Monday, April 24, 2017

Prayer: Shine Upon Me

"Shine Upon Me"

Let Your face shine upon me.
I feel Your everlasting Love radiant
upon the skin of my soul.

Your continued faithfulness
washes over me
encircles and enfolds me
like the curling waves.

Your radiant love sparkles
upon those waters
that wash over my feet.

The waters of baptism are
dancing joyfully in your creation
and in what You are creating in me.

Wash away anything that hinders me
from being built up in Your faithfulness.

Fill me with life-giving strength
that I may dance in Your holy mystery.
CMO/ 4-19-2017

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sermon: Blindfold Faith

"Blindfold Faith"
John 20: 19-31; 1 Peter 1: 3-9
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Second Sunday of Easter
April 23, 2017

When it was evening on that [Easter] day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
- John 20: 19-31

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
- 1 Peter 1: 3-9

Every year this congregation celebrates the gift of God’s love with the Valentine’s Dinner. One of the games our children play on that night is “Pin the Lips on the Face.” It is a spin-off of that childhood favorite “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.”

Each player must have a blind fold covering their eyes. The handkerchief is tied snugly with no spaces to peek. The children are turned around a few times. And then they are instructed to take a step forward to pin a mark of love.

We love to cheer on the children as they fumble and blindly reach towards the target. There is always plenty of encouragement and applause given to every player. And of course the winner gets the prize. I am always amazed at a child’s intuition to trust their instincts in the game.

Faith is like walking around with a blind fold covering our eyes. Just like the children’s game, we try to resist relying on our sight alone. Walking by faith and not by sight is hard.

God was teaching the disciples how to do this. As Easter Sunday faded into twilight, the disciples were unsettled. Easter interrupted their lives and met them in their unfinished faith, as I preached last Sunday. The disciples hid in the upper room with all their uncertainties.

According to John’s Gospel only Peter and John had seen the empty tomb. The disciples feared what all this resurrection business meant going forward. How would it actually affect them? Would they see resurrection in their lives?

And yet the Risen Christ walked through their locked doors. The peace of Christ embraced the disciples’. Our Savior breathed calm into their internal chaos of questions and fears. The Lord appeared and showed the disciples his marks of love.

The marks on his hands and his side proclaimed the promise of Emmanuel – God with us – in the highs and lows of humanity. For it is by his wounds that we know the joy of God’s salvation.

It was in the upper room that Christ created a space for the disciples to experience all this. And they rejoiced in the miracle of Easter as we did last Sunday.

But Thomas was the odd man out. He was not there when the Risen Christ first appeared. Thomas said, “Unless I see I will not believe” (John 19:25). Thomas was saying - Unless I see with my eyes the marks of love I will not be able to walk by faith.

Thomas did not have a sense of peace and he did not hesitate to voice it. Thomas gives us permission to wrestle with the blindfold of faith.

Many of us are like Thomas. In this season of Eater many of us feel like the odd man out too. Our situations seem bigger than the work God can do in them, especially when we feel we have not personally seen Jesus’ marks of love. The refrain of Easter Hallelujahs begins to fade into the places of our lives that are still restless and weary for new life.

It is hard to walk by faith and not by sight.

It is hard for our children and youth to overcome the peer pressures of school, social media and the push to academically perform. They long to be accepted for who they are; to know they are more than a snapchat thread or test score.

It is hard for our young adults to face uncertainties the future holds. They long to know the right decision to develop their talents in a sea of choices; to know who God is creating them to be.

It is hard for our families whose loved ones are tangled in situations where prayers have not yet been answered. They long to know that God is intervening; to know God will calm the chaos.

It is hard for our aging members to gracefully adapt to the changes life brings in the normal wear and tear of our bodies. They long to know their contributions are still valued; to know others still see their vibrancy and not their limitations.

Telling the truth about ourselves honors the footsteps of our faith. We all stumble and fumble to take the next right step forward. When we do not have a sense of peace then it can be hard to trust God.

But peace is not the absence of conflict or struggle. Peace is a faithful response to our unfinished places. The Risen Christ empowers and equips us with this response of peace. Jesus breathes the peace of the Holy Spirit into our lives. God’s Spirit promises to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

Walking by faith and not by sight is hard but God is teaching us how to do this. Jesus says “Blessed are those who have not seen with their own eyes and yet have come to believe – to trust” God is at work (John 20:29). God shows us the way, the truth, and the life of believing when we have not seen.

