September 10, 2017: Even If No One Listens

When I was on the Western Washington rowing team, we decided to raise funds by hiring ourselves out to be security at the Seahawks stadium.  And I got put in charge of door duty.  I had to check the bags of everyone coming in and confiscate drugs, booze, weapons, and footballs.  I thought that last one was rather odd, why footballs?  And I felt absolutely horrible every time I had to tell a ten year old he couldn’t take his beloved football into the stadium and this look of “Why?” came over him.  So I turned to our head of security as he was walking by and asked, “Why do I have to tell these kids that they can’t take footballs into the stadium?”  And he responded “To protect the game, and to protect them.  You never know when some crazy guy is going to get one and just throw it off the top the bleachers.”  And as if to confirm what he was saying a minute later, I saw a football in a man’s bag, when I started to explain he couldn’t take it, he suddenly tried to barge in and run into the stadium, clutching it.  But the head of security, and several other huge guys took off running after him.  The couple that was next in line watched that whole spectacle and then came up with big smile and opened all their bags and purses saying “Everything is in order here officer!”

Being asked to be someone who is in charge of the safety of others is a challenging thing.  Not only because of the need of constant diligence and duty, but because it can be hard to actually have to follow through on giving warnings, especially when those you are giving them to do not want to hear them.  Such was the case with the prophet Ezekiel, who was called to be a prophet of God to the exiled people of Israel in Babylon; he was called to warn them and the nations of the plans that God had in store, and the consequences for them if they ignored them.  God told Ezekiel: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel.  Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.”

A huge responsibility, but it gets better, and the stakes are raised:  An incredibly harsh thing.

Ezekiel himself, along with the people he is supposed to be warning is an exile, ripped away from his country and from a promising future as a priest in the temple of the Lord.  He is now living with his people in a concentration camp on the outskirts of Babylon, observing his 30th birthday, the day when he would have been ordained as a priest.  Life is already hard enough for him and for his people, just keeping faith in God and continuing to say his prayers alone in such a harsh state alone is already worthy of praise and admiration I would say.

But that is not enough for God.  The Lord appears to Ezekiel in a glorious fashion, as a glorious radiant Being carried on the backs of angelic beings, on this sad birth day, and he tells him that he is not only a watchman who must warn the Israelites, but that he is responsible for them if he does not follow through, and warn them.  “Their blood, I will require at your hands.”

You cannot help but feel for Ezekiel, who must now turn to people who absolutely do not want to hear what he is about to say and will tell him to just go away, or maybe even mock and deride him.  And you cannot but feel sympathy for this man to whom life has already dealt an extremely hard hand, who now has to have this on his consciousness:  speak to those who do not want to hear from him, or be held responsible before the Living God.  It seems like an unfair and difficult place to be.  It has been remarked that the prophets often got the short straw, but Ezekiel chooses to do it, and I imagine he did it not just because it was what this glorious God standing before him told him to do, but because of why:  “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”

Because God was reaching out to a people who were dying, drowning in their own sin and rebellion.  Because even though they were receiving the just consequences of their actions, God’s heart still yearned for them, even if their actions justified their destruction, God did not desire it.  And he had chosen Ezekiel, a man who was also suffering due to the actions of his people, even though he had remained faithful, and called him to be the one who would speak and carry that warning, be the one to proclaim what this sorrowful and merciful God had proclaimed.

It may seem unfair, it may seem that God was uncaring, but to God Himself, it was more unfair for the rest of the people to go on in lives filled with the destruction of their sin.  And so Ezekiel, faithful man that he was, was called to action, and much was expected of him.

And so it is with us, Ezekiel’s spiritual descendants, the faithful who have remained loyal in a world that largely chooses its own way over God.  Like Ezekiel, we too are trying to live our lives, often burdened and weighed down by the sinfulness of this world in some way or another, while seeking to remain faithful to our God.  But like Ezekiel the prophet, we too have been given something profound and wonderful by our God, in the fact that His Holy Spirit resides in our hearts and makes them His Temple, in that we consume the flesh and blood of His Son given to us for our sustenance; but with these things comes responsibility. And like Ezekiel, we are called to action, we are called to serve as a warning to a drowning world that God longs to see saved from destruction.

We have been called to be people of action, not a people that sits still and waits to be saved.  It is inherent in the very name “Christian”, which means FOLLOWER of Christ; and to follow, one has to get up and move in the direction of the One who is leading.  Being a disciple means ever moving in the footsteps of Christ, and He is an eternal God so those footsteps that we follow are never ending.

But like Ezekiel this means we have great responsibility, and the call to say hard things, warnings that others do not want to hear.  But they are necessary.  I would know, because I was once the one who was in need of receiving such a hard thing to hear:

When I was getting ready to go to college and eventually law school, I had my whole life laid out ahead of me.  I knew what I wanted for my future and I was certain.  But what was uncertain was what I believed, what my relationship with God would look like, it had taken a back seat, something that I figured I’d get around to figuring out later at some point.  And I remember that father would ask me questions about it, and I’d get frustrated or try to change the topic, but one night during one of those conversations he told me:  “To be honest if you were the most successful lawyer in all of Washington but didn’t have faith, I would prefer the you were a McDonald’s burger flipper who did.”

I did not like hearing that.  My reaction was less than pleased.  But it was necessary for me to hear, because regardless of what I thought about it, I could not forget it, I could not forget that that was what my father said.  Success, achievement and hard work, all the things that we are told in this life to strive after and apply ourselves to, did not matter in comparison to my walk with Christ.  And I must admit, that was the beginning of me putting all those things in the back seat and letting my faith be the predominant concern of my life.I   don’t know if that would have happened had my father not warned me, if my father had not said that hard statement that I really did not want to hear.

Our Lord Jesus often said things that were very hard, things that people did not want to hear.  He often said them to those who were closest to Him, like Peter, Mary and His disciples.  But He said them because it was for their benefit, because it was always a warning for them, a warning to call them to what was best for them, what God desired for them.  And we are called to follow in His footsteps, called to speak out to warn others, to tell them about the salvation waiting for them in the pierced hands of Christ, to speak out and against injustices and wrongs done by others so that they may see the error of their wrongs and repent, or to speak up and raise our voices in prayer for those who are suffering or in need.  In other words, we have been called to action, we have been called to speak up rather than remain silent, even if no one wants to hear what it is we have to say.

