Sermons












If you would like to watch recent sermon videos, please click on the link below.

Unless You Bless Me
Mark 7:24-30
September 9, 2018

Love Languages of God
Isaiah 43:4 and Ephesians 3:14-21
July 29, 2018

Called from Holy Ground
Exodus 3:1-12
July 22, 2018



Gift and Cost
Mark 8:27-38
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
September 16, 2018

One of the great ironies of being the church is that we think we have to bring our best selves: people without flaws, without struggles, without failings, people who have it all together.  

But the Gospel of Mark is boldly honest about the truth that disciples don’t have it all together—the truth that disciples struggle to understand and follow, to comprehend and to believe.  This is precisely what we see in our gospel reading for today.

In this passage we overhear a conversation between Jesus and Peter, where Peter gets it: Peter understands this remarkable, ground-shaking truth that Jesus is the Messiah.  But then he doesn’t understand what that means. Peter gets the part about glory and honor but doesn’t get the part about brokenness and suffering and shame.  

Peter rebukes Jesus, saying that suffering and death must not be the way.  And Jesus calls Peter out on this misunderstanding, using some of the harshest words in the New Testament: “Get behind me, Satan.”  We are right to be disturbed.

Yet there is a sense to this word Jesus uses that we, with our 21stCentury understanding of “Satan” might easily miss.  In the Bible, “Satan” is not necessarily the personification of evil.  Satan instead means “tester,” “tempter,” “accuser,” and “adversary.”  

So Jesus is telling the truth here, naming the reality that Peter is acting as his adversary.  That he is thinking and speaking in ways that test, tempt, and resist the will of God.  And that is very serious indeed.  So Jesus also says to Peter: “Get behind me.”

I have always thought of these words as Jesus putting Peter is his place—get out of here, Peter, get out of my sight.  But this time as I considered the words, I realized that Jesus is not just putting Peter is his place; he’s putting Peter in a place where he can follow Jesus.  Peter must not get ahead of Jesus, trying to find an easier way; Jesus wants Peter to be behind him, so that Jesus can take the lead. 

With these words Jesus is rebuking Peter but not giving up on him.  He is putting Peter in his rightful place, not as a condemnation but rather a correction, and calling Peter to follow him.

The grace in this moment is that Peter has not brought his best self to Jesus. He has acted as an adversary and yet Jesus still calls him to be his disciple.  Jesus corrects Peter but he does not reject him.  

Despite all of Peter’s struggles, despite the fact that many times his worst self showed up rather than his best, Peter did eventually get behind Jesus.  He did come to understand that the cross was and is at the center, not only of the life of Jesus, but also at the center of the life of every Christian. We see this in the Book of Acts.  Peter healed and preached and baptized thousands; he was on the cutting edge of ministry, understanding the radical inclusion of the gospel.  And Peter was also repeatedly arrested and imprisoned, criticized by other believers and persecuted by Rome.  His life ended in crucifixion.  Peter took up his cross and followed Jesus.  

Peter’s example helps us see what it means to take up OUR cross.  Jesus isn’t talking about the suffering that is simply part of living in this broken world—whether that’s conflict with coworkers, natural disasters, or illness. Neither is Jesus saying that we should seek out suffering or accept such things as abuse. 

Instead Jesus’ words about taking up our cross refer to a very specific kind of suffering—the suffering that we experience when we seek to follow Jesus.  There are consequences for us when we strive to follow Jesus; being his disciple will come at a personal cost.  Following Jesus will help us in many ways AND it will also make our lives more difficult.  

This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor in Germany who led the church’s resistance to Hitler, described as “costly grace.”  As Bonhoeffer reckoned with the cost of living out his Christian faith under the Third Reich, he came to see a very clear distinction between cheap and costly grace.

“Cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer writes, “is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, Communion without confession...  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross…”  Cheap grace, grace without the cross, is what Peter wants when he rebukes Jesus.  

By contrast Bonhoeffer writes that “costly grace is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.  Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life…above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son…and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

If we, like Peter, have thought of Christian faith in terms of cheap grace, Jesus invites us now to take another way.  He does not reject us for our lack of understanding in the past but rather calls us now to take a new way, to get behind him, and follow where he leads.

Because we can’t truly understand Jesus when the knowledge of him remains in our heads.  Knowing Christ is always intertwined with following him.  If we want to learn who Jesus is, we’ve got to get behind him.

There are certain people in our world that we immediately think of for the ways they have followed Jesus at great personal cost.   Bonhoeffer is one.  Martin Luther King Jr. is another.  And so is Mother Teresa. 

Author Lynne Twist writes about how deeply she was affected by the example of Mother Teresa, and how she sought out the opportunity to meet her.  When an invitation for this meeting came, Twist jumped at the chance.  She arrived at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in New Delhi, where the Missionaries of Charity cared for abandoned and orphaned children under two.  She learned from the sister who greeted her that Mother Teresa had been delayed and would join them as soon as she could.  

Twist writes that as she looked around the room, she saw “fifty babies, cooing and playing, with the nuns and their helpers talking and singing gently to the babies and each other.” The nuns invited Twist to wash her hands, put on an apron, and join them in caring for the little ones.  

She writes, “First, I bathed a blind baby girl.  She must have been about fourteen months old.  Then I was given a tiny, three month old, with one leg that was a little stump.”  She sang as she bathed the tiny child.  “I have always been drawn to those in need,” she writes, “and especially children who are deprived in some way….I felt in a state of grace.”

Although Twist did meet with Mother Teresa later that night, it was this experience of doing her work, of loving and bathing and feeding these children, in which she came closest to knowing and understanding her hero of the faith.

Mother Teresa has often been quoted as saying, “The way to know me is to know my work…” And it is, in a sense, what Jesus says to Peter, “The way to know me is to know my work.” Get behind me SO THAT you may follow.   Give your life for my sake, spend your life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, and you will find life that is true life.

This is the invitation Jesus extends to us today—to get behind him and follow.  To spend our lives for his sake, knowing that in Christ there is both gift and cost.  And there, spending ourselves freely for the sake of Jesus, we will find the life that is true life. Thanks be God.  Amen.

Resources: “Commentary on Mark 8:27-38” by Matt Skinner; “Commentary on Mark 8:27-38” by Elisabeth Johnson at workingpreacher.org.  The Cost of Discipleshipby Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The Soul of Moneyby Lynne Twist.


