of verse two:

  1. I will make you into a great nation. . .
  2. I will bless you and make you famous . . .
  3. . . . you will be a blessing to others.
  4. I will bless those who bless you. . .
  5. . . .and curse those who treat you with contempt.
  6. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

Those are extremely compelling reasons to follow God’s command.

Looking at each of these clauses and reflecting on today’s world, there are challenges to our understanding of how this one man and his family fit into our 21st century world. Abraham’s full story covers almost 15 chapters in Genesis, but I suspect many churchgoers would only identify the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Abraham follows God’s call to walk away from his birth family, which was against the culture’s social rules. The oldest son was the rightful heir and expected to remain with the family until the patriarch died. That son then had the responsibility for the remaining family members. The system was complicated; for instance, when Abraham’s brother died, he was responsible for his nephew Lot, so he included him in his household when he left his father Terah’s house.

Following God’s instructions was not simple for Abraham as John Wesley noted:

Abraham is called to abandon the security of his homeland, social sanctuary, and family support, in order to become the head of a new household, even while he himself is still childless, and without knowing where he is going . . . Abraham needed to depend upon the Lord alone for guidance, because this call upon his life tested in Wesley’s words, “whether he could trust God farther than he saw him”. [i]

 

Following God’s call defied all the traditional expectations. Yet, Abraham heard God call him to go out on faith and establish a new nation.

How does this fit into today’s world? Our understanding of the nations is much more concrete with all the scientific and geographical knowledge that is available today. The idea of establishing a new nation is not logical for us. Yet stop and redefine nation.

The nation that God led Abraham to establish has evolved into a religious nation, not a political nation. In fact, the family of Abraham is credited with the founding of three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

In Genesis, when Abraham left his father’s home, God appears to him:

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

 

The journey continues even after this point because a famine hits and Abraham moves his family on to Egypt.

Still the challenges continued. Using a trick, Abraham attempted to fool the Pharaoh concerning Sarah. The Pharaoh figured it out and sent them out of Egypt. And the story continues as recorded in Genesis 13:

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

 

How does Abraham’s story fit into our world today? Think about how many times we are asked to relocate. Life’s circumstances can dictate changes that may not make sense, but when Abraham’s circumstances led him to move, God never left him. God led him in making the decisions of where to go and how long to stay. Abraham’s faithfulness made his family into a nation of faithful people.

Is your faith strong enough that as you travel through life, God remains by your side? Do you live your faith in such a manner that you demonstrate God’s grace and love to others? Do you see how Abraham’s faithfulness led to the blessings promised in those first verses of Genesis 12?

In the ancient culture, wealth was amassed by possessions, by the size of the family, by the territory the family inhabited. The fact that Abraham and Sarah did not have any children was a difficult truth and challenged their faithfulness.

The concern was so overwhelming that Sarah decided Abraham should have a son through her slave-girl Hagar. Much like a surrogate in today’s society, Hagar did give birth to a son Ishmael. The story is complicated with a power struggle between Hagar and Sarah, but also for Abraham. A son signaled the continuation of a nation. God had promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation.”

The birth of Ismael could have completed the promise, yet God returns to Abraham to reaffirm his covenant including Sarah:

19 But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. 20 As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” 22 When God had finished speaking, he left Abraham.

 

Even though Abraham laughed off the possibility of Sarah and he having a son, he continued to demonstrate the love for others and is noted for his hospitality to strangers. The story includes the example when three strangers arrived and he served them (Genesis 18:3-8):

     “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

     So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

 

These strangers asked about Sarah and also told Abraham that God would bless them with a son. Now it was Sarah time to laugh, but one said,

“Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

Abraham’s story continues as Sarah does give birth to a son Isaac. God kept his promise. The familiar story of Abraham is filled with examples of faithfulness. We may not understand how God could ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son Isaac, but we do know that God tests us. When we follow God’s law, God will provide. When we follow God’s law, he rewards us.

A study of Abraham’s family shows that the nation God promised is really a nation without boundaries. Abraham’s family continued teaching how to be faithful. Ishmael may have been sent away, but even his faith established the Islamic religion. Isaac is identified as founding the Jewish faith.

