Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 18, 2016 The Danger of Unhealthy Religion

I received this nice mailing the other day (a health-related mailing from a health-care provider).  You have probably received one like it, I’m sure, from your insurance company or a local health care provider.  Every week I receive information about how to remain healthy.  In the mailbox, in my email, through social media – I am inundated with ways in which I can look after my physical health.  Isn’t it nice that people worry enough about us to encourage us to take care of our health?  And, as I have aged, I certainly do pay much more attention to my health than I did in years past.

Do you ever wish there was as much attention paid to our spiritual health?  It is very important to consider our spiritual health, and that is our topic for this week, specifically, the damage that can be done by unhealthy religion.

I’ve been thinking about this message for a while – The Danger of Unhealthy Religion.  I was originally working on this topic for another piece of writing, something that eventually will be much longer, and decided to try and condense it down into a Sunday message.

Our Scripture text this morning comes from Luke 14:1-15, a passage in which Jesus encounters, as he did far too often, unhealthy religion.  When we read through the gospels we find many expressions of unhealthy religion, mostly emanating from the usual cast of characters – the scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders in the time of Jesus.  On this particular occasion, Jesus confronts the unhealthy religion before anything is even said.  Much of the time, Jesus was confronted by the verbal abuse of these individuals; on this day, Jesus responded to it before his critics said a word.

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body.
Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”
But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?”
And they had nothing to say.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.
11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

I should begin by offering a definition for unhealthy religion.  Unhealthy religion is any religious expression that uses manipulation, shame, fear, or judgment; it builds walls of separation instead of tearing down the barriers between people; and it is expressed in anger, judgmentalism, dogmatism, and legalism.  It trades in mistrust of others, is skeptical of anyone who is different, and is always searching for someone to condemn.  Pick almost any other negative adjective and you can apply it to unhealthy religion.

Those unhealthy expressions, which we have all witnessed or experienced, tear apart congregations and in the process hurt many people.  It is no wonder, I have sometimes thought, that some people decide to give up on church and religion, as they are so hurt and so disillusioned by the abuses of unhealthy religion that they believe the only alternative is to give up on church – and sometimes even faith – completely.  What a tragedy!

It was not at all unusual for Jesus to have encounters with unhealthy religion.  In today’s passage he is invited to dinner at the home of one of the Pharisees, and Luke immediately points out that Jesus was being carefully watched (verse 1).  That is one of the elements of unhealthy religion – watching, with the hope that there will be a reason to be critical and condemning.  It was obvious to Jesus that the Pharisees were watching with that intention and, anticipating their criticism, he took action to counter their unhealthy religion.  Knowing what was in their hearts he asked them if one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out? (verse 5).
You can almost hear the frustration in his voice, as Jesus expresses amazement that the dogmatic, unhealthy religion of the Pharisees would find fault with healing or helping.  Who in their right mind would be critical of someone being healed or helped, even if it were on the Sabbath day?  But the unhealthy religion of the Pharisees insisted on clinging to their legalistic views, believing such an action would violate the commands of God.

Though we don’t use the name Pharisee in an official sense today, their unhealthy spiritual ancestors are alive and well.  Listen for the angry, condemning, judgmental, and fearful voices that shout from houses of worship and from religious people, and you will find that the spirit of the Pharisees is, unfortunately, alive and well.  In my conversations with skeptics of religion, it is often mentioned that religion is a negative and destructive force in our world.  Now, I certainly do not agree with that point of view, but I think it is obvious that some unhealthy expressions of religion so exist in our world today.  Religions – all religions – have among some of their adherents those who express an unhealthy view of faith.  There are several events in recent history that have caused some people to view religion negatively, and I believe we must both acknowledge and address them.

1.  Religion and violence.
We’ve all heard people say that religion has caused all the wars and violence in human history, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  I do not believe that religion causes violence, but I do believe that violent people grab hold of certain tenants of religion to justify their use of violence.  When religious people use violence to further their causes it’s effect is to make people look askance at religion, whether it be from the bombing of abortion clinics to the troubles in Northern Ireland to the jihadist mentality that has brought harm to so many.

