A Sermon for the Week

“Fishing” Luke 5:1-11

February 10, 2019

 When Carla and I go fishing, if we haven’t caught any fish in an hour or so, I’m all for leaving and doing something else. Carla says I’m a catcher not a fisherman, in that if I’m not catching fish, I’m done with it.

 But, even we catchers have our favorite fishing stories. I had a friend who was leaving Alaska and sold me his fourteen foot Zodiac inflatable boat. You’ve seen them, they are the ones that Jacque Cousteau rides around in during his adventures. I used to rent a thirty five horse motor and go out in Prince William Sound for Halibut. Now, I didn’t have a fish finder or depth gauge, so I would follow charter boats out and fish where they fished. I don’t know why, but they didn’t seem to appreciate me doing that. They would try to outrun me but they couldn’t outrun that little Zodiac.

 One day I was fishing after following a charter out, in about two hundred feet of water about five miles out from Seward in Prince William Sound. I hooked into what I just knew was a big halibut. I fought and fought and finally got it up to the surface and he was big, to me, the state record is over six hundred but mine was about fifty pounds. Now, they tell you, kill the halibut, especially a big one, before you bring it in the boat. That they’ll break your legs as they flop around. So, I had my forty four mag Dan Wesson pistol, shot him, and blew his jaw off where he was hooked. Almost had to go swimming to save him, but man’o’man was I proud of that fish. Now, that’s fishing.

 I know a fishing story is supposed to make the fisherman look good. Fishermen are supposed to talk about the monster fish they hooked but got away, or they're supposed to talk about some magical bait that makes the fish just jump on the hook. 

 But, our scripture lesson tells a different kind of fishing story. This story begins with a story about fishermen who had caught nothing after fishing all night. Then a carpenter, borrows the boat, preaches a sermon from it to keep from being crushed by the crowds, and tells the fishermen where they can catch some fish.  

 Then after hundreds of of fish are caught, a fisherman, Simon, we call him Peter most of the time, immediately gives up fishing, follows Jesus, and starts fishing for people. It is a different kind of fishing story. But, there's some things we can learn from this story and one of them is how we can have success fishing for people. And, we know as Christians that is every one of our jobs, making new disciples for Jesus Christ.

 Well, it’s a fact some people don't catch fish because they won’t go into the deep water. I will admit the first few times I took that little Zodiac out into Prince William Sound in the deep water I was a little scared. You feel pretty small knowing the water is a couple of hundred feet deep and is forty degrees and your miles from shore. In forty degree water people don’t live very long if they are in the water. But, if you didn’t go out there you would never catch the big halibut.

 Jesus told Peter, "Let's go out to the deep water." Everybody knows the big fish are in the deeper water and the first rule of fishing is you've got to go where the fish are. That’s why I used to follow the charter boats out, they knew where the fish were.

 But, this story isn’t just about fish. Jesus was teaching a spiritual principal. We could substitute fish for abundance or wisdom or love, for healing or peace, or making new disciples for Jesus Christ. All those things we want lots of. Some people don't catch anything because they will not go deep into the faith to learn how. Deep water is where we grow. Deep water takes faith. Deep water is risky. And, we have to get our mind and heart ready for it. 

 You can’t see the bottom in the deep water and you have no idea what is down there. You just have to trust the words and directions of others who have already passed through deep water. Our Lord Jesus Christ is always inviting us to the deep end so we may come to faith in him and grow. 

 Wading around in shallow water feels so much safer and fun. The minnows and the half-grown fish gather there. They stay in the shallow water for the same reasons we do…it feels safer. You can see the bottom in shallow water. Staying in shallow water is such a temptation. Shallow water is easier and it doesn't take much courage. But, Peter knew the minnows couldn't feed him. They couldn't fill him. They just weren’t what his heart was searching for. The deep water of faith in Jesus Christ is where those things we need and want are. The shallow water is where we begin the adventure, not where we finish it. There is a time for learning about Jesus and then there is a time to live what we've learned, a time to receive and a time to give sacrificially, a time to worship in church, and a time to be the church, and lead the world to Jesus Christ. And, deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us to learn.

 You know there are also some people who don't catch fish because they don't expect to catch fish. When I followed those charter boats out, and braved those mean looks, I did it because I knew they knew where the fish were and I knew, I would catch fish where they went. When Jesus tells Simon, "Let's go to the deep water," but he doesn't stop there. He then told him, "Get ready to catch some fish."

 For all of us who come to church regularly. Week after week we go to the deep water of worship, but do we come preparing for a catch? Do we come believing a blessing is just waiting for us? Do we come to church expecting to be touched by the Spirit, do we hope and expect to feel the touch of the Holy Spirit as we worship each Sunday? Well, we should, shouldn’t we?

 Or, do we come to get along with our spouse or to be seen by others or, worse yet, just out of habit? The reason we are coming to church matters to God. Expectation is what builds faith, "the substance of things hoped for." Without expectation, there is little hope of real, life-changing faith. When we say we believe in Jesus Christ, we are not saying I am agreeing with some theory. We're saying we expect the things that God has promised us. 

