Sunday, May 25, 2008

Proper 3 Year A May 25, 2008

Matthew 6:24-34

Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-- you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."


Sermon

He brought the fruit to his mouth, marveling at its fragrance, the tautness of the skin and the beauty of its coloring. He opened his mouth to take a bite…and all hell broke loose.

If we had been there, knowing what we know, we would have struck it from his hand before he took that first bite. Because with that first bite, all manner of sins were let loose in the world and one of those sins was worry.

If you stop any Christian on the way into church and asked them, “Is worrying a sin?” probably most of them would say no.

However, if you look at any account of sin in the old or new testaments, you’ll find that sin can be categorized in three ways:

1) Sin damages our relationship with God.

2) Sin hurts other people and damages our relationships with them.

3) Sin damages our bodies.

Worry, when you evaluate it, is a double-barreled sin. It fits into two of these categories. Worry damages our relationship with God. Because when we worry, we do not trust God to care for us. Jesus points this out in today’s gospel lesson when he says,

“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

Jesus goes on to say,

“And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

The fact is that not only can you not add an hour to your life by worrying, you actually shorten your life. Worry, also known as anxiety, damages our bodies and shortens our lives. It is a contributing factor in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. It is bad for us, plain and simple. Our own bodies are wiser than we are, because when we worry, it feels bad. All sorts of warning signals flare. Our hearts race, our muscles clench, we can’t sleep, and we can’t eat; all these are signals that something is wrong and we need to stop it.

“But I can’t help myself!” many people will say when it comes to worry. And it does seem that some people are more prone to worrying than others. Plus, as we get older, we are more likely to worry because we know more about what can go wrong. Knowledge is at the root of worry and that is what happened back in the Garden. The fruit was on the tree and it was the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. And knowing what evil is brings fear of what it can do to us. If Adam had never bitten into that apple, if Eve had not listened to the serpent, we would all be better off. Worry is fear in casual clothing.

In the series of books by Jan Karon called the Mitford Series, Father Tim’s wife, Cynthia, tells Father Tim: “Fear is of the Enemy” When we listen to what the Enemy, or Satan, has to tell us, that’s when we start worrying. We listen to the Enemy instead of God, just as Adam and Eve did. We sin.

Yes, it’s hard not to listen to that voice. And God knows it is hard for us, but we have to keep trying to drown out the voice of the Enemy, because if we don’t, soon the voice of the Enemy will be only one we hear.

It takes a lot of effort to wrench your mind away from the contemplation of all that can go wrong and turn it to God. But like anything, using the mental muscles that turn our inward ear towards God gets easier with use. We will be sore and weary for a while each time we do it. But as we go on, it will be easier and easier.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon tells his son:

1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,

2 for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you prosperity.

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. [a]

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Trust the Lord, let love and faithfulness never leave you and worry will be far from your door. Mary C. Crowley, a Christian business woman said, “Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He's going to be up all night anyway.” Good advice, indeed!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Day of Pentecost Year A May 11, 2008

John 7:37-39

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It’s nice to know that in a country like ours, in this day and age, water is so easy to obtain. Very few of us have ever been really thirsty. Water is available everywhere: by bottle at the nearest convenience store, from the tap in our homes, drinking fountains at the mall and even the garden hose in our yards.

So it’s probably harder for us to understand the analogy that Jesus was drawing when it came to thirst. Water, in ancient Israel, was certainly not the easily obtainable commodity it is in our own country. People then knew what thirst was, REAL thirst. Here’s a description of thirst from Christ’s Call to Discipleship by J.M Boice, who relates the experience of a soldier in the British liberation of Palestine:

‘Driving up from Beersheba, a combined force of British, Australians and New Zealanders were pressing on the rear of the Turkish retreat over arid desert. The attack outdistanced its water carrying camel train. Water bottles were empty. The sun blazed pitilessly out of a sky where the vultures wheeled expectantly. “Our heads ached,” writes Gilbert, “and our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare...Our tongues began to swell...Our lips turned a purplish black and burst.”’

Most of us have never been in any danger of dying of thirst. But to the people that Jesus was addressing, “thirst” meant something entirely more profound than a mildly irritating physical symptom easily satisfied by a visit to the kitchen.

Of course, the “living water” that Jesus refers to is the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate the church receiving today, the Day of Pentecost. We celebrate this every year, but do we really understand what receiving the Holy Spirit means? Are we really THIRSTY for it? Do we really want it, the way that someone in the desert really desires water in a way that we may never experience?

It’s a vital question. A lot of us dabble our feet in the fountain of Christianity, but we don’t really drink. We hold ourselves back from complete commitment. We are afraid to drink, afraid of what it might demand of us.

What are we so afraid of? Jesus, in the fourth chapter of John describes living water. Tired from his journey through Samaria, he sits by a well:

7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

11"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Imagine drinking water that filled your every desire for water for eternity! This is what the Holy Spirit does for us spiritually. By receiving the Spirit, the deepest desires of our hearts are all satisfied. All the things we thought would satisfy pale in comparison, and God becomes all in all to us. Yet we cling to those desires instead of receiving the living water that would satisfy us so completely. Why are we so resistant?

D.L. Moody, the 19th century American evangelist said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”

And that’s it in a nutshell. We are afraid to let go of the things we think make us who we are. We can’t be filled until we surrender it all to God. And deep down we are worried; we think, “Will I still be myself if I surrender it all to God? What will be left of me?”

In my own experience and in many whom I have spoken with regarding this act of surrender, this is the main stumbling block to the complete Christian commitment. It is the fear of trading the known for the unknown, of being asked to do things that we don’t want to do, to give up things which we very much like and don’t want to have to give up. Yet what choice do we have? These things that we hold on to so tightly will never fill us in the way that the Holy Spirit can. Most of us turn to God when we find our lives are not working, when we realize that the way we have been running them is flawed and empty. Obviously if we were doing such a great job before, we wouldn’t need God as we do, we would not thirst for the living water that he offers.

The truth is, surrendering our innermost selves to God will not negate us as a person. Instead we are made over, a new creation created from the best parts of ourselves, enhanced with new and special features. Instead of the old Janine, I become “maxed-out” Janine, a “high definition” Janine; the difference between water and living water.

So on this Day of Pentecost, let us open our hearts and minds to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let the barriers fall, let the worries that are holding us back fall away, and let the living water flow through us. It is truly the only water that can satisfy our thirst, once and for all. Dr. William Bright, the late founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote this prayer for those wishing to be filled by the Holy Spirit and I invite you to pray it with me now:

"Dear Father, I need You. I hunger and thirst for a more vital relationship with You. I admit that I have been in control of my life. As a result, I have sinned against You.

"Thank You for forgiving my sins through Christ's death on the cross for me. I now confess and turn from my sins and surrender the control of my life to the Lord Jesus. By faith I invite You to fill me with the Holy Spirit as You commanded me to be filled. You promised to fill me if I ask according to Your will. I pray this in the authority of the name of Jesus Christ.

"To demonstrate my faith, I now thank You for filling me with Your Holy Spirit and for taking control of my life. Amen."