Sunday, July 28, 2019

What Assures You More than Anything Else that You Matter? This Does

Do you like the opening theme of Star Wars?   I really do.  At least I used to.  But now, I gotta admit.  It’s wearing a little thin.   My son Patrick has discovered all the Star Wars themes, and he loves them.  He loves them so much that he wants me to play them every day on the way to summer camp.  Not only that, he has his favorites.  He is constantly making requests of which theme he wants.  Daddy let’s do the Last Jedi or Return of the Jedi or Flying with Chewie.   And sometimes I can do that, and sometimes I can’t.   After all, I am driving. 

This past week, he asked me for a song I just couldn’t get to.   I said.  Patrick, I can’t do that right now.   And he said, “Well, let’s just turn it off.”   And so, I did.  Once I did, I decided. I didn’t want to turn it back on.  That morning, I had heard quite enough of Star Wars thank you very much.  Patrick could tell.  I was a little irritated.  Then, he became concerned.   Are you going to turn it back on Daddy again or is the music gone forever and ever?   I gotta admit. That was a tempting thought.  But then he said.  “You’re still my buddy aren’t you?”     “Of course,” I replied, “I’m always your buddy.”   But it hit me.   It hit me hard.  Even at 5 years old, Patrick needed that reassurance.   He needed to know that I was his buddy, that I would always be his buddy.   But is anyone in the world any different? 

As I thought about my conversation with Patrick, I remembered a very famous Oscar moment.   Sally Field had just won her second acting Oscar.  And as she finished her acceptance speech, this is what she said:

But get this.  Sally Field had already won one Oscar.  Now she was winning her second only five years later.  Beyond that, she was rich, famous, beloved even.  Yet, even so, she was still looking for reassurance.  She was yearning to feel that her colleagues liked her, really liked her. 
But who doesn’t want to feel assurance like that? Who doesn’t want to feel they matter, that they are loved, that people like them, really like them?  Heck, that’s why Facebook makes billions.   It’s why when somebody puts a like button up, I get a little endorphin shot.  It assures me just that little bit.   But how can you live with that sense of assurance every day?  How can you know and feel deeply and regularly that you are loved, that you matter, that you really matter?   In these words God shows you the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.      

Every day, people need to know that they matter, that they matter to the people around them, that they matter in the world.    They need that sense of assurance, that feeling deep within of their own significance.   But why is that?  It’s because in so many ways, the world tells you that you don’t matter, not really.   Heck, even you can tell yourself that, and not even realize it.

Do you know this day over 8,000 children will die from hunger? That’s 3.1 million children a year!   And you know what?  That is a God damned shame.  Now let me ask you.  Be honest.   Which rattled you more that I just used a curse word in this blog post or that 16,000 children will die from hunger today.  When I first heard a preacher named Tony Campolo play that trick on me, I admit.  I was more rattled by the curse word.  

I get that.  8,000 kids, how can you wrap your head around that number, much less 3 million.   Yet every one of those children has parents, friends, probably sisters and brothers.   They matter to them.  But when the numbers get so big, the people behind them get so much smaller.    

Do you remember the serial killer, Ted Bundy?  When they arrested him, the whole thing kind of puzzled him.   He thought.  There are so many people in the world, what’s the big deal if I killed ten or twenty?   To quote him exactly.   Bundy put it this way.  “What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?”   But you don’t have to go to a serial killer to feel that way, do you? 

Life has so many ways to tell you that you don’t matter.   An attendant at the store ignores you.  You try to get a problem solved with some company, but when you call, nobody seems to care.  Or sometimes it’s a preschooler that tells you. 

When I first arrived as a pastor at the church I serve, I encountered a wonderful surprise.  Because of my chapel leadership in our Learning Centers, I had become a rock star among preschoolers.  If they saw me walking by the playground, they came hurtling over, vying for high fives from the very cool, Pastor Kennedy.  It felt awesome.  

Then a few years passed.  I was in the grocery store.  The parents of one of our preschool graduates saw me.   They exclaimed to their son.   “Look, it’s Pastor Kennedy from the preschool.  You remember him!”  But he didn’t.  He looked at me puzzled.  He had no clue who I was.   I discovered.  Preschoolers have very short memory spans.  In fact, before the age of four, most people hardly remember anything.    And that kid sure didn’t remember me.  That day, my significance as a preschool rock star came down quite a few notches

But sometimes it’s more painful than that.  It’s not a preschooler for whom you have little significance.  It’s someone you thought cared about you deeply.  My sister Becky’s husband, Randy, is dying of ALS.   And Becky had a friend who came over each Sunday night to watch shows with her on Showtime.   One Sunday night, soon after the doctors diagnosed Randy, she asked Becky.  “How is Randy? What did the doctors say?”  So, Becky told her.   “He has ALS.”   And the friend said, “Oh ok, what are we watching tonight?”    And she never reached out to my sister again.   I guess for her it was more about the shows than about my sister.

But for all those moments that the world tells you that you don’t matter, people still want to feel they do.   People deeply want to feel.  I am significant.  I do matter.  They do whatever they can to get those feelings.  They try to get it from success or people or their kids or drugs or sex or whatever. The list goes on.   But it doesn’t really work, not for any length of time.

But when people yearn to feel significance, they are right. They are picking up on a profound truth.  You are significant.  You are more significant than you could ever dream.   And in these words, God tells you why.   More crucially, God shows you how you can feel that significance every day.  How?   You accept your adoption, and you let God show you its reality every day.  

In these words of Paul, God tells you something amazing, God has adopted you.  Now, sometimes people say that everyone is a child of God.  And that’s a nice sentiment.  But it’s not exactly what God tells you in the Bible.  God tells you instead this.  God created everyone in the image of God.   In many ways that’s more amazing.  That means.  When you look at anyone, you are seeing a reflection of God.   And that holds true for everyone.  Even the worst person in some way carries, no matter how distorted it might be, a reflection of God inside them.

So why doesn’t God make you God’s child too?  It’s pretty simple really.  God wants to give you a choice.  God doesn’t say.   I’m going to make you a member of my family, whether you like it or not.   God says, instead, I want to adopt you into my family. Will you accept?  God wants you to have a choice.

But when you say yes to that offer, you get it all.  When Paul talks about adoption here, he is pointing to a Roman practice everyone knew.   When the head of a family adopted you in Roman society, you received all the wealth, all the privileges, all the status of that father (in those days it was always a father), of that father’s family.  And the same thing happens when you say yes to God’s adoption.  You get it all.  You don’t become just a child of God in name.  You become it for real.   What God has you have.   Infinite love.  Got it.  Life forever.  Got it.   A relationship unshakeable.  Got it.   But God goes further.  God doesn’t just give you that relationship in fact.  God gives it you in feeling.  What do I mean?

This past week, I read about how Winston Churchill, the legendary prime minister of Britain, used to write his mother constantly just begging her to respond, to show some care towards him.    Now Churchill’s mother was his mother in fact.  But for whatever tragic reason, she never chose to become a mother in feeling.   
But here God says, I send my spirit to live in you. So, you will not only know that you are my child, you will feel it deep within.  You’ll feel my assurance.  You’ll feel my love.   God even says.  My spirit will give you the courage to cry out Daddy to me. 

Sometimes, my son calls. I don’t come immediately.  I’m washing dishes, doing some other task.  But when he cries Daddy.   When I sense he’s in trouble, I run.  That’s what parents do.   And God is saying.  That’s me.  When you cry out, I will run to you.  In my life, I’ve felt God do that.  My only problem is I don’t ask him enough.  I don’t realize what I have.   But when I do, it changes everything. 

For when God made you God’s child, when God adopted you, God gave up everything to make that happen.  He gave his life to make it happen.   In Jesus, God even literally ripped himself apart to make that happen.  Why?  God loved you that much.  God wants you in God’s family that much.    Do you see how utterly significant you are?  Do you how see profoundly you matter to God.   That cross shows you how much you matter.   And when you know that, you know not only your significance, you know more deeply everyone else’s.    For in God’s family, no distinction matters but God’s love, not your color, not your class, not your gender, not who God calls you to love.  In that love everyone belongs, even those who don’t know it yet.   In that love, you see everyone’s value, everyone’s beauty.  In that love, you realize.  You and everyone you know has more significance than they could ever imagine or comprehend.   Know that love.   Feel it.  In the name of the God who loved you first, in the name of the God who died for you, and in the name of God who has adopted you forever.  Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

If Religion Binds You Up, then What Truly Frees You? This Does.

Every week, I do it.   I try to create a catchy title on Facebook for my Sunday message.  I think.  Maybe, it’ll move somebody to click.   And I’ve come up with some doosies.  Like how about this one?   Why You Need to Get Naked More Than You Ever Realized.   What was that about?   Check the church’s Facebook post, March 24th. You’ll find out.   But the title I picked for last Sunday; it’s been hanging in my mind all week.  I asked a simple question.  How do you free yourself from yourself?   How do you do that?  How do you?

I’ve been reading this biography of Frederick Douglass.   Do you remember that name? Historians consider him one of the greatest Americans our nation ever produced.    He escaped from slavery in the 1840s.  Then, in his writings and speeches, he became one of the most famous people in the world.  In fact, during his lifetime, Douglass became the most photographed American in the entire world.  Abraham Lincoln had 126 photos.  But Douglass, he had 160!  Here are a few of them. 

But as famous and successful as Douglass became, he wrestled with the wounds of his past.   He could be super sensitive to criticism.  He often became deeply insecure.  He struggled with anxiety and depression.   In the midst of incredible accomplishments, he wrestled with those demons again and again.  

Hopefully you haven’t dealt with years in slavery or vicious racial attacks like Douglas did, but who doesn’t face struggles with themselves.  Who doesn’t wrestle with faults and insecurities?  Who doesn’t have to face fears and failings?   Years ago, the cartoonist Walt Kelley, had his character, Pogo, put it well.  We have met the enemy and he is us.   How do you fight that enemy?   How do you fight an enemy who lives in your head?   How do you win?  How do you free yourself from yourself?  How do you free yourself to become everything God created you to be, that you yearn to be.   In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

How do you fight the enemy that is you?  More crucially, how do you win?  How do you free yourself from yourself?  Here, God tells you.   God says.  Freedom comes only as you trust in the relationship instead of relying on the rules.   The rules never free you.  Only the relationship does.  What do I mean?

Look at what Paul tells these folks in Galatia.  They have made a classic mistake.   Paul has told them that because of Jesus, God has forgiven them.   Because of Jesus, God has even changed the view.  When God looks at them, God only sees the goodness.  God only see the the rightness.   God only sees the beauty.  

That doesn’t mean the ugly doesn’t exist.  God just doesn’t see it.  But that ugly still trips you up.  That ugly still makes you miserable.  That ugly still keeps your life from being what it could be.  So, how do you change that?  How do you turn God’s view into your reality?  

To solve that problem, the Galatians have turned to rules.  They have turned to, for lack of a better word, being religious.  But God is telling them.  Being religious will never work.  So, what will?   What will work?  What works is when you believe in the view.  What works is when you trust that God’s view tells you the truth.   What does that mean?

Let’s look at this story, Paul brings up.  Look at the story of Abraham.  Abraham’s story begins with a promise.   For Abraham and his wife Sarah, the one thing they most wanted, they didn’t have.  They didn’t have a child. 

So, one day, Abraham has this strange encounter with God. God tells him.   Abraham, if you leave your home and trust me. I will give you a new land.  And most crucially, I will give you and Sarah a child.   I promise to even make your descendants so many they will be a nation all on their own.
So, Abraham goes.   He and Sarah trust God to take them someplace good, to give them the child they yearn for.  But then, nothing happens.   No kid comes.  One night, Abraham talks to God and basically says.   Come on God!  I’ve done my part.  When are you going to do yours?  When will you keep your promise?   What does God do?   God repeats the promise.   God says.  Look up, Abraham.  See the stars.   Try to count them.  That’s how many descendants I will give you.   And Abraham believes God.    And God does what Paul tells you here.   God accounts Abraham’s belief as righteousness.  In other words, God defines Abraham’s trust as what defines a right relationship with God.    Now, why does Paul tell you that story?

It’s because that story gets to the heart of what keeps you bound up, and what frees you.  In that story, God is showing you. Every mistake you make.  Every moral failing you face comes down to one basic problem.   You don’t believe God like Abraham does.  You don’t trust that God loves you.  You don’t believe that God already views you as utterly approved, utterly right.

A week or so ago, my wife asked me about a piece of paper with some contact information on it.  She mentioned I was the last person to use it.  And I freaked.  I got all defensive.  I said.  I didn’t use it last.  How should I know where it is?  Why are you asking me?   Now my freak out moment passed fairly quickly.   I did find the paper. All was well. 

But why did I get so defensive?   I got defensive because I wanted to be right.  I didn’t want to be the guy who lost the paper.  I didn’t want to be that guy. Because, if I’m the guy who lost the paper, what does that say about me? It says.  I’m the guy who loses the paper.  I’m the guy who can’t keep it together.  I’m the guy who my wife, my family can’t rely on.   So, I got defensive.   I didn’t want to be that guy. 

But here’s the truth.    Sometimes I am that guy.  I do get forgetful.  I do lose things.   And when I do, I feel terrible.   I feel terrible because I believe my performance defines my value, my rightness.   I feel terrible because I don’t believe God.  I don’t trust that in God’s eyes, I am already utterly and completely valued.    And when I don’t believe that, when I believe instead my performance determines my value, it messes everything up.  I get all bound up in performance anxieties, insecurities, self-judgments. 

And that false belief leads me to lie, to hide my faults, to blame others.   It leads me not only out of a right relationship with God, but with right relationships with everyone, even myself. 
And behind every moral failing, you find this same lack of trust.   You overwork and neglect your family.  Why?  You believe works gives you your value, not God.   You cheat on your spouse.  Why?   You cheat because you don’t trust how utterly valued, even desired you are by God.  So, you look to feel that value and desire somewhere else.  The great Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton put it well.  “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”  

You see, before you do anything wrong, it begins in your head.  It all begins with false beliefs or some false vision of what gives you your value, your worth.  And all those lies bind you up.   But the more you know, the more you know that in Jesus you already have infinite worth.  The more you know the truth, that in  God you already have infinite value, the more God can free you from those false beliefs, those false visions.   The more God can free you from yourself.

But the Galatians don’t get that.   They think.   I gotta abide by the rules.  I’ve gotta do these rituals.   Then, I’ll have that right relationship with God.   Then, I’ll be right inside and out.  But God is saying to them.  Don’t you get it?   All you are doing is buying into another false belief.   Paul even says that their reliance on religion isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse.  Why?  The rules don’t make you right.  The religious stuff doesn’t make you right.  

In Paul’s words, God is reminding you.  I make you right.   In Jesus, I did that.  All you need to do is believe it.  The more you believe that, the more you trust in that, the more you become free.  The more you will become free to become the very person God created you to be.

Do you see what truly works?  What works is when you believe in the view, the view God already has of you.   The more you believe that view tells you the truth, the more you become free.  The more you become free of every false vision that lead you to the wrong place.  The more you become free of every insecurity, every fear that leads you to a bad decision.    You become free the more you realize that the value, the worth you are looking for, you already have.  

After Abraham believes God, God gave him a dream.   And in the dream, Abraham sees these animals cut up on the ground.   And then he sees, God, in the form of a flame, going between the animals.    In Abraham’s day, the Hittite empire had come up with a way of sealing promises, a way Abraham knew well. You cut up these animals and go between them.   And in doing that, you are saying.   If I break this promise, cut me up like these animals.  I seal this promise with my life.   And so, God seals his words to Abraham like that, with God’s very life.  

And in Jesus, God didn’t do that just symbolically.  God did it for real.  God went that far to show you.   You can trust me.  You can trust. I love you.   I have made you right.   And only that trust in that truth will set you free. 

That trust by the way did free Fredrick Douglass.   It freed Douglass to wrestle his demons and most days win.   As a slave even, Douglass came to know God’s love.  He came to know that God had made him worthy and valued no matter what his master said or did.  He had come to know that God had made him free, no matter what the law said.    And that knowledge, that truth did free him to write words that changed the course of a nation.  

And that same truth will free you.   It will free you from yourself.  It will free you to become everything God created you to be.  Believe it.  Trust it.  When temptation comes, when fear strikes, trust who you already are in Jesus, beloved, valued, worthy.  For when you know that truth, when you trust that truth, that truth, and that truth alone will set you free.   

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What Frees You, Truly Frees You From Yourself? This Does.

Ever since an old member here, Steve Ellis (who works for Channel 10 by the way) told me, I have almost always found his words to hold true.   Look into any national news story, Steve said.  You will always find a Florida connection.   This past week his prophecy held true once more.  But I wish it hadn’t.  I wish this whole story had never taken place.

Did you see it?  It began in New Jersey.  A private jet arrived back from Paris.  Inside that jet, federal agents arrested a very rich man for appalling crimes.   But the story didn’t begin there.   It began close to twenty years ago, an hour or so north in Palm Beach.  There, this man used his vast wealth to prey upon high school, even middle school kids.  He left in his wake untold human wreckage.  Back then, for reasons still unclear, he faced little accountability.  But now, thanks to a Miami reporter who uncovered the story, justice may finally arrive. 

As I read the story, I couldn’t help but wonder.  Why. This man had untold riches. He owned not one but two islands for Pete’s sake.  He hobnobbed with countless rich and famous friends.  He garnered the respect of renowned scientists whose research he supported.   Yet, still he risked it all to commit heinous crimes against vulnerable children.  Why?

It’s the same reason, strangely enough, that someone may compulsively come to church, Sunday after Sunday.  This person serves in every way they can think of, not only in the church, but in the community.   Their service even does many good things, positively touches many lives.  
But even so, the same desperate impulse lies at the heart of both these folks’ acts, the one who does great evil, and the one who does great good.   How can this be?   More crucially, how can you make sure that the same impulse doesn’t rule in you?   In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

How can the same desperate impulse drive people in two different directions?  In one, it drives them to horrific evil.   In another, it drives them to great good.   Yet inside, the same impulse enslaves them both.   How does that happen?  More crucially, how can you make sure that the same desperate impulse isn’t driving you, isn’t even enslaving you?  In those words, God tells you.   God says that true freedom comes not from doing but from knowing.   Only when you know this one crucial truth about yourself does true freedom come. 

Now, what is this crucial truth?  To understand that, you need to look at one unusual word that God leads Paul to use here, justify.   In that word, justify, God is telling you what this truth is.  But to understand that word, you first need to understand the word to which it points, righteousness. 

What is it that makes you a Christian?   Is it loving your neighbor?  Is it caring for the poor?  Is it being kind-hearted and gracious?   Hopefully, those qualities characterize a Christian, but do they make you one?   No.

Think about it this way.   Let’s say.  You are a surgeon.  And someone asks you.  What makes you a surgeon?  And you said, surgeons wear green shirts.  That’s true actually.  But does that tell you what a surgeon is?   Does that get at the core?  After all, lots of folks were green shirts.  No, what makes you a surgeon goes deeper than that.  It’s the same with Christians.

After all, lots of folks who are not Christians love their neighbors.  Lot of folks who are not Christians care for the poor.   Lots of folks who are not Christians are kind-hearted and gracious. Heck, some are even more so than a lot of Christians.    So, what is it that makes a Christian a Christian?   A Christian knows something.  Deep within, Christians know they are right.   

Now, before anyone reacts, let me unpack what I mean by right.   I don’t mean right as in you are factually correct about something.   I don’t mean right even as in you are living a right sort of life.  No, I mean, right as in Goldilocks and the three bears.   Does anyone remember that story? 

This little girl goes to the house of the three bears, right?   And she tries their porridge, but one is too hot, and the other is too cold, but one is what?   Does anyone remember? It’s just right?      And the same things happen with the chairs, two are too big, but one is just right, at least until she breaks it.   And finally, it happens with the beds, one is too hard. Another is too soft. But the final one is what?  It’s just right.   

And everybody gets that.  We hear just right, and we know what that means.  We know what it is to search for it too.  That’s because human beings spend their whole lives looking for just right.   Why?  It’s because people sense at some deep level, something within them is not right.   So, people do all sorts of things to help with these feelings of not rightness.   And they do have moments when they feel they a bit of just right, but it fades away.  

And why is that?  It’s because this feeling of just right has everything to with what the Bible calls righteousness.   In the Bible righteousness doesn’t mean doing right things.  In the Bible righteousness means simply being in a right relationship.   And human beings can’t figure out how to be in right relationship anywhere.  Even in Goldilocks, you see that. 

The bears come home. They angrily discover Goldilocks has been eating their food, busting up one of their chairs, and even now is sleeping in one of their beds.   Goldilocks wakes up.  She freaks out at the bears.  She runs away.  And she never returns to the bear’s house again.  Not exactly what you call a happy ending.  But it is a profoundly true one.    You could sum up the story like this.  Human being in desperate search for finding something just right ends up messing things up for her and everyone else.

And that’s not just the Goldilocks story, it’s the human story.   So, we find ourselves in conflicted relationships with nature, with people, heck even with ourselves.  And all those not right relationships, all that unrighteousness stems from one core reality.  We have lost a right relationship with God.  

We don’t believe that God loves us.  Yet we desperately crave to know that very love.  We want to know that ultimate security.  We want to know we are loved, infinitely, unconditionally.  We yearn to know we are right like that.  We yearn to know that God looks at us and smiles.   Now people may not put it that way.  But ultimately in searching for that just right feeling, that’s what they are ultimately looking for. 

And without that assurance of love, people go looking for that love, that approval in all the wrong places.   Why did Epstein do the awful things he did?   He did it for the same reason he amassed huge wealth and famous friends.  He was looking to feel just right.  In the twisted places of his mind, he didn’t care who he exploited or damaged in order to get there.   But you don’t have to do horrendous things such as Epstein to be captured by that same desperate desire for just right. 

After all, Paul admits here that the same desire captured him.  But in his case, it led him to religion not to crime.   He turned to religion to feel just right.   And only as he died to that, as he died to the law, as he puts it here, did he become free.   And free he did become.  How did it happen?   Paul became free because he discovered the power of a word he used again and again, justification. 

This past Wednesday I got home from work.  And do you know the first thing my son said to me.  He said to me.   He had eaten a cupcake.   In our family, we have a pretty strict treat policy.   On Friday, only on Friday, Patrick gets one treat, like a candy or say a cupcake.   So, he knew.  This Wednesday cupcake violated that policy.

But Patrick didn’t stop there.  He explained. This was no ordinary cupcake.  This was a craft activity cupcake.  In his class, they had made cookie monster cupcakes.  He himself had put on the cookie and the edible eyes.    Not only that, he had not even eaten the whole cupcake, just part of it.   Now what was Patrick doing?   He was justifying himself. 

Now his justification didn’t change the basic fact.  He had still eaten a cupcake.  He had still eaten a treat on a day other than Friday.   But those details changed how I viewed that fact.  That’s what a justification does.  It doesn’t change the fact.   But it does change the view.  And in Jesus, God has done just that for you.  God has changed the view.  God has justified you.  

In Jesus, God didn’t erase all your wrong actions, all the brokenness of your life.  But in Jesus, God changed the view.  Jesus shows you in spite of all that, God still sees you with eyes of love. Jesus shows you that God has never stopped seeing you that way. 

In our desperate, misdirected drive to feel just right in Jesus, we even killed God.  Yet God even then did not stop loving us, loving you.  Even death did not stop God love.  And you know that love; when you know that love gave up everything for you, even seeing you at your worst, you become free.  You know.  God sees all of you, even your ugliest places.  Yet in his love, God chooses to view you still as beautiful, as approved, as right.  Why?  Because God loves you like that. God loves you no matter what.  All you need to do it believe it.  That’s why it’s called justification by faith. 

And when you know that, you know.  You know you are just right.  You don’t have to do looking for it, trying to get it.  Even when you’re not feeling just right, even when your life is far from just right, you still know.   Deep within, you know.  You are just right, always and forever.  And that knowledge, that sense of rightness deep within frees you as nothing else can.   Do you know that?   If you don’t, then make today the day you know you are.   

Sunday, July 7, 2019

When You Are Stuck, How Do You Become Unstuck? Here's How

He told me.  Just pull the cord, and it’ll stop.  So, I got on.   I looked for that cord.  It wasn’t there.  It wasn’t anywhere.  So, my nightmare began.

It happened when I was 12 or so.  My mom couldn’t pick me up from school.   And my dad had a meeting.   So. Dad said.  “You can just take the bus.”  The bus ran right by my school.  It went straight by the church where my dad worked.  I get on the bus.  I ride to the church.  I pull the cord.  Bus stops.  Problem solved.   But clearly my dad had not ridden a bus in a while.   Those cords you’d pull to stop the bus, they no longer existed.   For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get that bus to stop. I saw it stop.   I saw people get off.  But I had no clue how they made that happen. 
So, what did I do?  I kept riding the bus.  I rode it right past the church.   I rode it all the way down to the end of the line at the edge of downtown Chattanooga.   Once there. I told the dispatcher my plight.  He had no sympathy.   So, I was stuck; standing on the sidewalk, muttering angrily what I would tell my dad, if I ever got home.   “Dad, there was no cord!”   But a member of my dad’s church saw me.  He asked. “Ken, what are you doing here?”  I told him.  “There was no cord!”   And Corky Clark, God bless him, got me where I needed to be.        

