Tuesday, July 20, 2010

(Read Luke 10: 38-42)

The Bible is filled with stories that can be difficult to understand. Who here doesn’t take pause as Abraham leads his son Isaac out into the wilderness to be sacrificed, to be killed? And who doesn’t struggle with the notion that God tested Job by taking away everything from him, his crops, his health, his family, his faith? But the story we heard this morning, the story of Mary and Martha, that’s an easy one for us to relate to. It says, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks” (Luke 10: 40). Distracted by many tasks…Isn’t that something we can all relate to?

Martha has some very important visitors over to her house. Jesus and his followers. They are hungry, thirsty, tired. She welcomes them with doors wide open and provides for their every need. It isn’t easy entertaining a group of guests, but she’s happy to do it. Martha gets her guests food and drinks, and finally everyone is sitting down to relax, enjoying themselves. That is, everyone except Martha. She still has stuff to do. More food, more drinks, wash the dishes.

But to be quite honest, Martha doesn’t really want to keep doing her many tasks. She wants to hang out with Jesus too. You can just hear her over there in the other room, in the kitchen, banging pots, clanging pans, audible signs that she’s bitter and distracted.

Even more than that, Martha is really annoyed by her sister, her lazy sister, who is just hanging out with the guys, listening to their thoughts and the stories of their travels, leaving all the work to Martha. Jesus is in her house, HERS! MARTHAS! And she can’t even sit down and talk to him because she has too much to do while her sister sits at Jesus’ feet.

This is not a difficult scene to imagine, except maybe that Jesus is actually there. But the busyness and the irritation that Martha experiences, this is one of the prominent struggles we all have in 21st century America.

Just listen to people when they talk. We all have so much to do. There are children to tend to, parents to tend to, doctors to see, bills to pay, chores, work, work, some form of work, always to do. The list is endless. Even picnics and parties, weekends and vacations can amount to stress and just another “thing to do.” Of course, we feel distracted.

What I don’t like about all this talk, is that life seems so difficult, like a burden, and everyone is exhausted. Being tired is not the mark of a worthwhile existence, and yet it’s like a badge of honor these days. As long as we’re working our fingers to the bone and don’t have enough time in the day, we feel justified. Certainly, no one can accuse us of being lazy as long as we have a list of things we did today and another that we will do tomorrow. But, my friends, is this the life that God intends for us?

Is working our tails off and running around in circles, the point?
Must we swim upstream, go against the grain, pull a cart with square wheels, even if its making us unhappy?

There is always going to be a list of things for us to do in life, the inbox will always be full as the saying goes, but why couldn’t Martha have just sat down? Why wasn’t spending time with Jesus the most important thing she had to do and the thing she made time to do? And why can’t we just sit down? Are we making time for what’s most important in our lives?

Listen to this “lesson” from the book, the 4 Agreements:

There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him. He went to the Master and asked, “Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?”
The Master looked at him and said, “If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.”
Thinking he could do better, the man then said, “Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?”
The Master looked at him and said, “if you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.”
“But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?” the man asked.
The Master replied, “You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love and be happy.”

Perhaps its not how hard we work in life, but the quality of our work and energy that matters most. Perhaps we should spend more time doing the things we deem of vital importance and less time with the “shoulds” and minutia of daily life.

There is a saying, you are what you eat. Well, it’s also true that you are what you do. You are what you do. If you serve God and neighbor, then you are a servant. If you love adults and children of all creeds and colors, then you are a lover. If you give of your time, talents and gifts, then you are a giver. But if you waste your time on that which doesn’t matter much, than you’re…a waste… someone who doesn’t matter much...That’s a sad thought.

“Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” That’s what Captain von Trapp said to Frauline Maria anyway. It’s quite a thought provoking statement really. “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” The pivotal word being “suggests,” as in: to create an illusion. Activity creates the illusion of a life filled with purpose.

I think for many of us it does, and then we wonder why we aren’t happy; why we aren’t satisfied. We run around from sun up past sun down, fall exhausted into bed, before waking up sometime in the middle of the night with thoughts racing through our heads, and we wonder why we have no peace. Activity keeps us moving, and when we finally get a chance to rest, the bottomless pit in our souls growl and our hearts beat restlessly.

Mary refuses to waste her time, the precious time she has with Jesus. She decides that the most important thing for her to be doing is sitting at his feet, absorbing his peaceful presence, and seeing in him what she desires to be herself. We can call Mary a student of the Rabbi Jesus because she sits down and listens to his teachings. We can call Mary a follower of the Jesus because she goes where he goes. We can call Mary a disciple of the Jesus because she does what he instructs.

What would you like to be called? A student? A follower? A disciple? A friend? A humanitarian? A musician? A business man/woman? What’s important to you?
You must do those things.

I have a friend who wrote one book, and then never wrote again in the four years I knew him. He called himself a writer, but I said, “you aren’t a writer. Writers write. When you write again, then you will be a writer.” And actually, that idea got through to him. He started writing a blog every day.

We must do something to be that thing. We must observe in order to be called observant. We must forgive in order to be called forgiving. We must take on adventure if we want to be called adventurous.

One of the things we might all like to be called is “Christ-like.” I know I would like to be. Jesus said to Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” That one thing is for each of us to sit at Jesus feet and see in him what we desire to be in ourselves.

If you don’t know how you would like to be described or what you would like to be called, maybe you can think of an aspect of Christ that you admire. Sitting at his feet, what do you see in him that you wish you could be for the world?

When I look at Christ I see his peacefulness that surpasses all understanding. I want to know that peace; therefore, I must be peace. I must do peace. But there are so many aspects to choose from. We hear of him listening and helping the needy. We hear of him questioning rules that don’t make sense anymore. We hear of him weeping in compassion for those who suffer. We hear of him instructing, leading, praying, taking time out for himself and God, traveling from town to town, spreading a message, meeting new people and seeing the world.

