Saturday, March 29, 2008

Live Brave

I'm sick of being afraid. It just leads to depression. It's time to be brave!

A good plan vigorously executed
Right now is far better than a perfect
Plan executed next week.
-General George Patton

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare;
it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.

A vision without a task is a dream;
A task without a vision is drudgery;
A vision and a task is the hope of the world.

Others can stop you temporarily;
Only you can do it permanently.
-Don Ward

You can’t leave footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt.
And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
-Bob Moawad

We must have courage to bet on our ideas, to take the calculated risk, and to act. Everyday living requires courage if life is to be effective and bring happiness.
-Maxwell Maltz

Our fears must never hold us back from pursuing our hopes.

The vision that you glorify in your mind,
the ideal that you enthrone in your heart,
this you will build your life by,
this you will become.
-James Allen

Let’s assume that each person has an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different. To realize whatever unique potential of body, mind and spirit he or she possesses.
-John Fischer

The greatest waste in the world is the difference between what we are and what we could become.
-Ben Herbster

We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.
-Johann Von Goethe

What answer to the meaning of existence should one require beyond the right to exercise one’s gifts?
-W.H. Auden

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste the experience, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Falling Slowly

During the Academy Awards this year, I was so moved by the performance of "Falling Slowly" by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova that I sought out the YouTube replay. See the movie, titled Once, and watch this live rendition. In particular, towards the end, hear these words: "You have suffered enough and warred with yourself; it's time that you won."

I say "Amen" to that!

An Affirmation of Faith

I believe in God Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
who breathed into us the breath of life,
and created each person with a divine purpose.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son,
who is “the way, the truth, and the life,”
who died and rose again
that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Spirit of God who lives in every person,
and by whose power we are guided and transformed.
I believe that every person is called to be a co-creator with God,
and that by accepting and responding to God’s grace,
we will be conformed to the image of God’s Son, our Blessed Lord,
and help to further the kingdom of God on earth. Amen.

An Affirmation of Faith

I believe in God Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
who breathed into us the breath of life,
and created each person with a divine purpose.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son,
who is “the way, the truth, and the life,”
who died and rose again
that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Spirit of God who lives in every person,
and by whose power we are guided and transformed.
I believe that every person is called to be a co-creator with God,
and that by accepting and responding to God’s grace,
we will be conformed to the image of God’s Son, our Blessed Lord,
and help to further the kingdom of God on earth. Amen.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Because He Lives, You Also Will Live

Read John 20:1-18 and Colossians 3:1-4

These words from Good Friday still echo in my ears: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus may have known his fate, that he had to put to death at the hands of sinners, but revealed in these haunting words recorded in the Gospel of Luke, is a man pleadings for his life.

It’s said that when people die, our lives flash before us. And for many who know they are going to die weeksor months before it happens, they often spend those last precious moments remembering better days. In the time leading up to the crucifixion, perhaps Jesus was thinking back on his own life, on happier times, on the most memorable moments. Like the day he was baptized. The first time he taught in the temple at age 12. The day he overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple because they were disgracing it. His first miracle: when he turned the water into wine at the wedding in Cana. When he fed 5,000 who had come to hear him preach. Probably even closer to his heart were the miracles when he healed people: the blind man, the woman who kept bleeding, the boy with a demon. And certainly the people he actually brought back from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. Do you think that when Jesus was teaching in the temple or saving people’s lives he imagined that one day he would be executed for his actions? How had Jesus’ life lead to the place of the skull?

To say that Jesus might have been disappointed in the way his life was turning out is a gross understatement. Even if Jesus fully understood God’s whole plan from start to finish, I imagine there was still a part of him that was in despair, devastated, forlorn as he waited for the guards to come get him.

His disciples were bereft as well. They were more than confused about the sudden turning of events; they were bewildered. One day, Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, where a huge crowd of people waited to honor him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And then only a few days later, another crowd gathers around him, this time shouting, “Crucify him!”

