Count It A Blessing
Acts 1:6-14; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11; John 17:1-11
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 24, 2020 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
Do not complain about the hardships that come to you in this life, Peter writes to us today. Count it a blessing when you suffer for your faith. This is evidence that you have a living and vibrant faith.
So we come to this moment of trial in our community with a special gift to share with everyone who knows us or comes to meet us.
We look ahead and not behind. We look up and not down. We seek solutions and not blame. We are drawn together by the challenges of our time…not driven apart.
We come from different places. We have arrived in different ways…with different talents. But we know that we are one with each other and one in the Spirit he gave us and one in ministry to all the world..
We are in it together…with each other…and with Christ. We have seen…again…there is a power in doing good for the sake of doing good.
We know there will be challenges and disappointments…maybe even setbacks. But we serve a good and loving God who wants the best for each of us…and all of us…so we seek what is best for each other…and for the earth.
The disciples had been through the mill. Their hopes had become a puddle on the floor in the middle of the room. They hid with each other from what might happen to them.
But then the risen Christ appeared to them…was suddenly in their midst…and they remembered the great thing they had in common: Faith in Jesus and an understanding of the power he had left with us in the Holy Spirit.
We will share the story of Pentecost next week, but already we can see in today’s reading that the timid have become fearless. If they had to deny that the greatest thing that ever happened to them was true…in its pain and its glory…then it would be as if they had never lived.
They accepted the gift and found it was a challenge as well. They came to understand that everyone was watching them to see if they spoke of their Master now, or if they would hide forever and fade away.
Was this the great event their whole nation had been waiting for for 500 years? Or had it just been a road trip gone bad?
We read their answer to that question. They stayed together in spite of the danger in being identified with one another. They stayed together because the whole world needed the gift they had been given.
And neither before or after they saw Jesus after his death and resurrection, did they complain. This is common among people who go through a great trial together.
Stephen Ambrose, speaking of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, said that the most amazing thing about the trip was that no one complained and no one questioned the Captains.
To complain was to die. The stakes were too great and the hazards too voracious for them to fight with each other. They had their hands full without it and they needed each other…every one of them…to stay alive in a land that had no roads…no railroads…no trails or towns…all it had was rivers…with danger on either bank.
Our service members understand this today. They serve in more places than our armed forces have ever served before. The conflicts are more local than general, but they go through a tour of duty always on their guard, as Peter counsels us to do, and they cannot be sure who is their friend and who might do them harm.
We have lived in peace, abundance and security in this country all my life. My parents remembered the Depression and somehow they survived World War II, but they never knew a Pandemic.
I feel closer to them these days because of the problem we are facing, but it is different than the ones they had to stare down. It is intangible, invisible, and harder to fight…because we aren’t using our hands or our physical strength… we have to use our minds…and our spirits…the wisdom God has given us and the grace Jesus has shown us.
It is a time we instinctively know that we need to show each other kindness. It is a time when we feel a need to be together…even though this virus insists upon keeping us apart…that we slow down and spend time thinking things through …one layer at a time.
I know we will come out of all this stronger. We will not take so much for granted. We will understand the power of acting humbly in the face of an unknown threat. And we will understand what is important like we have never understood it before …and how important we are to each other…how much we can miss each other.
This is a gift. We have been privileged to look at the world in as clear a light as any generation. We need to be present…to be awake… as much as any generation in history.
And let us consider what people have accomplished when the job was huge but unavoidable…like the challenged the disciples faced.
Sir Isaac Newton had been sent home from school at Cambridge in 1665 because of the general threat to public health the Great Plague posed to all humankind.
He had been an undistinguished as a student in classes at Cambridge, but Newton's private studies during the two years he was home, he developed his theories on calculus, optics, and the law of gravitation.
When the bubonic plague closed all the public places in London in 1606, Shakespeare whiled away his time in quarantine by writing King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra.
It was during the plague that he wrote these immortal words:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time,/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.
Now, that sounds like someone who understands the hardships of a hard shut down. It also sounds like someone who has had to sit and think about what is important and what is not…and has accepted the lesson…has opened himself to the lesson…because he needed to understand it…in his soul.
Samuel Pepys diary, one of the world’s great feats of literature gave us a clear and detailed picture of how that same plague moved so quickly through London and why it was so devastating.
It appears, then, that a natural adversity, like a plague, can shape a person’s character in eternally important ways…and open our understanding of life as it really is in ways we cannot see when we are focused on the way we wish it was.
John Wesley lived in England in the 1700s and he was as frustrated with his life as anyone who had to sit out a quarantine. The son and grandson of Anglican clergymen, he had a consuming belief that he had been set aside for some great purpose.
But when his mission to the Georgia colony to serve as the chaplain ended in disarray and he could not get a pulpit or professorship back in England, he had to sit and think about something that was more important than he was.
The one thing he wanted more than any other was an assurance that Jesus loved him and he was saved from the wrath to come. He ministered to the poor and spoke one day in the middle of his spiritual quest to a condemned prisoner about the promise of salvation.
The guy ‘got’ it. He understood that he, even he, was saved and he went peacefully and even a little joyfully to the gallows.
This thoroughly confused Wesley. He was the one who had told the prisoner the story of salvation. The prisoner had found peace and strength in what Wesley had told him…but Wesley did not know the peace the prisoner had. How could he get from me, he wondered, what I don’t know myself.
This was an important time for the great man and he did much study… of the Bible and other works…and engaged in a lot of research on his own.
He had been impressed by the Moravians who were on the ship with him as he had crossed from England to Georgia. They had to go through a terrible storm on the way and while everyone else was fearful and desperate, the Moravians remained calm, peaceful…even joyful…as they read scriptures and sang hymns.
How did they do it? Wesley wondered if this was at the core of the secret strength of faith they so clearly had.
He got up in the morning with this question in his mind…walked around with it all day…and laid down with it at night.
Then one night, on May 24, 1738 …282 years ago today…he was invited to a house on Aldersgate Street and while someone was reading from Martin Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was "strangely warmed". Here are the words he used to describe it in his diary:
“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
He asked for understanding…for the power to possess that peace and wield it like a shepherd’s crook. Instead, he learned to trust…to put his life in the hands of another… one he knew would never harm him and could save him from all harm.
The rest is the history that resulted in a church being built and rebuilt and rebuilt again on this spot on a hill above the bay in Bigfork, Montana.
And so, we are not called to understand and control the world we are living in…We are called to accept the love that God wants us to have…just accept it…just know that you are special and unique and able to heal and encourage and lift the spirits of everyone you know and everyone you meet.
These are not easy times. They are great times…and they call us to be great in a way that the only way any generation has ever found greatness. By humbling ourselves and doing the work set before us.
Finding the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, having the courage to change the things we can, and humbling ourselves enough that we might see the difference…and know the assurance that we are loved and able pass along that love to our family…our friends…and to those we meet…here or there…now or then…in situations that might make it obvious what we need to do…and situations where we don’t know what to do…May others find peace and joy and hope in whatever it is we are doing because it comes from one far greater, deeper, wiser and more powerful than anyone we have ever known.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.