By this point in time, virtually everyone is aware of the great criticism of the people of Europe who sat by and said nothing as the Nazi leadership carted away the Jews, Roma, and homosexuals to the camps.  It has become the classic example of how wicked things happen when good people say and do nothing.  But one of the exemptions was the man Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran Pastor who had managed to escape the Nazis he had so bitterly opposed.  And he was an exile in America, grieving for his people and nation and the sin it was embroiled in.  He was invited to continue to serve in ministries here in the United States, but he eventually came to the conclusion that he could not.  For back in Germany, his people, including those in the churches, were being led astray, and they needed to be warned.  God was calling him to be the watchman who would call out to his people.

So he returned, knowing that most, if not all, would want nothing to do with what he had to say.  And he was right, the Nazis eventually executed him.  But no one could say that there was not a voice that had called out from a loving God who did not even want the wicked to perish in their sins.  And his example continues to serve as a standard in the Church to this day, to not remain silent but to continue to speak, to continue to call out and to continue to warn.

As St. Paul once said “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him?  And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him?  And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

My brothers and sisters, we have been called tell the world, to speak up with a voice that has been given to us by God Himself, and to not keep silent.  Like Ezekiel, we too may be struggling to stay faithful and go about our busy and sometimes difficult lives, but like him we have been given something profound, we have been given something amazing, the very Son of God, who gave Himself for us, so that you, so that I — wretched sinner that I am, can say “He is mine and I am His.”  How can we keep quiet about it?  How can we not raise our voices and tell others?  How can we not raise our voices and warn others?  Warn that they might miss Him, warn that the injustices and wrongs that they commit are against what He desires for them?  Or raise our voices in prayer and supplication on their behalf even if they do not listen?

We have been given a voice with which to speak to the rest of the world and tell them.  Regardless of who we are, what we do, how rich or poor we are, if we are black or white, male or female, and it cannot be taken from us so let us use it.  And even if no one listens, if no one wants to hear it, at least the world will have heard and known that there is a loving God who called out after them who said that He does not even desire the death of the wicked.  His nail pierced hands are continually being held out to them.  We have the responsibility to not keep silent about it.

 

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

September 3, 2017: Not My Will, But Thine

I had a young friend in elementary school who, like me, grew up as an avid Star Wars fan.  Like myself, he could just about quote every single line from the movie, he could answer who would win in a fight, Darth Vader or a Rancor (which clearly was Darth Vader).  So imagine my absolute envy and anger when I found out that his mother was attending a meeting about entertainment and arts for the city which Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, was at, and managed to bring her son along!  And not only that, he got to talk to him and meet him!  And talk to him!  Here with his great hero, the legend!

And the way his mother told the story later, he ran up to Harrison Ford and began babbling as a little kid is prone to about how much he loved him and his movies.  And the actor was just nodding and kinda smiling and saying “Thank you thank you.”  And my friend said, “You have no idea how much those movies mean to me, I have seen them a thousand times, literally, I can quote every single one of your lines from memory.”  At which point, Harrison Ford’s smile disappeared, and he leaned down to my friend and said “Kid, for goodness sake, start watching something else.”

Not exactly what my friend was expecting to hear from the man he so dearly loved and idolized.  I can tell you that he came back rather meek from that meeting and I no longer envied him.  And I imagine that is rather how the rest of the 12 disciples felt upon hearing what Jesus said to a very ardent and fervent Peter.  I think hearing Jesus say “Get behind me Satan” is quite possibly the last thing that anyone would want to hear from the lips of the King of Creation.  And you cannot help but almost feel sorry for Peter because really, his heart is in the right place, only a few moments before, when Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?” Peter alone, out of all the disciples is the one who is willing to step forward, despite the implications that could come from it, and publicly declare, “You are the Son of God, the Christ!”  He was also the only one who was willing to get out of the boat and walk towards Christ on the water.  He has displayed great faith and devotion, and Jesus acknowledges this, saying that He will give Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven!  How profound!

But here and now, while Peter reacts in horror to the idea that this Jesus he loves so dearly is to suffer and be put to death, Peter is hit with one of the harshest rebukes Jesus is recorded to have said.  And He says something that, to me, is the hardest part of His rebuke:  “You have become a hindrance to me.”  Peter, this fervent disciple who is beginning to step into such a profound role of leadership, is told by Jesus that what he is doing, in hoping to keep Jesus safe, is actually hindering Jesus and what God hopes to accomplish.  His heart may have been in the right place, but as Christ says “you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.”

A harsh verdict.  Peter longed to see Jesus victorious, to see Him raised up above Herod, the Sanhedrin and Rome itself!  But Jesus raised up on a Cross, bleeding and gasping for breath?  How could this be what God wanted?  Yet the Father once said “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.”  To Peter, and indeed, basically anyone, what God had planned, what God was about to do was the opposite of victory, it seemed like defeat.  But here when Jesus is explaining it quite clearly, Peter is unable to see it, because his own understanding of what would be best is keeping him from doing so.  And so he has become a hindrance.

We know that our God is a loving God, but like a loving parent or spouse or friend, sometimes harsh things need to be said in order to help us to realize the mistakes that we are making.  And this rebuke that Jesus gives serves not only as a warning for Peter, but for us as well.  And it is a lesson that is hard to learn.

Because when we set our minds to that which is of God, we often find that He us to things that we would rather not do or participate in, so it is easy to rationalize to ourselves why we really don’t have to do that particular thing, or why it really isn’t a good idea and that can’t possibly be what God wants us to say or do.  How easy it is to say that this thing that seems crazy or illogical couldn’t possibly be what is best.

I’m reminded of my former roommate form Pittsburgh before I met Camila, who was flying back from a huge missions committee and was collapsed in the airport waiting for the airplane.  At a distance away from him stood an Orthodox Jewish man.  My roommate felt the Holy Spirit say to him, “Go talk to him.”  And he thought, no I’m too tired and exhausted, and what on earth would I say?  But then the man sat down across from him and he felt the nudge again; and he thought, how insulting would it come across to a clearly conservative Jew if I started spouting about Jesus to him in the middle of the airport?  But he kept feeling this push.  So he said, “Look God, if you really need to me to talk to this man, have him sit down next to me on the airplane!”  Guess who was sitting next to him on the airplane!  And no there was no story of a miraculous conversion, or a profound realization of the Messiah, but what there was was an opportunity to talk with and minister to a man who had just left his father’s funeral and was grieving.