 When we truly take Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we're saying, “I'm now a partner with the "giver of every good gift." One of the gifts God has promised us is fruitfulness. That we will become fishers of humanity through our faith in Christ. All followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to be expecting to lead others to faith in Christ, not just the preacher or the Sunday School teacher, each and every one of us who call ourselves Christian.

 I love how Jesus keeps pushing Peter further in his faith. "Leave the shore, Peter and go into the deep water.” These are easy in comparison to "Expect a blessing, Peter." Jesus was calling Peter to risk disappointment and expect a blessing.

 I hope you noticed that I knelt for the Pastoral Prayer today and I plan on doing that from now on. I’m doing that because I hope, no I expect that you folks who are having difficulties in your life will come and join me at the Prayer rail. I hope, no I expect that people who do not know Jesus Christ will come to the prayer rail and pray to God for Jesus Christ to come into their hearts during the invitation song. I hope and I expect that people who have something left undone in their lives will come to the rail and pray for God to help them get started on it. I’m saying these things because I am trying to live what I am talking about when I say that we need to expect fruitfulness from our efforts for God. When we are expecting and preparing to be blessed by God, I am sure we make God's heart smile. God probably says to himself, "They get it; they believe I’ll do what I say, and I will make them fruitful in their faith walk."

 There are people who don't catch fish because they’re afraid to go into the deep water, and some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to. And, there are people who don't catch fish because they think they know more about fish than God.  Peter almost made this mistake when he told Jesus, "Hey, we've been fishing all night. We know fish. You’re a carpenter trying to be a preacher what do you know about fishing?"

 Some people think they know more about fishing than God. It happens to all of us sometimes. It's not that we actually think we know more than God; it's just that we behave that way. We know God's instructions, forgive others and ourselves, bless those who curse us, give abundantly, go and visit the unfortunate, and we'll have a ball. He told us remember the Sabbath day, it's for worship and family not for catching up on work.  But, we ignore God's invitation to abundance. We say to God by our actions“I know more about marriage, more about healing, more about forgiveness, more about adults and children, and more about money than you do, God.” We say this to God, when we don’t ask our neighbor, who never comes, to come to church with us. As we think, “Why ask, they won’t come anyway.” We say it, when we don’t bring the neighbor’s children to Sunday School and church. Saying, “I don’t want those snotty little kids in my car this morning.” We say it to God, when we don’t give our time and treasure back to God, knowing that he gives us every minute of our lives and every dime we have.

 But, Peter almost forgot that God is God. Our culture doesn't really have any use for the word humility; it goes back to the Enlightenment, in the seventeen hundreds, when Western culture told itself that humanity could know everything. Many of us think they have it all figured out, but look at how the scientists and the philosophers have to change their so called established science all the time. The digital world we live in now is repeating that bologna all over again. We tell each other often when we don’t know and answer, “I’ll just Google it,” while knowing the truth is often completely opposite of what we see there. Because, those companies are manipulating the facts to help themselves, not to dispense the truth.

 Peter, was at a place we all come to over and over again in our lives, he decided that he didn't know everything, and that the emptiness and frustration for not knowing everything had made him ready to learn. Now there's a good definition of humility, a readiness to learn. You know a lot of people think the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I don’t think so. The real miracle of this story is that Peter decided Christ was God and that he would try to live in the way Jesus taught. Just look at what he says before the miracles begin to happen, "Yes, Lord if you say so...." My frustration, my pain, my emptiness, my despair is real, Lord, and yet and yet, you are God and I am not, use me. Like me when I followed those charters in Alaska go to the one with the instructions that will make us fruitful.

 That's when our miracles will begin to happen, that's when we will start catching fish, when we decide that God is God, and we do not have all the answers. What freedom Peter was given that day, what joy, when he truly believed, "God is the maker of heaven and earth." God alone put fish in the sea, He put the big in the whale and the play in the dolphin, and it was all done just because He's God. Don’t you see if He's God enough to do all of that, what can He do with us, when we're truly ready to catch fish? I beg you, come join me at the rail when you are facing the big questions in your life you just might learn to fish.

Amen.

Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor

UMC Healy, Kansas

 

“Love”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

February 3, 2019

 I first heard the song, “The Gift of Love” in Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our music director must have loved it, because we sang it a lot and you may have noticed, I love it too. Because, I’m sure we sing it more than some of the other songs I could have picked. Did you hear the words as we sang them this morning? “Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.”

 That is what life is all about, the love of God and others that is what this sermon is about. It’s about love and that is what our hymns are about and love is what life is all about.

 From the moment you are born, until you die; every second, every minute, every hour, every day, the purpose of life is God giving us the time to learn to love, as God loves. The purpose of every moment and every day and every year is God teaching us what it means to be truly loved by God, loving our Lord Jesus Christ, and loving others. That’s what it is all about and what it’s always been about.

 The shape of God’s love in us is forever changing throughout all of our lives and hopefully it is growing. The shape of God’s love in us never stays the same. When they are little, children come up and without asking or thinking about it, throw their arms around us, giving us kisses, hugs, as they slobber all over us. The love of a little three year old gushes right out all over you and that is the shape of love when you are three.