“Unless You Bless Me”
Mark 7:24-30
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
September 9, 2018
Take a moment now, and imagine Jesus. 
You might see him healing.  Or speaking before a great crowd of people.  Maybe  you envision him welcoming children, breaking bread, or calming storms. The gospels give us hundreds of moments in the life of Jesus, any number of which might offer us comfort or peace.  But today’s reading was not one of them.  It’s a story we might prefer not even to know.
This story comes right after some of the most memorable moments in Jesus’ life—feeding the five thousand, walking on water, healing the sick, teaching the scribes and Pharisees.  And even though we might not like this story, it too has something of great importance to teach us.
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24-30

Part of me would prefer not to even know this story—wishes it had never happened at all.  This slur that Jesus uses—calling this mother and her daughter dogs—this resistance that he shows, seems so out of character.  It’s not like the Jesus that we know.

In fact, when this story comes around in the lectionary cycle, most pastors struggle with what to say. Some propose that Jesus was just testing the woman’s faith.  Other suggest the word “dog” had softer connotations.  

But one of the rules we learn in seminary about Biblical interpretation is that the hardest reading is probably the right one.  And, after all, who are we to censor Jesus?  
So, in reading this story, we have to take Jesus at his word; and we have to wrestle with this text until we get a blessing.

The set up for the story is that Jesus has traveled to the region of Tyre.  This is Gentile territory.  A sea-side town north of Galilee.  Just right for a bit of vacation.  Jesus is here in Tyre looking for some rest and blessed anonymity, in this place where he expects no one to recognize him.  But somebody does, of course, and word gets out, and soon there’s a woman at the door, begging Jesus to heal her little girl.

Jesus is tired.  And when people are tired, really, really tired, two of the first things to go are patience and compassion.  Here is this woman—a Gentile, who also carries the massive social stigma that her daughter is possessed by a demon.  She is one too many people needing help AND she is interrupting his vacation.

So Jesus says something he probably regretted later on.  “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 

Really?  Really Jesus?  Jesus is supposed to be a healer, a teacher, a friend of children, an exemplar of mercy, and he just called this woman and her daughter dogs?  Tired or not, this is not what we expect from Jesus.  

In that moment, there were a lot of ways this woman could have responded.   Her face could have burned hot with humiliation.  She might have been too stunned to say anything at all.  She could have turned quickly to leave.  Or she might have fired back, “Don’t call us dogs.”

But this woman takes a very different approach.  She claims the slur: “Yeah, Jesus, we’re dogs.” And then she pushes back:  “And even the dogs under the table get the crumbs.”

Her words are like the classic defensive move in martial arts, where your instinct says to back away from an aggressor but instead you step toward them.  You have to learn to do this, and practice until it becomes second nature, because our human instinct is, when someone grabs you, to pull back. But often the stronger move is to step in to your opponent.  It puts you in a better position to deflect blows and counter strike.  Being close is where the advantage lies.  So she steps in to Jesus with her words: “Even the dogs under the table get the crumbs.”  She owns his words and then she turns them.  Because this mamma’s not gonna let her baby live like this.  She’s determined to wrestle Jesus until she gets that blessing.  

She ends up being the only character in Mark’s Gospel who argues with Jesus and wins.   She gets the blessing and her daughter is healed.  But the win is actually even bigger than that.  Because she’s taught Jesus something about his ministry.  She’s shownhimthat God’s grace is greater that even he imagined.

It’s like the moment in John, when Jesus’ mother sees that the wine’s run out at the wedding.   She points it out to Jesus, and he says, “What’s that to me?  It’s not my time.”  But his mother is determined too, and Jesus ends up turning huge amounts of water into wine. 

In both stories—the wedding without wine and the little girl in need of healing—mothers come to Jesus, not on their own behalf but on behalf of others—the bride and groom, the family, the guests, the little girl.  And in both stories Jesus’ protest has to do with timing.  To his own mother he says, “My hour has not yet come” and to this mother in Tyre, he says, “Let the children be fed first.”  In both cases, the mothers insist that actually the time is right for the gift of grace.  They understand that God’s grace is bigger than we think—it’s even bigger than Jesus thought.   Because even he wasn’t immune to the pull of prejudice.   Even Jesus had to learn that God’s grace isn’t just for one group of people.   It’s not just for people who look like us, and live near us, and think like us.  God’s grace is always crossing over the divisions that human beings set up.  And this border-crossing grace calls us to relate to one another with mercy.

This week Evan Dawson, host of 1370 Connections, had a program on the theme of mercy.   A recent study found that most Christians believe mercy influences their daily behavior. More than six in ten say that mercy often influences their words and actions.  But the other four out of ten Christians are less likely to describe their words and actions as merciful.  It may be part of their system of belief but doesn’t influence their actions on a daily basis.

As Dawson and his panelists grappled with the topic of mercy and the reality that a sizeable minority of Christians don’t see mercy guiding their behavior, a man asked the panelists, “Who are you to judge me?  Who are you to say I’m not doing enough?”
While they quickly replied they were not intending to judge him, they remained firm in challenging his resistance.  Christian faith, they said, has always been countercultural.  It doesn’t allow us to just go along with the values and standards of our culture.  Christian faith doesn’t let us limit ministry to certain groups of deserving people and call the others “dogs.”  

And in fact, when we do feel a challenge, when we do feel uncomfortable about what we are or aren’t doing, that discomfort is probably the voice of God.  God, stepping closer, and giving us a holy push, asking, “Who do you find it hard to treat with mercy?  Who do you think is ‘Less than?’ Less deserving.  Less responsible.  Less important?”  It’s what this mother does to Jesus, stepping closer, wrestling for her blessing, teaching him the expansive nature of God’s grace.

As it turns out, I’m glad, fiercely glad, that Mark had the courage to tell this story.  I’m grateful he didn’t back down.  That he stepped into this fray, showing us that even Jesus struggled with compassion fatigue, and that even Jesus found it hard to break the grip of prejudice.

I’m glad that the gospel tells this story of a fierce mom who wasn’t afraid to wrestle with Jesus and won’t let go without a blessing.  And most of all I’m glad we’ve got a gospel that doesn’t just bring us comfort.  I’m glad that the stories in this book challenge and change us.  Because that, after all, is what makes this the living and active word of God.  Amen.

