Archives for June 2014

Groaning: The soundtrack of creation, 6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014

July 20, 2014

Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 (or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17); Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If you go into any gym and find the section where people are pumping iron, you will hear a lot of grunting and groaning. Weightlifters often groan. They groan as they strain to push weights off of their chests, or over their heads, or pull and heave them off the floor.

Engines straining also groan. If you strap a heavy trailer to a pickup truck and point it uphill, you will hear the engine groan. Gears push against gears, the engine revs, and the truck groans as it strains forward.

This is the sound of creation. Groaning is the sound of creation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

This is a vivid image. Perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic metaphor for women who have actually experienced labor pains, but it reminds us of the difficult work of creation. That work can be hard. That work can be groan-inducing.

Groaning happens in a gap – a gap between what we are trying to do and what we hope to do. Groaning reminds us that the time spent in the gap between what is and what could be is a place of hard work.

Our readings from the New Testament today are about living in this gap. We hear about the gap between creation as God intends and wills it, and where we are now. Paul describes how to, somehow, live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfill what God has promised to us. He calls this life in the Spirit. Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.

Paul felt that he had seen the fulfillment of creation in Jesus, he knew that fulfillment was within reach. He also knew the communities he preached to still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering. He knows both the glory that is to come and the very present sufferings of the present time.

He exhorts the Christians in Rome to live in the Spirit, because he also sees the glory that is just beyond the gap. A life in the Spirit is a life characterized by the confidence that through Christ we have been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering. A life in the Spirit is a life lived free of hatred and violence, and instead filled with joy and reconciliation. A life in the Spirit is a way to live in the gap between what is and what shall be, in joyful exertion, not in desperation.

The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap. The Reign of God – a reign that Jesus preached was here and now – is described as glorious. Jesus compares it to a grain field. A field of grain is the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread. This is an image of an abundance of what was, and for many still is, the basic food, the basic source of life. Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds. The weeds gum up the works. They cannot be removed easily. The parable today is about having to wait in the gap – in a world of both abundance and weeds. The parable is there to comfort those who live in the gap with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.

It is extremely difficult to live in a gap. It is difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that is not yet fully glorified. The first Christians must have felt this very strongly. Those who actually knew Jesus had known in their minds and felt in their souls the goodness and love of God in creation, the Reign of God in the here and now. Paul had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches he planted. Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision.

The parables Jesus told about the end of time, the words Paul gave to his communities, were written to help those communities understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be.

They are also words written for today. Christians still live in the gap. Many know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in their lives. Many have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness. Christians rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs of the Reign of God come near. Yet, people everywhere also wake daily to news of war and rumors of war, of violence in homes and communities, of soul-crushing poverty in every country, of injustice, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected.

As Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, Christians are reminded now – we do not hope based on what we see. Christian hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing all things to what they are meant to be, closing the gap. God’s focus is on closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. This is the work of God from the beginning of creation. To be Christian is to join in this work, for all people are children of God, part of that creation coming into being.

The way to join in this work is to live a life in the Spirit. This isn’t a life that tries to ignore the gap. It is a life that can stride confidently into the gap – angered at injustice, grieving at suffering, striving and straining and groaning.

Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It is the sound of the gap closing, of the Spirit overcoming resistance. Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the gap. It is a good, honest groaning, the soundtrack of what will be coming into being.

Life in the Spirit is a life that closes the gap between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead. Life in the Spirit closes the gap between the engine straining against the gears and finally reaching full speed, running like a well-oiled machine.

Christians are to be gap closers. Christians are to see the distance between what should be and what is, and strain, and heave, and work, and lift to close that gap. It may be necessary to groan, but the groans sing the soundtrack of creation.

May we stay true in the struggle, groaning if need be, laughing at our groaning when we can. The gap is closing, let us hear the soundtrack of creation as we raise our voices in work and strain and joy.

