Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jesus or a Comfortable Life?

[This was shared during both of today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41
In today’s Gospel lesson (and really in all our Bible lessons for today as well), Jesus confronts us with a simple question: Do we want Him or do we want to be comfortable? 

Do we want the God we meet in Jesus Christ or do we want easy, trouble-free lives? 

Some of the hucksters on TV sell a brand of Christianity that tells us if we believe in Jesus and stay positive, we’ll be flush with cash, healthy, and successful. 

The problem, of course, is that Jesus never promises any of this to those who follow Him.

Jesus does promise wonderful things. 

He promises that when we repent and believe, we will be part of the Kingdom of God

He promises that when we trust in Him as the only Son of God and the only way to reconciliation to God, we will have everlasting life with God

Believers in Jesus know that we have the presence and guidance of God with us in this life

He will give weary souls rest

He will be with His people always, even to the close of the age

Christ’s people have the hope of the life for which we are made--a life which at present we can only see as through a mirror dimly, a resurrected life in which tears are dried, bodies restored, work is meaningful,* and joy is complete.

But not once does the God we know in Jesus Christ promise that following Him will make us comfortable in this world. 

Not once does He say that decisions will be easy. 

Not once does He say problems will go away. 

Not once does He say that the life of discipleship--of following Him, of sacrificing ourselves and our own comfort out of love and worship for God and out of love for neighbors--those we can see and those we can’t see--will be easy. 

In fact, Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our first lesson for today comes to us from the Old Testament book of Job. It’s thought to be the oldest book in the Bible, recounting events that took place long before Abraham. In it, a man who strives to follow God, who repents not only for his own sins, but also those of his children, is struck down by many of the horrors that the world and the devil can bring to human beings. 

All his property and livestock are destroyed. 

All his children are killed. 

He is stricken with a horrible disease, his body covered with open sores. 

Job had worshiped God and played by the rules. But in one fell swoop, his whole world was decimated. 

Following God had not brought Job a comfortable life. 

Through much of the book that bears his name, Job's friends try to tell their suffering friend that had he been more faithful, these bad things wouldn’t have come to him. He insists he doesn’t deserve his suffering and angrily challenges God to explain Himself. 

At the end of the book, God chastises Job’s so-called friends. Faith in God isn’t a pass to easy street and Job’s distress wasn’t caused by Job being sinful. 

But, as we can see from our first lesson, neither does God explain Job’s suffering. 

Job suffered in spite of being a follower of God because we live in a fallen world in which bad things happen even to faithful people.

In our second lesson, written in about 55 AD, the apostle Paul recounts some of the suffering he underwent not in spite of following and proclaiming the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus, but because he followed and proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus. Paul said that he and his ministry team commended themselves to people in the church at Corinth precisely because they had endured calamities for the sake of their faith in the God we know through Jesus.

He writes:  “ servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” 

Believers in Jesus are called to keep following Jesus even when it’s inconvenient, painful, challenging, uncomfortable. 

When it commands sacrifice. 

When it threatens our reputations, our financial security, our lives. 

Jesus calls us to choose between life with Him and being comfortable.

He does this emphatically in our Gospel lesson, Matthew 4:35-41. 

The incident narrated here comes right after Jesus gives a series of parables describing what the Kingdom of God, the kingdom He is going to die and rise to bring into being. It all begins with a command, which Jesus disciples obey. “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” 

Of course, when Jesus issued His command to the disciples, they probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Most of them were experiences fishermen accustomed to plying the Galilean waters at night, as He was now commanding them to do at sundown. 

Following Jesus may often seem a simple thing, comfortable. We don’t know what storms may lay ahead

You know what happens next. Verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” 

We Christians ask a version of that question every time adversity strikes, every time Jesus calls us to do hard things we’d rather not do, uncomfortable things: forgive someone who has hurt us; confront a fellow believer with a hard truth; give sacrificially. “Lord,” we wonder, “don’t you care if we drown? Don’t you care if we lose our comfort? Don't you care if what you're calling me to do could result in killing my reputation, killing my investment portfolio, kill my health, kill me?”

Jesus' answer, quite frankly, is, “No.” The God Who tells us that "whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it," the God Who went to a cross to bear our sins cares more about our character than our comfort

He cares more about our learning to follow Him faithfully than He does about our ease. Our ease can come in eternity. 

For now, our call is to follow even in the darkest, most difficult times.

Verse 39: “He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” 

When storms come, we wonder how we can survive. We forget that nothing can separate those who trust in Him from the love God gives through Jesus Christ. Nothing.

A young woman, a member of our church in Cincinnati, was dying. She and her husband had two young children. She gave her testimony of faith during worship one Sunday. This was in 1999. She talked about all the things she hoped to be able to see in this world: her children grown, the new millennium. She knew that she might not see any of these earthly hopes come into being. And it saddened her. She tried to understand. Yet she also told us that she was confident that the Lord Who was leading her through her darkest valley would not only lead her to Himself, but also lead her children. She said that she knew that Christ's Church in which her children were baptized would faithfully share Christ with them, forge their characters by the power of the Holy Spirit, and help them to know the eternity of hope we have in Jesus Christ.

After Jesus had sternly spoken to the disciples, they contemplated in awe-filled fear, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him?” The answer can be found all through Scripture. But I mention just two places. 

In Psalm 104:7, the psalmist confesses of God, “ your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight…” 

Genesis 1:1 tells us that God the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of primordial chaos and brought into being peace, order, and life.

The One Who calmed the storm that so frightened the experienced fishermen sailing with Jesus that night was and is God Himself.

Storms, challenges come and go in this life. 

Jesus will sometimes ask us to do things, to endure things, to sacrifice things, which in our own power, we are incapable of doing. 

But, listen: Whenever we can’t, God can

And after the storm, the God we know in Jesus Christ still stands

And so do all who put their faith in Him

They’re the ones who were more concerned with following Jesus than with being comfortable. I pray each day that God will forge me to be one of their number.

What storms are you going through today? 

What is Jesus asking you to do that you don’t believe can be done? 

Is there a comfortable sin for which you need to repent? 

Follow Jesus and let the One Who can still our storms see you through. Amen

*Work is not a punishment for human sin, as some suppose. Human beings, created in the image of God, are meant to share in His work. But after the fall into sin and the world's subjection to futility, work was marred, along with all human enterprises, by futility. In eternity then, God's resurrected people will be restored to our full function in the new creation and once again fulfill our calling to manifest God's image in work marked by purpose, joy, and fulfillment.

No comments: