St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
6th Sunday After Epiphany
Text: 1 Corinthians
Subject: Wisdom of God
Predicate: is 100% opposite the wisdom of the world and thus God preserves his omnipotence while at the same time showering us with grace upon grace.
Do you know what the Greeks used to do for fun 2000 and more years ago?
The first thing that may come to your mind is the ancient Olympics. For it is true that the Greeks revered the prowess of a super-star athletes. And they enjoyed participating in, and watching athletic contests ranging from foot races to wrestling.
But athletic competitions like the ancient Olympics were not an "everyday event." Nor were athletic competitions the form of recreation with the greatest number of participants.
Now you may find this hard to believe, but what the Greeks really enjoyed was PHILOSOPHY.
On a day to day, week to week basis, more people engaged in philosophical arguments than sports.
And more people went to the town's agora, or marketplace, to listen to professional philosophers debate, than went to the stadium to see a sports event.
In Ancient Greece, the best philosophers traveled from city to city seeking new people to debate and argue with. The cream of the crop became superstars in their own right. Their names were as well known among the Greeks as Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson are among us today. Budding new talent would study under the learned masters with hopes of making it in the "big leagues" of philosophy someday.
And just as we enjoy playing ball even though we'll never make to the big leagues, the average citizens of Greece enjoyed a good debate with their friends and neighbors. An ideal evening for many Greeks would be to have friends over, or go to someone else's house, for dinner followed by a couple of hours of philosophizing and arguing.
In short, philosophy was a combination of sports, recreation, and entertainment that the Greeks loved.
And, because philosophy was such an important part of the daily lives of the Greeks, it is not surprising that their hunger for and appreciation of wisdom and logic affected their thinking when they became Christians.
We've been hearing lessons from St. Paul's letter to the Christian Church in the Greek city of Corinth for the past several weeks. And throughout the readings we've heard Paul make numerous references to wisdom, logic, and eloquent speech, which are the skills of the philosopher.
Paul talked about the factions in the Corinthian church and how some of the people choose to join one clique or another because they were persuaded by the logic and eloquence of the preacher.
Paul talked about how he did not preach with "lofty words or wisdom," but rather simply shared the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul told the Corinthians that the message of the cross was a "stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks" because the Jews were always "demanding signs" and the Greeks always "looking for wisdom."
And most of all, through the first two chapters of this letter, Paul told the Corinthians, and us, that God has rejected the wisdom of this world.
God does not permit the revelation of his being, or his word, or his truth, or his grace, by human wisdom, or human logic, or human eloquence, or human strength.
Instead, "God chose what is foolish in the world, and what is weak in the world, and what is low and despised in the world," to reveal himself and his word, and to give us salvation.
Now when the Greeks heard Paul say this, their question was "WHY?"
Why did God choose weakness and foolishness instead of power and wisdom?
It certainly would seem to make more sense for God dazzle us with his might than to cloak himself in weakness. To the Greeks it was almost as if God didn't really care if the people believed the gospel or not. //
Today we may also be asking the question "WHY?"
Our idea of fun and games may not include going to the town square to listen to philosophers debate, but we do live in a culture that places a very high value on wisdom, logic, strength and power.
To really be SOMEONE in the United States it is mandatory to be a BIG man in the NFL or NBA, or to be a superstar entertainer, or to be a "mega-rich self made man" like Ross Perot, or to be able to mold the opinions of millions like Rush Limbaugh, or to be a friend of Bill (or Hillary).
And yet, if you are seeking God, the last place to go looking is in the halls of fame and halls of power.
If you are seeking God a better place to go looking is a place like St. John's of Morgan.
Here you can encounter God in the words of virtual nobody named Paul Heykes who just happens to be the preacher in residence at the moment.
And you can encounter God in three handfuls of water splashed over the head of crying infant at our baptismal font.
And you can encounter God in the tiny piece of bread and little sip of wine that you receive when you take communion.
But lets say you want to do more than merely encounter the presence of God. Lets say you want to see God face to face.
Then the best place to go is to where the suffering and dispossessed of the world reside. According to Jesus himself, when you look in the eyes of the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the naked, you see the face of Christ.
And how you treat them is how you treat Christ. If you love them and show mercy to them you are loving and worshipping God. But if you show contempt and turn you back on them, it is just as if you slapped the son of God in the face and turned your back on Jesus.
