Tuesday, April 26, 2005

"Did You Really Mean Anything" Sermon for April 24

Text: John 14:1-14

Once there was a little old lady, who would step onto her front porch every morning, raise her arms to the sky and shout, “Praise the Lord!” One day an atheist moved into the house next door. He n became irritated at the little old lady, so every morning, he started stepping onto his front porch after her and yelled “There is no Lord!” Time passed with the two of them carrying on this like this every day. Then one morning, in the middle of the winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, “Praise the Lord! Please Lord, I have no food and I am starving, provide for me, oh Lord!” The next morning she stepped onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. “Praise the Lord!” she cried out. “God has provided groceries for me!” As she prayed, the neighbor jumped out of the hedges and shouted, “Ha, there is no Lord, I bought these groceries!” The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord! God has provided me with groceries and He made the devil pay for them!”

Chris and I know an old praying couple – Doris and Jim. God and Doris and Jim chat regularly, and God gives Doris everything she asks for. I remember when Doris and Jim’s old Grand Marquis gave out after 150,000 miles of wear and tear. Doris prayed for a buyer. The next day, while Jim and Doris were going about their daily routine, someone knocked on the door, asked if the car was for sale, and paid with cash. Now that their wheels were gone, Doris began praying for a new car. Not just for any car. She wanted another Grand Marquis. And it had to be red so she could find it in parking lots. Two days later, out of nowhere, someone offered them another newer Grand Marquis. Low mileage, and for the same amount they received from the old car . . .and it was red.

Prayer doesn’t seem to work like that for me. My prayers involve struggle. Sometimes when I pray, it doesn’t seem like God is listening or doing anything. Why doesn’t God answer all of my prayers?

The question is enough to make some people lose their faith. Ted Turner once received an award by the American Humanist Association for his work on behalf of the environment and world peace. At the banquet, Turner said he had a strict Christian upbringing and at one time considered becoming a missionary. Turner said he was saved seven or eight times, but he became let down with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers. Turner said the more he strayed from his faith, the better he felt.[i]

My prayers aren’t always answered, either. When I was 9 years old, my hero was Spiderman. I wanted to Spiderman I grew up. I wanted to swing on webs that shot out of my wrists, and climb on walls, and fight bad guys. I would have settled for Batman. But I really, really wanted to be Spiderman. I would pray at night, “God, I want to be Spiderman. Please make me Spiderman.” To this day, I have received no radioactive super spider bites.

When I was in high school and preparing for college, wouldn’t it have been weird if my mother said, “College?!? What are you talking about? When you were 9, you said you wanted to be a Spiderman! I spent all of our family’s money to buy that fancy red and blue spider suit, and the web-shooting contraption with the special web fluid refills, and the videos on how to engage in wisecracking repartee with evil geniuses. We don’t have money for college.” I would have answered, “Mother, why did you do that? I was just a little kid when I said those things! You didn't really take me seriously, did you?” The good news is that my parents didn’t give me what I thought I wanted when I was 9 years old. They knew they could give me what I really wanted — and needed — when I got older.

Jesus says something amazing in John 14. It’s downright unbelievable. He says, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Do you mean that, Jesus? Do you really mean anything? Are you saying if I ask for anything, and ask for it in your name, I’ll get it? If that’s correct, then why don’t my dreams become true? Why am I not a playboy, jet-setting billionaire by day and a web-slinging superhero by night? God, do you really mean anything? If you answer prayers, why didn’t you heal my loved ones when they were suffering with cancer? Why didn’t my grandmother make it through her open-heart surgery? I prayed for her.

I like how Tony Campolo sees it. He writes that, in comparison with God, we’re all immature. We’re all 9-year-olds who want to be superheroes. And God is too wise and loving to grant prayer requests from people who aren’t spiritually ‘grown-up’ enough to know what’s really best. We think of what we want for any one particular moment. Sometimes God acts the same way my parents did. Sometimes it might seem like God isn’t answering our prayers, but God is really just refusing to give us what we think we want so later we can be given what we really need.[ii]

Have you listened to a child pray recently? Most kids repeat what they are taught at church or at home — the Lord’s Prayer, or “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” , or “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.” Children learn by repeating what they hear. A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied. “Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother replied. The little girl bowed her head and said, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Most childhood prayers are filled with thanks and blessings for all those in our families, and of course our many requests of God. They are simple, honest, and full of our trust in God. How many of you would bless everyone you could think of just to be able to stay up a little later each night? God bless mommy and daddy, grandma, the sun, my pet goldfish . . . I would go on and on!

