Who remembers “Mad Magazine”? Do you remember the character who represented the magazine? Alfred E. Newman. And what was his tagline? “What, me worry?”
We human being can spend a lot of our time and energy worrying. It starts when we are young. We worry about monsters in the closet or a sibling getting a bigger piece of dessert than we do (or was that just me?). We worry about spelling tests and bad report cards.
As we grow, the worries evolve; tests and grades remain, but now it includes having a date for prom, getting a job and a car, where to go to college. Then it's finding a career, a place to live, paying off college loans and finding a mate.
When you get to my age bracket, it's financing retirement, it's the possibility of Alzheimer's, its how your kids and grandkids are doing, it's the end of life coming closer.
I'm reading the book right now Paul- Apostle of Christ. The story is focusing on the struggles of the first century church. It's the story of Luke and his writing of the book of Acts. As Luke comes to Rome, he sees a group of Christians huddled together. “The eyes that rose to meet Luke's were haunted and wary, as though they could not trust a man even as harmless as he.” Luke prays, “Lord, how could you have allowed the sort of evil that has driven your children into hiding like this?”
As I read that, I couldn't help but relate that first century scene to today's world. We are wary of other people, we have been regulated into hiding in our homes, fear of the disease has become part of our culture.
Our Epistle reading today is a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Thessaloniki. He was writing them to teach and encourage, to bring them strength to face their fears and worries. For you see, the Christians living in Thessaloniki were facing the type of persecution I am reading about. The Christian faith had been outlawed by the powers that be; both the Romans and the Jewish leaders had declared followers the the Christ persona non grata. Their property was being seized. Workers were stopped from practicing their trades. Often they were shunned by their families because of their new faith. They were insulted, some beaten, and some put to death. Paul wrote letters to encourage all the churches he founded. Here's a portion of this first letter that explains how he sought to help, (1 Thessalonians 3: 2-5) 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.” And Jesus never hid the fact that the Good News of salvation through relationship did not eliminate troubles. He told us in various passages what to expect:
- In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33)
- You will be hated by everyone because of me (Matt 10:22)
- The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. (John 16:2)
But as I consider that list of troubles the earliest Christians faced, I can't help but wonder at how little I truly suffer for my faith. Maybe we can all use this epidemic as a kind of reminder of the very real challenges living out our faith can bring us. It can remind us to put our trust, not in the things and wisdom of this world, but to truly learn to lean on Jesus in all things. And for each of us, is Jesus' love and grace a driving force in our day to day decisions? And perhaps if we consider the gospel story of the talents, maybe we can see that it is not so much about how we are using our gifts as it is about trusting the one who has given us the gift if life.
You've heard the saying, it rains on the just and the unjust. I've a little story to share that maybe fits here. I've had it stored in my computer for over three years. It was sent to me by Marshall Madsen. Something in this story spoke to his sense of either needing encouragement or seeking to share a word of encouragement.
A little girl had been shopping with her Mom in Walmart. She must have been 6 years old, this beautiful red haired, freckle faced image of innocence. It was raining outside. The kind of rain that gushes over the top of rain gutters, so much in a hurry to hit the earth it has no time to flow down the spout. We all stood there, under the awning, just inside the door of the Walmart. We waited, some patiently, others irritated because nature was messing up their busy schedules.
The little girl's voice was so sweet as it broke the hypnotic trance we were all caught in, 'Mom let's run through the rain.' 'What?' Mom asked. 'Let's run through the rain!' she repeated.
'No, honey. We'll wait until it slows down a bit,' Mom replied. This young child waited a minute and repeated: 'Mom, let's run through the rain..' 'We'll get soaked if we do,' Mom said. 'No, we won't, Mom. That's not what you said this morning,' the young girl said as she tugged at her Mom's arm. 'This morning? When did I say we could run through the rain and not get wet?' 'Don't you remember? When you were talking to Daddy about his cancer, you said, 'If God can get us through this, He can get us through anything! '
The entire crowd stopped dead silent.. I swear you couldn't hear anything but the
rain. We all stood silently. No one left. Mom paused and thought for a moment about
what she would say.
Now some would laugh it off and scold her for being silly. Some might even ignore what was said. But this was a moment of encouragement of hope in a young child's life; a time when innocent trust could be nurtured. Encouragement to get through the challenges that lie ahead for all of us.
'Honey, you are absolutely right. Let's run through the rain. If God let's us get
wet, well maybe we just need washing,' Mom said. Then off they ran. We all stood watching,smiling and laughing as they darted past the cars and yes, through the puddles. They got soaked. They were followed by a few who screamed and laughed like children all the way to their cars. And yes, I ran. I got wet. I needed washing.”
Worries, illness, circumstances, even people can take away your material possessions, they can take away your money, and they can take away your health. But no one can ever take away your faith and hope in the Lord Jesus. God never said we could walk in the rain and not get wet. God never said we can ignore safety precautions and not get sick. God never said we would never suffer. God sent Jesus to walk with us through the rain. God sent your brothers and sisters gathered here this morning to encourage your joy and endurance in the rainy times. And so with Paul I say, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” Amen
Hymn: Blest Be theTie that Binds