And why is all this true? Why has God chosen the opposite of what human nature expects? Why do we find the son God lying in a feeding trough in a stable right after he was born? Why to we find the savior of the world hanging on a cross instead of being seated on a throne?
The best explanation I can offer is that God must be God on his terms and not ours.
If God revealed himself though wisdom and power and might, in other words, in the ways and places that humans would expect God to be, then we'd fall into the sinful trap of thinking that we discovered the truth of God on our own.
And we'd rob God of his power and might in our delusion that it was through our own ability and wisdom that we discovered truth and salvation.
Instead, God is revealed where NO ONE expects to find him.
Or, to put it in even stronger terms, God is revealed where it is IMPOSSIBLE for humans to find him. Using human reasoning, wisdom, and logic, God in Jesus, suffering on the cross, will ALWAYS be rejected.
Because God comes to us in weakness and foolishness, our proper relationship with God is preserved intact.
God is not dependent on us, but we are dependent on God.
We would not be here if God hadn't created the universe. We would not be here unless God continues to sustain all creation from day to day. We will not be saved unless God does it.
And, we cannot believe all this unless God gives us the gift of faith.
Ultimately, this is what the first two chapters of Paul's letter to the Corinthians is all about.
Because the Corinthians were Greeks who loved wisdom and philosophy, many of them were tempted to think that they found God when in truth it was God who found them.
And they were tempted to abandon the truth of the gospel every time a persuasive false teacher captivated their attention.
But despite the temptations the Spirit of God was always there, hard at work, blessing Paul with the ability to preach the gospel in all its truth, and enabling the Corinthians to believe it.
And in the same way, God's Spirit is hard at work among us.
It is a basic principle of the Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith that we believe because God had given us the gift of faith.
Perhaps the most important line that Luther wrote in the Small Catechism goes like this: "I believe that I CANNOT by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in one true faith."
The word of God is wisdom. But it is a secret or hidden wisdom in as much as it is cloaked in weakness and foolishness. And yet it is not inaccessible to us.
For the weakness of God is stronger than human strength, and the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisest human being.
And the Holy Spirit will help us to see that this IS the truth. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Predicate: to Jesus because even though he may not seem like much, "he IS my son with whom I am well pleased."
Have you ever said one thing, only to find yourself caught in an apparent contradiction moments later?
We probably all have. I certainly know that I've been in this predicament more than a few times.
It is an awkward feeling when it happens. Especially if you were well meaning and sincere in what you first said. Because suddenly, at worst it looks like you've been lying, and at best, it looks like you don't know what you were talking about.
Well, I feel a little bit like that here in the pulpit this morning.
Because last week's sermon seems to be totally contradicted by this week's gospel lesson.
Last week I focused on St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he wrote to tell them that God has rejected the wisdom and strength of this world, and instead revealed himself, and the gospel, through what the world considers foolish, weak, low and despised.
I preached that "God does not permit the revelation of his word, or his truth, or his grace through wisdom, logic, eloquence or strength or power."
And then, what happens this week? We hear how Jesus went up to the top of a high mountain with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John. While they were there a strange and awesome thing happened.
The power and the glory and the strength of God enveloped the mountain. Jesus' entire physical appearance was totally transformed.
According to Matthew his face shone like the sun. Not just bright, but really bright! And his clothing became as white as the light.
And then suddenly, two men appeared standing near Jesus, talking to him. Somehow, the disciples recognized that one of the men was Moses. And the other man was Elijah.
The two men were the greatest prophets in all of the Old Testament. And they were two of only a few people in all the history of the world who experienced a personal encounter with God while they were alive.
Need-less to say, the disciples were confused and frightened by this awesome display of God's power. Peter awkwardly began to suggest that they build three "shelters" or altars, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Jesus.
But the experience of the transfiguration wasn't over yet. While Peter was suggesting that they build the shelters, a bright cloud descended upon the mountain, enveloping all of them with a brilliance the disciples could no longer bear.
When the voice of God began to thunder from within the cloud the disciples fell face down on the ground, experiencing a terror beyond anything they had ever experienced before.