In youth, our prayers changed to one-sided monologues. They expressed our needs, our desires, our demands! Give me this O God! Please make me more skinny, popular, faster, smarter - O God, make him call today -God, convince mom and dad to buy me that car! You know the prayers -- we all prayed them. But most youth pray because they want reassurance that they are not alone. The prayer of my youth was a one-way street, a way of letting God know how I felt and what I wanted. God was someone I went to with my needs and fears, my hopes and hopelessness. The problem is that most of us stay in the stages of childhood or youth in our praying and never move into adult prayer, prayer that becomes not just something we do, but something we engage in, a two-way form of communication with God.[iii]

Scripture expresses this relationship by encouraging us to pray in "Jesus’ name.” In Bible times, a person’s name was an expression of what that person was all about. A person’s name also described what one did for a living. For instance, Shirley Baker made donuts. Phil Carpenter built doghouses. Charles Farmer milked cows. When Jesus says to pray in his name, he doesn’t just mean we should mention the word “Jesus” here and there. He means that our prayers should fit in with what Jesus was all about — salvation, love and justice. In prayer, we should try to think like Jesus and to feel his emotions, to want the things he wants.

I guess that’s why God won’t turn me into Spiderman, or let my teams win sport events, or instantly shed 30 pounds from my body. God is not a genie in lamp. Faith isn’t about wishing really hard for unrealistic dreams. We can't expect our prayers to be answered if they aren’t in harmony with what God wants to do in us and through us. If we want God to answer our prayers, we begin by aligning ourselves with what we know about God’s will and character.

Praying in the name of Jesus means prayer in alignment with God’s desires. It implies union with Christ. Just as Jesus is one with the Father, so the Christian is in union with Christ. Praying in Jesus’ name assumes that we aren’t making requests about the petty things of life, will bring glory to God when they are answered.[iv]

There are some prayers that God always answers – requests that are in line with the work of Jesus Christ. Try it. Try to pray one of these and see what happens:
· God, bring me into contact with someone who needs to know your love
· God, let me cross paths with someone who does not know Jesus Christ so I can share my faith.
· God, give me a desire to spend time with someone who is different than me.
· God, use me to make life better for someone who is poor, or hungry, or naked, or thirsty, or sick, or in prison, or an enemy.
· God, give us the ability to see human inequality and justice, and make us bold to do something about it.

Prayer is not a Christmas list. It is not a one-way register of gimmes. Prayer is not a religious activity for perfect pious people. Prayer is a relationship. We pray because as we do it we learn what God wants to do in our lives. Praying connects us with the heart of Christ – and his love for the least and the lowest. God has far more to give you than you would even dare to ask.

[i] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer_unanswered.htm
[ii] Tony Camplo, http://www.christianitytoday.com/holidays/syatp/features/why.html
[iii] “A Faith Worth Believing” - Why Pray?” A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Joan Withers Priest, First Presbyterian Church, New Canaan, CT. http://fpcnc.org/08_15_04.html
[iv] Raymond Brown, “The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI,” AB, 636.

April 24 Sermon Feedback

After I preached this sermon, I received some feedback from a parishioner. I'll share part of the Email:

I think you mentioned that God answers our prayers when we pray in a way that reflects God's will for us, and that we are able to pray in this way only after we become "spiritually mature". The thought that struck me was that this "spiritual maturity" is certainly a worthwhile goal, but it may be seen as an insurmountable hurdle for many people. Questions that a person may ask may be: How would I know if I had achieved this maturity? How do I get there? Can I really get there, or is it just for the people who study and worship for years and do everything right, sort of like achieving nirvana? If I don't get there, does that mean that God will not answer my prayers? If God doesn't answer my prayers, does that mean that I have not achieved spiritual maturity? Do I need special training to learn to pray the right way? The notion of spiritual maturity seems to run contrary to the notion of the grace that we are all given. I agree that I am striving to grow in my faith, and to achieve as much maturity in my relationship with the Lord as I can, but this is a life-long effort. In my own practice of faith, I guess that I feel that I can pray to the Lord in an open and unrestricted way without feeling that I must be spiritually mature in order for my prayers to be answered.

