Making Guns Our God
This is a wonderful essay from Mark Lockard from Sojourner's Magazine.
I see no way to reconcile owning handguns, assault rifles, and the like with the reality of Christ, which is fundamentally about dealing life. Not death. - See more at: https://sojo.net/articles/making-guns-our-god#sthash.DsvrTaKZ.dpuf
Readings: James 1:19-27; Colossians 1:9-14
NOTE: What a thrill it is to have shared the writing of this sermon with my dear friend and mentor Rev. Dr. Tom Richard. We have talked about this for some time and we have finally decided to to it. Yes, two churches preaching one sermon. (One in Greenville, Michigan and the other in Sherman Oaks, CA.)
I met Tom at a conference in Madison, Wisconsin during my second year in seminary. We spent a good deal of time talking about his decision to step down as the executive director of our National Association. We also spent time talking about our respective calls to serve God in our new capacities. Three months later, we would reunite in Sherman Oaks, CA when he arrived with his wife LeeAnn, to become the interim minister at the church where I was interning.
For the next two years I gained an invaluable amount of wisdom working with and under him. He taught me the kind of stuff seminary wasn't adequately prepare to teach. We all might agree that education is great for filling one’s head with knowledge, but it is often through our close personal relationships that we discover the real wisdom of life.
This was true for the Apostle Paul. As a Pharisee, he was a smart man; a top notch scholar of Jewish scripture, history, and traditions. He was good at his job, and never strayed from following the law. Then something happened to him on the road to Damascus. He met Jesus. And his head and heart collided.
As the light of Christ blinded him, he began to see God’s will for him more clearly. This experience would send Paul on a radical, new life changing quest; one that would deepen his faith and his wisdom. His journey would take him to Colossae, an up and coming city situated in the Roman province of Asia Minor. (Today it is a part of Turkey.)
Most scholars agree that the letter to the Colossians is probably one of three letters the apostle wrote to churches while imprisoned in Rome. It was there Paul received reports that this fledgling Christian community was experiencing a threat from false teachings, which was no surprise...coming from a predominantly pagan environment. Paul realized because of this influence their heads and hearts seemed to be disconnected. He needed to intervene. He writes to them, making two affirmations: first, there is truth in the Gospel, and second...life in Christ is an invitation to a new way of living.
During our discussion, as we connect this passage to our own ways of life, Tom and I decided that the best title for this sermon had to be, “the longest trip is from the head to the heart.” And we’ll tell you why.
You see, the Colossians faced the age-old challenge: to make a wise decision.
This might not seem to such a big deal. We make decisions about every aspect of our lives: what to eat for breakfast, where to work, when to retire, when to have kids and how many, what doctors to see, which car to buy...the list goes on and on for our entire lives.
Sometimes our decisions are no brainers, but other times they require careful contemplation and prayer. We often weigh the pros and cons, always seeking the logical conclusion before make our choice. These kind of decisions are considered knowledge-based; we make them with our head.
But then there are those decisions we make based on our heart. Deciding to make a career change or marrying my beloved wife are just two examples from my own life. Because these kinds of decisions are made from the heart, they often come with various emotions attached to them; fear, anxiety, euphoria, and even a bit of insecurity to name a few. The old, “what if?” still pops up in my head from time to time.
Whether it is from the head or the heart at the end of the day, we are able to judge our decisions as either good ones or bad ones.
For example, my first marriage was a bad one. My second marriage, or what I like to refer to it as my last one, has been great so far (that journey is still going). In the first relationship, my head and heart were often at odds. The more they fought, the more distant and detached they became.
But with Kathleen it is different. Together we make a real connection, one where the head and heart walk together, hand in hand. Paul might say that knowing the difference between the head and the heart is the key to making a wise decision; and perhaps the key to true knowledge.
So, let’s first talk about the head…knowledge. From the book of Proverbs we read: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and instruction.” A more precise translation from the ancient Hebrew text would state, “Being in awe of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
For anyone who has been awe-struck by God’s steadfast love and grace, you might agree that knowledge of God doesn’t always begin in the head, where its traditionally thought to begin. Instead the author of this proverb suggest...knowledge begins in the heart. This is a big distinction.