 Then, the shape of love begins to change because God’s love in us is forever changing. You become a little older and let’s say you are in fifth grade. I remember fifth grade with all the other kids. Mom would kiss me and I would wipe it off, it embarrassed me if Mom told me she loved me. In those years I most loved when I would get to ride along with the cowboys and chase cows. I loved it, there was nothing better and there were never any girls, ever in my thoughts or in my life except my big sisters. That was the shape of love in us when we were young and in fifth grade.

 As we grew up the shape of God’s love in us changed some more. About fifteen years old. I remember falling madly in love with a cheerleader from another school. She even talked to me and smiled after the game. I just knew I couldn’t live without her, but I had no transportation and it made developing our relationship difficult.

 But, when I finally got my driver’s license and she invited me to her town for a dance. So, I drove my ’46 Chevy pickup down there, wasn’t supposed to go, but I had an amazing evening, until it was time to go home. Mom and dad would not have approved me driving that far and my truck wouldn’t start. I never found out who took my battery cable off. But, finally the girl’s Dad showed me my battery cable was off. He wasn’t very thrilled that I had come to their town to see his baby girl. Then, I was wayyyy late getting home that night and it got ugly again with Mom and Dad. But, it was worth it, to me. This wasn’t the kind of love I felt when I was as three years old or a fifth grader with the cowboys. No, this love was the real thing, I was sure of it.

 The years passed. I had been in one marriage that hadn’t ended well and had gotten used to the idea that I was a perpetual bachelor. I just assumed when I retired from the Army I would go home and work for the Bradbury’s like I had before the Army. But, one night at a line dance class I met someone. I was only there so I wouldn’t be at home alone and I met a pretty auburn haired woman who had a great smile and I was amazed she could actually do the stuff the instructor told us to do. Before I knew it, I was madly in love with her. Not at all the feelings of a five year old. Not like feelings towards the boys in fifth grade. Not even like the wonderful feelings of a young puppy love at sixteen. These feelings were much stronger.

 We got married, moved to Alaska, and built a family out of our combined five girls. That is another shape of love for our children. The sheer joy of having children is unexplainable and that is another role of love in us as we grow.

 As the years go so quickly by in our marriage, there is another quality of love that has always been there, but has changed through the years. It is this quality of friendship where your spouse becomes your best friend. These feelings of friendship aren’t like falling in love as a teenager or like the passionate love of a young man for a young woman. The friendship just keeps deepening. My wife even quotes me, sometimes!

 And, then the grandchildren come. What can you say except that all grandparents know those feelings towards their grandchildren? The happiness of parenting with not near the work. Spoiling them and then sending them back home with their parents.

 But, life too quickly changes again. For as we age couples learn to nurse and care for their loved ones as age causes illness and disabilities. Some have to place their loved ones in a care facility because they can no longer care for them. The shape of that love has moved far past the passions of before. The shape of love has moved even past the friendship that has deepened through the years. You now have the possibility of loving someone who does not even recognize you because of Alzheimers. That, also, is part of the changing shape of love.

 Then death comes. The house is empty. The shape of love is sometimes a huge hole in our heart…and the memories bring tears. It is then I think of this song…”Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not love, my words are vain, as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.”

 Love, that’s what life is all about. From the moment we are born until the moment we die; every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, and every year, God is trying to teach us one thing. To love as God loves. And the shape of love is always changing. The shape of love is always expanding. Foolish is the person who thinks that they know what love is at fifteen, or twenty-five or fifty-five or even seventy-five, because the shape of God’s love in us is forever expanding and changing in our lives.

 The Apostle Paul wrote some of the most beautiful words about love found anywhere in First Corinthians 13. From the moment you are born until the moment you die; with every second, every minute, every hour, every day, God is teaching you and me the same thing: to be like God, to be the most loving person that God can make of us. That’s what it is all about. If anyone asks you what it is all about, what life is all about, it is about love, learning to love our Lord and each other with the love of God.

 In First John, chapter 4, the author says, “God is love.” That is the first time in the history of the human race that the phrase had ever been said, “God is love.”  I ask you the question, “How did John come to think that?” How did Paul come to write the words in Corinthians?

 I want to try to answer that question. Did John look at the history of the human race and come to that conclusion that God is love? No, it seems to me, if you are looking at human history, all you see is war and killing. Did the Apostle Paul look at Mother Nature and come to the conclusion, love is most important? NO, I think not. You look at nature and its beauty, its mystery, and you can see the creator of the universe understands beauty. But you can’t conclude that God is love because there is too much pain and death in it. Did the author of First John look at other world religions and come to the conclusion that God was love? That’s impossible, look at the Baal worshippers killing babies and animist religions killing young virgins, that’s certainly not love.

 Well, how did John come to the conclusion for the first time in human history that God is love and lead Paul to write those wonderful words in Corinthians? Well, they looked at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They looked at the love in Jesus, for his parents and family, for his disciples, for all the lepers, blind, lame; he looked at the love that caused him to voluntarily die on the cross for other’s sins, not his own. They realized Jesus was the most loving person they had ever seen and his father was so loving of humanity gave his only son for our sins, not his. They saw that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. That Jesus had been raised from the dead and had conquered death itself. He then decided, “Jesus is God. Jesus is love. Therefore, God is love.” Do you see, “If Jesus is God and Jesus is love, then God must be love.” I think that is the way John came to that brilliant, first time ever, conclusion that God is love.

