By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1

Do you trust your GPS?  Many times, when I am driving up towards Toledo, Google Maps tells me that I need to get on the Interstate.  I tell it, though, that I am not going to listen to it, because I can save money by taking other roads that is actually only a 2–3-minute detour.  But isn’t it odd when it tells you to get off the highway?  There has been more than one time when I have been driving on a main road, only to be told to wind around a few side streets, and realize that they dumped me back out on the same main road.  Have you ever had that happen?  Have you wondered why you had to go through all those twists and turns just to save a couple minutes?  I think these kinds of deviations have thwarted my trust in my GPS at times.

Here is a brief story about a GPS that many of us may not want to have trusted: “While driving to an unfamiliar location, the GPS suddenly seemed wrong.  After entering a reliable four-lane highway, we were advised to exit and travel along a one-lane ‘frontage’ road running parallel to us.  ‘I’ll just trust it,’ the driver said, despite seeing no delays.  After about ten miles, however, the traffic on the highway next to us slowed to a near standstill.  The trouble?  Major construction.  And the frontage road?  With little traffic, it provided a clear path to our destination.  ‘I couldn’t see ahead, but the GPS could, just like God can,” reflected the occupants of that car.  We cannot see what is ahead in our life, but if we are asked to take a detour that we did not expect, can we trust God through it?

Who do you trust most? [spouse, friend, teacher]

Why do you trust them? [shown they care]

Do you trust God?

When the magi were returning home, their GPS (God) told them to go home by another way.  They trusted it and did not return through Herod’s city.  It is not always what we expect, and I do believe that we all can do better at trusting God.  In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate a renewed relationship with God through the renewal of the remembrance of our baptisms, which Rev. Dan Busch preached on two weeks ago.  If we are going to be better at trusting God, and renew our vows in our relationship with God, we need to be reminded of a few things: We reaffirm our baptism vows through prayer, through presence, and through service.  Over the next three weeks, we will talk about each of these ways to reaffirm our baptism vows.

Baptism is not something we do to check something off the list.  We do not say that once we are baptized, we are all set, that we are saved and can live the rest of our Christian life sporadically attending church and being confident of that fact.  Baptism is often bestowed upon someone who does not have any power to say yes or no.  As Rev. Dan said two weeks ago, the fact that baptism can occur this way shows that we are given God’s mercy whether we know it or not.  It is all around us.  God is all around us.  Sometimes we recognize what we are being given, and sometimes we do not.  Sometimes we know what our gift is, and sometimes we just have to do the best we can with what we know.  The best we can, however, is not nothing.  It is our responsibility to reaffirm our commitment to God on a regular basis.    What is one thing that you can do to reaffirm your commitment to God?

Do you trust God?  If so, you might trust God with your private concerns.  You can tell God whatever you need to without needing to worry that God is going to tell someone else about it.  God keeps things confidential.  Trust God with your worries and struggles.  Talk to God about possible plans.  Ask God what you should do next.  This is part of the blessing of prayer, which we will all hopefully always remain committed to.  Yet further, though, do you also trust God to be public with your love for Him?  Are you not hindered by what your friends or coworkers or the rest of the world might think when you do something that proclaims your faith?  What is something you have done to publicly proclaim your faith?  We might ask ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky.

When Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in a Monday Night football game in Cincinnati, the players of the Buffalo Bills knelt on the field just as the ambulance was driving off.  They collectively had a moment of public prayer in front of thousands of fans, the majority of whom joined in.  On Tuesday morning, when Hamlin’s condition was still unclear, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky led a group prayer for his health and recovery.  He did not just say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”  He led a prayer on national television, on a sports channel that usually keeps religion away from center stage.  He qualified that he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but he was affirmed by the co-hosts, and he said he was going to pray anyway.  It was a powerful moment, and a win for the power and necessity of prayer in our world today.

The prayer is worth repeating: “God, we come to you in these moments that we don’t understand, that are hard, because we believe that you’re God, and coming to you and praying to you has impact,” Orlovsky said. “We’re sad, we’re angry, and we want answers, but some things are unanswerable. We just want to pray, truly come to you and pray for strength for Damar, for healing for Damar, for comfort for Damar, to be with his family, to give them peace. If we didn’t believe that prayer didn’t work, we wouldn’t ask this of you, God. I believe in prayer; we believe in prayer. We lift up Damar Hamlin’s name in your name. Amen.”

Does public prayer need to be a more common practice in society?

How can we promote the public presence of God in our community?

Is trusting God hard when we cannot see as far as He can?

Reflect on the call that Paul speaks to the Corinthians: “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).  When we hold fast to God, and trust God through the trials that we know we are going to face, we are making a bold move that looks foolish to the world, but is everything to us.  When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  We can imagine that he was quite upset about this, after John had been the one to baptize him.  He was his very own cousin, too.  But still, did Jesus let the world defeat his will to do what he came to earth to do?  He still went out in Galilee and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Matt. 4:19).  He still trusted in the call he knew that he had.  He would not give up his trust in God, through it all.  I think if we asked Jesus the question, “Do you trust God?” after John was arrested, he would not have had to think twice about the answer.

Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on what God’s presence means in our world today.  It does not mean that it will be a world free from suffering, and perhaps for that reason all the more, we need to trust God.  She writes, “Neither God’s presence nor Christ’s birth rids the world of horror and death.  [But] God’s faithful ones persist in praising God – or at least in trusting God – through all that befalls them.  This trust does not save them by helping them float above the sufferings of the world; it saves them by helping them endure” (Feasting on the Word, A.1.149-51).

God’s presence has been declared in this world.  Jesus was born into the world to be God with us, Immanuel.  We are cared about.  We are loved.  We can be sad and angry for what goes on here, but we can still trust God to guide us through.  Trust God to make a bold move.  Do something that you have been afraid to do for God.  Promote the public presence of God in our community.  Find something to be bold about, and to proclaim the presence of God among us, just as Jesus did in his community.  Reaffirm your vow to God and give God glory wherever you go.  Trust in the power of prayer when those you work and live with might not like it.  When the GPS knows more than you do, don’t look for reasons not to trust it.  Know that it just wants to get you to your destination.  So does God.  And if you decide to trust God, your GPS will get you to that destination sooner.  May all honor and glory be to God!  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Psalm 27:1, 4-9
27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
27:4 One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.
27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent: he will set me high on a rock.
27:6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
27:7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
27:8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
27:9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
1:10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
1:11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.
1:12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”
1:13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
1:14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,
1:15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
1:16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
1:18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23
4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.
4:13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,
4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
4:15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles
4:16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
4:17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
4:18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.
4:19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
4:20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
4:21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.
4:22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

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