Sixteen Years Ago

I watched it happen — an airplane flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center. This morning reminded me of how many other people witnessed that same event from a television. It was graphic, confusing, and more than anything it was pulse racingly real.

Our marching band had just gotten in from another early morning practice, where we ran through our routine and did our best to wake any sleeping neighbors. We put our instruments in their places, grabbed our backpacks and headed off to our next class. I walked down the hall to the industrial tech room where our teacher had the television on and told us that something had happened. We sat in our seats and watched.

There is so much violence to which we have grown numb. Movies with scenes of graphic war may hardly phase us, first person shooter video games are common place. We hear stories of shootings in schools and wars in the middle east, but my soul was not able to feel the weight of the violence in those other places. They were just stories, maybe even fables; violence and war were things that happened to other people, and I had never had to consider how real they were. That changed on September 11.

The moment is vivid in my mind, as our class sat and watched. A few students attempted to ask our teacher what was going on, but he had few answers. Was this an accident? Was this a war? Was this something new entirely? We didn’t know. Then, suddenly the second plane hit tower two and I watched it happen. Immediately, I realized: those people just died. Right now, in real life, while I watched — people died.

When tower two came down the feeling was even more acute. We watched as the building collapsed, and all that I could fathom was that in each moment, as each floor came crashing down on the one below it more and more people were dying. Death was not a distant accident that happened only to “other” people, it was now something that I was witnessing. Even from the relative quiet and safety of a Northwest Iowa school, my soul felt very present to the destruction and loss.

It has been sixteen years since the World Trade Center collapsed, but more than anything, I remember how present I felt in that moment. Present to the great pain and loss of others.

I am a bit older now than I was then and I have been present to a few others in their moments of great pain and loss. I said “goodbye” and “I love you” to my grandmother before she died. I have been in more than a few hospice rooms to pray with those who were dying as well as their families. I watched as a ninety-two-year-old widow sat weeping at the graveside of her husband of seventy years. Not only have I been present to pain, but I have also witnessed the birth of all three of my sons. I have performed weddings, celebrated baptisms and anniversaries, and rejoiced with others as they recovered from illness.

Life has been filled with joy and pain, and I have become more and more present to it all.

I wonder today, now sixteen years later, if this is not our most important work — to become present to our own lives and the lives of others. When I recognize the suffering of others, then I recognize my own experiences of suffering. So too, when I recognize the fear in others, then I recognize the fear that often lives in my own heart. When I am present to the joy of others, it connects me to my own powerful feelings of joy. We are so connected, you and I, and the moments when I trust myself to that are the moments when I become more alive.

Sixteen years ago today, I was present. Let me be ever more so. Amen.

Advertisements

“Fake News!”

The past six months have brought unique attention to “fake news.” But this is really nothing new. I first experienced “fake news” in fifth grade, when the rumor was that Dani was stuffing tissues in her bra because her breasts were lopsided. Then the story went on to say that she was pulling them out throughout the day and was blowing her nose with them! Even then, I remember thinking, “whether it is true or not — who cares!” As a friend of mine admitted later, it had indeed been, “fake news,” a story that had been fabricated by a boy looking to cause trouble.

I left the hallowed halls of Middle School seventeen years ago. Yet it feels like even today we are leaning against our lockers, telling stories, observing the world around us, and trying to make sense of it all. What stories are true and what stories are entirely made up? What stories are told with a bias and which stories are free of the observer’s own interpretation? Is it even possible to have a story without the observer inserting something of their own opinion?

fakenews-istockOne of the curious realities of reading the Gospels is that there are four of them and they each tell the story of Jesus, but they each tell that story in a different way. Sometimes the authors witnessed the same event and included blatantly different details. An example of this is the story of the woman who came in with a bottle of ointment and anointed Jesus while he was eating. (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 7, John 12)

Continue reading

“Illuman” with Richard Rohr

This weekend I have been in Albuquerque, NM attending the Illuman men’s conference with guest speaker, Father Richard Rohr. Below are a collection of Quotes from his seminars during the past two days. I share them as a gift to you.

“Most men had a Father wound or Father hunger… an unsettling, tragic, non-existent relationship to their father.” – Richard Rohr.

The males of the species, by and large, had not had their identities passed on to them by their father.” – Richard Rohr.

Many men could not pray the “Our Father” with a sense of trust, endearment, or expectation…” – Richard Rohr.

“Jesus used the most distant, daring, and powerful name for God (Father) giving us permission to trust the distant and hidden side of God.” – Richard Rohr

“Most of Jesus’ stories have to do with nature and relationships.” – Richard Rohr

“I had to take people on reverse missions…we in America live a very isolated life.” – Richard Rohr.

“I have just had too much of this individualistic Christianity.” – Richard Rohr

“If you want to disguise your narcissism, just talk about God a lot.” – Richard Rohr

“There is always an energetic nun behind every good project in the Catholic Church.” – Richard Rohr

“(Males) We are not naturally intimate…. as long as it is external, we are engaged.” – Richard Rohr.

“The Christ mystery is when the physical and spiritual meet.” – Richard Rohr.