My friends, Martha should have stopped doing dishes and sat down for a few minutes to be with Jesus, to look at him, and to know him. So should we. May you take the time to know who you truly want to be, what is truly important for your life, and in doing so, become “Christ-like.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Relax into the Mystery

Recently, I’ve been struggling with the notion of signs. As in, “I think it’s a sign from God.” It’s not that I’ve completely stopped believing in signs-I do believe that God speaks to us- but I think signs from God are rarer than people claim them to be.

People love to see signs because signs help us to look into the future; they guide one in making decisions. They reassure people. But people can’t see into the future. Somehow, if we feel like we’ve seen a sign though, we feel more hopeful and confident that we are on the way to the life God wants for us and we are more enthusiastic that we are making the right choices in life.

Let me give you an example: I once interviewed at a hospital for a chaplaincy position. Reverend Jim conducted the interview, which went very well, and I ended up getting hired for the position. After working there some time, Rev. Jim told me that he received a sign and that’s why he hired me. He said that on the day I interviewed, he went to McDonalds with his granddaughter and ordered her a happy meal. In the happy meal was a doll, and her name was Mandy! Rev. Jim figured this was God sending him a sign telling him that I was the right person for the position.

What Rev. Jim called a sign; I now call a positive affirmation. Rev Jim met me, liked me, thought I was qualified for the job, and when he saw the Mandy doll, it simply affirmed what he already knew to be true—that I would make a good chaplain. It wasn’t a sign from God per se, more like the doll confirmed what he was already thinking.

Much of what we call signs from God are actually just positive affirmations of what we already know to be true.

Also, what we deem to be signs from God are often just wishful thinking. Take numbers as an example. I was born on January 28th, and thus, I got it in my head that 28 was a special number for me. That when it appeared it meant something, like I was going to be lucky or something good was going to happen. I started looking for the #28 wherever I went. My attachment to the #28 became so great that I started to believe I had a special connection to others born on the 28th day of the month. That is until I met Tom. Tom was handsome, funny and an all around good guy, and when I found out Tom was born on September 28th, I practically fell in love with him. This must be a sign, I thought. Born on the 28th! But alas, after I was deeply hurt by Tom, I realized the #28 didn’t mean we had a special connection or that it was a sign from God that somehow Tom was going to be someone important in my life. I had just wanted it to mean those things. It was wishful thinking.

The problem with signs is: if it had turned out that Tom and I had a special connection, it would have reinforced my magical thinking that the #28 really meant something for me. You’ve known people who are hooked to a lucky number; it’s the same sort of idea. Perhaps you have a number, color, song, animal, that when you hear it or see it, you think it means something, that it’s a sign, like God is giving it to you as a hint, but more often than not, it is you yourself who has given that thing meaning, not God. For some of you, this might be depressing news, while for others of you this might just affirm what you already knew.

Many of us want that assurance that comes from seeing signs, and we want to forecast into the future using signs, but it is the nature of God that much of our life is a mystery- how things happen, why things happen, what will happen - we cannot know. What we do know however is that God is at work in the mystery, the unfolding of our lives, and that is exciting.

Right now, this very second, your life is both unfolding and being created. It’s being created in what you choose to think, say and do. It’s unfolding based on what plans God has for you. And while we all have some control over our lives, the truth is, none of us has absolute control. Who you will meet, what will happen, what you will be called to do, it’s all a mystery. Proverbs says that in the midst of this mystery, we should trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding. We can’t figure our lives out like we can a sodoku puzzle. We have to trust in God, acknowledge God in all our ways and God will make for us straight paths to walk down (Proverbs 3:5-6).

While its sort of scary to acknowledge the great mystery of life, it’s also comforting, exciting, and takes some of the pressure off of ourselves. Life is not totally up to us because God is the one ultimately in charge.

Mark 4 says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain” (Mark 4: 26-28). What this says to me is that life is certified organic. It unfolds naturally, all by itself, just like the seed grows all by itself. We know not how life unfolds, but surely as the grain grows, so too do our lives

When we resist life’s natural growth, that’s when we are miserable. When we fight to change the plan God has orchestrated, that’s when we drive ourselves insane. The more we try to altar the organic nature of things by adding hormones or antibiotics, the more chance we have of poisoning or corrupting life.

Let’s take a moment and think of ourselves as trees, one of nature’s most symbolic creations of the human life:

You are a tree
God is the wind.
And like a tree who allows the wind to move through her branches
We must allow God, who is the force of life, to move through us.
We cannot be so fixed, so rigid
As not to bend and sway
Or else we will break.
We cannot be so full of ourselves and what we want
As not to be filled with the Spirit who moves.

Day and night, we grow
We sway
We move.
There’s nothing we have to do to make this happen
It happens all by itself.
This is life—that it grows organically all by itself

Life is more pleasant for us when we yield.
When we allow the wind to pass through us.
It’s like a summer breeze on a hot day
Blowing through you
Cooling you off.
Let the wind blow through you
Let your feelings come and go
Let your thoughts come and go
Let people and circumstances come and go.
When you do, your inner world begins to flow.
No longer stuck
You become more than the tree
You are also the wind.

In this way, we become one with the powerful force that is God, and we relax into the mystery of how God works and what God is doing.

What we often call signs are usually either affirmations of what we already know to be true or want to be true or they are wishful, magical thinking. Instead of looking for signs in life, concentrate on growing naturally. Concentrate on absorbing the sun and the water, of sitting in the soil, of letting the wind blow through you. Day and night, you will grow though you do not know how. But trust in the Lord because God is building your life just as it needs to be built. It’s okay not to know the future. Simply relax into the mystery.