It is of critical importance that we condemn violence, especially when done in the name of God.  In the Christian faith there is no justification for violence, and this is borne out by the words of Jesus in the Sermon On the Mount.  The gospels are the heart of the Scriptures, and the Sermon On the Mount is the heart of the gospels, and the words of Jesus about loving our enemies is the heart of the heart of the heart, as he says in Matthew 5:43-48 – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

These verses represent the core ethic of our faith, which is a love for people that excludes violence. 

2. Scandals among religious leaders and televangelists. 
I heard someone say once, and I initially thought they must be joking – but they weren’t – that all ministers were wealthy and all of them were after nothing more than money.  That is so far from the reality.  Most ministers are poorly paid and make significant financial sacrifices to serve as vocational ministers.  Most churches are small and unable to pay ministers very much money, and many ministers serve bivocationally in order to contribute an adequate amount to their family’s household income.  I have been there.  I’m not there now, and I am very grateful that this church treats me more than fair.

But the caricature of the televangelist with his hand in a wallet has been, in some cases, far too accurate.  And when we see reports of them flying in one of their multi-million dollar private jets, pictures of one of their mansions, and see them adorned with very expensive clothes and jewelry, bought and paid for by the sacrificial tithes and offerings of others, it is nothing short of scandalous and offensive.  And when we hear reports of their personal failings, with members of their staffs or congregations, it only drives home the point to some people that they are representative of all leaders, and all ministers, and all religious people.

I want you to know that I have nothing to do with the finances of this church.  I do not handle the money in any way.  My name is not on any of our church’s bank accounts.  I cannot write or sign a check (it’s actually a lot like home!).  Furthermore, I do not know what anyone gives, and I do not want to know.  I do not know how to access that information and I can guarantee you that I never will. 

I understand that I am in a position of leadership and the manner in which I conduct my life is very important.  I do not take that seriously, and I do my best to conduct myself in a way that seeks to avoid any embarrassment to the kingdom of God or to this church.

3.  The abuse scandal of the Catholic Church. 
I have a relative who told me he was not interested in giving another dime to church or attending church because of that terrible tragedy.  There is no other way to frame that scandal except to say it is unfathomable in the pain it caused and in the way it was handled by the church hierarchy.  There is simply no excuse for the way in which the Church covered up that abuse and resisted efforts to deal with it.

That’s not to be a critic of the Catholic Church overall, but it is a critique of what institutional religion sometimes does – it protects the institution, even if it brings harm to individuals.  That’s what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did.  Remember what Pilate said in John 11:50 – Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.  They were willing for individuals to suffer in order to preserve and protect their power and privilege.

The tragedy of abuse extends even further than the Catholic Church.  Several years ago, in response to cases of abuse in Southern Baptist churches, it was recommended to begin a database of abusers so churches could have the information and put in places layers of protect to guard against the perpetrators.  The vote failed.

In Disciples churches we have “standing.”  As ordained ministers in the Disciples tradition, David and I are required to maintain our standing by meeting particular requirements.  That standing is renewed each year, and every so many years we are required, among other things, to take a boundaries class, part of which deals with the ethical ways in which we are expected to deal with members of our congregation and community.  “Standing” is our Region’s “good housekeeping” seal of approval.  If, however, I commit and unethical action, such as misappropriating church money or other actions, I will lose my standing and every Disciples church in North America will know not to have any dealings with me.

Now, allow me to make a few further statements –

1. Unhealthy religion comes from unhealthy people.
All of us have our issues, don’t we?  And, sadly, we sometimes bring those issues into our religious expressions.  That’s one reason why I believe a very individualistic approach to faith is not healthy.  Some people say we don’t need to be involved in a church or any organized religious expression.  I very much disagree, because we can’t do this very well on our own; we need others who will help us to see ourselves for who we are, who will help us to see and understand our shortcomings, and will help us to bring healing to our lives.

The goal of Disciples’ churches is to be a movement of wholeness in the world.  We are so broken and fragmented as people, we are, as Paul writes in II Corinthians 4, earthen vessels or jars of clay.  We are fragile people, easily damaged and broken, and in our fragility and our brokenness we can bring unhealthiness to our religious expressions.

