Sermon: March 11, 2018 – “God is Love?” – Part 5

“God is Love?” – Part 5

Text: Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

I wanted to begin this morning by looking first at the validity of this text. I am going to be leaning heavily on this text as we look at this story in Matthew as it relates to our topic of the love of God. It isn’t unusual for us to look at scripture within a certain parameters and I have always felt it was important to be aware of the historical context of a scripture as well. Most of the conflicts and the darker chapters of church history can be traced back to a poor interpretation of scripture. We were slow to ordain women into leadership positions because of a poor interpretation of scripture. We allowed slavery to persist in this country for centuries partially due to poor interpretation of scripture. We are currently engaged in a debate about LGBT rights and privileges in the United Methodist church and it is my opinion that the reason any debate exists is because of poor interpretation of scripture. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating; we need to be very careful with scripture and our interpretation of scripture.

A few years ago a group of Bible scholars got together with the purpose in mind to try to determine the actual sayings and teachings of Jesus. You might find this challenging, but much of what is recorded in the four Gospels and other places in our New Testament as things that Jesus said, many scholars who have studied their entire lives have come to the conclusion that Jesus did not say these things. This is not to say that these portions of scripture are bad or should be thrown out, but we do need to pay attention, I think, to what might be the actual words of Jesus and what might be the opinion of some particular author. This is one way we hold certain parameters around scripture and avoid falling into the trap of committing barbaric acts based on a poor understanding of scripture.

This group of Bible scholars, about 75 of them, mostly PHD’s and Bible professors who teach in universities and seminaries, gathered together in what became known as the Jesus Seminar. I want you to understand that I have received some Bible training in seminary, and have continued my education since graduating from seminary, but these Bible scholars are all way above my pay grade. Each of them is an outstanding Bible scholar, with many of them having certain areas of expertise and experience. When this group agrees on something, I generally trust their judgment because of the size of the group and the collective wisdom the group represents.

One result of the Jesus Seminar, was this book, “The Five Gospels”. This book details the process and the meticulous study and care that was taken in developing a publication that offers us a candid look at what the actual words of Jesus might have been. There were 75 of these scholars, and they didn’t always agree 100% of the time. So they established a ranking system where they each weighed the validity of a particular text and then essentially arrived at a consensus. Each saying or teaching of Jesus that is found in our New Testament was then identified in one of four categories. These four categories are color coded in the book, ranging from bright red, to pink, to gray, to black. The bright red text means that the vast majority of these 75 scholars believed these words to be the actual words of Jesus. The pink words, less so, the gray words even less likely that Jesus said this, and the black words represent a consensus that there is little chance that Jesus said these things.

Here is what the text I just read a couple of minutes ago looks like in this publication; as you can see, it is all bright red, which means there is a strong probability that Jesus actually taught this lesson and spoke these words.

This is unusual for a text to survive the scrutiny of this group of scholars. It is also unusual for a text of this type to be considered so valid. I say that because the Gospel of Matthew is the only place we find this story. Usually, when a gospel has a standalone story, it is determined to be a local source or based in a local oral tradition of some kind and is unique to that particular author. This is not the case with this story; the Bible scholars associated with the Jesus Seminar believe this story to be a valid teaching of Jesus.

I have spent some time providing all this background information because I think that this text is challenging for us in a number of ways and it is helpful for us to realize that this text also reflects what was the understanding of Jesus as well. The story represents what Jesus thought was an accurate depiction of God’s love. So as we move toward concluding our study about this topic, if I were receiving this teaching instead of offering it, I would be more interested in what Jesus thought than what the instructor thinks.  All of this is to simply say that I think it is safe for us to lean heavily upon this particular story found in the Gospel of Matthew, because I believe it represents the true heart and mind of Jesus.

This is part five of what I figured would be a six-part series about discovering what we can learn with regard to the love of God. We have acknowledged that at times this love of God seems elusive or even non-existent when we consider the suffering in our world. We legitimately ask questions about the apparent lack of God’s love during our darkest hours and checkered history. Where was the love of God during the Holocaust or during the crusades? Where was the love of God in Hiroshima or Nagasaki when nuclear war was introduced to the world? Where is the love of God today when children are starving or refugees struggle to find clean water and a safe place to rest? Where is the love of God when a shooter randomly enters a high school in Florida and takes the lives of 17 others for no reason?

To help us answer some of these tough questions, I have made a couple of suggestions. One major suggestion has been to move away from a human image of God and to begin to think about God in new ways. Some of the other suggestions have been to think about the love of God in new ways as well. One of the ways we have done this is to break down the topic of love into smaller, more manageable pieces. To that end, I have treated the word love as an acronym and have offered some thoughts each week about different words that I thought were helpful descriptors of God’s love.

In past weeks we have looked at “limitless” and “luminous”, “obvious” and “optimistic” and last week we looked at two words that begin with the letter “v” – “vulnerable” and “vital”. Today, I want to add a few more words to our list that begin with the letter “e”.

Those words are “egalitarian” or if it is easier for you to think about “equal” is another word that is similar; I also want us to think about the words “emotionless” and “egoless” as they are portrayed in this particular teaching of Jesus.

That brings us back around to the text I read a few minutes ago. I think most of us understand the gist of this story, but there are a couple of things I want to call your attention to. The first is the opening sentence is verse one, where Jesus says “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

This sentence establishes for the reader or the listener what it is exactly that Jesus is talking about; the problem is, no one really knows for sure what exactly the kingdom of heaven is or what in particular Jesus was referring to. Did he mean salvation in the sense of getting into heaven? I don’t think so. Jesus used the phrase the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God interchangeably and at one point described the kingdom as not being a place, but rather “among” those who were gathered. Jesus also said the kingdom was not coming, but it had already arrived. I think in many ways the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God as Jesus used the phrase represents our relationship to God. It is my belief that we could take this opening phrase and safely modify to say the “love of God is like… “and have the text speak directly to our topic.

The next important item in this story is for us to realize what the laborers that had been in the field all day were actually upset about. Many of us think that they were upset because they didn’t receive more pay; this makes sense because they were expecting more pay because they had spent more hours in the field. But that isn’t what the text actually says. What the text says is that they were actually upset because the landowner had made those who only worked one hour equal to those who had labored all day. Look at it again in verses 11 & 12.

“And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”

What this story is telling us is that the love of God is equally given and equally available to all people. The text is also telling us that when others are considered our equal, particularly when we don’t think they are, it challenges our emotions and bruises our egos.

What is taking place in this story is interesting and needs to be looked at in greater detail and that is the topic of our sixth and final installment of this series. But I will give you a preview. If you think about this story for a minute, you will recognize that the workers who labored all day completely missed the opportunity to be thankful for the work and thankful for a full day’s pay because their egos and emotions got in the way. Instead of seeing the blessing, all they could see was what they considered to be an injustice. The egos and the emotions pushed out the love of God. It is almost as though the ego and the love of God are mutually exclusive; in other words where one is, the other cannot be.

So stay tuned for next week as we explore how the love of God is egalitarian, equal, emotionless and egoless and why it is critical we understand that. Go in peace.



Sermon: March 4, 2018 – “God is Love?” – Part 4

“God is Love?” – Part 4

Text: Philippians 2: 5-8

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

I wanted to begin this morning with a true story about a situation I became aware of while I was attending Seminary in Denver. I’m not going to use any real names, but the circumstances remain factual.

There was a clergy colleague of mine who reached out to help a teen-aged girl named Holly. Over the past several months Holly had made some poor choices and had really gotten herself into a bit of a tight spot. She had dropped out of high school and had been kicked out of her house by her parents. When her parents kicked her out, she went to live with one set of grand-parents who provided a room for her in their basement. When the grandparents discovered that she had been smoking in her room, which was a violation of the agreement they had made with each other, the grandparents also kicked her out.

By the time my clergy friend became aware of what was going on, Holly had been living in her car for over a week. She had no money, she was hungry, her car needed repairs and she didn’t have a warm place to sleep. This was in October and the nights were beginning to cool off.

The place where my colleague was living had an extra room that was not in use, so she offered it to Holly on a temporary basis. There were rules of course, but there was also grace. Over the course of the next few months, Holly stayed with the family of my colleague. She ate meals with them, slept in the spare room and began to feel better about herself and her situation over time.  My friend arranged to get the car repaired and paid for the parts necessary to get it running well again. With transportation and a safe place to stay, my friend began to work with Holly about getting a job and beginning to think about ways to become more independent.

There was a GED program at a local high school in the evenings nearby and so my colleague enrolled Holly in the program so she could get her GED. She attended the classes for several weeks and my clergy friend helped Holly remember to attend the classes and kept her on track. If I remember right, there was also a small fee, which my friend paid.

By this time it was the middle of the Christmas season and Holly stayed with the clergy family through the Holidays. They welcomed her into their family activities, bought her presents, had Christmas dinner together and made certain she felt  supported and not alone during this obviously hard time.

In January, the time came for the GED test. The program Holly was enrolled in had provided a study guide with sample questions and topics to be familiar with. It was at this time that my clergy friend discovered that Holly didn’t know how to study; she didn’t have any academic skills at all. She literally didn’t know what to do with sample questions and suggested topics. No wonder she had dropped out of high school, she simply did not know what to do to prepare for this test. Over the next few weeks Holly and my friend met each day for an hour or so and began to work through all the sample questions and the topics that had been provided them by the GED program.

Later in January on a Saturday morning Holly took her GED test and passed. She was now a high school graduate and ready to perhaps move on with her life in a positive way.

During these months, my friend had insisted that Holly check in every so often with both her parents and grandparents to let them know she was safe and OK. With this last check-in Holly began to share with her Grandfather all that had taken place and all that she had accomplished. She told him about the GED program, the study preparation and the fact that she had passed her test and she now had her high school diploma. Maybe for the first time in a long time, Holly had a little self-esteem.

On Monday morning after the Saturday test and after Holly had checked in, the grandfather called my clergy colleague. He was angry. He used derogatory language and he accused her of sabotage. She had stuck her nose into family business that was none of her business and now she had helped Holly study and pass her GED. He was upset with all of this. In the final sentence of his rant, the grandfather blurted out something that was very telling, he said that my friend had done all of these things for Holly and how do you think that made him feel? With that he hung up the phone.

The saga continues but I’m going to stop at this point.  What I wanted you to hear in this story is that love is vulnerable. The way of love can often lead to unintended consequences.

Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the topic of God’s love. I have tried to take an honest look at the love of God and have admitted that often it seems elusive. Often we raise questions about the love of God and why there is so much human struggling and human suffering if God truly loves us. I have suggested that part of the problem we have understanding the presence of God’s love is how we understand and relate to God. If we hold a human image of God and confuse God’s love with an emotional human type love, it can really backfire.

I have also started to look at the topic of love by considering love as an acronym and breaking the topic into smaller more manageable pieces. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at two words that I offered as positive descriptors of love that began with the letter “L” – those two words were “limitless” and “luminous”. Last week we had a discussion of two more words that began with the letter “O” and those two words were “obvious” and “optimistic”.

That brings us up to speed and to the point where we can look at a couple of words that begin with the letter “V”. The first word, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is “vulnerable” and the second word we are going to explore is “vital”.

I want to get back to the Holly story and the text that I read a few minutes ago, but before I do that, I want to take just a minute and talk about the vital nature of God’s love. A few years ago there was a movie released that starred Tom Hanks playing the part of Commander Jim Lovell as he was heading for the moon on board Apollo 13. Do you remember that movie? Most of you might even remember the actual events of Apollo 13 as they were unfolding in the early 1970’s.