 It is true that the very core of everything is love and that God wants us to grow in love. In the Bible, God does not command us, “grow in intelligence.” If the very core of the universe was intelligence, then God would have said, “Get smarter and smarter.” But God does not say that. If the very essence of the universe was power, then God would be essentially energy and power and God would want us to grow in power. But because the core of the universe is love, and God is love, then God wants us to be like God; to be more loving. God wants us to experience love and grow in love.

 So, let me ask, “What does it mean to experience God, to know God?” I am saying for you to experience God is to experience the love of God. It is to experience love for other people, and often there are many people we would rather not love. When I think of experiencing the love of God, I think of a couple who helps foster children. One of the things they do best is to show those children placed in their home, love. I think of my wife helping our girls through their troubles with great love. I think of another wife who cares for he husband who much of the time doesn’t notice she’s there. I think of parents of a disabled child who care for that child with love into their old age until they can’t do it anymore and have to put them in a care facility. I think of those who work so hard to serve others in Jesus Christ in this church. I think of those who are brave enough to share Jesus Christ with those who do not know him and that is the purest form of human love.

 That is what it means to experience God, to experience love. Love is often hard work. To experience the love of God for others often involves work, exhaustion, and sometimes tears. When you think of your own stories and experiences with love, your stories always involve work, commitment, and often exhaustion. That’s what it often means to love.

 God commands us to love each other. You know, when God commands us to love as God loves, God is commanding us to be the people we were created to be in the first place.

Amen.

Rev. Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor

UMC - Healy, Kansas

 

"Holy Spirit is Here Now”

Luke 4:14-21

January 27, 2019

 The actions recorded in our scripture reading, happened in Synagogues all over Israel and Judea on the Sabbath. Someone would read from the scroll and then talk about the verses they had read. After they read, the speaker would try to apply the scriptures to what was going on in the world. Preaching then, as I think it should now, tried to apply the scripture lesson to the lives of the listeners.

 On this day, Jesus was the reader and the speaker. A synagogue leader handed him the scroll, and Jesus finds the place and reads from the words of the prophet Isaiah…“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

 Then he rolled up the scroll and handed it back. All eyes were on him as the congregation waited for his comments about these words written seven hundred years before, Israel’s promise of the Messiah. They wondered, would he talk about the occupation by Rome and the oppression they lived under. Or, maybe he would talk about his own ministry that is growing and getting lots of attention? No one breathed as they waited for him to speak. What would Jesus, a home town boy say about the coming of the Messiah?

 Jesus might have preached on the wisdom of the prophet. He might have said, "In the past, our parents hoped for a world of justice, freedom, and healing. For fullness of life in a land of milk and honey as God promised Moses." Or he might have talked about the world to come, "We, are all waiting for the fulfillment of these glorious promises! One day, the poor will be lifted up, captives set free, and the blind will see! Oh, how we long for that! How we pray for that!"

 Jesus could have talked about the amazing man Isaiah! Or, he could have told them about the promises of God for a better future. He could have reassured them the kingdom of God is coming, someday! But, he didn’t. Instead, he simply said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

 Many of them thought, “How could he say that the Spirit of the Lord is already HERE?” Who does he think he is, saying, “The poor are hearing the good news, right now, today?” How could he say the prisoners are being released and that, the blind will see, come on? How will the oppressed receive justice while Rome is still beating us down? How can this possibly be the year of Lord's favor? 

 They might have asked, “Have you seen what is going on here in Judea, Jesus? You know how horrible things are under the Romans? Don’t you know there is more brutality, more people in prison, more illness, more violence and more terrorism than Isaiah ever saw in his time? How can the kingdom of God be here, right now? You’re either crazy or a liar, Jesus?

 But, he didn’t, he simply them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Not yesterday, not tomorrow, but, today. They were so angry, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

 I can feel for Jesus, for I knew a preacher who had a family in a congregation he served who wanted to throw him off a cliff. He had the nerve to doubt the Matriarch of that church from what had always been the ruling family of the church and she believed she knew exactly what the church needed…she always knew. Don’t believe, ask her. That preacher had the unmitigated gall to move her off some committees where she had great power. He was crazy enough to doubt her omnipotence. One caring man actually pulled him aside and warned him to not challenge her. He was right about her not taking the challenge well. He was right that she would try to get him thrown off a cliff, but she wouldn’t do it herself, she was above doing the dirty work, she used her minions for that. As it turned out that kind man was right and he was thrown off the cliff and moved on to another church.

 Almost all churches, all over the world hold the past in reverence. While they hope for a future that it will be just like the past. Holding on to the past may take the form of almost worshipping the building, of reminding everyone what had worked in the past and are still doing it, even though it no longer works. While talking about the future is often wrapped up in hopes for salvation and eternal life. People’s desires for prayers to be answered, for the children to hold onto faith, and come back to church. Yes, the past and the future are important to churches who are alive. Honoring our ancestors and embracing a hopeful future is the right thing to do.

 But, falling too much in love with the past and thinking any good that is possible is way in the future, can get us in trouble. When we overemphasize the past, we end up thinking the past is better than anything can ever be today. While putting all our hopes in the future may let us forget what we do or don’t do today is the foundation for the future.