“We’ve prepared men to be macho, to make them think they are higher than girls.” – Richard Rohr

“Girls had puberty rights and menstruation rights…. puberty rights were to tell a girl how special she is.” – Richard Rohr.

“Men were told, you’re strutting around a bit too much, come on down from your tree.” – Richard Rohr.

“Jesus’ response to men and women… Jesus is always telling men to come down.” – Richard Rohr.

“She was just a tool for the man to use and raise his children.” – Richard Rohr, referencing the Syrophonecian Woman.

“Very wham, bam, thank you ma’am, get my Jesus and get out the Door.” -Richard Rohr on church life compared to A.A.

“All it was was a belonging system and a belief system….but was it a transformation system? (the real question is) Are you growing up?” – Richard Rohr

“When you don’t know who you are, you will substitute your group for yourself.” – Richard Rohr.

“The problem really isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.” – Richard Rohr.

“The only way to open the heart space for many men is grief, and poetry, which has such nice words. We are so linear, so literal… we try to manufacture grace by performance principles.” – Richard Rohr.

“There are bishops who are still in the kindergarten of spiritual transformation.” – Richard Rohr.

“Be ready to be surprised by who is up and who is down, who is in and who is out.” – Richard Rohr.

“You already have your sonship, it is your divine DNA. No one can take it from you, you can only awaken to it.” – Richard Rohr.

“The world is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” – Richard Rohr.

“You will only recognize the soul of other things when you can recognize your own soul.” – Richard Rohr.

“An experience of wonder and awe, these are transformative.” – Richard Rohr.

“If you don’t have Chairos moments, you don’t have a real spiritual life.” – Richard Rohr.

“God is more revealed by the plurality of nature than the individuality.” – Richard Rohr.

“It’s a mutually fulfilling relationship, and once you experience that exchange you can never be lonely again, and pornography will be a poor substitute.” – Richard Rohr

“We are seen by what we see, we are recognized when we begin to recognize…it is a relational universe….God is utter relationship. We are loved when we love something.” – Richard Rohr.

“Don’t think that you love anything until you defer to it out of utter respect.” – Richard Rohr.

“The natural world activates the spiritual world within you, that’s how you connect to your soul.” – Richard Rohr.

“The whole meaning of your life is to connect; relationships will teach you everything you need to exist.” – Richard Rohr.

“To love something is to see and recognize it’s center, it’s soul, it’s innards.” – Richard Rohr.

“Until you can honor something precisely for it’s difference, you have not loved.” – Richard Rohr.

“Until you have loved difference, you have not loved at all.” – Richard Rohr.

“The immature man insists on same-ness.” – Richard Rohr.

“Here we had to learn how to weep for the pain of the world.” – A Masai tribesman brought Richard to a Weeping Cave, a space for their male initiation. Richard Recounted the story.

“In the very place where a man is most strong, most erect, this is the place where we’ve got to humble them.” – Richard Rohr.

“Unless the male is led onto journeys of powerlessness, he will always abuse power.” – Richard Rohr

“We are a ritually starved culture, and protestants even more so than catholics!” – Richard Rohr.

“To keep conscious is work, Brothers!” – Richard Rohr.

“You’re just a little shit, like everybody else! Hallelujah! This is the moment of Freedom, when you realize you are a little shit like everyone else.” – Richard Rohr.

“We white boys succeeded without even trying, it was handed to us.” – Richard Rohr.

Question and Response time:

Q: How does one sustain motivation and a positive vision?

Response:

“This is a question we keep asking our whole life. We should use our loss of motivation as a rubber-band pulled backward. The pattern of growth is exactly that. losing the face of God makes you want to seek that face again.” – Richard Rohr.

“Guilt or shame profits nothing.” – Richard Rohr.

“Use your failures as choices for the Future.” – Richard Rohr

“We all lose it, but the losing is a part of the finding.” – Richard Rohr.

“It’s your inner demons that undue you, brothers. Start building your own firewall of love early on.” – Richard Rohr

Q: Asked how to pass openness and compassion to others:

Response:

“Your children will be energized by what you are energized by. They will love what you love.” – Richard Rohr.

“Men who want to be leaders, really aren’t.” – Richard Rohr.

Q: Asked how to love in the midst of painful relationships.

“I could love the church that couldn’t always love me; and that is pure grace.” – Richard Rohr.

“Do not seek to be un-despised, it is the price you pay for living your truth.” – A quote on Richard’s wall that he reads every other day.

“Any woman we give our heart to, we want to go to bed with, it’s the male psyche.” – Richard.

Question: What does someone do when they feel like God has abandoned them?

Response:

“Well, I think that’s part of the deal. More than half the days of my life I have no feeling of God or any of it… That’s what faith means! How else do we choose freedom and love?” – Richard Rohr.

“I can still be happy, even though I can’t change it — damnit!” – Richard Rohr referring to living in Non-duality, regarding how he tries to experience the pain of this world.

“You’re free when you can say: I’m an ass, you’re an ass.” – Richard Rohr.

“This is the last question? Oh, thank God! I’m going to need a long island iced tea after this.” – Richard Rohr.