What had seemed like the lead up to an awkward and insensitive conversation in reality was an opportunity to minister and share in a painful experience, despite the differences that seemed so prevalent.  But if my roommate had continued to protest, and continued to offer excuses about why this was not a good idea from his perspective, he would have been a hindrance to what the Spirit had planned, just like Peter.  But he eventually listened, he was familiar enough to the whispering of the Holy Spirit to recognize what it was He desired.  This is why St. Paul warns us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

If we have our minds set on that which is of the world then we are in danger of missing out entirely on what God is calling us to, even if we think that what we are doing is for His glory, with the best of intentions in our hearts. Such was the case with the Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land long ago, desiring to retake the Holy Land by force.  Such is the case with many today who say that Jesus doesn’t care what we do with our lives, so long as we are fundamentally happy.  Such is the case when I try to explain to myself why being involved in this ministry, or talking to this person, or speaking up at this time really isn’t the best idea.

I’ve shared with some of you about the profound moment when I met Douglas Gresham, the son of C.S. Lewis and told him that I was a seminarian and asked if he had any advice or words of wisdom, he decided to share with me what he said was the most important thing his father had told him:  “Do not do what YOU want to do for Christ, instead do what HE wants you to do for Him.”  It sounds so simple.  Perhaps even basic.  But it is fundamental to being a disciple of Christ, and without it, we are in danger of creating a pattern of discipleship where we follow our own ultimate plans and designs until they fall short of what we had hoped.

So it was with Peter, who was still so opposed to the idea of the way of the Cross that Christ must go that even in the garden, when everything Jesus had told him was about to happen began to, he still would not listen, and instead grabbed his sword and then had to be rebuked once again.  And when everything was now going opposite to what he had planned and expected, he no longer knew what was stable ground, and even denied Christ when he had risked all to proclaim him before.

But as we know, Jesus forgave Peter, and according to the ancient traditions of the Church, Peter truly learned to do that which Christ desired him to do as opposed to what he wanted to do for Christ.  Decades later, when Peter was in Rome and the persecution of Nero was beginning, the church elders begged Peter to flee, so that he may continue to spread the Gospel so that it would not be snuffed out by the Emperor.  He agreed this was best, so he blessed them and left Rome to go evangelize where the Good News had not yet spread.  But as he was walking down the road, he saw a figure struggling towards him under a great burden, and as he drew closer Peter saw that it was Christ carrying His cross, headed in the opposite direction.  Peter stopped, baffled and cried out “Lord, where are you going!” and Jesus replied “I am going to Rome, because you are leaving it.”  And Peter, picked himself up, turned around, and walked back into the gates of Rome.  He continued to serve, he continued to encourage, he continued to teach.  And he paid the ultimate price and was martyred, but the Church survived, and flourished.

“Do not do what you want to do for Christ, only do what Christ wants you to do for Him.”

With these words, I feel that we are challenged into the deepest part of what it means to be a disciple of the living God.  As people who are not just eager to serve and to proclaim, but willing to listen first, and to do what we hear whispered to our hearts.  As the prophet Jeremiah said “When your words came to me, I ate them with joy.  They were the delight of my heart.  I accepted them because I wanted to bear your name and to be known as yours.”  Amen.

 

Photo by Andrew Dong on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2017: Crumbs and Persistence

When I was a child, I think I actually would occasionally sleep walk because I often did things that I had no memory of doing the next morning, leaving the light on, letting my dog in the room and drinking the glass of water I always left by my bedside table.  But I apparently didn’t realize this because once, when I was about 4 years old I went to my mother and said “Mother, I thought you said Jesus loved me and cared for me.”  “Well yes sweetheart,” she responded, “He does.” And then I asked, “And you said He stands by my bed every night and watches over me?”  “…Yes?”  “Okay” I responded.  “If He loves and cares for me so much, then why does He keep drinking my glass of water every night?”

We do not like the idea of when Jesus does something that doesn’t fit with the loving image of Him that we have in our heads.  We are so used to paintings and pictures of movies of Jesus smiling at people who come to Him or who need Him, reaching out to them with calm serenity and a deep loving look in His eyes that a scene like we read in our Gospel lesson today can very easily jar and clash with that image, and leave us feeling very uncomfortable.  It almost seems that Christ is acting very un-Christlike.  This passage shows a desperate mother, sick with anxiety for her child, who is so desperate for help that she approaches a man who is from a people group who has been at odds with her own for centuries.  Enemies even!  And she begs, she begs for help.

And what does Jesus do?  At first, He ignores her, He is silent.  And after his disciples beg Him to do something, to at least tell her to go away, He seems to affirm what they say.  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  This statement, especially to today’s readers with all of the conflict and division we face, seems particularly strange coming from Jesus, because it is dismissive and excluding based upon background and race; essentially Jesus is more or less saying “I came for the Jewish people, and you are not one, so what claim do you have on me?”

What are we supposed to do with that?  Yes, Jesus does eventually heal her daughter after her clever response:  “Yes, but even dogs eat the crumbs under their masters tables.”  But what do we do with what Jesus said to her? Many Biblical commentaries actually seem to struggle with this very question.  I would know; I was amazed at the vast approaches of the ones I read in preparation for this week:  they usually ignore Jesus’ side of this discussion and focus on how persistent the woman is, who seemed to change Jesus’ mind.

But God does not change.  The same Jesus who died for the world on the Cross is the same Jesus who has this conversation.  And furthermore, if we are truly to believe that all of Scripture is breathed out by the Holy Spirit, we have to accept the fact that the Spirit, in His infinite wisdom, chose for the Gospel writers to recall this particular story and record it for our benefit, and for our good.

I said a moment ago that God does not change, and I stand by that statement because if we carefully analyze the details in this story, we will see the truth behind this statement.  For this story is not unique of a Canaanite woman chasing after God, even though her people were declared enemies of the Israelites and their God.  In the pages of the Old Testament we have the story of Rahab, the Canaanite woman who begged the Israelite spies in Jericho to spare her and her family and allow them to join Israel and she would hide them and care for them; and because she did and she feared the Lord,  God allowed it.  Then there is the story of Ruth the Moabitess, the Moabites being a tribe that God had cursed in Deuteronomy,  but she would not take no for an answer from her mother-in-law Naomi, and refused to leave when she was told to go home, saying instead “Your God will be my God.”  And the Lord blessed her.

