Many millions of Americans been on the move this past holiday week, and it’s really nothing new. Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, or Abraham moved to a new land, people have been on the move. Think of all the people who are moving to America and also here to Castle Rock and buying up homes. Epiphany Lutheran Church worships in the midst of a thousand new houses and two thousand new apartments, most of which were built in the last 10-15 years. Over in downtown Castle Rock, 2 high-rise apartment buildings are reaching for the sky. People are coming here, buying or renting homes as fast as they’re built.
Those coming here are not some special work force, but regular, ordinary people. They are seeking work, a place to retire, or a new beginning. These ordinary people are the mission field for this church, like the sign says as you leave the parking lot “You Are Entering the Mission Field.” God has placed this congregation here to bring Christ to people like you and me. God’s work isn’t done by the “Celluloid Stars,” mega-church preachers or Hollywood TV speakers. God uses ordinary people to do His work, and ordinary Christians aren’t perfect. We try, we hurt, we struggle, and we limp along in life, trying our best but often falling short.
A new pastor who had just come to his church and decided to visit a Sunday School class to see what children were learning. He came to teenage class and asked one of the students, “Who knocked down the walls of Jericho?” All was quiet until one boy said, “It sure wasn’t me, sir.” The alarmed pastor said, “Excuse me, but what’d he just say?” The teacher said, “Now Reverend, Timmy’s a good boy, and if he said he didn’t do it, I believe him.” The pastor called a special meeting and told the leaders what he’d just heard. They met briefly and told the pastor, “We see no point in making an issue of this incident. The Board will pay for any damages to the wall and charge it off to vandalism.”
That’s a story of ordinary Christians. They may not always have the right answers, but they’ll try their best to fix their problems. Ordinary Christians make mistakes. They can hurt themselves and need healing and forgiveness. They know they’re sinners and that’s why they come to church. They know their church isn’t a production studio where lines are rehearsed for a command performance. It is a hospital for sin-sick people. Epiphany could be a called “Sinners Anonymous,” a fellowship of people who need God and each other. Ordinary Christians are not proud, but humble before God.
To be a Christian means to depend upon God in all of life. Sometimes life leaves a mark on us, an injury or weakness to remind us of our need for God. Remember how Jacob ran away from his twin brother Esau because he’d cheated him out of his birthright? Later when he was returning, Jacob wrestled at night with a stranger who turned out to be God. During the match, God touched his hip, and Jacob limped for the rest of his life. When you struggle with God, sometimes He leaves us with a limp, a reminder of His presence. That a limp can be a gift from God.
But people don’t like to hear this today. With our amazing technology and learning today, people think life they should have life figured out. We should have overcome our weaknesses, or our prejudices they say. Modern people think hatred or animosity should be a thing of the past by now. We shouldn’t have homelessness or shootings or public arguments.
But life isn’t simple. It’s still riddled with sin. Problems and struggles still plague us. We still hurt each other. We step on each other’s feet or shoot ourselves in the. All the imperfections caused by sin mean we still need God. We will always need God to heal our wounds or our frailties, the things we can’t overcome. Our problems are physical and spiritual. Sometimes our biggest trouble is that we won’t admit our limitations or even deny our mistakes. We are raising new generations who are being told, “Anything is possible, and some things just take longer.” But that’s not always true. Anything is not possible. Most things require God, or we are doomed to repeat them.
Sometimes God gives us a limp, a weakness we just have to live with. He does it to remind us we need Him. Paul called it his “thorn in the flesh,” a medical problem that kept him from getting proud of himself. God often uses adversity and weakness to bring us closer to Him in faith. He knows we need to stay close to Him, so He may give us a problem or make us weak, so we will reach out to Him, depend on Him.
You see, when we’re feeling so strong, it’s really tempting to think, “who needs God?” We pray, “Lord, bless us and give us good times so we’ll be happy.” Better we should pray, “Lord, give us enough, but not too much, because then we’ll forget we need You!” That’s why Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong, for God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”
But we must see God’s hand in our lives. All suffering viewed apart from God is senseless misery. But if we see our suffering as part of God’s plan to help us, it can help our faith and trust. People living with a problem can become strong when we trust God to deal with it. Sometimes we become whiners. “Woe is me!” we complain and grumble about life, but never truly trusting God for our strength.
God blesses those who come to Him in faith. Our faith can be strengthened by our struggles. Let’s be grateful for this wonderful life He’s given us, even if it includes some thorns! Let’s see what God will do for us as we continue on in our journey. There is a purpose to problems we have in life. God gave Ezekiel a huge task. He was to go tell the people of God’s judgment on their sins. They wouldn’t like what he was to tell them, but he needed to tell them anyway. Speaking God’s Word to people would make Ezekiel unpopular, but he needed to tell the people anyway.
Remember the name, Eric Liddell? He was main character in the 1980s film “Chariots of Fire,” about his life as an Olympic runner who wouldn’t run on Sunday, his Sabbath. Few know that Eric Liddell’s greatest work was being a missionary. After his time as an Olympic athlete, Eric Liddell went to China as a missionary in 1925. He worked as a school teacher and a minister there. In 1941, British nationals were told to leave China because of the coming Japanese invasion. Liddell’s wife took their children to Canada, but he remained in China to work with his brother. In 1943 Liddell was imprisoned by the Japanese, dying in an internment camp in 1945. In the 1990’s a Christian Journalist met an older Chinese woman who was a young girl in the same camp with Eric Liddell. She said that children there knew nothing of his fame as an athlete. They only knew Pastor Liddell was a kind man and a favorite teacher who brought hundreds to faith in Jesus.
Missionary Jim Elliot went to South America and was killed by natives in 1956. He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Giving your life for the Lord brings heaven that much sooner. This why Paul could say, When I am weak, then I am strong, for God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”
God loves every one of us – champions and whiners, fighters and losers, missionaries and even their killers – He loves all of us. He loves us just the way we are, although He may not leave us that way for long. He wants us to be more like His Son, Jesus, and to share our faith in Him with others. We don’t deserve God’s love. We fight and struggle and insist on having things our own way.
In the world, if we do evil we will probably be punished. But Jesus takes our punishment on Himself. God sent His only Son to save us from sin, to heal us and give us hope. Jesus carried His cross to Calvary, to die in punishment for our sins. He died and rose again to bring us to God.
What are you praying for these days? For all your troubles to disappear, or for greater strength to bear them? Are you praying for a better job or more wisdom to handle it? Are you praying for your kids or spouse to change, or are you praying to love and honor your family more?
We are ordinary Christians with an extraordinary message of Jesus. Like Paul, we can learn to live with our problems, and still serve the Lord. We are forgiven. There is God’s work to do, and God’s love to share. May this congregation, Epiphany Lutheran, become a place where Paul’s words come true: “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.” May God bring this to pass, according to His plan, and with all His blessings. Amen.
(Pastor Bob Tasler, 2018, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, CO)