Here is part of my response:
Sermon points sometimes get cut out by the Editor's Pen for the sake of simplicity. Fine tuned corollary points are the first casualties. If I had more time (or part II on another Sunday), I would have mentioned another point that I read by Tony Campolo:
Romans 8:26-27 says that none of us really knows how to pray perfectly. But this passage also says that even when our prayers aren't perfect, the Holy Spirit steps in for us before God. So when I finish praying, the Holy Spirit turns to the heavenly Father and says something like, 'I know Tony's prayer was a little selfish. Maybe it even seemed a little immature to you. What Tony should have said was … ' Then the Holy Spirit prays the prayer I should have prayed! I can't think of anything more comforting than that.
I think God honors our attempts, even if they are childlike. In fact, I think even baby steps bring great delight to God. I picture us taking tottering steps towards God. As we do, God is rooting for us, getting all excited, challenging us to take another step, and picking us up when we fall down.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

April 10 Sermon, "I Need A Sign"

John 20:19-31

I can relate to the Rev. Jill LaRoche Wilson from Paoli, Pennsylvania when she says, "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! A couple of Sundays ago, there was a lot more oomph to the alleluias. The past weeks has been a difficult one in the life of our world, and I just don’t think we’re in as much of an alleluia sort of mood anymore. We suffered with Terri Schiavo as she died, and we can only imagine the hurt, pain, and loss felt by her family and friends. The politics and rhetoric surrounding her lead many of us to relive the death of loved ones --relive times when we had to make a similar decision about the life and death of someone we loved." Even this weekend, news came out that a Cornwall, CT man was given probation after helping a friend with terminal cancer commit suicide. The Hartford Courant staff writers claim the entire town of Cornwall supports the assisted suicide as an act of caring. All to say, many of us are reflecting on life and what it means to live a holy life. Some of us are thinking about our death and what a holy death might look like. Last week in Italy, as Pope John Paul was buried, the world was given a glimpse at what a holy death can in fact look like.[i]

Here is a rundown of the top stories in today’s new alone: There is a deadly virus sweeping Angola, and another in the Pacific Rim. One of the suspects in the ’96 Olympic bombings pleaded guilty, a third earthquake shook Indonesia this morning , San Joses State suspended their dance team for being too sexy. It’s hard, the weeks after Easter, to face our crazy world. It’s even more difficult to face the doctor who says, “I’m sorry. We’ve done all we can” Or the family member who is destroying his or her life with drinking or drugs. After Easter Sunday, we wake up to a world that is not changed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Life goes on and we doubt if Easter really makes a difference in the world around us.

It’s OK if you have some doubt. You are in very good company if you feel that way. I’m not just talking about Thomas, who must forever bear the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas isn’t the only disciple to doubt the resurrection. When we read the accounts of the resurrection in the Gospels, the disciples share a common bond: their first reaction to the news of the empty tomb is doubt and fear. They didn’t know what to make of it.

This morning we’re going to discuss what to do when we begin to doubt the resurrection power of Christ. What do we do when we encounter moments in life where the resurrection seems like an empty promise? What do we do when we need to encounter Jesus, and we aren’t sure if he’s going to be there when we need him? What do we do when we need a tangible sign that Jesus is alive and at work in the world? Today’s text speaks to some different times when he can trust Christ to show himself to us.

To begin with, Jesus reveals himself to those who continue a connection with church John tells us that Thomas was not locked away with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. Thomas missed seeing Jesus. And because he was not an eyewitness to the Jesus sighting, he refused to believe the hearsay of the other disciples. I wonder where Thomas was when Jesus first showed up. Some think that Thomas’ doubt kept him away, but that’s unlikely. Thomas never lacked courage. He loved Jesus. He was ready to die with Jesus in Jerusalem (John 11:16). When Jesus died, I’m sure Thomas was brokenhearted. Maybe Thomas was so brokenhearted that he couldn’t meet the eyes of the other disciples. He just wanted to be alone in his grief. Thomas withdrew from Christian fellowship. He sought loneliness rather than togetherness. And because he was not there with his fellow Christians, he missed the first appearance of Jesus.[ii]

Perhaps John is suggesting to us that Christ appears most often within the community of believers that we call the church. When we separate ourselves from the church, we take a chance on missing Christ’s unique presence. When sorrow comes to us, when sadness envelops us, we often tend to shut ourselves up and refuse to meet people. We want our pain to be private. However, our times of pain are the very times we need each other. When we gather together with our sisters and brothers in Christ, we are most likely to meet Jesus face to face.[iii] So, if you need a sign that Jesus is real – if you want to see Jesus, don’t go it alone. Continue your connection with the church.