 Unfortunately, the majority of churchgoers in the United States are sentimental for the past and worried about the future. Many believe that "the church’s best days are behind us" and that the future of the church is bleak. While if the future is bleak, it is the people in the pews fault. Many congregations are caught between trying to make the past look better than it was and having little hope the future will be any better. Evidently, many of us would rather look back with sadness at the past, than prepare for and trust a beautiful future is coming. Many end up worshipping the past while mourning that the future will be even worse than today.

 I will never forget the argument over the sign that told what hymns were going to be sung each Sunday at the church I grew up in. Our church had been founded by a group of folks from Arkansas who moved to Eastern Colorado to get their own land to farm. When they came out Aunt Versey, or something like that, had brought an old board with slots for hymn selections from the old church in Arkansas. Now, we all know that signs like that were used in the old days before churches started using bulletins and were no longer needed now that printed bulletins were used. In the same way, I have a feeling Power Point may have begun making bulletins obsolete.

 n our church they had finished repainting and the hymn board hadn’t been put back up. According to some, the world was going to end unless it was returned to its rightful place at the front of the church behind the preacher People were threatening to leave the church over it unless it was put back up and the song numbers were again placed on it. Now, it wasn’t that that board was bad, many people depended on it for knowing the next song…what was wrong with the entire mess was how many felt they could no longer worship in that church if it wasn’t there. Obviously, they were worshipping the past.

 We all need to remember, what we are doing today is building on the work of the past while it is preparing for the future. The past was wonderful when we were raising our kids and serving Christ. But, there is no shortage of children in this town and we need to find ways to get them here. While there are many unchurched people around us and again, what are we doing to get them in church? The future will be good if we are doing what we should be doing today, making new disciples for Jesus Christ. We need to focus on the now and stop leaning on our memories and our dreams as we fully live in Christ, today! The past is often made to sound better than it was, while looking to the future depends upon those who come later to fix everything we have messed up, if we haven’t done our job today. Today, right now, we of the church are supposed to be right in the middle of Christ’s work on earth. Yes, the Kingdom of God is here right now!

 "Today," may be is the most radical thing Jesus said that day. Jesus essentially told his friends, "Look around. See the Spirit of God at work, right here, right now, for, God is with us, now. Just as, our father promised Moses at the burning bush, ‘I will be with you,’ God is here with us today. Just as he was always there, always loving then, God is here with us, right now!”

 Jesus is asking his friends and neighbors to open their eyes, to listen to God's promise to always be with them, while remembering God always keeps his promises, no matter what. But, this was not a call to accept that God is always with us and do nothing else. Instead, it was and still is…a call to look past the sin, injustice, trials, and evils of human life today and notice, really notice, the amazing love and compassion of God, which all of it is built on. If we can see and believe that the power of the love of God is at work in the world right now, our mourning of the past and fear for the future will end. Then we can recognize that in all of these things even in the worst of times…God is with us. Defeating our false beliefs that evil and Satan are winning, the joy of grace, mercy, and the justice of God will come into our hearts and lives. Then our mourning and fear will turn into compassion and love, giving us the power to walk in the way God wants.

 Yes, the Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus. But it was also on each one of his friends and neighbors…if their hearts were open to it. Jesus was one of them, he was fully human and he was and is fully God. By stressing the word "today," Jesus transformed Isaiah's prophecy, into a powerful invitation for them and for us to start a close walk with God and to work for him right now, today. Not next week, not when we’re not as busy, but right now.

 The text might have been read: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and also with you, because he has anointed you and I to bring good news to the poor. He has sent US to proclaim release to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 

 Living in God's promise is not about yesterday. It is not about waiting for the Messiah who will come, but hasn’t yet, that is in the future and we don’t know when. While there are souls to save right now and we can do it if we will finally realize he is with us, right now! Yes, the Lord will return some day, we don’t know when. But, Jesus’ words to the people of Nazareth are to us today and to be lived out NOW! This is a hard truth to hear and receive for some of us. We love to dream of the good old days and hope someone will do the work for God that we have let slide. Jesus' friends refused, will we?

 Many of them stayed mired in their worship of the past and constant worry about the future. Wishing, for the Savior to appear and take them out of the mess they had had a part in making when he was already there! Is that how we sometimes sound? Let’s not do as the people of Nazareth did.

 Today, right now, Jesus' sermon remains as clear and moving, as important and urgent as ever. When he said, “This promise has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is telling us what we need to be doing for God is here, it is right now, the work is to be done, now.

Amen.

Rev Bud Tuxhorn, Pastor

UMC Healy, Kansas

 

“Doubt”

Luke 2:22-40

January 20, 2019

 Our scripture today, tells us about when Simeon and Anna, two servants of God who patiently waited for the Messiah and they finally met him. We hear of their joy when they finally see the promised one of God, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. As I read this passage, I thought about all those years they had waited to see the Messiah. Did they ever wonder if God would ever be faithful to them? Did they ever wonder if they had been lied to, by the teachers in the temple? Did they ever doubt? For it is a fact, doubt comes to all of us.