And the nations continue.   Jesus was born as man whose lineage is traced back to Isaac. Those who accept Jesus as their savior are part of Abraham’s nation that continues to grow as Christianity—a nation that continues to grow.

The family of Abraham teaches us how to be faithful, how to listen to God, and how to trust God. Today’s nations may have boundaries, but the heavenly nation established by God has no boundaries. Remain faithful to God. Listen for God’s instructions. Trust God and you will be blessed.

Works Cited

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

[i] (200918-19)

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Christianity amidst chaos

given on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Scripture connections: using the NLT translation

 Opening: Matthew 13:34

“I will speak to you in parables.
I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.

 Sermon connections:

Matthew 13:33

33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

 I Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.[a]So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread[b] of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread[c] of sincerity and truth.

Closing: Psalm 105:1-2

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.

Reflection: Christianity Amidst Chaos

As the week started and we turned on the morning news, once again chaos greeted us. Chaos seems to follow us as we step out of our homes and into the community around us. And sometimes we do not even leave our house to find chaos—and I am just thinking about housecleaning.

Chaos can be openly evident, but it can also be easily disguised. The insanity of the political arena is one form of chaos, and then there is the chaos created by natural events such as the rainstorms we have witnessed this week in Kansas City. Chaos even lines the store aisles as the merchants frantically shift from one sales season to the next—right now the workers are filling the shelves with the back to school supplies in every shape, color and style imaginable.

Where, in the midst of this insanity, do we as Christians live out the very principles of loving God and loving one another? How do we keep the priority of loving one another over all the pressure to live as the others live in our society? How do we even have a chance to demonstrate and share the benefits of Christian living?

Paul wrote the letter to Corinthians trying to encourage them to live in a community where pagan worship flourished, different cultures existed, and immoral lifestyles tempted them. The first eight chapters of I Corinthians develops a picture that really is no different than today’s culture. The practice of sacrifices and pagan worship may not be openly evident, but other forms or pagan worship do exist. For instance, consider the idolization of the various sports figures and movie stars. Is that not a form of pagan worship?

Again, Biblical literature is just as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul was writing and even thousands of years before God even sent Christ to demonstrate Christian living. His letters encouraged the young Christian churches to maintain their faithfulness in the midst of the peer pressure from the non-Christians in their immediate community.

Peer pressure is a mighty force to manage. We become so accustomed to living in harmony with those around us, that sometimes it is easy to just agree with others even in a casual conversation and we fail to maintain our Christian principles. Think about gossip. Standing in a small group talking with friends about the latest local news can easily turn into a judgmental conversation that does not demonstrate Christian love.

As parents and adults, teaching kids about resisting peer pressure seems to be easy, but then how many times do we give in to our own peers. Do we join in the worship of the Hollywood icons? Do we let our interest in the local sports teams over rule our worship time?

In today’s scripture from Matthew 13, Jesus uses the parable of the yeast to teach us how just a small amount of yeast can permeate an entire batch of dough. In the first reading of that parable, I can interpret that as the power of God’s love for one another can filter out into the community around me. The intent of Jesus’ reference to yeast indicates how just a small amount can make such a major difference in producing the bread: “. . . only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Having made bread, I can understand how powerful God’s love can be and how important it is for me to use that love towards others in all the various settings I find myself. If I can add a dose of love in the midst of three parts of unloved, then I am living my commission to love one another, share the good news of God’s love, and make new disciples of Christ even if I do not know exactly how or when that love will grow.

Yet, at the same time, Paul’s use of the yeast can also demonstrate the powerful negative effect bad yeast can have. In his letter to the Corinthians, he says, “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough.”

The young church in Corinth was struggling with maintaining Christian lifestyles in the community. Paul uses the metaphor about bad yeast to answer the concern expressed about someone in that church whose behaviors were not Christ-like. He was warning the church that even small, seemingly insignificant un-Christian practices could infect the others—negative peer pressure.

Many might be surprised to discover Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains so many specific instructions about living in the community. Many Bible readers think of I Corinthians 13 as the primary message defining love and the context it is so often used—wedding ceremonies. But the first eight chapters of the letter target so many unchristian behaviors.