Once in the church, we need to realize that Jesus reveals himself to those who don’t deny doubt. The church often handles doubt by squashing it. But, Jesus didn’t blame Thomas for doubting. Jesus understood that Thomas needed to struggle through his doubts. Once he did. Thomas daringly defended his faith in Jesus as the risen Lord. In fact, tradition claims Thomas became a missionary in Persia and India, where he was tortured and martyred for his faith.[iv]

I don’t know about you, but I am skeptical of people who say that they’ve never had any doubts—people who always seem so sure. Authentic faith always begins with honesty – even honesty about our doubts. Sometimes I have my doubts. Sometimes I wonder if my whole ministry is based on absurdity. I see the pain that others go through. I sit with the sick and dying. I hear the cries of families who have lost someone closer to them than life itself. And sometimes I think silently to myself: Is it all true? Is resurrection reality?[v]

I don’t want to be a doubting Thomas and neither do you. But we are frequently faced with unresolved issues of faith, questions that have no easy answers. As the church, we often tend to dismiss questions and doubts as the byproducts of immature faith. In our conviction that we at least know some of the answers, we sometimes act as if we have ALL the answers. Do you know what the three least-used words in the vocabulary of the church are? I DON’T KNOW!

Emerging faith honors the value of doubt. Thomas comes to his expression of faith only after stating his misgivings. The kind of faith that will see you through the dark nights of the soul rarely comes without questioning and doubt. In fact, it usually comes as a RESULT of questioning and doubt. So, why has the Christianity developed such a negative attitude toward doubt? We’ve been brought up in a religious environment in which doubt is pictured as the opposite of faith. But doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt has a positive role to play in faith development.

Our Lord doesn’t meet our doubts with scolding, but with a demonstration of grace. If we want to see Jesus, we need to embrace doubt. But it can’t stop there. We need to allow God’s grace to transform our doubt. Jesus reveals himself to those who found their faith on frailty.

What if the church changed its view of and teaching about Thomas? What if we began to picture him as a person who had the courage to admit his lack of understanding? What if the church began to celebrate Thomas’ willingness to express his honest doubts? Could we help people to see that Christian faith is a belief that exists in the presence of doubts rather than a belief that has to remove all doubt in order to exist? Could we in the church begin to believe that faith is strengthened by acceptaning our doubts? Perhaps we’d be seen as people who cling to their faith in spite of the uncertainties of life – people who are just as human and fallible as anybody else. We need to learn the benefit of doubt. We need to embrace the truth learned from the example of Thomas that doubts may not always lead to answers, but they almost always lead to spiritual growth. I like what Frederich Buechner wrote: “Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

Thomas may have doubted, but when he saw the resurrected Lord faith began to take roots in his heart. And once faith took root Thomas cried, “My Lord and my God!” His faith was strengthened when he was honest enough to question and brave enough to touch the wounds of Christ.

There was once a small boy being raised in a frontier city by his grandmother. One night the house caught on fire. The grandmother, trying to rescue the boy who was asleep in the bedroom upstairs, was overcome by the smoke and died in the fire. This dusty old town didn’t have much of a fire department. A crowd gathered around the house and they heard a small boy crying out for help. The lower floor was a wall of flames and no one seemed to know what to do. Suddenly, a man pushed through the crowd and began climbing an iron drainage pipe that ran to the roof. The pipe was hot from the fire, but he made it to a second floor window. The man crawled through the window and found the boy. With the crowd cheering him on, the man climbed back down the hot iron pipe with the boy on his back, his small arms tightly wrapped around the man’s neck. A few weeks later, a public meeting was held to determine custody of the boy. Each person wanting the child was allowed to make a brief statement. The first man said, “I have a farm and could give the boy a good home. He would grow up on the farm and learn a trade.” The next candidate was the local school teacher. She said, “I am a school teacher and I would see to it that he received a good education.” Finally, the banker said, “The wife and I would be able to give the boy a fine home and a good education. We’d like him to come and live with us.” The presiding officer looked around and asked, “Is there anyone else who has anything to say?”

From the back row, a man rose and said, “These other people may be able to offer things I can’t. All I can offer is my love.” Then, he slowly removed his hands from his coat pockets. A gasp went up from the crowd when they saw his hands -- hands terribly scarred from climbing up and down the hot pipe. The boy recognized the man as the one who had saved his life and ran into his waiting arms. The scarred hands proved that this man had given more than all the others.

The scarred hands of Jesus overwhelmed Thomas; then he believed The Christian faith, carried by the wounded hand of God, keeps a firm hold on us, even when we doubt. Our examples are frail followers like Peter, Mary Magdalene, James and John and Thomas — doubting Thomas. What the Lord did for them he can do through them for us, if we only let him. Continue your connection with the church. Don’t deny doubt. Found your faith on frailty. Then you will see Jesus and begin to work in your life.

