Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who Do You Report To?

(Read Jeremiah 2: 4-13)

I can understand why God is so upset with Israel. Israel has lost its soul.

First of all, Israel is the Lord’s chosen people. They are his baby. God has done everything he could to grow them into a strong and wealthy nation. God helped them to get out of slavery in Egypt; he led them through the wilderness; he supplied them with food and water. Then, the Lord brought them into the Promised Land, a garden land that was plentiful.

And what is the Israelites response to all that God has done for them? Gratitude? No. Trust? No. Steadfast love and faithfulness? No.

God’s heart is breaking. The people of Israel have abandoned their Creator. They are acting as though their Guardian and Guide is nothing to them. Have you ever had someone in your life who just stopped calling you or left you or abandoned you? Remember how badly that hurt. It might still hurt. The Prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to give the people a conscience, to make them realize that what they were doing, how they were treating God was a grave mistake.

In verse 5 we hear that Israel’s ancestors have drifted from the Lord, delving into worthless idols and becoming worthless themselves. In this life, we can search for whatever we choose, and Jesus says he will help us find it. Why go after things that will make us less than who God created us to be? Why not go after the things that will make us more? More loving, more wise, more free, more whole? Israel chose to go after the things that were of no profit to humanity or their own well-being.

They also stopped relying on God. In good times and in bad, they did not think to ask, “Where is the Lord?” They did not call upon God. Instead, they worshipped the false God Baal, and with that came a life of sexual immorality that went against the rules of the Torah.

Let’s learn from Israel’s mistakes. Let’s not turn our backs on God who has put our spirits inside of us and orchestrated our lives for us.

We may not prophesy to Baal per se, but I would like to suggest that we run the risk of abandoning God when we push down or shut off God’s spirit within us. God gave us his Spirit, God made us in his image, and we honor God when our spiritual lives are at the center of our daily living.

But all too often, our lives our divided. We think and feel one way, but we act another. Our spirits have a desire to go forward, but our physical beings stand still. We want to use our voice and say something important, but we just sit silently. To live a divided life means that our inner world, our hearts, our spirits, our souls are ignored, and our outer life does not reflect what is deep inside of us.

Let me give you an example. There was a man named John from Iowa who had been a farmer for 25 years. He loved the land. Then, he went to work for the US Department of Agriculture. He was given a proposal regarding the preservation of Midwestern topsoil, “which is being depleted at a rapid rate by [agricultural business] practices that value short term profits over the well-being of the earth” (18-19). It’s a serious problem, but the proposal leaned toward exploiting the land for financial gain, rather than saving the soil.

In his heart, John wanted to reject the proposal, but politically speaking, he knew it was a bad idea. John’s boss was in support of the proposal, and he made it clear to John that he expected his support as well.

So what should John do? Should he risk being ostrasized at the office or fired in order to express his true feelings on the matter? He thought to himself, it would just easier to go along with what his boss wants and not make any waves.

Ultimately, the question boils down to: who does John report to? Whose expectations of him does he want to live up to? His boss’s? His own? God’s?

We run into dilemmas like this all the time. A divided life is a life where we live by another’s standards or expectations. A divided life is a life where we have to pretend or hide. It is inauthentic. The real problem is that a divided life is a life that denies God’s and the self that God created you to be.

Psalm 139 says, “For it was you [God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…In your book were written all the days that were formed for me” (Psalm 139, 13, 16). God made each of us intentionally and planned our days for us, but all too often worldly pressures, perverted desires and poor coping tactics lead us astray.

Some examples of a divided life: (from pg 6)
• We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.
• We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits.
• We make our living at jobs that violate our basic values and diminish our happiness, even when survival does not absolutely demand it.

I read about this concept of a divided life in Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness. He describes it like this:

“My knowledge of the divided life comes first from personal experience. I yearn to be whole, but dividedness often seems the easier choice. A “still, small voice” speaks the truth about me, my work or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not.”

“Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls, [which is God’s imprint in us]. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being [the person who God created us to be.]”

The word integrity means “The state or quality of being entire, complete and unbroken,” as in the words integer or integral. So what Parker is saying is that living a divided life prevents us from being complete or whole people.

Where does this divided life lead us?

“[We] pay a steep price when [we] live a divided life—feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that [we are] denying [our] own selfhood[s]. The people around [us] pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by [our] dividedness. How can [we] affirm another’s identity when [we] deny [our] own? How can [we] trust another’s integrity when [we] defy [our] own? A fault line runs down the middle of [our lives,] and whenever it cracks open, divorcing [our] words and actions from the truth[s] [we] hold within—things… get shaky and start to fall apart.” (4-5).

Part of preventing a divided life is knowing what we believe and what is important to us so that we can stay true to ourselves. A great beauty arises when people refuse to live divided lives. Inspiration and enthusiasm spread and joy swirls in the air as we begin to live, think and act from the divine center within us.

The key is to bring our inner and outer worlds into harmony. That requires courage on each of our parts and a supportive community, a community that values each individual unique person and our quests for wholeness. A place where all people are listened to, a place where people are encouraged to live authentically. A place where there is honesty and compassion among the people.

The church is called to be such a community, a place where the divided life can heal and be made whole. I pray that we are such a community, where each of us is free to express his or her own soul, his or her own truth, and to encourage that truth in others.

Remember John, the man who worked for the department of Agriculture. He was struggling with how to deal with the situation at work, and he went to a men’s retreat where he talked about the tensions he was feeling. The others listened to him; they helped him to clarify his thoughts; they prayed with him. Finally, after a sleepless night of trying to decide what to do, John had a realization. He told his newfound brothers, “During this retreat, I’ve remembered something important; I don’t report to my boss. I report to the land.” (19). And with that wisdom, John was able to “stick to his guns”, and the great divide that was within him, causing him anxiety, came together. John felt a great peace because he was following his heart.

So I was thinking: I report to Jesus. Being true to him is what guides my decisions and behavior. Who do you report to?

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