And with the crucifixion, things only got worse. The disciples were a mess: disillusioned, disenfranchised, despairing. Mary Magdalene could not sleep. She went to Jesus’ tomb in the darkness. As if her grief weren’t pain enough, when she gets there, she finds that Jesus body is gone. She runs back to tell the others, thinking it was stolen. Mary says, “They took the Master from the tomb. We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Simon Peter and John run to see, and when they see that it is as Mary said, they leave perplexed for “no one yet knew from the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back home” (John 20:9-10). But not Mary, she stays in the graveyard and weeps.

It’s quite easy to understand the disciples’ disillusionment and Jesus’ dread considering the events surrounding his death. And during Holy Week, as I tried to empathize with what Jesus (mainly) and the disciples (to an extent) were going through, I couldn’t help thinking about the rest of us, and what we go through on a daily basis.

In no way am I equating our suffering with Christ Jesus’ suffering on the cross, but still, our pain and suffering, our disillusionments and dread, our disappointments and devastations are real as well. When the person you love betrays you, abandons you or dies, the pain is real. When the people you care about and share your life with hurt you, criticize you, humiliate you, the pain is real. And each of us, if hit hard enough or beat-down long enough will bruise, will break; parts of us may even die.

Life is hard enough without other people’s contributions. We don’t even need other people to oppress us because we are often our own oppressors. We dig ourselves holes that we can’t climb out of; many of us torment and fail ourselves on a daily basis. We prohibit ourselves from living to our full potential, and then blindly grope through life searching for meaning, purpose and fulfillment in those things which cannot fulfill.

Combine these factors with the basic human experience that life often doesn’t turn out they way we want it to or the way we think it should, that we are continually disappointed and frustrated by the way the world turns, and you can see how even though the crucifixion took place over 2000 years ago, the thoughts and the feelings of all people are basically the same.

To be disappointed, to be disillusioned, to be disenfranchised, to dread, to despair is the sad dilemma of the human heart and spirit. And over time, we may get worn down to the point that we no longer recognize ourselves. We might stop dreaming of great pursuits and going out to accomplish great feats. We might stop dreaming all together. Instead of looking up and around expectantly with hope in our eyes, we cast our gazes downwards and allow our shoulders to slump. We shuffle and wander immersed in the chaos of the world swirling around us. It is as though, through the process of living, our spirits, which were born to fly, develop crippled wings.

If Jesus death were the end of the story, I don’t know where I, where we would go from here…. But it’s not!

Because on the third day, Jesus Christ rose from the dead! And this is the hope of all people. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was celebrated like a human king would be. On Good Friday, Jesus was tortured like the worst criminal would be. But on Easter Sunday, we finally acknowledge him as Lord and Savior, as the One who infuses this physical world with the divine and gives to us the life of the divine.

On Good Friday, the world as we know it stopped, and everything that needed to die died with him. And when God raised Jesus on the third day, God made the most powerful and decisive statement yet. Death does not win. Corruption and destruction and evil are not the most powerful forces in the universe. God is. Life is. And so with Jesus, God raised up a new creation infused with life and spirit that can never die, that when broken, will always be renewed. In raising Jesus, God raised all of his children as joint heirs with Jesus in the kingdom of God; God set hope in our hearts and gave us possibilities that will never be exhausted.

As the Psalmist proclaims, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). This one special morning, Easter morning, makes every morning new.

“The collateral implications of this [resurrection] message are radical and comprehensive. Anticipation displaces dread. Regret gives way to equanimity. Cynicism vanishes before joy. Self-control conquers addiction. Purpose usurps futility. Reconciliation overtakes estrangement. Inner peace calms disquiet and distraction. Creativity banishes boredom. Death will give way to life, darkness to light, fear to confidence, anxiety to calm, and despair to hope. These collateral implications are something like the fulfillment of your deepest desires, your wildest dreams, your fondest hopes, and your secret wishes, only in this scenario your hopes, dreams, desires and wishes originate from the heart of God” and are made possible for you by the power and love of God” (Clendenin, Dan. The Journey with Jesus. March 21, 2005.