Resources: “The Gospel According to Mark” by Mary Ann Tolbert in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible.  “Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community Antiracism Study Guides” by Presbyterian Mission Agency Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministry. “Commentary on Mark 7:24-37” by Matt Skinner; “Commentary on Mark 7:24-37” by Elisabeth Johnson; “Dogs and the Kingdom of God” by David Lose at workingpreacher.org.  “Who Is Responsible for Showing Mercy,” 1370 Connections, Evan Dawson and Megan Mack, http://www.wxxinews.org/post/connections-who-responsible-showing-mercy
“Does Mercy Influence Christians’ Actions?” https://www.barna.com/research/mercy-influences-actions/


“Grateful for Grace”
1 Peter 1:1-9
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
September 2, 2018

One of the most meaningful moments I have had in ministry happened in a parking lot some years ago.  I was leaving a funeral home after the service for a man—a friend to many in this congregation—who had ended his life in suicide.  

As I walked toward my car, a man in a pickup truck called out to me:  “Hey preacher!”  

I turned and walked toward him.  

“Thanks for what you said in there.  My brother took his life 20 years ago; ever since then I thought God had condemned him. What you said changed that. I’ve got a peace I never had before.  Thank you so much.”   

This man’s words amazed me. I had never met him before.  I had no idea of the burden that he carried.  When I was planning that funeral service, I simply knew I had to speak about the misconceptions people have regarding suicide—to name the fear people carry about loved ones being condemned.  

Many myths about suicide circulate in church and society yet the clear and consistent witness of Scripture is to the wideness of God’s mercy and the greatness of God’s grace.  I had no idea that my words would speak beyond the present tragedy and deep into the past.  While I did not know this, God did. God knew this man’s burden and God did far more than I could have asked or imagined to bring healing to his hurt.  

In that conversation I discovered in a new way the power of God’s grace—the profound hope people find when the good news of Jesus Christ touches their pain.  
And I discovered that miracles can occur through us, even when we have no idea what’s happening. That is grace.

“Grace” is a word we often use, especially at church, yet it is one that many people of faith find it hard to define.  In the English language, grace can describe physical movement, as in a graceful dancer. It can mean relating to other people with the social graces of poise, hospitality, and ease.  But in a Christian sense, “grace” means the gifts of God’s love and forgiveness.  Grace means we don’t do anything to earn love or deserve forgiveness—these are gifts to us from God.  In fact the origins of our English word “grace” lie in the word “grateful.”  Grace and gratitude go hand in hand.  

The book of 1 Peter affirms that this gift of grace comes through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord; teaching that faith and salvation depend, not upon us leading a “good” life but rather upon the gift of Jesus.

This message challenges the common cultural practice of using the word “Christian” as a synonym for “nice” and “good.”  While Christians are of course called to lead lives of kindness, generosity, and love, Christian faith is very honest about the reality of sin.  Christians are people who know they need God’s forgiveness—and respond to this gift with gratitude and love.

1 Peter, like many other parts of the Bible, affirms that our salvation doesn’t depend on anything we do—it is not a decision we make.  It’s not gained or lost by our actions.  Salvation is a gift God gives us through the cross.

As our session discerned our church theme for ministry this year, we felt led to the words “Celebrating God’s Grace,” rooted here in 1 Peter 1:2: “May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”  

Notice that the author addresses this blessing of grace and peace to the “exiles,” spread across the ancient world.  For some in his audience, exile was a physical reality, as Christians were dispersed in many different communities, some of which were hostile to Christian faith. Yet with this word “exile,” he also reminds us that ALL of God’s people are living far from home.  For our true citizenship lies in heaven.

The author continues, lifting up the good news of grace as a source of strength amid our trials, proclaiming that no matter what, we can rejoice in the gift of Jesus, and find our strength in him.

What I find so helpful here is that the author is honest about the pain that we experience.  We all struggle and suffer, sometimes facing periods of extended pain.  At times there’s not much in our own lives that we feel like celebrating.  

Our Christian faith doesn’t promise abundant riches; it doesn’t assure us of good health; it does not teach that we will have easy lives—instead Scripture repeatedly tells the truth that God’s faithful people suffer all sorts of problems.

Yet along with naming this truth, 1 Peter offers those who struggle words of blessing: right in the midst of your trials, while you are still exiles in this hurting world, “May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”  

Right here, right now, no matter what we face, God is ready to touch our pain with his love; God in ready to sustain us with his grace.  

God gives us this living hope in the gift of Jesus Christ.  Not because we are good. But because God is.  Not because we are faithful.  But because God is.  Not because we have decided to believe.  But simply because God loves us. 

This God who loves us, has chosen us and will see us through every challenge that we face.  Even in those moments when we wonder if we have lost our faith; even in those times when we feel like we can’t hold on to God; grace means that God is holding on to us.

In the words of the old hymn, our “Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” In the dark times of our lives, we can rest in his unchanging grace.  When everything we thought was secure falls apart and we feel as though we are on sinking sand, Jesus is ready to be our Rock.  He is the Solid Rock on whom we can build—and rebuild—our lives.

So let us rise up, filled with grace and gratitude, and stand firm upon our Rock.

Amen.

Resources: “The First Letter of Peter” by Donald Senior in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible.  “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote.


"Serenity in the Storm"