 

— The Rev. Matt Seddon is an archaeologist-turned-priest who focuses on multicultural ministry, social justice and care for our environment. As of this sermon he is living in a gap. He is currently transitioning from serving as vicar to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City, Utah, to serving as priest-in-charge for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Sowing the Word of God, 5 Pentecost, Proper 10 (A) – 2014

July 13, 2014

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14]; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9)

We don’t often think of it, but of all the New Testament literature, St. Paul’s letters are the oldest sources we have about Jesus – predating the gospels by a couple of decades. And Paul writes that for those who are “in Christ,” and “Christ is in them,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This ought to strike us as an astonishing assertion. Not something we should take for granted.

And we might ask, just how does this “Spirit of God,” this Christ, come to dwell in us?

“Us” is the key word here, since St. Paul writes in the plural – something the English translation cannot indicate. Paul rarely speaks of an individual’s relationship to Christ. He speaks almost exclusively of the individual in the context of the faith community – the community of Christ’s Body, the priesthood of all believers. How does Christ and the Spirit of God come to “dwell in us”?

Along comes the Parable of the Sower, rich with varied depths of meanings to help us see just what things, as our collect for today urges, we “ought to do,” and just how we might find ourselves equipped with the “grace and power to accomplish them,” and which things very well may prepare ourselves as a community to receive Christ and the Spirit of God into our midst – so that God’s spirit might “dwell” among us, a technical word in the Greek for pitching a tent, setting up shop, moving into a neighborhood.

And the first thing we might notice is the repetition, “A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed … .” That is, this is no random person scattering seed, hoping gravity and good luck will take care of the rest. This sower is sowing, which points to a practiced skill. This seed goes where it is supposed to go. No soil is left bare. No soil is overplanted. Yet, even with such a sower, some seed lands on the road, or on stones, or among thorns.

Vincent van Gogh, a 19th-century Dutch artist, understood this. He understood that the seeds were God’s Word of the Kingdom – and van Gogh knew, as we all know, that Christ is God’s Word of the Kingdom. Christ, the Word of God’s Kingdom, came to proclaim a message: I will set you free; I won’t let you be anything but holy, good and free.

Now what most people do not know is that the young van Gogh set off to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Protestant pastor. He spent some years evangelizing, bringing this good news of God’s Word to the poor, beginning with mine workers in Borinage, Belgium. During this time he was able to identify with the miners, their families and their lifestyles. His religious beliefs made him want to alleviate spiritual and physical suffering.

Only later did he turn to painting as another way to express his desire to bring people closer to God, closer to each other and closer to themselves. In 1888 he painted “The Sower,” an important work in the history of art, and surely a scene related to our story here in Matthew. One sees the sower, practiced in the art of sowing, deliberately planting the seed in the soil. For van Gogh the color yellow symbolized faith, triumph and love. The color blue represented the divine – and so he combines these colors so they seem to move together, showing the relationship of all living things. And there is something holy, good and free in the figure of “The Sower” – who, in the parable, of course, is God in Christ planting the Good News of God’s Kingdom in the soil of our hearts.

And the very thought that this seed, the Word of God, could yield a hundredfold would be heard by the farmers and fishermen Jesus addresses as simply fantastic! No seed known yields such bounty. Maybe tenfold, twentyfold or even thirtyfold, but 60 or 100 is unprecedented, unknown – simply unimaginable! We are meant to respond with awe that God’s Word possesses such grace and power. We are meant to want this Word planted in the soil of our own hearts, where we can tend to it, hear it, and be transformed a hundredfold ourselves. What a truly awesome gift from an awesome God.

Of course, the dangers of not tending to it are outlined. It is a parable of self-analysis: Are we fertile, well-tilled, deeply mulched soil? Or are we rocky ground? Do we welcome and make opportunities to tend to God’s Word every day? Or do we spend more time tending to the thorns of wealth and the cares of the world, such that the Word yields nothing?