“The major sin of Western Christianity is superficiality.” – Richard Rohr

“Humility: Jesus is Lord” or “Don’t Overthink the Bacon.”

Who are your heroes?

If you ask this question to a room full of preschoolers, hands fly in the air, possibly calling out their favorite tv superhero!  But maybe some of us here this morning find answering the question a bit more difficult, jaded by the tales of too many of our heroes fallen from glory — the athlete who used the drugs, the pastor caught in a scandal, the politician whose promises went unfulfilled…

Who is left to look up to? Let us try, though, to humble ourselves like little children for a moment. Who still inspires you, warts and all? Whether you admired them from a distance or knew them intimately as a friend or in your family…

What was it about them that has the highest value for you?

Written responses on the White Board:

Traits of a Hero.jpgThese are some of our hero traits.

In our passage today, we are going to hear from Paul the Apostle, who met the Risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Jesus — a man whose story, whose followers, and whose love for Paul Changed Paul’s life completely. So much so, Jesus isn’t just his Hero, Paul says “Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Scripture:

Phil. 2:1    If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,  2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  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.

 

Phil. 2:9    Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Phil. 2:12   Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;  13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For many of us, our heroes gave us the gifts that Paul describes “Encouragement in Christ, Consolation from love, Sharing in the Spirit, Compassion and Sympathy.” Instinctively, we know that these values give us life and joy, in deep places in our spirits. There is an almost “innate goodness” to these values, which we are hard-wired to gravitate towards — they are magnetic.

It is an irony then, that the values that make a person a hero to each and every one of us, are values that our society as a whole seems to have ignored.

Richard Rohr puts it this way, “Interestingly enough, this classic tradition of a true ‘hero’ is not our present understanding at all. A “hero” now is largely about being bold, muscular, rich, famous, talented, or ‘fantastic’ by himself, and often for himself, whereas the classic hero is one who “goes the distance,” whatever that takes, and then has plenty left over for others. True heroism serves the common good, or it is not really heroism at all.” – Richard Rohr in Falling Upward, pg 20.

These classic values of a “true hero” describe Jesus to a “T.” I feel like this is what makes Jesus at the same moment so Inspiring and Attractive AND so hard to understand!

Inspiring and attractive because to me there is an unspeakable beauty in seeing the son of God, a man who freely shares forgiveness with sinners, who openly dines with tax collectors and prostitutes, who breaks all social norms to include those who have been marginalized, and who is even willing to go so far as to die for his enemies. His love, grace, and passion are deeply inspiring. Even among those who do not identify as Christian, Jesus is, to this day, deeply revered around the world as a teacher and a model for ethical living.

Yet, it is also the grace and love of Jesus that we can find to be so confusing and hard to understand! Almost as if Jesus doesn’t play by our rules! In the world we were born into, it is the strong who succeed, it is the rich who get the attention, and it is the talented who are celebrated. Then Jesus goes and tells stories like the Prodigal son… where a wayward and irresponsible son receives a banquet, while the dutiful, loyal, and hard-working older son stands aloof refusing to enter the banquet. Stories where the sick and the sinners are healed and blessed, but the righteous and wealthy are sent away disappointed.

We were born into a world devoted to self-survival, but Jesus gave his life for the flourishing of others. This is both beautiful AND confusing to us!

It seems as though Jesus doesn’t play by the rules of the world that were born into. And either he had it all mixed up and died as a fool for not playing by the rules. Or, we have been following the wrong rule book all along and we have a lot of “un-learning” to do to live in the Kingdom of Jesus.

Paul gives very clear instructions this morning for how to begin to “un-learn” the world we were born into, and how to begin practice life in the Kingdom of God.” He says:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”

This is backward from the world in which we were born and continue to live, but this is the way of Jesus. Now, notice something hugely significant: Paul provides no qualifiers! He doesn’t say: Regard those who make six figures as better than yourselves, regard those who can retire down south as better than yourselves…. There are no qualifiers given, which leads us to the heart of the issue. Whom are we to regard as better than ourselves? (Everyone.)

The student in your classroom who is distracting and has frequent outbursts…

The driver of the car who comes flying past you on the road…

The protester, crying out for Justice and equality…

The first step in growing in humility begins by looking at yourself, doing what some have called “self-accusation.” Judgment is obsessed with looking at others and being critical; humility is obsessed with looking at ourself and being truthful.

 Asking, when have I been distracting to others?

When have I had a lead foot behind the wheel?

When have I experienced injustice and was made to feel inferior?

I the world we were born into it is Judgment and criticism of others that helps us get ahead, but in this backwards and upside down kingdom of Jesus, as one scholar put it, “Humility becomes the foundation of one’s relationship both to one’s fellow human beings and to God.” – Reinhard Feldmeier.

When we are honest with ourselves about ourselves, then we see our own sins and failures first, then it is much easier to be compassionate toward others. Remember, our minds are not used to this! We are used to judging, critiquing, figuring out how our own opinion, group or belief is right and everyone else is doing it wrong! But humility stops that pattern of thinking where we always come out first, and instead, insists that other people are to be regarded as better than us! We need to quiet our thinking if we are ever going to hear our hearts sing!