Mark 4:35-41

Rev. Laura Fry 

August 26, 2018 

It’s no wonder they were afraid.  Here are the disciples, storm raging, winds howling, waves swamping the boat with water.  And Jesus is asleep on a pillow.  Of course they cry out in fear and outrage:
Teacher, teacher wake up!  Don’t you care?  We are about to die!
Jesus does care, of course—and immediately stands up, responding to their need—commanding the wind to be quiet and the waves to be still.  
Only when the great calm descends, does he address the disciples.  Only after he has met their physical need for safety does he speak to matters of their souls.
“Why are you frightened?”  He says, “Do you still have no faith?”
I have always thought of these words as a response to the way these disciples woke Jesus—not with prayerful request but rather with an accusation: “Don’t you care?”
But in reading the passage this time, another possibility occurred to me.  I began to wonder if it could be that Jesus is instead speaking about their ongoing fear—the fact that they are still afraid even after Jesus calmed the storm.
The clue is in verse 41—where Mark observes their response to Jesus, “And they were afraid, enormously afraid, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this man, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”
The fear the disciples felt at first, fear of the storm, has morphed into a fear of Jesus.  This is not the “Fear of the Lord” that we read about in Scripture, which is a good and holy fear—a mix of awe, wonder, and profound respect. Rather the fear for which Jesus rebukes them is about being wary and suspicious of Jesus.
Reading the story this way, Jesus is concerned not about the disciples’ response to the storm but rather about their response to him. Jesus expects them to respond with faith—but what he gets is fear.
When we think of fear, a storm is probably a fitting metaphor.  Fear can swirl around us and within us—and fear can easily feel overwhelming.  For those who struggle with anxiety, fear can literally flood the awareness with overwhelming panic.  
The fear that we experience has the potential to push us either toward God or away from God.  At its best, fear can propel us toward God, leading us to put our trust in him and find strength and peace in his power.  But fear can also lead us away from God, in those moments when we try to calm our fears and numb our anxiety in ways that bring us, and our loved ones, harm.
The question therefore is not about choosing between faith and fear—the question is whether our fear leads us to Jesus. 
As we consider this question, I invite you to step, with the disciples into the boat.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the scene. You are sailing into the middle of a lake.
Begin to hear the howling winds,
experience the heaving of the boat, 
feel the cold waves drenching you, 
sense the pounding in your heart.
In fear you cry out to Jesus.  
He stands.  And speaks. 
In an instant, everything grows calm.  
The waters are still.  
The wind is now a gentle breeze
The boat rocks ever so gently.  
Your heartbeat slows.  
You feel the peace.  
You experience the calm.  
Serenity encircles you, around and within.
Now open your eyes.
Friends, this story teaches us that serenity is a gift. A gift that interrupts the storm. 
A gift that interrupts our storms.
The gift of serenity doesn’t mean we won’t face storms; it means that God can help us live through storms and find peace on the other side.
There is a great deal in our lives that we cannot change.  Pains and sorrows, illnesses, heartbreak, and regrets that are very real. 
In the midst of these storms, Jesus is with us in the boat, ready to give us the serenity to accept the parts of the storm that we cannot change.
Yet he is with us also, to help us see what we can change. 
By God’s gift of courage, we can put our trust in Christ and find our strength in him.  We can embrace creativity and discover possibilities we have never before considered.
And by the gift of wisdom, we can come to see the difference between what we can and cannot change.
One thing is surely true: our fear can lead us away from Jesus or it can bring us closer to him.
So may we have serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.


“A Feathered Faith”
Matthew 6:25-34
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
May 13, 2018

This weekend is the height of spring bird migration here in western New York.  More bird species are reported in May than in any other month of the year—an average of 68 new varieties will arrive this month, for a total of 230 species of birds—more than double the number here in January (90 species on average).  Songbirds flock to woods, meadows, and backyards; shorebirds wade in shallow waters; hawks and eagles fly over in abundance.  

This astonishing diversity fills the month of May with a feathered choir wearing robes of yellow, red, orange, and blue.  And amid all of this abundance, Jesus urges us, “Look at the birds of the air.”  

How easy it is to overlook the birds.  Up until a few years ago, I barely even noticed them.  I could tell a robin from a blue jay but beyond that, I knew very little about them.  

When my husband began to take an interest in birds, I gradually—and truth-be-told, reluctantly, found myself doing the same.  Mike’s appreciation of birds piqued my own curiosity, opening my eyes to the abundance all around me, teaching me to recognize species I never even knew existed.  

My skills in identification remain well below the level of any serious birder but I have come to appreciate the astonishing array and sheer volume of birds.  The best world-wide estimate suggests there are 9,000 bird species in all—so many that even the most dedicated birders have not come close to seeing them all.  

Yet even as we celebrate the abundance of God’s feathered creations, I do not mean to paint all birds as universally benign.  There are the robber starlings, and the nest-invading cowbirds, and ubiquitous house sparrows.  But by and large the birds of the air are faithful prophets of God’s provision.

Each day they sing anthems of eloquence and insight, if only we will listen.  Morning and evening they preach sermons on the majesty, delight, and creativity of our God.  Then they invite us to observe by their example what it means to put our trust in the Lord.  “Look at the birds of the air;” Jesus says, “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  

Jesus is right of course: there are no finch farmers, hawk harvesters, or barn-building buntings.  However birds do not just sit around waiting for their Father to feed them.  They work hard to gather what God provides.  Sometimes traveling thousands of miles, always appearing to be on the move, swooping to catch prey, pecking up earthworms, snatching berries.  Like us, they work hard to provide for themselves and their families.  

The difference between these hunting, gathering birds and ourselves as human beings is not the degree of work so much as it is the spirit with which we go about it.  
The diligent work of birds is accompanied by joy, trust, and song.  It is most unlikely that we have ever seen a songbird overwhelmed with worry about finding food to feed their nestlings.  There is simply a confident and trusting spirit that with diligent work, there will be plenty to eat and energy enough for joy too.  The birds seem quite naturally to trust in their Creator, confident that abundance is waiting to be found.

The great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther writes, in a wonderful sermon on this passage, of the songbirds’ daily praises, as they “sing Lauds and Matins to their Lord before they eat…They sing a lovely long Benedicite and leave their cares to our Lord God, even when they have young that have to be fed.”

Luther continues, “Whenever you listen to a nightingale…you are listening to an excellent preacher. He exhorts you with this Gospel, not with mere simple words but with a living deed and an example.”

Jesus calls upon us to listen and watch the feathered faithful.  Then he says, “Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Worrying, no matter how naturally it comes to our own species, will do us no good.  Worrying will not extend our lives by even an hour, and will in fact rob us of enjoying the days and hours we do have.
We may well argue that we have good reasons for worry: it’s been a very difficult year for dairy farmers, international tensions appear to be on the rise, and we each face personal realities of illness, conflict, injury, and loss.  But Jesus urges us to listen to our hedgerow choir and heed their words of praise.  When we sing to the Lord with trust, our joy will increase.  
Jesus promises that our Father knows what we need and will provide, for we are most especially precious to God.  Because our heavenly Father knows all our earthly needs, we need not be single-mindedly concerned with them.  
As William Wordsworth writes, “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”  
Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of Godand hisrighteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Do not focus on these earthly things; do not cling to them; do not set your heart on them as the most important part of your existence.  
But put your trust in the Lord.  
Breathe deeply of God’s grace.   
Release to God the worries you carry, the burdens known only to you and to our Lord. 
We can trust in God’s care for us.  
God knows our needs.  
God will provide.
As Martin Luther preaches, “Every day you see these illustrations before your eyes, how God nourishes and feeds everything that lives and grows from the earth, clothes and adorns it so beautifully.  Now let these illustrations persuade you to lay aside your anxiety and your unbelief and to remember that you are Christians.”