Jesus Christ is the way. He embodies the journey of faith that is created by growing relationships with God and one another.

The Risen Lord is the truth. His ministry, death, and new life hold the spiritual reality that all things work together for the good of God’s purposes.

Our Savior is the life. He breaks through the closed doors of our faith to open our hearts and minds to experience God’s abundant mercy and grace.

As the trials of life spin us around, our faith is stretched to become more genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). That happens in the spiritual reality of community. Just as Thomas had to come back into the fold of the disciples to see the marks of Jesus’ love in his life, so it is for us.

We need to hear the community of faith encourage our faith instincts to navigate through our unfinished places. The community helps us to spiritually see Jesus’ marks of love.

That youth who struggles to know acceptance was approached by a member after worship with the words, “You are such an amazing child of child and I am proud of you.” That youth saw Jesus’ marks of love.

That young adult who is searching for the right decision took a risk to trust another with the details of a new opportunity. Together they began to discern the nudges of the Holy Spirit. That young adult saw Jesus’ marks of love.

That family who questions if God is intervening received the gift of a friend who was willing to sit in the silence. No pat answers were given; just a shoulder to lean on and prayers that did not cease. That family saw Jesus’ marks of love.

That saint of the church who is struggling to age gracefully experienced a surprise visit from a youth. Together they sat sharing stories about the crazy teenage years. They laughed at their common bonds. They saw a wild and precious life in one another. That saint saw Jesus’ marks of love.

The marks of Jesus’ love reorient us in the affirmation that God will bring to completion the work he lovingly began in us. The scars on Jesus’ hands and side proclaim God is with us in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in life. It is by his wounds that we are receiving the joy of God’s salvation. Each step of faith is an act of resistance to rely on human sight alone.

Walking by faith and not by sight is hard but God is teaching us how to do it.

The outcome of our faith brings a growing peace as Christ marks us with genuine love. In turn God creates opportunities for us to see Jesus’ marks of love through others. This increases our trust of seeing God at work in the world and in the more intimate places of our lives. And it moves us to extend the peace of Christ to another.

Peace allows our blindfold faith to hold fast to what is good, to care for one another with mutual affection, to rejoice in hope, to be patient in suffering, to persevere in prayer, and to serve the Lord (Romans 12:-9-12). May it be so for you and for me, for we are Easter people.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Easter Sermon: Go Quickly!

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24 ; Matthew 28: 1-10
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Easter Sunday
April 16, 2017

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!

Let Israel say,
‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
- Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
- Matthew 28: 1-10

They were relieved to see the coming of the dawn in light of all they had experienced. The past three days had been haunting. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of Jesus, had watched Jesus suffer on the cross of Good Friday from a distance.

The intensity grew. Creation had been eagerly waiting for that very moment of liberation; the earth quaked in response as Jesus gave up his spirit (Romans 8:20-21). The temple curtain tore in half and God’s presence could no longer be contained. The prophesied life of Emmanuel, “God With Us,” was being fulfilled and now God was let loose into the world (Matthew 1:23; 27: 50-51, 55-56).

These two women had lovingly sat opposite the tomb and watched Jesus’ burial (Matthew 27: 61). It must have been overwhelming to process everything that had happened to Jesus – their Rabbi, their Lord, and Mary’s promised Son who was to save the people from our sins (Matthew 1: 21). They must have left the tomb with so many questions, so much grief, so much in life that seemed unfinished.

They returned to the tomb on that Sunday morning as the rays of sun pierced through the night’s dark veil. And then they were disturbed again to their very core as the earth quaked once more; for God’s unconditional and sacrificial love had conquered sin and death when the angel rolled away the stone (Matthew 28:2). God’s steadfast love could no longer be contained for it had a story to proclaim to all the earth.

Matthew tells us that the very first Easter was not comforting. It was not warm and fuzzy like the yellow down of a baby chick or the soft fur of a bunny. That first Easter brought Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother, and the guards to their undoing. The finished work in Jesus Christ for God’s salvation came face to face with humanity’s unfinished faith. They were all so alarmed that they could do nothing. Caution seized them.