Many who first heard Jesus tell this story figured out its meaning: We are the soil, the seed of God’s Word comes to rest in us, and for those who till and water and mulch and care for God’s Word, we become sowers of the Word ourselves – like the young Vincent van Gogh, like St. Paul, like the fishermen, tenant farmers, soldiers and others who first heard this story.

Like the skilled sower, may we become more practiced in letting the Word take root in our lives so we might begin to feel and to know that what St. Paul says is true: “We are in the Spirit, God’s Spirit dwells in us.”

God’s son Jesus desires to pitch his tent and plant his Word in our hearts and minds and souls so that we might truly become holy, good and free!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

The yoke that fits, 4 Pentecost, Proper 9 (A) – 2014

July 6, 2014

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 and Psalm 45: 11-18 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 (or Zechariah 9:9-12 and Psalm 145: 8-15); Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel is quite a contrast to what we’ve been hearing Jesus say lately. For most of the last few weeks, Jesus has been talking about the cost of discipleship – the certainty of persecution, conflict, suffering and painful division for those who choose to follow him. “Leave it all behind, pick up your cross, give up your life for my sake.” Strong stuff like that.

Today his tone changes, and Jesus is all sweetness and light – promising rest and comfort, light burdens and easy yokes. This is more like it. Gentle masters are much more to our liking – if we must have masters at all. But Jesus’ words are a little more complex than they seem.

First of all, the primary thrust of what Jesus is saying here is not directed toward people who have just any kind of difficulty. By “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” or an older translation, “who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus doesn’t primarily mean folks with ordinary problems – such as too many bills, or being unemployed, or sick, or having ungrateful kids, a hard life, or whatever. Jesus has all sorts of things to say about stuff like that, but that’s not what he’s talking about here. Here, Jesus is talking quite specifically to and about those who are on a religious quest – those who are seeking God, and relationship with God. He is calling to himself the religiously exhausted – those who, like Paul was just saying, have tried all of the usual ways of finding some peace with the divine and have achieved only frustration.

The real clue to this is the fact that a yoke was the common symbol for the Law of Moses, especially for the details of the law and the minute, ever-expanding demands of the legalism of the Pharisees. In fact, this is the main way the rabbis used the word “yoke” allegorically.

Also, we need to remember here that here Matthew is presenting an exaggerated picture of the Pharisees – most of them were not nearly this bad; many were not bad at all; but there were enough jerks to justify this caricature.

This is why Jesus says that the wise and intelligent  – that is, the religious leaders – have missed the point. He then adds that only the Son – not those leaders, and not you, and not anyone else, only the Son – knows the Father.

The yoke of the Pharisees, their demands that you have to do this and this and this exactly right in order to matter to God, in order to be a decent person, in order to be loved or counted significant – that yoke Jesus rejects, even though it was the yoke of the wise and intelligent.

That yoke, the yoke of seeking God by keeping the rules, by doing what somebody or anybody or everybody else says is the thing to do, by trying to get it right all the time and so living constantly in fear of getting it wrong, that yoke leads those who wear it to “labor and be heavy laden.” It leads to living in what Paul just called “this body of death.” It leads to a religion and a life of fearful obedience to a multitude of petty dictates where the spirit is deadened, and where some measure of success is more likely to lead you into self-righteousness than into the heart of God.

To say to your child, or a friend, or your spouse, or anyone, really, “I will only love you if you do right,” is to ensure a sick and twisted relationship. It hurts everybody involved.

To teach that God says this is not only terrible theology, it can also be devastating. Yet the yoke of the Law, at its worst, did just that. Those who, like Paul, struggled under such a yoke discovered that it didn’t fit; that it didn’t bring them to God; that it didn’t enrich their lives. Yokes like that never do.

To go scurrying about with the notion that if we could only figure out the right thing to do – the right way to act, the right words to say, the right way to do the rituals – then we would be all right, is to skate on the edge of magic, as if we could conjure up God’s acceptance. It will only ensure frustration and exhaustion. God’s presence with us and God’s love for us are never the results of our actions. He is in charge; we are not.

In response to all of this, Jesus says, “Come to me.”

Not to a new law, not to a new teaching, not to a secret interpretation or a hidden loophole, not to a book, not to a list; but “to me.” Come to Jesus himself.

In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you seek God; if you seek his love; if you seek a life that makes some sense; if you want a way of understanding the world that allows you to deal honestly with what happens and not be destroyed; if you want to be who you are created to be – if you want this, then come to me.”

It’s a call to relationship – to relationship with Jesus and to relationship with the community that continues Jesus’ life and ministry.

The alternatives, then and now, will fail. He will not. Remember today’s collect, in which we are reminded that God has taught us that all the commandments are kept by loving God and our neighbor. Such is the yoke of Christ. And since this yoke has to do with these commandments to love, the folks who seriously take that yoke upon themselves usually find that it is shaped very much like a cross.

One more thing: In many translations, Jesus calls his yoke “easy.” Now, that’s an unfortunate English word; it makes it sound like everything’s a snap, that very little effort or energy is required to do it. And as anyone who has tried to live the life of Jesus knows, that’s just not true. The New English Bible’s translation is better: It reads, “My yoke is good to bear.”

The point is not that this yoke, the Lord’s call to relationship, makes no difference or asks nothing of us – quite the contrary. The point is that it fits, it’s the right size, so it works – it leads to God, and it brings with it wholeness and a peace that can be found nowhere else.

To come to him is to discover that what can seem a frantic and desperate task – life with God – is, in fact, not an earned reward, but a free gift. To come to him is to discover, as Paul discovered, that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” To come to him is to discover that the task of getting it all correct is replaced by the absolute gift of God’s grace, and our grateful response to that gift.

All the strong stuff we’ve been hearing the past few weeks about the cost of discipleship is still very much there. But the yoke is good to bear. It leads to life. To put it on is to be embraced by God’s mercy – to carry it is to fulfill both God’s will and our own deepest humanity.

We are called to this new yoke, not to a law, or to a set of rules, but to a person and a community built around that person. And in this the religious quest – the greatest journey of human existence – can find its richest fulfillment, and its deepest satisfaction.

Jesus said, “Come to me if you seek God, if you seek life, I will give you rest.”

 

— The Rev. James Liggett has recently retired as rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas. He is a native of Kansas and a graduate of the University of Houston and the Episcopal Divinity School. He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. 

Click here to download a large-print PDF of this sermon.

 

God of Vengeance or God of Love?, 3 Pentecost, Proper 8 (A) – 2014

June 29, 2014

Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

We have in today’s readings some very difficult texts.

First, the frightening passage from Genesis, where God tests Abraham. The idea that God would demand that Abraham sacrifice his own son is so terrifying to us that the compilers of our lectionary removed this passage from its more prominent position as part of the Good Friday liturgy. It raises many questions – difficult questions – including who would want to worship a God who makes such outrageous demands?

Then, we have Psalm 13: “Will you forget me for ever, O God?” As we sing this psalm, are we to have perplexity in our minds and grief in our hearts? Are we to cower in fright because our enemy triumphs over us again and again? The psalm does go on to express trust in God, but, honestly, who wants to deal with a God who hides his face from us?

And the passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a treatise on sin. The Blessed Apostle depicts sin as the opposite of obedience to God. Our catechism refers to sin as distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation – that’s not exactly the same thing. Because obedience to God, well, that takes us back to the first lesson – and who wants to be obedient to a God who makes such outrageous demands?

Author Phyllis Tribble has referred to biblical passages such as this as “texts of terror.”

But, like it or not, these are part of our sacred scripture, facets of the God revealed to us in the Holy Bible.

For most of us in the Episcopal Church – and even the wider Anglican Communion – ignoring these texts is something of a lifelong devotional practice. It is far, far easier to look away than to confront the painful reality of such texts of terror, isn’t it?

But we are challenged to reconcile the violence in the Bible with the idea of a loving God, and so we tend to concentrate more on the many passages where God is depicted as loving, as nurturing, as caring.

And, fortunately, the scales are tipped from violence to love in the transition from the Old Testament to the New.

The gospels and the New Testament are not entirely devoid of violence, but – on the whole – they depict a God of love much more than a God of vengeance.

The opposite is true of the Old Testament. It’s full of violence – much like the world in which we live.

Regardless of how much or how little violence there is in our biblical narrative week by week, we struggle with it.

Even in today’s gospel passage, Jesus is hardly unconditionally affirming. Let’s examine that more closely.

He speaks of rewards – for prophets, for the righteous. And he speaks of people who lose their reward.

If the reward is eternal life, who wouldn’t be concerned about losing that? And doesn’t it make us scared to think we could lose it?

And the passages right before today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel have even more terrifying concerns: about sending us out like sheep into the midst of wolves, about being flogged, about being persecuted, and about losing our life for Christ’s sake so that we can find it. Jesus also says that whoever denies him before others, he also will deny before God in heaven. Ouch.

But Jesus also says, paraphrasing slightly, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me … and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, these will definitely have their reward.”

Maybe that’s what we should concentrate on: welcome.

Not fear, not violence, not vengeance – but welcome, acceptance and love.

The world has had enough of retribution.

The world has had enough of aggression.

The world has had enough of terror.

And the Bible’s had more than its fair share of all of these – because the Bible is about the journey of humankind almost as much as it is about God.

So, maybe one lesson to learn from all this is about free will: your choice, my choice, our choice.

Because we are all created in the image of God, we are free to make choices.

Free to choose love, free to create, free to live in harmony, free to reason.

And there’s a flip side to that: We are also free to hate, free to kill, free to foster discord, and free to deny the good sense given us.

Abraham could have said, “No, I will not sacrifice my only son!” to God, but he chose to be obedient. And God spares Isaac.

The psalmist could have cried, “I don’t trust you, O God,” but instead choses to praise God. And God responds with saving help.

Paul could have insisted that “we should sin because are no longer under the law,” but instead proclaims our true freedom in righteousness. And God gives us the free gift of eternal life.

It makes you wonder: If we get all these blessings for behaving badly, how much must God love us?

The answer, of course, is infinitely, without bounds, reservation or qualification of any kind.

God loves us enough to overlook our wrongdoings.

God loves us enough to pardon our offenses.

God loves us enough to forgive.

And, so, how are we to respond? With hatred, malice, fear and prejudice? Or with love, forgiveness, mercy and faith?

The answer is clear.

We are given a choice. It’s up to each and every one of us, each and every day we live.

We can seek to oppress and control others, to amass power and wealth and to serve the demons of this world.

Or we can do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

We can affirm the goodness of creation – as told in the creation story in Genesis.

And, following the teaching of Jesus, we can welcome the stranger – offering not just hospitality but acceptance without judgment, giving without obligation and love without condition.

It’s a choice.

So let us choose life. Let us choose justice. Let us choose to offer a cup of cold water to one of those little ones in the name of God.

Let us put our trust in God’s mercy; and our hearts will be joyful because of God’s saving help. We will sing to the Holy One, who has dealt with us richly; through our ongoing choice for good, we will praise the Name of God Most High.

 

— Barrie Bates currently serves as interim rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montclair, N.J. 

Click here to download a large-print PDF of this sermon.

Facing battles with the promise of victory, 2 Pentecost, Proper 7 (A) – 2014

June 22, 2014

Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69: 8-11 (12-17), 18-20; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Have you ever thought that having a relationship with God would make your life easier? With God on your side, you’ll slide through life with no problems, right?

The readings this morning should disabuse you of that notion.

In the Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah rails against God, using words on the edge of blasphemy. Jeremiah has been out doing what God asked Jeremiah to do, and it hasn’t gone as well as the prophet had hoped. Jeremiah says, “I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.” He goes on to complain, “All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.”

The psalm offered no comfort either, lamenting:

Save me, O God,
For the waters have risen up to my neck.

I am sinking in deep mire,
And there is no firm ground for my feet.

I have come to deep waters,
And the torrent washes over me.

I have grown weary with my crying;
My throat is inflamed;
My eyes have failed from looking for my God.

Then in our gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.” Jesus is himself the master of the house and we are the members of his household, so if Jesus was called Beelzebul, a name for Satan, then how can we who follow him expect to be treated?

This is the Good News? So much for getting comfort from scripture for the week ahead.

Yet, for those who would follow Jesus, perhaps the question is not, “Why do things go wrong for those of us with a relationship with God?” The questions may well be, “Why are things going so well?” “Why aren’t we having more problems?” or for any follower of Jesus, “Why am I not being persecuted?”

Jeremiah did what God asked of him, and he was laughed at. The psalmist tried to follow God’s will and grew weary with crying for justice. Jesus was put to death, and after his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples went on to preach, teach and with the exception of John, the disciples were killed for their faith in Jesus.

So where did we go wrong? Why don’t people laugh at us more? Make fun of us more? Why are our lives going so well?

Certainly we are fortunate to live in a time and place when those who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ may do so without risking their lives. Baptism into the church no longer puts a death sentence on you as has been true in some times and places.

But we still can’t expect that following Jesus will lead to a life of no problems. Your relationship with God will not remove all the obstacles from your path. You aren’t guaranteed a perfect marriage, perfect kids, a perfect job or a perfect boss. Faith is not the path to a life of no worries. Jesus promised the victory, but he never taught of a life with no battles.

So what, then, is the point? Why believe?

Well, for one, believe because the gospel is true. There is a God who loves us and wants a relationship with us. That God is best known to us through the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. As God made man, Jesus not only showed us how we should live, but his death and resurrection reconciled us to God. Knowing the truth of Christianity is at the core of our faith. One believes, not because this is the easy path to a good life, but because the faith we profess is true. The Bible warns that problems can and will follow.

In fact, the 16th-century spiritual writer and mystic Teresa of Avilla wrote to God, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

Often a problem is that the faith we were given in Sunday school of “Jesus Loves Me This I Know,” while true, may not be realistic or even muscular enough to handle a cancer diagnosis, the decline of a parent, the death of a friend or the end of a marriage.

But when we read further in our texts for this week, we find a confidence in God’s presence and mercy.

Jeremiah says confidently, “My persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.” So convinced is the prophet that a few verses later, while people are still laughing at him, Jeremiah can proclaim, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”

Likewise in Psalm 69, the poet first felt that he was sinking in deep mire with no firm ground for his feet. Then he grabbed hold of the conviction that God is the firm ground on which he stands. For the psalmist never loses the conviction that God’s love and compassion will get the last word. The psalmist refers to God’s unfailing help, God’s kind love and God’s great compassion.

Finally, Jesus tells his followers, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Not only does he not promise smooth sailing, Jesus warns that storms will besiege the faithful. But in the tempests of life, we are not to be fearful. The question is not “Why are things going wrong?” Maybe we should ask, “Why is no one bothering me?” Perhaps your faith has not so changed your life that anyone else can notice.

For as Verna Dozier, an Episcopalian and great champion of the ministry of all baptized persons, once wrote, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe.”

When your faith leads you to make public stands that are not popular, opposition will come. Problems will arise. This is to be expected. But we also know that we do not face these problems alone.

The anchor has long been a symbol in Christian art for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Though storms may come, we have a sure and certain hope that gives us purchase on the rock. Hold fast to the faith that is in you, knowing that Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are counted. Do not be afraid.”

Or to borrow the imagery of the psalmist, when all around begins to seem like deep mire, count on your relationship with God to provide the firm ground on which you can stand. Jesus did not promise you a life of no battles, but he did promise the victory.

 

— The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

 

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