The Colossians, like so many in this era, were influenced by the Greek Hellenism of the day. Knowledge (gnosis) was held in the highest esteem. This is still true today. Likewise the ancient Greeks, we understand knowledge to be the information and skills acquired through either experience or education (or both). Thus, knowledge is thought of as beginning in the head.
I imagine it like a vertical line. Take for example, in school, the teacher passes his or her knowledge down to the student. For eons, society has put great faith in this method. But like me, Paul puts his faith Christ Jesus. It was the incarnate One who taught us that true faith must first reside in the heart. While knowledge is transferred through the vertical line, Christian faith must be shared horizontally. That is to say wisdom is relational, and not merely rational. It connects our head and heart to the head and heart of others.
For Paul the vertical line is meaningless without the horizontal (draw it). Notice the shape it makes. Through the self-giving, cruciform love of Christ we get our first taste of understanding who God is...in relationship to humanity...and how to do the will of God towards every human being.
Paul admonishes the Christian community in Colossae. He knows they have been instructed in the way of faith and they should not be swayed by false teachings, false teachers, worthless instructions and rules held by those around them. And yet they can’t help themselves. I can understand why.
We are really no different today. Even the best Christians disconnect their heads and hearts from time to time. With so much information at our disposal, we are easily tricked into having faith in our own wisdom, instead of living in the mystery of God’s wisdom. We often believe we can go at it alone. Thus we tend to follow our own will...instead of God’s will.
During the Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards once wrote: "Knowledge is the key that first opens the hard heart,Enlarges the affections, and opens the way for men (and women) into the kingdom of heaven."
It sounds very similar to Paul’s words: “We have not ceased praying for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
Paul prays without ceasing because he knows this journey, this eighteen inch journey is one that every religious person must take. He knows this is a slow, and daily process. It is one that is constantly transforming us. As we build up this (head) we begin to strengthen this (heart). Of course this works the opposite way too.
Christ warns us, as we walk down this path, as we take this journey from here to here, the way is narrow and the gate is small; the world will put out stumbling blocks to make the journey difficult...but it's not impossible.
And so...at the end of the day...it comes down to making a decision.
We can either follow Christ’s way, or not. We can walk in a manner that is worthy of God’s unconditional love for us, bearing good fruit by loving others. Or we can stumble through the darkness alone, trying to make sense of a life that has no real meaning or depth. We can follow our own path, or we can follow God’s path that leads us to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Pharisees (including the Apostle Paul) thought they were walking the right path. They had memorized verbatim God’s words and laws, even made them a part of their own life journey. But Jesus was quick to point out to them that no matter how much they understood up here (head)...they still didn’t get it here (heart); their knowledge only went one way. They had forgotten how to live out God's will in relationship with others. Jesus reminds us all that we can know the law by heart without knowing the heart of it.
Leo Tolstoy gives us this analogy: He says, a person who professes wisdom only is like someone standing in the light of a lantern fixed to a post. There is light all around him, but there is nowhere further for him to walk without being left in the dark. However, he adds, a person who professes the teachings of Christ is like a man carrying a lantern before him on a pole: the light is in front of him, always lighting up fresh ground, it is always encouraging him to walk further.
To Tolstoy's point, we can argue that both lights provide enlightenment, but only one has the true power to increase it.
During our discussion Tom relayed a story about something that happened at their last Church Council meeting. He said, before they got down to business, the moderator pulled out a candle from a paper bag. He began to tell the group what he heard at a bible study class. It was a story about a sister Congregational church who started all of their board meetings by placing a candle in the center of the table; lighting it as the acolytes do when bringing the light of Christ into worship every Sunday.
Like Paul before him, this moderator was insistent that all of the church's decisions made that night, would be made with Christ in the center. What a simple yet profound reminder for us all.