Arthur Gordan, a writer and journalist, once said:
One of the most insidious maladies of our time [is] the tendency in most of us to observe rather than act; avoid rather than participate; not do rather than do. [We have a] tendency to give in to the sly, negative, cautionary voices that constantly counsel us to be careful, to be controlled, to be wary and prudent and hesitant and guarded in our approach of this complicated thing called living.[1]

You see, Easter is not a holy day to observe. Easter is a day for us to act and to participate in. God has been let loose into the world and this glorious power of LOVE interrupts our lives. And just as it disturbed the ones who gathered around the empty tomb on that first Easter it should interrupt something in you and in me too.

When God disturbs our hearts and minds it moves our spirits to be re-awakened. The pulse of our faith reawakens not from being comfortable, prudent, hesitant, and guarded. Easter reawakens us when we allow ourselves to stand in that space where the risen Christ comes face to face with all that is unresolved in our lives. Grace begins to weave together our tattered and loose ends.
We may not fully comprehend what it all means. What we do know is that we are never the same when we encounter Jesus Christ. Our hearts are filled in ways they never have been before.

Michael Yaconelli was a pastor for forty-two years. I am drawn to Yaconelli because he never sugar coats faith; he is honest and real. In doing so he encouraged the faint-hearted, helped the weak, and cared for those who suffered. In his book “Messy Spirituality,” he shares:

Spiritual people admit their unfinishedness. Unfinished means incomplete, imperfect, in process, under construction. The construction site of our souls exposes our flaws, the rough-hewn, not-finished faith clearly visible in our hearts. When we seek God, Jesus begins to take shape in our lives. He begins a good work in us, he starts changing us, but the finishing process is a more-than-a-lifetime-process.

I’ll never forget the day Eric stood up in our church during [prayer concerns.] Eric’s lifelong battle with alcohol had been mostly unsuccessful. He had been in and out of jail, and his [addiction] was taking a toll on his marriage [and family].

[Yaconelli and the congregation loved and cared for Eric and his family. And Eric knew the church to be a save space.]

That day Eric said, “I need prayer. My wife has given me an ultimatum – my [addiction] or her. She asked me to decide today, and I just wanted to tell you all what I have decided…”

[In that long pause of silence] every person in the church was on the edge of their seat with their face turned toward Eric, encouraging him, pleading with him to make the right decision. You could have heard a pin drop.

Finally, he stumbled on, tears in his eyes: “I’ve decided to choose my wife!”

Applause and cheering broke out. [In that moment I saw that] Eric was not afraid to tell the truth; he was not afraid to reveal to all of us how difficult [his decision was]. Eric is a spiritual man. Troubled? Yes. Unfinished? Absolutely.

Eric refused to pretend life is clean and neat and he knew he had to tell [God and] us the way things were, not the way we wished they were.

We all have unfinished places in our lives. Easter empowers us to be real with God and to be embraced by a beloved community we know as the body of Christ. Easter moves us to share with God and one another that we still have a need for a Savior. The power of God’s Love enters into our family dynamics, our fears, our hurts, and our questions.

It is the mystery of grace that allows us to give God whatever is unresolved in our lives and to trust God with it. God, in Jesus Christ, leads the way for us to experience deliverance, healing, and wholeness.

God’s finished work in the Risen Christ comes face to face with our need for mercy that God desires to bring about within us. We all need God’s mercy to weave the unraveling parts of lives with forgiveness; mending us with faith, hope, and love. We all struggle with past regrets, those times we were too cautious to speak out or ask for help, that broken relationship now calloused with hurt.

Frederick Beuchner once said, “Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and [also] sees us whole.”[3] This is where we see the hands of our Creator and the redeeming love of the cross reshaping us into a new creation, a new resurrected life.

We cannot explain it, we can only experience it. If God’s Love can make the earth quake, tear the temple curtain, and raise Jesus Christ from the dead, what can God not do to bring the glory and praise of our Savior Jesus Christ in your life and mine? Nothing is impossible with God.

On this Easter Sunday, we are to stand boldly in the presence of our Risen Lord and Savior. God’s amazing grace has a story to proclaim to us where second chances and new life are abundant.

So today we do not hide our unfinishedness. Today is Easter and we give all that is still unresolved to God and we say “Hallelujah!”

As we experience the power of God’s Love, Scripture reminds us we cannot keep the joy of God’s promises to ourselves. We too must follow the angel’s charge and the word of our Lord as well: “Do not fear but go quickly! Take your unfinished faith and tell everyone you meet - our Lord has been raised from the dead!

