“Open your present!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Mark 4:35-41

Some of you may remember a story, circulated on the internet near Mother’s Day, about a man who went to a flower shop to order some flowers for his mother, who lived 100 miles away. As he walked from his car, he noticed a little girl in front of the shop, crying. He asked what was wrong. “I wanted to buy a rose for my mother,” she answered, “but roses cost $2.00 and I only have 50 cents.” He asked her to accompany him into the store and he would buy her a rose for her mother. After he told the florist where to send his mother’s gift, he paid his bill and purchased the rose. He gave it to the girl and asked if he could give her a ride anywhere. She said, “Yes, you could take me to my mother.”

Following her directions, he soon arrived at a cemetery and the young girl walked away toward a new grave. The man made a U-turn, drove back to the florist, cancelled his order, picked up a huge bunch of flowers and drove to his mother’s. A lot can be said for the philosophy of life that teaches, “Do it now!”

My father has a couple of favorite sayings that are very appropriate for this devotion: “There’s no time like the present,” and “You’ll never learn any younger.” Too many people live either in the past or the future. Pappy’s sayings contradict some of humanity’s more favorite, and certainly more comfortable dodges, like: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or “This world is not my home, I’m just a- passing through.” Sometimes the present is painful. At such times it is easy to imagine the past and future as far more hospitable.

Some people see past and present as means to an end: the future. The present becomes something to endure–a kind of purgatory that must be passed through–in order to get to the future. If we could stop long enough to think about it seriously, we would realize that trying to live behind ourselves or ahead of ourselves is really rather foolish. Yet, we see it all the time. Some people make you think they are not alive–they just used to live. Others don’t really live because they’re always getting ready to live later. Some are never happy because they are always planning to be happy. Others believe they were only happy in “the good old days.”

You see the problem is that there are no rose-colored glasses for the present–they only work on the past and the future. We know the present. In fact, we are stuck with it. But we can fill the past with illusions and the future with delusions. G. K. Chesterton wrote in his autobiography that we are mistaken if we think little children cannot tell fact from fiction. On the contrary, they can tell the two apart quite readily–they just prefer fiction. Adlai Stevenson implied that we never get over that preference: “Given the choice between disagreeable fact and agreeable fantasy, we will choose agreeable fantasy.” Will Rogers put it more succinctly: “The schools of today ain’t what they used to be–and never was.”

A couple of well-known theologians see sin as the culprit in all of this. Martin Buber wrote, “Sinful man is too occupied with his own past and future to realize the (presence) of another (person or God Himself). He searches for himself because he does not possess his life as present.” Emil Brunner similarly observes, “Sinful man is a being for whom a true present is intended but who does not have it because he is vainly occupied in past and future.” He then contrasts this “old man” in sin to the “new man” in Christ: “He who is united to Christ in faith enters into a new relationship with other men…. (The new) man suddenly has time for his neighbor…. He is present for him, and in this presence he has himself the experience of the true present.”

A less-known theologian, by the name of Feddersen, is here to tell you that the worst thing sin does with its notion is to hide it in the suitcase we take on the trip from the old life to the new, and then silently inject it into our understanding of the Christian faith. Consequently, one Christian will ask another “Are you saved?” expecting an answer with a date, time and place of a past experience. Other Christians see salvation as “Going to Heaven.” We probably all know people whose sole definition of faith is that which saved them from drugs, alcohol or a shady past. Now I, for one, think that is absolutely wonderful, but about the tenth time I hear it I want to ask if their faith did anything for them this morning or, “What is it doing right now?” Similarly, “Heaven is my home” theology could permit us to remain strangers to the man who fell among thieves. We might even think he’d be better off if we let him die so he can get to heaven sooner!

If you keep reading past the boundaries of this Sunday’s Epistle lesson, you will find that St. Paul actually concludes his comments at the second verse of the next chapter. There he says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” For St. Paul, faith and salvation were not memories of events on Golgotha or the Damascus road, they were a present, living reality. “The love of Christ compels us,” he said, “And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

The Old Testament lesson is part of a majestic conversation between God and Job. After endless complaints by Job and repetitious dialogue by Job’s friends, God gave Job a little reminder of his human frailty and limited wisdom. Memories of past glory and hope of future glory did not give Job any help in his present–he was about ready to take the advice of his so-called friends: “Curse God and die.” God reminded him that the pressures and tensions of life are transformed into seeds of self- destruction not because the problems are insurmountable, but because we perceive them to be insurmountable.

Jesus’ disciples have a similar perception in Sunday’s Gospel lesson. When the wind and waves are about to break their boat apart, they jump Jesus’ case for taking a nap: “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” Many of us are able to paddle along through life’s storms in the bland security of little man-made boats (or are they gods?) like savings accounts, job security, seniority, unions and other organizations, social security and, when all else fails, life insurance. Forces of nature–as great as the wind and as tiny as bacteria–show these boats up for what they are. In the lesson from Mark, Jesus woke up and promptly put the storm to rest. Then He asked the $64,000 question (Actually, this one is worth more than the national debt!): “Why are afraid? Have you no faith?”

Now, if you can put yourself in the same boat as the disciples, wouldn’t you want to say, “Wait a minute, Jesus! That’s easy for you to say–you’ve got all the power and authority! You say, ‘Shut up!’ and the storm leaves without a whimper. We didn’t need faith; we needed that power and authority.

What does faith have to do with it?” So here we come to the age-old question again, what is faith? In this case, I think it’s pretty clear–faith is knowing Who is in the boat with you!

I am so tempted to stop with that sentence, so that you can all think about it, let it gel, and make your own applications, but this time I just can’t. I have friends who have cancer beating the sides out of the boats of their bodies. For some, medical bills are pouring into their boats in waves, and any money to pay them is out in the future someplace. My father is walking around with an empty crater in his belly where, up until recently, his wife resided. My pastoral eyes do not reach into all your homes and lives, but I know some of your boats are brutal. To all of you I say: Jesus came to this world to demonstrate clearly that nothing will keep God from getting into the boat with us.

If our own murderous behavior didn’t keep Him away, what will? Does the God who tells the ocean how far it can go, “Thus far and no farther,” have to take a back seat when terrorists shake their fists or the wind blows or disease runs loose or death snatches a loved one? God takes no back seat–not to anyone or anything–but there is a seat He chooses. It’s the one in your boat next to you. If it looks to you like He’s asleep, or doesn’t care, then you may have come to one of the most important lessons you and I can ever learn–maybe He doesn’t care…about the storm that is.

God has His own unique priorities–He doesn’t get shook up about what’s going on outside the boat, only about who is inside. Why do you suppose He ever got into our boat (the world) in the first place? Remember the storm God didn’t quell–the one when they nailed Jesus to a yardarm? Storms come or go; boats float or sink; either way, God loves you.

You see sometimes, like Job, we get so caught up in what’s happening to our boat that we forget Who owns the ocean. So, row with whatever paddle you have and bail with whatever bucket, but hang on for dear life–NOT TO THE BOAT–to the One in the boat. Be sure of this: wherever your boat goes from here, the One who loves you and gave Himself for you will still be in it.

Now I’ll go back to that earlier sentence–faith is knowing Who is in the boat with you. Any certainty of the future that we have by faith is due to God’s gracious reconciling of the world in Christ. Paul’s words about that are clear and so is the fact that God has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. Christ’s mission is our mission. People all over the world are paddling helplessly about in their own little lifeboats, desperately in need of the Good News about Jesus. Tell the Good News to them and do it now. Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

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