These women, these foreign women who should be enemies of the Israelites and their God, decided to pursue that God. And they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  And God honored them for that.  And here history is repeating itself, and Jesus is fully aware of it.  Why?  Not just because He is omnipotent and all knowing, but also because Rahab and Ruth were both His ancestors…in fact Matthew goes out of his way in this Gospel to include them both in the genealogy of Jesus.  And so Christ sits here and allows the same story to play out.  A desperate woman, a foreigner, an enemy to come to Him.  And He acknowledges and plays out the fact that she is not of the Covenant people, she has no claim on Him, but this desperate mother will not be deterred, she still chooses to believe in Him, she chooses to trust Him, she still chooses to seek after Him.  And He honors her for that.  Just as He did for Rahab and for Ruth thousands of years before.

And just like before, this is a challenge to those who were supposed to be followers of God, the Israelites, those who were in Covenant with Him, who had a claim.  Rahab chose to follow this God when His own people had not liked what He said to Him and rebelled in the desert.  Ruth’s Israelite family had left Israel because of God’s silence during a period of famine, Ruth chose Israel and takes its God as its own.  And in this story Jesus is the promised Messiah come for the Jewish people, but many reject Him, some plot to kill Him, but this Canaanite pursues Him and trusts Him even when He is silent or seemed dismissive.  And for that, He honors her.  Because she displayed the ever persistent faith in her heart that His Covenant people should have.  And so through this strange conversation, Jesus allows her to be an example to His followers.  As God once said through the prophet Jeremiah “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.”

And so Jesus makes this woman and her faith a challenge for us today, will we continue knocking when the door seems like it will stay closed?  Are we willing to continue to pursue Jesus like she did, even in the times when He seems to be no listening, or even silent?  Or will we be like many of the crowds of followers and disciples who turned away during such times?  When Jesus was arrested, and He stood accused before Pilate, He remained silent, and where were His followers?  Far away no longer trusting or believing.  When Jesus was silent before this woman where was she?  Still asking, still pleading, still trusting that He would hear her, still understanding that He had complete control.

One of the grandmothers of one of the children I work with in my day job I feel exemplifies this because of how she continues to pursue and plead with God for her grandson.  Praying that he will continue to progress and be able to learn and lead a full life, and she doesn’t ever stop.  I hear her each week, and how she trusts that God is listening and will do this, even though it doesn’t seem that He is listening.  Problem behaviors continue to crop up, he’s started to run away, and it’s just exhausting for everyone involved.  But she trusts that God is listening, she chooses to pursue Him in the midst of the hardship instead of giving up, like that Canaanite woman, she continues to ask.  She once smiled and said, “I know He’s honoring this request, He sent you and provided the clinic, didn’t He? In His own time, He’s honoring my request.”

My father once admitted to being frustrated with God when he was younger because it seemed that God was silent and dismissive for his many prayers for his sister Rosemary; why would He never answer the pleas and requests for her?  But with her passing this past week, as we have been planning the funeral for her, there are so many people who want to attend, so many people whose lives were touched by her that we have actually had to schedule two different services in two different locations.  God may not have answered the prayers we offered on her behalf in the way that we desired, but in the last few months of Rosemary’s life, it became clear that to me that the Lord was in fact responding to them.  Two of her house mates in the home she lived, we found out, have spent the past few years taking her to church, where they said she loved to sing the hymns, smiling as she people who loved her dearly.  All those years and years of prayer and continual persistence after the Lord were not wasted, for she was loved and she was accepted, and for that, we can give thanks, and an amen.

Jesus, through His interaction with this desperate Canaanite woman, challenges us to follow in her footsteps, to strive after Him no matter the obstacles, no matter if we do not see Him reacting to us immediately in the way we want, to continue to pursue to continue to ask.  And our liturgy encourages us to do the same as well.  Soon we will come to the Eucharist but before we come to the Table, we will pray the Prayer of Humble Access.  Jesus said it is not fair to give the food to the dogs, and the woman humbly says yes but even the dogs will eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.  And so we will humbly acknowledge in that prayer “We are not worthy to eat the crumbs from under your table, but you are the same God whose nature is always to have mercy. …” And so like her, we will come forward with hands held out in supplication, choosing to believe, choosing to trust that Jesus will meet us.

 

Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

August 13, 2017 Sermon: Stepping into Storms

I’ve told stories about my trip to Israel and some of the amazing things that I was fortunate and blessed to have seen and experienced.  But there is one story that I have not told very often before because it was not my…best moment.  My tour group was staying at a hotel on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and sitting there and gazing out across the waters that Jesus walked across so long ago was a profound experience.

So I’m sitting there one beautiful evening, when myself and another friend on the trip notice that there is this little buoy way out in the distance, and we got the dumb idea to go out and swim to it.  So we asked the life guard, and I’m pretty certain he actually didn’t understand what we were asking because he just kind of smiled and said “YA!”

So we strike out into the Sea of Galilee and swim and swim for quite a long time, and we reach the buoy and it was a beautiful night so the stars were out we thought “wow!”  So we treaded water for a long while and looked at them, and talked about what we were thinking, what we were experiencing on the trip.  But it was dark, so when we decided it was time to go back, we turned around and I said “Uh….where’s the shore?”  And as we were floating out there completely lost without knowing which direction we had come from, I noticed my friend putting his ear to the water, and I said “What are you doing?” and he said “I’m listening for footsteps, history sometimes repeats itself.”

When we read this passage we often talk about how Peter failed, he is walking on the water and then he lets the waves and the wind take his sight off of his Lord, and he sinks…. He suddenly doubts, he fears the storm more than he trusts the One he is walking too, and so we see this story as a warning for ourselves when we are in the midst of storms in our own lives, to not lose sight and to remember and trust in the One who is the Lord and master of all storms.  And it is well that we should.

But….but…I think that there is more to the story than just that, and that there is more to what Peter did, in fact, I would say there are a few things that Peter did in this situation that we should strive to follow.

There were 11 men in that boat, being battered by the storm when they saw the Lord walking towards them….but only one initially had the faith to get out of the perceived safety of the boat and walk to the One who said “Come.”  We know that often the disciples felt baffled and terrified, and on that stormy night, for eleven out of twelve, they let that fear and confusion keep them from even stepping out of the boat, out of that which felt safe to them, secure to them.

