Weekly Sermon (5)

Sermon – February 18, 2024

The Lord has drawn near…(to us)

February 18, 2024

Shortly after we moved to Patterson, when I was just 11 or 12 years old, a man by the name of Wilbur Olsen gave our family a great gift. Wilber was a long time member of the church and lived on the hillside overlooking Whaley Lake up in Holmes. I don’t remember too many specifics of his life, but I seem to remember he lived alone as his family no longer lived nearby. He took a liking to my parents and us kids, and soon after we got settled in, gave us two boats.

Now some may wonder how that could possibly be ‘a great gift’…as so often boats only prove to be a ‘hole in the water into which you pour your hard-earned money’…but these two boats were different. First of all, he had made both of them himself, right there in his home on the lake. One was a sailboard carefully constructed out of sheet mahogany which was about 9 feet long and which sported a triangular green cloth sail. It was on that small little sailboard that we kids all learned the basics of sailing, spending many hours over the years, both on Whaley Lake as well as up at Lake Taghkanic State Park where we spent our summer family vacation each summer.

The second boat was an iceboat, made to glide at high speed across the 3 mile length of Whaley Lake when it froze over in the winter. It was a rather simple contraption, with a front steering rudder and side wing boards all fitted with curved pieces of angle iron making the only contact with the ice three six inch pieces of sharp steel. There was a seat on which to sit comfortably, and several ropes linked to the front rudder as well as to the large cloth sail with which to control the boat as it literally flew across the ice. And I cannot tell you how much fun it was to go winging our way across the ice in the cold silence of that frozen lake…simply magnificent!

Now…both of those gifts gave me a feeling which is almost impossible to describe. And somehow…that has everything to do with who we are as a church. Let me explain…

In the third chapter of the gospel of John there is a verse which has long been one of my favorites. In this chapter Jesus is being questioned by the Pharisee Nicodemus as to just what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of the need to be born ‘not just of the flesh, but of the Spirit as well’. Nicodemus is puzzled at how anyone could possibly be born twice, to which Jesus replied, ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases, you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

Every time I took one of those boats out and got it situated just right with respect to the wind, the sail would billow full, and with a rush I would be off, amazed and awe-struck by the power of the wind pulling me along with it. Be it knifing through the waves on the water, or gliding silently across the glass-smooth surface of the ice, I was transfixed by the ability to catch the wind and move so freely along, with virtually no effort at all on my part. It just took me wherever it was blowing.

Which of course in and of itself was not really sailing…but with time and much practice we all learned how to use that same wind to go wherever we wanted…up the lake, down the lake, even across the lake. With patience and practice we learned how to read the wind, and how to harness its power to take us where we wanted to go.

Of course there were those times when the wind would suddenly die down, and slowly we would glide to a halt…unable to do anything except paddle with our hands, or in the case of the iceboat, get up and walk back to shore. But in the end…the reason those two homemade boats were such a gift to each one of us, was that somehow, somewhere it taught each one of us how to sense the flow of the wind…as well as how to put ourselves into that flow…to take advantage of a power not our own, and to literally be carried forth by something we could not even see…

And that my friends…is who we are as a church. The Spirit of our God which is always present…and always swirling about, seeking to catch us up in its grasp of love and grace, has been caught by so many of us here in our efforts to serve our neighbors and friends in all the ways we have been so blessed to do so.

In all our work as a congregation, seeking to live into the Lord’s call in Matthew Chapter 25 to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit and care for those who are sick, or in a prison of either body or soul, we have stepped into the flow of the Holy Spirit…and in doing so, we have been caught by the power of God’s love and grace, a power which has propelled us forward into ways of serving and loving far beyond our imagination…as well as far beyond merely our own ability.

Growing up, our family never spent much time at the ocean. Most of our summer vacations were spent on lakes at state parks. But after I met Nan we began to spend a week or two each summer down at the Jersey shore. And it was there that I experienced another feeling of being caught up in the flow…of being propelled forward by forces far beyond my control. However, learning how to body surf in large ocean waves was not only exhilarating, similar to sailing or ice boating, but at times could be pretty scary as well…you never knew when the ride might end up grinding you along the sandy bottom, or tumbling you out of control over and over.

Which is not to say that the Spirit of our God is to be feared…but rather to acknowledge that in our faith walk with the Lord, we are not the ones who are in control…to remind us that the scripture I referenced earlier says ‘the wind blows wherever it pleases…’, and not, ‘the wind blows wherever we please’!

As the Psalmist reminds us in the prayer that is Psalm 25, ‘To you, O LORD, we lift up our souls. O God, it is in you we trust. Make us to know your ways O LORD, teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; it is for you that we wait all day long. You lead the humble in what is right, and teach the humble your ways. All your paths Oh LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness…

So yes, this ride we are on together is exhilarating…and yes, this ride is amazing and life-giving…and yes, at times this ride outstrips our understanding from time to time…

…but still all in all, it is a ride worth the taking, and a,, together, a life worth the living

…I give thanks every day for each one of you, and in particular for your willingness to join with me in the flow of the Spirit of our God…

…surely, our Lord has drawn near…(to us)…


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