One of my struggles in life is thinking too much. Maybe some of you have noticed that about me… and maybe some of you are saying, “Me too!” Some of us can over-think everything!

A couple of weeks ago Jaimi and I went grocery shopping without the kids. That was a first for us in a long, long time. Normally when we go grocery shopping we pull into Hy-Vee, look for a big race-car cart, put two kids in the race-car cart and one (very disappointed) kid in a normal cart. We divide up the grocery list, and we blitz the store, finding as many grocery items as possible as quickly as possible because we know that our kids have about a half-hour window where they will be generally content sitting in a shopping cart. If we push that half-hour window of time, then very soon the fighting begins, the crying, the eye-gouging… and it is just a matter of time before everyone (including me) has a total emotional meltdown.

So, we got to go shopping for groceries without the kids! It was bliss. Yet, it had been so long since we had shopped like that, that I didn’t even remember how to do it. Jaimi told me, go and pick out some bacon. Simple enough. So I walked toward the isle with the bacon while she got some other things. And I got to the bacon section, stood staring at the expansive selection, and fell into a trans!

Hickory smoked, applewood smoked, maple bacon, thick cut bacon, black pepper bacon…. I picked up a pack, looked at it, compared it to all the other packs, put it back. Picked up a pack, looked at it, compared it to all the other packs, and put it back. After about five minutes Jaimi came over. I had just successfully selected THE PERFECT bacon (something , and upon seeing my choice, my wife said… “Really?? You picked the one that is TWICE the price of all the other bacon?”

We debated for a bit and eventually agreed on a happy medium. A cheaper, thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon! Eventually, we laughed that such is life when we suddenly have the uninterrupted, unhurried freedom to hear ourselves think. 

If we can over-think the simplest choices, like selecting a pack of bacon, how much more are we prone to over-think the worth or value of other people or the worth or value of ourselves?

Our brains are great at calculating and comparing, that’s how we survive after birth! But when it comes to Loving other people or allowing ourselves to be loved — those comparison and calculating skills prove themselves woefully unhelpful. Anytime you feel anxious, that’s what’s happening. Your brain has gone into overdrive; you compare yourselves to others, you compare your work to the work of others, you compare the value of everything and everyone. This comparing and judging kind of thinking is addictive, and just like me standing in front of the bacon section — it gets us nowhere quickly. Why does it get us nowhere quickly?

Because our value and worth as human beings does not come from how WE  measure up to other people or how other people measure up to US, our worth and value as human beings comes from who GOD is. And the way that God feels about you, and everybody else — is Jesus.

The Jesus who gives himself for others, even welcoming children. The Jesus who goes the distance to show dignity and humanity to those whom society had long written off. The Jesus who is willing to be humiliated so that others can receive Love. The heart of Jesus is what makes him a hero — a heart of humility.

Henri Nouwen described the heart of Jesus,as a heart where…

power is constantly abandoned in favor of love” – Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus. pg. 83.

In the Kingdom of God — the world as it actually is — This is what makes a person a true hero. “Power abandoned in favor of love.”

That is what makes Jesus a hero to Paul.

The self-emptying love of God.

Paul goes even further; now Jesus isn’t just a hero, Paul makes Jesus the hero of hero’s, saying “Jesus is Lord!”

Friends, as you go today, go and

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”

and remember:

The way that God feels about you, and everybody else — is Jesus.

Amen.

Humility: The Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? We have each probably wondered the question in those little moments where we were brave enough to face our own mortality and, at least let our spirits whisper the question: What is the meaning of life?

We look around and we can hear and see lots of people telling us the meaning of life. The producers create products that will “revolutionize our lives.” Students go to class to learn new information and make plans for what they want to “be” when they grow up. The designers create fashion, a new look, a new model of car or house that will “transform” us. Scientists look intently to the natural world, trying to understand how everything works. Religious types can scour the Bible, listen to various teachers of religion, and take up fights here and there about what is right and wrong, what is or is not God’s will. Children get a new toy and, at least for a while, are happy and content. Retirement communities promise warm climates, endless golf and pickle-ball, and friends galore!

But in it all… what is the meaning? Where is the meaning? How would we find the meaning?

Today we join Paul the Apostle. In his early life, he was a brilliant Jewish scholar and a leader of the Pharisees. He found meaning and purpose in standing up for the traditions of his religion and by persecuting those who posed a challenge to the Jewish faith. He especially opposed the Jewish movement of people who believed that Jesus was the messiah and that he had risen from the dead. I imagine that the night in which Stephen (an early Christian) was stoned to death, Paul went to bed content believing that it was a day filled with meaning and purpose.

And yet, something drastic changed in Paul’s life. He met Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus. From that moment, everything changed in Paul’s life. He fell to the ground in a blinding light and he became a disciple of Jesus; he learned the stories of Jesus from the other apostles, and he began to spread the good news of the grace of God throughout the Roman Empire.

Our story today picks up as Paul is concluding his second missionary Journey. He has traveled for years planting churches, encouraging the church leaders in various places, and sharing with everyone the good news of the Grace of God. In the series of events before our scripture, Paul was encouraging the believers and planting churches. After our story he will head back to Jerusalem, he will be arrested, and he will finally be brought to Rome where he will stand trial, eventually being put to death.