But Peter stepped out.  And I am not convinced that he stepped out because he had a reckless and stupid sense of adventure like my friend and I, and I don’t think he stepped out because he was eager to experience this supernatural phenomenon for himself.  He stepped out because Jesus was not in the boat….Jesus was in the storm.  And where Jesus was, is where Peter wanted to be, even if it meant stepping out from that which was safe, into that which was utterly not.  Peter may have lost his nerve and begin to doubt as he walked, but he at least made the attempt to get out of the boat, he saw where His Master was, and he decided that’s where he needed to go.

I have shared before, stories of my cousin little cousin Julia in the past, this sweet short girl from suburbia Chicago, who looked and saw that Christ was calling her to missions work in Jordan amongst the refugees of Syria, just miles away from the Syrian border and all of the conflict happening there.  And she wrestled with that, but ultimately decided that if this is where Jesus was, where the heart of God was yearning, then she must go.  I will never forget her announcing it to the family, because this little, fragile girl was stepping into the storm of storms, and there were many who were calling for her not to get out of the boat, it’s not safe, you’re wasting your life….or, you can serve God in other ways. But she did not, she stepped out where she is now, giving hope to the hopeless, weeping with the broken and holding the lost.  To me, she is one of the greatest examples I have ever seen of stepping into the storm because that is where the Lord is calling from.

And ever since, her example has been one to encourage and urge me to step out of my own comfortable little boat when my Lord beckons me. In stepping into ministries that I am nervous not to do, it talking to people I would rather avoid, in going to places where I would rather not go, I cannot help but see my little cousin stepping out despite all the people in the boat who are too anxious and can only see the raging storm ahead of her.  Because often, He will beckon from a place that we do not want to go.

And it is challenging for us. Because as we know from the story, we are often indeed like Peter, and when Jesus calls us to places that are away from our place of comfort and our place of safety, we are often will be buffeted and afraid, and, like Peter, we may doubt and we may suddenly feel the despair of feeling like we are sinking.

But again, there is one other way that I feel that we perhaps can learn from Peter in this situation in that…when everything seemed to be going wrong, when he looked at the waves and the winds assaulting him and lost sight of the One who is greater than them, and he began to sink. He cried out “Lord, save me!”  And Jesus, who had called him, crossed the rest of the distance that Peter should have walked, and took his hand. Peter doubted, he forgot, and things began to spiral out of control, but Jesus did not abandon him to the depths, he berated him and asked him why he doubted, but he never doubted him!

In our Old Testament reading today we read the prayer of Jonah as he was in the belly of the whale, and he got there because he ran from God!  It’s almost as if when God called to Jonah from the storm, instead of staying in the safety of his comfortable boat, he practically got up and jumped off the other side. But even then, in such a hopeless situation, he calls out to God for help, and he knows that He will answer. In his own words:

“The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you.”

 

Jonah, and Peter, both learned that God may call us to places that we do not want to go, and to serve in ways that we do not want to serve, but He does not abandon those He calls into the storm — even when we have sunk due to our own lack of faith, or the choices that we make.  When we cry out Jesus will cross the distance, He will reach out to us, because this is what He promised, because this is why He came, to save a world that was desperately drowning and needed to be saved.

Easter 2017

Easter Sunday :: Fr John 20170416

You know, there is a legend that the famous Marco Polo, the man who traveled the silk road and went deep in China, actually met a great and fearsome warlord by the name of Genghis Khan. And standing before this great and powerful warlord, he was commanded to give an accounting of the man he knew to be the greatest who had ever lived, for was there was greater than the Khan himself? Had he heard of him?

So Marco Polo began to tell the story of Jesus. How He was sent by God, how He walked on water, quieted storms with a wave of His hand, fed great hordes of people with a few loaves of bread. And, to the delight of Khan, how He always confounded and befuddled those who opposed Him with just a few words. But then, Marco got to Gethsemane. Where Judas betrayed Him, His disciples abandoned Him, the people arrested Him and Pilate crucified Him. And he paused. And the great Khan leaned forward in his chair totally enraptured with the story and said “And surely this is the part where God sends out his armies of angels and slays every last one of them? Right?”

But as we know that is not what happened. And when Marco told the Khan what did happen, it baffled him. Because what happened on Easter Sunday was fundamentally different than what the expectation of humanity would be, that it would end in a story of revenge. Everyone loves a good revenge story: the Iliad, Hamlet, the Count of Monte Cristo, the Last of the Mohicans, the Revenant, even the Princess Bride. The most memorable quote from that movie is “My name is Inogo Montoea, you killed my father, prepare to die!” The hero, in these stories, after suffering and defeat, arises again and tracks down and defeats those who had brought about a great injustice on them, and order and justice thus restored.

But this is not what happened. Yes, the people of this world had grabbed their Messiah and viciously put Him to suffering and death, but when He arose, He arose not to extract vengeance, but to loving call all people to Himself, to invite them into His great victory He won on that day, including those who had turned their backs on Him. And so He defeated sin and death not with power, though it was within His ability, but with love.

So when the tomb rolled open, and Christ stepped out into the light of day and back into the world, with the wounds still visible on His hands, and on His feet, and in His side, He was saying “Yes” to His Creation, even when it had given Him with a resounding “NO”. But His “Yes” was greater.

In His purposes for us, we say no all of the time, believe me, I would know. “God told me, you will be a priest, and I was like ‘You sure about that?’” It is so easy to say “No,” But even with our “No’s”, through Jesus, God has looked on us and said “Yes!” In every sense of the word! Yes as in He takes joy in us, Yes as in our we His????…….. And how can we be sure of this? Because the first thing He does, when He appears in the room to the disciples, is to say “Peace be with you.” When He sees Doubting Thomas He says “Come see, touch, and believe. These men had said “No never, we will never betray you!” But they did. But despite their “No”, despite the “NO” the world had given Him, He responded with a “Yes”, and called them to Himself.

And through that Yes, that ever persisting Yes that chases us and reaches out to us from that empty tomb, were are sought after until we say Yes, until we say Yes to Him, Yes to the victory over sin and death He freely offers us, say yes to the love He uses to overcome hate, and then follow in the footsteps of those disciples and to go and do likewise.