And from within the cloud God declared that "Jesus is my son whom I love and with whom I am well pleased. So - Listen to him. Listen to Him! LISTEN TO HIM!!
I hope you see the predicament we're in.
On the one hand we hear that God has rejected power and wisdom and might as the means of revealing himself to us.
And then, the next thing you know we hear a story about how the disciples were suddenly as close to a face to face encounter with the dazzling might of God as any person can be and still live.
So - will the real God please stand up? What's it going to be? Power and wisdom? Or, weakness and foolishness?
Well, despite this flash of glory, the answer is still, "weakness and foolishness."
Let me tell you why.
There are lots of things that we can learn from the transfiguration. But the most important thing is the very last thing that happened. And that is when God said, "Listen to Jesus. Listen to him."
If you take some time to read about the events that occurred just before the transfiguration, you will discover that the people of Israel, AND the 12 disciples were having a hard time grasping just who Jesus was and what his mission was all about.
When Jesus asked his disciples who people were saying that Jesus was, they responded that most of the nation thought Jesus was Moses or Elijah or John the Baptist or one of the other great prophets returned from the dead.
When Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was, only Peter came up with an answer and he wasn't even sure where he got the idea from or why he said that Jesus was the Christ.
Not long after that when Jesus said that he must go to Jerusalem to die on the cross Peter tried to stop him.
On top of all this, you know all about the Pharisees and Saducees and how they were constantly at odds with Jesus. They just could not accept the fact that Jesus was God's son and that the message Jesus was preaching was in fact the word of God.
So you see, what was going on was that the Kingdom of God was coming into being through the presence and ministry of Jesus. But the people just didn't get it.
They couldn't see it. The couldn't believe it. And instead of working on being good citizens of the kingdom, they rejected Christ, they rejected his teaching, and they continued living in the sinful ways that lead to damnation instead of salvation.
And since it wasn't just the general population that was having trouble understanding, but the disciples as well, God needed to do something.
So God, "apparently out of sheer impatience with the disciple's failure to grasp who Jesus was and what he was talking about, simply dropped out of a cloud to tell the disciples to pay attention to his beloved son."
And that is what the lesson is all about. Listening. Listening to what Jesus says. Because what Jesus says is the truth. And what Jesus says reveals the way to forgiveness and salvation.
And you know what? Despite this brief display of awesome power, the revelation of God and the gift of our salvation is immediately tossed back into the realm of what is weak and foolish by the world's standards.
In telling the disciples, and us, to listen to Jesus Christ, God is directing our attention away from his power and might, and back to the human being who is destined to suffer and die for us.
That is why the disciples were instructed not to say anything about the transfiguration until after Jesus' resurrection.
The temptation for the disciples was to run down from the mountain and say, "You'll never guess what happened yesterday! You'll never guess what we saw!"
But the assignment for the disciples was to come down from the mountain and simply listen to what Jesus had to say. And to believe what Jesus had to say.
And in turn the disciples were to tell everyone else to listen to Jesus too. For Jesus and Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. And the first step in believing these words is listening to them.
The same message applies to us.
Though we weren't on the mountain to experience the glory of the transfiguration, we get a little taste of it each year when the Epiphany season draws to a close and the Lenten season begins.
And if we are going to correctly comprehend what the taste of the transfiguration is all about we'll experience it something like a parent saying, "Come on you kids, wake up, Listen to what I'm saying."
And then, after that brief reprimand, that brief call to attention, that brief reminder of the importance of listening to the Word, we go back to our normal weekly routine.
All we have is the Word as it is recorded in Holy Scripture, the Word as it is faithfully preached from the pulpits of our churches, and the Word as it comes to us in the visible elements of our sacraments, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion.
It may not seem like much.
But it is. It is sufficient and effective.
The Word tells us all we need to know. The Word is the promise of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. When the word is proclaimed, God's grace happens among us. When the Word comes to us God also sends his Spirit to help us believe.
The Word is a great gift.
Listen and believe!
Listen and know God.
Listen, and be saved! AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The 1st Sunday in Lent
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Subject: Temptation of Christ
Predicate: is both a model of the godly life and an important part of his sacrifice for our sin.
There is an old saying in the church, "If you do something once it's change, but if you do the same thing twice it's a tradition!
Well if that is true, then today is not merely a tradition, but one of the very oldest of ALL the church's traditions.
In the earliest years of the church, and by that I mean as long ago as the years 50 to 100 A.D., the 40 days before Easter were set aside for the preparation and instruction of all the people who wanted to be baptized and become new members of the Christian Church.
To be certified as being ready for baptism was a fairly demanding process in those days.
The catechumen (as they were called) had to learn all about Jesus and his teachings. They had to display an unwavering commitment to the church and to its mission. They had to prove their loyalty to Christ, and to the church, through fasting and other penitential acts.
Because the whole process was so intense and demanding, the temptation to give up was very strong.
And so, to begin the 40 days of preparation, it became traditional to start with the lesson of Jesus Christ and his face to face encounters with the devil out in the wilderness. It was hoped that the story about how Jesus resisted temptation would both inspire the new members, and prepare them for the temptations that would inevitably come their way, both as catechumens, and as baptized members of the church.
Today, nearly 2000 years later, we still read the temptation story every year on the first Sunday of the Lenten season.
Unfortunately, I'm afraid that today the story has lost a lot of its impact. I'm afraid that today, we people don't always take the temptations that come our way with the seriousness that we should. And I'm afraid that today, we don't take the existence of the devil, or evil demons, as seriously as we should either.
Part of the problem has to do with "old fashioness" of the temptations and even the devil himself.
We live in a world where scientific reasoning and engineering marvels influence our thinking and determine our actions.
By using scientific methodology, it is impossible to prove the existence of any non-human, spiritual kind of being. Though this means that it is also impossible to prove the existence of God, we've decided it OK to pick and choose who and what we believe in instead of turning to the Bible for guidance.
In practice this means that though many of us have the utmost faith in the existence of God, we think the devil is a fairy tale of some sort. Unfortunately this leaves us even more vulnerable to the devil's temptations.
Or take the temptation where the devil suggested that Jesus jump off the pinnacle of the temple.
It doesn't seem like such a big deal in a world were bungee jumping is taking the country by storm. Turn on the TV and you see people jumping off platforms suspended 200 - 300 feet above the ground, or you'll see people hook their bungee cords up to a high bridge and leap off. I understand the latest fad is to bungee jump over water and measure the cords so that just your head and shoulders gets dunked. What's next? Bungee Baptisms? I sure hope not!
But even though the impact of the temptations may be somewhat dulled by the culture we live in, the importance of the story of Jesus' temptations has not been diluted in any way.
And just as they were read to the catechumens who wanted to join the church 1900 years ago to give them strength and encouragement for the 40 days of preparation that lay ahead of them, we read them at the start of Lent to give us strength and encouragement for the Lenten season, and for the rest of our lives as well. //
As I thought about what to say about the temptations in my sermon this week, one of the prayers that we pray after receiving Holy Communion came to mind.
In that prayer we thank God for sending his son Jesus Christ, "both as a sacrifice for sin, and a model of the Godly life." And in the temptation story, I see both of these things happening.
In terms of modeling the Godly life, Jesus' ability to face temptation head on and not succumb to it is something that every Christian should strive for.
Now it is important for us to separate the temptation from the sin. There are a lot of people who equate the two. I suspect that this kind of thinking was going on in the people who got so upset about the movie "The Last Temptation Of Christ" a few years ago.
Perhaps you remember the uproar. The thing that most of the people objected to was the scene where Jesus was tempted to comedown off the cross and live a "normal" life, maybe even getting married to Mary Magdalene and having kids.
Personally, I can't see what the problem was with that. The Bible is very clear about the fact that Jesus was tempted to abandon his mission and come down off the cross. Both the thief next to him and the many of the on-lookers were goading Jesus on, telling him to ask God to send angels to his rescue.
And in the Book of Hebrews the Bible also tells that Jesus was just like us, tempted in every way that we are tempted.
That points out the other mistake some people make when reading the temptation story. They think that the three temptations in the desert were the only ones Jesus experienced.
But the reality of Jesus life was that he was tempted each and every day of his life! He was tempted to the same sins as everyone else was - to take the Lord's name in vain, to dishonor the Sabbath, to kill, to steal. to lie, and yes, even to commit adultery!
Yet even though Jesus was tempted in every way that we, he DID NOT SIN.