The early Christians needed encouragement too because the culture was filled with pagan worship rituals. The excess sacrificed meat was sold in the markets and they did not know whether they could eat it or not. The immoral sexual practices associated with pagan worship were everywhere and sometimes caused conflict in the home when one partner was pagan and the other Christian.

Paul’s warnings are as important today as they were in any culture at any time in history or will be in the future. Living in a culture with immoral behaviors and negative peer pressure is the same in today’s world. Even in our small community as well as national community, we see evidence of immoral practices and it saddens us. Yet, are we the good yeast or the bad yeast?

We must be the good yeast and knead it into our community to spread that positive influence around. Reading Paul’s letters provides us additional encouragement and assurance that we can resist peer pressure and we can be good yeast not bad yeast.

We are to love one another without judging. We are to do all the good that we can without any expectations or limitations. We are to support the good others do rather than be jealous or suspicious. We are to work as a team to defend others and us from the bad dough that can destroy our community. We must stand up to peer pressure that destroys and promote peer pressure that builds our community in Christian love.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving God,

We wake every morning to chaos

In our world, community and lives.

And all too often cave in to peer pressure

Because it is seems easier.

 

Guide us to be the good yeast

That spreads throughout the chaos

Making a change for the better

Because that is what you ask.

 

Give us the strength

To work together in unity

Spreading the good news

And leading others to Christ.

 

In your name,

And your son Jesus Christ,

And with the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Revelations reveal secrets and builds hope

given on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scripture base: Revelations 21:10-21 & Revelations 7:9-17 (NLT)

I admit I have Royal Fever. The excitement with the World Series makes it very difficult to admit that November is here. The weather must be confused, too, with all the delightful weather we have had and forecast for the week ahead.

Of course the biggest problem is that Royal Fever tends to distract a person, so I admit to another issue—preparing today’s worship service. Today is All Saints Day. The temptation is to connect the two but that might be a real stretch. Yet, there is one image that can—the concept of Kingdom.

Witnessing the transformation of Kansas City into a Royal Kingdom with blue fountains, blue lights, and the Royal logos everywhere creates a visual image and a unity that is creating a kingdom filled with new life.

Reading Revelations can be intimidating, but today’s two selections create visual images that help us anticipate the new life promised for those who accept Christ in our lives. The heavenly kingdom shared in Revelations 21 builds a mental picture of breathtaking beauty:

11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal.

And the description goes on listing precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst and even pearls.

Granted the Royal Kingdom is colored by all the blue sapphires, diamonds, and pearls one could imagine, and it has transformed our world. Does the description of God’s heavenly kingdom create a sense of excitement and anticipation for you?

On this All Saints Day, the picture created in Revelations captures my attention. I cannot imagine the visual glory that will greet us as we enter into God’s kingdom, but the words in Revelations 21 gives me renewed conviction that God’s promise of eternal life is real.

Just in the past year, we have witnessed losses in our community as well as in the national and international communities.  Those who have died took a little light away from our community, but the promise of Revelation’s words provides each of us hope. Not only hope for our own eternal life, but also hope to reconnect with those who have already moved to God’s eternal kingdom.

All Saints Day provides an opportunity to review the list of those who have moved away from our world and on to the heavenly world. We know those who have gone, and we know the promise God has made for all Christians. We use Communion to review and to reaffirm our own covenant as Christians.

In the scripture from Revelations 7, there are echoes of Christ’s story in these words that we share during the liturgy of communion:

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

The words remind us that accepting God’s gift of his son and his death for our sins, we are purified. Remember the promise in John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

or

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV)

or

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

or

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

Powerful words. A guarantee. A home run—no a grand slam.

Today, All Saints Day, we hear the promise and we can imagine heaven through the words in Revelations. And, remembering all those who have guided us in this earthly world, we hear the promise of joining those already in God’s heavenly kingdom:

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom free of all the tribulations of our earthly life. The decision to believe in God and to accept his greatest gift of his son will turn our earthly tribulation-filled life into an eternal life may not be easy, but believe. The saints in our lives know and the secret is revealed in the words of Revelation:

17 For the Lamb on the throne[c]
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations reveals the secret to eternal life and provides us hope. All Saints Day and celebrating the sacrament of communion provides the perfect diamond for a winning season. Each of us is a royal witness to God’s kingdom. Share the story, live the story, and receive the crown.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You manage our lives in ways we do not see.