Join me now, as we hear Paul speaking to the church in Ephesus; a final farewell speech to his beloved church leaders.

greece map.gif

Acts 20:17   From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him.  18 When they came to him, he said to them:

 “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,  19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  20 I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  21 as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus.  22 And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,  23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.  24 But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

What is the meaning of life?

-When I was in third-grade computers were just coming out and becoming widely available. Our teacher had an old Apple computer (new at the time) with green and black Oregon Trail on it. It changed our lives as kids. The entire classroom would sit around the computer and play Oregon trail during break, during recess, any time our teacher would let us. Fording the river, shooting a bison, preventing the family from getting dysentery: That was the meaning of our lives! At least in those short moments of third-grade bliss.

-In high school, I had a dark green Jeep Wrangler and in Sioux Center, IA in the summer time there was always “Cruise Night” on Sunday evenings from about 7:00-Midnight. The whole town, from one end to the other, was filled with cars and the highway became a flood of high school students in their shiny cars with loud speakers. My friend Trent and I found our meaning in trying to look cool, in getting girls to ride in my jeep with us, and in doing whatever it took to give the impression that we were tough and handsome.

-When I got married after college, I assumed that meaning would come by having someone with whom to share my life. I hoped that having a constant partner, a friend, and a sexual relationship would give meaning to my life.

-When I became the pastor here at First Reformed, meaning came from finally getting to do what I had spent so much time and effort in studying to do. A career, I hoped, would give me meaning.

-When our boys were born, there was a new meaning to life. Life now meant being a dad, caring for my children, and giving myself to them. Children, I hoped, would give me meaning.

But of course, none of these events or milestones are guarantees for meaning, are they?

Winning games, looking cool, owning things, getting married, starting a career, producing offspring, and any other task in life — none of them guarantees us a constant sense of meaning and purpose — do they?

In our passage today, Paul doesn’t give a lot of specifics about what he has been “doing” with the Ephesians. Oh sure, he says that he proclaimed the message to them and that he taught publicly and privately, but there aren’t a lot of details about what he DID for the Ephesians. But Paul does give some remarkable insight into HOW he has been living with the Ephesians. He points the Ephesian elders to remember “how I lived among you.”

Could it be that lasting meaning cannot come from what you DO. (Winning games, getting married, doing a job, having children, building houses.)

But can only come from HOW you Live?

What if life is a lot less about production and a lot more about posture.

Production is what you can do, achieve, create, accomplish. But posture is about HOW you do what you do, your stance, your disposition, your form.

large-white-vase

One of my spiritual teachers, named Richard Rohr, talks about this spiritual reality like a container. Imagine a large vase or pot. This vase represents two halves of life. The first half of life we find meaning in creating our container. We define ourselves by what we do, what we can accomplish, the milestones of life, so to speak. In this first half of life, meaning comes through those tasks that we can do: wether it is winning the games, getting married, getting a job, having children, or building houses. What we DO defines who we are. And all of this is so important. It is so good to seek meaning, achieve milestones, and do the things that give us a sense of accomplishment.

But meaning in life cannot be sustained by the things that we can “do,” the tasks that can give us a sense of accomplishment. Sooner or later, if we are listening to the Spirit, the limitations of those things that we can do and accomplish are revealed. They do not have intrinsic meaning!

-We could win at every game from preschool all the way up to the Pro’s. But at some point, you reach the top and you feel great, but what’s next? You built the container, but now you realize that it’s empty!

-You get married. But at some point in your marriage, you realize that you aren’t nearly as self-less and kind as you liked to imagine yourself to be and your spouse cannot fix your inner loneliness or sense of inadequacy. You built the container, but now you realize that it’s empty!

-You got your degree and dream job, but at some point you find yourself working, working, working, and doing what you always wanted to do — except now you are sick and tired of it and you feel disappointed with life. You built the container, but now you realize that it’s empty!

-It doesn’t matter if it’s having children, if it’s building a house, or if it’s retirement! If meaning in life is defined by what we will do, then it will always leave us feeling disappointed.

One of the ways that you can tell if you are living in this first half of life is if you are looking ahead to the future, for a time when your life will “really begin.”

-like the college student who waits for life to really begin when they get a job.

-like the romantic, who waits for life to really begin when they get married.

-like the employee, who waits for life to really begin when they can retire.

This is first half of life thinking, where meaning is an objective to achieve in the future.

But second half of life thinking is different, it says, “I want to live right now! Today! This instant!” Meaning in the second half of life isn’t an objective to achieve, but more like a posture to practice.

This is why, according to Rohr, the second half of life is about filling your vessel up. If the first half of the spiritual life is about creating a vessel and finding meaning in what we can do, then the second half of life is about filling that vessel to overflowing!

-It is no longer defines itself by what it does. It defines itself by how much joy it can experience in whatever it does!

-It no longer looks for meaning from a marriage partner. It seeks to give love and appreciation TO a marriage partner – making a great marriage!

-It no longer looks for meaning in getting a job. It creates meaning and expectancy in whatever job it has – making employment meaningful!

-It no longer wants to build a house out of a sense of accomplishment, it wants to fill that house with love and hospitality for all.

The first half of life is task oriented, the second half of life is posture oriented!

One of the joys of Parenting small boys is that I get to watch children’s movies shamelessly, and I get to watch the same children’s movies over and over and over again!

A favorite in our household is the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars.” The movie is ten years old now, so if you haven’t seen it you had your chance! In the story a hot-rod race car named Lightning McQueen is the fastest and most talented up and coming race-car who has only one goal in his life: To win the Piston Cup. However, early in the movie, through a series of surprising events, Lightning finds himself stranded in a little podunk town called Radiator Springs. He is lost, he is sentenced by a judge to public service, and his only friend is a tow-truck named Mater who may have spent too much time in the sun.

It felt like a tragedy to lightning, to be stuck in Radiator Springs, except that slowly, through his relationships with the local cars, Lightning learns what it is to be loved and to give of yourself for others and for your community. Lightning is fundamentally changed when living in Radiator Springs, a town where his speed doesn’t matter and nobody has heard of his racing accomplishments.

The movie reaches it’s finale when Lighting finally makes it to the Piston Cup, he has the opportunity to win the big race and be the champion that he always dreamed he could be. Except something has changed in Lighting, see for yourself!

He finally had the chance to get what he had always wanted, except now he knows:

“It’s just an empty cup.”

If lightning doesn’t have love for others, giving others dignity and grace, then all of his accomplishments are empty.

How have you gotten “meaning” in your life? If you have built your containers, are you ready to start filling them?

At this point in Paul’s life, he is well into the second half of his life.

He is no longer concerned with all of his accomplishments, how high he has risen in his professional pursuits, he isn’t even bragging about how many churches he has planted or how many people have accepted the good news! Those are tasks for the first half of life, but now Paul is living into so much more. Look at Paul’s spiritual posture in verse 24!

“I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.”

So, how do we find meaning?

In Summary:

1.Do the things you hope will give you meaning.

Win the games, get the degrees, marry someone if you want to, build a house if you want, retire if you can…. DO whatever you hope will give you meaning.

THEN. When those things you can DO don’t give your life the inherent meaning you were hoping for….find your humility and shed your tears.

2. and join Paul in a posture of spiritual humility.

Where you only find your life by losing it, where you live as a captive to the spirit, where your container only has meaning when it is filled to nourish others, where you “do not count your life of any value to yourself….”

Seek this kind of life in Jesus’ name, and you will find it. Amen.

Humility: Life at the Banquet

This morning Jesus is at a banquet. To be more specific, he was invited to the home of a prominent Pharisee to share in a meal on the sabbath. No doubt this local religious and political leader had hopes of inviting the famous healer and preacher to his home as a way of strengthening his political and religious agenda. He was probably hoping for this meal to serve as something like a donor banquet or a political rally, a meal to build solidarity and direct the energy of the Jewish elites.

Make no mistake, the Pharisees had a political agenda. They wanted to be liberated from the Roman Empire and desired to build back up the kingdom of Israel, as it was under King David. They wanted to replace the kingdom of their oppressors with their own kingdom.

Just as the Pharisee’s banquet is getting under way, Jesus does something strange — He begins to talk about how to attend a wedding banquet.

Why? Why a wedding banquet story here? Why now?

Before we explore these questions further, let’s pray.

Luke 14:7   When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.  8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;  9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.  10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.  11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:12   He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

One of the joys of my life was being in a few plays in college. Lights, sound, stages, actors, and a great story! Now, when you go to see a play, what is the first thing that you notice? Remember the last time you saw a play? What was the first thing you noticed? The actual answer is the lighting or sound, but we usually only experience those at a subconscious level. Most of us, when we see a play, the first thing we see is the stage or the scenery. We see a space, maybe a forest or a home, maybe a city street or a large dining room. When the story begins, we see the setting and we immediately want to know: “Where am I, and what is going to happen here?”

Just so, Jesus is in the home of this prominent Pharisee, when he begins to  tell a story about a wedding banquet. Since this is the story that Jesus tells, let’s begin where we begin when we see a story acted out on a stage: let’s play a bit with the scenery. What is it like to be at a wedding banquette? This isn’t a hypothetical question, so go ahead and let your mind run wild for a little bit. Imagine you are at a wedding banquet: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you feel? Are you excited or are you anxious? Are you hungry? Do you expect that hunger to be filled? Are you thirsty? Do you expect your thirst to be satiated? Is it a place of scarcity or a place of abundance?

Is it somber and gloomy or joyous and celebratory?

Jesus entered the Pharisees home and the Pharisees were setting the stage for a very different story. They were jockeying for position, each trying to outdo the others in getting seats of privilege. Their group, the Pharisees, was trying to outwit and subvert the Roman Empire so that they could establish themselves as the new leaders. They were wrapped up in a story of political struggle. A world of winners and losers, a world of very clear good guys and bad guys, a world of jews and gentiles, the holy and the sinners. But Jesus interrupts this whole dinner party and begins to paint a picture of a world that has very different scenery, a world that is like a wedding banquet.

Shakespeare wrote in his famous play, “As You Like It,” that, “All the world’s a stage, and all the man and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances…” and of course he was right. But Jesus would probably have said, “All the world’s a wedding banquette and all the men and women are invited; the humble will be exalted and the exalted will be humbled.”

Wedding banquets have a way of making all the guests into peers. Everyone who is invited is treated with the same dignity and given the same sense of belonging. The more distant relatives like the children of the bride’s cousins end up eating the same food as the grandparents of the groom. The unemployed uncle and the aunt with a P.hD all are served the same drinks. The politically divided, those who are divorced, and persons of various national identities and ethnicities — they are all invited to the banquet and they all are blessed by the generosity of the Bride and Groom.

Every guest gets to partake in the “big day” because of the generosity of the bride and groom. Like gravity that keeps our feet on the ground, attending a wedding banquet has only one unbreakable law: Unless you are the bride or the groom, This is not about you.

The raised up table for the wedding party and the two seats adorned especially in the middle — those are not your seats! That special cake with the couple’s pictures all over it — that cake is not for you to cut! Even if you are asked to give a speech! The speech is not about you! This is also a brief PSA, if you are asked to give a wedding speech, remember that the speech is about how incredible the couple/person is, not about how funny or clever you are!

At a wedding, who is it all about? The Bride and the Groom!

It is the bride and groom who invited you. It is the bride and groom who paid for all the food/drink/cake/DJ! It is their day, but they invite you fully and joyfully to the feast of love!

I want to propose to you that Jesus changes the scenery from a religious and political meal and begins to tell a story about a wedding banquet so that we can see clearly and truthfully how we are to view our own lives on this earth. That the best way for us to understand who we are how we are to live is by seeing ourselves as guests invited to a grand wedding banquet — the wedding banquet of Christ. And so in a very real sense, our attitude and posture when we attend a wedding banquet should be our attitude and posture in every facet of our lives.

Humility may be a living into the truth that: This life is not about you, AND you are fully and joyfully invited to the feast!

  1. life is not about you.
    1. All of life is about Christ. He is the firstborn of all creation, the word who was in the beginning with God, the word who was God. Life is not about you because life is about Christ. From the smallest most insignificant creature to the greatest.
    2. The raspberries that grow in my garden — they are not about me. The bees also enjoy them, the beetles enjoy eating them, the birds and rabbits as well.  The raspberry bushes are also for themselves, they have a life of their own! And they live for God, who takes delight in all that he has made. Yes, I enjoy their fruits, but to assume that the raspberry bushes exist solely for me — what foolishness!
    3. My family and friends — they are not about me. My children cannot grow up and thrive if I expect them to meet my every need for attention and love! If I am dependent upon them for my own fulfillment, then I am making their life about me! I cannot expect my wife or my friends to meet my every emotional and physical need, their lives cannot be entirely about me! They have lives of their own, concerns of their own, needs of their own, struggles of their own and!
    4. “life is not about you.” and yet we treat the earth as if it were required to meet our every expectation and demand for more energy, more development, more production. The oceans are overfished, the planet has heated up every month to record-breaking levels. If we really believed that life is not about you or me, then care for our environment would be of utmost importance.

2. You are fully and Joyfully invited to the Feast!

1. How we view this world matters. If we view the world as a torment to just grin and bear until we can finally die and go to heaven, that isn’t living into a wedding banquet image. If we view the world as a dangerous place, where everyone is untrustworthy and evil and we need to always be on guard…. that isn’t living into the wedding banquet image! If we view the world as a sports competition, with winners and losers, the powerful and the weak, then we also aren’t living into a wedding banquet image where there is more than enough and everyone is welcome. How do you view the world?

If the world is like a wedding banquet then life is not about you, and yet you are fully and joyfully invited to the feast!

But not only are we invited to a wedding banquet kind of life, Jesus goes one step further:

We can also be recognized and honored at the banquet of Christ! Brought near to Christ and Honored. How? By looking at the social structures of our world, and going down to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. As theologian Richard Rohr put it, we find out in the kingdom of the lamb of God “the way down is actually the way up.”

Say that with me once, “The way down is actually the way up”

When was the last time you were deeply touched, touched by the hand of God even, by someone who touted how great they were, how brilliant they were, how talented they were? How have you ever been blessed by someone else boasting about how honorable they are?

The Kingdom of Christ doesn’t work like that, does it? Here is how the kingdom of Christ works, “The way down is actually the way up.” Still struggling to believe it or imagine what it could look like? Here’s a picture, according to time magazine:

A Florida college football player has changed the life of an 11-year-old boy with autism after he ate lunch with the student who was sitting alone in his middle school’s cafeteria, the boy’s mother said.

Leah Paske, 39, shared a photo on Facebook of the touching moment Tuesday between Florida State University wide receiver Travis Rudolph and her son Bo. The Tallahassee mother, who constantly worries about her son being lonely, said she burst into tears when a school employee sent her the image.