The abundance that we enjoy does not depend upon our worry but rather relies on God’s provision. 

Like a mother lovingly spreading the family table with a feast, God provides for all our needs, pulling out a chair for us, calling us to the place where we belong, 
to enjoy the abundance spread before us.  

“Come to the table,” God calls.  You need not be anxious about whether or not there will be enough—whether you are worrying about enough food, enough money, enough time, or love, or healing.  There is enough and more besides.  

God honors our work, our efforts, our action.  God helps us to provide for ourselves and our families.  So work hard but know that there is more to life.  Put God’s kingdom first, above all else, and you will find all that you need.

Many of us need a daily reminder—and sometimes a moment-by-moment reminder—to put our trust in God.  So Jesus invites us to pay attention to the feathered faithful.  They sing with joy and trust each day, and call us to do the same, finding strength and assurance in the provision of our Lord.

So let us listen for the melody of birdsong today and everyday.

May the birds serve as our preachers and choirs, singing to us of work and trust and joy, preaching God’s provision, and calling us to share their faith.

Amen.

Resources: “The Place of Trust” by Martin Luther in Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin. The Birds: Our Teachersby John Stott.  Rochester Birding Association, rochesterbirding.com.  The Westminster Bible Companion: Matthewby Thomas Long.  

Practical, Powerful, Profound
Matthew 5:43-45
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
May 6, 2018


Out of all of Jesus’ teachings, this might just be the most challenging: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  

Loving our enemies is exactly the opposite of our natural human impulse.  We are much more likely to divide the world into “us” and “them,” allies and enemies, Americans and foreigners, blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats.  And while such deep divisions are certainly a problem in our day, they were also a challenge in the time of Jesus.

Popular religious teachers had been telling people that although they must love their neighbors, they had every right to hate their enemies.  This teaching kind of sounded like Scripture but it wasn’t really.  These religious leaders had looked at Leviticus 19 and the words, “love your neighbor” and inferred that they could treat anyone who was NOT their neighbor—Samaritans, Gentiles, Romans, foreigners—any way they pleased.  

In this spirit an expert in religious law famously questioned Jesus, asking, “Who is my neighbor?”  He was hoping Jesus would justify a narrow definition of who we are to love.  But Jesus responds with his Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), astronomically expanding what it means to be a neighbor.

Jesus addresses the topic here as well, in his Sermon on the Mount, in a manner that is more direct: “love your enemies” he says, “and pray for those who persecute you.  So that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Just like children who take after their mother and father, bearing a resemblance to their earthly parents, Jesus is letting us know that when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, we are bearing a resemblance to God.

Jesus taught his followers that love and prayer for our enemies are essential marks of the Christian life. And we see this love most fully revealed in the life and death of Jesus, who prayed from the cross for those who crucified him.  

But there is a second reason why Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us: so that we may be free from the destruction brought into our lives by hate. Hate doesn’t just harm the person who is hated; it also harms the one who hates.  We do violence to others and to ourselves when we talk bad about people behind their backs; when we pile on the criticism while they’re out of earshot.  

We might not call any of this talk hate—we probably just consider it venting or complaining.  But an attitude of hatred can masquerade in the clothing of complaining.When we give ourselves a license to complain—whether that complaining is about our spouse, children, parents, coworkers, friends, neighbors, 
national figures or our own church members, bitterness is only going to become a stronger force in our lives, corroding our spirits and infecting our souls. There’s certainly a place for naming disagreements and seeking to address them but complaining without collaborating for solutions is only going to bring about harm.

It is important to know, however, that loving those we have a hard time getting along with is not the same as having a loving feeling about them.  Jesus did not say, “Like your enemies.” It’s a good thing too because we can all probably think of people who have caused us, or our loved ones harm.  Jesus does not say that we have to like them.  Instead Jesus calls upon us to “love them.”

This kind of love is about treating people with respect.  It’s about demonstrating humility and recognizing our shared humanity. This kind of love is not about how we feel but about how we act.

Choosing to act in the ways of love does not in any way excuse wrongs that have been done to us. Neither does it mean that we should submit ourselves to ongoing harm.  

What Jesus teaches us instead is a way to be freed from the corrosive effect that hatred has upon our souls.  Jesus wants to replace hatred with love, turning our complaining into compassion, as we release our pain into the hands of God through prayer.

You see, Jesus doesn’t just instruct us to love our enemies; in the very same breath he urges us to pray for them.  Prayer is a powerful and a practical tool for those who are striving to love their enemies. The ability to act with love toward those who are hard to love depends on a power beyond ourselves. 

Through prayer we connect with this power, the power of God, who can change our hearts, lead us on the path of forgiveness, and bring healing to our pain.  
Through prayer we draw near to the One who gives us strength to love.

Perhaps as you consider Jesus’ words today, you are thinking that all of this sounds impractical and idealistic, out of touch with the way things really work.  Lots of people have thought the same.

But as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in a sermon on this passage, “We have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos.  Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities that surrendered to hatred and violence…Returning hate for hate only multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

Rather than being the idealistic instruction of a dreamer, Jesus’ words, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” might just be the most practical advice of all. 

It’s been 57 years now since a little girl named Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South.  By the end of Ruby’s first day of first grade, white parents had emptied the school of all the other children, beginning a massive boycott.  

Day after day that year, Ruby walked through angry, jeering crowds just to get to school.  Angry parents chose to keep their own children out of school altogether rather than have them learn in the same classroom as Ruby.

During this time of desegregation, psychiatrist Robert Coles began to study its effects on children in the South and he took a special interest in Ruby.  Coles wondered how it could be possible for her to demonstrate strength, determination, and even cheerfulness, while walking through that angry mob day after day.

