The Deeper Good God is Working In His Children During the Pandemic
Romans 8:26-39 July 26, 2020 by Kent Walley
We are challenged this morning aren’t we, by those words of Paul in the reading from Romans where he says the optimistic words in 8:28 that: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”?
“All things work together for good…” could that really be? How can we understand that in the present moment in our world?
For no matter who you are or what your circumstance, life has been changed and upended by the onset of the Novel Corona Virus. Many are feeling restricted, longing for things to return to normal, so that we can go back to moving about freely and without masks. Many are struggling financially. Many are struggling because of the limits imposed on visiting loved ones who are dying of COVID-19, not to mention the struggles of those battling the illness. The very economy of our country is threatened.
It begs the question, how do these words of Scripture from the Apostle Paul apply in our present circumstance? How is it possible that this is working for good – this pandemic that has come upon us?
I would like to offer you two clarifications about what Paul is and isn’t saying in this text and then I will offer you my reflections on how God is indeed working good in this pandemic.
So then the first clarification: This scripture is not saying that everything works for the good of everybody. It says clearly who things are working for the good of – and that is those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. There are evil people in this world who are opposed to God, and all that is good and right. And not everything that happens will work for their good. This promise is for the worshippers of God, for those who love God.
And this leads to the second clarification which explains why this is so: and that is to note what the nature of the good is that God is working in the midst of the present moment. And I remind you that earlier in this chapter from Romans which we read last week, Paul talks about the sufferings they are undergoing. And so Paul is writing these optimistic and hopeful words in a time of suffering. In the suffering then, and in our sufferings now, Paul is saying that God is working good.
This does not mean however that God is simply taking away the suffering. That much is obvious. Jesus Himself suffered in this life and He told His followers to expect the same. He said, “In this world you will have trouble.” And without a doubt, suffering is persistently present in our world. No, it does not mean that. What it does mean is explained in the next two verses, verses 29 and 30 where we read: “For those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom He predestined He also called; and those whom He called he also justified; and those whom He justified he also glorified.”
The good that God is working in those who have been called to love Him – those who are seeking to follow Him — is the work of justification, adoption, transformation and glorification. In the sermon last week I talked about those terms and if you missed it I would encourage you to watch on Facebook or YouTube. But the point today is that the good that God is working in those who love Him is the eternal spiritual good of drawing people unto Himself, rescuing them from separation from Him and transforming them to become like Himself. He is not simply stopping the sufferings of the present moment, though He may at times do that. Rather, God is doing a deeper, more marvelous work in His people. God is preparing them for eternity and adopting them into His family. And what verse 28 is saying then, is that no matter how bad things get, no matter how great the suffering, God is in it somewhere drawing the soul toward Himself and the blessedness of eternal life. This is why the good that God is doing is limited to those who love God, because the good God is doing is connecting those who love God, who are willing, to Himself. That is God’s work in ALL circumstances.
Those who love God are bathed in God’s love even in the midst of harsh circumstances. And today’s reading concludes with exalted words that nothing, no nothing can separate God’s children from His love, nothing on earth or in heaven, not height, nor depth, nor life, nor death, nor angels, nor powers, nor rulers, nor COVID-19, nor economic trouble, nor pandemics, nor whatever suffering you are going through, not anything in all creation! God is the Almighty Ruler of the Universe, and nothing can stand in the way of His love and His eternal purposes at work in His children.
And so that brings us back to our present circumstances. Can this really be true for us when we are suffering trials and difficulties in our lives? Perhaps you are experiencing some kind of suffering right now this morning. Can this really be true in our world today in the midst of the sufferings of the present time and this pandemic? Is God working good in us, in you in this present moment? The answer is yes and to observe how God is doing this is stirring, inspiring and convicting all at the same time. God is calling us out from the present trappings of a world that is adrift. He is calling people in our world back to Himself in love. He is challenging us to leave the things that are hindering our connecting to Him in love. And of course, we are all sinners in need of forgiveness and renewal.
Is God working this pandemic for good? Undoubtedly! He is calling humanity back to our first love, to love our Creator. So much in our world involves people rushing toward idolatry. We rush to worship the idols of our times. We give ourselves to so many things other than God. We are quick to do, each what is right in our own eyes, with little regard for others, much less for another’s point of view. We are quick to define who our neighbors are whom we love, as those who think like us and we despise those who have another opinion. We care about those who agree with us and take personal offense at those who disagree. The pandemic heightens the stresses and strips away the layers of ease we have built up around us to insulate us from the naked truth that we as a society have run away from our Heavenly Father. We do not love Him with all our heart and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.
This pandemic causes us to be faced with that truth and also with our own mortality and the need to care for the vulnerable among us. And in this God is calling us back home.
Within this moment in time, there is a call to rekindle our love for God through faith. This pandemic is a call to seek the good in the other person and respect their dignity even if they look different, were raised and educated differently, or hold a different point of view. This is a time to live into the best in our world and society whatever is good, noble, trustworthy, just and true.
God has most certainly allowed the pandemic to come upon us, to wake us from our complacent, amoral slumber and to become alive to him and dead to sin.
This does not mean that God caused the pandemic and all the pain and suffering that come with it. Things are rarely as simple as that. The causes of this pandemic may be many and they are certainly mysterious. But Almighty God permitted it. Regardless of the cause, He is, even now, working ALL things together for good. He is working the pandemic for good to clear away the scaffolding we, as a society, have erected around our souls to self-assure our rebellious hearts. This is Romans 8:28 at work! We are living it, but will we bear the fruit of good soil or continue to allow the shallowness of our culture and the weeds of partisanship and factions to suffocate our spirits?
In John 15, Jesus calls us to abide in Him as branches in the vine. And it is interesting to note once we do that – what happens? We are rewarded with the attention of the Vine- Dresser who PRUNES us. We are in a season of pruning during this pandemic experiencing it in the church and in our very lives as our complacent routines have been abruptly interrupted and changed. The things we used to do before, even good, life-giving things have been lopped off. We struggle. Pruning is never easy for the plant being pruned. It hurts. It creates an ugliness. It can sometimes be severe, but the purpose of the Vine-Dresser is always to cause the plant to flourish. The greens are truncated and the living thriving sections are cut short, so that a healthier, new and previously ungrown life would emerge. And in time, with the loving care of the Vine- Dresser a new and healthier version of the plant will blossom forth bearing fruit and new, green, living, vitality that far surpasses what it was before.
