“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

There is an antidote to fear, and it’s faith, as we learn in Matthew 8:23-27. It’s a good lesson as many in America celebrate Independence Day.

As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?”

On this American Independence Day, this Fourth of July by its other name, this may be a very suitable passage of the Gospels for reflection. America is very deeply divided politically. There are ominous signs on the horizon for where the country is headed. The darkness at the end of the tunnel, to mix metaphors, reaches beyond America’s shores as other countries reflect on the nation’s leadership and the direction it appears to be taking not only for America but for the world. Many in America and, indeed, the world are crying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” If they are praying.

Jesus would admonish them with, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Not because they have nothing to fear, but because you have it within you to do something. Jesus teaches us that we have the power of prayer to the Father, which if we ask in Jesus’ name the Father will answer.

America has many issues before it which vex its people. Income inequality. Homelessness. Joblessness. Health care access and affordability. Housing access and affordability. Climate change. Voting rights. Civil rights. Minority rights. Sexual orientation rights. Pay equity. A living wage. Minimum wage. Pro-life versus Pro-choice. Environmental protection. Vaccination rights. Increasing road rage. Civility on social media and on the streets. Terrorism from abroad and from within. Immigration policy. The list goes on and on. And they all create fear in the citizenry. Again, Jesus would admonish them that they have the power of prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name.

By his example, Jesus also teaches us that we can do more than pray. We can DO. Jesus didn’t just pray to heal people, he touched them and healed them himself. He didn’t just pray to calm the seas, he “rebuked the winds and the sea” creating a great calm. He took action in addition to praying. And Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospels that with strong faith we can move mountains. It is your faith that healed you.

So Jesus’ lesson for Americans celebrating Independence Day this day is that we should reject fear and do two things: Pray to the Father in Jesus’ name for help and take proactive steps to solve the problems.

From a psychological perspective, feeling in control of a situation helps stave off fear. Taking action helps give us a feeling of being in more control. And praying should be a part of that process, which gives us hope and confidence.

When you feel overwhelmed or under assault, don’t go into flight mode, go into fight mode. Heed Jesus’ words. “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then pray and take action. Fear is our worst enemy, but we don’t have to let it win.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you”

There is power in faith, as we learn in Matthew 8:5-17.

When Jesus entered Capernaum,
a centurion approached him and appealed to him, saying,
“Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully.” 
He said to him, “I will come and cure him.”
The centurion said in reply,
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof;
only say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man subject to authority, 
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him,
“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west,
and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven,
but the children of the Kingdom
will be driven out into the outer darkness,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
And Jesus said to the centurion,
“You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.”
And at that very hour his servant was healed.

Jesus entered the house of Peter,
and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
He touched her hand, the fever left her,
and she rose and waited on him. 

When it was evening, they brought him many
who were possessed by demons,
and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick,
to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

He took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you,” says Jesus. I’ve read that somewhere else in the Gospels. Also, “It is your faith that has saved you.” Faith. In this case, it was a Roman centurion who had faith. And Jesus pointed out, it was a Roman centurion, normally an enemy of the Jews, who had a greater faith than the Jews whom Jesus had come to save.

Faith plays a huge role in healing. Think of the woman in the crowd following behind Jesus who touched His garment. Think of the blind man on the side of the road as Jesus passed by. Think of the leper who was among the many lepers that Jesus sent to cleanse themselves in the pool and was the only one to return to Jesus. All were people of faith whom Jesus cured because of their faith or said they were cured because of their faith.

Jesus also said that if we had faith but the size of a mustard seed we could command mountains to move. The power of faith. To cure, to move mountains.

What else might we be able to do if we had faith — true faith? Solve world hunger? Prevent holocausts? Eliminate war? Bring about lasting peace?  Find shelter for the homeless, maybe even create jobs at a living wage so many of the homeless could find shelter for themselves? Conquer cancer and mental health issues? Embrace others who are different from us? These are pipe dreams for a secular world, but what if they were achievable for people of real faith.

In faith, there is hope. In faith, there is charity. In faith, there is love. In true faith.

“As you have believed, let it be done for you.” What do you believe?

Glory to God!

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged”

Are there not enough judges in the world? In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus tells us not to be one more in the crowd.

Jesus said to his disciples:
Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

This is probably the hardest of all Jesus’ commands, to not judge others. It is inherent in our make up as humans. It is part of learning how to get along with others, judging how they will treat us; part of viewing relationships and anticipating fight or flight responses. But Jesus teaches us, we must overcome the tendency to judge the character and flaws and motives of others, assuming ourselves to be superior. The consequence is, as we judge them, so we will be judged. First, He says, judge ourselves; look for our own character and flaws and motives, our own impediments and inferiorities, before looking for those of others. It’s another way of saying, let he who is not a sinner cast the first stone.

We all judge others, to one degree or another. It’s a struggle not to. We just need to remember that God is watching us and will judge us based on our response on our final day. No one said it would be an easy command to follow, like giving up our wealth or loving our enemy. But it is the price of being a Christian. The price of love.

We live in a world full of judges. One less in each of us will make this a better world, a world more full of the love Jesus called on us to be.

“Fear no one”

In Matthew 10: 26-33, Jesus has sent the Twelve throughout Israel and He tells them to trust the Father.

Jesus said to the Twelve:
Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus is sending the Twelve into the villages and towns of Israel to teach and do His good works. He has told them how travel, how to live, and how to preach. At close to the end of the chapter, He tells them, “Fear no one.” Of all the bad things that can happen, of all the powers that can be, nothing and no one is more powerful than God, and he loves you — he loves you so much he knows every hair on your head. What’s more, Jesus himself will account for the faithful before the heavenly Father. So, don’t be afraid; trust in the love of God.