The mission to the moon on Apollo 13 had a number of difficulties and the lives of the astronauts hung in the balance on a number of occasions. One such crisis was when they discovered that the spacecraft they were using to return to earth after orbiting the moon just one time was only designed for a short period of time and only designed for 2 people. They had 3 people in the spacecraft for an extended period of time. Luckily, they had enough oxygen to breathe, but what happened was when they took a breath, the astronauts also exhaled carbon dioxide. In an enclosed space capsule, you can’t just roll down a window and get some fresh air. The air has to be filtered to remove the carbon dioxide – if it is not filtered and the CO2 levels increase, the air becomes toxic. This would eventually cause the men on board to pass out and eventually be slowly poisoned to death.

The spacecraft had filters to filter the air. But because the number of people had increased, and the time spent on board the spacecraft had increased, the filters had become clogged. There was some drama around finding a way to replace the clogged filters with new ones so the air in the space capsule would not become toxic. This cleaning of the air was vital to the lives of the astronauts; they would not have survived without the cleaning filters removing the toxic CO2 from the air.

I think this is a helpful illustration of what God’s love can do for us. The love of God acts as a filter through which we view and understand all that takes place around us. Without the filter, I’m not sure if survival is possible, but if it is, it isn’t much of a life worth living. Just as the CO2 filters were vital for the astronauts, so is the filter of God’s love vital for us.

Life can be hard. Life can be overwhelming. Life can at times kick you in the teeth. Without a filter to help us deal with some of these circumstances, the toxicity of our environment can reach a point where it becomes unbearable.

Now you really need to hear this next part. When we view the love of God from a human perspective, it doesn’t do its job very well as a filter. As a matter of fact, I think it makes it worse. A recent example of this came to my attention last week. A prominent conservative theologian was asked how God could allow something like the school shooting in Florida to take place; the answer was that since we have removed God from our schools, then God, “being the gentleman he is” has backed away. This has created a void that is now filled with the evil shooter.

I’m sorry, but this just is not helpful. It is toxic and it creates an image of God that is not only inaccurate, but also equally as evil as the Florida school shooter.

The two words we are looking at today are vital and vulnerable. We heard about how my clergy friend found herself in a vulnerable position when she reached out in love to try to help Holly. We have also talked about how the filtering of our environment is vital to ensure our survival.

The text I read at the beginning of this message speaks to both of these ideas. The text opens in verse 5 by saying that we should have the same mind as Jesus. In other words, the same filters that Jesus had in place in his mind that allowed him to interpret his circumstances a certain way, should be the same filters that we have in place in our minds. We are to view the world and our circumstances in the same way that Jesus did.

If we have the same filters in place that Jesus did, does that mean everything will always work out and life will be easy?

Keep reading. The text goes on to talk about humility and obedience; Even death by execution on a cross. No, having the same mind as Jesus doesn’t mean life will be easy. What it does mean is that perhaps you have the opportunity to understand life from a new perspective. It also means that you understand that if you pursue a life of love, as Jesus did, that life will place you in a vulnerable position at times. Just like my clergy colleague found herself in a vulnerable position when trying to help Holly.

Make no mistake. It wasn’t evil that put Jesus on the cross. It wasn’t some pre-ordained grand plan from God the Father either. What put Jesus on the cross was love and love alone. Because love is vital, and love is also vulnerable.

And that is food for thought. Amen.

Sermon: February 25, 2018 – “God is Love?” – part 3

“God is Love?”

Part 3

Text: Romans 1: 19-20

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse

For the past several weeks we have been exploring the topic of the love of God. It is difficult to recap everything we have talked about, but essentially I have suggested to you that it is often helpful to think about God in non-human ways. When we look for evidence of God’s love, it isn’t unusual to begin to ask questions about what appears to us as the absence of God’s love. Human struggling, suffering, natural disasters and school shootings are just a few things that come to mind right away. There are many others. By forming an image of God that is non-human, it helps us to begin to answer some of these tough questions.

I also mentioned that we would be breaking the topic of “love” into smaller, more manageable pieces. One way to do this is to treat the word as an acronym. Last week we started this process and I looked at two words that I thought were helpful descriptors of love that began with “L”. Those two words were “limitless” and “luminous”.

Today, that means we will be moving on to the letter “O” for words that broaden our perspective and help us to understand this thing called God’s love. The two words I have chosen for today are “obvious” and “optimistic”. So let’s take a closer look, shall we?

I want to begin today with the word “obvious”. This may seem a little odd to you that it takes an entire sermon series and 6 weeks of study and conversation to define something that should be obvious to us. Well, that is sort of the point. If we were to look in the right places and understand from at least what I consider to be a healthy perspective, then the love of God is obvious. But if we fail to perceive and we fail to look in the right places, the love of God becomes elusive, indeed.

I want to reference the text I read a few minutes ago. If we are to understand the context of this text, a little background might be helpful. The first thing you should know is that Romans is considered by many theologians and Bible scholars to be the pinnacle of all the written work that is available to us from the Apostle Paul. Romans is a huge collection of theological discourse and one could spend a lifetime studying just this one letter from Paul. I don’t think it would be possible to read all the commentaries or books about this particular letter.

Having said that, a basic understanding of why the letter was written in the first place, I think, will help us understand not only the text I read a few minutes ago, but also help us with the broader understanding of our topic of God’s love.

When the letter of Romans was written there was great political strife present in Rome. There were many who hated the Jews. There were Gentiles that had become Christians, there were Jews that had become Christians, there were Jews that had rejected Christianity and almost everyone was suspicious of Caesar and the political leadership of the time. Most scholars agree this was in the mid 50’s of what is now called the “common era”. In other words, about 50 – 60 years after the execution of Jesus. Much of the letter of Romans was written to try to heal the divisions among all these different groups and the hatred and suspicion that was present among them.

With this very brief description of part of the reason Paul wrote to the church in Rome in the first place, it is understandable that Paul begins his letter by stating that God’s presence and God’s love should be obvious to everyone. Paul makes no division among Greek or Jew or Gentile or Christian or non-Christian, the emphasis in this opening passage seems to me to be about the universality of the presence of God.

So, Paul states it very plainly, and very concisely, by simply stating that the presence of God should be obvious to everyone. Because God has revealed to everyone who and what God is and that revelation has been available to everyone from the dawn of creation. It is universal and available to all. This revelation of who God is comes to us through what God has made. In my mind, that is creation, the earth, the universe, and all that is in it. God’s creation is obvious, so the love of God should also be obvious. It is everywhere we look.

So when we are looking for evidence of God’s love, we need to look no further than what surrounds us every day. The sun rises, the trees and the flowers grow, the birds fly through the air and the insects crawl around; all of this is evidence of God’s love and it is obvious. It really can’t be missed. Learning to recognize creation as evidence of God’s love may be a new experience for you and you might not think about beauty in that way at first, but with practice, it becomes a part of your own spirituality.

Learning to recognize creation as evidence of God’s love also creates within you a greater appreciation of our earth and all that is in it. That is why when we pollute or harm creation I find it so offensive. To not care for the earth is a rejection of God’s love.

The other word I mentioned a few minutes ago is optimistic. To truly understand what I mean by optimistic, you first need to understand creation and how things work in the natural world. In nature nothing ever really dies, it is recycled. Everything is useful and everything contributes to the greater good. When a plant or an animal ceases to be in the form that it once was, that doesn’t mean its usefulness has ceased. It simply means that it now has a new purpose. In this way, nature is very optimistic because with every ending comes a new beginning, with every event comes a change of purpose and with every death comes new life.

To fully comprehend this, a walk through a forest is a good teacher. As you walk through a forest, you see a number of trees that are dead, both fallen and those still standing. If you observe closely, you will discover that the dead fallen trees serve a different purpose that the dead trees that are still standing. From both kinds of dead trees, new life springs and life is sustained. The energy present in any living thing is never destroyed, it is only recycled from one form into the next. This is what eternity looks like in nature.

When Jesus was in ministry here on earth and he spoke of God’s love and the connection of that love to our own eternal presence, I’m pretty certain he didn’t mean we would never die physically. There is a rather famous scripture in John, you may have heard of it that speaks of eternal life. John 3:16 states that our acceptance of the love of God leads us to eternal life. In my mind, that also means that through an understanding of the eternal nature of creation, we can also see our own mortality, not as an ending, but rather a transformation from one purpose into the next.  This is an extremely optimistic point of view. We are eternal beings and as such we are engaged in one particular type of purpose at this time, but when that purpose is over, we transition into the next purpose.

When we consider the forest again and we see a fallen tree or a tree stump that is covered in moss and lichen and mushrooms and perhaps a few new shoots of new tress are growing from the fallen tree, do we think to ourselves, “oh, how sad that the tree is no longer standing”? I don’t think we do. We view the fallen tree as a natural progression of how things work and see the fallen tree serving its new purpose to sustain the life and growth of other things in the forest. This is optimism defined.

When we consider the trees in the forest we know and understand that in a storm for example, some will stand while others may fall. Both are necessary and both are expressions of God’s love. We may view the fallen tree as somewhat tragic or perhaps a calamity if it happens to fall in the city on a car or takes down some power lines, but that is our human context projecting onto the tree an emotion that really isn’t present. A tree that is standing or a tree that has fallen are both expressions of God’s love.

Here is why this matters. As we go through life we often wish for a different circumstance or we pray things will turn out a certain way. When they don’t, we are disappointed and we question God’s love. Why is this happening to me we may ask in desperation, doesn’t God hear my prayers? What is wrong with me that God is punishing me? What did I do to deserve this?

To understand the fallen tree in the context of eternity and in the context of a new and renewed purpose is the beginning of understanding the answer to some of these hard questions. Can you imagine a tree having feelings about whether it stands or falls during a storm? Is there any emotion present in what happens in a forest? And yet, the forest is a shining example of God’s love.

Let me remind you of one other text that I believe is speaking to this level of understanding. It is found in Philippians, chapter 4, verse 16.

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

We are to be thankful in all circumstances because when our circumstances change, it may mean a change of purpose and a change of service for us and that is all part of the eternity in which we participate. Without a change of purpose, without the recycling of energy present in nature, without the cycle of life displayed in the plant and animal kingdoms, eternal life would not be possible.

When God promises eternal life, God also promises that your circumstances and your purpose will change and change again and again and again. God’s love is obvious if you walk through a forest; it is also optimistic when you consider that nothing in that forest ever really ends.

Food for thought. Go in peace, Amen.


Sermon: Feb 18, 2018 – “God is Love? – Part Two”

“God is Love? – Part Two”

Text: Psalm 136: 1-9

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Last week I introduced to you some thoughts about how we search for and find evidence of God’s love. I suggested that many of us search for the love of God in human ways, looking for evidence of love as an emotional response. I also suggested that we look for this evidence of God’s love in human terms because of the human-like image we hold of God. I challenged you to begin to think about the Divine in non-human ways. To move away from an image of God that resembles a human being.

I also suggested that many of us struggle with the level of suffering in the world and this leads us to question the validity of God’s love. Once again our country has been rocked by another mass school shooting. Beyond the obvious questions we can look to events like this and legitimately ask the question where was the love of God in those classrooms while people were being shot? How could God allow this event to take place and so many others just like it?

The answer to that question can be a little unsettling, if you answer the question with an image of God that reflects a human point of view. I mentioned last week that with a human perspective, we are really left with only two possibilities. Either God chooses to not stop the shooter in Florida, or God would like to stop the shooter, but cannot. Neither of these alternatives is very appealing, at least not for me. I need to look deeper into this thing we call the love of God and find answers that seem to fit the image of God that I hold in my mind’s eye.

One of the ways I have decided to do this is to break the topic of love into smaller, more manageable pieces. One way to do that is to consider the word ‘Love’ as an acronym, and then find descriptive words that help you sort out all the aspects of God’s love. In that spirit, we are going to look at the first letter of love today. Two words that I want to focus on that I think are helpful descriptions of God’s love are ‘limitless’ and ‘luminous’. Let’s consider limitless for starters.

I would have to say that one of my favorite subjects when I head outdoors to shoot some pictures are waterfalls. There is something mesmerizing about a good waterfall and I particularly like to experience them early in the morning. Often when it is a cool morning there is a slight mist or fog coming off the water and with just the right light, you can gain some amazing results.

Often when I am alone with a waterfall I get this almost overwhelming sense of gratitude that this display of beauty is happening just for me. After all, I am the only one here. Of course I realize that the water flows all the time whether someone is present or not. But when you are alone with a waterfall, there is that personal connection I experience. The gift of the waterfall feels like it is putting on a special performance and I’m the only one in the theater!

As I consider this experience it occurs to me that I am projecting some human-like qualities onto the waterfall. On a logical level, this is crazy; waterfalls do not have a consciousness nor should they be considered in human terms. And yet, in spite of this obvious knowledge, I still enjoy the feeling that there is a personal connection between the waterfall and myself, particularly when I am alone. I think this is not only normal, but even healthy. To appreciate natural beauty to the point where it moves you emotionally is, I think, a very healthy attitude. Many of us experience God the same way. Our emotional response to the feelings created by the Holy Spirit when we sense the God’s presence is a very normal and healthy response.

I mention this experience because I believe it is an accurate description of why we often hold an image of God that is human like. When we experience God, we have a human, emotional experience. This causes us to create an image of God that also is human-like and a God that shares our emotional response. When we focus on a personal relationship with God, I think these kinds of emotional connections can be very meaningful. But there is a down side.

Back to our waterfall analogy. Imagine if I took my projection of some human qualities of a waterfall and began to actually believe the waterfall was human. Imagine if I began to think that the waterfall had the power to choose if it would flow or not. Imagine if I began to think that the waterfall could decide where it would splash water and where it would not. Now imagine that some toddler perhaps wanders into the waterfall, is caught in the current and washed over the edge and drowns. Tragic as that would be, I don’t believe anyone would blame the waterfall. No one would say “how could the waterfall allow that to happen”. Nor would anyone be likely to say something like what I mentioned earlier about God; either God chooses to allow the suffering, or God would like to stop the suffering but cannot. Can you imagine saying that about a waterfall? Either the waterfall chose to allow the toddler to be swept over the edge, or the waterfall wanted to save the toddler, but could not. Sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? And yet, we do this very thing with God and no one finds it odd in the slightest. Can you begin to see how easily we fall into this trap?

I mentioned the idea of God’s love being limitless a few minutes ago. I wanted to firmly establish the metaphor of God’s love being like a waterfall before I took on the topic of limitless to avoid any misconceptions later on. You might also remember that I said when I am alone with the waterfall I feel like the drama is taking place just for me. The truth is that the waterfall flows constantly. It is present all the time. The waterfall doesn’t care if it is just me, a crowd of people, or no one, it will flow in the same way, all the time. It is limitless in that way. If you rise at 3 am in the morning, go out to the waterfall, you will find it flowing. Any time of day, any day of the week, it is always there. For most waterfalls they flow through every season of the year as well. The size may change in the spring or winter, but essentially they flow all the time.

This is the love of God. Limitless. Always available. Yet with a personal connection that we can feel and respond to emotionally. But when we do, we need to be aware of how easily we can create and image of the loving God that begins to work against us as well.

Another word that I think helps us to understand this perspective on God’s love is ‘luminous’. If we were to define the word ‘luminous’ I think most of us would conclude that the definition would include something about it glowing or giving off light. I attach this word as a description of God’s love not in a literal sense, but rather a metaphorical illumination. But only with the perspective that the love of God is more like a waterfall than it is like the human experience we recognize as love. Only when we are able to overcome our human image of God’s love can we begin to benefit from the luminosity inherent in this perspective.

The tremendous upside of imaging the love of God more like a waterfall and less like a parent is that the waterfall metaphor relieves us of struggling with so many questions. It is our perception of God’s love that paints us into corners, not the love itself. So if we can deal with the perception that controls our thinking about the love of God, then we can also control the unanswerable questions that are raised by an anthropomorphic image of God. It is in this way that I think the love of God actually brings enlightenment or luminosity to our lives.

There is a relationship that is nearly impossible to define between what we think and what is. I don’t think modern science has even scratched the surface of the impact of what we believe to be true and what our physical experience actually is. As Henry Ford is famous for having said, “if you believe you can or if you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

One of my favorite authors is the now late Dr. Wayne Dyer and one of his favorite sayings along these same lines in this: “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I believe this to be a true statement. So when we change the way we look at God’s love, there will come to you a level of enlightenment that will change your experience of God’s love. It is in this way that I think the love of God is luminous, because with a different perspective comes spiritual enlightenment.

We will continue our discussion of God’s love next week as we take a look at descriptive words that begin with the letter “o”. In the meantime, I invite you to consider the limitless and luminous waterfall of God’s love and how that waterfall flows into your life and into your experience. May you flow in peace.


Ash Wednesday Service Sermon: February 14, 2018 – “Redwoods, Ashes & Energy”


“Redwoods, Ashes & Energy”

Text: Isaiah 61: 3 – “The Voice” translation

As for those who grieve over Zion, God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes, To anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow, to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness. People will call them magnificent, like great towering trees standing for what is right. They stand to the glory of the Eternal who planted them.

Often when I begin to work with a particular text I look it up on the computer and read the text in a variety of different translations. Every once in a while the different translation will offer a new perspective or a new word that sends my thoughts in a new direction. That is exactly what happened with this text. When I read my text from “The Voice” translation I got to the part about the great towering trees and it reminded me right away of the giant redwoods in northern California. Has anyone else been there and seen these great towering trees?

Well, I thought a short field trip might be one of the best ways for us to appreciate the sheer magnitude of these trees. Now I think it is important for us to recognize that some of the other translations refer to the trees in this text as giant oaks. There are some good sized oak trees out there, but they are not giant redwoods and simply cannot compare. So when I read in the text “great towering trees”, at least for me, they had to be redwoods.

So what we are going to do is take a virtual field trip. Northern California is a ways away, so we are going to experience the redwoods in another way. One of the first things I want to point out about these trees is that a mature redwood at its base can have a diameter of up to 24 feet. I just happened to bring a tape measure with me, so I want everybody to get up and form a circle. We are going to make a circle that is 24 feet in diameter so we can see just how big around these giant redwoods really are.

Ok, now for the really amazing part. Not only do the redwoods grow to be 24 feet in diameter, they also grow to a height of 350 feet tall. I don’t have a tape that reaches 350 feet and we don’t have a building that could accommodate that anyway. So we will have to use our imaginations. We are going to stretch this tape out 50 feet. Now we can see what 50 feet looks like, but we will have to use our imaginations to visualize a tree that is 7 times higher than this 50 feet. These are big trees.

One of the unique things about redwoods that allow them to grow to such great heights is the way they process the environment that surrounds them. You see, most trees absorb water from the ground. They have tiny capillaries beginning with the root system that runs all the way to the leaves on the tree. These capillaries fill with water and when the leaves give off moisture and some of the water evaporates, it new water moves into the capillaries at the roots and everything moves up a little bit. It is the water that brings some of the nutrients to the rest of the tree. But there is a physical limit to the height that the tree can lift all that water. For most trees, the height limit is around 60 to 80 feet in the best of conditions. But the redwoods are different. They have adapted to their environment in an interesting way.

During the summer months in northern California, it is usually quite dry and there isn’t a lot of rainfall and water is a bit scarce. But there is a heavy fog almost every morning. The redwoods have adapted to be able to use the moisture in the fog, and spread nutrients to the rest of the tree through a capillary system that almost works in reverse of most trees. The water flows from the top down, and this allows them to grow to such giant proportions, because the tree doesn’t have to lift the water 350 feet into the air, it allows gravity to do the work as the water flows down from the crown of the tree all the way to the roots. It is a magnificent example of adapting to a particular environment.

You might be thinking about now that is all very interesting, but what in the world do giant redwoods have to do with Ash Wednesday? Well, I’m so glad you asked!

The text indicates that we are to exchange ashes for a crown. The text says that we will replace sorrow with gladness and rather than dwelling in depression and sadness, we will experience joy, and praise and victory. The redwoods, I think, teach us how to do that. They adapt to their environments and use what is useful and they absorb the positive energy that is available to them to grow into such magnificent creations.

So here we are. We have a choice. We can choose to be redwoods or we can choose to be weeds. The primary difference is how we receive the environment that is around us. We have a choice about what energy we are going to absorb, what nutrients we are going to feed ourselves and how we will use the environmental forces around us to either build us up, or tear us down.

Every one of us is exposed to both positive energy and negative energy every single day. We have the ability to choose which energy we will absorb into our beings and what energy we will allow to simply bounce off. We don’t have to take it all in. We can choose to allow some of what we hear, some of what we see, some of what we read and even some of what we experience to just move on past us. We don’t have to absorb everything that is around us. We can adapt to what is available, just like the redwoods have adapted. We can choose to absorb the joy, the victory, the praise and the gladness that surrounds us every day. We just need to watch for it and recognize it when we see it.

One of the fascinating things that I like to think about when I consider trees of all kinds is that from a tree comes firewood. When we go camping and have a campfire or when we light a fire in our fireplace or the fire pit on our deck, we use firewood. This firewood comes from trees. I like to think about firewood as stored sunlight. Have you ever thought about it in that way? You know the sun is essentially a big ball of fire, and when that light reaches the earth, the trees absorb that energy and store it in the form of wood. When we burn the wood, we release that energy once again in the form of heat and light that makes fire. Firewood is stored sunlight.

Once all that energy is released, we are left with ashes. There is some energy still in the ashes, but not much. Ashes represent for me the ‘ground zero’ of energy. Ashes is where energy begins again, ashes are often used as fertilizer or compost and the upside of a forest fire is the ash that is left once the burning is over. Forests recover remarkably fast from a forest fire because of the ash.

Tonight we will be using ash once again as a symbol. As we offer the ash to you this Ash Wednesday, focus on the idea that all the negative energy has been released. Everything that holds you back has been burned up and all that remains of the old is just the ash. This is a new start, a new beginning, the ash is what remains of all the old energy that is now gone. From this moment forward allow the ash to remind you that you can choose what energy you wish to absorb and nourish yourself with only that energy. Become the towering trees you are called to be. Grow to be the spiritual redwood that lies dormant within you. Absorb the energy that surrounds you.

The ash you receive in this moment changes everything; as the scripture says, old things have passed away and look, all things have become new. Your redwood moment has arrived. Grow in peace.


Sermon: February 11, 2018 – “God is Love?” Part-1

“God is Love?” Part-1

Text: Romans 8: 31, 37-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s almost Valentines Day! I know it probably doesn’t seem like it, but Valentine’s Day does have a Christian heritage, at least within the Catholic church. There was a St. Valentine who was honored around 270 CE and there are other theories about Valentine’s Day replacing a pagan holiday and there were other people named Valentine even earlier in Christian history. Fact is, no one really knows the full history of Valentine’s Day or how the association with love and affection ever got started. But it is popular; it is estimated that about 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged this year around the world. That is second only to the exchange of Christmas cards, which is about double that number.

It seemed appropriate to introduce a new sermon series about love close to Valentine’s Day. Of course, I’m going to be focused on the love of God, which is entirely different than the kind of love we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. That being said, I do think it is important to point out how different these two types of love really are and how easily we blur the lines that divide the two. In the English language, we have a bit of an inadequacy around the word love. It seems we have only one, while other languages have words that are more descriptive. I think most of us have heard about the Greek word agape and so on, so I’m not going to take any time chasing that idea. To know they are very different is enough for now. What I really want to focus on is the evidence of love.

Because the kinds of love we express are very different, the evidence of that love is also different. I think that many of us, and many who currently are not a part of Christianity, are confused about this thing we call God’s love. That confusion is a result of not acknowledging the right evidence of that love and blurring the lines that divide God’s love from other forms of love. Over the next few weeks we will be exploring this idea. It is my intention to run this series from now all the way through Lent as we prepare for the Easter celebration. It is also my hope that through the process of clearly identifying what the love of God actually entails, it will transform and enlighten our Easter celebration.

I mentioned that many of us fail to acknowledge the evidence of God’s love. This is not because we choose to ignore it or we want to deny its existence, I think it is primarily because we don’t know where to look. Here’s the problem, at least as I see it, the only experience of love we have as human beings is between human beings.

Think about this. When we are children, at least for the vast majority of us, we had parents that loved us. This is a unique kind of love experience, but it is still a human experience. As we grew up we may have had a “crush” on someone in Junior High or High School, but eventually we found someone that we actually fell in love with and we got married. I know that many of us are no longer married or are married a second time or more, but the idea remains the same. When we fall in love as adults and decide to marry, it is a love that exists between two human partners. This is also true of same gender marriages and relationships, the love expressed is a human love.

For some of us the marriage then begins to produce children. This is another experience altogether. It seems like it should be a rare thing to experience the desire to strangle someone you love, but while our 3 boys were teenagers, it seemed like it happened several times a day. Still the experience we have as parents that love our children is a human experience.

Our entire lives have been an experience of love from one human perspective to another human perspective. It’s no wonder that when we look for the love of God that we seek the evidence of that love in human terms and in human ways. That is what we have been taught that love is. That is what our experience has been.

When we look for evidence of God’s love in human terms it is little wonder that we are disappointed a good share of the time. I think most of us have a strong enough faith that these disappointments don’t become huge stumbling blocks, but deep down I think every one of us have had thoughts or questions about the love of God. For example, all the suffering in the world would seem to indicate that the love of God does not exist for a large percentage of the world’s population. If we think of God as a parent, a father or a mother, it seems inconceivable or completely out of character to allow the kind of suffering we see around the world. As parents of our own children we would not allow that level of suffering, or at least we would do what we could to mitigate the suffering.

So we are faced with some important questions about the collective suffering of God’s children. Some of those questions sound like this: Why does God allow this kind of suffering? If God loves us then why are children starving? If God loves us then why are people born disabled or disfigured? If God loves us then why are there wars and ethnic cleansing campaigns and human trafficking?

The conclusions that one can easily come to seem to fall into two categories. Category number one is that God could change all these things but chooses not to. I don’t know about you, but that is not the kind of God I know or understand. That is not the God I am in relationship with. Category number two is that God would like to change these things, but is powerless to do so. Now we have a God that isn’t really a God because that God has limited power. A God that wants to but can’t is a limited, handcuffed God that is of little value. What kind of a God is a powerless God?

About this time in our thought process we have a tendency to begin to recite all the old clichés we have heard ever since our first year in Sunday School when we were five or six years old. Old clichés like “God works in mysterious ways” or “you just have to have faith” or the one that really bugs me is “God will never give you more than you can handle”. I’m sorry but platitudes like this simply are not helpful. We take hard legitimate questions and just sweep them under the rug. To rely on clichés to answer some of life’s toughest questions is a very dismissive attitude. The truth is that if God didn’t ever give us more than we can handle, then no one would ever commit suicide. That is obviously not the case. Mental illness and suicide rates, particularly in Idaho and our part of Idaho are significantly higher than the rest of the country. Once again, we are faced with tough questions. Where is the love of God when someone takes their own life?

I spent some time earlier talking about how our perspective and experience of love has always been from a human point of view. When we begin to think about the love of God, it is easy, even natural for us to interject some human qualities into that though process. We project our humanness onto God. I know I have used this word before and I wish there was a different word that was less intimidating, but there is not. When we project our humanness onto God it is called having an “anthropomorphic” image of God. We change God into a human like creation. I think most of our struggles to understand God stem from this anthropomorphic image of God that most of us maintain.

For example, a few minutes ago I was talking about the suffering in the world. I said that the evidence of that suffering left us with two choices; either God chooses to allow the suffering, or God would like to eliminate the suffering but is powerless to do so. Without you realizing it, what I presented to you were two very human choices. Language like God “wants to”, or God “chooses to” are uniquely human responses. They are emotional responses. God “wants to” eliminate the suffering is an emotional response. It is a human response. God “chooses” to allow the suffering is also a very human response.

If God is not some sort of glorified super-human being, then those choices for God become invalid. If we look beyond our anthropomorphic image of God to something else, then some of our struggles to understand God are diminished. When we attach human emotions and human responses to God, then we begin to set ourselves up for trouble. The trouble we encounter with this super-human image of God is most apparent when we begin to talk about the love of God. Because our experience of love is so deeply steeped in the human experience, it is hard for us to look at the love of God without the human emotion attached to it. Our human experience of love is deeply emotional. What if God has no emotion? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t have any emotion? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t make choices? What does the love of God look like that doesn’t say yes or no when we pray?

There are those who claim to be agnostic or even atheists that say the love of God is non-existent, it is all in our imaginations. I think they reach this conclusion because they are looking for the love of God in all the human places you would expect to find it. It’s an easy mistake to make.

So for the next few weeks we will be exploring this idea of the love of God, but we will be exploring it from a non-human point of view. I would invite you over the next week to explore your own thoughts and your images you have about God. Are they human in nature? Do you attach human elements of varied emotional responses to God? How often do you refer to God as he, or him, or his or even her?

Stay tuned, there is more to come. For now, that is enough food for thought.

Go in peace.



Sermon: January 21, 2018 – “Anxiety, Allowing and Surrender”

“Anxiety, Allowing and Surrender”

Text: Matthew 6: 25-34

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

There are a lot of different directions that one could follow with regard to this text. Personally, I have always struggled a little bit with this one because it seems on the surface to paint a rather utopian picture that doesn’t really exist in real life. So I have decided to confront my struggles and offer what I can in terms of scholarship and personal insight about what we are to take away from this saying of Jesus.

One of the things which makes this text even more difficult to deal with is that I believe this saying also probably appeared in the document we call “Q”. If you are already familiar with the “Q” concept, you will know what I’m talking about, if you are not familiar, let me just offer a brief explanation. Most Bible scholars I think now agree that the authors of Matthew and Luke used two documents as source material for their own Gospels; those two sources were the Gospel of Mark and “Q”. We do not have an authentic copy of “Q”, although it has been reconstructed and published as a close facsimilia to what scholars believe it might have been.

The reason I think this text becomes more difficult because it appears in “Q” is because I have always considered “Q” to be a fairly reliable source for the actual teachings of Jesus. It has always been my belief that the “Q” document contained a greater accuracy of the actual words of Jesus than say the Gospel of John for example, or even Matthew or Luke on their own. This saying of Jesus, however, appears in “Q” and in Matthew and in Luke, so it is a reliable assumption to think that Jesus actually spoke these words or something very close to these words.

Which brings me back around to some of the problems with the text. Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothing because God will provide those things for us. For most of us here in Lewiston and for most of us for most of our lives this has been true. I don’t think there are very many of us here who have actually had to worry about their next meal. I think most of us have been sheltered from those kinds of hardships.

But that doesn’t mean that we are not aware that the hardships do exist. We collect food every week for the food bank here in Lewiston. There is significant poverty right in our own backyard. But this pales in scope to the kind of poverty that is present on a global basis. The facts are that God does not provide food and clothing for a significant percentage of the world’s population. So I struggle with what to do about this statement of Jesus. It is pretty clear that Jesus states God will provide and it’s also very clear when we observe the world around us that this simply is not true. There are millions in need of food and shelter and clothing. How do we reconcile what Jesus said with what reality seems to be?

There are a couple of explanations which you might find in a commentary if you looked; the most common seems to be that Jesus did not intend for this instruction to be for general public consumption. In other words, some scholars believe that Jesus was telling these things to his disciples about how they should be as followers of Jesus. Specifically, Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the ministry and not the logistics of how they would provide for themselves.  This makes some sense and I can accept this line of reasoning to some degree.

But even in that limited context, it seems there are still potential problems with the text, so I feel like we need to dig a little deeper.

As I read the text and really study what is there a couple of things stand out for me. First, I don’t think this text is about God providing; the text is about not worrying. There is a big difference. In the 11 verses of this text, we are told not to worry at least five times. That means that every other verse contains instructions for us not to worry. This text is not about the idea that everything will always be OK, it is about not worrying about everything not being OK.

As a matter of fact, the last verse admits this, saying don’t worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will have plenty of trouble all by itself. You don’t need to add any trouble to tomorrow by worrying, there will be plenty when tomorrow gets here. As the text states; “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Some of the commentaries that I looked at treated this text in a very superficial manner. No one suggested that it is a difficult text; no one suggested that at first blush is might seem like Jesus was speaking untruthfully; no one seemed eager to engage the rather obvious downside of this text. Rather the commentaries wanted to talk about faith and trust. Just trust God and everything will be great. Well, sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it; at least not for me.

If we shift the focus of the text away from God always meeting every physical need for every person, which God does not do, and rather focus on the main idea of not worrying, I think we begin to move closer to what Jesus may have intended. The short lesson here is that worrying doesn’t help, it only gets in the way.

So as we dig deeper into this particular text, what comes up for me as a question is how do we not worry? What is the secret to not worrying? Anxiety seems to plague a lot of people, some cases are much more severe than others, but I think all of us have struggled at one time or another with anxiety. Jesus tells us this is futile, anxiety is a waste of energy, we should not worry about tomorrow.

What is missing from this text, and is perhaps implied in one verse in particular is the mental awareness of how receive information about our current situation. Now that is a complicated sentence, so I want to break it apart a little for you. The one verse I mentioned is verse 25b; Jesus asks a question that I think is often overlooked. Jesus asks “Is life not more than food and is the body not more than clothing?”

What do you suppose he meant by this statement? The answer I think is obviously there are more important things in life than what we eat; there may be even more important things in life than if we eat. In other words our connection to the universe, our connection to the Divine, our connection to God is more critical to life than even food. If we worry about material things, it leaves no room for us to contemplate spiritual things. Let me say that again, if we worry about material things, it leaves no room for us to contemplate spiritual things.

This simple idea has taken me decades to even begin to work out in my own mind. The first experience was learning to not judge or worry about things I could not change. In other words, the weather is going to be the weather and no amount of worry will change it. Some people get upset with traffic or when someone cuts them off or when they are late for a meeting. Why? Nothing can change “what is” at that moment and worry or frustration does nothing to help.

What enlightenment comes slower and is more difficult to understand and work with is our own place in the universe and our ability to receive the information about our own circumstances without judgment and without worry. The last step in the process is to receive all that information, not only without any judgment, but with thanksgiving as well.

I think this is the heart of what Jesus was getting at in this text. It isn’t about everything always being okay or at least being judged by you as OK. What it is about is knowing that whatever comes is part of the universal whole and you have a part to play in that unfolding. With a secure knowledge of God and a great connection to the Divine, what happens in the material world is really of little consequence.

One way to look at this is to realize that we are all spiritual beings. We are and always have been and will always be spiritual beings. At this brief moment in time, we are spiritual beings having a human experience; what can we take from this human experience? What can we learn, what can we accomplish, what can we change in this human experience? These are the questions of a higher existence. Most of us consider ourselves as human beings who occasionally search for a spiritual experience. In reality, we are spiritual beings in the midst of a human experience.

Let me leave you with just one more thought. I have read that in some of the eastern faith traditions like Buddhism or Taoism this concept is explained in this way. Pay attention to the emphasis I place on particular words. Before enlightenment one may ask “Why is this happening to me?  After enlightenment one may ask the very same question, but ask it in this way; “Why is this happening to me?” The difference in these two sentences if the focus. One question asks why in the sense of physical and material consequences. The second question, which uses the same words, focuses on the spiritual in the sense that the question asks what can I learn, what experience can I have, how might I help others?

To overcome anxiety and worry means to foster acceptance of what is and to surrender to your current circumstances. I don’t use the words acceptance or surrender to imply resignation or to give up on change. I use the words acceptance and surrender to mean that we don’t waste any more time or energy asking why, but rather focus on what we might accomplish. Food for thought. Amen.