Whether it is the loss of a life long partner, the despair of a teenage child, the anxiety of tenuous employment, loneliness or simply the pressures of day to day living, the chances and changes of living challenge us all.
It is my prayer that we will be sustained and encouraged by Easter.
In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28 we find, “After the Sabbath, as Sunday morning was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look in the tomb…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled the stone away, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow…The angel spoke to the women. ‘You must not be afraid,’ he said. ‘I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has been raised…’”
The words, “he has been raised,” are, perhaps, the greatest words in Scripture, for it is through these words that we learn God has power over everything, even death itself.
If God can transform death into eternal life, then there is nothing on this earth which God cannot overcome and transform in our lives. When the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that first Easter morning, despair was transformed into hope and doubt into trust.
It is my prayer that we will each receive the gift of trust and hope this Easter. Trust that God is in charge regardless of how outward circumstances appear and hope that God can mold any situation into His purposes for our lives.
The fundamental reason I get up every morning is Easter and it is through Easter that you and I can be assured that God is in charge of everything, no matter what. Fear not, my friends, for He has been raised. Happy Easter!
Perhaps you will think that I have lost my ever-loving mind when I tell you that I tend to believe that I will be more connected to other people if I can demonstrate my perfection. My fashionable clothes, my picture-ready hair, my sculpted body, my fancy home and car, my carefully practiced music, etc. I am convinced that people will especially want to be my friend when they hear my flawlessly reasoned arguments – about how I am right and wise and everybody else is wrong and short-sighted. My life and I in it are the absolute pink of perfection – don’t you want to be around me and be my friend? (I can already sense your sympathy for my husband!)
It must be some kind of insanity that moves me to such thoughts, because nobody is looking for a friend who outshines them at all times and in all ways. I remember looking at one of my friends in junior high and wondering why he was so popular when he never combed his hair. Please keep in mind that this was in the 80’s when nobody left home without big hair-do’s requiring every hair to be meticulously arranged and held in place with clouds of ozone-depleting hairspray! I think that this was the beginning of an epiphany for me.
You may know or remember Daniel Barnes who ran our sound prior to Adam Gilbert. Daniel is now in college, and one of his professors gave him an assignment to get the answers to a series of questions without looking them up online and without other people looking up the answers for him. So he asked his friends for help. Before long, he had long-lost relatives knocking on doors of previously unknown neighbors in order to find answers to bizarre, obscure questions for Daniel’s professor. He got the answers he needed, but more importantly, he got an answer that he wasn’t seeking. He may have believed that knowing things is powerful, but what he learned is that not knowing things is also powerful. It led to new friendships and stronger bonds. I’ve never met this professor, but I think I want to sit at her/his feet and learn.
Then there are those moments when we watch a performer, and they forget the words to their song, or an athlete who falls, or an actor whose prop fails. Suddenly everybody is pulling for them and feeling empathy for them. Nobody wants to screw up in front of other people, but sometimes those moments are the ones we remember the best and that teach us the most.
So here is the big reveal. I have come to suspect that we don’t connect when we compete for flawless perfection. In fact, sometimes I think it is exactly this drive for perfection that separates us. We connect over our shortcomings, weaknesses, and brokenness. We bond through our authenticity and vulnerability. The most ego-driven people are not usually the most lovable, but rather, the ones who can admit that they were wrong. Why is connection important? Because I believe that when we connect with people in deep and meaningful ways, we come to love them. When we love people, we are more likely to treat them as Jesus taught us. Maybe for Lent I will try giving up some ego?
Jesus was clear. His message straightforward. His piercing insight unending. Sadly, tragically and unbelievably, in the two thousand years since he rose from the dead, layer upon layer of messaging, hierarchies, the unquenchable desire for power and control, politics, certitude, physical and organizational structures, fear, oppression, exclusion, egos, rules, clergy, liturgical practices and personal preferences have subdued and complicated what Jesus said life is all about to the point that it is now nearly unrecognizable in many communities of faith. Too often, communities of faith often alienate, harm, and drive humankind away from the reason we are alive to begin with.
Jesus said everything, no exceptions, is about love. Jesus did not say, “Love, and” or “Love, but.” He simply spoke of love, with no add-ons, no addendums and no additions that get us off the hook. Our work, the decisions we make, the manner in which we conduct ourselves and treat all people, the relationships we enjoy, the activities we undertake, our faith life, the standards and views we hold, can be infused with and based upon the kind of love Jesus spoke about, or not.
God is love. This is what Jesus taught and how he lived and, more often than not, the religious people around him could neither tolerate nor accept this message. Jesus was killed by the most religious around him because love meant letting go of power, control, self, opinions and ego. Jesus never said the love he spoke of was meant for only certain domains of life. Rather the love imperative of which he spoke applied not only to religious leaders, but to all people in every dimension of life.
Loving God, loving others, loving ourselves is the simplest yet most astonishingly difficult choice we are given. Love is the most demanding path. What is heartbreaking to me is that love, by many, is no longer considered to be the center of what it means to follow Jesus. Love is often relegated to the back seat superseded by religious leaders who speak far more of judgement, exclusion, hell, salvation, who is in and who is out, political alignment and engagement, condemnation of other religious traditions, hostility toward those on the margins and just about anything that has nothing to do with the love of which Jesus taught.
Others now understandably reject religion saying that some of what has gone terribly awry in history is due to religion. This statement is not only correct, but a profound reflection of Christians who have distanced themselves from Jesus’ simple and clear statement that the purpose of everything is love.
Near the end of his life, Jesus said to those around him, “Love as I have loved you.” He did not say convert, save, change, challenge, condemn, judge, protect maintain, eliminate, or detail a long list of rules. He simply said, “Love as I have loved you.”
At the Chapel we have been working and will continue to work, however imperfectly, to take Jesus’ love imperative seriously. Some have challenged us for it. Others have left. Some have said, “Sure, love, but….” Others have concluded I don’t take the Bible seriously. Some have joined us in doing everything we can to be a different kind of community of faith in which love is first and love is last, period.
I take Jesus at his word. Loving God, loving others and loving ourselves is the reason for life and why the Chapel exists. It is our mission. It is the point. It is what we are about. And it is such love and Jesus’ resurrection that ignited the world 2000 years ago before all the stuff that exists today got in the way.
All of this leads me to sharing what I believe is the most important question in life. That question is, “What does love require of me?” I believe we are compelled to ask this question throughout each day, wherever we find ourselves, in whatever setting. When we ask this question continually and act upon our answers, we will find ourselves moving closer and closer to Jesus and toward ushering in the kind of world God envisions.
The other day my wife Regina and I got in line at the Village Express chair lift at Snowmass. It was one of those glorious bluebird Colorado days. To my delight, when we got on the lift, four children, roughly ages 7-10, sat next to us, per the request of their instructor who was one chair ahead. As we rode along I found out the kids were from Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Florida and here on spring break with their parents. Needless to say they were cute as buttons as the saying goes.
After passing the mid station I asked them what the name of their instructor was. One little boy said, “Her name is Rosa.” “What is her last name?” I asked. A third grade girl said, “It must be Parks.” I then asked, “Have any of you heard the name Rosa Parks before?” Two children said, “yes”. I asked, “Can you tell us about Rosa Parks?”
One of the children replied, “Yes, one day a long time ago she got on a bus.” “Really” I said. I followed up with, “Did anything happen on the bus?” “Yes, she got arrested”, said one little one. “That must have been very hard. Do any of you know why she was arrested?” I asked. Without a one second pause another child replied, “Because of congregation.” “Congregation”? I asked. “Yes, congregation.” Needless to say, Regina and I nearly fell off the chair lift with joyful laughter.
While there is much that is serious, devastating, and tragic happening every day in the world, I believe God invites us in the midst of it all to find joy, laughter, levity, happiness, and gratitude, among other things. In our journey in faith, I believe one of the saddest things that can happen is that we lose sight of what is good, right, pleasing, uplifting, wonderful, and even silly. Laughter is God-given, as is joy.
Perhaps an invitation for all of us this Lenten season is to balance out our attention to everything that is amiss with an intentional focus on all that is delightful and extraordinarily right, like the small children on the Village Express.
Yes, Muslims, Jews and Christians face hatred and violence. Yes there are all the woes out there we are compelled to address and respond to through action. But the flip side is happening every second all around and, I believe, God invites us to joyfully savor and share all that is as it should be. My hunch is that our national hero Ms. Parks, despite having suffered from segregation, would delight in young children speaking of congregation.
One story that is often read during Lent is the story of the Transfiguration. The story is about the time when God markedly changed Jesus’ outward appearance up on a mountain. The story from the 17th chapter of Matthew is also told in Mark and Luke. For a moment, let’s take a closer look at what happened.
For days, Jesus told His disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem and that once He arrived, that He would be killed. The disciples didn’t like this news and struggled to accept it. It was during this time that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain to be alone.
When they are on the mountain, Jesus’ appearance suddenly and dramatically changes. His face shines and his clothes become white. Then Moses and Elijah show up on the scene. When Peter, James, and John hear God’s voice, they fall to the ground terrified. Jesus comes to them and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”
It is interesting to point out that when Jesus says, “get up,” the phrase here actually means “be raised.” It is as if Jesus is saying, “Peter, James, and John. Now that you know who I am, stand up, rise up into a new life. Now that you know me, begin a new life. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
The Transfiguration of Jesus that day on the mountaintop meant a lot of things when it happened. It showed Peter, James and John who Jesus was. It gave them encouragement after they had heard Jesus speak about his upcoming death. And clearly when the going got tough in the future, the disciples would remember what God had said that day.
But the transfiguration of Jesus Christ is more than just an historical event. It is more than a story about God changing Jesus’ outward appearance. It is a here and now reminder that God offers another kind of transfiguration to you and to me. A transfiguration of what lies within us.
Whether or not we are aware of it, accept it, or are in tune with it, each one of us is becoming something. Even if we don’t think we change over time or over the years, the reality is that each one of us is different than we were years ago. Compare your inner self now to when you were 10, or 20, or 70.
Sure we have some of the same characteristics, dimensions of our personality, and opinions, but we are not completely the same as we used to be and we are all in the process of continually becoming something else. As someone once said, “we are continually becoming something different, continually changing, continually being transfigured.”
So here is the question. What are we becoming? What are you becoming? What am I becoming? It’s a pretty important question.
We are each in a continual process of internal transfiguration and I believe the reason we are alive is because God wants us to become what God has in mind. God wants to transfigure each of us and the more we transform into what God has in mind, the more our lives will be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
Many of us at times spend time looking within ourselves. I think when we feel this way, it is because God is trying to get our attention to pay attention to what we are becoming. That it is God’s way of reminding us He wants to transform us from the inside out, and not just once, but on a continuing basis every day of our lives.
And so I offer a prayer we can use as we explore who we are and who we are becoming.
Lord Jesus, I come before you today seeking something different within. Seeking transformation. Seeking more of some things and less of others. As I work toward accepting the transformation you continually offer me, teach me to let go of what keeps me stuck, to listen to your voice, to be willing to act to make changes, and to let go of fear. Teach me these things Lord Jesus, and help me to become whom you envision. In your strong name, Lord Christ, I pray, Amen.
Although I typically use a keyboard on my computer or voice writing on my iphone, I use pens daily. While a pen is much slower than a keyboard, there is something about a pen I prefer. Things slow down and there is more time to think before moving a word from the mind to paper. Perhaps this is why I miss slower attached ski lifts where there was more time for conversation and taking in the scenery with friends. Clearly faster is not always better.
This week, on Ash Wednesday, we began the 40-day season of Lent. The season in which we ponder and pray about the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It certainly is an opportunity to come clean with ourselves and others with regard to things we have done we wish we had not and things we did not do we wish we had. And of course, these 40 days are invitation to intentionally spend more time with our loving, gracious, and forgiving Creator.
A day or so ago I was putting some ideas down on paper for some upcoming sermons and for a variety of programs we are doing at the Chapel. I was sitting in a comfortable chair with a footstool. Before I fell asleep for a 15-minute nap, I slouched lower and lower in the chair, meaning the paper pad I was writing upon moved from a downward position to an upward position against my knees.
Just before dozing off, I noticed the ink was becoming lighter and lighter as I wrote, not because it was running out of ink, but because the tip of the pen slowly became pointed upward as the paper pad moved in the same direction. Wanting to get some more thoughts down quickly, I stopped writing, adjusted my position, and began to write a bit more.
Stop and adjust. As I think about it, stop and adjust are two great concepts and ideas to act upon during this season of Lent. Perhaps there are ways of being, ongoing conversations, manners of thinking, or methods of approaching situations and people in which we need to simply stop, adjust, and start over again.
Sometimes we have to simply stop to get perspective, to create an opportunity for things to start flowing again in the right direction, and to give ourselves a moment to collect ourselves and make needed adjustments. It can be hard to adjust without stopping sometimes and stopping without making any adjustments can keep us stuck in non-beneficial ways.
Over the days ahead, I invite you to join me in thinking about those situations or relationships in life in which, like a pen pointed toward the sky, things are just not flowing like they should. To think about hitting the pause button and while stopped, to think about needed adjustments on our part.
The idea of stop and adjust is what repentance (to turn around or back) is all about. It is about stopping and turning ourselves back toward God instead of away from God. The Good News is that God never needs to stop and adjust when it comes to you and to me. God is always in the right position in that regard, which is one of joyful welcome and unbounded love no matter where we are or have been.
There is a well-known quotation and perhaps you have heard it before. It reads, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” This saying from 1928 or so has been applied to all sorts of conditions and challenges.
Whether used in reference to a company, a restaurant menu, or our own personal lives, the meaning is generally the same. We are wise to remember to move along in life and not get stuck; to be willing to take risks and go out on a limb; and to understand that if we stay put and don’t change a thing, potential cannot be fulfilled.
We can likely think of numerous examples of when someone or something played it too safe and opportunities were not only lost, but the future itself became bleak as a result. Blockbuster. Sears. The Pullman Company. Woolworths. Borders. Kodak. They are gone or nearly gone. Why? They stayed in safe harbor. They played it so safe they lost sight of reality.
As human beings, we were not created to stay in safe harbors throughout our lives, but made to venture out onto the wild and risky wide-open sea. We are made to ride large swells, have salty spray hit our faces, and we are equipped to make it through stormy passages. It is evident that our creator, God, often calls us to head out and go, to move beyond what we can see or predict and to live our lives with a spirit of adventure, curiosity, and wonder.
But before I get more into this, I need to offer a few remarks, an essential caveat. Part of being human is to have periods in our lives in which we feel like everything is turned upside down. Whether due to sickness, unemployment, living well beyond a spouse and friends, the vestiges of aging, dealing with death, and loss, a huge life transition, managing a growing family that is going in a million directions, or just plain old heartache, to live is to be like a turtle that is flipped on his or her back.
To be human means there are those passages we find ourselves in positions we don’t like, circumstances that make us scared, frantic, sad, worried, or confused, or happenings that cause us to want to give up or make us feel like we just want to be done with it. I’ve been there. You’ve been there or maybe you are there right now, and I get it.
When we are in such places, sometimes what we need most is to grab onto what is familiar, turn to what we have known, rest in what has been, and relax in the presence of others like a warm blanket on a cold day.
Sometimes we need that meal we’ve eaten for years, to hear that old hymn, read the King James version, sit in a chair that has been shaped to fit who we have become, go to the one street in town that has not changed so much and take a walk, reminisce, pull out an old album, turn the pages of the scrapbook, take a long nap, drive down what remains of Route 66, write a letter by hand, or simply journey back in time in our minds and remain for as long as we need.
Said another way. We may be ships that are made to be out on the water, but sometimes we just need to go to a safe harbor and stay for a while.
And not only is that ok, but it can be exactly what God wants us to do. It’s why Jesus one day said to a crowd, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Stillness, peace, familiarity, a sense of security, resting, or docking in a protected marina may be where we need to be for a while, and that is more than ok.
So with all of this in mind, I’d like to get back to the idea that we were made not to spend our lives in safe harbor, but to get out onto the open sea.
Throughout scripture, whether in the Old or New Testaments, God has this clear habit of saying things to people like, “Move on, let’s go, get going, don’t stay where you are, don’t stay put, time for you to grow, time for a change, you need to loosen your grip, stop pondering, act, you need to get out of here, go, go, go.” With just two letters, you can sum up one of the key plot lines of the Bible. G. O. God says go all the time.
And God sends this message to people despite youth, lack of experience, age, low confidence, feeling tied down, burdened or trapped, piles of unanswered questions, fear, long held ways of looking at things, temperament, skill sets, or degree of faith.
Every one of us holds onto some things, ways of being or looking at things. We each cling, grasp, and grip. As followers of Jesus, I believe it is imperative we regularly ask ourselves why, to what end, and for what purpose?
Why do I insist on this? Why do I require that? Why is this way of looking at … so important to me? Why do I hold so tightly to…? What is it that makes us feel secure and safe? Where is this need to clench coming from?
Our answers may help us embrace what is helpful, cause us to be more faithful to God, and live more fully. But our answers to such questions may also help us realize there are some things, ways of being, ways of thinking and ways of living we may need to release, to let go of, in order to move forward and flourish.
This is why it is critical for us to explore such questions as, “Where might I be stagnating? Where am I stuck? What am I resisting that keeps coming to mind? What unknowns get to me? Where is it in life that I have a sense that God might be saying, “Go, let go, get going, release, move on, embrace what is next, turn to a new way of being and looking at things.”
I believe that God is pretty clear with us. There are times to go to safe harbor and remain a while. There are times to head out into the open sea. But in general, God knows that we are made for lives of adventure, to head out, to move on, and to let go and grow.
So when it is all said and done, maybe what God is saying to us through all of this is, “Pay attention. Take the time to wake up and open your eyes. Spend the energy again and again and again figuring out where your ship needs to be.
Do you need to head out to sea and let go and go? Do you need come in and take some time in safe harbor? Have you spent time in safe harbor long enough?” I believe God wants us to ask ourselves with intention, “Is it time to head out or is it time to head in?”
But regardless of how we answer such questions. Despite how we might feel about where we are at the moment. No matter what it is we feel we are being called to do, remember this. God is in every safe harbor. God is out on every open sea. And God is waiting for you and for me over the horizon in a world we have yet to see.
This week it snowed in the deserts of the Southwest. When I heard the news about the snows I reflected upon my own years living where desert storms happen. Growing up in the desert Southwest, I was exposed to lots of Native American literature, art, and rugs. The Navajos are fascinating people and one of the most interesting characteristics of Navajos is that they frequently did not complete things, whether it was a basket, a blanket, a song, or a story. It is not because they were lazy, it was because they never wanted anything to be too perfect.
If something was too close ended or perfect, they believed it cramped the spirit of the creator and sapped the energy of life away. When Navajos created anything, they often would leave little gaps or imperfections in their work. To them, perfection was suffocation.
It is amazing what Navajos did when they made beautiful blankets. When creating them, they frequently left a slight imperfection in the weaving. Often this took the form of a single thread that originated from the center of the blanket and extended all the way to the edge. The Navajos called this imperfection in their blankets a spirit thread or spirit outlet. They believed such a thread gives the creator room to breathe and to create and serves as a reminder that only God is perfect.
Perhaps that is how God designed us. Beautiful, yet imperfect. And maybe God made us this way so that we would have room for Him. Room for Him to act in our lives. Room to create, to transform, to guide, to lead, and to heal. Room not so much for predictability, but surprise.
Maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect beings so that we would hopefully come to the place that we realize that we need a savior. And maybe He created us as beautiful, yet imperfect so that we would learn to give other people a break and to lighten up with our expectations.
Perhaps all of this is an invitation for us to pause for a moment and think about the fact that you and I both are like a Navajo blanket. Beautiful, yet imperfect, just as God made us.
Like those blankets, we too have a spirit thread coming from the center of who we are. A thread that reminds us not only of who we are, but who it is that put us together. I pray that that that thread, our imperfections, help us remember that Jesus Christ is not finished with us yet, nor anyone else who annoys us with their imperfections.
And let us all remember as one person said, “Jesus comes not for the super-spiritual but for the wobbly and the weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.”
For several decades the field of positive psychology has flourished. With a broad focus, this relatively new area of study explores such topics as resiliency, how to thrive as a person, how to be happy, how to confront helplessness, how to overcome, well being, optimism, and mental and physical health, to name just a few. Positive psychology is not at all about hedonism. Quite the contrary and in many ways this new field of study has much to offer people of faith.
Two researches, Santos and Gendler, have explored causes of human behavior. While certainly countless people have looked at such causes for a long long time, their approach has been a bit unique. They came up with the idea of the GI Joe Fallacy. In the 1980’s the cartoon GI Joe was popular. At the end of each show there was a message to viewers. The goal was to offer people useful life tips. When the message concluded, there was another that said, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”
Taking this idea, Santos and Gendler set out to explore how powerful knowledge alone is in affecting behavior and decision making. Here is one thing they write about the findings in this research area.
“The lesson of much contemporary research in judgment and decision-making is that knowledge— at least in the form of our consciously accessible representation of a situation—is rarely the central factor controlling our behavior. The real power of online behavioral control comes not from knowledge, but from things like situation selection, habit formation, and emotion regulation. This is a lesson that therapy has taken to heart, but one that “pure science” continues to neglect.”
Simply stated, simply knowing something does not necessarily change attitudes, ways of thinking or the actions we take. And it is here, I believe, this scientific field has much to offer people of faith. Knowing about God. Knowing the stories of Jesus. Knowing about the cross and resurrection. Knowing that God is love and love is the bottom line. Knowing any of these things alone does not mean we live differently or make different choices based on this knowledge.
What is far more important are the choices we make, the habits we intentionally form, the actions we practice, and the thoughts we allow to inform our lives. While there is much more to this whole idea, the key take away for me is that simply knowing about Jesus and knowing what Jesus expects, alone will have little if any impact on how I live and the choices I make.
Our faith life is not a head game or about head knowledge or about knowing the right thing, it all comes down to how we choose to live, think, act, and react and to what extent such things are in alignment with our faith. The good news is that God has given us free will be be able to make such choices.
I love Australia and Australians so I was particularly delighted recently to encounter so many folks from Down Under here skiing. While there are many world class and gifted Australian skiers, others who were visiting looked more like kangaroos hopping across desert sands.
A few days ago I was at the top of Snowmass standing in line to go up the Poma platter lift. I was surrounded by a group of gregarious and fun-loving Australians. I joined them in laughter and joking. Some of them had never been on a platter lift so, needless to say, person after person grabbed the pole and – instead of standing – attempted to sit down, resulting in roll-over tumbles. Despite the growing line, even locals found the scene to be entertaining.
When I finally was able to head up the mountain, I thought of how much easier the platter lift makes it to ascend to the top of the mountain. I for one know I would be winded if I had to climb to the top. In some ways my experience on the Poma that day is a great metaphor for God.
Like a platter lift, when we have steep ascents in life ahead of us, if we hold onto God, I believe challenges are much easier to endure. When we grab onto God instead of trying to do it on our own, I believe we often discover greater peace, more strength and greater staying power. But like a novice skier on a platter lift who tries too hard to control things, we’ll often find ourselves tumbling this way and that if we try to control God instead of letting God take the lead.
I wish my new Australian friends a joyous time here and I pray that each of us, regardless of which continent we call home, will invite God to help us make it up whatever mountain we have ahead.