Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Land of the Shadow of Death

The wilderness, the land of the shadow of death, the unknown, temptation, sin, and darkness all these pull at our souls trying to get us to turn our backs on God.
Sometimes we resist and win. Sometimes we resist and then give in. And sometimes we just give in. Then we feel rotten because we’ve failed to live as believers of Jesus Christ.
In times of temptation it doesn’t always help to know that Jesus was tempted and didn’t give in. Even when we remember that he fasted for 40 days before he was tempted it doesn’t help.
Jesus was God and God was stronger than anything Satan could bring to the table. But we aren’t. Therefore, sometimes, we give in to temptation.
Think back to one of the stories from Genesis. Think back to the time when the world was so evil, so bad, so wicked that God wanted to destroy it. But he didn’t destroy all humankind. Noah found favor in his sight. He and his family survived the devastation of the flood.
There was a movie about Noah starring Russell Crowe. In the movie Noah went and walked about the city and when he returned he said to his wife, “The wickedness is not just in them, it’s in all of us. I saw it.”
You won’t find that in the Bible but you have to admit that this statement makes a powerful point. There’s quite a few places in the Bible where we can discover that none of us are perfect or sinless.
In John’s first letter he wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Paul bemoaned the fact that even though he knew what was right and that it was wrong to not do the right thing, still he did what he knew wasn’t right. And we know Jesus was tempted.
In the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” based on a book written by Nokos Kazantzakis the film showed Jesus on the cross imagining, as he hung on the cross, what it would have been like if he been granted his wish that the cup would pass from him and he wouldn’t have had to endure the agony of the cross. He imagined being married with children.
There were many folks who called this blasphemous. But, if he was in such anguish as he prayed in Gethsemane and sweat like drops of blood as he prayed, to me, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine these thoughts passing through his conscience as he was dying on the cross. After all he was human, he felt pain, he was just like us.
So, what do you think Matthew’s point was in telling us about Jesus’ time in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the Evil One? Part of the reason he did what he did was to point out that what Jesus did was a fulfillment of Scripture. After all he tells us this many times in his gospel.
The other reason may have been to show that Jesus wasn’t anything like any of the other teachers or rabbis. He wouldn’t and didn’t give in to the power that was available to him. He really did only do what the God, the Father, told him.
So, what do we do? How are we tempted today? What temptations bombard us today, power, ambition, pride, wealth, fame? Are these things good or bad or maybe a little of both?
Could it be that our own attitudes may determine goodness or badness? Could it be that our values might change how we look at these temptations? We all know that these temptations are nothing new. They’ve always been here and will continue to be here.
It may be a help to look back at how Jesus dealt with these temptations. How did he answer the Tempter? He looked back in the past and pulled up in his memory the stories he’d learned. It’s a good possibility that if they gave Jesus what he needed to resist temptation that they’d also help us.
Maybe that’s how some of you already cope with temptation. I wonder what Scriptures or stories you lean on when tempted. Myself, I think of the psalms, the valley of the shadow of death, the hills where my help comes from, there’s no place that God isn’t.
Paul’s words to the churches about praying all the time, giving thanks for all things, looking/focusing on the prize at the end.
All these give me hope and keep me focused when all around things are falling apart and the world seems to be going the wrong direction and nothing seems to be turning it around.
Friends, look around at the folks here today. They’re our friends, our family and there’s things they do that we like and appreciate, that we value in them. Today might be a good day to write a note to them telling them what a gift they have been to you. Let them know how they’ve helped you be more like Jesus.

Friends, remember that God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Journeying with Jesus into the Unknown