Even if all we do, or every decision we make, is nothing more than a lot of “head” work, everything must begin from our "heart," in the presence of Christ, whose Spirit is represented by the flickering light, both inside and outside and all around us. I invite you to follow that light and live out the love of God in all that you do.
To know Christ is just the beginning of true wisdom. As followers of Christ we are called to fill our head with the wisdom of “heart work.” We are called to walk as Christ walked, to be self-giving and all loving...even when society tells us otherwise. At times it can be difficult, and even seem impossible and never ending. But at the end of the day, our choosing to live in...and to follow the cruciform love of Christ is and will always be...the smartest decision we could ever make.
Dressing Faithfully: A sermon
READING: Ephesians 6:10-20; Matthew 23:23-27
How many people remember the name Joey Buttafuoco? He made national news when his affair with a 16 year-old girl, Amy Fisher, was exposed after she attempted to kill Buttafuoco's wife. It was an ugly story that not only had kept the late night talk show hosts well stocked in jokes, but also allowed people all around the country to cast their opinions and judgments.
Now, there is a reason I mentioned his name. But before I tell you what it is, I'd like to share a story that happened not long after Buttafuoco dropped out of the limelight.
I was looking out my apartment window at a stretch of Sunset Blvd that was notorious for meeting a very particular type of woman. It saddens me to say it was not uncommon to see underage girls ‘working’ this area of Hollywood. On this particular Friday afternoon, there was scantily dressed young woman standing on the corner. She looked new to the streets, a bit too unprofessional. To the careful eye it was clear she didn’t belong there. But to the desperate John she was a prime target. It didn’t take long for a car pull up, and wave the young girl over.
My heart fell to my stomach as I watched her make the deal with a much older man. Then, in a blink of an eye, two unmarked police cars come screeching up and blocked the man’s vehicle from both sides. The young girl jumps back. And, from out of what little clothes she is wearing, she whips out a .38 special…and a shiny metal police badge. It had been a police sting. Completely surrounded by cops, the John could do nothing but surrender. When the car door opens, who steps out of the vehicle with his hands on his head? That’s right, Mr. Joey Buttafuoco.
As I looked back on this story I realized he and I have something in common. (And probably not what you might be thinking.) We had both been completely wrong in our judgment of this young police officer. Because she wasn’t wearing a uniform, we both mistook her for something else. That was her intention. She was trying to fool us into believing she was something she wasn't. And we both took the bait.
We live in a world where our survival is aided by our ability to judge quickly between right and wrong. For centuries, Scottish clans have worn tartans. A child from the Highlands learns quickly to identify the clans by their plaids, in order to recognize a friend or foe. Our senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch is designed to work in unison so the brain can effectively distinguish something that might potentially harm us. But sometimes there are misfires. Sometimes we misjudge people and situations. This is seems to happen more frequently when we judge people by what they wear.
Take for example the police officers in Ferguson, Missouri. While wearing full combat gear and driving military attack vehicles, the police force confronted a large crowd of what had been mostly peaceful demonstrators. There is a lot to this story too. Suffice it to say, people gathered to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown. Lurking underneath, however, there was also persistent racial bigotry and discrimination, crushing poverty, failing schools, and high unemployment to fuel the fire. In hindsight, most experts agree it was the police department’s militarized uniform and warlike response that transformed peaceful vigils and protests into a violent battle situation. Having been dressed like warriors instead of peacekeepers, I wonder if the police were trying to send an intentional message? Or did both groups simply misjudge one another?
In Matthew 7:1 Jesus warns us not to judge people. Yet he knows we have to make some kind of judgment in order to navigate our faith and righteousness. In Matthew 23, when Jesus attacks the Pharisees with these seven infamous woes, we read some rather harsh and scathing judgments. Is Jesus a hypocrite? No, but many people seem to think so.
Look carefully at what Jesus is doing. Notice he is not judging the individual person, as we are apt to do. Instead, he is pointing out the actions that had lead the group astray from doing what God called them to do? He is calling them hypocrites, because they are saying one thing but doing another. It is not so much a judgment Jesus is making as it is standing firm in God's righteousness against injustice.