This new, abundant, eternal life that you are being given, you might say to yourself, “But where is it? I remain plagued by the same old problems.” That is because we have to live into our new life. Day after day, we must commit ourselves to discipleship and allow ourselves to be transformed. Figuring out how to live into our resurrected life is what this life is about. And everything, from taking out the garbage, to handling your responsibilities, to kissing a child good night is an opportunity. As long as your heart is in Christ Jesus and you are letting the Holy Spirit guide you, you will continue to live a new kind of life. As Colossians says, “Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God.” In victory!

“So if you’re serous about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it” (Colossians 3: 1). Stop shuffling along with your eyes on the ground wrapped up in obsessive and destructive thoughts, speech and action. Lift your eyes to the hills from where your help comes that they might sparkle with hope; open your hearts to the mystery and believe in the power of God. Let your spirits be healed and raise up your wings, ready to fly. Because today, and everyday that Christ rules, you can soar. Or, as Gil Atkinson once said, "You are one of a kind; therefore, no one can really predict to what heights you might soar. Even you will not know until you spread your wings!"

It makes sense that after Jesus rose from the dead, he approached one of his closest disciples whose spirit was cast down, who was crying. Jesus said, Mary, “Why do you weep?” (John 20: 15). She did not yet understand that life itself had changed.

And it is no wonder that once Mary recognizes Jesus, she praises him and runs to tell the others in awe and in hope, “I saw the Master!” (John 20: 18). He is in the land of living. A Living Lord. A Risen God. Look for him that you may find. Because he lives, you also will live!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Stop and Listen to the Story: Passion Sunday

Today is unlike most days. Today, we stop. Today, we listen to one of the most pivotal moments in creation’s history --the murder of Jesus Christ. Most other events are fleeting compared to the ones honored today, recognized as Passion Sunday, because the execution of Jesus set into motion the transformation of the world.

Last week, I preached a sermon titled, “Today Can Transform Tomorrow.” In it, I said that the past created this moment. Who you are, right now, right here is a culmination of all your yesterdays. What’s glorious about this basic truth is that it means that what happens today affects what tomorrow will be. For just as the past created the present moment, so also does the present moment create a new future.

And so, the present moment is sacred. Each moment deserves great care as we make decisions, as we think, speak and act in ways that will affect our lives and the lives of those around us.

Today, you could make amends for the mistakes of yesterday, and that will change your life. Today, you could change your evil ways, break a bad habit, or give up life-taking attitudes and behaviors, and that will change your life. Today, you could begin to act only in the spirit of love, and that will change your life. And not just yours, but all of those people whom you come in contact with, and maybe even, all those people whom they come in contact with. Because, you see, our thoughts, speech and actions have a ripple affect. They affect not only us. We cannot even fully know how far our choices reach.

I consider this a great responsibility: to remain present, and to make wise, thoughtful and generous choices in each moment; this is each of our responsibilities.

And we are lucky, we are blessed for that. We are blessed because every day is a new day. Each morning we wake up fresh, with another chance. Here, I am reminded of the old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Because “Morning by morning, new mercies I see.”

There are very few, if any, dead end roads in life. Even if we make the worst decisions possible, there is always an out; there is always another path that connects the destructive one we are on to a new path that lead us in the right direction. Even if we make mistakes, even if we sin, even if we side with evil, we can repent. We can receive forgiveness. We can change. And we can receive new life! That is a gift that is given to us from God.

Even if our yesterday leads to death today, (I can’t think of anything worse than that, can you? Death. Today.), we still have not reached the end of our rope, or the end of our hope, because with God there are always options; there is always the promise of a greater reality, a greater existence, even if words and ideas fail to explain.

How did we get to be so lucky? How did we get to be so blessed? How is it that every day is a new day? And that life keeps coming at us, even as we bat it into the garbage?

So this morning, we will stop. This morning, we will listen to a story. No, to the story For on this day, Passion Sunday, we honor the day many years ago when the world as we know it came to an end. This is the day that God stopped history. The day before all things are created new. The day Jesus died.

Read John 18:1-19: 42

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Today Can Transform Tomorrow

(Read Matthew 14: 22-33 and Matthew 6: 25-34)

Life is “The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism” (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edition). This is the definition of “life” from the American Heritage Dictionary.

To put it more simply, what makes you and I different from a rock or a chair? Our metabolism, our ability to grow, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and in our interactions with one another, also our ability to reproduce sets us apart, and the fact that we can respond to stimuli and adapt to our surroundings. These are the characteristics of life. These abilities set you and I apart from a rock or a chair, and maybe even from some lower life forms.

One other very important way to describe what it means to live is to say that living organisms have awareness (having knowledge or cognizance). Or at least, we have the capacity to be aware, to know what is going on around us in the physcial world, as well as to know what is going on inside of us, whether it be the feeling of our heart pumping or the feeling of being embarrassed, for example.

Now, some people might argue that even rocks and chairs have awareness. This I do not know. What I do know is that awareness or consciousness (having an awareness of one's environment and one's own existence, sensations, and thoughts) is our gift from God as created beings, and the more awareness we cultivate in our lives, the more truly alive we become.

And the hope of the followers of Jesus Christ is to become truly alive. You know the Scriptures. He did not come to the earth, die on a cross and rise from the dead so that we would remain in captivity to sin and death. By no means. Jesus Christ came to give eternal life to the world. He said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

We are all on this spiritual journey seeking abundant, eternal life together, and our active participation requires us to be right here, right now. We experience each moment of life as we live it, and the degree to which we experience each moment of life is the degree to which we have lived it. A simple example: How many times have you read a page, even a paragraph, even a sentence, in a book and had no idea what it said? One minute you’re reading about Chuck and Nancy driving through the country on the way to Chuck’s family reunion, and the next, you’re off in your own world, on some tangent, thinking about who knows what. Perhaps the story caused you to think about your own last family reunion? Or how you wish your family had reunions? Maybe, right then and there in the middle of reading this book, you will begin to plan the very first reunion your family has had in years!?

Or maybe while reading this book, your mind will wander to something totally unrelated, something in your subconscious. Maybe its work your mind goes to, or you will think of the past, or think of the future. Whatever you think of, at least for the purpose of today’s sermon, is not significant. What is significant is that you are no longer paying attention to what you are actually doing, which is reading a book.

In this example, present moment awareness, or simply presence, is lost. The person is not aware of or awake to those words on the page. In a sense, this person is not alive to this moment. If you intend to be reading a book, and yet, you do not know what the book says, how alive are you?

Or how many times have you driven in the car, gotten totally lost in your own thoughts, and then all of a sudden, you have arrived at your destination? In a sense, you missed the whole drive. Is that living a life of abundance? And where were you?

The simple answer is, in your thoughts. Most of us spend a very large majority of our time, of our lives, in our thoughts, thinking about the past, thinking about the future; meanwhile, missing the present moment where abundant life can be found.

Not being truly alive to a couple pages of a book or a car ride is not such a big deal, but what if you do that for your entire life, missing one moment after the next? The danger is that we could spend our whole lives in our heads, not present to any thing we are doing, or any one we are with. Not present to the Living God, who is here with us, guiding us, speaking to us, inviting us to be co-creators in our destinies. And not just ours, but God in Jesus Christ has made it clear to us that we are called to be co-creators in all of our destinies as we develop the kingdom of God together.

“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” Our task is not simply to pray for the kingdom to come, but to help it come.

Last week, I preached on, The Desire for Transformation; Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit. Part I: The First Step – Saying “Yes.” My position was that first and foremost, we have to want to walk this path; we have to want to take this journey with God. We have to accept that life is about growth; it is about change, and we have to be willing to be changed. Even to desire it! To say “yes” to what God is doing in your life and in the world!

