Posts tagged faith

The Power to Overcome – 6/24/12

Jesus calms a storm

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

1 Samuel 17.1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49:  The shepherd, David, uses the tools of his trade and the power of the Lord to defeat the giant warrior, Goliath.  “The Lord does not save by sword and spear” (verse 47).

Psalm 9.11-20:  The psalm celebrates God’s defense of those who are afflicted by catching the offenders in the traps they have made.

2 Corinthians 6.1-13:  Tension abounds.  Paul argues that his suffering for the sake of the gospel provides all the credentials he needs for the Corinthians to listen to him.  The ball is in their court now.

Mark 4.35-41:  Jesus treats a storm the same way he treats demons.  He rebukes it, and tells it to shut up.  Then Jesus rebukes the disciples for their fear — not just of the storm, but of what Jesus did to end it.

David and Goliath: The Law of Tooth and Claw
The Israelis and Arabs realized that, if they continued fighting, they would someday end up destroying the whole world. So they decided to settle their dispute with an ancient practice: a duel of two, like David and Goliath. This “duel” would be a dog fight. The negotiators agreed each side would take five years to develop the best fighting dog they could. The dog that won the fight would earn its people the right to rule the disputed areas. The losing side would have to lay down its arms for good.

The Arabs found the biggest, meanest Dobermans and Rottweilers in the world. They bred them together and then crossed their offspring with the meanest Siberian wolves. They selected only the biggest, strongest puppy of each litter, fed it the best food and killed all the other puppies. They used steroids and trainers in their quest for the perfect killing machine. After the five years were up, they had a dog that needed steel prison bars on its cage. Only expert trainers could handle this incredibly nasty and ferocious beast.

When the day of the big dog-fight finally arrived, the Israelis showed up with a very strange-looking animal, a Dachshund that was ten feet long! Everyone at the dogfight arena felt sorry for the Israelis. No one there seriously thought this weird, odd-looking animal stood any chance against the growling beast over in the Arab camp. All the bookies took one look and predicted that the Arab dog would win in less than a minute.

As the cages were opened, the Dachshund slowly waddled toward the center of the ring. The Arab dog leaped from its cage and charged the giant wiener-dog. As he got to within an inch of the Israeli dog, the Dachshund opened its jaws and swallowed the Arab beast whole in one bite. There was nothing left but a small puff of fur from the Arab killer dog’s tail floating to the ground.

The stunned crowd of international observers, bookies and media personnel let out a collective gasp of disbelief and surprise.

The Arabs approached the Israelis, muttering and shaking their heads in disbelief. “We do not understand,” said their leader, “Our top scientists and breeders worked for five long years with the meanest, biggest Dobermans, Rottweilers and Siberian wolves and they developed an incredible killing machine of a dog!”

The Israelis replied. “Well, for five years, we have had a team of Jewish plastic surgeons from Boca Raton working to make an alligator look like a Dachshund.”

This story, along with the story of David and Goliath, the story of Jesus calming the raging storm, and the Apostle Paul justifying his ministry in the apparent face of criticism by some Corinthians due to his background and things that had happened to him on account of his ministry, speaks of two different ways of addressing a challenge. On the one hand are those who believe that a challenge is best avoided, especially if it is judged that there is no way to win; and on the other hand are those who believe that one must answer force with force; but in the case of these stories, the “force” used by those who employ the power of God looks differently from that used by their opponents. The wily Jews modify an animal that no dog, however ferocious and powerful, could likely overcome. Little David with his stones faces gigantic, armored Goliath. The very human Jesus faces the full force of the storm and of the disciples disbelief and fears. And Paul challenges the many who think him less a representative of the living God and Christ the Savior than many others with better credentials.

One of the major points of these stories is something that Paul, in discussing God’s using the cross – an instrument of Roman oppression and reign of terror – as a means of salvation for all humanity, refers to as the “foolishness of God” that is “wiser than human wisdom” and the “weakness of God” that is “stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1.25). Those who rely on human perceptions and power, we are told, will forever be at the mercy of their own limitations; but those who trust God both for the divine vision of how God desires things to be and for the wherewithal to bring that vision into reality will always succeed, even in the face of what some may believe to be overwhelming odds.

David, Jesus and Paul had figured out that their taking responsibility for doing their divinely ordained part in bringing God’s purposes to fruition was essential to the accomplishment of the task at hand. Had they reneged, the Philistines would have won, Jesus never would have been born, nor would Paul, and history would have taken a completely different course. None of us would even be here, let alone be Christian or worshiping in this place at this time, had these men not done what God was calling them to do.

What will people a hundred or a thousand years in the future be doing on account of how we respond – or don’t respond – to God’s call to us to be a light pointing the way to Christ in our community, to be salt that preserves what is good and enhances the goodness that life brings by adding its own goodness to what exists?

It is a good thing that we are taking care of neglected maintenance on and around the church, that people are making the church and grounds attractive, that we are doing what we can to fund the church’s ministries. At the same time, we need continually to ask ourselves: what challenges are we fearful of facing, because our minds are earthbound, and, like the disciples, we believe someone else must step in to rebuke the wind and waves, to slay the goliaths, to spread God’s word, because we are inadequate to do so? God has called us to be faithful Davids and Pauls and disciples of Jesus the Christ, to step out in faith to address those challenges without fear, trusting that God will provide the wherewithal to overcome them.