[i] http://www.stpetersgv.org/sermons/20050403.html and http://www.courant.com/news/yahoo/hc- suicidestory0410.artapr10,0,6357287.story?coll=hc-aol-yahoo-nws-hed
[ii] William Barclay, The Gospel According to John (Edingurgh, St. Andrew Press, 1955), 320-321.
[iii] Barclay, 321.
[iv] John Foxe & Harold Chadwick, The New Foxes Book of Martyrs (North Brunswick, NJ: Logos, 1997), 8.
[v] www.SermonIllustrations.com, April, 2000.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Low Sunday Sermon (April 3)

Alpha and Omega
Revelation 1:4-8

Welcome to Low Sunday. That’s the name given to this day in some liturgical traditions– Low Sunday. It wasn’t like this last week. Everybody goes to church on Easter. It’s a reasonable, market driven choice. The show is good. The music is glorious, the flowers are gorgeous. And the preacher . . .well, the preacher senses that he has a one-time shot at a lot of folk who aren’t ordinarily sitting out there. There isn’t a one of us pastors who doesn’t fantasize that he will be so compelling, so brilliant, that all those Easter worshippers will come back next week.

The Sunday after Easter is usually the week of lowest church attendance. In fact, even the clergy are low. A lot of pastors take vacation after the frantic pace of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Low Sunday. Can you think of anything more depressing? Who would want to come to church on Low Sunday? Can you imagine getting up and saying to your family, “Hey everyone, it’s Low Sunday. Let’s all go to church and worship God and get inspired. What’s that? Well, I don’t feel like going to church either, but it’s Low Sunday–can’t miss that one, can we?” I would pay to stay away from Low Sunday.

Interestingly enough there is another ancient Christian tradition that claims the second Sunday of Easter as Bright Sunday. On Bright Sunday people played practical jokes on each another, drenched each other with water, sang and danced. Early theologians referred to Jesus’ resurrection as The Easter Laugh–God’s supreme joke played on that old imposter death. As one pastor put it, “Easter is the [season] when the Lord laughs out loud, laughs at all the things that snuff out our joy, all the things that pretend to be all-powerful, like cruelty and madness and despair and evil, and most especially, that great pretender, death. Jesus sweeps them all away with his wonderful resurrection laughter.” In the early centuries of Christianity, Easter celebrations went on for days, even weeks.

Let me just ask you this? Is today a Low Sunday or a Bright Sunday for you? Have you come here ready carrying heavy burdens, or have you come ready to celebrate the victory of Christ? Let’s see if we can’t find some brightness to give hope to the Low Sunday’s of life.

Let’s just be honest with each other right from the start. We all experience the “Low Sundays” of life. At one time or another, we feel like we are sinking in the troubles of life. We can use all kinds of bloated rhetoric about resurrection victory and new life in Christ, but that’s not always how we feel. Author Brennan Manning rightly points out that sometimes the church creates the impression that once Jesus is acknowledged as Lord, the Christian life becomes a picnic on a green lawn–marriage blossoms into conjugal bliss, health flourishes, acne disappears, and sinking careers suddenly soar. Everybody is declared to be a winner. An attractive 20-year old accepts Jesus and becomes Miss America. ,a floundering lawyer conquers alcoholism and whips Alan Dershowitz on court TV, a tenth-round draft choice for the Patriots goes to the Pro Bowl. Miracles occur, conversions abound, church attendance skyrockets, ruptured relationships get healed, and shy people become outgoing.

For many of us, though, life is more like a victorious limp. More realistically, the story sounds more like this: At some point in our lives many of us were deeply touched by a profound encounter with Christ. It was a mountaintop experience. We swept up in joy, we finally felt peace, and love. We did not become unraveled as we went about the daily routines and occupations of life. But slowly we allowed ourselves to get caught up in the netting of school, or family, or career and all the other distractions that the busy world offers. We began to treat Jesus like an old high school buddy whom we dearly loved but gradually lost track of. It was unintentional. We simply allowed circumstances to drive us apart. Eventually, heightened by inattention, the presence of Jesus grows more and more remote. So our days become more and more trivial. We get caught in a hectic maze. . .Rising when the clock determines. . .Battered by news headlines. . .Tested by traffic. Our concentration is interspersed by meetings and small crises. Eventually we settle in to well-defined lives of comfortable piety and well-fed virtue. We grow complacent and lead practical lives. Our feeble attempts at prayer are filled with stilted phrases to an impassive God.