The saints in our lives have coached us

By modeling the one rule that guarantees

A winning season in our earthly world:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

May we share in the meal of champions,

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s table.

Let them be for us the blood and the body of Christ.

Purify us so we may be winning Christians

Teaming with love for one another.

Thank you for all the grace you provide,

For all the opportunities to serve one another,

And for all the forgiveness when we err.

May scripture strengthen us in our tribulations.

May the legends in our lives be saints at your table.

May the promise of life eternal fuel for our game.

Grant us peace as we share in the cup and the bread.

Fill us with energy as we continue in life’s journey.

Keep hope alive as we hear your word.

And forgive us when we stumble.

We thrill with the promise of life eternal

As we join together at your holy table. –Amen.

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World Communion Sunday

Sunday, October 4:

The following selections were used as part of United Methodist’s long liturgical service of Word and Table.

Scripture Lesson:            Psalm 25 (lectionary) –NLT

Declare me innocent, O Lord,
for I have acted with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
Test my motives and my heart.
For I am always aware of your unfailing love,
and I have lived according to your truth.
I do not spend time with liars
or go along with hypocrites.
I hate the gatherings of those who do evil,
and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
I wash my hands to declare my innocence.
I come to your altar, O Lord,
singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.

I love your sanctuary, Lord,
the place where your glorious presence dwells.

Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners.
Don’t condemn me along with murderers.
10 Their hands are dirty with evil schemes,
and they constantly take bribes.
11 But I am not like that; I live with integrity.
So redeem me and show me mercy.
12 Now I stand on solid ground,
and I will publicly praise the Lord.

Response to the Word/Reflection:

Participating in Communion today connects all Christians here, there, and everywhere. Today, no denomination can claim ownership of this sacrament. Today, communion brings all Christians to be one in all.

In the Apostles’ Creed, the use of the term ‘catholic’ does not mean that the Catholic denomination, it means the entire or universal church. It is a word that means all Christians who worship are of one church, God’s church.

Reading through Pope Francis’ address to Congress, the audience he tries to reach is American, but he expands it to all individuals. He refers to a ‘catholic’ society, a unified society trying to exist in a global community. He by-passes the boundaries that define the various countries, he appeals to humans who are seek peace and justice for all individuals.

Pope Francis referenced four Americans for four different qualities. He chose Abraham Lincoln for his efforts to defend liberty. Martin Luther King was referenced as he keeps the ‘dreams’ for all humans.

Two others are not as well known, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Day was known for her efforts to achieve social justice and the rights of persons. Merton was a Cistercian monk who a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

A primary theme of the Pope’s address to the Americans via Congress can and was summarized by one rule, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Mt 7:12). He said,

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The Golden Rule is the New Covenant. All laws need to be tested by the filter of the Golden Rule. Pope Francis talked about other issues, but he put theology into action by speaking out on each topic and showing how the Golden Rule puts theology into action which protects liberty, creates and encourages dreams, fights social injustice, and promotes peace between one another.

Therefore, today as the Christian world join in communion, let us join in the Apostles’ Creed knowing that this statement of faith unites us and with the Golden Rule we are equipped to live as Christians and to lead others to Christ, too. These are the tools of our faith; they are the foundation of our faith; and we can put our theology into action here, thee, and everywhere.

Scripture lesson: Hebrews 2:5-13 (lectionary) 14-18 (added emphasis) –NLT

And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
or a son of man[a] that you should care for him?
Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.[b]
You gave them authority over all things.”[c]

Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.”

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.[d] 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.”[e]

13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”
that is, “I and the children God has given me.”[f]

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had[g] the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,[h] so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

 

Response to the word/Reflection: 

 

            Do not be afraid to put what you believe into action. God loves each one of us. He loves us so much that he decided to walk along side of us as a man known as Jesus Christ. He gave us one golden rule by which to live. And he died for us. His death we remember today–here, there and everywhere.

Pope Francis radiates love of this earth and all that is in it. When the news reporters noticed the change in his face as he reached out to the peoples, he witnessed theology in action. Christians around this world know the wonder witnessed on the Pope’s face as God’s love.