The place where all this stuff (God’s action, growth, change, transformation, the development of the kingdom of God) is happening is right here, right now in the present moment.

Think about Jesus in the Gospels. He changed lives in an instant. He was completely with and present to the people who needed him. He sat down and talked with the woman at the well. He put his hands on the little girl who had died and brought her back to life. He was perfectly present with his disciples in the upper room as he gave them the bread and the cup to remember him by.

Matthew 6: 25-34 is the best example I could think of in which Jesus’ preaches on the importance of presence. I think of the lilies of the field and how they grow. They are just there, in the sun, in the wind, in the rain, growing. They neither toil nor spin, and never in the span of their lives is there a time when they are not there. Jesus also tells us not to worry about tomorrow because he knows that today matters more in determining the future than does tomorrow.

But in truth, I do not think Jesus preaches on the importance of presence as much as he exhibits the importance of presence in his life and actions. This is the message underlying all stories about him. He was truly with us, truly the Son of God.

I picked Matthew 14 as our other Scripture today because Peter is interesting to explore in this story. Peter becomes captivated by Jesus walking towards him and the other disciples out on the sea. They “saw him walking on the lake” (Matthew 14: 26). Peter is rapped up in the moment. First, terrified that a ghost is coming towards them; then, riveted that it is Jesus.

First, the disciples cry out in fear, “It is a ghost!” But immediately, Jesus replies, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The whole mood of the story changes once the disciples realize it is Jesus. Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus answers. Then, Peter gets out of the boat, walks on water and comes towards Jesus (Matthew 14: 26-29).

Can you imagine it? Peter is right there with him. He is captivated in the present moment, intent on going to Jesus out on the water.

Then what happens?

He gets distracted. Peter feels the wind. He turns his awareness away from Jesus. When he sees the wind, he becomes afraid, and he begins to sink.

In a way, one could say that this is what happens to us. We get distracted, lose sight of Jesus, and begin to sink. When our awareness of the Living God diminishes, so do our lives.

Meditation is the spiritual discipline to help us learn to be more present to God and to life. For some reason, it takes great effort on our part to remain fully conscious of the present moment. Inherent in the message of this sermon is an invitation for each of you to try to remain present to whatever it is you are doing, to whomever it is you are with, throughout each day. I would also encourage you, especially if you are not good at being present, being awake, being aware, to meditate.

Meditation is another “thing” we can do, a practice, with the purpose of teaching us to be mindful or present. Mindfulness meditation is exactly what it sounds like. You sit or lie in one place with as little distraction as possible and just pay attention to what is. The simplest way to do this is to concentrate on your breathing because your breath is always with you, existing only in the present moment, rhythmic, coming and going. Another way to practice mindfulness meditation is to concentrate on sounds because they too are always there in the present moment, coming and going. There are several other techniques that I could teach you about in a smaller group setting, and I also recommend The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Kabat-Zinn if you need help developing the practice of meditation.

The reason one would actually take time to meditate during the day is to learn how to stay present. As you intentionally attempt to be present for 20 minutes or so at a time, first of all, you realize how difficult it is; second of all, you train your consciousness. The more you practice, the more you learn to stay present in everyday life.

I also find meditation an excellent practice to do before prayer because it helps you concentrate and focus on your prayer, so that you are not always getting distracted as you try to speak to God. It also helps to raise awareness of God’s presence in and around you.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why meditation, mindfulness, and present moment awareness are important. They increase focus and concentration. They decrease stress and promote relaxation. Actually, many studies and books now focus on the health benefits of mindfulness, from decreased blood pressure to decreased depression to the ability to break addictive cycles.