So God, our Vine-Dresser is even now pruning His church and our lives in this pandemic so that healthier, more vibrant, new life will emerge in the body of Christ and in our souls. So that greater love would bloom within us.
It is because He loves us that God has allowed this pandemic to prune us. He is in it working it for good. The question each of us must wrestle with is: Will we have the faith to trust Him to grow in us new, creative, expressions of love for God and our neighbor or will we stubbornly grumble about the change and about what has been cut off?
Believe it right now, dear people of God. Whatever you are struggling with, whatever you are going through, no matter how hard it gets, God is in it somewhere working good within you. We live in dark times, but the light that brings forth new life in us is breaking forth on the horizon.
God is working His loving purposes for the good of this world. God is working His loving purposes within us even in hardship. And nothing can prevent that. Nothing can separate us from His love.
To Him be the Honor Glory Power and Praise. Now and forever. AMEN.
Independence Day and Our Country’s Two Histories
By Rev. Dr. Kent R. Walley July 4, 2020
Over this past 4th of July weekend, I found myself reflecting on the history of America and how it impacts our view of the present state of America.
Throughout the history of the world one sees time and again, reactions and overreactions. The pendulum of public opinion swings one way and then far the other way. This happens in the church as well. All too often there is such a radical reaction to a needed correction that the good gets discarded with the bad. There is that expression, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.”
We live in a country with two histories. One history – the history that has traditionally been taught in schools until recently focuses on the incredible foresight of our founding fathers in creating a country with many freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom to assemble to name just a few. Such a view is characterized in the words found in the Declaration of Independence when it says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This was the history of America that many of us were taught, myself included.
But there is another history of America. It is one that speaks of injustice. This history highlights the fact that not all people were allowed to enjoy freedom in this country. It tells of injustices done by white majorities to people of color. This history remembers the violence and oppression done to Native Americans in taking their land and the horrific injustices of the enslavement of black people. The traditional history will mention these but not dwell on them. The history I was taught focused on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and how the slaves were granted freedom. But what is often neglected in that first history is that the freed slaves were not given the opportunity after the Civil War to succeed as free people. They were not given any education or land. They were denied political power. Many of those who stayed in the South ended up working in menial jobs to earn a living, working once again for wealthy white people who retained the privilege and the power. Many migrated to cities in the north. And a new form of oppression soon emerged, enforced by shameful lynchings, and unfair and dehumanizing segregation. This second history of America seeks to shine a light on the racial injustices and oppression that were never sufficiently acknowledged in our country. Rather, the history of racial oppression was swept under the rug and ignored. This second telling of American history sees the poverty and struggles of many people of color today as a direct result of these injustices. This second history remembers police brutality inflicted on peaceful black protestors in the 60s by white police officers. This history sees America as a country that has never acknowledged or corrected its checkered past.
And I want to say today that as Christians we have a stake in both of these histories. As followers of a God who grants people free will and calls them to worship and obedience 2
not by force but through love – we too must celebrate freedom. Freedom and love which are embedded in this country’s founding documents were strongly influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition. These are not merely the product of white Europeans, but the product of profound Christian influences and in that sense come to us not from Europe ultimately but from the Middle East and from the Jews of Ancient Palestine. Those who want to disrespect and disregard our country and the entire system as the product of white privilege, must realize that their very ability to voice such opinions and to gather to protest is being ensured by the system they are decrying. There is much good that transcends white privilege in the concepts of freedom and justice so eloquently expounded by the founding fathers of this nation. There is still much to respect that our flag and national anthem represent. Some in this present moment want to throw out the baby with the bath water.
At the same time, people like myself, who have been brought up to view America exclusively through that first history, must come to terms with the fact that America has been far from perfect. Gross injustices have been committed and the legal system and our police have been used to create injustice, promote bigotry and racism. America at many points in our past has failed to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. As Christians we worship a God who cares for the poor, the oppressed and loves people of all ethnicities. He came to earth not as a person of privilege, but He was born in a stable to parents of an oppressed minority in the Ancient Roman Empire. Jesus came to announce good news to the poor and to set the captives free. We as Christians must also be people concerned with justice. While we no longer have slavery or Jim Crow, there is still work to be done to heal the injustices that resulted in many generations of people of color starting life at great disadvantage compared to the white majority. The vestiges of our history of racial injustice are still with us. Not everyone has the same opportunities that the majority share.
But I am not without hope. I believe God’s grace is sufficient for the present moment. I believe that if the people of our land will turn to God, we can find the healing, the reconciliation, and the restoration that comes when sins are confessed and God forgives, heals and unites all people through the blood of Christ. There is hope if we will remain open and listen to one another in love, and most of all call upon God listening for His voice to lead.
Please pray for our country. As we celebrate our freedoms in this country, let us worship the One who is able to heal and reconcile all the people of our Land. Let us pray asking God to send His Holy Spirit upon us and bring peace and justice in our time. Come Holy Spirit.
Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40
June 11, 2020
Dear Parish Family,
We live in such unprecedented times. The events of our world have weighed upon us: first the pandemic and now the horrific death of George Floyd. As we struggle to find our way, I want to remind you that fundamentally how we approach life is the same now as it was before these events came upon us. The Scripture quoted above is still our guide, our goal, our point on the horizon to set course toward. Love. Love for God and love for neighbor.
This letter is about two huge issues. The gradual process of reopening St. Luke’s to live, in-person worship. And our continuing response as Christians to the concerns being raised in our country about racial injustice. In both cases we must be guided by love.
Let me address reopening first – and I hesitate to even say reopening. Because using that word sounds like we are returning to normal worship. And in the initial stages our worship will be anything but “normal”. It will be very different than the way it used to be.
In how we reopen, we must be guided by love. Out of love for one another we must all gather responsibly, in ways that provide the lowest possible risk of spreading the virus that could result in the death of another. Whether or not you are personally concerned about contracting the virus, you must follow the procedures out of love for others.
I urge everyone to read this article: https://millennialpastor.ca/2020/05/26/so-your-church-is-opening-up-after-covid-19-closures-it-wont-be-what-you-are-hoping-for/ . This is a pastor’s musings about what it will be like for a church member to come back into the church for worship the first time during the pandemic. While our procedures and protocols may be different, but still it provides an eye-opening account of several of the issues that need to be addressed.
I have formed the St. Luke’s Reopen Committee, co-chaired by Annette Barrelet and myself. Annette has professional experience in consulting with companies about reopening. The committee also includes our parish nurse, Aileen Peterson and Dr. Pete Liloia as well as several others who bring a variety of gifts, talents, experiences, and wisdom to the task.
They will assist me in developing a plan that follows the diocesan guidelines issued in a report last Friday. That plan will then be submitted to the vestry for approval. The vestry-approved plan must then be submitted to the diocese for approval. This process and the necessary preparations we will have to make for reopening will take a few weeks. The earliest we could possibly open is July 12th. The committee will keep you informed on our progress and the timetable. We will also be looking to hear from you as methods are currently being developed to solicit your input into this process.
Now on to the second issue concerning living out our love: the death of George Floyd. I hear collective outrage at the injustice of his death from church members of all political persuasions. The question is: what can we do, what should we do going forward? Again, we must be guided by love.
As I stated at the Prayer Service for Peace and Justice last Sunday night at 5pm, God loves the poor, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. (if you missed my service, I encourage you to watch the video, at the very least my opening statement on our Facebook Page or YouTube Channel.) The point I was making is that Jesus, Himself, identifies with the oppressed in His life and death. As His followers, we also must show love for all persons and as our baptismal covenant states: “respect the dignity of every human being.”
I am aware that there are those saying that George Floyd had a checkered past and should not be elevated to the status of saint or martyr. Though our service did not do that, such a view misses the point. Thanks be to God that He does not treat any of us as our sins deserve. We all fall short of living the lives we should live and being the godly people we should be. We all have the tendency to replace love and worship of God with love and worship for ourselves. But God does not treat us as we deserve. He died for us, despite our unworthiness. And if we have truly embraced that forgiveness, love and grace from God ourselves, we will extend such forgiveness, love and grace to all persons. (“If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:15)
This is a time when our country needs to come together. The need for justice and the need for acknowledgment of the plight of black persons since the end of the Civil War and right down to the present day transcend party and political ideology. If we truly want a country with freedom for all, these concerns must be addressed. Rhetoric in the current situation that divides and is calculated to acquire political power should be decried by all followers of Christ. But so also, as followers of Christ, all Christians should call for justice and changes in the current system that will produce positive changes that will make our country a better place for all persons. To paraphrase a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., this is not just a black vs. white issue – this is an issue of injustice vs. justice. A more fair and just society will be good for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. This is in the best interest of all of us to take practical steps to resolve racial injustice. But above all, we must be guided by love.
I urge you to listen. Listen to the voices of black people. Listen to people from camps that you don’t usually listen to. And speak out in love for justice.
Let us pray through these days for our country, for race relations, for racial justice and freedom and equality for all. Let us pray for leaders to be raised up in this moment who will do the right thing, working not just for political gain. And let us pray that the days of this pandemic would be cut short.
May God bless you all!
The Lord Be With You,
Rev. Dr. Kent R. Walley, Rector
The Difference Faith Makes: A Look at Martin Luther King Jr.
A Sermon preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Gladstone, NJ on Sunday, January 19, 2020, the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by the Rev. Dr. Kent R. Walley, rector.
My sermon is going to be different this morning. I am going to talk about history – recent history in America that I believe still impacts our country. On this eve of Martin Luther King Jr Day, I want to reflect with you on his life, his theology and the history of the civil rights movement. I do believe this history can help us understand our country today and inspire us to see the relevance of our faith to how we live our lives.
This is personal for me. God has put all of this on my heart and I still have much to learn. As a follower of Christ it pains me to see racial tensions. Through the cross of Christ we are united to one another. God loves people from all races, all ethnicities, all nations and all cultures. Jesus told us that in fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah, He came to release the captives, free the oppressed and preach good news to the poor.
Related to my sermon on Nov 24th focusing on Christ the King and Luke 23:
Three promises of God – three things every good government should do that God provides for us:
Promise #1 — Protection — Jesus has secured your protection – with God for us who could possibly stand against us as Paul says in Romans 8:35,37-39 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Now that is protection!
Promise #2 –Provision. With God providing how could we be in want? This does not mean that we will always have what WE think we need, but we will always have what God knows we need. Jesus said in Matthew 6:30-34 in the Sermon on the Mount: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” God delights to provide for us and see us through the troubles of today.
Promise #3 – Peace. With God there is justice and peace. Jesus Himself is the Prince of Peace, the promised Messiah who came to usher in a Kingdom of Peace. And it is from St. Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians that we get those words for the final blessing that I so love to say every Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-9) With God there is peace and He cares for the poor and those in crisis, hardship and in need. The Lord is near!
From the Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard:
“God has created us and has given each of us, like Him, a range of will – beginning from our minds and bodies and extending outward, ultimately to a point not wholly predetermined but open to the measure of our faith. His intent is for us to learn to mesh our kingdom with the kingdoms of others. Love of neighbor, rightly understood, will make this happen. But we can only love adequately by taking as our primary aim the integration of our rule with God’s….By relying on His word and Presence we are enabled to reintegrate the little realm that makes up our life into the infinite rule of God….He inducts us into the eternal kind of life that flows through Himself. He does this first by bringing that life to bear upon our needs, and then by diffusing it through our deeds – deeds done with expectation that He and His Father will act with and in our actions. …So when Jesus directs us to pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come,’ He does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence, rather we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social and political order where it is now excluded: ‘On earth as it is in heaven’.”
November 15, 2019
Suggestions from Kent on reading the stories of the saints and how God has moved in the history of the church:
The Story of Christianity, 2 volumes by Justo L. Gonzalez
Restoring the Woven Cord (Celtic Saints) by Michael Mitton
Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Episcopal Church for the church year) by Church Publishing
A Great Cloud of Witnesses (Episcopal Church for the church year) by Church Publishing
September 26, 2019
February 6, 2019
May you be blessed as you consider this application of Luke 4 to your life!
“Just as then in the synagogue in Nazareth, so today the Spirit of the Lord is upon Jesus and He is coming into our midst even now… And Jesus is: Announcing good news to you at your point of need; He is releasing you from the things that hold you in bondage; He is opening your eyes to see the spiritual realm that you are missing – the work of the Spirit of God and His angels all around; He is lifting the burdens that oppress you from your shoulders; and He is assuring you that you have your Heavenly Father’s Favor resting upon you. He wants you to experience for yourself that Jesus is real.”–
From my Feb 3rd sermon “Jesus is Real” based on Luke 4:21-30
January 8, 2019
A Prayer for 2019 — My challenge to you this year — pray this prayer and see what God will do:
Dear Lord, I will do what you say as long
as you make it perfectly clear to me what it is.
Whatever you want me to do, Lord I will do.
Wherever you call me to go Lord I will go.
Whoever you want me speak to about you, Lord, to them I will speak.
Just please, Lord, make it clear! I’m listening.
Secular Christmas Nostalgia, Plato and the True Meaning of Christmas
A Message Given by Kent Walley on Christmas Eve 2018
“And the angels left them and the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed.” (Luke 2:15-18)
But then suddenly one of the sheep was overcome with a desire to hold the baby Jesus. The sheep stood up and approached the Holy Child, leaned in and lifted the baby Jesus right out of the manger! At first Mary did not know what to make of this, but soon she felt a terrible unease about it. She went to the sheep who was now standing at the front of the stage, dancing around with the baby Jesus and rocking it. Mary reached for the baby Jesus, but the sheep was now emboldened and turned away, walking to the other side of the stage. The Christmas carol “Away in the Manger” played softly in the background while a scuffle ensued on stage as Mary and the Sheep fought over the baby Jesus. That is what happened at a church in Nashville, Tennessee as children in the church Christmas pageant ad-libbed their roles in the nostalgic scene that we remember on this night. If you haven’t already seen it, the video of that pageant is well worth googling to find and watch this Christmas.
We all hold nostalgic images in our minds of the way the nativity was, and of the way Christmas is supposed to be. And of course one of the problems with nostalgia is that things don’t always go as planned. They certainly didn’t go as planned in that church’s Christmas pageant that day.
Why are you here tonight? I would bet you haven’t come to hear about government shutdowns, or congressional hearings, or financial markets, or geo-political tensions. I am thinking you are here for another reason. Unless a spouse or other family member forced you to come here tonight, assuming you are here of your own free will, I am guessing that you are here seeking something – perhaps you are seeking hope, seeking warmth, or seeking love. Maybe you are just here because of nostalgia. Perhaps you have fond memories of Christmases past and they have something to do with a nice warm feeling about church, so being here tonight reminds you of those fond memories. If that is why you are here, I hope you find the nostalgic warmth you are seeking, but I would suspect that many of us are here tonight because of the true meaning of Christmas? What is the true meaning of Christmas?
I have a friend who remarked recently that he thought that sooner or later we are all going to be working for Amazon. Amazon is certainly prominent in our lives in this gift giving season. Who knows, my friend may be right, and that is an interesting thought for a pastor to consider – might I be working for Amazon some day? It is hard to conceive of Amazon making a hostile take-over bid of the church – but just in case – I thought I would ask the voice of Amazon what she thinks is the true meaning of Christmas.
So the other day, I asked Alexa, “What is the true meaning of Christmas?” and this is what she said, and I quote:
“The true meaning of Christmas has been a popular phrase in American pop culture for many years. The phrase first appeared with religious undertones in the mid-19th century suggesting that the true meaning of Christmas was the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. However, the religious undertones are mainly avoided in popular culture replaced with the idea that Christmas is meant as a time to think of others and family. This idea also represented a movement against the commercialization of Christmas.”
Hmmm, so Alexa says that the true meaning of Christmas used to refer to religious undertones relating to the birth of Christ, but in recent times those religious undertones are mainly avoided in popular culture, replaced by the concepts of thinking of others and being with family – in other words nostalgia has replaced the birth of Christ as the true meaning of Christmas in contemporary culture.
Alexa may be right. It seems that our culture has focused on all the traditions and celebrations that grew up to help commemorate the birth of Christ, while dropping the reason all of those practices came into being in the first place. Nostalgia is replacing the religious undertones of the birth of Christ.
It is like we are celebrating at Christmas time, but many in our culture are forgetting what we were celebrating in the first place. So that for many in our world today the true meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with religion or Jesus any longer. It has to do with traditions and family, in a word: nostalgia. And so we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
However, I want to think deeply about this with you for a moment, if you can go deep with me on Christmas Eve. I would suggest to you this evening that even though our culture is mainly avoiding the religious undertones, the nostalgia in our culture is actually pointing to something more, something far deeper and more meaningful than the holiday traditions themselves. Even when neglecting the religious undertones, there is a longing for something embedded in those traditions: a longing for peace, a longing for joy, and a longing to believe. You see the words over and over again in secular pop culture – peace, joy, believe. Might there not be something in those words and the nostalgic longings they represent that is hungering for more – hungering for something of more lasting substance than tinsel, presents, and parties? Might there be embedded in the nostalgia, a longing for hope and for inspiration in a world that all too often seems bereft of them? Might these longings actually indicate a longing for the God of hope, for the Prince of Peace, for the God who promises eternal joy and peace, a longing for our Heavenly Father? And might our longings for peace, joy and belief indicate that there is in fact greater potential for peace, joy and belief in this world than we often see?
C.S. Lewis (see Mere Christianity) and St. Augustine applied Christian insights to the philosophy of Plato, writing that the desire for God suggests that we were made for God. The concept can be explained in this way: it would be an odd thing if people got hungry when there was no such thing as food. To hunger suggests that such a thing as food exists. It would be ludicrous if there was such a thing as hunger, but food didn’t exist.
Likewise to hunger to believe and to hunger for lasting joy and peace suggests that we were made for true joy, perfect peace and confident faith. We were destined to dwell forever in love, joy and peace – that is why we have a longing for them. It is like we have a kind of internal homing beacon for them and the God who provides them. This is what St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.”
And so perhaps the longing for nostalgia at Christmas that on the surface misses the true meaning of Christmas, is actually at a deeper level a longing for the very thing it is avoiding – the faith, the joy and the peace that comes from the Son of God. Perhaps our longings for hope and for inspiration at this time of year are like a compass within us pointing the way home.
I would suggest to you tonight that all the joy of the season – even the warmth that many want to find in the saying “happy holidays” is actually a longing for the love, the joy and the peace that the world needs. It is a deep desire that things in this world would be better. What are we actually longing for when we seek hope, peace, and joy at this time of year? It is none other than the Son of God born in Bethlehem and the hope He brings – a longing for as Isaiah calls Him the “child born for us” Who is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. It is a longing for the One born this night who comes to offer hope for a better world.
The child born in a manger came not into the pretty picture of Christmas pageants of our day, but into the harsh realities of poverty, the struggle for survival, governmental oppression and the very challenging situation of giving birth outside of comfortable lodgings in a barn. Jesus did not come to the world of perfect nostalgia, but to real life struggle. And He came to bring something breath-taking to that harsh existence. He came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, to bring the very Presence of God into our world. He came to bring the real possibility of transformation within the human soul!
The true meaning of Christmas is this: that even when the nostalgia is lost, even when the sheep steals the baby Jesus, even when things get messy, God is not distant. He did not keep away from the mess, He entered it to do something about it – to transform it. So no matter how messy our world this night, no matter how messy your life, your sins, your past, your scattered chaotic existence – God Himself comes near this Christmas. He comes not avoiding the mess, not avoiding the brokenness, not avoiding our errant, self-centered ways, He comes to be born in you – to transform you and the brokenness and mess of the imperfections of your life and to heal you, bring peace on earth and bring peace into the human heart.
He comes to us, in, through and beneath the nostalgia. He comes not just once a year, not just in all the sentimental traditions of December, not just once in a manger 2000 years ago, but all the year round. What happened in that rough, dirty, smelly stable 2000 years ago was not some fairy tale, not just a nice tableau for a nostalgic story, it was a radical change that began the transformation of the relationship between God and humanity – which is exactly what the world is longing for still.
Christmas is like treasure that is placed in a crude clay pot – the treasure of the Universe – the Word of God Incarnate entered the world as a frail infant swaddled tightly in cloths. And that treasure is placed within you as well. The treasure of the Son of God through His Spirit enters your frail body, your vulnerable heart, your mortal soul – treasure in a jar of clay….perfection in the imperfect. The possibilities are endless if you will but open your heart to welcome the Christ child within. Not just in this nostalgic time of Christmas – but in every day all the year though.
To Him Be The Honor Glory Power and Praise. Now and Forever. AMEN.
December 23, 2018
Four Words for Advent- Week Four
When someone says to you, “Trust me,” what goes through your mind? We often hear that phrase spoken in a situation where we are tempted to not trust the person. Trust is the basis of any relationship. This Advent, this Christmas, God says to you, “Trust me.”
In a myriad of ways we are tempted to not trust Him. We have learned to trust in ourselves, because others have let us down and disappointed us. We take a risk when we trust someone. We risk being hurt. We risk being disappointed. We risk loss. We have no control over that other person, not in the way we have control over ourselves. It is so much easier, we think, to trust ourselves.
We live in troubling times. We can easily be tempted to believe that God is distant, lacks power or doesn’t care. It is tempting to not risk the difficulties that can come in trusting God when the world around us is in turmoil. It can seem difficult, even painful to trust God when He is working in mysterious ways, ways that we have neither chosen nor wanted. It seems so much easier to trust in ourselves and do things our own way.
And yet, as we prepare to celebrate the momentous birth of Christ, which somehow mysteriously merged heaven with earth – humanity with God, God calls for faith from us. Faith is essentially trust — trusting God. Faith is trusting God’s will for our lives before we know specifically what God’s will might be for us. Jesus calls His disciples just as He calls us to come and follow, even though we don’t know from the outset where He will lead us. And yet He is calling us to trust Him. Like Abraham, we are called to a journey before we know the ultimate destination. Mary trusts the angel’s message before she really understands all that it will mean for her. Joseph trusts the angel in the dream to not divorce Mary before he knows that they will be hunted down and forced to flee to Egypt as Herod seeks to murder their child.
In Advent, we are called to trust that Christ is coming. We are called to trust that He is coming within us, growing within us as we are increasingly filled with the Holy Spirit. But also we are called to trust that He is coming into the world, like a mustard seed, quietly spreading the Kingdom of God in the hearts of His followers worldwide. We are called in Advent to trust that Christ is coming soon, that one day He will return to set things right which are now wrong.
Trusting God does not mean passivity. Mary trusted God as she received Gabriel’s words, but she immediately acted: she went with haste to see her relative Elizabeth, pregnant in her old age with John the Baptist. Trust means that we actively turn to God for guidance, for life-decisions, for direction in sorting out how we prioritize our time, for clarity about morality, for direction in how we spend our money, for the love to greet a stranger, for compassion to help the poor, and for how we love in relationship to others.
This Advent, God says to us, “Trust me.” And this call comes to each of us uniquely and differently because our lives are unique and in different seasons and circumstances. His word comes to you this Advent, this Christmas season. What is He calling you to trust Him for? Do not doubt, but believe. For God says to you this Christmas: Trust me.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13
-By Kent Walley
December 16, 2018
Four Words for Advent- Week Three
Can you hear the music? Listen closely for a moment. It is there.
Somewhere beneath the surface of things, at that deeper, more real, place there is music. It is a music that takes a trained ear to hear. It is music that is easily missed as we scurry along on the surface of things. But stop with awe and wonder and listen….and you will come to realize it is there. Beautiful music inhabits the nature of things.
Have you ever wondered why it is that in the Bible time and again we are commanded to sing? In the prophet Isaiah, in Zephaniah, from St. Paul and repeatedly in the Psalms the command peals forth: sing, sing, sing! “Sing a new song to the Lord. Sing praises to God all the people of the earth. Sing O Daughter of Zion, your King comes unto you.”
Your body is your instrument when you sing. When you sing you must listen to two things – yourself, to see what note you are singing, and to the music. To join the music of others, or to join the melody you intend to sing, either way you must listen to something other than yourself when you sing.
When Scripture commands us to sing, it most often is commanding us to sing, exult and rejoice! The command is to join the joyful music that praises God. When we sing, we are called to listen to the music present under the surface of things all around us. And so what is involved in obeying the command to sing is an aligning of the self with the joyful music that constantly praises God.
This is the beautiful music at the deeper level, under the surface of things. It is a song of hope, of expectation, of joy, of peace and of love. That song rang out over sheep and poor shepherds on the hillside above Bethlehem 2000 years ago. That song is filling the halls of heaven at this very moment. Saints and angels in the nearer presence of the Lord of hosts join their voices with that eternal song of praise.
It is music that makes Christmas: the carols over the radio, the Christmas music in the stores and at our parties, and the songs we sing in church. It is music that we don’t sing at other times of the year. More clearly than anything else the Christmas music connects us to the season. Christmas music touches us and warms us deep within. It is music filled with joy, hope, love and peace. “Joy to the World.” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” “Silent Night.” “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
It is at this time of year most of all, that we hear echoes of The Song. It is at this time of year that the song of saints and angels, the song sung perpetually in heaven before the throne of God, becomes clearer, emerging through the songs of the season.
In earshot of such music, the world becomes a thin place, a place where the veil that separates earth and heaven becomes thin. Christmas music, especially those Christmas carols of old, puts us in touch with that deeper reality. It fills us with hope, longing for something we were made to long for: Emmanuel, God with us.
This Advent season and this Christmastide let us listen for the music and SING!
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, He has turned away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. — Zephaniah 3:14-15
-By Kent Walley
December 11, 2018
Four Words for Advent – Week Two
Come. This word, spoken to us by another, beckons us to draw near, because something is happening or something is about to happen. God speaks this word to us not in the way a master might command a dog, but rather in the way that someone might invite another to a party. “Please come. Join us,” or in the way such an invitation is extended with southern hospitality, “Y’all come!”
Advent is a season in which we are invited to come. This word falls off the lips of Jesus to any who would follow Him, like the first disciples. He says, “Come and follow me.” We sing it at Christmas services — one of the most beloved carols of all time: “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”. Come let us adore Him.
The gospel comes to us as an invitation. It is remarkable that Jesus does not condescend to us the way an owner might with a dog, though Jesus is so much higher above us than we above dogs. He is the eternal Son of God, Incarnate. Rather, Jesus bids us come in from the storm. Outside in the world there is rain, lightning, thunder and blustery winds. Inside all is calm, gentle and warm. Jesus invites His disciples (that is all who would follow Him and call Him their Lord) to come in from the blustery winds, from the flurry, and from the fury of the world, and step inside the Kingdom of God to feel the peace and love of God. This is an invitation to seek refuge, in the realm of light, joy, hope and possibility. It is a realm of adventure. Jesus’ words to those first disciples were not mundane commands as to dogs, but rather exciting invitations to embark on a life of adventure. The compelling nature of Jesus’ invitation is bound up with mysterious wonder. It is compelling because the person invited doesn’t want to be left out and to miss the wonder of it all – life in Christ!
But to respond to the invitation to come requires movement. “Come” is an invitation that evokes a response. To not “come” is to refuse the King’s invitation to the wedding banquet (see Matthew 22). One cannot take a middle road by being passive. When we respond to the invitation to come we are also “leaving”. We leave where we have been. One has to leave the blustery, self-serving, ungodly, ways of this world and seek refuge in the Kingdom. This is John the Baptist’s invitation also: to come by making our hearts and lives right with God. Come by repenting, turning away from the ways of self-worship, self-interest and God-defying abuse of others. To heed this Advent invitation and come means we leave complacency, injustice, oppression and lustful, materialistic gluttony behind. It means we leave lesser things behind, sometimes things that seemed to offer us such promise of blessing, that are in fact mere cheap counterfeits of the real thing.
Come is the invitation to us this Advent. What must we leave and change in our lives to make us right with God that we might draw near? The adventure beckons. The mystery of the potential of what God might be doing draws us. Let’s not miss out on it. How can we come in from the bluster and into the calm quiet, to listen for the voice of our God, calling and leading us? The invitation from Jesus echoes down through the centuries, right into our Advent this year: come!
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. — Matthew 22:1-3
-By Kent Walley
November 30, 2018
Four Words for Advent – Week One
“Hush.” A mother urges a child, pulling the little one in close. Hush is a word spoken in a situation where a young person is fussing about something, perhaps distracting others when it is a time to be quiet. It sounds like “Shhhhh”, that sound we make to quiet others. Hush indicates that it is time to settle down, be quiet, and listen. Hush suggests anticipation and expectation of something soon to be said or done that we would not want to miss. The fussing may distract others from hearing something important and they certainly distract the person making the fuss from hearing much of anything. Tantrums, in their self-centered ranting, always miss the real story deep under the surface of what just happened.
I asked the LORD what He wanted to say to us in this season of Advent and what I heard was a word: Hush. “Hush,” He says to us as we fret and fuss about so many things in our lives and in the world. “Hush” as the world around us clamors for attention. Wars and rumors of wars abound. (“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” Matthew 24:6). The climate is in upheaval (“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Luke 21:25). And we are driven to all kinds of pursuits that we hope will enrich our lives, but often end up overloading and overwhelming us. (“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:38-39)
“But,” we say, “What about these concerns I have for my health (or for a loved one, or for safety, or financial security, or whatever it may be)?” Our Heavenly Father knows. He cares. He is at work deep below the surface. He is moving. He is touching lives, changing hearts, drawing people close to Him (like a mother hushing a child) from pre-occupations with things in this world that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of eternity.
He is coming. He is coming in the hearts of His people, in whom He abides through the Holy Spirit. He is coming as His people shine forth with love and justice making peace in a world that has so little of peace. He is coming beneath the surface of all the holiday parties, shopping and festivities. He is coming in love to Bethlehem to bring peace on earth and flood the world with God’s goodwill. But if we fuss, we just might miss it. If we fuss we just might not hear the sound of His approaching.
He is coming again in just a short while. The Son of Man returns on the clouds and all will be set right. Soon. Don’t fail to prepare. Don’t fail to appreciate the mysterious movements of the Holy Spirit deep underneath things. Don’t fail to listen for the sounds of His approaching. Don’t fail to listen to His voice. Don’t fuss, resist the urge to throw a tantrum. Feel His embrace as He draws you close. This Advent, hear Him say to your spirit within: “Hush”.
I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul within me is like a weaned child. Psalm 131:2
— By Kent Walley
October 11, 2018
Recommended Reading – from the Rector’s study:
1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance
By Ferdinand Schlingensiepen
2. Discipleship By Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Previously published as “The Cost of Discipleship”)
3. Celtic Light: a Tradition Rediscovered (Out of Print but you can find it) By Ester De Waal
4. Celtic Daily Prayer, vol 1 and vol 2 By the Northumbria Community
October 3, 2018
Bonhoeffer and Berlin: A Compelling Life- a Powerful Theology
Part 2 of Theological Travelogue- Reports from the Summer Sabbatical
September 30, 2018
From the Rector:
I am personally outraged at how the recent Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing was handled last Thursday. As Christians we must stand up against what is happening in our country — where words are used to destroy others, and where lives are torn to shreds in the public eye for political purposes. I am referring to both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh who I think were used and hurt by our broken political system.
Attached is my sermon from Sunday in which I spoke more about this in the context of the Sunday readings and “the Power of Words.”
Our bishop, Chip Stokes has made a strong statement about this in a letter published on Sept 28, 2018, which is found in the diocesan news called Good News in the Garden State. I applaud his statement and his candor. His letter says this:
“It was a disgraceful week in our nation’s capital. The rank partisanship of our institutions of government was on gross display in the Senate Judiciary hearings of the past few days. Human beings were chewed up and spit out like contestants in the ancient Circus Maximus. The American people are now waiting for the “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court Justice. Having very little to do with the pursuit of truth or justice, the “hearings” were a charade and made clear that power is the singular concern.
I won’t take a public position about Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. My doing so would not be appropriate. I do, however, agree with those of both parties who believe a fair, thorough and impartial investigation of the facts has not taken place. The process we witnessed this week re-victimized a great many people beginning with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, regardless of whether Brett Kavanaugh was her attacker or not I hope our clergy and other caring people in our congregations will be sensitive and aware that people in our congregations may feel especially vulnerable and injured this week and will respond in pastorally appropriate ways.”
July 10, 2018
Kent’s Sermon from Edinburgh, Scotland
The woman at the loom and finding meaning in living generously 2 Cor 8
May 10, 2018
The trendy topics fake news, the media and skepticism were in focus at the Indiana University Undergraduate Commencement ceremony held on May 5, 2018, but the advice given was from a by-gone era. On the surface the speakers were polished and the deliveries were good, but under the veneer was a shocking omission.
Michael A. McRobbie, the Indiana University president, spoke about the importance of ascertaining facts and determining what was true from what was false in his closing remarks. In an era where there is so much concern about fake news, this is understandable. McRobbie talked about the importance of science and healthy skepticism. He reminded graduates of many of the wonderful blessings of modern technology. He specifically praised Enlightenment Era thinking and urged the graduating class to stick to the facts, science, and to be skeptical. These statements coordinated with journalist, chairman and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Times and Times Publishing Co., Paul Tasch’s comments earlier during the commencement address. Tasch emphasized discerning the truth in an era of fake news; he gave examples of purely fictitious news stories that stirred people to act in inappropriate ways, such as the report that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor, which led to someone firing a rifle inside the establishment in 2016.
Indeed, it is important to separate fact from fiction; even more so in this internet age when consumers can gorge themselves on news that supports their views. But to suggest that discerning truth is that simple is a gross oversimplification that ignores the important advances of the postmodern critique of the enlightenment.
The question is not just “What is fact and what is fiction?” The question is also which facts are being presented. Despite critics claiming otherwise, I suspect that Fox News and MSNBC present mostly facts in their news reportage (of course they broadcast a lot of opinion also!) But the question is which facts are being presented and for what purpose? Whose facts? The razor we need to cut through the news reports to wisely discern truth involves understanding who is telling us these facts and why. If one knows the character and the ideology of the person or news outlet presenting the facts, then ones has a better chance of discerning the whole truth in context. The people who created the pizza parlor sex ring story had a reason, an ideology, and a kind of morality that resulted in their creation of that fake news.
Yet the greater danger to our understanding of the world in which we live and our ability to discern the truth is not the outright lies, but the presentation of partial truths: that is, the presentation of the facts out of context to influence public opinion. One of the things we have learned since the Enlightenment is that truth is power. Whoever defines the truth has tremendous power and such “truth defining” can be used for great good or for horrendous oppression.
What was missing in Mr Tasch’s and Dr. McRobbie’s presentations was an emphasis on the importance of character. If the journalist reporting the news is a person of integrity, there is a better chance of receiving less bias and more of the facts in the proper context. Speaking to thousands of assembled graduates about the future and emphasizing only science and the facts without any mention of character is shocking. What we need is not simply pure science and healthy skepticism; we need people of character, people of moral integrity, and people who care.
The same science that can be used to find a cure for cancer can be used to create biological weapons that could destroy all of humanity. In an era of increasingly powerful technological advancement, such as CRISPR technology that allows scientists to alter DNA, we need so much more than just to be enamored by scientific advancement; we need people of moral integrity and character who will seek to use the technology for the betterment of humanity. In this dangerous political era we need more than the counsel to search for truth; we need people of character who will present all the facts in context and let the individual decide which ideology to follow.
The omission of any discussion of morality and character at commencement is even more shocking given that Indiana has marvelous colleges for visual and performing arts. Artists help us interpret the facts and understand the implications. Artists warn us, and they help us find joy in living. Living without art, focusing purely on science leads to a cold, joyless and dangerous world. Our best hope for the future is not just the facts and science, as important as they may be: it is people of moral character who will discern truth in context.
Rev. Dr. Kent R. Walley
Transformation that Leads to Refreshment
Acts 3:12-21 April 15, 2018 by Kent Walley
The timbers above us shook as we stood on the platform. My 3-year-old son Philip looked up at me anxiously while the boards upon which we were standing shuddered as the roller coaster car whizzed past us. He really wasn’t at all sure he wanted to ride. The Jack Rabbit is a small but unique roller coaster for which you don’t have to be very tall to ride. On it, even a young 3-year-old can experience a roller coaster, but Philip was thinking that maybe he could wait, at least until he was four!
He began telling me that he was scarred, that he didn’t really know if he wanted to ride this. I looked into that tiny face that was staring up at me, wondering what it was that his dad was getting him into. And I said, “I know you are going to love this ride. It will be alright.” And I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled. And he swallowed hard and stood his ground with me in line. He trusted me. He knew I loved Him. And even though he wanted to turn and run away and go back to the tamer rides in the “kiddie land” section of the park. He didn’t. He stayed, but he was afraid.
As we waited, this scene was repeated several more times – Philip expressing his anxieties, me lovingly reassuring him, holding his tiny hand, telling him that he could do it. And finally the moment came and we slid into the seat and fastened the seat belt and off we went. And Philip loved it! We road it several more times that day. And ever since Philip has loved riding roller coasters.
What happened for Philip at age 3 that day was a complete transformation. He went from one way of thinking about roller coasters with fear and uncertainty, to another way of thinking about them – with eager anticipation. His mind’s view of roller coasters was completely turned around that day. He went from hoping the wait in line would never end, that the roller coaster would break down and close for the day, to hoping the line would move quickly, that the wait would be short, because he was so eager to ride.
Such a transformation is necessary for all of us. I am not speaking now about roller coasters, but in life. We need a transformation of our minds, a turning of the way we view things, a new outlook on life – such a transformation of the mind is what the Bible calls repentance. In fact that is exactly what the word means in the original Greek language of the New Testament – the word is metanouia – meta means change and nouia is mind. And today in the book of Acts, Peter tells us that there is a wonderful promise for those who do have such a transformation. He promises times of refreshing.
We are considering today the continuation of the story in Acts chapter 3. In the verses just before today’s reading, that we read last week, we find Peter healing a man who had been crippled from birth. This man used to sit and beg every day at the Temple. Try to imagine the impact of this healing upon those who saw this man every day. Just imagine if every time you came to worship here at St. Luke’s there was a man sitting on our steps just outside St. Luke’s door. Imagine him as someone you know. You know his family. You know his story. He was born crippled and for years, every time you come to worship at St. Luke’s there he is asking you for money. And then one Sunday as we are gathering here for worship, suddenly the doors burst open and in comes that man! And he isn’t crippled any more. In fact, he is walking in, and he is jumping up and down and praising God. The shock that you would feel must have been something like what they were feeling in the Temple that day. And everyone wants to know how Peter did this.
And Peter says it was not his own power, but the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is through trusting in Jesus that this man has been healed. The very same Jesus, the Lord of Life whom you killed, is raised from the dead and His resurrection power healed this man.
And then Peter offers an invitation with a wonderful promise. His invitation is to metanouia – to repent, to have a transformation of outlook. Just as young Philip’s view and experience of roller coasters was changed for ever after, so too do those who have turned to Christ view life and live differently, ever thereafter.
Peter tells the people they need to change because they were complicit in killing the Lord of Life. In a sense these people along with the Jewish leaders were trying to control the outcome for their own ends. Jesus was an innocent person, but one who threatened their routines and normal understanding of religion. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers who were profiting from the sale of animals for sacrifice, and He over turned the Pharisees way of living. He told people that life was about more than merely following the rules, but rather it was about living from the heart. Jesus called people to focus on loving God and others, not merely on keeping the ceremonial rules and rituals of religion.
With rules and rituals everything is nicely controlled. You know what to expect. You have the routine. But when one must seek God in the moment, trying to follow the spirit of the law of love in every situation, one may be in for a wild ride, with twists and turns. This is a surrendering of the control of one’s own life, from living for self and self-worship – to putting one’s life in God’s hands and trusting Him for the outcome.
And the remarkable thing is the result of such repentance. The result is forgiveness that restores our relationship with God, but a forgiveness that also results in something more. I find it incomprehensible that the lectionary stops where it does in the middle of the sentence. And what follows is so incredible. This sentence reads: “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you,…”
“So that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” What a marvelous promise! Would you like a season of refreshment? How are you doing in life right now? Anything making you weary? How marvelous to consider times of refreshment.
For me, the word conjures up images of walking in a desert on a hot, dry summer day without water. And as you walk along you get thirstier and thirstier in the hot dry heat. Your mouth becomes so dry. Your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth and you are desperately wanting to get to that ice chest that you have in your car. And when you finally arrive and drink that cool crisp water – you are refreshed.
That is a picture of refreshment. Seasons of refreshment are what God wants for us. Times of refreshment are possible for us now that Christ has risen. The Greek word for refreshment in verse 20 of Acts chapter 3 is a word that means “rest, respite, breathing space, cooling, relaxation, and relief”.
Does your life need such refreshment this morning? Wouldn’t you like that rest, relief, breathing space and relaxation? Our world is a weary world this morning isn’t it? We just launched missiles into Syria. Are you not weary over the wars in the Middle East, weary of terrorism, weary of the politics in our country? What things in your personal life make you weary this morning? Over the past two weeks the Walley family has been wearied by 4 tech visits to fix our cable and internet, a computer that had to be sent to the manufacturer because it crashed, a rabbit who had to have a surgical procedure at the vet and some serious health issues in my extended family.
And I am sure you have things also – life is hard sometimes. Life can be overloaded and saturated with information in the times in which we live. We have so many opportunities of good things to do, and those things can erode the space in our lives to cope with the difficulties that inevitably come. And in the blur of such difficulties Jesus says: “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That is in the gospel of Matthew chapter 11.
And today in Acts 3, Peter’s call echoes down through the ages right to our burdened and weary world this morning: Repent and turn to God that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Do you see how this works? When we turn to God, and have a transformation of outlook, so that we no longer attempt to control the outcome, by manipulating others, or controlling things to our own ends, when we surrender to Christ and trust the outcome to His loving infinite wisdom – the burden is released. It is given over to Him. He takes the wearisome heavy load from you and He carries it for you, and, then, times of refreshing come from the Lord, so that you will discover that His yoke to guide your life is easy and His burden is light, so that you will be granted in Him rest, renewal and refreshment!
What a wonderful promise! What a wonderful word to us this morning!
But you may be out there thinking, sounds great, but Kent I have repented and trusted my life to Christ and I don’t feel refreshed, what about that?
And here in lies an important point. In today’s passage Peter is calling non-Christians to make a decision to trust their lives to Christ – but for followers of Christ who have already done this – the old habits die hard, the sinful nature is not instantly removed from us, we still make mistakes and we still sin. And so we need more than a one-time change of outlook, more than a one-time repentance. We need that mental transformation every day – several times a day.
I find in my own life that when I am burdened with some problem or stress, I find myself carrying that burden, trying to figure out how to fix it, how to resolve it, what to do, what the implications might be and fretting over it….can anyone here relate? And then what I realize I must do, and I must confess to you that I am not always good at doing it, but what I must do is give that burden over to Christ – trust it to Jesus. I do so in prayer, I do so sometimes visualizing handing it over to Him – but it can be hard, because my human tendency is to think I can handle this on my own – yet what repentance means is that I have a change of mind and I surrender that control over to God. When I truly release the burden, release total control of my life over to Him the burden is lifted! Times of refreshing do come! Sometimes such a time of refreshing is hard fought in faith, but there is, I assure you, a peace that passes understanding that is available to all if we will give it all over to Him!
This of course doesn’t mean we do nothing – it doesn’t mean we stop working, serving, and loving….but it means we stop fretting, we stop manipulating and we stop controlling and we let God be truly our God.
And it can be frightening to adopt such a transformation in thinking, letting go of that issue that is burdening me and trusting it to God can be every bit as frightening as standing on the loading platform to ride a roller coaster for the first time at age 3. But oh, so much more than any earthly father, we have a loving Heavenly Father, who looks us in the eye, who holds our hand, who even right now at this moment places His mighty hand on your shoulder and smiles at you and says, it will be alright. I love you, you simply have to trust it over to me.
To Him be the Honor Glory Power and Praise Now and forever. AMEN