Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Political Life. Live it. Love it. Laugh at it.

“I didn't say that I didn't say it. I said that I didn't say that I said it. I want to make that very clear.”         - George Romney (Mitt's father.  Also  a politician.  In case you couldn't tell.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Give It Up for Lent 2 - Noise (fightin' words)

Scripture - Psalm 46 ("Be still and know that I am God")
James 3: 5-12 ("The tongue is a fire . . . )

This Lent our guide is Jesus’ invitation to come unto him, all who labor and bear heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.  For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

We’re giving it up for Lent - those things that burden us and drag us down, drag us away from Jesus and the Life he offers.

Last week we talked about heavyness of heart, which is relieved by forgiveness.  This week, think with me a bit about something else that may weigh on people these days:
Too many words.  Too much noise. 

There is good research now that shows it is more and more difficult to find true quiet. 
The noise of electronic communication is almost omnipresent - radios, TVs, broadcasts of various kinds.  Scientists have shown that the loudest part of our noise problem is transportation. Highways, airports.   When I read that, I laughed.  Haha.  Not if you live in Philo! I thought.  And just then a train came through. 
All this noise effects our heads.  It makes us less thoughtful, more irritable, less rested.  All manner of health problems are linked to our noisy, noisy world.
Which shouldn’t surprise us, because some of the strongest statements in the Bible are about the need to listen for God and about encountering God through quiet and silence.

The Sabbath is a quiet zone.
We read the 46th Psalm - Be Still and Know that I am God.
The story of Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain.  Where earthquake - then wind - then fire pass by, but the Lord was not in the earthquake - or the wind - or the fire.  Then Elijah heard a still, small voice.   And THAT was the voice of God. 

Can we make audio space for God’s still small voice? 

There’s a special challenge for many of us.  We find that when we seek quiet, it is our own words that interfer:  Joe Jones had a song that describes what I sometimes think I should sing to myself: 

You Talk too Much

Our talk has such incredible power!  James says it is like the rudder of a ship that steers our whole lives.  And as much as that scares me, it seems to be true.  What we say to ourselves matter.  What we say to others matters.  Our speech is connected to how we feel, how we think, how we act.  Neurons fire, and we see the world differently. 
Jesus said our spiritual health is reflected in our words, and we must be responsible for what we say.  Watch your mouth.  It’s not what goes into the mouth that ruins a person.  It is what comes out.  Out of a bad heart, bad words come, and out a good heart, come good words.  And you will be held accountable for every careless word that you speak. Matt 12;36

But there is hope - we can change.  If you have a problem with being critical, complaining, being consistently negative, always being picky with the faults of other people; if you change the words that come out of your mouth, you will start to change your very personality and the feelings inside of that personality.
Events of the last week have made us all think long and hard about the tone and level of discourse that our culture and society tolerates and even encourages.  We’ve gotten to the place where extreme polarization and ridicule of those who think differently is the norm.   It is not unusual now, for public figures to call the opposition names, or tell people to go to hell,  or be disrespectful of each other in meetings or public events. 
And there’s something sort of fun about having strong opinions and expressing them in the most colorful ways.  It makes us feel smart, I think.  And it bonds us with others who agree with us and insulates us from caring about those who disagree.  But what we have to notice is that it bonds us in hate, not love.   It binds us in a sort of sophomoric society of opposition to something rather than common cause FOR something.  Do we really want that negativity and disdain to be the ties that bind us? 
I do think this is business for Christians.  I think we have to set a tone in how we deal with one another and how we deal, even with those who we consider “the opposition”.  Otherwise, we are not living up to our calling to be the Light of the World, the Salt of the Earth, which Jesus said His followers must be.
The University of Georgetown - a Catholic University, as we all know now - brought a theological perspective to the issue.  Here is just a little bit of what their tradition, and ours, offers: 
"In an earlier time, St. Augustine captured the sense of what is required in civil discourse: 'Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.'
"If we, instead, allow coarseness, anger — even hatred — to stand for civil discourse in America, we violate the sacred trust that has been handed down through the generations.  This is our moment to stand for the values of civility in our engagement with one another."
Romans 12:18 - Insofar as it depends on you, live at peace with others.

If we as Christians want to lay aside what has been called “the fiery burden” of stridently expressed opinion, we have help in Christ Jesus - we have his example of measured and loving words, his teaching to be careful what comes out of our mouths, but most of all, we have his own presence at the Table set before us, His own Words which, even in the most danger and distress, were words of Love:

This is my Body, given for you.  This is the cup of the new covenant of forgiveness. 

When we put this bread and this wine in our mouths and let Christ’s presence enter our hearts, then we are strengthened to let only good things come out.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Give it Up for Lent - Heartaches

Again - not written out completely.  "Note-y" not naughty.

Give it up for Lent  -
What will you give up for Lent?  If you are giving up chocolate, or lunch, or the internet, or whatever . . . . great. 
I'd like to know how your Lenten discipline affects you.  What will you learn?  How will you grow?  That’s great. 
Sermons will explore possible things Christians might give up for Lent.   Not stuff like chocolate.  But stuff like heartaches.  Worry.  Fear. Burdens. 

The promise we’ll be claiming is the one Jesus spoke “Come unto me all you who labor, carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and have a soft heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my burden is easy and my yoke is light.”  

The first burden we want to give up and get some rest from is the burden of a heavy heart.  And one thing that can weigh our hearts down and make them feel like we are dragging around a rock - is anger
Two things, really, anger at other people that have done us wrong - and regret about what we ourselves have done - in a past that is less than perfect. 

Let’s talk about storing pain and anger over what other people have done first.  Cause I hardly ever talk to someone whose heart is heavy.  And I hardly ever feel weighted down myself, but what this isn’t part of the reason.  Human beings love to hang on to offenses they have suffered.  We just do.  Description - of holding onto the jagged words and mean things people have said and done to us.  Lauren Winner is the one who calls them jagged -  “I cling to them although it is my own palms that are lacerated by carrying them.”   It is our hearts that are weighed down by holding onto the hurts and heartaches of the past.

Lent is a time for us to lighten up our hearts by practicing the compassion and forgiveness of Christ.   By requesting and accepting forgiveness for what we have done.  And by forgiving and letting go of those things that others have done to hurt us.

And they are linked.  Forgiveness for others and forgiveness for ourselves are inextricably linked - not by theologians,  or Oprah or Psychologists.  By Jesus.   In the prayer that he taught his disciples to pray - the one we say every Sunday - “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”   Right after the prayer, before he talks about anything else, the FIRST thing he says is “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither can your Father forgive you.”   A heart from sin set free is a heart that sets others free.  And it happens together - that kind of light heartedness. 

Lewis Smedes said, “To  forgive  is to set a prisoner free, and to discover that the prisoner was you.”

To forgive means to let go - to release - any expectation of redress of grievances, or to be Paid Back.  It is to say, “That happened, and I am not going to waste one more moment of my precious life reliving it.”   And then, you just don’t pay it any more attention. 

This does not mean that you renew the relationship with the person who injured you.  Your forgiving the hurt does not change the person who hurt you.  It changes you.

To ask forgiveness of another is also to be relieved of a burden and to receive a gift.  I don’t know if you read conservative columnist Cal Thomas - but his column last week was about a recent experience in which he made a mistake.  Before a big crowd of supporters, he said something really mean and personal about MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.  He writes, “All the mean things people say about me are no excuse.  I am not supposed to behave like that.  One of the principles in which I believe is not to engage in name-calling - which, to my shame, I did.  The next morning I felt bad about it, so I called Ms. Maddow to apologize.  It wasn’t one of those meaningless “If I’ve offended anyone. . . “ apologies;  it was heartfelt.  I had embarrassed myself and was a bad example to those who expect better from me.  Maddow could not have been more gracious.  . . . To be forgiven by one you have wronged is a blessing, it’s even cleansing.” 

But even if Rachel Maddow hadn’t been gracious, Thomas would have been unburdened by sincerely repenting.  And God’s forgiveness would have allowed him to make a fresh start. 

Accepting God’s forgiveness says that God is bigger and God’s love is greater than any mistake or sin in my life. I don’t have to be a liar, even though I told a lie.  I don’t have to be a rigid, judgmental jerk, even though I acted like one once.  I don’t have to be a lazy, no good whatever.  God can make a new future for me. 

It’s sort of humbling, when you think of it:  it’s just saying that I’m not big enough to ruin God’s plan for the world.  I may mess up.  And I will never be perfect.  But I don’t have to keep beating myself up and making the same mistakes over and over again.

You know I love country music, and there’s a song by Tom Russell that says it perfectly: 
“When the lie that you told buzzing round in your head
Let it go.
. . . “

I can change.   Which is why it is so hard, I guess. Being forgiven changes you.  I’ve told you about the great hat I saw.  It said, “Let’s change.  You go first.” 

So before you forgive, you might want to spend a little time in prayer.  Ask Jesus to sit with you.  After all, he’s an interested party here.  He cared enough about your forgiveness to go to the cross to show you how it is done.  So sit with him and try this: 

Picture yourself sitting in a beautiful place - a field filled with flowers, or a mountaintop meadow.  Or this sanctuary.  And you are holding a package on your lap. It is heavy.  It is the burden that you have been carrying.  It is the pain and anger of a broken relationship, it is the the guilt over a personal failure.  It is something that needs forgiveness.   Spend a few minutes getting really clear about what is in the package.  And then take your hands off of it.  Let it go.  Imagine that instead of weighing heavily upon you, it begins to rise, like a balloon, and all you hold is the string.  What if it flies away?  What will that mean for you?  Talk to Jesus about that.  What would be different in your life if you let it go?  And then, the two of you decide if you are ready.

Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and you will find rest for your souls.