Sunday, October 28, 2018

In a Time of Deep Divisions, How Do You Find Community Again? Here's how.

Do you know the National News and Florida theory?  Steve Ellis, who was a member of the search committee that brought me to this church I serve, First Presbyterian of Hollywood, first told me about it.   He said.  “Kennedy, in any national news story, you will always find a Florida connection.”   I gotta admit.   I doubted it.  But, his theory proved true.  Somewhere along the way, in any big news story, Florida always popped up.

But this week, it was ridiculous.   Those bombs began arriving and Florida popped up almost immediately, and not just any part of Florida our part.   Now, it looks like a Florida man sent the bombs.  Heck, they caught him at a store in Plantation.   He lives just down the street in Aventura.

But forget the crazy Florida connections.  Just look at what happened yesterday in Pittsburgh  What is going on in our country?  Some guy sending bombs all over the place.    This time, the terror hit Democrats.  But last year, the terror hit Republicans, nearly killed one Congressman, while he was practicing for a softball game.  And now people of faith killed while they pray.   Americans right and left are going at each other.   And folks can disagree, sure but so much of what’s going on now, isn’t helping.  It’s hurting.  Now, it's even killing.
But how do you come back to some sense of community, when so many disagree so passionately, even violently?  How does that happen?   It happens when we realize it’s not about the nail.   Hold on.  What do I mean by that?   Haven’t you seen the video?  Maybe, you haven’t.  So, here it is.

Now, what the filmmaker was saying in that video, Jesus was saying in his own way, thousands of years ago.  And in those words, Jesus points to how not only Christians, but our whole nation moves towards community even when we disagree.   What is that way?   Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

How do you find community when division rules the day?   How do you find it even when you profoundly disagree?    Here, Jesus tells you.   Jesus says.  Community happens, when you stay rooted in the truth of what community actually is.   When you root yourself there, you find community, even when you profoundly disagree.   

And the first truth, you’ve got to know, Jesus tells you again and again.   Do you see it?   What does Jesus call folks with whom you are in relationship?   Does he call them friends?  Does he call them co-workers?   No, he calls them brothers and sisters.   Do you get what Jesus is telling you?   Jesus is saying.  When you become a follower of Jesus, you don’t only get Jesus.   You get the whole family.
You see.   You can get rid of a friendship.    If you don’t like a co-worker, you can get another job.   But the folks in your family, your brothers and sisters, stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not.   Why?   Your connection has nothing to do with you.  Your parents put you into that relationship.  And nothing you do gets you out.   They stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not.

I have a great brother named Jesse.  I think the world of him.  But if he wasn’t my brother, we would never be friends.   We have different interests.    We hold different political beliefs.  I’m sloppy.  He’s neat.   We don’t watch the same shows; even eat a lot of the same foods.  But none of that matters.   He’s still my brother. He always will be.   And I’m grateful. His differences broaden my horizons.   His neatness makes me a little less sloppy.   He brings me to restaurants I wouldn’t have tried.  He gives me perspectives, I otherwise wouldn’t see. 

And when you become part of this family that Jesus creates, you get brothers and sisters too.   And like in your family by blood, you get no choice there either.  They stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not.   And that’s a powerful thing.  That means.  Even when you disagree, even when you get on each other’s nerves, you stay family.  And because you’re family, Jesus says, you’ve got to find a way to make peace in conflict.  You’ve got to find a way to stay in relationship even when it’s hard.

If you didn’t get how seriously Jesus want you to take this, the whole deal about leaving your gift at the altar should bring it home.    Jesus says if you come to bring your gift, and remember your sister or brother has something against you, go get reconciled first.    Jesus doesn’t say that the something they hold against you has to be fair or even something you agree with.  You may think they’re wrong.   That doesn’t matter.   What matters is that you make peace.  And Jesus is telling you, until you find a way to make peace there, your relationship with God will not have peace either. . 

At times in my family, we’ve had conflicts.   We’ve had times when siblings didn’t want to talk or see each other.  Thankfully, those times have ended.  But when those divisions happened, they bothered my parents.  They yearned for their kids to get along.   And if you have divisions like that in God’s family, why do you think God would feel differently? 

But then Jesus extends that truth even further.  He says.  This same stance of love doesn’t just stop with sister and brother believers.  This stance goes for everyone.    If God loves everyone, gives good things to everyone, good and bad alike, then as God’s kids, God expects you to do the same.    If God loves people that completely, that perfectly, even God’s enemies, God expects you to strive for the same.  

Now if you just lived by that truth, that behavior alone would start to bring healing to the divisiveness tearing the nation apart.  But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  Jesus moves towards how you find common ground, even when you deeply disagree. 

And in doing that, Jesus points you to two more deep truths.  First, Jesus warns you, just because you believe you have the truth on your side, doesn’t mean you do.   And then even, if you do have the truth, you’ve got to share it in a way others can digest. 

You see.  When Jesus talks about not judging, Jesus isn’t talking about not making judgments.   In life, you need to make judgments all the time.  Food was good or bad.  The hotel is nice or not so nice.  Stuff like that.    No.  When Jesus talks about judging, he is talking about a judging that delivers a sentence, that condemns.   Jesus is talking about the judging the man was doing in the video.

Now, how was that man judging?   He was assuming.  He knew what would solve his friend’s problem.  Just pull the nail out.   You might even think he’s right.  But do you know, really know, he’s right?  The woman doesn’t deny the nail is there, after all.  But for reasons we don’t know, she’s decided to not pull it out.  Maybe pulling the nail out will kill her.  Maybe the nail serves a purpose we don’t even know.   Sometimes, you can think you know exactly what someone else’s problem is.   But here’s your problem.  You could be wrong.  And beyond that, your smug and self-righteous certainty about their problem may be the bigger problem, a plank compared to their sawdust.  

Have you ever heard the saying?  If your only answer is a hammer, then every problem become a nail.   Christians fall into this.   Yes, everybody needs a relationship with Jesus.  But maybe what people need in a crisis isn’t a lecture on Jesus.  Maybe they need help given in his name.  Maybe they need a hug that carries your love and God’s.   First give the love, and the rest will come when it needs to come.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He tells you.  Even when you have the truth, and you know it’s the truth, that is not enough.  For years, I misunderstood what Jesus was saying when he talked about pearls before swine.    I thought that he meant that the truth was just too good for some people.   Those people you had to ignore.   But does that sound like the Jesus who said pray for your enemies; do good to those who hate you?   I don’t think so.

The problem with pearls for pigs isn’t that the pigs aren’t worthy of pearls.  It’s that pearls do nothing for pigs.   They may be pretty but they’re sure not helpful.   Pigs can’t digest pearls, any more than a dog could munch on a Bible.  And if you keep feeding pigs stuff that does them no good, then eventually they’ll come after you.  At least, they can eat you.  

Do you see how that relates to the video?   That guy thought he was giving something valuable, even true to his friend.  You’ve got a nail stuck in your head.  But he wasn’t giving her what she needed at all.  He wasn’t even listening to her, at least at first.  But hey why do you need to listen, when you already know.

Twenty years or so ago, farmworkers began to organize in South Florida, demanding higher pay from the farms that hired them.   They were right.   What they got in pay hadn’t changed in 40 years.   And on top of that, supervisors often abused them. Some contractors even enslaved them.   But when they went to the farmers, they got nowhere.   You see.  The farmers saw the problem too.  But they didn’t know how to solve it either.  Big companies demanded cheap prices for their produce.  And if they didn’t get it, these companies threatened to go elsewhere.     So, the farmworkers started to listen, and then they got it.   They went after the big companies with a powerful campaign.   They said if these companies paid just one penny more a pound for their tomatoes, the farmers could give a dramatic pay raise to workers in their fields.   It took a while, but this truth both farmers and a lot of companies could digest.   And Taco Bell and Burger King and McDonald’s signed up for a penny more per pound.   Then Whole Foods and Walmart and Trader Joe's joined them.   And the largest coalition of tomato farms in South Florida signed up too.   But it happened when everybody stopped “knowing” and started listening.   Now Wendy’s and Publix are still trying to digest this truth, but hopefully, they’ll find a way to get there too.  

And when it comes to what we do with our sister churches in Bold Justice, it works the same way.  We get things done because we listen in order to know.   We listen to folks in the pews as they share what bothers them.   Then when that process leads to an issue. We listen to those who know the issue well.   We discover things government leaders can do that are actually doable, that they can digest.  They may not realize they can, but when we come and share and listen, we lead our leaders to solutions and changes they didn’t see before.'

That is what builds real community.   It’s not the knowing.  It’s the listening.  And when you listen, together you discover truths that everyone can digest, that help everyone to grow and be nourished. 
Isn’t that how God built his community in us?   God didn’t just deliver the truth from on high.   In Jesus, God came and became that truth, a truth that you could see and touch.   When your brokenness prevented you from digesting how much God loved you.   God listened.  And in Jesus God gave you a love you could see and touch and hear and feel.   And that love was actually all about the nails.  In fact, it was the nails hat showed you God’s love like nothing else could. 

If God could give you that much to show his love to you, to give his love to you, you can do the same.  You can give up your certainty, to listen and hear what others are saying.   You can face up to the pearls of truth you’re serving up, whether it be in your family or on Facebook or wherever that aren’t helping anyone.   And when you do that, when you love and listen like that, see what Jesus will do.   Jesus will bring healing, understanding, even community in the midst of deep disagreement, not only in your families, not only in this church, but in this community, in this nation, even in this world.     

Sunday, October 21, 2018

One Reality Everyone Needs to Get About Prayer Yet Many Don't

I gotta admit.  It’s a blast.  I love doing this stuff.    When you get engaged with kids in your life, whether it be your kids, your family’s kids, grandkids, whatever lots of good things come.   One of those things is sharing stuff you loved when you were a kid or heck, that you still love.   I’ve been telling Patrick the Lord of the Rings stories. He loves them.  And about a year ago, I shared another great love of my childhood, Schoolhouse Rock.   Does anyone remember Schoolhouse Rock?   Schoolhouse Rock, well it rocked.  

And this week as I thought about prayer, one of those Schoolhouse Rock cartoons just popped into my head.   The moment it did.  I knew it fit.  Here it is.

What does conjunction junction have to do with prayer?  It has more to do with prayer than you would ever think.   It points to the same powerful reality that Jesus is pointing to in the words you’re about to hear.  

If prayer has never worked for you or you’d like for it to become more real, than you are likely missing the very thing conjunction junction celebrates.   You are missing the “and.”   What do I mean?   Here Jesus shows the way.   Let’s hear what Jesus has to say.

Lots of people want to connect with God or the Universe or whatever they call the Divine.  3 out of 4 Americans call themselves spiritual.   Now, about half of those want to connect to God, but not so much to church, but they’re still searching.   And in almost every spiritual tradition, you pray to connect to God.   That’s why over 50% of Americans say they do it every day.   But does it work?   Are they really connecting to God?  When you pray, are you really connecting?   How could you connect more?

Here Jesus shows you.   Jesus tells you.  The more you know the “And” in prayer, the deeper your connection to God will be.   How do you know what this “And” is?   Before we look at that, you need to see how first Jesus tells you not to pray.    Before Jesus tells you what prayer is, Jesus tells you what it isn’t. 

First, Jesus says, don’t do this.  Don’t pray on the street corners.  Now, you might think.  Check - got that one down.  I haven’t been praying on street corners lately.  But basically, Jesus is talking praying in public, praying in front of others or really faking it in front of others.

Years ago, I read a quote from the poet KathleenNorris.   She wrote.  Your relationship with God is like a marriage.  The only two people who really know what’s going on are the two people in the relationship.   And if you know anything about marriage, you know how true that is.   A couple in trouble can make it look like they are not in trouble at all.   I remember times when someone said to me.  “Did you hear about so and so, they’re breaking up.”   And the news shocked me.  I’d reply.  “I saw them just a month ago. They looked so happy together.”   And they did look happy, but inside a whole different situation was taking place.     

Well, if you can fake a happy marriage, you can do the same with God.  Years ago, when I lived in New York, I met with a group of pastors, largely from charismatic churches, all good guys, sincere, committed spiritual leaders.  And these Charismatic dudes could pray.  They prayed prayers that peeled the paint off the walls.   But I could hold my own.   I could get them Amening and going Yes Lord, Yes Lord behind my prayers like nobody’s business.   But some days, I was praying in that room, like Jesus and I were so up close and personal. But Jesus and I, we hadn’t been talking much at all.   

And that’s what Jesus is warning about.  You can deliver a good prayer, even a prayer that blesses others, and not really be connected to God at all.   And that’s deadly.  What makes a marriage great isn’t how great you look together at a party.  It’s how you are when no one is looking.   It’s no different when it comes to your relationship with God.   Jesus is telling you.   If you are not having regular times talking to God, just you and God, then you have a show marriage.  It looks real, but it’s not.  It’s not what Jesus means about a real relationship with God at all.

But then Jesus goes in the other direction.   Jesus warns against babbling repetitious phrases like the gentiles.   Now you can think.   I’m not babbling repetitious phrases. I’m good.  But hold on a second.  Why are these folks babbling these repetitious phrases?  They’re doing it for the same reason folks got so excited about that movie and book called The Secret. Do you remember that?   Or if it’s not the Secret, it’s the Law of Attraction or Manifesting Wealth or whatever.  Go to Amazon, you can find thousands of them.   They’ll all give you some spiritual technique.  And why?  So, you can get God to do what you want.  Now, God wants to hear what you yearn for.    But in these techniques, it’s not about God.   It’s all about you.   That’s why lots of them talk about God as some divine force you tap into.   Otherwise, it might sound like those sleazy books that guys write about how to seduce women.   Here, this is how you manipulate God to give you what you want.    And like those books twist and pervert what a real relationship should be.   Those techniques twist and pervert your connection to God in the same way.

That’s why Jesus starts out his prayer the way he does.   Where does Jesus start?   He doesn’t start with you.    In fact, the first word, our, as in Our Father, reminds you, when you pray, you’re not praying to your personal genie.   God isn’t just for you.  God is for everyone.  And if God is for everyone, praying connects you to everyone.  So, when you pray, you’re not connecting simply to God.  You’re connecting to everyone else too.     

And what does Jesus focus the first half of his prayer on?   Jesus focuses it on God.  Now, why is that?   Does God need the strokes, need some positive reinforcement?   No, Jesus is saying.   When you pray, the first thing you need to pray to get is not stuff or a problem solved.  The first thing you need to pray to get is God, simply God.   That’s what the whole hallowed be thy name means.   It’s praying that you experience how wondrous, how amazing, how beautiful this God who created you actually is.   The writer Evelyn Underhill put it this way.   Prayer means turning to Reality.   And everyone needs to connect to reality. 

I just finished reading a book on Quantum Physics.   I think I understood about half of it.  But just that half blew me away.  I’ve been walking around looking at the most mundane things, realizing how strange, how utterly, spectacularly bizarre, everything is, yet at the same time, stunningly beautiful.   And one thing, this quantum physicist wrote really struck me.  He said.  The only thing sacred in science is reality.  What he meant, is scientists scrap any idea, no matter how much they love it, if it can’t conform to what’s real. 

At a deeper level, Jesus is saying the same thing.   The only thing sacred is reality.  And if you want to get in touch with Reality, real prayer will do that.   And you need that.  Because human beings have a terrible tendency to lose touch with the real.   For example, part of what is real is that you are not in charge of the world.   That’s why Jesus asks you to pray.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done.   Why? You need to be reminded.  Because.  You’re usually praying this.  “My kingdom come.  My will be done.”   And nothing messes you up more than that.  Think about it.  When you’re worried or anxious about something, what’s going on?   You think you know.  You know how it has to be.  You know what really needs to happen. But you don’t know. The same thing goes on when you hold resentment against someone.  You think you know.  You know what they deserve, what they should get.    But ultimately, you don’t know squat.  Look, the greatest scientists in the world, are still trying to totally figure out what this table is, what everything is.  And get this, stuff like this, what we call matter, is only 4% of the universe.  We still have little clue about the other 96%.   Yet still when it comes to our lives, we think we know.  Prayer helps you get yourself out of the way.   And you need that more than you even realize.

Only then Jesus says, can you put the “and.”  Only then can you get to the other stuff, your daily needs, forgiveness, deliverance from evil.   First comes God, and then everything else.  And that “and” is exactly why Jesus asks you to start with that word for God, Father. 

I had no idea how being a dad would change me.   It’s changed me in ways I could never have imagined.   A few nights ago, my son woke me up around 4:30.  He was a little scared.  He wanted me to sit with him until he fell asleep.   And you know what?   I did it.  I was happy to do it, even honored. I realized.  Just me sitting in his room gives him safety, comfort, peace. How cool is that?
And when my son sees me or my wife, when we pick him up at school, you’d think he hadn’t seen us in years.   My son loves being around us.   He doesn’t love it because we feed him or buy him clothes or do stuff.   He loves it because he knows how deeply we love him.  And he also understands that while he can negotiate, in the end, Mom and Dad are in charge.   So, no, he can’t eat candy every time he wants or avoid taking that bath.  But those limits give him security.   He knows.  We’re looking out for him.  We’re doing our best to give what’s best for him.

With Mom and Dad, our son has the two things, he most needs, intimate love, and loving leadership.   But he has more than that even.   He has two people who would lay down their lives for him, who will love him no matter what, on his best days and on his worst. 

Do you see why Jesus use that word, Father?   Jesus is saying to you.  This is the God you need.  And this is the God you have.  You have a God who loves you like that.   You have a God that in Jesus did lay down his life for you.  And when you know that God, the depth of his love for you, you who are God’s beloved child, you realize.  You already have everything you really need.   And so, you come to prayer not to get stuff, but to get more of God, to go deeper into that love, to listen more closely to that guidance, to rest more in this God who is working in your life, in this world, in ways you can’t even see.  And, only after experiencing that, do you come to the other stuff, the daily bread, the forgiveness, the deliverance from evil.  

But you already what you most need.   You know you have a God who loves you more deeply, more intensely, more infinitely than any being in existence.  You are his beloved son, her beloved daughter.   And when you know that, you already have more than you could ever have dreamed.       

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In the World of MeToo and Deep Political Divisions, What Is the Way Forward? Here, Jesus Points the Way

Show me the money!  Show me the money!  Does anyone remember that line?  Does anyone remember that movie?   I haven’t seen it in twenty years, and I still remember that line.   You know you’ve got a great movie, when it not only has one great line, it has two, heck, you could even say that movie Jerry Maguire has three great lines.   As much as I loved show me the money, the lines in this climactic scene get me even more.

Does anyone remember that scene from the movie?   More importantly, does anyone remember what was going on before that scene happened? If you haven’t seen the film, let me bring you up to date.  Jerry Maguire, the Tom Cruise character, has a marriage that’s gone on the rocks.  His wife doesn’t know if Jerry really loves her.   She’s gone home to be with her sister.  And when Jerry rushes into her sister’s house to declare his love, do you know what he walks into?  He walks into a room of angry women, all of whom have gathered to share how disappointed they are by the men in their lives.   But when Jerry Maguire declares his love for his beloved, his words not only win her over, they win them over.   It’s a great scene!  

But now over twenty years later, where have we come to?  We live in the painful reality of “metoo.” People, mainly women but some men too, have bravely broken silence on powerful men who have not simply behaved badly, but criminally, leaving wreckage, brokenness in their wake.  We have felt that anger and pain.   And in the midst of that anger and pain, we approach an election with a nation angrier and more divided than before.   What is going on?   What is happening?   More crucially, how do you find a way forward, a way that leads to healing and not more bitterness, a way that leads to people coming together rather than breaking apart?

In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

In these words, these challenging words, these difficult words, Jesus points you to what you must understand to avoid wrecking relationships in your life.   And what Jesus points to holds true for every relationship, even our relationships as a nation.  What is Jesus telling you?   Jesus is telling you when it comes to relationships, everything is connected.    And when you don’t realize that, that’s when your relationships get wrecked.

That’s why Jesus warns people so strongly about guarding even their thoughts of unfaithfulness when it comes to marriage.   Jesus isn’t saying these things because Jesus is uptight about sex.   Jesus is saying these things because Jesus knows.  When it comes to relationships, everything is connected. 
After all, if you’ve ever had an affair or know someone who has, one thing you know.  That affair did not come out of nowhere.   It began up here.   It began in the head long before it led to anything out there.   But Jesus is saying more than that.   Even if your thoughts about adultery never lead to the actual deed, don’t think that they don’t affect how you live your life.

That’s why watching porn messes people up.  Lots of folks don’t think that.  They think. How could some imaginary scene I’m watching on a screen mess up a real relationship in my real life?   How?  It can and will because everything is connected.   That’s why researchers found that people who didn’t view any porn had lower levels of negative communication in their relationships than those who did.  And get this, they even had higher sexual satisfaction than those who did.   Why was that true?  Because, when it comes to relationships, everything is connected.

Jesus isn’t talking here about repressing sexual desires.   Jesus is talking about not taking them in a dangerously destructive direction.   Look, everyone is going to have sexual desire.   You’re going to notice someone who looks attractive.   You’re going to appreciate their beauty, their allure.  And guess what.  That’s awesome.  God created you to admire the beauty of God’s good creation.   Christian artists have been painting sexy pictures for centuries.   But Jesus is saying when your thoughts of admiration turn into thoughts of possession, something awful has happened in your head.   You have begun to turn a human being into an object, someone whose only purpose is to give you pleasure.    And thoughts like that affect you.  They affect how you view others, how you respect them or don’t.  And at their worst, they lead to the horrible abuses that we’ve been hearing about for the past year.   

Here’s the point, Jesus is making.  When it comes to relationships, everything is connected.  Your thoughts matter.  How you view people up here matters.   And if you didn’t get how seriously Jesus views them, then his words on cutting out eyes or cutting off hands should clarify things.  
In the rooms of AA and other 12 step groups, they have this phrase “stinking thinking.”   And that’s what Jesus is pointing to.  Jesus is saying.  Don’t ever underestimate how stinking thinking sabotages your life.    It will do that in your intimate relationships.  It will do that in every relationship, even the relationship you have with yourself.    Jesus gets that everyone will have lustful thoughts, angry thoughts, negative thoughts.   What Jesus is telling you is something that the Christian thinker, Martin Luther put well.   You can’t stop the birds from flying around your head.  But you can sure stop them from making nests in your hair.   And if you don’t, watch out.  Because everything is connected. 

That’s why before these words, Jesus made pretty much the same point about murder. Jesus said.  The commandment to not kill means more than simply not killing.  It means not cherishing anger and resentment against another.  It means not wounding another person with harsh and reckless words.  Why did Jesus expand the commandment like that?  Because, Jesus knows.  Everything is connected.   Murder doesn’t begin with the act.   Murder begins with the anger and resentment cherished long before the act even happens.     And Jesus knew.  You can give someone a deadly wound with simply the words you say.  

How many of you remember from years before a cruel word spoken to you, maybe even from someone you loved?  How many of you still feel the wound from a moment of anger unleashed on you years before?  How many are walking around carrying wounds that nobody will ever see, but are still painfully real?  That old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  That’s not true.  Here’s the truth. “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can rip your heart out.” 

Do not get what Jesus is saying to you about this command?  It’s not enough to not physically kill someone.  It’s not even enough to not mentally think about killing them.   You have got to stop killing with words and rage.   When you do that, you endanger not simply you.  You endanger the whole community of which you are part.  Why?  Because when it comes to relationships, everything is connected.   

And if you doubted that before, the internet put any doubts to rest doesn’t it?   In cyberspace, reckless words, harsh words, often untrue words are endangering the community, the world of which we are all a part.  People write things on the internet they’d never say face to face.   They unleash rage at random people, often strangers, with whom they disagree.  One website demonizes the other side, whatever that other side might be.   And Jesus makes it clear here.  Reckless and harsh words aren’t simply blowing off steam or making your point or even good political strategy.  No, they are wrong. They wound.  They may even kill.  They may endanger the safety of a whole community.

After all, the Civil War, that ripped this nation apart began not with guns, but with words, harsh words, reckless words.    In Rwanda, when Hutus killed millions of their fellow Tutsi citizens, reckless vile words inspired that massacre.   In fact, before any racial or ethnic violence comes, reckless, evil words always pave the way.       

The late great Senator, John McCain, got that.  That’s why, in 2008 at a campaign event, when he was running for President, someone expressed something untrue about McCain’s opponent.    And the Senator could have let it slide, but he didn’t.   He corrected the woman, firmly yet with compassion.  He sensed.  She truly believed these words.  And these words, false words, had infected her with fear, had made her feel less safe.    So, he calmly reassured her.  He said. “My opponent, Mr. Obama, is a citizen, a decent family man.  He is just someone with whom I have deep disagreements on fundamental issues.”    McCain got it.  McCain understood what Jesus did.    Reckless and harsh words can hurt, can injure not simply one person or even many.   No, they can endanger even an entire community. Why?  Because everything is connected.   

So, when you are tempted to unleash harsh words on the internet, remember everything is connected.  When you are tempted to say something derogatory, remember everything is connected.  When you find yourself cherishing anger, whether against a friend, or a public figure you’ve never met, remember, everything is connected.  That anger will infect you and others in more ways than you think.  So, don’t let it infect you.   Don’t let it infect others.   Don’t ever forget that when it comes to relationships, everything is connected.

But at the same time, give thanks that everything is.  For in that same passage on murder, Jesus said this.  If you are making a sacrifice to God, but know someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice.  First, go make peace.  Then make it.   But what Jesus didn’t say is this.  He had come to do both those things at the same time. He had come to make peace with you, by making a sacrifice, a sacrifice of his very life.  When God had something against you, when you had turned away from God’s love, betrayed God’s trust, disrespected God’s creation; God did not turn to you with murder or harsh words.  In Jesus, God turned to you with his very life.   And even as we killed him, Jesus prayed for our forgiveness.   And in that act of infinite love, God showed you that nothing, not even death, could defeat God’s love for you.   

And God didn’t bring that love simply to save you.  God brought that love to save everyone, the undocumented immigrant trying to survive; the politician whose positions or personality you most loath; the person who thinks just like you do; and the person whose thinking drives you up the wall.  And as appalling as it sounds, God loves them just as much as God loves you.  So, when your anger rises, and the harsh words come remember.  Everything is connected.    The same God who out of love died for you, out of that same love died for them too.   We’re all connected, whether we like it or not.   

Monday, October 8, 2018

How Does Greed and Materialism Sabotage Your Life in Ways You Can't Even See?

I love swim goggles.  The first time I put a pair on, it opened up a new world for me, underwater.   But what works down there doesn’t really work up here. 

The hit show, Seinfeld, made a whole episode over that.  The character, George, loses his glasses.  So, he decides.  He’ll use his swim goggles. They’ll work just as good.   And off that one idea, they made a pretty funny episode with scenes like this one.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the ways those goggles distort what George sees, and the crazy misunderstandings that result.   But what Jesus saw, is that people are walking around with something in their life that distorts their vision just like those goggles.  It leads to anxieties and insecurity.   It leads to a sort of bondage, a type of mental imprisonment. It leads to life far from what God intended life to be.   And that’s not funny, not funny at all.  So, what is this thing that you have with you right now that distorts your vision like that.  It’s the money in your pocket.   How is that possible?  In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what he has to say. 

Jesus talked about money a lot.  Jesus talked about money and possessions almost more than he talked about anything.    But why did Jesus stress out over money?   Jesus saw.  Nothing distorts the way you see yourself or the world around you like money.   And as money distorts your vision, it binds up your life.  But Jesus also offered a way out, out of that distortion, out of that binding.   Jesus showed you what ultimately matters.

But before we look at Jesus’ way out, how is money distorting your life? Jesus focuses on that right at the center of this passage.  Do you notice the words that don’t seem to fit here?      Jesus starts out with the whole not storing up treasures in heaven.  And then Jesus ends with the words on money enslaving you and thus, don’t stress out about it.  But right in the middle, do you see what Jesus talks about?   He goes off on this whole thing about the eye, and how if your eye doesn’t work, then everything becomes darkness.

Now, he is making the point that if your eye is not working, then it doesn’t matter how bright the world is surrounding you, you will experience it as darkness.   Ok.  But how does that have anything to do with money?   Jesus is warning you.   Money or more accurately obsessing about money has that power.   Greed and materialism blinds you to the glaringly obvious.  It distorts what is literally right in front of you.

How does it blind you?   Well, first it blinds you to your own greed.   What do I mean?   Greed and materialism can be hard to see.    If you’re committing adultery, you know it right?  No one goes.   “Hold on a second!  You’re not my wife?  What are you doing here?”   If you’re committing adultery, you know.  But how do you know when you’re being greedy or materialistic?   You don’t.   In fact, most folks assume that they’re not greedy or materialistic.   Those crazy rich folks, now they’re greedy, but not me.

Many years ago, I was talking to a friend about a tax change she felt was unfair.   She said.  You know $250,000.00 a year really isn’t that much.   I didn’t say anything. But inside, I was thinking, a quarter of a million sounds pretty good to me.   But I got it.   When you make that much money, your lifestyle expands to fit it.   You get a house with a bigger mortgage.  You go to nicer restaurants, send your kids to better schools, take different vacations.  And before long that 250 “large” doesn’t seem so large at all.

But here’s the twist.  I’m not any different.   What my household makes a year doesn’t seem a lot to me at times.   My family has financial stresses.  But someone else looking at that income, would think.  “Really?  You think you’re financially stressed?  You have no idea.”

Here’s the truth.  If you think you’re not greedy or materialistic, that’s the first sign you are.   It’s the way, greed works.  It convinces you that you don’t have that problem, that the onion you’re eating really is an apple.   It leads you to not ask yourself uncomfortable questions about your spending versus your giving.   You just don’t want to go there.  I know I don’t.  It feels too uncomfortable.  You see.  That’s the way greed blinds you. Greed leads you to not even ask the questions.  That’s how you can live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, and still feel you don’t have enough. 

Years ago, I heard a mission worker talk about living and working in the red-light district of Amsterdam.    Folks asked.  How could you let your family grow up there?  He said.  At least, here they can see the evil.  It’s right there in their face.  But if we lived back here, the evil sneaks up on you before you even realize it.     And no evil is sneakier than greed or materialism. 

And generally, they get you with one of two lies.  First, greed tells you your net worth is your worth.   Your money makes you feel better about yourself or worse.   That’s why generally, middle class folks look down on the poor.  You feel pity for them, yes, but inside, haven’t you ever felt a bit morally superior?   But here’s the question.  If you had lived their life, had their experiences, would you be better off?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But you don’t really know.   But when you have money, you kinda think you do.   Or conversely, if you see people doing way better than you, you can think. “What’s wrong with me?”     

And if you don’t get caught in that lie, you get caught in this one.  Your money becomes your security.  What a big fat lie that is.   Over twenty years ago, a classmate of mine, Giovanni Agnelli, died of cancer.   He was 33.  He had a baby daughter a new wife and lots of money.  His family had billions, billions.  But none of it could save his life.  Your money can’t stop death or disease.  It can’t even stop divorce.  It may even cause it.  

And so more than you even realize, your money, your anxiety about it binds you even as it blinds you.  But how do you become free?    A word Jesus uses again and again here tells you.  Jesus talks about your treasure.   And everyone has a treasure, something you value above all else. You think, if I had this, it would all be worth it.  I’d be worth it.   But whatever that thing is, money, success, romance, family, the list goes on, it enslaves you.  It will make you sacrifice your life for it.   But in Jesus, you have something profoundly different. You have a God who sacrificed his life for you.   Now, what does that mean?   It means.  You are Jesus’ treasure.  You are God’s treasure.  God looked at you and said.  I’d go to hell and back to win that.   And so, in Jesus, God did.   And when you know God treasures you like that, money can just become money, not security or significance.  For, in Jesus, you have ultimate security even from death.   You have significance that no amount of money can buy.  And as you treasure this one, who so treasures you, it frees you to give, radically, sacrificially, joyfully, even as Jesus did for you.