Pentecost 3      6/10/18     Mark 4:35-41
     One of the most memorable things I’ve done in all my years in ministry was to take a trip to the Holy Land.   On that trip we took a boat ride along the Sea of Galilee.   The sea is actually a large lake, ten miles long and four miles wide and about 150 feet deep.   It sits more than six hundred feet below sea level, surrounded by mountains, which makes it particularly susceptible to sudden storms.  Winds sweeping across the land come up and over the mountains, creating downdrafts over the water.   Combined with thunderstorms that appear suddenly over the surrounding mountains, the water can stir into violent twenty-foot waves.   The sea can be calm one minute and violent the next.  Experiencing such a storm myself on that boat trip, I can attest to how scary it can be.

    It is not surprising that the wind and the waves threatened to swamp the little boat occupied by Jesus and his disciples in today’s gospel story.   The fishing boats used by Galilean fishermen at that time had low sides so that the men could cast and draw in their fishing nets.  Such a boat could have been easily tossed about and, given the right circumstances, completely capsized by the wind and waves.   Remember that some of these disciples were seasoned fisherman accustomed to life on the sea, so you can appreciate the ferociousness of this storm.  The disciples thought they might die.  They were so frightened they woke Jesus who had somehow managed to sleep through it all.  Almost panic stricken, they asked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

     Many of us have asked the same question at some time in our lives.  A sudden storm arises in our life--a health or family crisis, the loss of a much needed job or whatever that storm might be--and Jesus seems to be asleep, and we want to ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”    Of course he cares.   But sometimes he may seem to be sleeping.   Everybody goes through storms at some time or another.   The worst part is that sometimes during the roughest part of the storm Jesus seems to be asleep.   Something bad happens and you pray to God as you have many times before, but nothing seems to happen.   The silence is deafening.   You think to yourself, where is God when I need Him?   All of us can look back over our lives and see a series of answered prayers, but all of that is forgotten when we encounter a truly horrible situation.

     “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” asked the frightened disciples.   Every believer goes through a time like that sooner or later.  Today’s Gospel is an affirmation that yes, Jesus does care.   When the storms of life are raging, he does care.   When it seems you cannot hold on a moment longer, he does care.  When the waters threaten to engulf you, he does care.

     The disciples wake Jesus from his sleep, and he does what only the Master can do.   He speaks to the wind and the waves and says, “Peace! be still!”  And the wind ceases and there is a great calm.   Then he turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid?   Have you still no faith?”   The central question in life is not how many storms we encounter.  The question is whether we have faith for the storms.   All of us will encounter storms.    Sometimes it will seem as if God Himself has forsaken us.   It is at such times that our faith will be critical.

     John Claypool was one of America’s best known preachers.  When he was at the height of his popularity as a pastor he lost his six-year-old daughter, Laura Lou, to a battle with leukemia.   One evening while he was sitting alone in silence and filled with despair, he realized that he could either spend the rest of his life mourning the loss of his daughter whom he would never see grow up, graduate and get married, or he could look back in joy and say, “Thank you, God, for the gift of my daughter Laura Lou and the six best years of my life.”  (1)

     John Claypool chose to trust God with his storm.   So can you and I.    Do you believe in a God who loves you and has promised never to forsake you?   Do you believe that, however dark the clouds may be, behind those clouds, the sun still shines?    Do you believe that beyond every cross, there is an empty tomb?   If you do, you can weather the storm, however severe.    Amen.

 1. Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie,`
additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

Pentecost 2    6/3/18  2 Corinthians 4:5-12

    There was a couple in Lander, Wyoming who went to the city dump to dispose of some larger yard trash.    As they were ditching their junk, their eye was caught by a rather ornate but worn old wooden bed headboard.   The wife suggested they take it home and try to restore it.    As they were loading this rather heavy and bulky item onto their truck, a cap on one of the posts came off and out began to pour dozens of old gold coins from the late 1800’s.   Both legs of this old headboard had been hollowed out and filled with a fortune in gold coins. (1)

     You’re probably thinking: why can’t something like that happen to me?   Well, in today’s second lesson Paul talks about a treasure that surpasses all others.   But people don’t recognize that it is the most desirable treasure of all because it is hidden in an innocuous and somewhat fragile clay jar.    Paul writes, “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   But we have this treasure in clay jars. . .”