The glorious power of God’s redeeming love will always go ahead and meet us on the journey of faith – wherever we are. It is there in the messy parts of our spirituality that we will rise up and truly see the holy work of Easter.

The costly grace and mercy of Jesus Christ assures us of God’s faithfulness in our lives. The good work that Christ began in you and in me will be brought to completion through this wondrous love that we celebrate.

This is what the journey of faith is all about! Experiencing the hope of resurrection not just today on the holiest of days, but every day!

Let us say the joyous refrain together once again!

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1]Quoted from Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 137.
[2] Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 41-42.
[3]Quoted from Anne Lamott, “Hallelujah Anyway” (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017), p. 40.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lenten Sermon Series - Spiritual Boot Camp: Hitting a Dead End

Spiritual Boot Camp: Hitting a Dead End
Psalm 130; Ezekiel 37: 1-14
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
April 2, 2017
Fifth Sunday in Lent

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
Psalm 130

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’

Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.’ I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.” Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.’
- Ezekiel 37: 1-14

It was not just an ordinary Tuesday morning. Many gathered at Olympic Stadium last summer in Rio de Janeiro to see the pinnacle of athletic performance. The starting pistol fired to begin the qualifying heat for the women’s 5000 meter track event (3.107 miles). These seventeen women had trained hard to compete on the world’s biggest stage. Only the fastest runners from the first two heats would go on to race the final event for the gold, silver or bronze medals.

As the women clocked the eighth lap with four and a half laps remaining, confusion exploded within the pack of athletes. Abbey D’Agostino (USA competitor) suddenly fell which clipped the competitor ahead of her, Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand competitor) also causing her to fall. They both incurred serious injuries. D’Agostino severely tore her knee ligaments and Hamblin had a badly banged up shoulder.

It looked like a dead end situation. Serious injuries usually bring the dreams of completing to a full stop. And even if they could tough out the pain, their chances to catch up to the pack and make up for lost time looked bleak.

Situations like this seem to make time move in slow motion as some mysterious gift intervenes. Somehow D’Agostino got up and instead of walking off the track or trying to salvage her own race, she stood next to Hamblin who was still on the ground. These two competitors did not know each other and had never spoken to each other before. But D’Agostino extended her hand to Hamblin saying, “Get up, get up. We have to finish!” Hamblin got up and they both began to run as best they could.

Hamblin ran on ahead of D’Agostino and after a few laps she looked behind and saw D’Agostino down on the ground again. Her face was grimacing with pain. Hamblin turned and ran back. She saw the tears in D’Agostino’s eyes and likewise, she extended a hand to her competitor saying “Get up, get up. We are going to finish this together.” For a while Hamblin had her arm around D’Agostino to give her extra support to complete the heat.

When they crossed the finish line, not only did the crowd cheer these two on, but also their competitors cheered and congratulated them. Their sportsmanship was unlike anything the Olympic judges had ever seen, therefore Hamblin and D’Agostino were rewarded entrance in the final 5000 meter event. Of course D’Agostino’s knee required surgery and she was unable to run the final.

These two runners were completely moved by the experience. D’Agostino said she remembers praying through her last laps as her knee became more misshapen and buckled underneath her. It is a mystery to her how she was able to continue and cross the finish line. After her initial fall D’Agostino simply tried to put aside her pain to help Hamblin in this tragic accident. As a result they had connected in a powerful way.

And Hamblin said, “Everyone wants to win and get a medal, but as disappointing as it is, there is so much more to this,” “It is just a mutual understanding of how much everyone puts into it. When someone asks me what happened in Rio in 20 years time, this is my story. She is my story. (USA Today)” “That girl, Abbey D’Agostino, is the Olympic spirit right there” (CBS).

God’s people experienced a similar tragedy. They too had fallen down. It was way beyond torn ligaments and battered shoulders. God’s people had fallen and had lost all hope to get back up. The people looked like a valley of dry bones.

Out of nowhere the hand of God appeared and rested on Ezekiel. At first God made Ezekiel sit down on that field to take in the scene. It looked like a dead end. And then God led Ezekiel all around to access the damage. God asked Ezekiel, “Can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3) Can these people get up and finish the race of faith with perseverance?” God's question warranted the answer, "No."

Ezekiel knew the people. He had been with them through thick and thin. And this prophet did not how the runners on God’s team could find the strength to stand up and persevere again. The weight of the Babylonian exile had caused too much confusion and pain for a possible recovery.

We all must be reminded time and again that nothing is impossible with God. God’s Spirit is always on the move, even when we have come to a full stop on the course of faith. God spoke to Ezekiel saying, “Prophecy to these bones… speak my divine instruction into these brittle and broken places. I will cause the breath of life to enter my people and you all shall live” (Ezekiel 37:4-5).

God’s Spirit breathes a word of hope into our weary souls to encourage us, saying: “Get up! Get up! We have to keep moving in this race of faith.” God will help us for in God there is steadfast love and with him is great power to redeem” (Psalm 130:7).

The Valley of Dry Bones is our story. Our Lenten journey has taken us through 40 tough days of Spiritual Boot Camp. We have certainly felt the excitement of training for a new spiritual adventure. We have also experienced the bleak valleys too.

We have looked to find the motivation for real change in our lives in order to gain new perspectives of spiritual health and God’s wholeness. We have been cultivating new and deeper spiritual disciplines to train our faith to move past the starting line and go the distance with God. We have been hydrating our spirits with God’s Living Water of Jesus Christ with Scripture and prayer. And we have been getting muddy to overcome the obstacle courses of faith in order to see God reshaping us by the grit of life.

Today you may notice that you feel the fatigue of Spiritual Boot Camp as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. If we look back to that first Sunday in Lent Scripture told us that after Jesus had run the hills of spiritual discipline and completed his 40 days of training in the wilderness he was famished.

Maybe you were clear five weeks ago about your need for change but in your reflections you have discovered that you are just going through the motions. You wonder if you can make up for lost time to finish this race strong.

Maybe you are reflecting on that lesser habit you have been trying to break. Maybe you are still struggling with it. It’s breaking your stride and causing you to limp along. You wonder how in the world will you truly be able to break through this?

Maybe you have been surprised to see the results of perseverance to experience God’s freedom and new life. And this is leading you to really question if you need to bring the lesser habit to a dead end or not. You wonder if it is worth picking up facebook again or that food or that feeling of resentment after fasting from it these past 40 days.

Today we look back to see how far we have come. God is leading us to the track and field of faith to take a good look at our “spiritual bones.”[1] What has motivated you to make it this far in Spiritual Boot Camp? What have you and I discovered about our spiritual perseverance to grow stronger muscles of faith? What has brought confusion and pain? What has made you trip up on the course?

Wherever we find ourselves on the track and field of faith, we only have a few laps remaining. And no matter how strong or weak we have felt, I know without a doubt that we all need the encouragement of receiving a hand up in order to cross the finish line of Lent strong.

Listen for our Coach, Teacher, and Savior Jesus Christ speaking into our lives with his faithful obedience. Look for the ways the Spirit is breathing new life into our dry bones, our weary muscles, and our broken places. Wait for the Lord and hope in God’s Word.

As we wait the gift of faith leads us to trust even when we cannot see the hope that lies ahead of us. The Apostle Paul says, “Hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

Get up! Get up! We have to finish this together! We are connected to the Spirit of the Living God in the most powerful way! God will revive us with a second wind to finish our race strong. Our hope is not just to survive Spiritual Boot Camp and be revived to cross the finish line. It is way more than that.

Today we make the turn to run the last lap of Lent. Next Sunday we enter Holy Week. Palm Sunday foreshadows Jesus’ triumphant victory lap. But we also remember the last week of Jesus’ life looked like a dead end. We follow his steps to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in anguish and sweat like drops of blood. We follow Jesus as he led his disciples to share the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday where he gave them a new commandment to love one another and yet Peter denied Jesus three times; Judas betrayed him which led to Jesus' arrest and trial. Jesus was led to carry his cross on Good Friday, suffer on our behalf and then gave up his spirit. What seemed like a dead end was actually a new beginning. God was there all the way to lift Christ up to be exalted as Savior.

Let us run this race of faith not in our own ability but in Jesus’ faithfulness. And as we do God’s Spirit will enter into our lives to breathe the incredible hope of a life transformed by the gravity of Jesus’ sacrificial love. Jesus Christ is the One who extends his hand and heart to us. He is the One who lifts us up to stand in the strength of God’s grace so that we may truly live in the hope of resurrection.

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

Sermon Theme and Title adapted from "A Preacher's Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), p. 21, Sermon Theme "Boot Camp for the Soul," by Winnie Varghese.

[1] Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press: 2010), Katherine Amos, Pastoral Perspective p. 126.