But I remember.  I felt so lost, stuck in a strange, even scary place.  I had no idea how I was going to find my way home.  Thankfully, Corky Clark and his car saved me.   But it’s not always that simple.
This past Monday, a son called me to visit his mom who lay dying in the hospital.  He told me her story, her Presbyterian faith, her faithfulness as a mom, his love for her.  And he shared how she carried deep regret and guilt over a broken romance in her past.  He wanted her to have peace in these final hours.  So, I went.  I prayed.  As I left, I thought about what he had told me.  After that broken relationship, she had never had another.  She remained stuck in that part of her life, in that guilt and regret.

I talk to a lot of folks in such stuck places.  Maybe they’re stuck in a fear or anxiety.  Maybe, it’s pain or hurt or grief.   Whatever it is though, they’re stuck   They know where they need to be.  They just struggle to know how to get there.  I get that.  I get that because I’ve been there too.  Some days, I’m there again.  But in these words, God reminds me.  God reminds you.  Here is what will always set you free.   What is that?  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

In life, you get stuck.  Maybe, you get stuck in a destructive compulsion or habit.  Maybe it’s fear or worry; resentment or guilt.  Maybe it’s despair or discouragement that traps you.   Whatever it is, it’s awful.  It is awful.  But how do you get free?   Here God tells you.  God says.  Don’t just know the love. Walk in it.  

You see, you can know the good news.  You can know that God loves you no matter what, that God loves everyone no matter what.   You can know.  It’s not what you do or don’t do that saves you.  God’s love does that.  But knowing the love doesn’t mean you walk in it.   But that’s the key,  You can’t just know the love.  You’ve gotta walk in it.  What do I mean?

Look at what happens here.  Peter knows the gospel.  Peter knows God’s love for him.  He knows.  Only that love saves him.  Only that love frees him.  Only that love puts everyone right with God.  Nothing else.    But these leaders from James come.  And they don’t agree.    They believe.  Yes, Jesus’ love saves you. But not that alone.  You need these rules.  You need to keep kosher.  You need to get circumcised.  You need to abide by all these laws.  Then you’ll be free.   Then, you’ll be safe.  Then, you’ll be truly right.  

Peter knows.  They are wrong.   But what does he do?   When they come, he walks away from the Gentile believers.   He won’t even eat with them anymore.   Can you imagine how that felt?  Paul had told these believers.  God accepts you as you are.  You don’t have to become a Jew for God to accept you, for God to love you.   But then, Peter, this great Christian leader, who had eaten with these Gentile Christians, won’t anymore.   He discriminates against them, all because of these rules he doesn’t even follow.  Why did he do that?

Paul tells you.  Peter was scared.  He got trapped in his fear.   He got trapped because he wasn’t walking in what he already knew.   He knew. God doesn’t discriminate.  He knew. God’s love welcomes everyone.  Yet, in his fear, he fell back into prejudice.  He fell back into insecurity that led him to deny what he knew.  And why?  He wasn’t walking in what he knew. That’s literally how Paul put it.  It reads here as “they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel.”  But what Paul actually wrote was this, “they were not walking straight regarding the truth of the gospel.”    They were not walking straight. 

Just because you know the truth of God’s love doesn’t mean you walk straight in it.  But it’s when you do that it frees you.    It’s not enough to know it.  You gotta walk in it.   That’s how Paul challenges Peter.   Peter, don’t you know, the rules don’t make you right.  Jesus’ love does.   In Jesus’ love, everyone gets made right.  Everyone has a place at the table.  Walk in that.  Walk in that love, not in your fears, not in your prejudice. 

And walking in that same truth frees you.  Walking in that love would have freed that guilt-ridden mother to find love again.  Walking in that love would have freed my fear-filled 12- year-old self to ask someone for help on that bus.   

When you are stuck, the truth of that love frees you.  Trapped in worry or anxiety?  Then walk in the love that gave up everything to bring you home.    If Jesus’s love did that for, that love will be there for you now.   Stuck in despair and discouragement?  Walk in the love, the love that died and rose again for you.  If Jesus in his love did that, no place exists where he cannot raise you up.   Trapped in a destructive habit?  Then walk in the love.  Whatever comfort that habit gives, it cannot hold a candle to the comfort of Jesus’ love for you.     Wherever you are stuck, walk in the truth of the One whose love sets you free.   For you are beloved. You are valued.  You are right in God’s sight because of what Jesus in his love has done for you.   Walk in that love, in that beautiful truth.  In the name of the One who loved you first, who died and rose again, and who frees you from even your most broken places. Amen.