One morning Ruby’s teacher observed her lips moving as she walked into school.  The teacher told Coles about it and he asked, 
“Who were you talking to, Ruby?”  

“I was talking to God and praying for the people in the street,” she said.  

“Why were you doing that, Ruby?”  

“Well, because I wanted to pray for them.  Don’t you think they need praying for?”  

Coles agreed but inquired further.  “Where did you learn that?”  

“From my mommy and daddy and from the minister at church.  I pray every morning [when I come to school] and every afternoon when I go home.” 

 “But Ruby, those people are so mean to you.  You must have some other feelings besides just wanting to pray for them.”  

“No,” she said, “I just keep praying for them and hope God will be good to them…I always pray the same thing. ‘Please, dear God, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

That six-year old little girl understood and put into practice day after day the words of Jesus.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Her parents, who could neither read nor write, had memorized this Scripture at church and practiced it at home.  They understood that love and prayer are the most practical, profound, and powerful ways that we can follow Jesus.  

So by the time Ruby entered first grade, she had already learned from her parents the strength that can be found in love and prayer.

Little by little love and prayer chip away at the power of hate, releasing us from bondage to bitterness, freeing us for a life of faith.  

As we hear these words of Jesus today, as we think about all the challenges we face, let us choose to live in the practical, profound, powerful way Jesus—and pray to God that we may have the strength to love.

Amen.


Resources: “Love Your Enemies” in Strength to Loveby Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  “When Ruby Bridges Prayed for Her Enemies” by Peter Marty in The Christian Century, March 24, 2017.  Westminster Bible Companion: Matthewby Thomas Long.




“Free to Live the Golden Rule”
Matthew 7:12
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
April 29, 2018

Our Sunday school children have been learning the Golden Rule.  If you know it, will you say it with me: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Jesus teaches this principle in his Sermon on the Mount, presenting it to his disciples as a concise guide for their behavior.  The Golden Rule has become a core component of Christianity and is one of the treasured teachings of Jesus—we call it “Golden” in reference to Psalm 19, where the psalmist describes the Lord’s instruction as “more precious than gold.”

Yet although this teaching is important within Christianity, it is not exclusive to our faith.  In fact a version of the Golden Rule appears in many religions of the world.
Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism all teach variations of it.  It appears in these religions as, “Love your neighbor as yourself”; “Do nothing to others that you would not have them do to you”; “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself."  

Even among those who profess no faith at all, considering themselves to be atheists or agnostics, the Golden Rule is widely known and affirmed as an important principle for life.

But the truth is that the Golden Rule is not always an easy one to follow.  It may be “a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior,” yet ournatural tendency as humans is in fact just the opposite—much more along the lines of doing unto others what has been done to us. 

This is why harmful patterns are often passed down through generations, as destructive behaviors emerge from unhealed wounds.  It’s why the child who is bullied often becomes a bully.  It’s why the one who was abused often becomes an abuser.  And it’s why those who want nothing more than to break family cycles of pain often struggle mightily to do so.  The difficult truth is that our natural human tendency is not to follow the Golden Rule at all but rather to do unto others what has been done to us.

When I’m working with couples preparing for marriage, I always invite them to share about their families of origin—about what values and practices they observed and experienced growing up—which ones they want to continue and which ones they would like to change.  My purpose is to help couples begin to see that they can be intentional about the life they are creating.  

We are NOT destined to do unto others what has been done to us.   Instead, by God’s power in our lives, we have the ability to change.   Regardless of our marital status, age, or experiences, we can surround ourselves with relationships of support that will help us live out the choices we wish to make for our lives.  And most of all we can recognize that the strength for building a new way of life comes through the power of God.

Left to our own devices we may know the Golden Rule and may even strive to follow it—but the ability to live this rule comes not through our own determination but rather by God’s power at work within us.  Through Christ, and the love of those around us, we are healed; we are freed; and we are ultimately empowered to live the Golden Rule.

Jesus promises that as we bring our brokenness to God, as we name the pain we carry, as we ask God to mend that hurt and lead us to new life—God is faithful and will do so.  

In fact just before he teaches his disciples the Golden Rule, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” When we ask, when we search, when we knock—God will respond with love, mercy, and healing. 

In The Mothers of Preschoolers Magazine, author and speaker Tammy Kennington describes the heavy burdens she carried from her childhood. She writes, “I dragged them into marriage and motherhood unwillingly.  They tracked my steps and lurked in the shadows until it was safe for them to emerge.”  As a young mother those long-buried memories nearly overwhelmed her, yet by God’s work in her life, through her loving marriage, and the support of friends and therapists, she ultimately broke free. 
“Link by link,” she writes, “the chains of my past were loosened.  Some required more prying and harder work than others.  A few only gave way to counseling or prayer….Finally, one beautiful day, the chains lay broken at my feet and I stretched out my arms—embracing freedom—as joy left its trail on my cheeks.”

That freedom, that breaking of chains, is the work of God in us.  This is the healing and joy that are possible on the other side of pain. Kennington writes, “Perhaps your story runs as deep as mine…Can I encourage you?  Tell someone.  Invite people you trust to be part of your journey.  When you do, you’ll begin to chip away at those chains and you’ll be one step closer to freedom—with God at your side.”

Our human impulse is to bury pain.  When we do it buries us.  Jesus promises, “Knock and the door will be opened for you.”  So maybe the door we are knocking on is not a door leading in but a door leading out.  Maybe the door we need to knock on today is the one on the inside of a tomb, a tomb of the past, a tomb of pain.  Maybe we are knocking on that door with all our might, hoping for Jesus to answer us. Maybe we are just starting to tap tentatively upon it, wondering if anyone will hear.  

Jesus promises, when you knock, the door will be opened.

For just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God raises us too—Easter means that right here and now, God opens the door to free us from tombs of pain.

God is rolling the stone away, and inviting us to step into the light of day, the light of a new day of freedom and transformation, when we can live in the strength of Christ.  Then, and only then, will we be free to live the Golden Rule. 

Jesus promises: “Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Today God is opening the door of mercy to you; the tenderness of Christ is here to heal all that is broken; and the power of the Holy Spirit is ready to raise you to new life.  

Amen.


Resources: “The Gospel According to Matthew” by Warren Carter in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. “One Step Closer” by Tammy Kennington in The MOPS Magazine, Spring 2018. 





“Remember Who You Are”
Matthew 5:1-16 in The Message Version of the Bible
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
April 22, 2018
What does it mean to be blessed?  
That is the question with which Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount.  And while blessing may seem to us to be a gentle topic, in Jesus’ time this concept of “blessing” carried strong social and religious implications.
Many people in his day believed that being “blessed” meant financial prosperity, physical health, and family strength.  These kinds of “blessings” were seen as rewards for faithful living.  
Therefore those living in poverty, facing illness, disability, or infertility were believed to be undeserving of God’s love and blessing.  Jesus is about to dramatically and definitively upend that belief—but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Because the other thing that it’s important to understand about the culture surrounding Jesus was that blessings were seen as a limited commodity.  If one person was “blessed” with wealth or power, then someone else’s resources and power would necessarily be decreased.
We see this concept playing out in the story of Jacob stealing his brother Esau’s blessing. As the older twin, Esau had the right to receive their father’s blessing; Jacob however manages to trick their father Isaac into blessing him instead.  When Esau discovers the trick, he begs his father to find some blessing left for him. But very little remains that could be called a “blessing” (Genesis 27).
These two cultural understandings—that blessing is limited and that being blessed is defined by health, wealth, and power—shaped the community surrounding Jesus.  And these are precisely the perspectives that Jesus aims to challenge in the opening lines of his Sermon on the Mount.
According to Jesus, there is no scarcity when it comes to blessings.  Instead blessings are abundant.   There are more than enough blessings to go around.
But Jesus defines blessings in a very different way from his culture.  The blessings Jesus speaks of are not at all what people were expecting.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage is helpful here, because the fresh language he uses may help us newly encounter the strange nature of these blessings.
Consider these words:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
According to Jesus, being blessed does NOT mean self-sufficiency, health, wealth, power, or easy, comfortable lives.  
In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite—that we are blessed as we experience our need for God, as we feel compassion for the needs of others, and as we grapple with the inevitable struggles we experience as God’s people.
All of this presents a direct challenge to what we may have heard referred to as the “Prosperity Gospel”— teachings that are part of a movement that has been gaining popularity in the US since the mid-20thCentury, although its roots go back much farther. 
The Prosperity Gospel teaches that God blesses people who live faithfully and give generously, rewarding them with financial prosperity, political success, and good health.  But from the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus warns us to beware of these teachings.  They sound appealing—what if we could guarantee wealth, power, and health just by living upright lives?!  But this isn’t the way God works.
Instead Jesus says, “You’re blessed when you know you need God.”
You’re blessed when you grieve over the chasm between the way the world is and the way God created it to be; when you’re pained by the violence in places like Parkland and Syria. 
You’re blessed when you seek reconciliation rather than retaliation. 
And you’re blessed when your life is hard and you’re criticized because of your faith, because then you’re in good company with faithful people who have suffered and struggled for generations before you.
Jesus does not promise that our lives will be easy; rather he promises that even when we struggle, God will bless us and provide for us—not with health, wealth, and power but with faith, hope, and love.
This is the upside-down, inside-out gift of God.  We see the proof of it in our lives when we observe that true joy and happiness come to us not by obtaining things for ourselves but rather by giving and sharing with others.  
For just as Jesus says, “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”  If we want a boost of happiness, one of the best things we can do is something kind and generous for someone else.
Jesus goes on to say that when we live these upside-down blessings, when we open our lives to loving God and those around us, we become God’s gift to the world.
We’re like salt that helps people taste goodness, bringing out the flavors of God’s love.  And we’re like light, helping people see God’s presence and the hope and guidance God provides.
Salt and light are ordinary, common elements in the world—found nearly everywhere.  We know that salt has many important uses. It’s a key ingredient for seasoning and also preserving food.  It is also an important ingredient in many baked goods, helping to balance the flavor and texture in ways we may not even realize.
One important thing I have learned about making bread is the way that salt and yeast interact with one another.  When salt and yeast come into contact for a prolonged period of time, the salt inhibits the action of the yeast.  If they’re together for a little while the effect is undetectable but in cases of extended contact, the salt will profoundly inhibit the yeast’s ability to make the bread rise.
We, of course, want our bread to become light and fluffy from the action of the yeast. But in the New Testament, yeast is viewed in a very different way.  Jesus repeatedly uses “yeast” symbolically in reference to the Pharisees and also Herod, and warns his disciples to watch out for their influence.
By calling his disciples “salt,” I wonder if Jesus may also be inviting us to see that as salt inhibits the action of yeast, we as the people of God slow the growth of negative forces around us.  As we, the salt, come into contact with those who would cause harm to the world, we naturally inhibit their impact and influence.
As we are mixed into the whole, spread out in the world, we bring out flavors and preserve values like love and generosity, and we also naturally, simply by virtue of our presence, decrease the impact of those who would cause harm.  Like salt coming into contact with yeast, it is in our very nature to decrease the influence of powers of destruction in the world.
Jesus began this powerful sermon by teaching his followers that they are blessed, and that they are salt and light in the world.  This is their deep and true identity.   In her book More Than Words,Rev. Erin Wathen tells the story of a friend of hers named Kara.  When Kara and her brothers were growing up and getting ready to go out on a Friday night, their mother never said the things other parents would say: Things like “Don’t do anything stupid…” or “You’ll be in big trouble if…”  Instead Kara’s mom would always say, “Remember who you are.”
That instruction became a powerful force in Kara’s life, shaping the decisions she made on those Friday nights, and guiding her as she went off to college, and began her life away from home.  Remember who you are.
It is in a sense what Jesus says to his disciples.  Remember who you are--You are loved. You are blessed.  You are salt.  You are light.  You do make a difference in this world.  Remember who you are.
Resources: More Than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family by Erin Wathen.  The Message Version of the Bibleby Eugene Peterson.

“Super Natural”
Matthew 14:22-33
Rev. Laura Fry at Covington United Presbyterian Church
March 4, 2018

“Mom, come on!  Get in.  I want you to swim with me!”

“I don’t know, honey, I don’t feel so well.”

“Please, please, please get in the water with me?”

Left to my own devices that day, just a few weeks ago, I would have stayed in the boat.  After thirty minutes on what had, it turns out, been accurately advertised as a “high-speed thrill ride,” I wasn’t feeling so well. 