2.  Unhealthy religion uses unhealthy methods.
People don’t always relate to one another in healthy ways, and that can be transferred into our religious expressions as well.  Jesus certainly faced this from those who followed him around and constantly criticized him.  Over the years I’ve had people ask me to be tougher on them, to yell at them and step on their toes.  That is so not me.  I know some churches have more of that approach, but people do not need to be yelled at, as that is not a healthy method, in my opinion.

Neither is guilt, which is often used as a motivator. Sadly, churches sometimes lean on people with guilt.  Guilt is a harmful and destructive force that people too often use to get what they want out of people.  I do not like guilt, and I hope I never use it to try and manipulate people.  I prefer conviction, which is a healthy appeal to people to order their lives in a manner that is in keeping with their core beliefs and values. I believe there is a difference between conviction and health.  Conviction is a healthy emotion and motivator; guilt is one that is destructive and negative.

3.  God seeks to make us who and to heal our brokenness.
In John’s gospel we find a story in which Jesus asks a very strange question.  The story is found in John 5:1-15 and takes place at the pool of Bethsaida –
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.  The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”  11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”  12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”  13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.  14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Did you notice that odd question that Jesus asked – Do you want to get well (verse 6)?  Isn’t that a strange question?  But the reality is that sometimes we don’t want to get well.  We hold to our insecurities and our struggles, even though we don’t like them, because we are familiar with them and because we know how to function with them.  Changing, even for the better, can be very scary, so we continue in our unhealthiness.  But God wants to bring healing and wholeness to us.  We must open up our hearts, our lives, and our minds to the healing power of God!

I am grateful that I received this mailing, as it does help me to think about my health.  But I also know that is not enough; I must be vigilant about my spiritual health as well, as you must, and as our church must.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 11, 2016 To Change Or Not To Change

On Tuesday I did a bit of eavesdropping, on the CWF.  When they gather in the chapel for their monthly meeting I usually slip in and sit on the back row and listen.  They had a great crowd on Tuesday and I didn’t want to interrupt them, so I sat just outside the door and listened to them.  They were sharing some of their memories of the CWF in past years and I enjoyed listening to them talk about people, some of whom I did not have the opportunity to know, and I could hear in their voices that wistfulness that we often have when we talk about the past.  We talk about the past with a sense of the changes that have taken place, and that means the past always seems simpler and more attractive than the present, doesn’t it?  That’s one of the reasons why we often long for the past and the way things used to be, because our minds filter out enough of the difficulties and challenges and stresses that existed back then to give us a very idealized image of the past.  But it’s also because we are reminded of those whom we have lost to eternity.

Change is a topic that we should turn to on a semi-regular basis because, well, things are always changing and we need help coping with those changes.  Today, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we remember the day of which we say the world changed.  The world is indeed a very different place since the day fifteen years ago.

In thinking about change, I will read two passages of Scripture; one from Matthew’s gospel and the other from the book of Hebrews.

Matthew 9:10-17 and Hebrews 13:8 –

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.
13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
14 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”
15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
16 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. 17 Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Change happens all around us, and to us, every day.  There is no escaping change, and that is not all bad.  We all have things in our lives that we would like to change; something as small, perhaps, as an annoying habit, or something as large and significant as our vocation.

It is interesting to note then, that when we talk about change we often put it in a negative context.  I wish things would stop changing we exclaim.  Or, why can’t we leave things alone?  Why does everything have to change?  It’s not that things have to change; it’s simply that things do change.  Almost all change is inevitable, and much of that change is for the good.

This morning, I want to come at this topic by asking three questions, because I like structure that is offered by an outline.  I like to have a framework from which to work, and I believe that makes it easier for it to stick in your mind.  While I was on vacation earlier this year we attended church and heard a good sermon, but when the service was over I couldn’t put my finger on what the message was or what the points were.  I need some structure, and I assume it is helpful to you as well.  I also like to move into the very personal.  These verses of Scripture have some very deep meanings, and it’s easy to dig very deep into them, but I believe sermons are not the same as a Bible study, so I don’t generally dig down into the depths of interpretation.  Sermons are more of a bird’s eye view, looking at a theme or a passage in a more generalized and thematic manner.

I will ask you three questions this morning, with each question moving out in concentric circles, further out from our own lives.

1.  What does God need to change in your life?
Last weekend I had the opportunity to catch up with my college roommate.  The last time we saw each other was in 1989.  Needless to say, we had both changed a good deal in appearance since we graduated from college and since our last meeting.  Back in those days we both had a lot more hair.  Now, there is less hair and what remains of it is quite gray.  We spent a lot of time, of course, laughing about things we’d done years ago and about how much we’d changed.  We also talked about how quickly the years had passed, how fast our children had grown, and marveled at all the things that have become commonplace since we were in college – the advent of personal computing, cell phones, the internet, and the rise of all things tech.  And we wondered, after considering the rapid passage of time, about how fast the remainder of our lives would pass.  I mentioned to him that I was still thinking about a few changes for my life that I was thinking about and talking about when we were in school in the 70s.  Imagine – decades later, and I’m still talking about it.

Now, notice what I did not ask in this question – I did not ask what do you need or want to change in your life, but what does God need to change in your life?  Those are not the same questions, and they represent very different perspectives.  I understand, certainly, that we cannot put ourselves into the mind of God and know what God is thinking, but to ask the question from a perspective of the divine causes us to look at the question differently.

In the passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus referenced the placing of a patch of new cloth on an old garment.  To follow the analogy, all of us have some holes in our lives that need to be covered, holes that need some patching.  What are the holes with which we need to deal?  What kind of patch can cover those holes?  Where do the patches need to go in your life?  The wear and tear of life leaves us a bit tattered – sometimes more than just a bit – and we can have enough patches to make us look like a quilt.

I am looking forward to getting started with the Stephen Ministry training.  I look forward to it because, to be honest, I’ve long felt inadequate when it comes to counseling people.  One of the toughest parts of counseling is getting below the surface, because people generally like to stay on the surface, because it is less threatening; you can talk and talk and not really have to deal with the real issues.

God, however, is in the business of transformation and wants to bring needed change in our lives.  C. S. Lewis uses the illustration of a living house, as he writes imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes into rebuild that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on:  you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is he up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage:  but he is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it himself.
(Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, page 174).

We certainly want some changes to come to our lives.  We need some changes to come to our lives.  So what stands in the way of that change?

2.  How can God use you to bring change to the life of another?
The difficulty, of course, is that we are so bound up in what is happening in our own lives that it seems next to impossible to move into the life of another person and help them.

And, to be honest, it can be a very tricky endeavor to step into the life of another person.  People put up walls and all manner of resistance.  We can see it in this morning’s passage with the Pharisees, for example.  They were always attacking Jesus, finding fault, offering criticisms, and part of it was not only their resistance to needed change, not only was it because of their rigid legalism; part of it was due to the fact, I believe, that they were trying to keep the attention off of themselves.  Attacking Jesus was not just because they disagreed with him; it is an age-old way of deflecting attention from one’s self so you don’t have to deal with what you need to deal with.  Psychologists tell us this is a common practice in people who do not want to deal with the issues in their life that need to change.  Any time they sense someone might offer help or constructive criticism, they begin deflecting, which generally involves a personal attack on the person.

As I mentioned that we need some patches in our lives, we must remember that others have some tears and some fraying that needs patching as well.  It might be someone very close to you who needs you to step forward and help to bring change to their life.  It is not easy, I can assure you, but it is very worthwhile.  But always step into the life of another with grace, kindness, and with love.  Those qualities really do make a difference.  If people know that we generally care about them, most of the time – maybe not always – but most of the time, they will respond.

Where can you mend a new patch onto the life of another?

3.  How can God use you to bring change to the world?
That’s a rather big statement, isn’t it?  There you go – go on out there and change the world!

We want some changes to come to our world, don’t we?  And we need those changes.  But will you or I change the world?  Perhaps not the entire world.  Not everyone is a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Mother Teresa, the type of individual that comes along only so often in history.  But we each inhabit a portion of the world where we can effect change.