Jesus kept God's commandments. All of them. Perfectly. Not only to the letter of the law, but also to the spirit of the law.
By that I mean he kept them in the way he talked about the commandments in the sermon on the mount. For example, to Jesus, "Thou shall not kill," also meant that you must love everyone, including your enemies.
And it is clear in scripture that this IS what he did.
Now with a model like Jesus we could very easily get discouraged and give up. After all, who among us can keep even half the commandments perfectly?
But if we think of Jesus' modeling the Godly life in the proper context, he can be an inspiration and motivation to us rather than an unattainable ideal.
When you think of Jesus facing temptation and modeling the Godly life, don't think "VIRTUE," but think, 'TRUST."
The key thing in Jesus life was not being a "GOOD MAN," but rather, "TRUSTING IN GOD;" turning his life completely over to God; setting aside his personal desires and wishes and instead ding all the things that God wanted him to do.
When we model our lives after Jesus we shouldn't put a blind adherence to the letter off the law above everything else. Rather, we should try to cast all our faith and all our trust on God, allowing God to lead us to do the right things. //
Now even though it is important for all of us to model our lives after Jesus, we could very easily become discouraged and give up. No matter how hard we try we will never be able to resist ALL the temptations that come our way, and place ALL our trust in God the way that Jesus did.
So we turn our attention to the second part of the post communion prayer. That Jesus was give as a "sacrifice for sin."
And in this we discover the good news of the text.
In order for Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin that saves all people, it was necessary for him to keep God's law perfectly. It was necessary for him to defeat the devil in a head to head, face to face confrontation.
And the temptation story (along with the other accounts of temptations that Jesus resisted, such as the "last temptations" when he was on the cross), are the Bible's proclamation to us, that Jesus succeeded!
He was sent on a mission. He faced all the challenges of the mission that were set before him. And he met them.
He was faithful to God's plan and will. He was obedient to his father in heaven, even unto death on the cross.
And by his innocent suffering and death, we are saved.
The great Russian author, Dostoevesky once said that, "if every page of the Bible, except for the story of Jesus' temptation, was lost from the face of the earth, this one story would still be enough to save us."
He could say this because he focused on the good news in the story.
The news that God entered into our world, not simply to discuss evil, nor to name evil, nor to encourage us to face it more like he did, BUT that God in Jesus confronted and defeated the devil and all his evil ways.
And now, we are called to behold what he did, to rejoice and celebrate his great victory, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus as we travel down the path of life. AMEN!
Funeral Sermon for Shirley Hogue
June 2, 1992
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
The Rev. Paul F. Heykes
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Dear Virgil, Vicki, Bruce, family and friends of Shirley,
The last several days have been very intense and difficult days for all of you. . .
. . .for you have been called upon to endure something that people dread more than anything else in the whole world. And that is -- the sudden death of a loved one.
You know, in these days when modern medicine has done so much to prolong life we just about all come to expect that both us, and our loved ones will die from a chronic disease of some sort.
Now I have to say that this is nothing to look forward to. Slow deaths from cancer, or lung disease, or AIDS or Alzheimer's and the like are terrible deaths. No one likes to see anyone, especially a loved on suffer.
But, since whether we like it or not, death is inevitable, if it is a slow death, at least there is the gift of time to put things in order. Time to say, "I'm sorry for the things I've done wrong and the ways in which I may have hurt you." Time for forgiving each other. Time to say, "Good bye." Time to say, "I'll miss you." And time to say "I love you!"
But sudden death robs us of that precious gift of time.
As you told me when I visited with you on Friday and Saturday, Virgil, when Shirley left the house on Friday morning she asked you, "Will you miss me?"
Neither of you knew what a prophetic question that was. Neither of you knew that it would be your last chance to say, "Good bye," and, "I love you."
A couple of hours later when the phone rang, the impact of that question hit home. And the precious gift of time was robbed away from you.
Today you are painfully aware of all your unfulfilled plans and unspoken words. Of things that could have been that now never will be.
My friends, for the non-Christian person, this kind of situation is a recipe for despair. For if you have no hope for all eternity, then sudden death is the sudden end of everything!
But as Christians, living with the hope that Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings, we boldly and confidently proclaim that death - no matter how one dies - even if one dies suddenly and unexpectedly - death is NOT THE END!