A strong east wind was sweeping across the Atlantic, stirring up the waves, rocking our little boat to and fro. The last thing I wanted to do was get in the water.  I was wearing a life-vest but didn’t know if I could trust it. 


My reluctance to get in the water that day was about more than just the waves.  For over two decades, I have carried around with me a phobia of snorkeling, ever since the time I tried it as a teenager and panicked at the strangeness of breathing underwater, and the nearby darting of unfamiliar fish.

I became determined last summer to overcome this fear, braved the waters, and discovered for the first time the great enjoyment of snorkeling, which was a breakthrough for me. 

Last summer I was snorkeling in still waters.  On our family travels to snorkel a few weeks ago, the waves were high.

And yet with a burning certainty, I knew that giving in to my fear would set an example I did not want to set.  Giving in to my fear could very well mean I was passing my own phobia on to the next generation. 

If I wanted my kids to be free of my fear, then I had to get out of the boat.  I had to climb down the ladder with the six year old who was thrilled to snorkel at a coral reef.   And join my son who did not want me to miss out.  With my heart pounding, I crept over the edge of the boat, climbed down the ladder, and leaned backwards into the waves. 

Clearly I survived.  And of course it was wonderful once I got in the water.  A whole world of beauty lay beneath the surface.  And I was no longer afraid. 

I wonder if Peter’s heart felt a bit like mine when Jesus called him to get out of the boat.   A strange mix of terror and excitement, the certainty that it must be done, and that perhaps something wonderful lay just beneath the surface of the moment.

After all Peter himself had come up with the bright idea … asking Jesus to call him out on the waves, only to be quickly faced with the crisis of decision when Jesus did as he had asked.

So often we remember Peter’s worst moments and misguided ways, yet he also understood something of fundamental importance to the Christian faith, something that none of the other disciples seemed to comprehend.  Peter knew that the very sign of Jesus’ nearness, the very proof of his presence, would be the command to step outside his comfort zone.  Peter understood that if Jesus could walk on the waves, then Jesus could empower him to do the same.  But there was only one way for him to confirm the power of Jesus: he would have to get out of the boat.

What Peter understood is that when we are close to Jesus, we will not always find ourselves feeling comfortable.  When we are close to Jesus, our faith will not always bring us comfort.  When we are close to Jesus, sometimes he will disrupt and disturb our lives.

Looking back at the beginning of this story, we see that Jesus was, in fact, the very one who sent the disciples into the storm.  Matthew tells us that after the miraculous feeding of the multitude, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side,” while he himself went up a mountain to pray.  Jesus sent his disciples out onto the lake that night, knowing they were heading into a storm.

Earlier on in the gospel, Matthew told us that it was none other than the Spirit of God who led Jesus into the wilderness to face temptation by the devil.   In a similar way it is now none other than Jesus himself who sends the disciples out onto the lake, to have their faith tested by the wind and waves.

When Jesus comes to them, walking calmly on the waters that terrify them, he demonstrates his power—supernatural power over the forces of the natural world.  
But along with revealing his own identity through this use of power, Jesus extends this power to Peter.   To access that power, Peter has to step out of the boat. 

So I wonder about those times in our lives when Jesus offers us power, if only we will get out of the boat.  Often we are tempted to stay in our boat, even if we do feel queasy there. 

The boat where we find ourselves may not be comfortable but it is at least a familiar place.  Seemingly more secure than the open seas.  The wind and waves tempt us to stay in the boat, to stick with the familiar, when the storms of life crash toward us,
believing our little boat to be the place of safety from the storm.

Some of our boats have been tossed about by the violent gales of addiction
or the storms of self-harm, some of our boats have been sucked down by the dark depths of depression, flooded with the crashing waves of anxiety, swamped with the sorrow of grief, and tossed against the turmoil of rocky relationships.

Moreover sometimes the waves that crash around us are not personal in nature but social in their scope: gathering storms of bigotry, tsunamis of mass shootings, and cyclones of corruption.  We begin to wonder if the stormy waters of social struggle and personal pain are about to sink us. 

But then, at the very height of the storm, in the coldest, darkest hours before the dawn, when the wind is blowing mightily against us, we catch sight of someone walking toward us.  And we realize that it is Jesus, treading on the turmoil that terrifies us, and calling us to walk on those very waves toward him. 

He calls us, with a simple, “Come,” then gives us his own power…

So we venture a step out of the boat; we begin walking toward Jesus. 

But then we notice the wind, and we get afraid. We feel the waves, and just like Peter we start to sink.  Yet in that moment when Peter thinks he is a goner, he cries out, “Lord, save me!”  And “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘Why did you doubt?’”

Jesus critiques his failure of faith, and yet he also immediately reaches out to save him, putting Peter safely back into the boat.  Jesus doesn't require perfect faith from his disciples; he doesn't demand unwavering trust, but readily responds to our need, whether we cry aloud in terror or whisper in the silence of our soul those words of sacred prayer, "Lord, save me!"

Rev. Billy Honor, a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia talks about how often we try to go through our lives forgetting about the saving power of God.  Trying to make it on our own, to cope in our own ways, to get through life relying on a whole array of vices. 
Rev. Honor says that so often we forget that we need the power, the batteries, of the Holy Spirit in order to make our lives work.

How much better to pray, he says, to say, “Lord, I need you to put some “super” on my “natural.” Because the “super” that God can put on our “natural” is better
than what the phone booth did for Clark Kent, better than what the lasso of truth did for Wonder Woman, better than what spinach did for Popeye and what vibranium did for the Black Panther. 

When God puts the super on our natural, it’s better than what alcohol does to help us cope and what drugs do to numb our pain, better than what any object can do to make us feel safe or help us escape.
When God puts the super on our natural, we can be sure he is going to call us to step out of our familiar boat and risk putting our trust in him.  And we can be confident as well that in those moments when storms of life threatens to drown us, he will reach out his hand to lift us up.

Peter says,  “Lord, save me!” “Lord, put the super on my natural.”

And we can pray those words too…

Lord, save me!

Lord, give me the power to make it through this life.

Lord, put the super on my natural.

Amen.



Resources: “Sermon” by Rev. Billy Honor, Opening Worship at the Next Church National Gathering, February 26, 2018, Baltimore, MD.













2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete