I’m allergic to horses. And hay. And to the cats that roam the barns and the ragweed that blooms in green pastures, and even the dust kicked up by oh-so-handsome Wrangler-wearing cowboys. But, my goodness, horses are gorgeous creatures.
We in the Roaring Fork Valley are privileged to see the new foals each spring as we trudge up and down Highway 82 near Snowmass Canyon, and the herd at Owl Creek Ranch, and the gentle ponies ready for young riders at Cozy Point. But one of the most memorable might well be watching the herd run home after a Wednesday night rodeo in Snowmass.
Recently I was out with friends and at the suggestion of one we spontaneously stood at the side of the road just in time to watch this weekly procession. It was dusk, the smell of fresh rain hung in the air, and the rodeo announcer could be heard on the loudspeaker bidding good night to the cowboy-clad visitors. We were perched on some rocks midway between the rodeo grounds and the pasture where the horses grace us with their presence all summer. Within minutes the herd barreled toward us, making their way from the roundabout up Brush Creek Road, past the Visitors Center and Town Park, and into the meadow at Horse Ranch. The galloping thunder was not unlike the thunder earlier in the evening — a slow rumble that grew in intensity and power as it passed us by, then dissipated into the night.
Life offers us such moments. Moments that rumble through our lives leaving us entirely overwhelmed — sometimes with joy, sometimes with sadness — but which in the big picture are fleeting and eventually past. Like the horses, life’s events can absolutely shake the ground we stand on. And if we are truly present to the moment, on whatever side of the emotional spectrum it lies, we can acknowledge the Divine power and beauty of “even this.” There is something healing about standing in the eye of the storm. Perhaps this is what it means when God promises us peace that surpasses all understanding.
The seasons of life are ephemeral. Consider the joys of watching a newborn turn toddler; the celebration of weddings, graduations, successes; the butterflies of first love. These beautiful moments are, sadly, short-lived, as are the agonizing and angst-filled times: the uncertainty of career or job security; the pain of loss and the deep grief of death; the hope for a future fading from view. Standing in the moment — in the eye of the storm — and being present to the very miracle of life unfolding, is where we meet God.
Last week God happened to look like a gorgeous herd of galloping thunder. I stand in awe.
Within the Gospels, there are very familiar stories that generally follow the same theme.
For example, one time Jesus went to a man’s house for dinner. Many of those gathered were disliked, thought to be less than, and were certainly considered to be sinners because of prior and current actions. The most religious people present that night were not happy Jesus would eat with such off track folks, let alone be around them.
On another occasion, some of Jesus’ disciples began to eat. They did not wash their hands before doing so. Some nearby religious leaders chastised Jesus for enabling his followers not to follow strict religious rules and guidelines around food consumption.
Story after story after story in the Gospels, we find a pattern. Jesus does something and the folks that have a problem with Jesus are either religious leaders or just people of faith who claim they strictly live according to biblical laws. People who had a problem with Jesus thought of themselves as religious, faithful, upstanding, righteous, and on the right side of issues.
Those who challenged Jesus the most and in fact were responsible for killing him were religious people that were too certain and too confident about too many things, especially about biblical law. Their certainty and overconfidence not only made it impossible for them to understand Jesus, placed them in opposition to the love of God, but prevented them from following Jesus and building God’s kingdom.
From the beginning of the Old Testament through the New, there is a way of living, an approach to all aspects of life, that God calls us to embrace. And that is humility.
Humility is upheld all over scripture. For example, Paul writes in his letter to the people in Rome, “Do not be wise in your own sight.” In the letter of James we find, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” In the Book of Jeremiah, “Let the wise man not boast in his wisdom.” And there are dozens and dozens of other examples.
When we are too certain and too confident about too many things when it comes to our faith, we end up getting in the way of what God is wanting to do and we end up following ourselves instead of Jesus. I believe we are called to be confident and certain about some things but that much of what occupies our attention, our actions, and our zeal is in fact better left out of the confident and certain realm.
For example, I am confident that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he died on the cross of our sake, was resurrected on that first Easter morning, and that his spirit, the Holy Spirit is living within each of us. I also believe he actively leads, heals, and shapes us as the years go by.
Over the years I have found my relationship with Jesus has deepened the more I yield myself to him and gain comfort in the unknown because I am confident in Jesus and less confident in what I believe about this issue and or that. I am confident God has it all covered.
In my experience, the more we become confident about more and more and more things, the more we put ourselves at the center of our lives instead of God.
The point, if we want to follow Jesus, we are called, I believe, to attitudinal humility not self-righteousness. Paul warned early Christians about self-righteousness because he knew that the more we make room, more room for people who might be very different than we are, we end up being more faithful than if we do the opposite.
When we are not self-righteous and too certain, we begin to listen far more than we speak. We don’t spew out whatever comes to mind. We are clear about what is central to our faith, but willing to be open to the periphery. We avoid getting into litmus testing people about their faith. We allow God to be God even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Prior to last night, things have been bone dry in Snowmass Village and across the Rocky Mountains. Above average temperatures, intense sunlight, and long daylight hours have wilted plants, turned lawns brown, and trails have begun to look like the Chihuahuan Desert.
The other day, an hour or so before sunset, I took a hike along the southern Rim Trail. It is a great trail with breathtaking astonishing views. As I walked along, I quickly noticed that I stirred up quite a bit of dust with every step. There was so much dust I began to feel like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
About 30 minutes into the hike, something caught my attention. A magnificent wildflower which is pictured in this e-letter. Given how dry everything had been, I was surprised to see such a beautiful flower. But there it was.
As I thought about being surprised by seeing a flower despite drought conditions, I began reflecting upon the many things that have caught me off guard, the unexpected events that have come into my life, both good and bad. I then thought about God and how in some ways God is much like that wildflower.
Our God is a God who continually shows up in unexpected ways and in surprising places. Sometimes God’s presence is subtle and it can be hard to see God walking right alongside of us. But unlike the wildflower whose existence is transient, God’s presence is not and God is with us regardless of the conditions we are enduring. There is no place, no circumstances, where God is not.
I love the words found in Psalm 139. “I can never escape from your Spirit. I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, and if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”
As we journey through life this week, I pray that like seeing a wildflower on a dusty trail, each of us will encounter God in surprising ways and places. That we will be given the eyes to see God acting through whatever challenges we are faced with. And that even if things are feeling barren, lifeless and hopeless, that we will trust that God is with us no matter what.
An important marker in the lives of young people is the transition from child care or Sunday School to worship. This workshop will help prepare children and their parents for children’s full participation in the community of faith. We’ll go over different parts of the worship service and prepare young worshippers to participate and lead. All ages are welcome, though this is especially designed for those entering 6th grade and up.
- Identify the parts of the worship service
- Tour “secret” places in the church and identify their uses
- Practice saying or singing the parts of the liturgy
- Talk about ways they can be involved in worship
There is little doubt we live in a time filled with immense challenges in virtually every domain. Little is easy, much is arduous, and levels of conflict and hostility are extreme. Like the terribly dry conditions in the Rocky Mountains this July, it often feels as if things might just explode. In the midst of such realities, much of what we have known and counted upon is on shaky ground. Not much is certain and social trends are morphing faster than 24 hour news cycles.
Even how people spend idle time is quickly shifting. Service clubs like Rotary often struggle to find members. The numbers of people playing golf, going to movie theaters, taking time to browse in a bookstore or a shopping mall, or taking the time to have lunch during a busy work day is diminishing. And of course, across the nation, fewer people are active in a community faith and not as many folks as in the past are willing to engage in much that requires consistent participation over the course of time, let alone a sacrifice.
In response to all of this, one Christian writes, “if we are going to survive, if we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world.” I disagree with this perspective.
Certainly what I have outlined in terms of our current zeitgeist is difficult at best, Yet I believe as Christ followers we have an astonishing opportunity as we move into the second half of 2017. I don’t believe we are called to retreat from the world, but rather to do just the opposite. This is not the time for us to circle the wagons.
It is time as Christ followers we take our faith and our walk with Jesus seriously, that we keep our eyes on Jesus, and that we follow him out into the world. Jesus was not partisan nor did he drop out of the immense social conflict surrounding him. Rather he focused on what he was called to do which was to demonstrate that God is love, to heal, to bring about justice, to confront misdirected religious folks, to forgive humanity, to offer a path forward, and to initiate changes so the world could begin to look more like God, the Kingdom of God, etc.
We are in dark times. Jesus is the light of the world. As things darken, we have the opportunity to offer Jesus to those around us. The darker things become, the brighter the light of Christ will appear.
In a short weekly article it is impossible to be concrete with how to follow Jesus more fully out into the world. Hence I begin a two part sermon series this week to get into this topic more fully. And, immediately following each worship service we will gather for an informal discussion and Q&A. I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic as well.
That said, the takeaway from this short piece is to invite us all to focus more and more on Jesus, engage more fully in prayer and in our faith communities, disengage from conflict and partisan hostilities, and take the love, healing, forgiveness, and message of salvation out into the world which desperately needs to hear the good news. I pray we will not retreat, but rather engage filled with love for God and for each other.