Rather, death is but a prelude to a SUDDEN REBIRTH to a new, eternal life.
In the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, St. Paul writes about this sudden rebirth. There he said, "In a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trumpet, we shall be changed. For the day is coming when the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised!"
This means that just as suddenly as Shirley departed, she will burst forth into a new life. A life of glory. An eternal life. A life with God and Christ forever.
And not only will this be an experience for Shirley, but it will be our experience as well. For Christ is coming again and we shall live. We shall ALL live.
It is the promise of our faith. It is the proclamation of our Lord. It is sealed and proven in the sudden resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning.
Now the days ahead will not be the easiest days for you. You will miss Shirley very deeply. Tears will be shed. You'll have sleepless nights. There will be an empty place at your family gatherings.
You'll ask. "Why?" and probably never get a clear answer.
But by the power of the Holy Spirit, lean on your faith, turn to the scriptures, and trust in the Lord. Then you will have everything you need.
It won't take away the pain. But it will give you the strength and the hope, to endure the present and to prepare for, and look forward to the future.
For the trumpet will sound and in the twinkling of an eye we will experience the sudden rebirth that leads to life everlasting. And then, the gift of time will be restored.
Life everlasting means what is says. Life forever. Never to die again. It means that God is more powerful than death. It means that we shall be united and reunited. Reunited with Shirley and all our loved ones. United with God and with Christ, face to face for all time.
This is the gospel. May it be your hope and comfort. AMEN!
St. John's Lutheran - Morgan
2nd Sunday After Epiphany
Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Subject: The people (us)
Predicate: are called to be saints and thus called our lives are filled with meaning and purpose.
I don't want to monkey around with any insignificant questions or problems today.
Instead, lets dive right in and tackle one of the biggest of the BIG QUESTIONS.
And that is: "WHAT IS THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF LIFE?"
Why ARE we here? Why ARE we alive?
Are we nothing more than intellegent animals who evolved from the primordial soup by pure chance?
Or, is there a reason for our existance? //
From the earliest recorded history of the human race, to this very day, people have struggeled to understand the meaning of life.
People of every culture, nation and religion tell stories and myths about their orgins in an attempt to give their life meaning and context.
For example, every school child in the United States learns all about the pilgrims and how they sailed over to start a new life in the "new world." And the stories that are taught about the revolutionary war period tell us how our nation was formed to be a land of freedom and opportunity for all.
These stories of the origin of our nation are still very important even though the United States is now over 200 years old. Today, these stories help us to see a reason and purpose for the states to stay united.
Sociologist Rober Bellah calls these stories our "Myths of Origin." When he uses the word myth he doesn't mean that the stories are made up like fariy tales, but rather, that the story's purpose and value today is greater than original event itself.
You see, the pilgims never envisioned they would become symbolic of our nation's committment to freedom and opportunity. They were just simple people struggling to find a place where they could live a better life.
But in the telling and the retelling of the pilgrim's quest, people linked the hopes and dreams of this small group of people with those of an entire nation. The goals of the pilgrims became the goals of the nation.
And once the new nation appropriated the goals of the pilgrims as the goals of the nation there was meaning and purpose for its existance. And there was motivation and reason for the nation to expand and develop. There is no doubt about the fact that the United States is what it is today because of the pilgrim story. //
Well, it's one thing for a nation to find a reason for its existance. But it is another thing for individual people to understand and beleive that there is meaning to life.
Now a few people may associate themselves so closely with their counrty that they live for it, and in some cases even die for it. But the majority of people eventually realize that there must be more to life than patriotism.
Today we can turn on the television and see horrifying images of people starving to death in places like Somolia. We can see people suffering the attrocities of war in places like Bosnia. We can witness the growing anarchy in the decaying cities of or land. And we can even see suffering and death in our own neighborhoods and families.
We realize how fragile and precarious life is.
We can't fully explain why I'm me and you're you and a starving Somolian is who they are.
But deep down inside we know that just as easily as not, we could be in someone else's shoes. Just as easily as not we could be the one's starving to death, or the one's raped by enemy soldiers, or the one's suffering from a financial disaster, or a terminal illness.
Today, there are more psychiatrists than ever before. And an ever increasing number of paitients are heading for the psychiatrist's couch suffing from chronic depression and the vague complaint that, "There must be more to life than 'this.'"
