Third Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Therefore we donít faint, but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day.
I saw an interview with several women who were cruel, and perhaps even abusive, mothers. Though they were not physical, they yelled all the time at their children, saying things that no mother should ever say to their babies such as ďI hate you,Ē or ďI wish you had never been born.Ē One mother threatened to drop her daughter off with the homeless men on the street corner. Neither understood why they acted the way they did. ďShe drives me crazy, I donít know how to deal with her.Ē The women both had men in their lives, not the biological fathers, but step dads to the children. The interviewer asked what they were doing about it. The men didnít know what to do, though they knew they needed to do something. ďOur daughter looks at her mother with fear in her eyes. A daughter should never be afraid of her mother.Ē
A child should never be afraid of a parent. Parents need to provide discipline, but there is a line that should never be crossed. Sadly, too many children deal with abuse; the abuse can be verbal, physical or sexual. All abuse, whether word or deed is emotionally abusive. It changes a child. It makes a child fear; fear leads to rebellion and hatred which leads to dangerous actions. Children who are abused are more likely to abuse others. Children who are abused have a greater risk to end up in gangs or in prison. Children who are abused never find healthy relationships. A parent is gifted and made responsible for that young life; it is in the home where all children should feel most safe, secure and love.
God loved Adam and Eve. He walked with them and He talked with them. As the song says, He told them that they were His own. One day, however, a fallen angel in the form of a serpent caused Eve and Adam to doubt the Word of God. ďDid God really say...?Ē the serpent asked. Eve thought about it, and the words of the serpent sounded good. She didnít hear the twist in the message. God hadnít really said what the serpent repeated, but his words sounded better than the twisted truth. God did not keep the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from Adam and Eve because He wanted to keep anything from them. He forbade it because He knew it would cause them to think that they were not worthy to be in the presence of their Father. Thatís exactly what happened; when they ate the fruit, they became afraid of God.
Many of the abused children are removed from those homes and placed in foster care. While there are many struggles in the system, the reality is that the child canít live in a home where he or she is afraid of those in whom they must trust. The same was true of Adam and Eve. God did not kick them out of the Garden of Eden as a punishment for disobedience. He sent them away so that they would not continue to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life and live forever in the presence of a Father they feared. The world outside the garden was harsh. They worked hard, they knew pain, they died. Yet even while Godís people had to struggle outside paradise, God had a plan.
God said to the serpent, ďI will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.Ē This is the first promise of the Gospel. The offspring that ends the reign of the serpent will be Jesus Christ. Death that entered the world when Adam and Eve trusted the twisted word will be defeated. What the first Adam did, Jesus the New Adam will undo and Godís people will be restored to a right relationship with Him. We will no longer have to fear walking in paradise with our Father.
We arenít there yet. Though Jesus has defeated death, the world in which we live is still fallen. We still struggle. We still have to work hard. We still know pain. We still die. Yet, in Christ we have eternal life. We are in a period of now but not yet. We are still sinners even while we are already saints.
I once heard a story about a man who had been recently paroled from prison. He quickly returned to his old ways, breaking in to a house to rob the owners of just enough to get a case of beer or a bottle of cheap booze. As he searched the home, he found a bottle of Crown Royal and decided to take a few sips. The owners later came in to find this man passed out drunk on a chair. He was arrested and returned to prison. When he found the Crown Royal, he no longer needed any cash. He was living in darkness and fell further and further from the Light. Left to continue his life in this manner would lead him to worse behavior, perhaps even violence.
Most of us arenít robbing our neighbors but we all sin. We struggle in a broken world and often find ourselves failing to live up to the expectations of our God. We do not always treat people with love or respect. We get angry with our children and our spouses, gossip about others, take things that are not ours. We fall to the temptations this world has to offer. We sin against God and our neighbor in our thoughts, words and deeds by what we do and what we fail to do. Despite our failure, God still wants a relationship with us. Like the psalmist, we can cry out to Him and He will hear us. He doesnít keep a record of our sin, but forgives and forgets. ďIf you, Yah, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?Ē We canít stand, but we can have peace.
The paroled man thought he could find peace in all the wrong places. He thought stealing would help him get a new start on life. Then he thought drinking would help him through. However, he got caught in his sin and instead of beginning anew he was sent back to prison, bound by the consequences of his sin. The correctional facility released him on parole with the expectation that he would stop leading a life of crime; he was returned to the world and given a new chance on life. When he failed, his past failures were recalled and he was punished more severely for his crime.
