I have a ritual where I do all of my laundry every weekend. It just feels so rewarding to empty the laundry basket completely, wash and dry everything, and to enjoy the satisfaction of an empty laundry hamper. Of course, that doesn’t last for long, does it? I feel like I’m always doing laundry and that there won’t ever be a day where my hamper is empty and all of my laundry is put away.
By now most of us have heard the news about the total solar eclipse that will take place this Monday, August 21. It will be the first such eclipse visible from the United States since 1979. From Oregon to South Carolina, people are making their plans and securing their eclipse glasses in order to behold the uncommon sight of the moon blocking the sun’s path in relation to the earth and the darkness that results from it. I understand that even in Birmingham we’ll be able to see at least a partial eclipse.
Many Christians spend a lot of time in distress trying to discern God’s will. Who should I marry? Where should I go to college? Which job should I take? I was struck by verse 18 in this passage: “...for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” What good news! We can find God’s will for our lives in Scripture. He cares about those big decisions we all ponder, but He is even more concerned with the daily decisions we make to follow Him - to live in obedience to His word as His holy witnesses.
The Thessalonians had a lot of questions about death, but they also had concerns about Christ’s return. What will the day of the Lord be like? It’s interesting to me that this question has fascinated the church ever since the ascension! We write books about it, try to plot all of the prophecies on a historical timeline that makes sense to us, and want to pinpoint exactly how the end times will unfold. Apparently we haven’t read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 either!
When you were a child, did you ever get sick and have to miss school? I hated the feeling of sitting in math a few days after having a cold and feeling like I had missed out on some important concepts while I was out sick! It’s a silly analogy, but this is what happened to the Thessalonians. The apostles had to leave early and weren’t able to complete their course of instruction; for this reason, the Thessalonians had some lingering questions about several significant matters - one of them being death. As believers passed away, they were tempted to “grieve as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). I’m sure Paul would have preferred to give this teaching face-to-face, but given their current situation, passing along this instruction by letter would have to suffice for now. This is good news for us, because Paul gives the Thessalonians three hopes that continue to comfort Christians centuries later.
Cooks On A Mission’s first food sale of the school year will be Wednesday, Aug. 17, from 2-6:30pm. The menu this month includes Chicken Tetrazzini, English Muffins with Sausage and Cheese, Over the Top Macaroni and Cheese, Sourdough Missionary Bread, Cinnamon Rolls and Cherry Almond Scones. The Chicken Tetrazzini and Mac and Cheese come in 2-cup, 4-cup and 8-cup sizes. The Tetrazzini is $ 6, $12, and $24, respectively, while the Mac and Cheese is $7.50, $15 and $30. Scones and English Muffins are $12 for a bag of 10. Missionary Bread and Cinnamon Rolls are $5. All proceeds from the food sale go to support local missions, including The WellHouse, M-Power, Camp Seale Harris and Children’s Hospital, among other projects.
It’s silly, but we have generalizations about what makes different people happy. For instance, the age-old joke is that the way to a woman’s heart is through flowers and chocolate (unless you’re like me and disdain chocolate). But what makes God happy or brings Him joy? This seems like a difficult question, but Paul actually gives us two really clear answers in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 as he encourages the Thessalonians how to “walk and please God” - by refraining from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8) and by continuing to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12). This is the beauty of our Christian faith, isn’t it? We don’t have to make guesses at what pleases God or brings Him joy. Scripture gives us an outline for how to live as His blameless children.
SERMON 08/13/17 • Matthew 14:22-33 “What to Do When the Wind Is Against You” In his book, Common Table, John Cowan, a human resources consultant and Episcopal priest, tells about a young priest friend of his who had taken over temporary responsibilities for one of the most affluent Episcopal parishes in the state of Minnesota. As a young priest who had been thrown overnight into the deep waters of parish ministry, he was totally clueless about so much of how that congregation went about its business. In particular, he was bewildered over their parish meetings. On the surface, everything seemed just fine. But underneath, the young priest couldn’t shake this sensation that something else was going on in the congregation that he just couldn’t wrap his mind around. Unable to bear the tension any longer, he asked an older priest who had been a part of that parish for several years what it was that he was sensing but could not for the life of him name. The older priest responded, “Try the word fear.” And suddenly a light bulb went off in the young priest’s head. “That was it! Everything made sense if he took as his basic assumption that the vast majority of the members of his parish were scared out of their wits.” Granted, the members were well to do. They were presidents of this and vice-presidents of that. They were politicians and deal makers. They owned expensive houses and vacation properties. They were movers and shakers in the classic sense of the word. But one mistake, one change in management, one more recessionary cycle, and the income that supported their way of life would cause them to lose everything. And so, as a congregation, they were mightily afraid. I don’t know that you necessarily have to be on the upper end of the socioeconomic ladder to appreciate the fear that so many are feeling today. Truth be told, I can’t think of a better way to describe the “ethos” of our age than to speak of it as one that is awash with fear. The media doesn’t help. Everywhere you turn, someone somewhere is proclaiming gloom and doom. Someone is telling you that the end is drawing ever nearer. At one time such talk was the purview of preachers, but now everybody seems to be getting in on the act of telling us just how bad things are getting and why we have every reason to be afraid. The world scene is shaky. The government is at loggerheads. How do you even know that you can trust the person sitting next to you? Without question, fear certainly seems to have won the day. But why really are we so afraid? I think it’s important for us to ask ourselves that question. Why is it that we have this chronic unsettledness deep down in our hearts that causes us to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat? Might it be that the source of our fear is our realization that we are on the verge of losing control? Might it be that the reason we live each moment with this unsettledness in the pit of our stomachs is because we have come to see that so many of the handles that we held on to have been ripped away and we have nowhere else to turn? If this morning, that pretty well describes