How many times have you heard a person describe their life (and especially their work) as a "rat race?" An image of a befuddled rodent running aimlessly in a maze that seems to go no where!
A few years ago a couple of prominent historians critically dismissed our contemporary notions of human progress.
"What difference does it make that people make things bigger and do things faster?" they asked. "We may double, triple and then quadruple our speed, but we shatter our nerves in the process. Whether we take several weeks to ride across the country on horesback, or jet across it in a matter of hours, we are still the same fragile human being, with the same questions and fears about life."
Ultimately, there is but one thing that can fill us with the sense that our lives DO have maning and purpose.
And that is, the call of God.
When a person hears, acknolwedges, and responds to the call of God, they will experience a sense of meaning and purpose that is impossible to find any place else.
This theme runs through all of our lessons today.
In the Old Testament lesson we hear the voice of Isaiah describing his own life. He says that at one point in his life it seemed as if he labored with no purpose, and that he spent his strength in vain and for nothing.
But then Isaiah heard the call of the Lord who said, "You are my servant in whom I will display MY splendor."
And when Isaiah heard the call he realized that "what is due to him is in the Lord's hand" and no where else. He realized that his reward was with God, and God alone.
The Gospel lesson is also about people who are searching for the meaning of life.
In today's lesson, John the Baptist is presented as the first person to fully realize that Jesus was the son of God.
One day, John gave this tesimony to his disiples. "When I baptized him, I saw the Spirit come down from heaven and and remain on Jesus. . . just as God told me it would. . .therefore I have seen, and I testify, that Jesus IS the son of God."
The next day, John was with two of his disciples when he saw Jesus walk by. When John saw Jesus he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."
The two disciples of John heard this and out of curiosity followed Jesus. Suddenly Jesus turned around and asked them, "What do you want?"
According to the Bible they replied, "Teacher, where are you staying?"
To us that may seem like a stupid question. But miraculously it was the right question. For Jesus answered, "Come and see."
And they followed and Jesus spent the rest of the day teaching them and answering their questions, and above all else, giving their lives meaning and purpose and a mission.
When his visit with Jesus was over, the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon (also known as Peter) and tell him, "We have found the Messiah!"
And you know the rest of the story. Simon and Andrew became two of the twelve disciples. They worked with Jesus the rest of his life. And they were the founding pastors of the church established to proclaim the forgivness and eternal life won through Jesus suffering and death and resurrection. //
The third of today's lessons is the greeting portion of St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.
For the next several weeks we will hear additional portions of St. Paul's letter. And as we do you will realize that the people in the church at Corinth were really screwed up. The church had splintered into cliches, each one following the leader they prefered. And the people were in disagreement and were fighting about everything from if it was OK to eat meat offered to idols to who was the most spirit filled Christian.
As Paul began dictating his letter he knew that he had to start with the basics if any of the problems at Corinth were going to be solved.
And the most basic, most important thing Paul had to do was to remind the Corinthians, who they were, and what their purpose for living was.
So, in the second line of the letter, the part where we might writem "Dear so and so" today, St. Paul identifies exactly who the people are.
"To the church of God in Corinth. . ."
"To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. . . "
"To those who are called to be saints. . ."
"Grace and peace to you. . ."
In other words, to the people of Corinth who wee forgetting their relationship with God and who were loosing their direction in life as a result, Paul simply took time to tell them who they really were.
That may not seem like much, but it is. It is called proclamation. It is preaching the truth.
Paul fervently believed that once he had reminded the people that they were Holy Saints of Jesus Christ, they could begin solving their problems and living with a sense of purpose and mission.
Once they knew who they were, the Spirit could guide their lives and ministry to accomplish the work God wanted done. //
Today, as we also struggle to find the purpose and meaning of life amid all the chaos and problems of the world, what we need to hear is the simple proclamation that we too are called to be saints.
In our baptisms we have become the church of God in this time and at this place.
In our daily living our Lord Jesus Christ strives to help us feel that we are indeed called to be saints. When we hear the word, and when we partake of the sacraments, and when the Holy Spirit works inside of us, we are called and called again.
The message is: We are God's children. Our labors are not in vain. Our purpose for living is to do God's will. AMEN!