 There are doubters all through the Bible, just as we sometimes are. I think many of us have our doubts. I think one of those times is with the letdown that comes after the craziness of the holiday season as we worry about the bills and all that’s going on in our crazy world. The crucifixion, and the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ causes some of us to have a little doubt. We sometimes wonder, was Jesus really murdered and did he really come back from the dead? So, I was thinking Simeon and Anna, Thomas, and all the others, I hope talking about them might help us with our own doubt.

 But, maybe doubt isn’t all bad, I think many of our experiences of true joy come after we have had times of doubt, anxiety, and questions without answers. We have times that truly test our faith, like when we lose a loved one or our own health is bad? Or, when we look around us at all the evil in the world and how it seems unstoppable? 

 I think it probably happened to Simeon and Anna. They were human and probably had the same doubts we have. Anyone as joyous as Simeon and Anna over the proof of their faith must have doubted sometime?

 Here are a few of the situations I have seen in church members when they doubted. A young soldier comes home and causes so much trouble the family almost wishes he hadn’t come. My folks never told me, but I wonder if they thought about it. Trouble in a marriage that is covered up until Christmas is over and then it explodes. Or, when we spend much more than we should on Christmas and it still doesn’t give the joy we thought it would.

 Or, in the Easter season we wonder, why God doesn’t give us just a little more confidence in the resurrection. Or, why did God have to sacrifice his only Son to save the world? Sometimes, after Christmas and Easter our doubts are in wondering why the holidays don’t bring joy and peace to the world.

 In our churches we see the letdown form the holidays. I am so happy you are here today, because attendance is almost always down after Christmas. While those who do show up for worship are sometimes so exhausted by the holidays that it is hard for them to open their spirits to the Lord. The credit card statements start arriving, we watch the news, and we really get miserable.

 Yet, Simeon and Anna are joyous. Their long-awaited dreams have come true. I am afraid we sometimes wonder, why don't we feel that way? We see it throughout the Bible. A good example of this is Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas, the disciple of Jesus. He gives us a clear picture of his doubting. He wasn’t there when Jesus made his first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection and he told them he would believe when he saw the risen Lord for himself. He just knew Jesus couldn’t be alive; but, when he saw the resurrected Jesus, he believed.

 Often the first step toward having doubts is in separating ourselves from the people of God. When we decide it’s to stay home on Sunday morning and skip church. When we just didn’t have the energy to get dressed and go or we would have to leave our company to go. Not thinking about the terrible witness we are giving those loved ones we are staying home with.

 When God spoke to Elijah on the slopes of Mt. Sinai, Elijah was told to get back with the faithful of Israel to help him with his own doubts. Once many years ago my men and I had been in a swamp for several hours sneaking up and on some bad guys in a war game. After the successful surprise attack, we had properly kicked some hind end the commander told us as a reward, we would be trucked back to the barracks instead of having to walk the fifteen miles. But, we had to stand and wait on the truck, in the cold February, Georgia rain storm.

 Then I had, what I thought was a great idea. I told my men if we all bunched together we would be warmer. It is true and I didn’t whine at all when they all bunched up tight all around me. Things were going great until one of the guys on the outside realized he was supplying heat for the guys inside of him and he was still freezing on one side and slowly but surely the outside guys started peeling off, so we could all freeze together.

 It is the same way with our faith and the church. We can never be as close to God when we peel away from the people of God, as we can with them. People who say they have a great spiritual life alone without the church are dreaming, it just can’t happen. God gave us the church and the people in it to help us stay strong in our faith.

 I’m afraid, doubt is more an emotion than it is rational thought. Doubt is influenced by our experiences and by the way we feel about life. In fact, many people doubt because it's a good place to hide from the truth. For, as long as we can live in the house of doubt, we don’t have to take responsibility for what we do and then we get to feeling we don’t need to do anything for God, like helping the less fortunate and those who do not know Jesus Christ.

 We all know people who say they don’t believe in God and see no good reason to follow Christ. They have excuses for it too, like bad things that happened to them or their loved ones. They ask, “How could a loving God allow that to happen?” Or, they think because of their science education, they just can’t buy into a virgin birth or a man coming back from the dead. Some will tell you they are a seeker of the truth. But, that they are certain that the truth is not in the Bible and some man named Jesus Christ. I wonder, are they seeking the truth, or are they running away from it? Are they hiding their heart from a spiritual experience that would bring them to faith because they do not want to admit they are wrong? When you say you are seeking, but then decide to say, “No,” to faith…you are hiding from the truth.

 But, despite all this, there is a place in the Christian life for honest doubt. For, doubt is always the starting place for faith. Before Gideon could be used by God, he cried out, "If the Lord is with us, why has this befallen us?" Or Job in his struggle shouted, "I cry unto you and you do not answer." Never forget that on the cross, Jesus shouted, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

 Doubt is like the front porch of the house. We must cross it before we can get into the house. Most of us have cried out, "Lord, I believe. Please, help me in my unbelief." The ability to doubt is one of those things some of us are really good at. Look around you and see the things in our life that should be doubted. The greatest servants have in the face of something universally accepted as true, when they have dared to say, "I doubt that!" Without being able to doubt, there could be no progress, only unquestioned acceptance of what others have said.

 Science used to say the earth was flat and the sun rotated around it. The idea was challenged by a few brave souls. Some of them died for expressing those doubts. We talk about scientific pioneers, but every scientific advance started with doubt.

