Friday, October 13, 2017

Overcoming Evil (Matt. 8:28-9:1; Rom: 8:31-39) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

On Sunday October 1, in Las Vegas, Nevada, beginning at 10:05 p.m. our nation witnessed a massacre.  A lone gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel and casino opened fired on some 22,000 people at a country music festival.  It is called the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

I preach this message within a context, that is, remembering that there is also blessing, joy, wonder, love, and goodness in the life we live.  But that fact doesn’t diminish the horror of last Sunday.  As a Christian, as a pastor, as a student of the Bible, I call it an act of evil.   Others many disagree.  This is how I see it.

Within seconds it was sheer pandemonium.   People at first thought the sound was fireworks.  They assumed it was a part of the show.  But then people started falling around them from being hit.  And at that moment terror, panic, confusion and shock began to race through the crowd, as people starting ducking for cover, running in all directions, trying to get away from the rifle fire.  The shooting lasted 10 minutes which must have felt like an eternity.  And in that span of time, some 500 people were injured and wounded and 58 concertgoers died, murdered by one man.  Many people are in hospitals in critical condition.  There has been widespread speculation about the shooter’s motive, but that still remains unknown.  Memorial services are currently being held.

I can’t imagine the fear people felt, having never experienced anything like it myself.  Have you?  First responders, police, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics were quick to rush to the scene.  They ran toward the gunfire.  We have also heard of many stories of heroism.  Strangers helping strangers, friends helping friends, people shielding others who themselves were killed.  A man saved 30 people before he was shot in the neck.  A husband died protecting his wife.  A couple trained in first aid, turned to the wounded administering CPR, making tourniquets, and saving lives.  A marine commandeered a truck and drove dozens of people to the hospital.  A wounded man put his body over 2 strangers to shield them as bullets rained down.  Many people in the midst of chaos acted with amazing courage to help their fellow concertgoers.  Our prayers go out to the victims, to their families, to the wounded, to the first responders, to the people of Las Vegas.

Amidst the swirl of emotions we feel at hearing of such carnage, such a horrific act immediately raises questions.  Not only questions like who was this shooter, what drove him to a heinous act, but philosophical questions like - why do people commit such evil acts, why does evil exist, what is evil, what is the origin of evil, can evil be defeated.  For believers, in addition, it raises theological questions, like why does God allow evil, what does God do about evil, is God more powerful than evil or is evil more powerful than God?  Is the Bible or our Christian faith silent in the face of evil?  How would you answer these questions?

The first thing to say is this, if there is no God, then theoretically there is no problem.  If one is an unbeliever, an atheist, if one does not believe in a good God who created and who rules the world then logically there is no intellectual problem.

If we live in a chaotic, purposeless and meaningless universe, with no intelligent designer or sovereign God, we have no right to expect that decency, and morality and justice should prevail in this world.  Wickedness should never be a surprise.  We are on our own.  We are alone in this vast universe.  Logically, evil is not a problem for unbelievers.

Evil is a problem for believers, for Christians.   And the deeper your faith, the closer you are in your walk with God, the more firmly you trust in a good, loving and powerful God, the more vexing is the problem of evil.   If God exists and if God is loving and merciful, why is evil so pervasive?

Ideas about evil and suffering have been discussed down through the centuries.  For example, some have explained that all suffering and evil comes from God; God uses it like a hammer to punish sin and immorality.  Some evangelists like Rev. Pat Robertson have stated that hurricanes like Katrina and earthquakes are God’s punishment on sinful and disobedient cities and nations.    It’s possible, but I don’t believe it.

Others have said evil is necessary for the good of the whole, like leaven is to dough.  Others have theorized that evil is only an illusion, and everything will come out good in the end.  Still others have said evil is a mystery, there are no answers.  Some have asserted that human beings are the cause of evil in the world and at least partly responsible for natural disasters because we have polluted the environment.   Human beings with our free will are without question guilty in terms of moral evil, such as this shooting.

Jewish and Christian thinkers have basically made the following three theological arguments.  First, God is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing and all-present.  This is the central biblical claim about God the creator of the world, the one who formed Israel and the church, and the ruler of the universe.  Other thinkers have said God is all-loving, but not all-powerful, and that explains why evil exists.  God is too weak to do anything about evil.    Still other thinkers have asserted that God is all-powerful, but not all loving and that explains why evil exists.  God just doesn’t care that evil exists.  What do you think?  I believe in the traditional Judeo/Christian view of God, based upon scripture, that God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing and all present.   But yes, that position leaves many questions.

I bring four answers or responses which come out of our orthodox and traditional Judeo/Christian understanding of God.

First, God is involved in the world and in evil with us!  That sounds strange I know. It is saying that God is not beyond evil, above evil, basking in the splendors of heaven.    God entered this world in the person of Jesus Christ to save sinners, to bring salvation to the world.  Jesus is fully God and fully human.  God was incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth to accomplish His will in the world both then and today.  Jesus was subjected to the worst evils that humans can devise.  Jesus experienced rejection, persecution, humiliation, beatings and was crucified upon a cross.  God chose to personally become one of us, one with us and one among us and subject himself to evil in order to atone for our sins, to forgive us, to make our relationship right with God, to bring us back into fellowship with our creator.  God understands, God knows, God is empathetic to the pain humans must at times go through because Jesus himself was subjected to it.  We pray to a God who understands our pain. The letter of Hebrews in speaking about Jesus says:  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness.”

Second, God battles against and conquers evil today.   There is a strange story in the Gospel of Matthew.  It takes place in the town of Gadarene, on the eastern side of Sea of Galilee, in the northern region of Israel.  We read that two demon possessed men came out of the tombs to confront Jesus.  They were extremely strong and violent and no one dared go near them.   They shout, “What do you want with us, Son of God?”  “Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?”  “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

Jesus doesn’t hesitate, he says “Go!” Jesus casts out the demons from the men and sends them into this herd of pigs.  The entire herd of pigs rush down a steep bank and drown in the sea of Galilee.  The swineherds, like shepherds, only for pigs, race to town to report what has occurred to the two men and to the pigs.  The whole town goes out to meet Jesus and pleads with him to leave their region.