The Pharisees believed they were doing the right thing. For them, it was business as usual. But Jesus saw through their disguise; accusing the religious group of looking righteous on the outside, while being full of hypocrisy and lawlessness on the inside. They too were misleading the people, not by what they were wearing...but by what they were doing.
This makes me wonder...if Jesus were to walk in here right now, would he see the real us? Would he be able to tell if the clothes we wear on Sunday were also worn on Monday? In other words...does our Sunday best stand up to the test throughout the week?
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the tragic story about the king of Denmark, the self-absorbed Danish lord Polonius offers this advice to his son: “Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy; But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”
In essence, what Polonius is telling his son, “Watch what you buy and wear, for clothes make the man.” Mark Twain adds, “Clothes make the man because naked people have little or no influence on life.” Wit aside, both of these men make a great observation about how we judge others by their outward appearance, and more often than not do so before we get to know anything else about them.
Jesus understands this. He commands us not to hold of our judgments on the individual person until we get to see what he or she is made of. God does not judge us by our clothes any more than God judges us by the shape of our body or the depth of our wealth. These things don’t mater.
We can whitewash the tombs so they look beautiful...but what good are they if they are unclean on the inside?
God knows that our Sunday best is meaningless...if they stay in the closet the rest of the week. It doesn’t matter if we wear an expensive suit or a fancy dress. God looks for the righteousness that dwells underneath the silk and tweed. It doesn’t matter if we are too fat, too wrinkly, too bald, or out of shape. We can be rich or poor, tall or short. God is only measuring our faith that builds up our spiritual muscle and our heavenly worth.
Is this the way you judge yourself? If not, then is it safe to assume it is also not the way you judge others? This is hard to do when the world around us bombards us with messages that tell us to be one way and not another?
I have said this before, Jesus' way of life is and always has been countercultural. As his followers, we too will often find ourselves being judged unfairly for not playing by societies rules. Yet even we need to be on guard and in tune with our faith because even the best Christians can mistake their own righteousness, and thus misjudge others in the process.
How then do we protect ourselves from letting this happen to us? As Paul concludes his letter to the churches in Ephesus, he warns the new Christians of being tricked and misled by the wiles of the devil. There are the dark forces in the world fighting to keep us from shining the light of Christ too brightly. With the use of military imagery, Paul instructs his readers to put on a particular kind of wardrobe. The armor of God!
Paul is not naive. He knows it takes both a tough skin and a soft heart to faithfully follow Jesus. But while his metaphors paint the uniform of a warrior, his message is not one of war. Instead, Paul is calling us to take a stand in our faith...and proclaim the gospel peace.
As peacemakers...our belt will not hold bullets and tear gas…it will hold the truth of God. Our breastplate will not be made of Kevlar, but out of God's righteousness and justice. Our footwear will not be steel toed and combat ready. Instead it will be a simple shoe to walk out of our comfort zone and towards Christ likeness.
As the world seems to move more towards an indifference to God...the armor we wear becomes even more important. We will need a tough skin to overcome the obstacles that cause us to stumble. We will need a tough skin to stand firm and face of the injustices that keep us from truly becoming united under God.
In the same fashion we will need a soft heart to see and understand the true light of Christ that surrounds us from the inside out. To walk in peace as Christ did, we will need a soft heart that constantly loves and forgives...even those who seek to trick us, and harm us.
I invite you to take Paul’s metaphors of war and weave them into your own metanarrative of peacemaking. Take hold of the double edge sword of God’s living words and march out into the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ through whom we are given our grace and salvation.
Clothes may or may not make the person. Who am I to judge? But what I have learned in my life is that Jesus shapes who we are. May our outward appearance be influenced by our inward love for him. For me, I wear a clerical collar to let people know they can come to me for spiritual care. But privately wear it as a reminder to myself that I am a servant of God. This small white piece of plastic is useless if my heart is not useful in promoting the way of Christ, first by my faithfulness and second by my words and deeds.
