Today’s Gospel makes us feel uncomfortable, and we should be. When he talks about his baptism, he is talking about his death, which will establish the victory of God over sin and death. He uses stark, frightening language to make his point. He starts with fire, then adds the prospect of division of households and families, the tearing of our closest relationships.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
People regularly want to talk with me about faith, be it their own faith or faith in general. Sometimes they aren’t quite sure even what it is. It seems a vague and elusive concept that they perceive others to have, but they cannot quite find. Let’s see if we can bring it into sharper focus by looking at two major aspects of faith. This isn’t about some abstract concept. It ties to the very essence of our nature, of your nature, of what is means to be human, to have been created by God in his image.
One cold, dark night Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were hot on the trail of a suspect, camping on the moors in the north of England – Yorkshire to be precise. Staring at the stars above, Holmes asked, “What do you deduce, my dear doctor?”
Dr. Watson replied, “As to astronomy, that the cold has cleared the air to reveal billions of stars beyond count. As to astrology, that Leo has moved into the house of Libra. As to theology, that we are a very small and insignificant piece of this wondrous creation wrought by our dear God.”
Answered Holmes, “Dear God indeed man, if you do not see it!” “What?” said Watson. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
Some years ago I walked out to get my morning paper and saw a very odd, amusing and slightly disturbing sight. There were a couple dozen teenagers walking very slowly down our street. The first thought that raced through my mind was that it looked like a scene from The Walking Dead – the TV show about a group of people trying to survive when the world is full of zombies.
Moses said, “No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) Moses meant that no longer would people have to wonder as to how they should live a life faithful to God as they embrace the fulfillment of God’s promises as they inhabit the Promised Land. God’s will had been written also so that it could be thoroughly studied and learned.
But as we are all painfully aware, knowing what to do does not always result in doing the right thing. We tend to wrestle internally with competing concerns and priorities, but our actions – and our inactions – ultimately say more about what we truly believe. Or maybe better put, our actions say more about what is really influencing our decisions.
Last week I encouraged everyone to do a take-home assignment based on Galatians 5:19-23. I asked each of us to do an honest self-inventory to see where we are living faithfully by the Spirit and struggling with living by the flesh. That’s a pretty hard assignment if we take it seriously and give it the time and attention it deserves. Most of us are probably doing reasonably well in most areas most of the time, and we each have areas in which we struggle. Everything can be strained when we are tired and under stress. And for many of us, being tired and under stress are daily realities. That creates a constant challenge.
So what then to do when – not “if” but when – we fail?
I spent this past week serving as a chaplain at Camp Wingmann. It is a great place and a lot of fun. But the reason it is always one of the very best weeks of the year for me is the extraordinary ways I see kids and counselors connecting with Jesus.
Spring has become a season of thanksgiving; Mother’s Day, graduation Sunday, Memorial Day weekend, and Father’ Day. Each of those has its particular joy because that’s what thanksgiving does. So the first lesson today is just that. If you want to make your life better, thank God for everything for which you can think to thank him. And Thanksgiving is a helpful way to approach today’s Gospel, which is a wild story.
In the children’s sermon I demonstrated how we understand our world through perception, speculation and revelation.
Perception involves the things we might see, hear, touch, taste and smell to gather information. Our perception has some limitations and is not always accurate. Some of us need glasses or are colorblind, some are hard of hearing. We are limited by space and time as to what we can personally perceive. Yet, we can see God’s fingerprints in his creation. We can observe God’s majesty in this world in the eyes of a child, the beauty of a simple wildflower, a Florida sunset or the stars at night.
Our normal resting rate of breath is between 12 and 25 breaths per minute. If you’re doing something, almost anything, it goes up. And you’re usually doing something.
That means if you’re older than 72 you have likely taken over a billion breaths. Most often we don’t even notice it – unless you’re asthmatic, have some form of lung disease or dysfunction or during exercise.
And we never breathe just to breathe. It’s always for another aspect of living – be it simply carrying oxygen to every part of our body to make it work or to smell a particular scent, like the crisp air after a thunderstorm.
We don’t live to breathe, but we have to breathe to live. Nothing else works without it.