May we not be pre-Pentecost disciples who fearfully cling to the tossing boat but, through the Spirit of Christ given at Pentecost, command the wind and the waves to cease and accomplish God’s purpose in our midst.

Faith and Change – 2/26/2012

Sermon for Sunday, 26 Feb 2012

Riverside United Methodist Church

Pastor Douglas Asbury

Genesis 9.8-17: God makes a covenant with the earth, signified by the rainbow, not to destroy the earth by flood again.

Psalm 25.1-10: Israel seeks God’s deliverance from enemies. Unlike the people destroyed in the flood, Israel claims it has sought to follow God’s way and wishes to learn it still better.

1 Peter 3.18-22: Peter links the death and resurrection of Jesus with the story of Noah’s flood and the sacrament of baptism.

Mark 1.9-15: Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert for a period of testing surrounded by wild animals, Satan, and ministering angels — all to prepare him to spend his life declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.

Searching for Different Things

After a fruitless search, a teenager told his mother that his iPod Nano was lost.
So his mother went upstairs, and in a few minutes she returned with the iPod in hand.
“Mom!” exclaimed the teen, “How did you manage to find it?”
“Son, we weren’t looking for the same thing. You were looking for a little machine with a lot of music on it. I was looking for $129.”

This little story illustrates not only the difference between two people with different interests, but it also talks about two people who place their faith differently.

The son put his faith in his parents, that they would have the means to buy him another iPod Nano, so that he could just download his favorite music onto that – at an additional expense, of course – and he wouldn’t have to be without his favorite music or the status symbol that such a thing is among kids his age. The mother put her faith in the fact that the iPod was a physical object that was in a specific location and that it was locatable.

The son’s faith was moving the situation towards the change that required an additional expenditure from the parents and nothing from him other than the effort involved with choosing what music to download and doing it. The mother’s faith moved the situation towards her acting in such a way as to find that which was findable and restoring it to her son at no cost to her other than her time and effort, even saving him the time and effort it would have taken him to shop for one and to choose and download the music to fill it again.

When Noah heard from God that a catastrophe was coming and that he was required to do something about it that would involve a great deal of work, but that would have great significance for him and his family, he believed God and committed himself to doing the necessary work that would bring the desired result. Because the outcome was as God had foretold, Noah also had no difficulty relying on God’s promise signified by the rainbow that destruction by a world-inundating flood would never again occur. So, he committed himself to planting a vineyard and making his home again in the restored world.

After hearing the affirming words, “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well-pleased,” immediately following his baptism by John, Jesus had confidence that God was with him as he followed the leading of God’s Spirit to spend 40 days in the wilderness, during which time he was cared for by wild animals and angels in addition to being tested by Satan, the same one who had tested Job many years before, to see if he would remain faithful to God regardless of what happened to him in his earthly situation. Both Job and Jesus passed the test and remained faithful to God, receiving a divine reward that went beyond anything of which the human mind could conceive.

Such faith is what we ourselves are called to have. In this time of Lent we are called to reassess where our faith lies. Does it lie in the economic and political and social realities surrounding us? Does it lie in our own command of our resources and our ability to defend them against those who might wish or seek to take them away or to harm us? Or does it lie in the goodness of God and God’s purpose in the fulfillment of which we are called to take part?

Where we place our faith provides the foundation for how we live our lives. In the Gospel story today we hear of Jesus raising Simon Peter’s mother up from her sickbed and healing her, so that she was able to provide hospitality for him and the disciples who were with him. He went on to proclaim the message in the synagogues in the area that people should change their ways – “repent” is the way the Greek word “metanoia” is translated in our scriptures, meaning to “turn around, change direction” in one’s life. At the same time, he was casting demons out of people who were possessed by them, and he did other kinds of healings as well – in a sense, turning people’s lives around from serving a force that worked against God’s purpose for them to the wholeness that was God’s plan for their lives and that would enable them to fulfill God’s unique and unduplicatable purpose for their specific lives.

Most of the people who received these healings failed to catch on to the fact that the healing was meant as the first step in a complete metanoia – turning around – of their lives; and they simply went back to living as they had been living before having fallen ill or having become possessed by the demonic spirit. But some who were healed became Jesus’ disciples, and followed him, learning more from him, and truly experiencing a change of life that ran deeper within them than the outward change that had occurred; it caused them to orient themselves to faithfulness to him and his purposes, so that, when he left them in the flesh, they continued in his Spirit to do, as he had said, not only the works he had done, but even greater works besides.

As we receive Holy Communion today and in the coming Sundays of Lent, let us consider where we place our faith. In Communion the Lord Jesus Christ gives himself to us, so that we might be empowered through our receiving his life within to do what he would have us do. Therefore, where we see that our faith is placed in other than Jesus and the God who raised him from death, let us ask God to work a metanoia in our hearts and minds, so that, placing our faith fully in Christ and in the power he gives us, we might become more faithful disciples, with a clearer idea of what work he has for us to do, and a stronger will to do it.

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