 Even, Jesus was a doubter. He doubted revenge was the way to go, so he said, "Forgive one another." He doubted the long prayers and rigid laws of Judaism were essential to faith. So he talked about a simple faith of following him. He doubted that the Samaritans were an inferior race. So, he told the parable about the Good Samaritan and the bad priests. Yes, honest doubt is the starting point for faith and strong faith sometimes has to be fought for.

 I have lain awake at night, struggling like Jacob with the angel for what I needed to believe and what to do. The answer has always came to me, but in God's way and in God's own time. Strong faith often has to be fought for.

 We need to remember, there is no such thing as a faith without tears. People who want a faith without tears will find it difficult to adjust to the teachings of the New Testament and real life. I would suggest, “Look your doubts in the eye and doubt them!” This takes courage, but it will stop them from controlling your life.

 I've been a pastor for almost twenty years now and a Christian many more years and I have seen people growing in their faith and others running from it. Once a church member came to my office and asked if we could talk. We talked about him doubting his faith in Christ.

 But, then a lady came in from the church who had terminal cancer, she knew she was getting near her death. Yet, she still had come in to get ready for a potluck dinner. She saw us and came in to talk. She had to sit because she was so weak. She talked about all the blessings of her life, her kids, her grandchildren, and her faith in Jesus Christ. She told us that even though she didn’t have long to live here on earth, she knew she would live forever in heaven, without this stupid cancer. That’s what she called it, “Stupid Cancer”. She told about how she wasn’t happy about leaving, because she had so many things she still wanted to do for her family and her Savior. But, she was joyous that her family was in Christ and she would see them again in heaven.

 After she left the man with the faith problems looked at me and told me, “I think I’m going to look at my relationship with Christ again.” I believe, that woman was sent by God…on that day…to help that man…consider his relationship with Christ? Even at the end of her life she was still working for her Lord and Savior.

 So, we are in the beginning of a new year. Today is a good day…to move from skepticism to faith. It is time to celebrate our doubts and doubt them and see them as a beginning to a deep, abiding, and mature faith in Jesus Christ. Remembering, strong faith, worthwhile faith must always be fought for. Fight for it tooth and nail, for it is worth it.

Amen.

Pastor Bud Tuxhorn

UMC - Healy, Kansas

 

“Remember the Waters”

Luke 3:15-22

January 13, 2019

In my second tour in Alaska I used to love to go out during duck and goose season in a flat bottom duck boat. We would go to the Palmer Hay Flats north of Anchorage. These were salt water mud flats on the North end of Cook Inlet at the mouth of the Knik and the Matanuska Rivers…

 Now to be honest, I didn’t really care if we shot ducks and geese or not, for if you did they had to be cleaned and eaten. The fun, for me was in putting the rented 24 foot flat bottom jet boat in the water and going really fast and since we pulled it with my Blazer, I claimed the driving privileges.

 One of the things you have to learn about in Alaska, if you’re going to run a boat in salt water is about the tides. The tides come up really fast and really high, some places have a fourteen foot change daily in the waterline and they go out just quickly. So, in water that is perfectly safe to go very fast because it is deep, just a short time later the same water becomes very shallow…VERY quickly. You can’t see the bottom near the coast, because the water is so muddy from glacial silt. Kind of a gray color…from all the ground up granite the glaciers make as they move.

 So one Saturday morning we put the boat in the water on the Knik River and we were making the fast run south where we could find some ducks. Did I say, “A really fast run”? My boss and the other guy on the trip decided to sit up front watching for shallow water, I guess I was scaring them a little with my driving. So, we are screaming along as fast as that 65 horse jet motor would go…and we stopped…we just stopped. It was like we hit a wall.

 I flew forward against the steering wheel and guess what happened to the guys in front watching for shallow water? Yep…they went in the water. Now, after the tide had gone out, it was less than a foot deep. But, it was 40 degrees cold, just like all the water in Alaska that isn’t frozen, almost year round. There is something else a person needs to know about salt mud flats. Glacial mud is dangerous. It is like quicksand and when my boss and friend tried to stand up and come BACK to the boat, they sank like rocks in that mud. They both had hip waders on, but the water and the mud was over the top of them quickly.

 They finally had to lay down in the mud and the water to get back to the boat. Of course the boat was going nowhere either. We were getting really cold, but the three of us had to pull the boat off that mudflat. It took us an hour and we were all about frozen. We wondered later if we should have just waited for the tide to come up and lift us off. So, we had to go back to the landing on the Knik River, go to Eagle River and change clothes. When we got back they wouldn’t let me drive the boat when we headed back out after ducks. Why, on earth, would they do that?

 We had a lesson that day on how glacial water can be dangerous. We looked at that great big boat with a sixty five horse motor and we saw safety and security and fun. We thought there was nothing we couldn’t handle. But, then we were reminded, the waters of the Knik River and Cook Inlet and the Palmer Hay Flats are dangerous. They have a power all their own. If you don’t respect that power, you can easily get yourself into trouble. Not only for the water, even the mud, under it, is dangerous.