Our Sunday best isn’t a pretty dress and white gloves. Nor is it a tailored suit and tie. Instead it is our true commitment to follow Jesus Christ, especially as the world tries to knock us down or misguide us.
So as you begin a new week, put your Sunday best to the test. And always remember that if those around you are not seeing your armor of God then it is probably not visible to the one looking inside you.
 Stamper, Norm. "Militarizing Ferguson Cops With Riot Gear Is A Huge Mistake." Time, August 18, 2014.
Seeing Jesus Clearly
"We are called to be contemplatives in the heart of the world- by seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time, and his hand in every happening; seeing and adorning the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor." Mother Teresa
Living Wisely: A Sermon
READING: 1 Kings 3:3-14; Ephesians 5:15-20
This past week I went golfing with one of our deacons. Now anyone who golfs with me will attest that I ask a lot of questions, from “Which club should I use?” to the more frequent, “Can you help me look for my ball?” But there is one question I always seem to ask and in doing so, I believe, has made me a much better golfer. And that is...“We’re not keeping score, right?”
You have heard me say this before...we learn best by asking questions and pursuing the answers. Einstein never stopped questioning the world around him, And look how wise he was. We live in a new world where finding all the information we seek is as easy as pulling a smartphone out of our pocket or purse. I fear, however, more people know how to seek wisdom from Google and Bing rather than through the Bible and prayer.
In her book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wonder, and wisdom” author and political pundit Arianna Huffington writes, “The quest for knowledge may be pursued at higher speeds with smarter tools today. But wisdom is found no more readily than it was three thousand years ago in the court of King Solomon.In fact, ours is a generation bloated with information and starved for wisdom.”
Is it safe to assume that we all wish to be wise? Yet wisdom itself is not innate. We are not born knowing all the answers to Jeopardy. We have to seek them. Likewise, we can gather an arsenal of information, but we still have to filter it...and make sense of it before we can claim it as our own. For Christians this can be a difficult task. We must also discern the difference between worldly and godly wisdom, if we wish to grow in obedience to God’s will.
Not long after Solomon becomes king, does God appear to him in a dream. God asks Solomon a poignant question: “Ask what I should give you.” God loves Solomon so much that God is willing to give him anything he wants. Anything he wants! If God made you such an offer what would you ask for?
Instead of asking for something as common as money or power, Solomon says he wants “an understanding mind,”one that is “able to discern between good and evil.” This might be the wisest thing he could ever do. God gives the young king exactly what he wants, and much more, including “both riches and honor” throughout his life. Solomon not only wants all the information but also the skills to discern it as a means to...increase his wisdom, his power, and his success.
As the co-founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post...Arianna Huffington has written extensively about the rise and fall of successful people. People, who like most of us, equate success with money and power. Yet after she collapsed from exhaustion in 2007, she began to ask herself different questions. Questions that would help her redefine her idea of “success.” She writes of a new metric that is balanced with “well-being, wonder, and wisdom.”
I wonder how the questions we ask, and the information we seek, are increasing our wisdom...not to mention our well-being?
Let us turn our attention to the six short verses from our reading in Ephesians, where we are given some wisdom to increase our well-being. The three themes that stand out to me include, make the most of your time; be filled with the Spirit; and always give thanks and praise to God in the name of Christ Jesus. If we were to put this in Huffington's new metric...then we are to be mindful, we are to be life seeking, and we are to always be grateful for all that we have.
Jesus calls us to be mindful...to live in the now without fear of what tomorrow will bring (Mt. 6:34). This passage too warns us to avoid time spent dulling our minds with vices or addictions...anything that might keep us from being fully present in the moment. Like a Black Friday bargain hunter, we have to be ready to pounce on the bargain before it goes away. Or so you different kind of hunters can understand, you have to be on guard for the buck to be broadside.
For Huffington, it took a near fatal disaster to discover that this limited time called "life" is more precious than money and fame. I imagine there is someone here today who understands this all too well. And why is that? Why does it take a heart to stop beating before we realize how lucky we are that it beats in the first place? The Buddhist says we are only given so many breaths, thus not one should ever be wasted.That breath, as you might recall, is the Spirit of God living within and among us.