When I was in Myanmar, I may have shared with some of you the story of how I met a young man from the countryside who told me about how his village had been under attack multiple times from the military there, because they were a village that practiced a foreign religion, a foreign belief, and so they might join over with some Christian and Muslim tribes that were rebelling against the government. And mines were placed around his village by soldiers, so that they could not leave to go spread this message throughout the region. And I asked him “How…what do you do? How do, how do you deal with that?” He smiled at me and he simply said “It made me want to share the Gospel with those soldiers…”

And now, according to Archbishop Steven, now that the government has begun to relinquish its domineering control and loosen its policies…. The church in that village, and others like it that followed their example, have found the soldiers walking in their doors, to celebrate and to worship with them, side by side with those whom they were oppressing. If the people of that village had done what others had, and risen in rebellion and fought back, I don’t think that would have happened. But they answered the “No” thrown at them with a “Yes” as they walked into the minefields to speak with those soldiers who were laying them.

And we are called to do likewise. We are to respond to the “Yes” that God gives us out of that empty tomb, and to turn and take it into the world, following Mary Magdalene. To proclaim and show that the tomb is empty, that the Lord is risen, and that sin, Satan, and even death itself have been defeated and could not keep Him down. And to live lives that are a living witness to that fact. That we are not afraid of death, because Jesus rose and broke the bonds of death, and will do the same with us. That we do not hold the sins of others against them because He did not hold them against us. That we are not afraid of the great powers and forces of this world, because they tried their best to put down the King of Kings and they could not.

And when we struggle to live this way, and when fear, doubt, and worry cloud our way, and we find that we too have become doubting Thomases… may we remember that our victory was already won for us, and His inviting hands are always outstretched to us just as they were to Thoams… and that His “Yes” does not waver, even when we do. For the tomb, stands eternally empty.  Amen.

The Triumphal Entry

The Triumphal Entry :: Fr John 20170409

What if Jesus held his triumphal entry into Bellingham today? Well, according to Warren W. Wiersbe, he wouldn’t get to far before being detained by police for the numerous complaints filed by the following:

The FDA for turning water into wine without a license, the EPA for killing fig trees, the AMA for practicing medicine without a license, the Dept. of Health for asking people to open graves so He could raise the dead the NEA for teaching without a certificate, OSHA for walking on water without a lifejacket the SPCA for driving hogs into the sea, the NATIONAL BOARD of PSYCHIATRISTS for giving advice on how to live a guilt-free life, and by the ZONING DEPT for building mansions without a permit.

The point is that it would be very likely that if Christ were to walk into one of our modern day communities today, He would likely not be entirely understood. And this actually was the case 2,000 years ago when He rode in on the back of a donkey. The people held up their palm branches crying out Hossanah!!! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! But why? Because a few centuries earlier, Jewish crowds had done the same thing as the Maccabean heroes had ridden into Jerusalem victoriously after driving out the pagan Greeks who had desecrated the Temple! They were heroes! They were victorious, they had restored the honor of the people and, it seemed the honor of God! So here, the people gathered around Christ have this imagery in their heads, and they are prepared to celebrate His victory over the pagan Romans, and the restoration of the peoples honor and, dare we say it, even God’s. This is why they cry Hosannah!! A shortened Aramaic form of the Hebrew for “Save us.”

But…that is not what happened as we know. And we know that those who waved the branches so joyfully and victoriously on Palm Sunday, would soon be weeping, crying, or completely silent as a far angrier crowd would soon lead a broken, ripped and bleeding Jesus out of the city, to kill Him in one of the most horrific ways possible. And those who shortly before had proclaimed Hosannah!!! Would remain silent, or turn away, or deny Him, or even betray Him…. For their understanding of what His mission was and what He was doing was different from the reality. And we have no right to judge them. For in a sense, when we who stand here today and hold the palm branches turn away from our God, whether that be in denial or our own false expectations we place on Him, or in the sins we commit despite knowing what He has done…… we too are like those people of Jerusalem so long ago, who went from crying out in victory to turning away when that victory did not materialize for them.

But nevertheless, in both cases, Christ would answer the cry of Hosannah “Save us!”, even if those who were calling it out were not fully able to perceive Him or what his purpose was. Despite the silence of those who looked on and did nothing in His time of trail, He still suffered on their behalf. And His victory was far more glorious than any could have been anticipated, and the cries of Hosannah, SAVE US, far more closer to home and reality than anyone could have imagined.

And so this week, Holy Week, we remember the story of how this happened. This great victory that looked like such a horrific defeat. And we well to do so, because it is just as much our story in so many ways. For we, who have gathered together to remember it and give our own cries of “Hosanna”, are participants in this story just as much today, and perhaps in ways that may surprise us.

A dear friend of mine, called to do ministry in the inner city of London was once was given a dream, a vision, from our God. He saw crowds of Englishmen running from all across London. They were ripping branches off of the few trees along the street as they did, with smiles on their faces, their eyes bright with hope and excitement. They were saying, “He’s here. He is here!” And they ran down the street, and as he made is way to the crowd he could hear shouts of “Hosannah, hosannah, save us Lord, save us!” And when the crowds parted, there was Jesus, riding into the midst of London. But He was not being carried by a donkey….He was being carried on the back of my friend. And he carried our Lord into the city of London.

And so the story goes on, the story of redemption and our Lord’s ever pursuing love to rescue and redeem His children from sin and death. And this is our story, for it was our fate, our souls and our redemption that were at stake during that fateful week so long ago when Jesus rose into Jerusalem. And despite the silence and betrayal that Jesus was destined to meet from those who should have kept on crying Hosannah, He still continued on, past the city gates, and to all that awaited Him. And this Holy Week, we are called not only to remember and give thanks for that, But to also remember that the story goes on, and our participation in it. In sense we are called to be the donkeys carrying our Lord further to those who, whether they understand it or not, cry out Save us, Lord save us… Because He will. Because He is Emmanuel. Because He is God with us. And this is His story, and it is ours. And it is the greatest story ever told.

Almighty and everliving God, in Your tender love for the human race, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ to take our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of His great humility, Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of His suffering, and also share in His resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Who in His great mercy has promised forgivness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to Him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness and keep you in eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As we now approach the time where we are to offer our gifts unto God, it is worth remembering that the gifts of God’s people are not just the bread and wine that will be consecrated and given to you as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice; they are also our offerings and tithes. Here at New Hope, our offerings and tithes are left in the plate at the back of

the sanctuary. They will be carried forward for blessing after the passing of the

peace. If you feel so called to give today, you may do so during the peace.