Mindfulness teaches us to respond rather than to react in our day to day interactions, and in doing so, helps us to break out of habitual ways of thinking, speaking and acting. Let me give an example. Let’s say it is your habit to wake up in the morning, get dressed, brush your teeth, and then go have orange juice and a bagel for breakfast. You do this every morning. And every morning, you wince as you take that first sip of orange juice.

All it takes is a small bit of awareness to realize, “Hey, I should brush my teeth after breakfast.” Then, the next time you are doing your morning ritual, after you get dressed, it only takes another small bit of awareness to stop yourself from going straight to the bathroom as you normally would, and head to the kitchen instead.

To change your usual ways of doing things requires present moment awareness. When you brush your teeth is a minor example. But how do you respond to situations that make you feel threatened? Do you fight? Do you flee? How do you respond when someone yells at you? Yell back? Ignore them? When someone hits you? Hit back? Hide? It takes a wise, aware person to break unhealthy cycles.

You see, many of us react rather than respond, and our reactions are often ones that we developed very early in life, and so they are often not mature or constructive. When you were yelled at by your parents as a child, seemingly for no reason, you probably felt hurt and wondered what you did wrong to deserve such treatment, even if you did not do anything wrong, even if your parent just had a bad day and was taking his or her anger out on you for no good reason. But this can scar a person and affect the way you act for the rest of your life.

Let’s say you become an adult, and let’s say your boss gives you a poor review on your work performance. Now this is a totally different situation than when you were a kid, and yet, many people will react to both situations in similar ways. Why is that? Because most of us have not cultivated the presence of mind to respond to each situation as is appropriate. We learn 10 ways of being as a kid and act them out for the rest of our lives.

Another point is that people often inherit their parents’ beliefs and emotional reactions without even realizing it. If your parents fought about money, arguing how there was never enough, chances are, you worry about money too. You probably fight with people about money. Or you have taken the exact opposite approach and you do not want to have anything to do with money. On the other hand, if money was never even mentioned in your house; it was a secret, you might grow up without learning how to handle money in a responsible manner. One day you might finally wake-up and ask yourself, “How did I get 30,000 in credit card debt?” All this can happen because you never brought awareness to your inherited beliefs.

The point I am trying to make is that people need to acknowledge that our pasts and the conditioning that we received because of what happened to us in our pasts carries itself into our present moment. How you act, unless you have done a lot of soul searching and therapy, probably resembles your parents and how you were raised. It could also be just the opposite of your parents if what they did really bothered you, but to an overcompensating extreme.

One could even say that your past has created your present situation. Who you are today, your clothes, your friends, your work, your church, attitudes, etc, is the result of years past. The good news is that if we act differently in the present moment, we can change our future because Just as the past created the present moment, so also does the present moment create a new future. In this way, mindfulness has the power to transform our lives.

Last week you were asked, “In what areas of my life (actions, thoughts, emotions, relationships, physical health, mental health, spiritual health), do I desire transformation?”

Whatever you chose, if you truly want this aspect of your life to change, than you have to feel, think, speak and act differently when it comes to situations that revolve around this particular aspect. None of us is just going to wake up tomorrow a different person. We need to learn to respond differently, not out of habit, to each and every new moment as it presents itself to us. We also need to make choices that reflect our hopes and desires. This is called mindful living.

This is more than psychology I am talking about here. This is a spiritual understanding of how we can work with God to change our lives and the lives of those around us.

Once we have chosen to walk the path of discipleship, it is crucial that we remain present in everyday life. If we are not present, we end up acting or re-acting in the same ways we always have, often in unconstructive or hurtful ways, with the same result, to the same end. But if we respond instead of react as usual, we can break the bad habits, the destructive family cycle, the negative attitude, and so on. We can break the cycle of suffering, our own and others, but awareness to each new moment is crucial. As you learn to respond to similar situations in different ways, your life will change, your future will change, and so will the lives and futures of those you come in contact with.

Last week, all of you were asked to ponder the question, “Do I desire transformation in my life?” For those of you who answered “yes,” living in the present moment, being mindful, learning to respond appropriately to each new situation instead of acting out of habit can help, tremendously.