I guess I won’t speak for you–this is the victorious limp of my life. It is up and down, peaks and valleys. At different times on the journey I try to fill spiritual hunger with a variety of unhealthy substitutes–work, reading, travel, ice cream, TV, music, day dreaming, making lists. Some how, I allowed myself to be hardened to God, and therefore don’t to pay attention to the love he offers. Talk about Low Sundays!

Today’s reading from Revelation helps me to remember that life doesn’t have to be this way. To begin with, I’m reminded that Jesus is the Alpha. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. We are being told that Jesus is the beginning. In him new life is formed and springs forth. I hear Jesus say, “I am the Alpha. Your life begins in me. You are God’s child, and from the beginning of time, I created you to be at home with me.”

Remembering that Jesus is the Alpha reminds me that behind all the Christian clich├ęs, I will fail. In fact I’ll fall flat on my face. And at those times I have choice. I can skulk away feeling like a shamed loser, or I can remember that I am God’s child. Because my life begins in Christ, my existence has purpose, and meaning. Because Jesus is my beginning point, I can find the courage to risk everything on Jesus. I can summon the willingness to keep growing, and the readiness to risk failure throughout all of life. And the great part is that we can’t lose because we have nothing to lose. With all of our scars, our sins and insecurities, we stand with Jesus, remembering that we are formed by him. Jesus, the Alpha, the First, marks the beginning of our long journey from death to life. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? I know my answer, but instead of being spoon fed some religious pablum, walk the road with me and we’ll find out together.

Before we walk together, though, let me remind us of the destination. Jesus is the Omega is the last letter in the Greek Alphabet. In other words, we begin in Jesus, but Jesus is also our finish. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. In Christ we have received life, and to Christ we must give life back.

We hold back so much on life, don’t we? I mean, isn’t it easier to know that everything is going to be safe. Low risks–or no risks involved? A town gathered in the courthouse for a trial. The prosecuting attorney called his first witness, an elderly woman, to the stand. He approached her and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And, frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot, but you haven’t the brains to realize you will never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.” The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?” She replied, “Why, of course I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. I used to baby-sit him. And he, too, has been a real disappointment to me. He’s lazy, bigoted, and has a drinking problem. The man can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I know him.”At this point, the judge rapped the courtroom to silence and called both counselors to the bench. In a very quiet voice, he said with menace, “If either of you asks her if she knows me, I’ll hold you both in contempt of court!”

Many of us go to great lengths to hide the truth about ourselves. We live behind all kinds of masks that conceal who we really are. So, let’s be honest. Why do you hold back from a life fully yielded to Christ? What are you afraid of?

- Are you afraid Jesus will ask too much? Afraid you might have to actually love some enemies along the way, or even harder, you might have to love yourself?
- Are you afraid that Jesus is going to take away all the fun and joy out of life?
- Are you afraid Jesus might dig around too deeply into your life along the way?
- Afraid of being judged?
- Afraid of being seen as a failure?
- Is it easier to trust in yourself than in some undefined concept like faith in an invisible God?
- Are you holding back your love for Christ because you think Jesus won’t like you? You can’t see any good in your life–what if you draw closer to Jesus and he doesn’t see it either?
Jesus says “I am the Omega.” Jesus says, “I am the End of your hard journey. Come to me.” The question the gospel puts to us is simply this: What are you waiting for? Who shall separate you from the love of Christ?

Are you afraid your weakness can separate you from the love of Christ?
It can’t.
Are you afraid that your inadequacies can separate you from the love of Christ?
They can’t.

Difficult marriage, loneliness, anxiety over the children’s future?
They can’t.
Negative self-image.
It can’t.

Economic hardship, hatred, rejection by loved ones, suffering and sickness, persecution, terrorism?
They can’t.

Mistakes, fears, and uncertainties? They can’t either.

The Bible says, “Nothing can ever separate you from God’s love.” Jesus loves you. His love is our bright hope during the low times. Everything else will pass away, but in the beginning...and the end, there is still Jesus, the Alpha and Omega. He’s the A and the Z, and everything else in between. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. From him we come and to him we must go for everything. I think Jesus says, “You are God’s child and you have a beginning and an end in me.”

Sources:
Rev. Frank Yates, quoted in Holy Humor, Carl and Rose Samra, ed. (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 1997), 71.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel (Sisters: Multnomah, 1990), 86-87, 178-180, 185.

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