     The treasure is knowing God through belief in Jesus.   The clay jars are those who believe in Jesus.   Now clay is not a costly material.    It’s not very strong.   Rather, it is somewhat fragile and vulnerable.   Why was it chosen then?   Paul writes, “We have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”   The treasure Paul talks about does not lie somewhere “out there.”   It shines in our hearts.

     Many people are obsessed with finding meaning and purpose outside of themselves.   A better job, a nicer neighborhood, a trimmer body, and on and on.   But Paul says that meaning and purpose and happiness do not reside “out there.”   Paul says that the greatest treasure is within our own hearts.   If we have this treasure within, we can handle whatever comes to us from without.   Again, Paul writes, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .”   Life can be cruel to us, Paul is saying, but if we have this treasure, adversity cannot conquer us.

     We need to understand, though, that this treasure is not to be found by looking “in” so much as it is in looking “up”, looking up to the One who is the source of life.  The path to inner peace is not simply a matter of getting in touch with our feelings but getting in touch with our Heavenly Father.

     A man named John lost his vision in a chemical explosion when he was thirteen.   He felt helpless, that his life was over, and he hated God for it.   For six months, he pretty much never left his room.   But then one day, his father came into his room and said, ‘John, winter’s coming and the storm windows need to be up.  That’s your job.   I want those hung by the time I get back this evening or else!’   Then he turned, walked out of the room and slammed the door.   “I got so angry,” said John. “I thought, ‘Who does he think I am?   I’m blind!’   I was so angry I decided to do it.   I felt my way to the garage, found the windows, located the necessary tools, found the ladder, all the while muttering under my breath, ‘I’ll show them. I’ll fall, then they’ll have a blind and paralyzed son!’”  John continued, “I got the windows up.”   But then he finished his story with these powerful and helpful words, “I found out later that never at any moment was my father more than four or five feet away from my side.” (2)

     To find this treasure that surpasses all other treasures in this world we look to God, a Father who is always with us regardless of our circumstances or our worthiness.   “We have this treasure in clay jars,” Paul says, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us . . .”   Amen.

1. Johann Neethling, 
2. Larry Briney, More Grace for the Daily Grind (Xulon Press).
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

Trinity Sunday  5/27/18  Romans 8:14-17

     A couple were vacationing in Yosemite National Park.   The wife expressed her concern about going camping because of bears and said she would feel more comfortable in a motel.    The husband said that he’d like to camp.   To calm her concerns he said they’d talk to the park ranger to see what the likelihood was of an encounter with a bear.   The ranger told them, “Well, we haven’t seen any grizzlies in this area so far this year, or black bears, for that matter.”   The wife shrieked, “There’s two types of bears out here?” she asked nervously. “How can you tell the difference?   Which one is more dangerous?”    The ranger replied, “Well, that’s easy, see, if the bear chases you up the tree and it comes up after you, it’s a black bear.   If it shakes the tree until you fall out, it’s a grizzly.”   The motel room was quite nice that night. (1)

     Some of us can sympathize with that woman’s fear.   Fear is one of the most common characteristics of what it means to be human.  The market for home and personal security systems today is booming.  One in three homes in America is now equipped with some type of burglar alarm.    Americans spend more than $100 billion per year on personal security systems and devices.   Why?   Because we are afraid. (2)

     So it is good to hear these words of Paul from our second lesson today: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.   For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

     Notice that this message is addressed to believers.   Paul is not speaking to the world, but to the church.   Defeating fear is a spiritual priority.   The call to follow Christ is a call to boldness.   It is a call to let our light shine for all the world to see.   It is a call to courage.    The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is fear.   Fear is our enemy.    Fear makes us give up before we even begin.   It makes us see obstacles rather than opportunities.   It is fear that produces sleepless nights as we worry about events over which we probably have no control.

     Paul was confronted with shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and all manner of physical and social persecution.   There was simply no way he could have been the ambassador for Christ that he was if he had given in to his fears.   And neither can we.

     “Let your light so shine. . .” says Jesus. Don’t hide it under a bushel!    “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear . . .”     If fear is the opposite of faith, then the reverse must be true as well: the ultimate cure for fear is faith.

     How do we let go of our fears?   We do it by moving from being slaves to being sons and daughters of God.  It is when we realize that we have a Father who loves us and will never forsake us.   It is when we understand that we are heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--that we know that even our final enemies, sin and the grave, hold no dominion over us.

     You and I have been adopted by God.    We have no reason to be afraid.  Amen.

1. Laugh & Lift,
2. Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold, Clicking (New York: HarperBusiness, 1997), p. 34.
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

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