When in and all around us things are changing it can be pretty disruptive. It’s a little like what happens when we receive 6 inches of rain in a couple hours and the creeks and rivers overflow threatening to flood our basements and our homes. We become anxious and scared and worry about what we’re going to do and how we’re going to survive.
What’s our typical reaction to change? How do we react when change comes that we’ve not really prepared ourselves for? Do we welcome it? Do we just ride out the change trusting in whatever God brings our way?
Have you noticed stones and rocks in a stream? Have you noticed how all the edges are round and smooth? Have you noticed how the bigger stones just sit there on the bottom, not moving, as the water flows over them?
Perhaps we can take a lesson from the stones and the rocks in those streams and let the sharp edges of our lives be worn away. Perhaps we should let God’s Spirit help us find the reason for living in these challenges that come to us. Perhaps we should be like a river that is continually changing its direction as it flows toward the ocean.
In this new year, this new season, this new journey we should ask ourselves, “How do I live?” Do I live as a person who has been set free or do I live as one chained to all the things life puts on my shoulders? That’s a heavy question and not easily answered.
I’ve been thinking about all this as I’m fast approaching my last Sunday as a pastor. There are people and things that have given my life a purpose. It’s hard to let them all go because they’ve provided a sense of security.
And now I wonder how I’m going to live after…I’ve always lived my life knowing that it was my responsibility to love and care and protect my family. And as a follower of the Way of Jesus I’ve felt the call to share my gifts of time and talents.
But there have been times that the darkness has crept in and I have felt overwhelmed.  It’s then that I realize that I’ve given in to the demands of the world and I haven’t relied on God and his peace and his love.
This darkness hasn’t always been a bad thing when I stop and sit and think and let God show me there is nothing to fear since He’s never left my side. Sometimes the darkness is just the shadow cast by God’s light.
Sometimes the darkness is my own fear of being set free to become someone I’ve never been. Change makes us feel insecure, shaky, like the people in Texas probably felt this past week with the earthquakes. Change is kind of like looking in a mirror and not recognizing the person looking back at you.
Friends, we are all on a journey. Your journey and my journey are probably different but one thing is the same. We are both called to be changed into whomever and whatever God wills.
What an exciting time this next year is going to be for all of us. May God give us the strength, and the wisdom, to get acquainted with this new person, this stranger who will do and say and live in ways that we’ve never imagined. May we know that we all are being created in God’s image in ways that we’ve never realized before.
It’s a frightening thing, change, transformation, freedom. But what a gift. May God give all of us the opportunity to hold it tight, live in it fully, and enjoy it to the fullest, right now.
Thanks be to God for his unimagined grace. Amen.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Time for Get Up and Go...

A new year is here and all around us things are changing. People are changing jobs, people are changing houses, people are moving to new places, everywhere we look people are moving, people are changing.
I remember as a young boy playing hide and seek with my friends when we’d get together. One person would be ‘it’ and the rest of us would run away to hide. The person who was ‘it’ would cover their eyes and count to 100. Then they’d shout, “Ready or not, here I come!”
Everyone would stay very still, not moving, not saying a word, hoping that they’d get the chance to race toward home and touch the tree or pole so that they’d be ‘safe.’
If the person who was ‘it’ touched you or caught you between your hiding place and the ‘base’ then you would be ‘it’ next. Never once when they caught you did they try to take your life, never.
But, that’s exactly what King Herod did when he sent soldiers to Bethlehem looking for the new born king the Magi had come asking about. When they didn’t return and let him know where Jesus was he was in a rage. He sent soldiers there to kill all the boy babies up to two years old.
We’d like to think that wouldn’t or doesn’t happen anymore, but it does. Children are being killed with rockets, guns, by starvation, and by disease all over the world.
On that day when the soldiers marched into Bethlehem no one ever expected their children to be in danger. Can you imagine the grief and the tears and the wailing? Can you imagine the pain in those parent’s hearts?
We all know there are children in danger today. We all know, but they are so far removed from us that we don’t think there’s anything we can do…or we ignore it.
Right now in our communities there are children who haven’t received a flu shot and they’re in danger of coming down with influenza and dying. In our communities there are children who are hungry, there are children who are being abused, there are children who are cold, and there are children without any parents whatsoever…in our communities and in the cities not too far away.
It’s a new year, a new day is dawning, and we can do something to help. We can buy cans of food and give them to the food pantry. We can buy a pair of gloves or a hat and give them to our churches to deliver to the Open Door Mission or Micah House or the Family Crisis Center. We can advocate for those children who have no one to speak up for them. We can volunteer in the schools and in the day cares and in our churches to make sure that no child has to suffer.
This a new day and it’s time for us to get up and go to work for Jesus. As long as we have breath in our bodies God still has something for us to do…and we should be doing it. There’s no early retirement from serving the Lord.
So, as we prepare to leave this sanctuary and go back to our homes let’s begin a new thing as we seek to live our lives more like Jesus and follow our Lord wherever he leads us.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.