 Water is dangerous…but it is also important to us, the human body is made up of sixty or seventy percent water. Water transports nutrients to our cells, and removes waste from our bodies. Water helps control our temperature. It’s just a fact, without water, we can’t live. But, even though we need it for life, water doesn’t come without risks. Drowning is one of the primary causes of death. Floods and tsunamis destroy towns and villages, destroying crops, demolishing buildings, causing terrible damage. While people die every day because they don’t have access to clean water. Water where you don’t want it, is always trouble and think of the power of water when you look at the Mississippi and Missouri River? Water is dangerous. No matter how hard we try to control it, it goes where it wants to go. Look at our levy systems, when the water decides to top them or wash them away, it just does as it pleases as the Corps of Engineers stand and watch.

 Well, the dangers of the water don’t change when we talk about the waters of baptism. Oh, the water sitting here in the baptismal is nice and quiet and safe looking. But, there is power there and it is a power that we can’t see, we can only feel the power of the Holy Spirit. The power of Baptismal water is a power which marks us and claims us for Jesus Christ. We are filled with the presence of God’s Spirit and grace. In our Baptism we are given work to do for the Lord that cannot ever be hidden from. No matter how much we think we control our own lives, our lives will never be the same.

 We should never think our baptism is safe and what we have to do for our Lord is over. For, the Spirit of God isn’t a nice safe house to hide in.  When we are claimed by the waters of baptism, we aren’t sent out on a safe and gentle stream. No, the journey of faith is a rushing river, full of rapids and shoals, glacial mud flats, and tides, when we are called to do the Lord’s work.  But, we won’t have to do them alone, for God’s Spirit will always be with us as our guide. The Lord pushes and pulls us one way or the other to get us where he wants us, but it isn’t always safe. It is only when we followers of Christ work together and listen to our guide, Jesus Christ, we can accomplish what we are called to do.

 Jesus knew all this when he went to the Jordan to see John. John was calling folks to repent, turn back to God, and be cleaned up by baptism. But Jesus didn’t need cleaning up. John knew Jesus didn’t need it. He also knew he wasn’t worthy to do it, but Jesus had him do it anyway.

 Jesus understood baptism wasn’t about what we do. No, it’s about what God is going to do in us through baptism. Jesus showed us that baptism is about claiming our adoption as God’s children and being initiated into the family of God as God claims us as His own.

 It isn’t safe for us and it wasn’t safe for Jesus, either. Jesus knew what was going to happen when that water touched Him. Jesus knew that His baptism would set Him against Satan and the world. He knew that the waters were dangerous, he even knew His baptism was going to lead to his death on a cross.

 But all that didn’t matter to Him, he did it anyway for our sins not his. For in these dangerous waters, in the mud flats with the fast moving tides it was and is the only hope for the world. A hope that still comes to us today when we claim our inheritance and remember our baptism.

 Friends, today when we remember our baptism and give thanks to God for it. We are again committing ourselves to a life where we give up control and give our all to God. In our church we call baptism and Holy Communion sacraments. The word comes from when a Roman soldier pledged his loyalty and obedience, they said he was making a “sacramentum”.

 In the same way, as we renew our baptismal covenant as we remember our baptism we need to be willing to give up the comfort and control we think we have. We need to turn ourselves over to our Creator who calls us to be more than we ever thought we could be. To be baptized is to be called by God to be a follower of Jesus Christ. While knowing, the road with Jesus sometimes leads to crosses. Yes, these waters are dangerous, but they shouldn’t be feared. For when these waters touch our souls and our lives, when the Spirit of God comes into us. It reminds us we are children of God, called to lead the world to Jesus Christ and that no matter what happens in this world, our Lord will catch us and bring us to him.

 The river of life in Christ is not safe. But God is with us, and we share together the mark of baptism in Jesus Christ that binds us together. Baptism is also a public act of the church when the congregation pledges allegiance to God and to each other. This power is the exact same power that parted the seas for Moses and calmed the waves for Jesus. Now, that’s real power.

 The waters of our baptism are to run through our lives, carving out a spot in our hearts, a spot which can only be filled with the love of Jesus Christ our Savior. It grows with time and experience, as God’s people gather together at the river to remember just what God has given us. These waters that seem so gentle in this baptismal are filled with power. A transforming power changing us and preparing us for a lifetime of witnessing for Jesus Christ.

 In a moment, we will come forward to touch the waters and hear God’s voice speak to us personally. To those of us who have already been baptized, I invite you to come and touch the waters and remember your baptism. As you open your heart to God’s call in your life.

 To those who have not yet experienced the healing waters of baptism, we invite you to come also, come and touch the water as you look forward to your own baptism. When we are baptized we have taken God’s mark to proclaim our faith in Christ to the world and it is not supposed to be kept private. I hope you look forward to the day you want to declare Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and be baptized. We could even do it today. But, please feel free to come and touch the waters. Open your heart as you listen for God’s call on you.

 For all of us remember there is power in these waters. They aren’t safe, they don’t mean nothing. When we accept the water s of Christ we are initiated into Christ’s world of obedience and sometimes that’s not safe. While at the same time these waters have the power to heal all wounds.

 Come to the place where the healing waters flow. The current is sometimes strong, but God is always with us. Come and see and know the wonderful power of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Pastor Bud Tuxhorn

UMC - Healy, KS