Each one of us can share our theology, our love of God, every day. We simply must love one another as we want to be loved and we must do all we can do for all we can in any way we can. God grants us grace, so we must offer grace to others, too.

Today we thank God for his creation, for his grace, for his love, and for the gift of his son. Communion reconnects us to God, it reaffirms our faith, it shares the hope we have for salvation, and it fuels us with love. Communion is theology in action.

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Theological virtue #2: Hope. Dare to Hope

given on Sunday, September 13, 2015:

            Lamentations. The word alone can set a tone of sadness and futility. The Old Testament book is one of a set written by Jeremiah; the first being the book of Jeremiah itself. One book gives the history of Jeremiah’s country—Judah, the people and the destruction of Jerusalem. The second book is the eulogy or lament.

Reading through history books, each factual chapter could be followed by a lament of its own. Right now our personal history is being written and history books will record the facts—violence, hate crimes, natural disasters, political chaos, greed, and more, I am sure. The historians will try to keep the analysis to the facts, but the lament will shadow the words.

Why? Why do humans continue to be mean, greedy, and downright hateful? How can such dismal behavior continue when God already sent Jesus and changed the law to such a simple premise: Love one another?

Jeremiah cried out in the book of Lamentations. The first two chapters are a record of all the bad that had happened, but it is the third chapter that issues the challenge: Dare to hope.

This week the anniversary of America’s terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City serves as a reminder that bad things do happen even to good people, as the cliché states. The thousands who died fourteen years ago left gaping holes in families and communities. Yet, one word can reflect an outcome that carries all the promise of a bright future despite all the destruction—HOPE!

Hope, the second of three theological virtues, a habit builds on the first virtue of faith. Faith establishes a relationship with God. Accepting God and his gift of grace, sets our life journey in the direction of eternal life. The faith-directed journey is fueled by hope.

Life is going to be challenging. Even if we do not cause the problem ourselves, the forces of nature and the decisions of others will deal us difficulties. At times, we will feel totally alone, even from God. The trials of our earthly life do shake confidence, tear at our hearts due to the loss of family or friend, or challenge our ethics even at the work place. But God never leaves us and that faith-based relationship provides life-sustaining hope.

Think about what qualities hope provides our lives: happiness, optimism, promise, and enthusiasm. Certainly a list of other qualities could be included, but hope changes the quality of our lives even in the absolute worst times. Hope keeps us God-centered. Hope fuels us in our lives and demonstrates to others how faith works in good times and in bad times.

Dare to hope! The scriptures tell us that, faithful Christians have modeled it, and it is our responsibility to live it. God is always with us. Our task is to maintain and deepen the relationship with God. How to hope begins with Lamentations 3:40: Let us examine our ways and test them and let us return to the Lord.

Examine our ways: consider how we live our lives. Are we living our Christian lifestyle as God would want us to live it? Are we keeping our work ethics? Do we love our neighbors as we want to be loved? Can we avoid gossip?

Test our way of living and see if it is working or if it is failing. What we say we do must show in the outcome. Are we honestly giving our best effort at work? Do we care for our bodies and our world as we should? Do we complain but do nothing to change the problem? Do we work to maintain our relationship with God?

Wandering away from the Lord is very easy in a world filled with evil. Staying in a strong relationship with family and friends is no easy task. To maintain the relationship with God, we need scripture study, we need worship with our Christian community, and we need to serve. The result is a wonderful journey filled with happiness, optimism, positivity, and enthusiasm—HOPE.

Date to hope. Life filled with hope will lessen the sting of life challenges. Hope will shine through you to others who are seeking a happy, optimistic, positive and enthusiastic life. Others will see God shining through your eyes and know that hope is fueling your journey. Dare to hope, dare to have faith in God, dare others to learn about faith and hope.   The result will be a world-filled with love.

Closing prayer

Dear God of Glory,

Life challenges us daily making us weak and drained.

Thank you for staying right beside us.

Even when we believe, we make mistakes.

Guide us in examining our ways of living

as we strengthen our relationship with you.

Help us test our ways of living our faith out loud

so hope fills our journey to life everlasting.

We dare to hope, to strengthen our faith,

and to love one another.

May our faith-filled lives, fueled with hope,

invite others to join your Christian family.–Amen, Lord, amen.

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