Jesus said to us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” And he was right in the sense that worrying does us no good at all. Do not worry about today either. Instead of putting your energy into worry, put it into present moment awareness. Live your life well in the present moment, make healthy and loving decisions, and the future will take care of itself. Your future will reflect the life you live today. And in this way, God invites us to be co-creators with the Holy Spirit in developing our own destinies and bringing about the kingdom of God.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Desire for Transformation: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit

(Read Matthew 12: 33, 34b-36 (the New Living translation), Galatians 5:13-25 (the New Living translation), Ephesians 4:1-7, 11b-16 (the Message translation)

The Scriptures that we hear this morning are of cosmic importance. They are intense. They are more than stories; they tell us that God is doing something in this world. We, as God’s children, are not simply here to drink and eat (although those things are given for our survival and pleasure). We, as God’s children, are not simply here to go to work and pay bills (although these things are necessary in our culture and can even be helpful for our development). Nor are we here merely to reproduce (although this too benefits God’s plan). We exist, we are here to further God’s kingdom on earth. God has plans for each of us as individuals, and for all of us together, to become more holy, more loving, more united in the hopes of creating a better world, a world where all people experience the abundant life that Jesus embodied and proclaimed. Ultimately, we are all here to become one with each other and one with our God.

The more I decide to live by my faith, the more I want in on what God is doing. I want to help, to co-create, and not out of selfish desire, but because I believe that this is God’s intention for me, and for you. We are all active players in the evolution of God’s kingdom. With this great privilege comes great responsibility. Certainly, we do not want to do anything that would harm or hinder God’s will.

Therefore today, I will speak about where God is in this life of ours, how our Living Lord is present, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, how God is working to make all things new.

This sermon is a stepping stone in a bigger project I feel called to proclaim. The working title is: The Desire for Transformation: Cultivating the Fruits of the Spirit. This Sunday, I am going to talk about the first steps: which are to become familiar with God’s intentions for God’s children, and for us to accept, dare I say, embrace God’s plan. To say “yes” to what God is doing in the world. Very simply speaking, becoming comfortable with change and transformation, desiring it as a part of our maturation as disciples of Jesus Christ, is our learning for today. Next week, I will describe the process of becoming more fully.

Today’s Scripture readings tell us of God’s plan, and thus, call you and I to action. But, before we can act, there are some things we must first understand.

Based on my understanding of the Gospel and today’s readings, here are three things God hopes for us as children, disciples, and co-creators with our Lord:

1. We are meant to live in freedom (Galatians 5:13). Oppression, captivity, slavery to corruption and evil, all these things are conquered for both the individual and the collective through Christ. But this requires that people and the world be transformed through God’s Spirit. Freedom is a heavy responsibility because we must learn to be free in ways that serve God’s purposes. God hopes we will use our freedom not simply to fall into a pleasure trap that leads to destruction and death, but that we will use our freedom to love God, ourselves and to love one another. To live in freedom requires a transformation of the human heart.

2. God also hopes that we will live our lives guided by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). As I’m sure you are all aware, human beings are susceptible to live by a much lower, less Godly influence. The new life that emerges through following God’s Spirit is the very freedom God desires for us. But, you and I have a choice. We can choose to live our lives by and with the Spirit or not. It takes desire and discernment to follow the way of Jesus.

3. God wants us to become “fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Ephesians 4: 13). Here we are not simply talking about wearing grown up clothing and having grown up responsibilities. We are talking about being men and women of character and virtue. Ephesians, chapter 1 says, “Long before [God] laid down earth's foundations, [God] had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” (Ephesians 1:4, the Message).

With these three ideas in mind, how can you and I get on board with what God is already trying to do in the world?

The first truth that we must accept regards the impermanence of all things. Everything is transitory. Everything changes. You. Me. The world. The Church. The first step on the road to maturity, to holiness, to happiness is making friends with this reality.