Like any story in the Bible it must be interpreted.  How would you interpret it?   Here are some possible interpretations.  The message of the story is that Jesus hated pigs?  He despised pigs that went around snorting and wallowing in the mud.  The message of the story is that in Judaism pigs are unclean, they are not Kosher, and should never be eaten. Jews hold that view today.   The message of the story is that Jesus should not meddle in the local economy, in this instance, the pig industry, because it always got him into trouble.   Any of those interpretations are possible.  I believe the story is saying something else, that Jesus, the Son of God, has power over evil, personified here as demons, and conquered evil in his day and continues to do battle against and conquer evil today.  I offer that interpretation for your thinking.

The third response is God cares, God loves the world and God loves us.  The Holy Spirit instills courage and comfort in our faith today in the midst of tragedy and crises.  God gives us the strength and power to endure and overcome evil.   God assures us of his presence with us in all times.  God promises that nothing can separate us from his love.  God gives us the power to endure and overcome evil ourselves through faith.

In Romans 8 we read these inspiring words:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  God sent his own Son to be with us, among us and for us.  Who will separate us from God’s love.  Hardship, distress, persecution, famine nakedness or peril or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In II Corinthians we read:  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Finally, we hold onto the promise that God will ultimately conquer all evil and establish a new earth and heaven.  This is the glorious message of Easter and the resurrection.  God raised Jesus from death on Easter, the message of Easter is that in Jesus’ resurrection, God has ultimately conquered sin, death and evil.   Further, as believers we have the promise and assurance of the second coming of Christ, when evil will be vanquished forever and God’s kingdom, God’s reign, will become visible to all.

Rev. 21:  “I saw the holy city, coming own out of heaven from God, and I heard a loud voice from the throne: Saying See the home of God is among mortals, God will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, God himself will be with them, God will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, grieving and crying and pain will be no more.

Author Dinesh Dsouza wrote: “Evil and suffering poses an intellectual, spiritual and moral challenge for Christians.  But it also poses a formidable challenge for atheists and unbelievers.  Because suffering is not merely an intellectual and moral problem, it is also an emotional problem.  Suffering wrecks hearts.  Atheism may have a better explanation for evil and suffering, but it provides no consolation for the people.  Theism, faith, which doesn’t have a good explanation, nevertheless, offers a better way for people to cope with the emotional consequences of evil and suffering.

We place our trust and our hope in Jesus.  The good news, of our faith, the light in the midst of darkness, is that in Jesus Christ God has overcome, is overcoming and will finally overcome evil.  Amen!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) by Rev. Dr. Rev. Alan W. Deuel

A young rabbi, fresh out of seminary, and serving his first synagogue, found a serious problem.  During the Friday evening service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition. Despite his efforts, nothing the rabbi said or did helped to solve the impasse. Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder.

He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles. "So tell me," the young rabbi pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?"   "No," answered the old rabbi.  "Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers."  "No," answered the old rabbi. Exasperated, the young rabbi replied: “But what we have is complete chaos!  Half the people stand and shout and the other half sit and scream." "Ah," said the old rabbi, "that was the tradition."

On this World Communion Sunday, we celebrate our membership in the One Holy Catholic Church.  Notice I said Holy Catholic, not Roman Catholic.  Our world-wide Christian family has well over 2 billion believers.  We affirm our unity with our Christian brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.  Yes, we Protestants acknowledge some theological and organizational differences with other members of our Christian family, but we also respect and pray for the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox Church.  We firmly trust that God uses His world-wide church to further the work of His Kingdom on earth.

On this Sunday Christians focus on our common faith, on what we together believe in: one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, and one Church, the body of Christ, and one baptism, the sign of forgiveness and admission into Christ’s church, and one Lord's Supper, the sign of Christ's atoning sacrifice and living presence, and one mission to love our neighbors and reach unbelievers for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A central theme of World Communion Sunday is Jesus’ call to his followers to be peacemakers.  Jesus declares: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Jesus isn’t saying blessed are the peace dreamers or peace wishers, but those who actually engage in the nitty gritty of working to achieve peace.  It is a high calling, a holy calling, a noble calling and a risky, and sometimes dangerous calling.  Peacemaking is rarely ever peaceful.  It is doing the work of God and finding through struggle, set-backs and disappointment a way to peace.

What is a peacemaker?  It is one who strives to bring healing where there is brokenness.  One who strives to be a bridge between conflicting parties, to reconcile parties who are at variance.  It's one thing to define it.  It's quite another thing to roll up one's sleeves and enter into the messy work of peacemaking.  We know conflict, division, dissension exists in our communities, in government, in politics, in relationships, in marriages, in families, in the courts, in terrorism, in foreign relations and yes, in churches.  Forgiving someone who asks you to or apologizes is a form of peacemaking.  Apologizing or asking forgiveness to someone you have offended is a form of forgiveness.  Come to terms quickly with another person if you can.  Strive to resolve your differences before they become intractable.

Without question peacemaking, from a mom settling differences with her children, to Monarch school working with children and parents, to the Secretary of State trying to bring peace to foreign countries in the midst of strife is complicated and difficult.  You can always count on one thing, there's no shortage of opportunities to be a peacemaker.  There are lots of job openings if you feel called by God to apply.

One local example of conflict and peacemaking today has to do with an individual in Pacific Beach, and probably others, but he is leading it, to stop the churches in PB from serving the homeless.  He believes that the churches are the problem. Churches are attracting homeless people here.  If churches just stopped feeding and providing services to homeless people, like we do with our Sunday night meals which serves about 100 each Sunday and our mail service which serves about 300 people, homeless people in PB would leave our community and go elsewhere.  Homelessness is a complicated issue.  To blame the churches is myopic.

This does raise a question.  Why do we serve homeless people?  Because Jesus is Lord, lord of the church and lord of the world.  Because Jesus loves homeless people and he loves us.  Because Jesus died on the cross for homeless people and all people.  Because human beings are created in God’s image and that includes homeless people.