We live in a time of fear. Fear is stoked, for many reasons. We are told to fear each other and all others; they are rapists and cheaters and conspirators and sinners, we are told. Only “we” are righteous and pious, they tell us — just trust “us”. But that is not the message that Jesus teaches us. God loves and protects us.

In many other places in the Gospels, Jesus teaches us not to fear. Not to judge others. Not to condemn others. Rather, to love and embrace others, even to love and pray for our enemies. To love our neighbors as ourselves.

Fear is a powerful force. If we give in to fear, it is a destabilizing and paralyzing force. That’s not what God wants for us. God wants us to go out into the world and share His love, His compassion, and His mercy. He doesn’t want us to fear.

Fear no one. Go forth with the love of God. Glory be to God!

“Your light must shine before others”

In the Gospels, we read of Jesus speaking to the disciples. But his message is also to us. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus tells us to be a light to the world, to shine before others to glorify the heavenly Father.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

“You are the light of the world,” says Jesus. “Your light must shine before others.” Don’t hide it, let your light – your goodness, your righteousness – shine that others may see it. Not for your glory, but to “glorify your heavenly Father.”

Jesus cautions us on how to be righteous. Not to parade it before others for our own sake. For instance, not to pray in public for our own adoration, not to seek out the seat of honor as guest at someone’s dinner, not to do good works for the sake of being seen to do good works. Rather, we are to do what we do for the glory of God — let Him take our good works on and make of them as He will. As Jesus commanded, help those in need, without boasting or taking credit, and let the credit go to God. Our reward will be in heaven.

There need not be the poor, the homeless, the sick, the hungry. God created the many, each with abundant gifts to share. When we share the gifts that God gave us, we are doing God’s work. To Him be the glory for His creation, the light of the world.

Jesus was speaking to the disciples, but He was also speaking to us. We are to be the light Jesus sends out into the world. Let us go out into the world in His name that others may know Him and His love, His mercy, His compassion. And the love, compassion, and mercy of His heavenly Father.

Jesus sent out His disciples with these words: Peace be with you. Go out now with His peace to light up the world. Shine with the glory of God.

 

“Whoever believes in him will not be condemned”

You keep saying you believe, but it may not mean what you think it means. Here is what John 3:16-18 has to say.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

It is a beautiful gift, God giving His only Son to save the world. And all the world has to do is believe in Him. Sounds simple enough. There are those in the world who believe that’s all that’s required, that you simply believe — end of story, you’re saved. And there are plenty of stories in the Gospels in which someone believed and his faith has cured him or her. Or is that what really happened?

A woman followed Jesus in a crowd and touched His garment. Her faith saved her and she was cured. But it wasn’t just her belief. She worked at it. She followed Him. She reached out. She dared to actually touch His garment.

A blind man heard Jesus approach and cried out for His help. The crowd told Him to be quiet but he persisted, crying out again. And again. And Jesus came over to him and cured him for his faith. He came to Jesus, he persisted, he called out.

Our belief requires anact of faith. Some say acts aren’t enough. But the Gospels show mere belief isn’t enough, either. So what is belief?

For the good Samaritan, belief was stopping and helping the battered man along the side of the road. For the prodigal son, it was giving up the wanton life and returning to his father; for his father, it was forgiving his son who was lost; for his brother, it was softening his heart for his disloyal brother who now has returned to the family. These, of course, are parables, but they are examples that Jesus gave us of people living in faith.

Belief is not just acknowledging Jesus’ existence and His divinity, but acting on his teachings and commandments. It is feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, providing for the poor, visiting the prisoner, giving succor to the widow and the orphan, making up with your neighbor or brother who has wronged you, making peace with your enemy, and above all loving God with all of your heart, mind, and soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself. And it is taking in God’s love and sharing it with others. Belief isn’t a spectator sport, as they saying goes; belief is a full-contact sport.

We live in troubled times and in troubling times. There seems to be far too little acting on belief and far too much “I believe now let me get on with my life.” There is no get out of jail for free card. God did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it. Saving it requires the world take part in its belief. You say you believe; act like it.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”

This day in the Gospels, Jesus filled His disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them out into the world, as we learn in John 20:19-23.

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

This is Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the occasion when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit among His followers, then His disciples into the world.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the witness say, “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” And in First Corinthians, Paul says, “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

Normally, I quote only from the Gospels, but I want to give you some sense of what it means to be be filled with the Holy Spirit. Through His Holy Spirit, God gives each of us gifts or powers and empowers us to do His good work.

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus fills the disciples with the Holy Spirit and then sends them forth to use these gifts, these powers, to do His works. In his words, He gives them the power, the gift, to forgive or hold bound sins. In the Acts of the Apostles, He gives them the gift of tongues to go out and spread the Gospels to every corner of the world. I envision that Jesus also gives them the gift of healing and consoling and doing all manner of other miracles.

On this Pentecost Sunday, Jesus sends us His Holy Spirit. Open your heart to Him. Do you feel the power of God like tongues of fire? Do you feel it fill you with love and the desire to serve God and, thus, serve others?

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” God has given you a gift, a power, to do His good works. It’s unique to you. Perhaps it is sharing Jesus’ Gospel, but perhaps it is sharing his love. Or healing the pains or sorrows or illness of another. Maybe you are wealthy and it is finding a way to share some of that wealth for the good of others. Maybe it is speaking up for others. Or it could be as simply as healing an old wound among friends or family. Think of the works that Jesus did in the Gospels. Think of the lessons He has taught us. How can you share His love in serving others?

Receive the Holy Spirit and go out into the world and serve in His name.