Through grace of God given to us all through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus we have received a new lease on life, another chance to do the will of God. So we must ask our self, "Am I making the most of this time?" Or "Is my wisdom increasing in the moments by which I live my life?" As followers of Christ, our time should be used seeking the life giving Spirit that helps us to live in Christlikeness. We can’t afford to waste a precious second quarreling, or spreading rumors that harm others.
As Christ demonstrated, this requires of us to make ourselves vulnerable to others and empty ourselves so that we can be filled with the Spirit of God. We cannot let the sun go down on our anger, but must be quick to reconcile our differences, love our enemies, and put aside our hatred, malice and judgment. Those negative things in our life are the evils of the world that take our focus off the true joys of a new life in Christ. They are the evils that keep us from walking together as one people filled with the Holy Spirit.
The author of Ephesians suggests...our wisdom increases each time we gather together in prayer and song. As we seek a life giving spirit, we come to realize that we are not meant to be alone. We are a communal people, connected through other persons. We are one people, made in the image of God, bound together by a common humanity. So when one person suffers, we all suffer. When one person is blessed, we are all blessed.
We gather as a church not just to replenish our spirit, but to give our gratitude and thanksgiving for the blessings that Jesus gave to us. Therefore, through his glorious name, we are to offer God our thanks, and show God our gratitude. With the very first breath you take in the morning, you must say, "This is the day that the Lord has made," and say it with certainty that God is there, even in the messiness of it all.
Perhaps cultivating a spirit of gratitude will help us slow down, to stop rushing through life without stopping to give thanks for all that we are given. Perhaps it will make us more mindful of our surroundings and of other people. It might help us to be more positive in the face of challenges and confrontations. It might allow us to stand up during a difficult situation and ask the wise question, “What am I thankful for in this situation?” I am not sure if every answer you receive will make you any wiser, or if asking such a question will prevent you from collapsing from exhaustion someday. But it seems to me to be a step in the right direction, toward greater well-being, wonder, and wisdom.
In closing, let us look back at the beginning of Ephesians chapter 5. It states, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself up to us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
May such good news increase the wonder of your love, and continue to grow your spiritual wisdom and may it never stop blessing your overall well being.
"The wisdom of God continually directs me. I know what to do and when to do it, as I am guided by the Spirit in all that I do." For the Lord gives wisdom: from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding-Proverbs 2:6.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, and ed. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 3. Louisville, TN: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Huffington, Arianna. Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wonder, and wisdom. New York: Harmony Books, Crown Publishing, 2007.
Yamasaki, April. "Reflections on the Lectionary." Christian Century, August 5, 2015: 21. I am very grateful for her inspiration and insights that I drew heavily from to write this sermon.
August 15th, 2015
Reading: Matthew 5:1-12
In 1927 Max Ehrmann wrote Desiderata, which when translated from Latin means "desired things." It's a beautiful prose poem that begins with the words, "Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."
During my time away with my family, which wasn't always as peaceful or placid as one might wish, I learned this poem was read at my uncle's funeral. Some of you might recall it was extraordinarily popular in the 1970s, especially on college campuses during graduation commencements speeches.
Today it seems to have returned to the obscurity from which it came. Which is a shame. The words..."Go placidly" are still strong words. They remind me of what Christ has called us to be...And what God desires from us. That is to say, to be peacemakers. You see, there's a reason why we begin church with the passing of the peace. More than just an ancient practice of greeting one another with words from our heart, they are words that establish community and seek reconciliation.