Jesus expects us as His followers to obey his teachings.  We are obeying Jesus when we follow His command to love thy neighbor.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says: “I was hungry, and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you took care of me; just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”    Helping the poor is part of the church’s mission.

Peacemaking comes in all forms.  An article in USA today said: “It’s faith based organizations that provide the most help to local communities in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters like Harvey and Erma.  Faith based organizations around the world work with FEMA officials to deliver the best response to the most people.”  FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency arm of the government.

At its core, the Gospel is a story about peacemaking.  God sent His Son Jesus into the world to make peace with humanity, to save humanity, to bring humanity back into a relationship with God the creator.  The church continues to engage in God's holy work of peacemaking: to bring sinners, unbelievers, men and women, all races and ethnic groups, rich and poor, slave and free, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.    That as we read in the letter of Philippians: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.

Making peace doesn't mean peace at any price.  Peacemaking doesn't mean making everybody happy because everyone gets what they want.  It doesn't mean allowing unjust or evil behavior to continue in order to keep the peace.  Peacemaking and justice go hand in hand. That of course is one reason as to why peacemaking is so difficult.  It means speaking out for what is right, and acting to correct injustice and oppression, rather than being silent or looking the other way.  It means holding true to Christian principles.  Peace and justice, justice and peace are bound together in the business of peacemaking.

One must also acknowledge, that as a peacemaker, there are situations where you need to be honest with yourself.  Where no matter what you do or how hard you try or how many hours you invest, trying to reconcile with someone or finding a peaceful and equitable solution may not work.  And we must let go, trust in God and turn it over to God.  No, that is never easy.

God may not be calling you to be a peacemaker in international conflicts, like between Israel and the Palestinians, but that doesn't let you or me off the hook.  God may be calling you to be a peacemaker in your circle: in your family, in a friendship that has soured, in your neighborhood, as a teacher in your school, in your church, or in your job.  God calls us to situations where we have the ability to make a difference.  God does not call us to situations that are over our heads.   That’s when we need to ask for help.

Peacemaking also applies not just to the earthly realm, but to the spiritual realm.  It is about making peace with God, peace between you and God in your soul and heart. “God I am sorry, God I repent, forgive me.”   When we are at peace with God, we will be a far more effective peacemaker.

Jesus said:  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”   Children of God means because you are involved in the business of peacemaking, you are doing a God-like work, a holy work, a sacred work.  Jesus promises to bless us as peacemakers.  Jesus honors your work.  God uses your efforts for His glory and purpose.  Jesus promises to bless us with His grace now or in the future or in heaven.

Peacemaking is God's work and as Jesus' followers, it is your work and mine.  Is there someone you are striving to make peace with?   Is there some social issue you feel called to engage in?   Pray to God for patience and persistence, for guidance and wisdom.

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying   that we are born to eternal life.”  Amen!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Carpe Diem (Psalm 118:24; 84:10) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A day in the life of a mother!  The Fantasy:  Your little ones sit quietly at the kitchen table and hum along with the music of Beethoven, they are absorbed in reading their age-appropriate books while quietly eating their breakfast.    Ahhh, you think to yourself. This is what life's all about.

The Reality: Your little darlings simultaneously shriek, "Mine!" as they rip the latest Bob the Builder coloring book in two.  Between loads of laundry, you smell smoke. You rush to the kitchen to find the slice-and-bake cookies burning in the oven.  You hear a loud crash where your children are playing.  You stand at the counter and remember the days when you thought you'd actually spend your life doing something worthwhile, like being a brain surgeon by day and lawyer for the poor by night.  Yes, just another day in the life of a mother.”

How do you begin your day?  “Oh, it’s another day.”  Or “Oh, it’s another day!

What is a day?  You can look at it from different perspectives.  From science, a day is 24 hours, 1,440 minutes, 86,400 seconds.  A day is a complete rotation of the earth on its axis.    From religion, days are significant.  In Judaism Friday sunset to Saturday sunset is the Sabbath Day, a day of rest in remembrance of God’s resting on the 7th day after creating the world.  In the book of Genesis we read: “Let there be light.  And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness, and God called the light Day.”  Yom is the Hebrew word for day. Tov is Hebrew for good.  Yom Tov means good day, see Hebrew isn’t that tough.

In Christianity there are two words in Greek for day - kost and hemera.  Christmas Day remembers Jesus’ birth, Good Friday recalls Jesus’ death, and Easter Day celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.  Our nation recognizes special days.   New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and others.

A day must never be taken for granted.  Why?  Biblically days are sacred, a day is holy, because a single day is God’s idea, God’s creation, a gift of God’s grace.

Let’s turn to the wisdom of the psalmists.  The psalmists bring a theological perspective, a spiritual framework for living each day.  A day is not an accident.  A day is not a spontaneous phenomenon with no known cause.  The day is a creation of God.

In Psalm 118 a king leads Israel in a liturgy of thanksgiving for deliverance after a battle.  The king lifts his heart in gratitude to God for victory.  He says:  “The Lord is my strength and my song, he has become my salvation.  The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things.  I will give you thanks for you answered me, you have become my salvation.  The lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.  The lord is God and he has made his light shine upon us.  His love endures forever.”   The psalmist praises God and acknowledges God’s presence and sovereign will on that triumphant day.   Can you think of a spectacular, momentous day where you have praised God?

In Psalm 84 we read: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.   For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”    Living for one day in the grace and presence and peace of God, is better than living a 1000 days apart from God.  Living one day that is pleasing to God and that praises God is better than living a thousand days of dishonoring God and not acknowledging God’s existence.   Psalm 90 says:  “Our days are like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the evening it fades and withers.  For our days pass away, our years come to an end like a sign.  So teach us to number our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  It is a prayer asking God to help you live each day fully, wisely, to seek God’s blessing each day.  Have you ever prayed such a prayer?

This biblical understanding of the import of a single day is identical to the ancient phrase:  “Carpe Diem!”  It’s a phrase from Horace, a Roman poet, who lived in the 1st century B.C. from book 1 of his work Odes.   It’s a Latin word translated as - seize the day.  Horace uses the word not in the sense of exploit the day, but in the sense of enjoy each day, make the most of each day, live each day fully, appreciate the day, stop and smell the roses, take action today, rather than thinking you can relax because everything will naturally fall into place in the future.

Scripture says that every day is unique, without parallel.   No two days are the same.  Does that ring true for you?   Each day is an adventure.  You never know what it will bring.  No groundhog day in God’s plan, where we wake up and live the same day over and over, like the actor Bill Murray experienced in his hit movie Groundhog Day in the early nineties.

Andrea Boydston writes: “If you woke up breathing, congratulations.  You have another chance.”  Each day is a new opportunity, to try something new, to make amends for yesterday, to get it right, to redeem yourself, to forgive, to re-arrange your priorities, to change your life.

Another author wrote: “When your life flashes before your eyes, make sure you’ve got plenty to watch.”  Don’t waste or squander your days.  God says make the most of each day that I give you.  Abraham Lincoln wrote: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”  Many days in a lifetime are indeed a gift of grace.  But in God’s eyes it’s not the quantity of life, but the quality, the purpose and priorities, the obedience, the faith and worship, the morality, the love of God and others, which you embody that counts.

Stephen Levine wrote: “If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?”  Then he adds, “well what are you waiting for?  Live each day as if it were your last.”   I agree, is there something important you want to do, or someone you want to talk to, then what are you waiting for?

One of life’s illusions is that today is not decisive; we can always put things off until tomorrow.  It is the law of procrastination.  Each day is a loan from God.  God has made an investment in you.  Every day represents God’s eternal investment of our lives.

Was a single day important to a film student in New York City?  This story happened this year.   After entering a New York City subway station, 19-year-old film student Cameron suffered a seizure while waiting for a train. As his body convulsed out of control, the young man stumbled down the platform and fell onto one of the tracks—directly in the path of an inbound train.

A 50-year-old construction worker named Wesley Autrey saw it happen.  Standing on the platform with his two young daughters, Autrey realized that nobody else in the station was going to help. According to later interviews, he decided: "I'm the only one to do it." Placing himself in great danger, Autrey jumped down onto the tracks and grabbed hold of Cameron. With seconds to spare, he rolled with the younger man into a drainage ditch cut between two tracks. An instant later, the train cars thundered over both of them with only inches to spare. Amazingly, neither man was injured.

When interviewed, he said: “Good things happen when you do good." "I just did it because I saw someone needed help."  Carpe Diem.

God calls us as believers to consider our lives and our days theologically, in light of His presence.  To remember and acknowledge that our sovereign God is the author of each new breath we take, of each new beat of our heart, and the maker of each new day we live.

Each day offers many opportunities to serve, to help, to forgive, to reconcile, to learn, to reach out, to get out of your comfort zone, to take a chance.  Each day is an opportunity for you to draw closer to God and to do something for God, for others and God’s kingdom.  Each day is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Live it enthusiastically.  Live it purposefully.  Live it for all its worth.

I also think of the example of many of our older members, like 101 year old Marian Grenfell, who volunteered at CCSA  until  just a few years ago,  who played tennis and swam in the ocean until a few years ago, who witnessed and served the Lord faithfully and enthusiastically.  You all have one thing in common – gratitude for God’s grace on the cross, gratitude for the gift of your life, which translates into a generous spirit, an appreciation for life, genuine humility, and a deep faith and commitment to serve and glorify God until you take your very last breath.

You can’t change yesterday and you can’t control tomorrow.  Dedicate your past and trust your future to God.  Today is your day!  Your opportunity!  God will empower you to live in God’s grace for today.

Never underestimate what God can do in and through your life in a single day.  Our hero from New York didn’t.  Begin each day spending time with God in prayer and devotions.  Wake up saying: “Good morning GodUse me today for your glory.”    Carpe Diem.  Why?  “Because this is the day that the lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Yom Tov.

I close with this Celtic prayer:  I arise today in the strength of a mighty Creator, I arise today in the strength of a rising Savior, I arise today in the strength of a life-giving Spirit, I arise today in the strength of the mighty three.”  Amen!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Let Your Light Shine (Matt 5:14-16; Mark 12:13-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Let me ask you this question, is our nation engulfed in political turmoil?  Is the Pope Catholic?     Here’s a test for you.  Just say to a group of people, friends or strangers: “I love Donald Trump” or “I hate Donald Trump” and see what happens.

Our turbulent times revolve around political and social issues and political personalities.  People it seems for the most part, argue, rant and rave about, rather than rationally discuss issues today.  The tone of political discourse is bad.  Some people including Christian leaders, have said on Facebook, “If you voted for the person I didn’t vote for, I will unfriend you.”   We daily see examples of finger pointing, blaming, fraud, divisiveness, name calling, character assassination, cover-ups, politicizing, investigations on questionable grounds, fear, distrust in our elected leaders, party loyalty over national loyalty, baseless accusations, and incidents of some of the media reporting stories based on rumor or hearsay.  What fun.  What a great time to be alive.  

The question is: How do we as Christians and as a church follow Jesus in such a politically charged and polarized climate?

We know that politics is a broad concept and has multiple meanings, positive and negative.  Governing, running the government, getting things done in cities, counties, states and at the Federal level is politics.  Another meaning relates to power, using power to further one’s personal or political agenda, using power to defeat or demonize your opponent whether a person or a political party, using power for personal and political gain, rather than the common good.  From any office in the land to the office of the White House politics has been around since the first society was established.

The complex and controversial issues today are seemingly endless:  healthcare, homelessness, racism, religious liberty, LGBT issues, elections, the role of the media, immigration, gun ownership and control, energy policies, tax reform, military spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the infrastructure, sanctuary cities, federal versus state authority, employment, climate change, free speech, hate speech and incidents of violence associated with it,  and being true to the constitutional balance of powers between the three branches of government to name a few.

Politics existed in Jesus’ day.  In our lesson from the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders try to trap Jesus with a political question.  No, they didn’t ask it because they were simply interested in Jesus’ thinking about taxes.   They knew taxation was a hot button issue.  They decide to politicize the subject of taxes by asking Jesus a question designed to get him in trouble no matter what his answer.  Jesus was growing in popularity.  Crowds were getting larger. Jesus was a threat. The religious leaders wanted to get rid of him once and for all.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor or not?”  If Jesus said “no, it’s not lawful,” he and his fellow Jews would incur the wrath of the Roman government for advocating breaking the law and inciting a tax revolt among the Jews.   If he said “yes, it’s lawful,” he would incur the anger of Jews who hated the Romans and were already overtaxed.   Jesus’ answer – “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors and to God the things that are God’s,” amazed the religious leaders.  Their strategy failed, at least this time.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his followers: “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others.”  The question is how do we as a church do that?  It’s easier said than done in today’s climate.  The thing is that Christians, churches, have different answers; we don’t agree on the answer to this question about how we shine the light of God to the world.

One answer is chill out, forget about it, the political atmosphere today is no different than any other time in our history.  It’s politics as usual.  Get over it.  It’s the same old thing. It’s nothing to be concerned about.  Every president, every administration, has had its problems.

Another answer is stay out, stay out of politics.  That is not the church’s business.  The church must keep out of the political and social issues of today.  Never bring issues up in worship, that is, in sermons or prayers or even in adult classes.  Stay on the sidelines.  Let people vote on politics as American citizens, but stay out as a church.  Some churches do.

A further answer is get involved, but don’t take sides, try to stay neutral, non-partisan, and fair.  Realize that people in the church have different viewpoints.  We don’t all agree.  Some people are liberal and some conservative, some Republican and some Democrat, and others are Libertarian or unaffiliated.  The idea here is let’s work together in the world for the Lord.  Don’t condemn this political figure or that political party.   Pray for God to guide the church on what issue or issues it should become involved in.  God loves the world and wants his followers to engage in His work in the world.

Another answer is take sides; the church should be in the forefront of political involvement. We saw it in the American Revolution.  We saw it in the Civil Rights Movement.  Be honest and say - our church is liberal or our church is conservative.  Promote, be an advocate for the issues which support your perspective.   For example, the worship committee and I could bring in political speakers and analysts from time to time.  Worship could on occasion become like watching CNN or Fox news.  Some churches do.

I have had people, not church members, but people outside the church ask me, “Where does your church stand on immigration?  You are close to the border.  Do you believe in building a wall?”  If I say yes, I’m a racist and bigot and so is our church to some, and if I say no, I am anti-American and a law breaker to others, since I’m not endorsing America’s history of orderly legal immigration.  I answer by saying I am not speaking for the church, but here is my opinion.  I speak for myself.  How do we follow Jesus in such politically turbulent times?  I offer these guidelines.

As followers of Jesus, who sent his disciples into the world, to engage in their mission, we need to engage in issues and problems of the world, but give our ultimate allegiance to no one party or leader.  We certainly give our allegiance to our government, we are Americans, but our ultimate allegiance, our ultimate loyalty, belongs to God alone.  We follow Jesus’ principle about rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God.   We place our deepest trust in Jesus alone.

Second, as Jesus’ followers we proclaim the worth of every human being, no matter their birth, gender, ethnicity, culture, or creed, because they bear the image of God and are the object of his costly love in Jesus’ death on the cross.   We proclaim that God is a God who created and loves every human being and therefore is deeply concerned about justice and compassion and the welfare of the poor.

Third, as Jesus’ followers we need to train ourselves to listen to others even when we disagree.  Communicate reasonably.  Listen respectfully and patiently.  No personal ad-hominem attacks.  Be bridge-builders.  Be a Christ-like example.  As one pastor said: “Jesus started a revolution that still changes the world. But it is not rooted in coercive human power; it is rooted in God’s love.”  People do get rather emotional and unreasonable discussing politics.  It becomes extremely important, as a follower of Jesus, to control your emotions to an extent so we can communicate with those with whom we disagree.  We should try to speak with facts as well as opinions.  Is this easy? No, but this is what Jesus wants of his followers as a way of obeying his command to love our neighbor.

Fourth, as Jesus’ followers we should be informed.  Study the issues.  Read about them. Think about them.  Talk about them with both people you agree and disagree with.  Connect your thinking to scripture and to your faith.  Try to speak from your understanding of God and your faith in Christ.

Fifth, as Jesus’ followers we must remember our central mission.  We are a church which operates in a broken world.  Our mission according to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is to go out and make disciples, to witness to the gospel of God’s saving love in Jesus by word and deed.  We are not in the policy-making business; we are in the disciple-making business.

Sixth, as Jesus’ followers we should continually engage in prayer.  Prayer changes things. God responds to prayer.  Jesus called us to pray: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I Timothy says: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

A Christian said: “I realized there have been presidents where I spent more time complaining about them than praying for them.”   A pastor wrote: “It’s interesting that the Bible never commands us to complain about our leaders or to defend them.  But it says a lot about praying for them.” Pray for our nation. I am committed to praying for our President and our government and our country daily.  How about you?  Pray for the media. Pray for people who feel vulnerable.  Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

Seventh, as Jesus’ followers we must act wisely.  “Be as gentle as doves and wise as serpents” Jesus teaches.  We must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We are tax exempt as a church.  Churches and religious organizations have a tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service.  There are certain rules which must be followed.  There is a line that one needs to be careful not to cross.  By breaking this rule, the IRS may deny or revoke the tax-exempt status of the church.

Jesus never called his followers to be passive, to run, to hide, to become hermits.  Jesus said go into all the world.  God so loved the world.  Jesus calls his followers to act, to teach, to serve, to witness, to care for the least of these, to love their neighbor, to give sacrificially, to share joyfully and to make disciples.