We must be prepared to face the reality that change comes easily, even needed and desired change.  When Jesus likened change to new wine in old wineskins, or a patch of new cloth on an old garment, he bore testimony to the often disruptive and painful nature of change.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus faced the harsh reactions of the religious leadership as they feared what he had to say, mostly because it represented a level of change with which they were very uncomfortable.  They had vested interests in keeping things the way they were, and they fought to maintain the status quo.  We are not that different, as we fight against changes that can be both beneficial and needed.

The struggle for democracy around our world, for instance, has never come easily.  We have engaged in wars in the effort to secure democracy for ourselves and for other nations.  The effort to bring equality to all people has likewise not been easy.  Imagine where we would be, however, without those who have led, prodded, and pulled us toward those changes.  Our world – and the lives of millions of people – would certainly be the lesser without those efforts.

Don’t forget – some of those changes are orchestrated by God for your benefit, so let’s not be afraid to change!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

September 4, 2016 - Watch for God

For a number of weeks I’ve been looking at this wristband on the music stand I use during the early service and during Singspiration in the 11:00 service.  I believe it is from VBS.  It’s a little too small for me to wear it comfortably on my wrist, so it must be one for kids.  Printed on the wristband are the words Watch For God.  Every week, as I’ve looked at this wristband it’s been a good reminder for me.  As I’ve been following connecting points for my messages this summer, this is one that has been right in front of me every week for a number of weeks, and one day several weeks ago, while I was in here moving some things around, it finally dawned on me that’s a sermon I should offer – Watch for God.  It was right in front of me for weeks.

That’s sometimes how it is with God, isn’t it?  Right in front of us, but not always noticed.  Working all around us, but not always seen.  There’s nothing quite like missing something that is right in front of you, like looking for your glasses when they are on your head or looking for your keys when they are in your hand.

Follow along with me as I read a story from Mark’s gospel.  It’s a familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, including one rather peculiar phrase –

Mark 6:45-56

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.
46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.
48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them,
49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out,
50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed,
52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.
54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.
55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.
56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Of the several things that I want to say this morning, the first is this –

We must open our eyes.
One of our great callings – and, at the same time, great challenges – is to see God in our daily lives.  But that is not always as easy as we would like it to be.  Many of us, for instance, have wondered why God is not as obvious today as he was in Biblical days.  Even the disciples, who witnessed many great acts performed by Jesus, had a difficulty understanding not only who he was, but struggled to see the ways in which God was working through him.  In the Old Testament there were many miracles and, during the ministry of Jesus and in the time of the early church, miracles were taking place on a regular basis.  Which can bring us to ask, does God work as obviously today, or do we have to look harder to see him?  The answer to that question is, yes.  Yes to both, that is.  I believe that God is just as obviously at work today, while at the same time we have to look harder to see the ways in which he is at work.  God is just as obviously at work today but we must look harder because there are more things that get in the way, I think, of our ability to see.

All of us want to have the ability to see God, and the ways in which God is at work.  But that ability really rests upon us more than it does God.  I think that people mistakenly believe that if God would just offer some kind of irrefutable sign or evidence then faith would be so much easier.  The problem with that is that, first of all, it wouldn’t be faith, and secondly, it doesn’t guarantee that we would really be able to see.  Think for instance of the raising of Lazarus, in John chapter 11.  Can there be any great work of Jesus to offer prove to people?  And yet not everyone was convinced.

Have you ever noticed that odd phrase in this passage before – He was about to pass by them?  Doesn’t that sound strange?  What in the world does that mean?  Was Jesus going to pass by the disciples and leave them struggling in the storm?  Was it some kind of race to get to the other side of the lake?

That strange phrase, he was about to pass by them (verse 48) is interpreted through Exodus 33:22 – when my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by (it is also the verse that inspired the hymn He Hideth My Soul – He hideth my soul, in the cleft of the rock).  The phase until I have passed by has great theological significance, as passing by means God is about to show something important about who he is.  God was about to show Moses something very important, and as Jesus comes to the disciples on the water, he was not intending to pass them by in a literal sense – to race past them – but was about to show them something very important about who he was.  But they had to look close to even know it was him who was coming toward them.