Recently, the Rev. Sam Wells of St. Martin's Church, in London, took a stab at writing an ode to Ehrmann's piece. In a small homily aptly entitled it, "Desired Things," Wells fleshes out this imperative to "Go placidly" in a way that I believe...touches upon our more modern sensibility. I would like to read it for you. Not because I did not find time to write a sermon of my own, but because I feel his words speak to our society today, especially in light of the world (of Peru) from which I just returned. I invite you all to listen to his words...and contemplate your place within them. Wells begins by saying:
"Be humble. Remember what it took for you to be here. Think of the imagination of God that brought creation into being; there could have been nothing. Think about the many layers of evolution that it took for you to get from being a twinkle in God’s eye to the living, breathing being that you are. Reflect on how many of your ancestors clung to life to the point where they could conceive the one whose birth eventually led to yours. Realize by how fragile a thread their existence hung, and how the miracle of your birth is made up of a constellation of other miracles. As you contemplate your parents, and come to terms with both their ordinariness and their fallibility, remember that without them you would not be here at all.
Be grateful. Lord Mountbatten said of Gandhi, “You would never guess how many people it takes and how much it costs to keep that man in poverty.” But it requires a myriad of angels to keep any single one of us in the life to which we are accustomed. We take for granted that others toil in fields and slaughterhouses and travel the earth to bring food to our grocery stores; all we do is produce a card and pay for it. We assume someone will work night and day to make roads and vehicles...and bring oil out of the ground so we can move around. We seldom ask whose sweat produced our shoes, our computer, or our shirt (which we boast about having bought so cheaply), and when we get a bargain we scarcely pause to consider which link in its supply chain got no reward.
Be your own size. There are 300 billion stars in our own galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Before you tell everyone not to start the party until you arrive, take in the enormity of that reality and your tiniest part in it. Before you say to someone, “Do you know who I am?” ask yourself, in light of the scale of the universe and its venerable age, “Who exactly am I?” Look at the earth, which you share with so many living beings. Many of the tiny ones scurry and multiply in hidden ways that make it possible for you to breathe, heal, digest, and sleep. Realize how you take for granted that the sun will rise tomorrow. If it wasn’t so, what could you do about it? Your life rests in an ecology that you will never live long enough to comprehend, much less thank.
Be gentle. Remember the physician’s mantra, “First, do no harm.” A little compassion, a little generosity of heart helps us look to our fellow creatures with gentleness...rather than bitterness, anger, or condemnation. How often have you commented on...what another person said or did with horror, fury, or scorn, only to find yourself, ten years or ten minutes later, saying or doing the same thing?
Be a person of praise and blessing. Recognize that if God had not called Abraham, there would be no covenant; if God had not brought the Hebrews through the Red Sea, there would only have been slavery; if God had not restored Israel, there would have been perpetual exile. If God had not dwelt with us in Christ, we wouldn’t know we were children of a heavenly Father, made to be God’s companions, empowered with the Holy Spirit. If Christ had not died in agony, we would not have discovered that we mean everything to God. If Christ were not risen, we would not know that our future is in God forever. If the Spirit had not come, we would not know the joy of this good news. We were made to be companions to God and a blessing to the creation. No more and no less.
Wash one another’s feet, be the servant and slave of all, make every act of your life a sacrament of love to others and praise to God. Your existence is a miracle, and your redemption is amazing grace. And never cease from singing."
Wells offers us such a beautiful reminder that in the scope of God's time and space we are no bigger than a single grain of sand...or a tiny mustard seed. Yet God knows us, knows who we are and what we are capable of doing.
And don't you just love the way he ends it? "Never cease from singing." Never stop offering joy to God through song. I might add, never stop believing and understanding that you are the one Jesus loves. You and me.
We are not saints. But sinners. Ordinary people with extraordinary powers. We are the ones God has chosen to be with. We are His people, His family, His children. So here's to us...the ones who are bold enough to follow a God who loves us just the way we are...imperfect in nearly every way.
While some may see us as crazy for following such a scandalous God, how blessed are we who are able to see only grace, love and forgiveness...? Therefore never cease from being crazy enough, and faithful enough, and for sure, never cease from forgiving and loving too much.
This is how we go placidly into the world. Through our peace we can be bold. Be gentle. Be our own size. Be a person of God's praise and blessing. And most of all, never cease to be the peace of Christ Jesus who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers...for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, and ed. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 3. Louisville, TN: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Wells, Samuel. “Desired Things.” Christian Century, May 22, 2015.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”