Yes, it’s a great challenge for Christians and the church today.  Maybe it has been for every generation through the centuries.  Let’s trust in God, for Christ is coming and will establish a new earth.  Trust in God, in God’s power and grace.  Let us be a light to the world and let our light shine before others.    Amen!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Struggle of Faith (I Tim 6:11-19) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A philosopher, an engineer, and a simple man, none of whom could swim, were trapped in a cove looking upward at sheer cliff faces. They began to shout for help as the tide rushed in.   Rescuers lower a rope. The philosopher said, "Ah, this looks like a rope, but I have to be certain there is no material fallacy in my logic; I need more time to ponder it, it might be an illusion." So he didn't attach himself and drowned.  The engineer said, "Ah, this is an 11 mm polyester rope with a breaking strain of 80 Kilograms. It conforms to the MR 10-81 standard," and continued analyzing the rope's physical properties. But he didn't attach himself either and also drowned.  The simple man said, "A rope, thank God,” grabs hold and is saved.

When it comes to the subject of faith, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate question is always, will you take the leap of faith?  Trusting our lives to God does not come easy nor is maintaining it always easy.  Yes, sometimes our fears, our questions, life’s changing circumstances threaten to overcome our faith.   What is Christian faith?    Sometimes you just have to grab hold of the rope and seek understanding over time.

Faith didn’t come easy to Christians in the early centuries, who were persecuted, arrested and died for standing up for Jesus Christ rather than bowing down to worship Caesar.  It doesn’t come easy today when Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith by radical extremist Muslims in the middle east.  It doesn’t come easy when faith must deal with tragedies in life.  These are times when our faith is tested.    No, believing in God and trying to follow his will, is not always simple or easy.  Faith in God is a spiritual journey, something we grow into and mature in over the years.  Faith is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Christianity points out the biblical paradoxes of faith!  This will give you something to think about.  What are those paradoxes?  To be strong, you must be weak, to save our lives, we have to lose them, to know God, we have to know ourselves, to truly live, we have to die, to receive we have to give.

Faith is God’s divine gift and our response, our decision, perhaps multiple decisions, an act of will, a commitment.  Faith is belief, trust, confidence in God and faith is a task, obedience, action, following the call of God, serving God, being involved in the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.  Faith is emotional.   Sometimes we say: “Praise God, thank you God for helping me!”  and other times we cry out: “God do you hear, I pray but you do not answer, help me.”  Faith is also intellectual – We think deeply about questions of God’s nature, God’s will, Jesus as God and man, the Trinity, the incarnation, sin and forgiveness, morality, evil, the atonement, God’s creation, God’s final revelation, Everlasting life.   Faith is personal, individual, unique.    But faith is also communal, it exists in community, among the family of God, the church, the worshipping body of Christ   Faith says God is transcendent.  Faith says God is immanent.

I Timothy says about faith: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”   This passage reminds us that God calls us to pursue faith.  Take hold of your faith in God and God’s eternal love for you.  And sometimes you have to take hold of it again and again.

One writer said: “Treat another’s faith gently; it is all he has to believe with.”   Yes our Christian experience and the scripture both say that faith is sometimes a struggle.   Sometimes you have to fight to believe, you have to fight to trust, you have to fight to maintain your confidence in God, you have to fight to hope.   It is an inner battle, yes, a spiritual battle.   Sometimes you have to struggle against yourself, or against the devil, or against someone else.  Have you experienced this in your faith journey?

Today I have found that people ask not only the question - is the Christian faith true, but does it work, does faith really help you in your life, does faith truly make a difference in your life?   They want to know if its pragmatic.  How would you answer that?   How is your faith when things are great or when things don’t turn out the way you had hoped?

In our lesson from I Timothy the apostle Paul is writing to his younger missionary associate Timothy.  They had endured many hardships together on past missionary journeys.   We read: “Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and for which you made the good confession, in the presence of many witnesses.”

Why? Because if something is worthwhile, isn’t it worth fighting for?  Some things in life are worth struggling for, and faith is one of them.  It’s also true, some things in life aren’t worth fighting for.  We need to let go of them and move on.  This is the dichotomy we face and we must be discerning and distinguish between them.

Timothy is facing hostile enemies and challenges to his ministry and is deeply discouraged.  He feels overwhelmed.   His self-confidence is shaken, the situation seems beyond his ability, have you ever been there?   The apostle Paul charges Timothy to stand fast, to remain steady, to stay the course, and to continue preaching the truth of the gospel.

Listen to Paul’s words:  “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.”   Faith declares that God saved us by grace in order to call us to a holy calling.

Do those words resonate with you?  It’s a good word for today as well, isn’t it?   In what situations or circumstances have you found that your faith is sometimes a struggle?  I think about the people in Texas and Florida facing Hurricane’s Harvey and Erma.   What a strong faith in God that takes.

Sometimes we desire faith but our mind wrestles with skepticism.   Lee Strobel, former journalist and professed atheist, in his book The Case of Faith writes:  “Faith is not always easy, even for people who desperately want it.  Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it.  They wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths.  Objections pester them.  Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down.”   This was his story, until he came to faith in Jesus Christ in 1981, after two years of investigating the truth of faith in light of the intellectual challenges of today.

There are times where we must deal with broken relationships, hurt, disappointment, adversity and grief.  The irony is that sometimes the most profound and intimate spiritual experiences occur in your darkest days, when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great, and you fall on your knees and turn to God alone, because you have no one else to turn to.  And you carry on because your faith just won’t let you quit.

I recall an older woman who was a member of our church in Monument, CO.  She visited people in nursing homes a couple of days a week.  One day she told me she had a terminal lung condition which caused her to cough frequently throughout the day.  The coughing, of course, was very painful.  But I remember her saying: “Pastor, I belong to God. Sick or healthy I am God’s. I feel so blessed that I still have the strength to continue going to nursing homes and helping these people.”   There is a faith worth struggling for.

I like what author William Bennett writes:  “Faith is a source of discipline and power and meaning in the lives of the faithful.  It is a potent force in human experience.  A shared faith binds people together in ways that cannot be duplicated by other means.  Faith contributes to the form and content of the ideals that guide the aspirations we harbor for our own lives, and it affects the way we regard and behave with respect to others.  A human being without faith, without reverence for anything, is a human being morally adrift.”

