The Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
Message: As we continue our conversation about the well within this week I want to spend some time considering how our perception of God influences our willingness or readiness to respond to our life circumstances with a "Holy Spirit" guided perspective.
How does, how we understand, or what we understand about God, influence our willingness or readiness to do things after we have consulted the Lord and sought to engage God in our decision making process?
This week I am very grateful for my devotional reflection practices. If I was to come to today's readings without them I am not sure where I would have taken us all?
I am very glad that I had the resource of the Working Preacher blog to draw on. Working Preacher is a resource that the Diocese makes available to those folks who are training or providing Sermons as Lay Preachers. I have the opportunity to draw on it as one of the three people involved in training the Lay Preachers for the Diocese.
Working Preacher is provided by four Lutheran pastors (a couple of whom are Seminary professors.) They talk through the readings for each Sunday and share their insights as a way to guide Lay Preachers in their preparation. They bounce off one another as well so it can be very entertaining.
One of them said this week that he wanted those listening to consider this morning's reading from Jonah. We are all familiar with the story of Jonah right? God speaks to Jonah and he responds by heading out of town in the opposite direction to the one that God asked him to go. It is a very short book and Jonah is often portrayed as the ultimate example of someone who does everything he can to avoid the call on his life.
The Pastor, from Working Preacher, pointed out that the real miracle of the story of Jonah is not the fact that Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish, and survived, but that he preached, what this Pastor described as the worst Sermon in the history of preaching, and it was so effective that a whole nation repented.
Jonah can be seen to put absolutely no effort or passion into his Sermon. "Forty days more, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!" That's it! That is the sum total of his message. The Nation of Ninevah hears the message repents and what does Jonah do? He pouts! He whines! He complains to God: "see this is just why I didn't want to do this!" Ninevah is a prime example of people who have no regard for the God of the people of Israel. Even secular historians mark Ninevah as one of the lowest points of human "civilization." Yet God tells Jonah to go there and preach to them so that they will have the opportunity to turn from their evil and turn to God. How did God respond when they repent: "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it."
And do you know why Jonah didn't want to go there and preach? Because he knew that God would do just what he did. What is implied, even if it is not said out loud in the text, is that Jonah doesn't want the people of Ninevah to have the opportunity to get their stuff right with God. Now there is a great motivation for not wanting to do God's will in your life?
Jonah's perception of God as a gracious and forgiving God was the very reason he didn't want to do what God asked him to.
That got me thinking about how I respond to what I perceive as the Lord's ding or guidance in my own life. I have to say that I have observed this process in the lives of others that I have interacted with throughout my life.
How do we see God? How does that influence how we live our lives?
I have to say that one of the concepts that I have a lot is that God, (particularly the God of the Old Testament) is an angry, unrelenting, and capricious God. Many folks I have come in contact with have really struggled to see this God as someone they want to come in close contact with. They share this as a reason that they aren't comfortable talking to friends, neighbors, and family about God.
The story of Jonah is one of the places I try to refer people when they explain to me that they find it hard to see God as a loving and caring God. Now, of course, I have to help them get past Jonah's idiosyncratic behavior. To seek to help them understand that the story is really about God's ultimate desire to have the people of Ninevah have the opportunity to turn their lives around. He is willing to forgive even the most abhorrent nation in the world at the time.
Now, don't get me wrong, I readily acknowledge that there are many great examples of God, in the Old Testament, exacting short order retribution on people. You can get caught up or bogged down, depending on which metaphor you prefer, in the multiple stories of God's actions in the Old Testament. But, hopefully, you can find a balance within the Psalms, and other places, of the personal nature of God's concern, grace, love, and patience with people.
Such as Psalm: 32 8-9
You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.
Psalm 30: 6-8
Weeping may spend the night,
but joy comes in the morning.
While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed.
You, LORD, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
Or the first few verses of the Psalm we had as part of our preparation time this morning Psalm 62: 6-9
For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
How we see God, our perception of who he is, or what he is like will certainly influence and affect how willing we are to entrust ourselves to him.
Now, each of us has to start somewhere. The Disciples show us clearly that often we begin our relationship with the Lord and then because of our experiences our perception grows or changes and develops. In the Gospel this morning we have one of the greatest examples of this with Simon. Jesus calls Simon, and his brother Andrew, then he calls James and John. Does anyone else think it is remarkable that they just up and follow him?
Then if we follow the life of Simon we see that he is very much a work in progress. Simon follows and learns, stumbles, grows, and trips. Simon, in becoming Peter, makes some amazing statements about who he perceives Jesus to be. He also spends a lot of time saying things that are not helpful or edifying. Simon/Peter is someone we can all relate to and learn from.
That he hears Jesus call and follows does not mean that he is a completed and transformed being. One of the concepts that the Working Preacher Pastors took some time developing this week was the idea that we are all on a journey that none of us is a finished work of God. That we certainly relate to the lives and journeys of the disciples because of their frailty and imperfections. That they experienced peace, in the midst of the chaos, of their following of Jesus.
Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel this morning states "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
What a powerful summary of where he was, in the life of ministry that he had come to bring and share, with those around him. His time had come. In his being in the world God had chosen to come near to his people. He then called out to those around him that they needed to respond.
As we consider how we will respond to that call, I want to encourage us that we have all begun somewhere. We are participating and engaging with the Lord at some level or some point in our lives. Our daily walk is a work in progress. None of us have reached our ultimate sense of union with the Lord.
So in that unfinished reality, we can sometimes allow our perception of the Lord to cloud of vision. So I want to offer one more piece of the puzzle as I understand it. Now I may be stretching my credibility with you all, so I will say this at this point, I am taking some license with the Scripture I am using. I believe that it is helpful and that I am not corrupting the word in doing this. How many of us are familiar with Psalm 119: 103 - 105?
In the King James version, it goes like this: "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
In the New King James version, it goes like this: How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
I could preach a whole new Sermon based on those words. Don't worry I am not going to. Is that how we view Scripture. Sweet words, precepts through which we gain understanding.
Then, of course, the verse we are all most familiar with Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
Here is my final thought for today. I believe that electricity and technology may well have caused us to lose one of the most powerful images that come from the picture of God's word being like a lamp. We are so used to flicking a switch, and filling a room with light, that we have lost the concept of how God's word illuminates our life. I believe we have so much light in our lives we have become blind.
A lamp could only provide light for a few steps in front of the bearer of the lamp. When the person held the lamp and walked into the darkness they could only see what was just in front of them. Perhaps we need to return to this understanding of how God's word works in our lives. It is a lamp to reveals only a short distance in front of us. If we need to know what is in front of us we have to keep moving forward.
We can only do that when we have a perception of God as a loving, caring being who has our best interest at heart.
Gospel: John 1:43-51
Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
I received several comments through this week on the concept I presented last week regarding the "well within." I plan to continue this morning with some development of that theme idea. But before I do that I want to briefly address the Scriptures for this morning.
The passage from Samuel and the Gospel are both very familiar to us all. The call to Samuel is one of those wonderful stories which opens up all kinds of possibilities for conversations about God's purpose and God's intimate desire for each one of us to come into relationship. It is a story that is often used to introduce children or young adults to the possibility of God speaking to them.
It also provides the opportunity for us, as adults, to review how open we are to the possibility of hearing from God. How willing we are to consider that God may have a plan and purpose for our lives? Would we recognize God's voice and how willing we would be to respond to what God says to us?
In the world, and the time, in which we live much emphasis is placed on self-determination and self-reliance. "Old blue eyes" - Frank Sinatra - sang the song, but I am sure there is a part of, each and every, one of us which wants to respond, powerfully and positively, to the thoughts expressed in Frank's song "I did it my way."
We like to believe that we can handle our circumstances and whatever comes our way. This approach raises some interesting questions and opportunities for reflection on the idea: "Who am I?" How we answer that question, or where we begin as we try to answer that question, will tell us a lot about how we see God fitting into our world. Hmmm, does anyone else think it is interesting that we might be wanting to fit God into our world, rather than seeking to find how we fit into God's world?
Then we move to the Gospel. Here, in another very familiar story, we find a great example of one person recognizing the Lord Jesus and being moved to draw others to come into a relationship with him. Philip is a great example of how St Augustine summarizes our human condition: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
It is Philip, in this section of the Gospel, who recognizes Jesus and then calls someone else to come and see. Earlier in this chapter, Andrew does the same thing with Peter. What can we learn from these examples of how "the good news" changes not only our lives but also changes the lives of those around us?
Now I have to say that I am not sure I would have wanted to be Nathaniel in this story. The moment he encounters Jesus it is like Jesus looks right into his very being. Nathaniel is surprised and must have been incredulous when Jesus goes on to tell him what he is going to experience in the future.
I sometimes think that might be why we hesitate to come too close to the Lord. Having the very essence of who we are known that intimately by someone else is a challenging concept.
So, having engaged with the Old Testament and the New Testament very briefly how do we move to think about the well within.
I believe that those two Scriptures raise some interesting and revealing questions for us. I believe they also point me and perhaps all of us to why we do not understand or draw upon the well within.
As I read the Scriptures I become aware that I need to examine a series of questions:
1.) Do we believe that God calls us? Not just in a general and random way, but in a personal and specific way?
2.) How do we see ourselves? Or, perhaps, who are we?
3.) Do we believe that we have a responsibility to share what we have discovered for ourselves?
I am going to leave the question of calling, out there, for today. I will repeat it because I believe it is important for us to consider it, but I am not going to address it directly this morning.
"Do we believe that God calls us? Not just in a general and random way, but in a personal and specific way?
Can I encourage you to spend some time this week considering that question for yourself?
So, that brings us to the second set of questions: How do we see ourselves? Or, perhaps, who are we?
I came across a Scripture this week that challenged me about how I might answer those questions and how I see myself.
Isaiah 41: 17-18
"When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water."
I love the promises proclaimed in this scripture. The Lord will answer and the Lord will provide. He will provide rivers, fountains, and pools of life-giving, refreshing water. But he does that for the "poor and needy." Is that how I see myself?
I have to admit that I become aware, very quickly, that I am not happy to understand myself that way. I don't want to see myself and I certainly don't want others to see me as "poor and needy."
I want to see myself as self-sufficient and self-reliant. I want to proclaim along with Frank Sinatra "I did it my way."
I then have to stop and make myself answer a secondary question: How does my sense of self-sufficiency or self-reliance block my recognizing my need for the well within? How often do I go ahead and make plans or responses based on my self-determinations? Do I neglect to consider that I could turn to the Lord, I could turn to the well within for guidance.
One of the saddest parts of the story of the calling of Samuel is that the prophet Eli has drifted so far from the Lord that he doesn't even recognize that it is the Lord who is calling to Samuel. Eli has lost touch with hearing the voice of the Lord. He has to some extent become self-reliant and self-sufficient in his day by day relationship with God.
So how do I see myself? Who am I?
Paul is, of course, the great advocate, for understanding ourselves as being new and changed by our relationship with Christ. If we can acknowledge that we are poor and needy then we can be renewed. Our relationship with Jesus will bring about new life. He encourages us to see ourselves in a new way in the Epistle reading this morning Paul speaks about the well within this way: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."
If we are no longer constrained by our own desires and determinations what should we do? Would we not want other people to experience this same freedom?
Would we not want to be like Andrew and Philip and say to those around us: "Come and see."
Paul, who himself, was radically changed by his experience on the Damascus Road declares this desire this way in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
How can we see ourselves in this new way unless we remind ourselves of what happened to us at our Baptism?
Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.
At Baptism, we understand that the Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us. That is the inward and invisible grace. The Holy Spirit flows into our innermost being and is available to us. The Holy Spirit brings the light into the darkest parts of our being. That light cannot be overcome.
Remember I said last week that this series would revolve around the concept of the "The well within" That it would be an examination of the resource that the Holy Spirit is within us. That it would also examine the relationship we can have with the indwelling Holy Spirit."
I am asking for us to see the Holy Spirit as that well? A well which contains the water of unceasing refreshment and renewal. Can we see the Holy Spirit as the inward and invisible grace dwelling within us as a well that provides the ongoing refreshing and renewal that we need now and always for the rest of our lives?
I ended last week by asking how we are using the well within. Do we come to that well and draw from it the resource that we need to live in the darkness of the world around us? Can we come to this well and draw from it the grace we need to overcome our self-reliance and our self-sufficiency?