what you’re dealing with in life, then do I have good news for you. There is a place you can turn. There is someone you can cling to. There is help and there is hope, and all of it comes in the person of Jesus. That’s the point of the story I read for you today. This story of Peter walking on the water is at its core a story of hope. It’s a story of hope, because it presents us with the impossible – a man walking on water – and so, it inspires us with the prospects of how, like Peter, we might be able to overcome those challenges that in the course of our everyday life threaten to consume us. As you read the story, the emphasis is on Simon Peter, and understandably so. There is so much about Simon Peter that so many of us aspire to emulate. He is bold. He is committed. He is unafraid to take risks and he is always ready to pull the trigger. He reminds us of the truth behind the saying that mistakes of passion are always easier to overcome than mistakes of inertia. In other words, it’s always easier to clean up the messes that you might make when at least you try to accomplish something than it is having to move beyond the agony of realizing just how much you missed when an opportunity came your way and you were simply to afraid to take advantage of it. So, why doesn’t Simon Peter inspire us with the courage to take the risks we need to take to overcome the challenges in life that are sinking us by the second? I believe it’s because the story was never intended to have us focus on the example of Simon Peter. The story, as told by each of the Gospel writers, was intended to have us focus instead on Jesus. I have been guilty of this mistake myself. Like many of you, I grew up hearing this story and from a very young age being told that the point of the story is always to keep our eyes on Jesus. But what happens as we get older is that we get away from that simple truth. We take a few risks and, lo and behold, they work out. We inch out a little farther onto the limb and the limb doesn’t break. We jump into the deep water and though we don’t necessarily float, neither do we drown. And after a little bit of that level of success, without ever noticing, we take our focus away from Jesus and we place it upon ourselves. “Look at me. Look at what I can do. Look at how far I can go.” And Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Go back and look at the story with what one theologian (Paul Ricoeur) has called a “second naïveté.” The disciples find themselves in the midst of a serious squall some distance from the shore. It is the middle of the night, sometime between 3am and 6am. Suddenly they see a figure coming to them from a distance. At first they take it to be a ghost; not a good sign, not a good sign at all. But then Jesus calls out to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” It is at this point that Simon Peter enters the picture. “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” And when Jesus tells Peter to come to him, Peter does, and he walks on the water, until he sees the wind and notices the waves and becomes afraid and begins to sink. And at that point, he calls upon Jesus to save him, which, of course, Jesus does, but not before he upbraids him for having what Jesus calls “little faith.” Here’s the point. We love to laud Peter for his boldness in jumping out of the boat. We love to point out how Peter took a mighty risk that the eleven other disciples certainly weren’t willing to take. But the truth of the matter is that even in jumping from the boat Peter was still trying to be in control of the situation. Peter was still trying to manage his challenge. “Lord,” he called out to Jesus, “if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Peter wanted to be where Jesus was and know the power that Jesus knew. But what Peter failed to understand, until he found himself in a place beyond his control, that the only way we are able to rise above the challenges of everyday life is to make sure that our faith and our focus are securely on Jesus. Maybe that’s your story this morning. You’ve answered the call of Jesus to join him in the face of some precarious challenge, but somewhere along the way you started to believe that you could handle that situation on your own and you took your focus away from Jesus. Jesus helped you get back on your feet financially or relationally or in terms of your health or your studies, but now, you’ve come to believe that you can manage those situations by yourself, except things aren’t going as well for you as you had hoped. It’s time to “faith up.” It’s time for you to recast your focus on Jesus and call upon him to do in your life what only he is capable of doing. It’s time for you to trust yourself in that situation to Jesus and never make the mistake of ignoring him again. Can you do that this morning? Can you fix your gaze upon Jesus in the face of whatever challenges you may be facing in the present hour? I’m not suggesting that you avoid taking risks. I’m not suggesting that you play it safe and stay in the safety of the boat; that’s not what this story is suggesting. When the storms are raging, the boat is not necessarily a safe place. When the storms are raging and the wind is against you, the only safe place is to be in the presence of Jesus and to look to him for the power to see us through. The story is told of a little boy who was playing in his back yard, when he discovered a house painter’s ladder leaning against the house. Of course, like most boys would do, he began to climb the ladder, rung by rung, higher and higher. The painter looked down and saw what was happening, and he knew that if the boy every looked down, he would be terrified, perhaps panic, and fall to only God knows what fate. So, with a calm and cheerful voice, he spoke to the child these words: “Keep climbing, son. Keep climbing. Look up here to me and keep coming in my direction.” Fortunately, the child listened and kept climbing, and all the while the painter kept talking and encouraging him. Finally, the boy reached the painter, never realizing how high and how far he had climbed. And when he did, the painter took the child in his arms and carried him back down the ladder to a place on the ground where he would be safe once again. In the course of your everyday life, you may have come to find yourself in a place that you never imagined being. And you may have gotten their in faith and in response to the call of Jesus. But now, it’s gotten kind of scary and uncertain, and truth be told, you are deathly afraid. You have a choice. You can focus on your fear or you can focus on Jesus. There’s no shortage of voices telling you to do the former – to focus on your fear – and far too few voices directing you to the latter – to focus on Jesus. For your sake, listen to the ones that are pointing you to Jesus. For while focusing on your fears will only distract you and cause you to fail, focusing on Jesus will strengthen you and sustain you and help you to do things that you never thought possible. And that, my brothers and sisters, is what the life of faith is really all about.
Reread 1 Thessalonians 1-3 over the weekend. Reflect on all that God has been saying to you through His word this week.
After hearing Timothy’s positive report, Paul’s joy overflows in this prayer in verses 11-13. Often at this point in a letter, Paul might give a doxology expressing his praise. Yet here we have this very personal prayer for the Thessalonians.