Faith, according to scripture, declares that ultimately God’s power, God’s grace, God’s strength, God’s mercy, God’s love is greater than our own.  We need the strength of someone greater than ourselves.  God can supply what is impossible for us to supply.  God can meet our needs which we can’t meet ourselves.

An 85-year-old woman, flying for the very first time, heard the following announcement over the plane’s intercom: “This is your captain speaking.  Our number four engine has just been shut off due to mechanical trouble.  However, there is nothing to worry about.  We will continue our flight with three engines and will land in Chicago on schedule.  By the way, I have some reassuring news for you; we have four bishops on board.”  With her hands tightly grasping the arms of her seat, and her face pale, the woman called to the flight attendant: “Miss, if you don’t mind, would you please tell the captain, that I would rather have four engines and three bishops.”

Faith is knowledge of God, the knowledge comparable to the knowledge we have of our loved ones or friends, not the knowledge of the contents of a scientific textbook.  Faith is the assurance, the knowledge that God has forgiven your sins, that God truly loves you, that God has bestowed upon you righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s reconciling purpose in the world.

How is your faith in God?  Is it strong or weak, solid or shaky, static or growing, exciting or boring, new or mature, tested or untested, clear or confusing, lethargic or alive?  Ponder that question for a moment!

No matter what you may be struggling with in terms of your faith, know this as the Bible says: God is for us and not against us.  God will not leave you nor forsake you.   Know that you have my pastoral support.  Know that you have the support and prayers and guidance of the elders and of this congregation.   Yes, faith is sometimes a struggle, but a struggle that’s always worthwhile in the end.  Amen.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Come to the Table (I Cor. 11:26-35) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In his book, titled The Gospel According to Jesus, pastor Chris Seay shares the following story:

"One week I was preaching in our church about God’s kingdom that is coming, and on the way out a young man grabbed me. He said, ‘Pastor, the Kingdom of God is already here.  I grew up in this neighborhood. I used to go to a bar called Emo's and I'd start every night with a drop of ecstasy on my tongue and wash it down with Bicardi 151. That's what I did Sunday after Sunday. Now I come to your worship service instead, and I finish the evening service with the body of Christ on my tongue, and I wash it down with the blood of Christ.  I love this Supper.  It reminds me that Jesus saved my life.’”

This supper is a reminder that Jesus saved our lives. Where do you go to renew your spirit?  What do you do to experience a moment of peace?  I know where you don't go.  You don't open up the newspaper and read the headlines or go to the television or the radio or the internet to hear the news.  You don't get into your car to take a relaxing stress-free drive on interstate 5.

The Lord’s Table is one place we can go to.  Jesus invites you and me by name to His table.  Today, Jesus invites you and me to come as a community of faith, which includes baptized children.  During his earthly ministry Jesus sat for Seder meals many times with his followers.  This meal was a bond for their small community.  These meals strengthened Jesus’ followers not only physically but spiritually for their mission.  They were breaks, respites amid their travels with Jesus from village to village ministering in His name.

Jesus says: “Come to my table.” The Lord’s Supper proclaims the good news, that is, God’s story or gospel.  In verse 26 we read: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.”  The Lord’s Supper proclaims the gospel of God’s sacrificial love on the cross in Jesus Christ, the gospel of God’s forgiving love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Jesus died for our sins and through repentance and faith we receive the gift of salvation.

Come to my table. The Lord's Supper is God's seal on the promises of Jesus: “You did not choose me, I chose you,” “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the earth,” “Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest.”  Like the wedding ring is a seal on your marriage vows the Lord’s Supper is God’s seal on Jesus’ promises to us.

Come to my table; do this remembering me.  What do we remember?  We come remembering Jesus' life and ministry: his travels to towns and villages, and to Jerusalem, his ministry of healing people, exorcising demons, his accepting outcasts, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and women by breaking the cultural stereotypes of the day, his teachings like the sermon on the mount, his conflicts and struggles with his enemies, his disciples who both listened and learned and deserted him.  We come remembering the crucifixion as God's way of forgiving our sin, and yet, we remember the empty cross and Jesus' resurrection and the hope it means for us.  Memory plays an important role when you receive communion.

Come to my table, I am here!  Jesus is personally and spiritually present at this table.  We gather around the table to eat and drink with one another and with the risen Lord.  The broken bread and the poured wine are occasions of his Christ’s spiritual presence.  Christ is present as the host.  Christ is present in our minds and hearts by faith.  We enter into spiritual union or communion with Christ and one another.  We share a common guilt from sin and a common word of forgiveness by the risen Lord.  We come to the table to be spiritually fed by the Holy Spirit.  As food feeds our bodies, this meal feeds our souls, renews our spirits, nourishes our faith, and brings courage to our hearts.

Come to my table and renew your covenant with me.  Jesus said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  God established the Old Covenant with Abraham which promised land, descendants and blessings to the families of the earth.  God established the New Covenant through his Son, Jesus Christ.  God promises new life and eternal life and in this meal God renews His covenant with us and we rededicate our lives to God and one another.

Come to my table and catch a glimpse of our future life together.  The passage says – “Until He comes.”  The Lord's table is a foretaste of the supper of the Lamb which we eat together in heave.  Today is a glimpse of the Messianic supper in glory.  Taking communion is like watching the preview or screening for a movie that is soon to be released.  One writer said: “Don't ever forget that the meal we share together once a month or so in the church, with a piece of bread and a cup, is a foretaste of the heavenly feast of the Lamb that we will celebrate together for eternity.”  Yes, this meal says a celebration awaits us.

Come to my table with thanksgiving.  The Lord's Supper is also called the Eucharist, a Greek word which means “Thanksgiving.”  This is a meal where we give thanks to God for God's gifts, for atonement for our sins on the cross, for relationships, for God's blessings, for God's forgiveness, for God's courage, for God's leading in our lives, for God's sustaining and strengthening us in the midst or ordeals and trials.

Someone wrote: “The Lord's Supper is a most ordinary and extraordinary experience all at once.”  We don't come because we deserve a place or are worthy to be here or have earned the right to sit at the table.  We come because by faith we know that Christ has declared us righteous before God, because Christ has pardoned us before God, because Christ has reconciled us to God, because Christ has made us worthy to stand before God.  Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Table is set with a meal, a gracious meal, a free meal, for it has already been paid for.  Keep your wallets and purses closed.   Though it appears simple, the meal was outrageously expensive, more that any meal you have ever paid for.  It cost the death of God’s Son Jesus.  May we receive it with gratitude and understanding.  Receive it with joy, and thanksgiving.  Jesus invites us to come to His table.  Amen.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Courageous (Joshua 1:1-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Two little brothers walked into a dentist's office.  One said: “I want a tooth taken out and I don't want any gas because we're in a hurry.”  The dentist said: “You're quite a brave young man.  Which tooth is it?”  The boy turned to his smaller brother, and said: “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”

A common fear - going to the dentist.   What are you afraid of?   Is there something you are genuinely afraid of?  Psychology tells us that fear is an innate response to physical and emotional danger.  If we didn't feel fear, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats.  Fear is a survival instinct.  Fear is a gift of our Creator.   Only a fool is never afraid.  So fear plays a positive role in our lives.  There are times we should be afraid and react accordingly.

But sometimes we fear things that aren’t a threat to our lives or welfare; we turn away or flee or hang back for no good reason.  Psychology recommends that confronting our fears is the best way to conquer and get past them.  If it’s public speaking, practice it, if its fear of heights, get on an outside elevator, if its fear of dogs, get a puppy.

Fear and courage is something the ancient philosophers pondered about.  The 5th century Greek philosopher Plato identified wisdom with one’s mind and courage with one’s heart.  The value of courage was revered.  You may not be as large as a lion, but you can possess the courage of a lion.  In The Wizard of Oz one of Dorothy’s companions is a cowardly lion who desperately desires courage.  The wizard pretends to give courage to him, but the irony is that he possessed it all along.  The wizard helped the lion find what was inside him all the time.  I believe God does implant courage in our hearts, that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image, but I also believe we must pray to God for courage in certain situations.  And speaking personally I know God will grant it when you need it.

According to scripture, the antidote to fear is courage.  What is courage?  The ability to act or do something in spite of being afraid.  The ability and willingness to face or confront that which frightens you.  Though frightened, rather than being paralyzed, you find the courage to act. 

Fears can be real or imagined.  Common fears are fear of the unknown, the fear of uncertainty, the fear of violence, the fear of dying and the fear of death.   Yes, life is no place for cowards.   A life well lived requires key virtues: wisdom, kindness, self-control, and courage.

We think of physical courage, like the courage to rescue someone from a burning car or house or to rescue someone who is drowning.  We think of moral courage like the courage to speak up for what is right despite criticism and opposition, to speak the truth when others are silent, to take a stand, when others shy away.  And then there is spiritual courage.  To courage to believe and trust in God, even when things are collapsing around you.  The courage to trust in God's love and mercy, amidst disappointment and loss.  The courage to doubt your doubts and to believe even with unanswered questions.  Yes, courage is an essential quality for life.

In our O.T. Lesson we learn that the great prophet Moses, who by the power of God had led the Israelites out of Egypt, has died.  After wandering around in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, the people are poised to enter the promised land.  The Lord decides to call a successor.

God calls Joshua.  Joshua is overcome with fear at taking on such a daunting task.  Who wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Moses?

Seeing the fear in Joshua's heart, the Lord speaks to Joshua: “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan you and all this people into the land that I am giving to them as I promised to Moses.  As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Only be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Did people in Jesus day have to deal with fear in their lives?  Of course.  Jesus knew this and spoke directly to them.  We read many stories where Jesus said to his followers: “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.”  In fact, those words occur in the entire bible 365 times.  God knows that we must learn to face and conquer our fears, if we are going to be able to lead full lives and obey his call upon our lives.

Who comes to mind when you think of courageous people?  I think of the men and women of our military who put themselves in harm's way and police and firefighters and lifeguards who put their lives on the line every day for you and me.

I also think of Rev. Sarah Stephens, a Presbyterian Pastor, who graduated from Princeton seminary 10 years after I did. She has spent the last three decades of ministry on three continents.  God didn’t call her into parish ministry, which can be dangerous enough, but into the arena of human rights advocacy, with an emphasis on combating human trafficking.   She was hired by the International Catholic Migration Commission, and was assigned to Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.  She learned about the scale of human trafficking in the region.  She worked to create shelters and other social services for survivors of trafficking and to address legal and economic issues affecting them.  She often put herself in harm’s way.

She said:  “We worked with many wonderful Albanian colleagues to reduce human trafficking and reduce stigmatizing those who were trafficked. We were able to educate people and governments that exploitation includes not just women, but men and children.”

There are times when out of obedience and love for Jesus, you must find courage, the courage to speak up for Jesus, for your faith, to let others know you are a follower of Jesus, that you are doing something because you are a Christian and Jesus is the Lord of your life.  The courage to say something rather than being silent, to intervene in someone's life, to be frank and honest with someone.  Saying to a friend, or family member: “I must tell you that I think you are making a major mistake.  I think you are on the wrong path. I know this may upset or offend you.  I have to be honest with you, because I care about you and value our friendship.”

I like what a preacher said to one of his members: A young man had gone bankrupt due to a failed business venture.  He told this preacher he had lost everything.  The preacher replied: “Let me correct you.  You haven't lost everything.  You had something before you had a business.  You had a dream and you had the nerve to try to make it happen.  You haven't lost that.  Nobody ever loses courage.  Courage isn't something you lose because courage is always an option.  Courage is a choice.  And by God's grace, it is always there for you to choose.  My friend, God wants you to choose courag.  Will you choose it?

I believe the story of Joshua inspires us when we face times of fear.  It tells us that God is present with us, that God goes with us, when we are called to take on some project or task or mission or assignment.  God says to us: “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  This is God’s promise to you and to me.

Pray for boldness.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is acting, doing something, despite being afraid out of love: your love God, your love for some person, your love for the truth.  Following Jesus requires courage and courage comes from trusting in Him.

Scripture says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage, of love and of self-discipline.   Amen!