Even those who were the closest to Jesus struggled at times to see, to understand, to open their eyes and see what was literally right in front of them.  We often speak of seeing the world through the eyes of faith.  Seeing is more of a spiritual act than it is a physical or biological act.  Our minds are focused and trained to see things in a particular way, but faith reorients the way we understand, the way we see, and that’s what Jesus spent so much time trying to get through to people, as he sought to help them get their minds out of the way so they could see, through faith.

  There are any number of things Jesus was always tring to get his followers to see, but allow me to offer a few this morning –  

Look for God in the storm of life.
There is a literal truth in this passage, as the disciples found that Jesus would, quite literally, calm the storm for them.  For us, the truth is metaphorical.  We aren’t going to see Jesus walking on the water towards us, but we experience storms that are every bit as real to us as what the disciples faced and we too, find that the presence of Jesus will calm our storms.

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, said that difficulties are God’s megaphone to get our attention. I agree with him, although I would not go so far as to say that God causes those storms in our lives, but I will absolutely say that God is in those storms with us.

For some people, the presence of God is so real they can see him.  Over my years of ministry, I have been with people in hospitals or at other times of great trial, and they have pointed their finger and said Jesus is right there.  And they meant that in a very real sense, not just a metaphorical or symbolic sense.  I asked do you mean literally right there?  Their answer would be yes!  Right there!  In the corner of the room, or by their bed, or sitting in a chair!  And though some would say it was the result of medicine of the disorientation that sometimes comes about as a result of a hospital stay, I don’t believe it was medicine or any other physical factor that caused them to have that experience.  I believe they are real, and I believe it to be real because the storms of life can open our eyes to spiritual experiences that we do not allow ourselves to open up to at other points in life.  And though I have never had such an experience myself, I take great comfort from those who have.

Watch for God in the storms.

Watch for God in yourself.
Sometimes it’s hard to see how God is working in us.  I don’t think the disciples always realized the ways in which God was working through them.  I don’t think Peter really recognized how God was working through him.  Or pick any other character in Scripture, or church history, or even today.

Maybe it’s easier for someone else to see.  My friends saw God working in me before I did.  Many years ago, before I had come to any realization of a call to ministry, some of my friends told me they believed I would become a minister.  And these were not friends who attended church or were particularly spiritual, but they could see God working in my life in a way that I could not.  It was a good while before I came to that realization myself, and it was offered by some of my friends who weren’t necessarily tuned into God in ways we would normally understand.

God is working in your life, even when you don’t see it and even when you might not believe it.  God is working in all of us, and we must learn to tune our hearts and minds into the way he is working.

Watch for God in other people.
God can, and does, use some surprising people.  He sure did in the Bible, and one of the greatest examples is Paul.  When Paul was converted he did not get a rousing reception in the churches he visited.  And no wonder, as he had been a great persecutor of the early church.  Paul was blinded at his conversion, and God told a man by the name of Ananias to go to him and to heal him of his (now there is some irony – it took blindness for Paul to truly see).  Ananias was hesitant, and reminded God that Paul’s plan for coming to Damascus was to arrest followers of Jesus (Acts 9:1-0-19.  Ananias told this to God as though God didn’t know what was going on.  This is what we often do; we assume we know more than God).  Later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem he was shunned by the believers there, because they were skeptical of him as well.  But Barnabas – remember, his name means encourager – spoke up for Paul (Acts 9:26-28).  What an example!  Barnabas reminds us that there are times we need to speak up for people as well.

There are times I wish I would have stood up for people.  There are times I should have, but I didn’t, unfortunately.  Jesus always stood up for others, because he wanted us to know that every person is God’s child.  Every period of history has its people who are deemed objectionable.  In the day of Jesus it was lepers, or women, or Gentiles.  We still have groups today who are considered outsiders, people who are considered objectionable, and churches haven’t always done a very good job of standing up for them.

We must never forget that God is at work in the lives of others, and we need to watch to see not only that God is working in their lives but how he is working in their lives.

I will continue to keep this wristband nearby so I will not forget to watch for God.  Watch for God this week.  God is all around us; let’s not miss him!