Our life in Christ is different. We donít have to walk in darkness because we have the light of our Lord Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. We know by faith that even when we fail, we can turn to Him for forgiveness and help through our troubled times. When we fail and turn to God for forgiveness, He not only grants that forgiveness for the sake of our Lord Jesus, but He also forgets our sin. We donít have a record or else we would become buried in the prison of our sinful nature. As we live in this hope, we find ourselves walking in the light of Christ, covered by the unfailing love of God and reconciled to Him by His own blood. When we wait for the Lord and watch for Him, we are less likely to fall into the temptations of this world. We will still sin, but we can trust in the Lord and rest in His forgiveness because He never fails.
He never fails because He is faithful and knows what needs to be done. Even in the beginning, He already prepared to send a Redeemer to make things right, even knowing we would never be able to hold up our end of the bargain.
We can all identify people in our lives that only seem to come to us when they are in need. The telephone rings and the voice on the other end says, ďHi!Ē and you sink into your chair thinking, ďWhat does she want now?Ē Perhaps at times we are like that ourselves, only calling certain people when there is something they can do for us. We need someone to fill a slot on a committee so we call the one person who we know will say yes. Yet we never think to call them to just say hello. These one way street relationships are difficult because we eventually realize that they donít really care for us; they only see us as someone who can fulfill their needs. Meanwhile, we continue in love and friendship, never having it returned. How often does our relationship with God look the same way? We go to Him constantly when we are in need but we rarely call on Him when we are living blessed lives. When we get sick, tired, hungry or cold we get on our knees and cry out to Him for help. When we are hurt and angry we cry for vengeance. When we are sad and afraid we ask Him to give us comfort and peace. Yet, when we are healthy and full, happy and safe, we rarely even think about Him. We donít often think about witnessing about the blessings of God when we are living that blessed life.
God made the promise of the Gospel knowing that we would continue to fail Him. He grants us many blessings, knowing that weíll forget to be thankful and to live in the life He has called us to live. He continues to forgive even though we continue to disobey. Yet, He desires so much more from us. He hopes that our love and thankfulness will be so great that we cannot stay silent. He hopes that we will live in His light and walk according to His ways. God hopes? Yes, because hope is not about wishes and dreams; hope is expectation. God our Father hopes, expects, that we will live as we are called to live, because Christ is in us and we are in Christ. It is because we believe that we can and will speak. As we grow in faith, that faith will overflow so others will come to know the truth and believe.
It isnít easy, especially when Jesus doesnít act according to our expectations. Even His mother had trouble. Mary and Jesusí brothers were concerned because Jesus was not taking care of Himself. He had been transformed by His wilderness experience and was doing the work of His Father. He had a ministry to do; there were people who needed to hear His words and feel His touch. Mary and His brothers came to take Him home, to give Him time to rest. He refused because He knew He was doing His Fatherís work.
We struggle with this story because we donít understand why Mary would be so against Jesusí ministry, after all, she knew from the beginning that He was born for something incredible. She even pondered it all in her heart. She was His mother and saw that He was so consumed with His work that she thought He must be overwhelmed. He was dragging the disciples with Him. Mary was concerned about His well-being and perhaps she only wanted to take Him away for a moment so that He could find renewal and refreshment. The scribes saw a whole different problem. They thought Jesus was possessed by the devil. He refuted their claims by reminding them that Satan would not work against himself.
Jesusí family and the scribes, though for very different reasons, wanted Jesus to stop doing what He was called to do. Jesus answered the accusations of the scribes by telling them not to give credit to Satan for the work that He is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. And though His answer to His mother and brothers might seem harsh, we are reminded that Jesus is calling us to trust in Him. He knows what He is doing, just as God knew in the beginning what Adam and Eve needed.
We will have opposition to the work we will do in the world, even from those closest to us. Some, perhaps, will even suggest that we are doing the work of the devil, especially when we preach a word they do not want to hear. It is hard being a disciple, not only hard work, but also difficult because we will be tempted to conform to the world though Christ calls us to a life that conforms to Him. Jesusí family thought he was out of His mind and the teachers of the law thought He received His power from Beelzebub, the prince of demons? If they could think these things about Jesus, how much more will they think it about us?
We are, like our neighbors, sinners in need of a Savior. There are sins that need to be brought to light, as much for the sake of the sinner as for those who will be harmed by the consequences of those sins. There is a right and wrong. There are truth and lies. These are things that matter. Words might sound good, but if they are twisted, then they will lead us away from trusting God.
I was reading a book when I realized a connection Iíd never seen previously. When God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden to live life away from the Tree that would provide them with everlasting life, He told them that the ground would be cursed and that it would yield thorns and thistles. In the end, when Jesus was crucified, those thorns were used to adorn His head as a crown. Even as we live in this decaying world caused by the curse of Adam and Eve, we also live in the promise of the Gospel. Godís story leads us to knowledge of His promise through Jesus Christ our Lord. His life, death and resurrection won for us forgiveness of sin, the restoration of our relationship with God and eternal life in His Kingdom.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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