On this day, can we all accept that change is a part of life? To live is to change.

Because if we do not, if we resist change, which we all do to some degree or another, we set ourselves up to be hurt, to be frustrated, to be angry. When life happens to us, we say, “Why is this happening to me?” We dig our heals into the earth and resist moving forward. Yet, change happens to everyone. Sometimes we like what happens, sometimes we do not. In either case, when we resist change, it is like being torn in two. Life is moving us one way; meanwhile, we fight to remain where we are. All this does is tear us apart.

Not only do we have to accept that change is a fact of life, but I think the best thing we can do for ourselves, the best way that we can live by our faith is to actually desire change. It makes things easier. I am not suggesting we desire change that will lead to our harm or someone else’s, but we can desire change for our good. There is a scripture in which God says something to the effect of: I have plans for them. Plans for their good and not for their harm.

So ask yourself, “Do I desire transformation in my life?”

First, we must say “yes” to God, “yes” to discipleship, “yes” to awakening, “yes” to transformation, “yes” to walking the spiritual path that God is orchestrating in our lives.

Hear these words from Romans: “God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, ‘What's next, Papa?’” (Romans 8:14-15).

Once we have opened our hearts and our lives to God, it is time to get specific. To start a conversation with our Maker. A conversation that includes both listening to what God has in mind for each of us, and a conversation in which we tell God what we desire for our lives. The hope is that what we desire is also what God desires, that our desires come from the divine within us because God’s Spirit is in you as surely as it was in Christ Jesus.

Ask yourself, “In what area of my life do I desire transformation?” In your actions, thoughts, emotions, relationships, physical health, mental health, spiritual health?

This requires self-examination and personal reflection on your part. Self-examination and personal reflection are “things” we can do, practices, tools, whose purpose is to help us gain insight into our own lives and what God is doing.

Each of us is different, so what is it for you? What have you had enough of? Is it being angry, yelling, hitting? Being sad, crying, drowning your sorrows in a bottle? Being afraid, being bored, living a life you never intended?

The more accurately you can name what you want to change, the easier it will be for you to see change when it happens

And then, once you name the problem, name the solution.

I find the list of the fruits of the Spirit very helpful at this point. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Who does not want such things?

When we live by God’s Spirit, these wonderful ways of being in the world blossom in our lives. Or as the Scripture says, “When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, [the Spirit] will produce this kind of fruit in us” (Galatians 5:22).

We are on this quest of becoming for at least two reasons. One, so that we might be the children God intended us to be, so that we might reach our full potential and be righteous, holy and just. People of character and integrity. Kind people. Good people. For just as a tree is identified by its fruit, so are we. As it is written, “A tree is identified by its fruit. Make a tree good, and its fruit will be good. Make a tree bad, and its fruit will be bad” (Mathew 12:33).

Two, so that we might “serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5: 13-14). When we live by the Spirit, we also love by the Spirit. But not until you have learned to love can you love another. Not until you have found peace can you spread peace. That is why personal transformation is essential for the betterment of the entire world.

So the last question for reflection (at least for today) is: “Of the fruits of the Spirit and other virtues, other positive ways of being in the world, which do I desire God to cultivate in me?” Cultivate meaning to nurture, foster, or refine.

Once you have decided, it is time for you to strike up your end of the conversation. God is already waiting for you, listening. As Ephesians 4 proclaims: “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love - like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love” (Ephesians 4: 15-16, the Message).

Or again, as Ephesians 3 proclaims: “God can do anything, you know - far more than you could ever imagine…in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit [working] deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20, the Message).

So I ask you, do you desire “a life renewed from the inside” (Ephesians 4:23) that will work its way outward into the world? Do you hope for God’s character to be in you?

First, we must say “yes” to God, “yes” to discipleship, “yes” to awakening, “yes” to transformation, “yes” to walking the spiritual path that God is orchestrating in our lives.

And in doing so, we give God the opportunity to say “yes” to us in return.