Because You gave Your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to redeem mankind from the power of darkness; Who having finished the work You gave Him to do, was lifted high upon the cross that He might draw the whole world to Himself, and, being made perfect through suffering, might become the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.

The Raising of Lararus

The Raising of Lazarus :: Fr John 20170402

Three friends were discussing death and one of them asked: “What would you like people to say about you at your funeral?”

The first of the friends said: I would like them to say, he was a great humanitarian, who cared about his community.

The second said: He was a great husband and father, who was an example for many to follow,” said another.

The third friend said, I would like them to say, “Look, he’s moving!!”

A humorous take on a rather grim subject. It has often been remarked that our culture has a rather acute fear of death, and often tries to deal with it by either ignoring it, or making light of it, like the example I just gave. Because death is not an easy subject, and it is one that is ultimately unavoidable.

Which is perhaps why our Old Testament lesson, from the prophet Ezekiel, is so famous and such a beloved scene dearly loved scene, where of God breathes life into the dried up bones in the valley, occurred at a very difficult time for the people of Israel. Jerusalem had been destroyed, its armies routed and the people and been expelled into exile across Mesopotamia, all because of their rebellion and refusal to listen to God. And now they are paying the price. But God, gives Ezekiel this vision, this awe inspiring vision of Him breathing life into dead dried up bones, giving them flesh and sinew, promising that this will be Israel, that He will breath life into and resurrect the nation of His own people, an outpouring of His Spirit and grace. This was a powerful and profound promise, one the Jewish people would cling to throughout their suffering and hardship, because what could be more inspiring or freeing than an image of death being reversed?

So imagine what it must have been like for the crowd gathered before the tomb to see Christ call out to the dead and bring the dead back to life. Suddenly, the imagery of the vision given to Ezekiel is no longer just an inspiring and symbolic one, because it has literally just occurred right in front of them!! They looked up and cried out “Look, he moved” and it is no laughing matter, death was reversed right in front of their eyes…… As Jesus Himself said, “I AM the resurrection and the life…” And John displays this FACT powerfully in this scene. Where God has not only fulfilled the prophetic vision of Ezekiel figuratively, but literally as well, as Lazerus, walks out of his own tomb, alive once again.

But the question is…why this particular story? Though it is the only recorded instance in John’s Gospel of Jesus raising someone from death, it is not the only one that we know of. The other synoptic Gospels record multiple other instances of Jesus doing what is impossible, raising the dead. So from that perspective, this was nothing new, it was once again Jesus doing what Jesus does best, the impossible. But there is one thing unique about this time: in this instance, in this scenario, Jesus has a personal and intimate connection with the dead. He knew Lazerus and loved Him. He knew Mary and Martha and cared for them. And so, when Jesus arrives at this scene, John goes out of his way to detail all of the emotions that He goes through. Though most English translations say that Jesus was “greatly troubled in His spirit”, a more literal translation of the Greek is that He was angry….. But angry at what? At the mourning of the people, at this lack of belief in His ability to solve the problem? Well I don’t think so because, to be honest if that were the case, then Jesus would have been perpetually angry at His disciples at all hours of the day.

No the answer lies with the next detail that John includes, and that is that Jesus, the God Incarnate… wept. The shortest verse in all Holy Scripture. Jesus wept, and wept even though He knew that in a few short seconds, He would solve the problem. He could have simply said “Do not weep, I am about to do something miraculous”, but He didn’t…and John, took note of that… Now, I don’t believe that this is all to indicate not that Jesus was emotionally all over the place, but that He is revealing what the reaction of the heart of God is to death itself AND the suffering and grief it brings upon us: a reaction of anger and sorrow.

And furthermore, it shows something else…. That God is fundamentally with us in the midst of our suffering, sorrow and hardships. EVEN when He knows that the outcome will be more glorious than we can imagine. And that….. THAT is just as much the purpose of His coming in the first place. He did not come only to win victory over sin and death, but also in order to be there with us in midst of our struggles to endure them….. as He too endured them with us…and as He too wept with us. That is an important thing that we must not miss.

When I was in Pittsburgh, there was a lady who was part of the church I was serving at who passed away. Now, she came from a very very large African American Pentecostal family, so at her funeral, they actually outnumbered us Anglicans attending by at least 10 to 1. And one of her nieces, who was a preacher and evangelist, was invited by our church to give the homily, and I have to say, it was one of the most profound and awe inspiring homilies that I have ever heard. She spoke powerfully about the hope we have in Christ and how death is not the end because Jesus won. And the congregation stood and applauded and raised their hands and shouted out “Amen.” And then we came to the Eucharist, and it was rather awkward because this mixing of liturgical and non-liturgical worship sort of came craishing together and people were lining up to recive the bread and wine and we were only at the confession.

But when we got to the actually Eucharist itself, it was as if a dam broke. Because all of the family and friends didn’t began weeping and wailing and the grief in the air was palpable. And for a moment, it was almost as if all of that hope, in victory after death and of resurrection had been forgotten. And I was stunned and the service just sort of ground to a halt and I ended up simply walking over with a tissue box and standing there not really knowing what to do…. But… in a sense… a liturgical beauty came out of this because all the weeping and mourning family… gathered around the altar… laying their hands upon it as they grieved and turning their tear stained faces towards the cross upon it. And they kept saying thank you Jesus…thank you Jesus

And what I realized in that moment was that, there was no forgetfulness of the victory over death in that moment, it was still remembered… but with IN THAT MOMENT THEY were ALSO embracing of the fact that all their anger and sorrow over their loved ones death wasn’t being pushed aside by that Christ’s victory… but was being shared fully by their God, fully in that moment. Because just as they wept, Jesus once wept as well….And that is worth giving thanks for.

It has often been remarked that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God’s reaction seems extremely harsh and almost uncaring. But John reminds us throughout his Gospel time after time that Jesus and the Father are One. That when you saw and knew Jesus, you saw and knew the Father as well. And so when John saw Jesus’ reaction at Lazerus’ tomb, He saw a glimpse of what the heart of God was since the very second that sin and death were first introduced into our reality. And for God it was no laughing matter for Him, it was nothing to joke about, or to uncomfortably ignore, but something that filled Him with anger and sorrow…and ultimately led Him to take action…. Which we, in just a few short weeks, will remember with joy and thankfulness. That Christ did indeed win over sin and death. And that one day we too, like Lazerus, will awaken to the sound of God calling our names. But until that day comes, we have the knowledge of a God who shares in our sorrow, and shares in our anger, and who invites us to come to Him in the times when it is too much to bear, because He bears them with us. For He is not only the God who wipes away our tears, but He is also the God who weeps with us. And for that, I give thanks…for that I say Amen, until I hear Him call my name into eternity.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Woman at the Well

The Woman at the Well : Fr John Allen 19 March 2017

There is an Orthodox Jewish comedian who offers his interpretations of how he imagines scenes played out throughout the Old Testament. In one rendition, Moses is walking with the Israelites through the desert and they say “Oi, Moses! It’s great that you brought us out of slavery, but the sun is beating down on our heads and we are still covered in muck from crossing the Red Sea, and we have nothing to eat!”

Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it. Sure enough, manna fell down from heaven, enough for everyone to eat. Moses said, “Are you happy now?”

They responded, “This isn’t really a full square meal Moses, and some of us are gluten free!” Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it.

Sure enough, quail flew down out of the sky, enough for everyone to catch and have some meat. Moses said, “Now are you happy?” The Israelites responded, “Well we got all of this food, but now we don’t have anything to drink it with, we will die of thirst!”

Moses grit his teeth and ran over to a rock, struck it and water immediately gushed out! He turned to the Israelites and shouted “There, NOW are you happy?” They all looked up from the water pooling at their feet, shrugged and said “What, no cups?”

The story of Moses striking a rock on the middle of the desert to
provide water for the people of Israel is one that resonates with us for
very obvious reasons. The symbolism of the story that Moses leads the people through a desert called “Sin,” and they cry out and complain bitterly about their thirst. And then God miraculously provides water for them to drink, by having Moses strike a stone, and water pours forth for all to have and to drink, thus God graciously quenches the thirst of a people who before were complaining and bitterly challenging Him only moments before. The parallels to our spiritual journeys with God are undeniable: we who are thirsty in the desert of sin are given life-giving water by a gracious God, even though we did not deserve it as well. But, there is a deeper symbolic level to this story than this.

When God gives Moses the instructions of what he should do in
order to bring the water to his people, listen to the words He uses:
“Behold, I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

Now, take note that when God says this, He specifically says that His very own presence will be upon the rock, when He simply could have said, strike the rock I show you…but this way, in order for the people to have their thirst quenched, God Himself must be struck, and struck by the very people whom He is saving.

A powerful foreshadowing of what would happen when Jesus
would be struck by His own people, so that salvation could be poured out for all of us. And this was not a fact lost on the first Jews that came to understand Jesus as their Messiah, for Paul blatantly states in Corinthians: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” John the Gospel writer, who was there in person at the crucifixion, took special note of the fact that when the Roman soldiers pierced the side of Christ, not just blood poured out, but water as well.

Which makes John’s telling of the story of Jesus at the well with
the Samaritan woman more interesting. That famous story where Jesus reveals that He is the source of Living Water. And it is a conversation that Jesus, the God Incarnate, starts by saying “I am thirsty,” like the grumbling Israelites did so long before. Who is to say God does not enjoy a bit of irony?

But like the story of the ungrateful Israelites in the desert, Jesus
finds Himself speaking with someone who is in practically every way not deserving of what He is offering. This woman is the living definition of nearly everything that the Mosaic Laws condemn: A member of a religion that skewed God’s word, a person of multiple divorces and an adulterer. By the standards of the culture of the day, a honorable Jewish teacher like himself shouldn’t even be near her.

And yet, Christ not only initiates a conversation with her, to her own surprise, but shows respect and kindness to her, despite knowing everything about her. And beyond even that, He offers her this Living Water, the water that will satisfy the thirst of our hearts and souls, that comes from Him alone. And unlike the Israelites, who continued to complain, her response was quite different…. She was overjoyed, excited, and runs home to her village. She cannot wait to share about this man, this man who offered her this “living water.”

And, through this story, John the Gospel writer calls us, his readers
to remember that this life-giving water came via our God being struck on our behalf “The Rock of ages, cleft for me” as the song says, and we are called to life not of grumbling, complaint and doubt, but like the Samaritan woman, a life of thankfulness, that moves us to action.

But this can be hard… in our daily lives, our day to day activities with long work hours, chores, responsibilities. I have to confess, that while reading these passages, I felt convicted about the fact that I am addicted to complaining. Work is stressful, my house keeps breaking on me, etc, etc. But in reality if I step back, I should be thanking God for all His many blessings. In more ways than one, I am sitting there looking at the water cascading around my feet, and saying “What, no cup?”

You know, I felt so tired and stressed this week that I didn’t even
really stop to notice that St. Patrick’s Day came and went a few days ago. I only just remembered in time to throw on green shirt while walking out the door so my coworkers didn’t pinch me. And that really is too bad because the story of that man really has a lot to say about remembering to be thankful for the life giving water that Christ has poured out for us.

The St Patrick’s Day holiday, unfortunately, has become a day of drinking, pinching, wearing green and joking about how God invented whisky to keep the Irish from conquering the world. But in reality, it is a day celebrating a quite remarkable man of God. He grew up in Great Britain, and though he came from a very devout family, he himself never bothered with the church as a young man. One day Irish raiders crossed the sea and captured him, brought him back to Ireland, forcing him into slavery. Now if anyone had the right to complain, to feel bitter, and frustrated, it was him. But during that time of slavery, he found turned to something better: Faith.

In his own recounting, St Patrick wrote: After I arrived in Ireland, I
tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realize now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.

Patrick, in the midst of the most complaint-worthy situation,
learned to give thanks and praise to the One who was with him in it. And
this thankful, lively faith inspired him, like the Samaritan woman to action. For as we all know, Patrick would one day go back to the very people who enslaved him, and share the life giving water that he himself had found there.

We all live in the midst of hectic and sometimes frustrating lives. I
know that each one of us face unique challenges that consume our time. There are a million articles out there talking about the stresses that have been heaped on us by modern day life.

But God extends His hand to each and every one of us, each and every day, with new mercies. He bids us to come and drink. For He loved us so much that He was willing to be struck for our sake so that we could. This fact excited and moved the Samaritan woman to action, and Patrick as well, and so too should it for us. For if we can turn to others around us with that in a world drowning in business, perhaps they will pause and realize that they are thirsting too. So my brothers and sisters, let us remember what God has done for us…and to give thanks instead of complaining.

I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone
lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favors in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot
measure.  Amen.