The gesture was “so seemingly small” but meant the world to her, she told TIME on Wednesday. “That’s all you need—small acts of kindness. And it can be life-changing for somebody,” Paske said. “I was just so touched and so blessed and so humble that he would take a moment to sit with my child.”

Bo was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Most days, he eats lunch alone, secluded from other students. “It’s more heartbreaking to me than it seems to be to him,” Paske said.

“I’ll say, ‘Who did you eat lunch with today?’ And he’ll say, ‘Nobody. But it’s OK, mom.’ I just don’t want him to be lonely,” she added. “I worry every day. I wonder if he doesn’t really have any friends. It’s hard.”

Rudolph said in an interview with Florida State’s athletic website that he didn’t even know Bo had autism. He and a handful of other Florida State football players were paying a visit to the school and making their rounds in the lunchroom when Rudolph spotted Bo.

“I saw him last. He was sitting by himself. I had got some pizza. I asked him can I sit down with him. He said sure why not. We started a great conversation,” Rudolph said. “It’s just heartbreaking that he’s in that situation, but I’m praying for him. He’s a great kid overall. I would love to hang out with him anytime.”

Friends, the way down is the way up.

live with that posture, at the banquet of Christ.

A banquet that is not about you, but a banquet where you (and everyone who is humble enough to enter) is welcome!

Amen.

Humility: Like a Child

We have explored Humility in the Old Testament, and this week we transition to the New Testament.

Let’s set the scene: We are in the Roman Empire. It is an empire with many of the same perverted views of strength and power that we have in our culture today. It is a world where strength is displayed through violence as a means of controlling other people. Remember when Jesus was born? King Herod heard that a king was born and he commanded all the boys two years old and younger to be killed — he used violence to try and eliminate his competition. Later, in the book of Acts, remember when Peter escaped from prison? The guards of the prison were questioned and because a prisoner escaped the guards were all put to death. It is the Roman way, a world where power is displayed through violence, used to control other people.

It is a world of the paterfamilias. The father of the family is considered the judge and jury of the entire household. Children and servants are considered as property, whose wellbeing is entirely in the hands of the father.

In this world, there are very clear distinctions: There are the men, the powerful and the strong —  and then there are the women, the children, and the servants. However, into this kingdom of violence and oppression, Jesus ushers in a new kingdom. New rules are proclaimed, a new way of living is modeled, and different values are upheld.

Join me now as we listen to the Lord Jesus teach about humility:

Matt. 18:2-6

He called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus is a funny teacher. He never really says it like it is. Have you noticed that? He tells stories, he asks questions, and he makes analogies. Oh sure, he says things, but it seems as though he only sort of half says them. “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” is a statement only half said.  It leaves us hanging! It leaves us asking more questions!

-In what ways are we to become like children? (Repeat)

It may seem so obvious that it hardly needs to be said, but sometimes the most obvious truths are the ones we are most prone to miss. Did you notice that changing and becoming like children assumes that we have changed from being like children into being like something else? We used to be children but then something happened; physiologically, we would call this maturation. One Medical Doctor described the change from childhood to adulthood as: “the completion of growth and reproductive capacity.” Our bodies grow larger and stronger, our brains make more connections, and we are capable of sexual reproduction. Our bodies have changed from the body of a child to the body of an adult.

It is doubtful, however, that Jesus is teaching about our physical maturation. There must be some other way that we have each changed from being like children to being like something else. Yes, we who call ourselves “adults” are physically grown-up, but another part of being an adult is that we have also been faced with significant challenges that have caused us to “grow up.” How many of you can think of a very clear moment in your life, maybe between the ages 12-18, when you had to “grow up?” A tragedy in the family, an illness, tough times financially, an unplanned pregnancy, or some other immense challenge. How many of you can think of a very clear moment when you had to “grow up,” and grow up fast?

This may be another way of describing how we left childhood and entered adulthood: We encountered the pain of the world, and we had to do something about it. The scenarios are unique to each of us: Mom and Dad both had lots of work to do, so you had to take care of your siblings. Dad needed help on the farm, so you started working too, doing everything dad was doing. Money was tight, and you had to carry your weight. Mom was sick and you had to pick up the slack. You weren’t married but you got a girl pregnant, or you became pregnant and you knew it was time to “grow up.”

If we consider ourselves adults, then part of what that means is that we have experienced the pain of the world and we resolved to do something about it.

This is so essential and valuable! Realizing the pain of the world and doing something about it is a liberating realization; in many ways, it is a psychological bridge from childhood to adulthood. You were able to meet the needs of those around you — how empowering! And what a gift to other people: caring for your siblings, providing for an ill parent, helping dad, becoming a parent and caring for a child. Being able to rise to the challenges of life is such a gift.

However, new problems arise: if we recognize that we can do something about the pain in the world, then we also begin to recognize that we can do something about our own pain as well.

As human beings pain is inevitable, and in our lives we have the opportunity to feel the full spectrum: angry, depressed, confused, helpless, afraid, and hurt to name a few. Something changes once we become an adult— we recognize that we can do something about these painful feelings so that we don’t have to feel the pain. Instead of feeling angry and recognizing that pain, we chew out our employee or hit our kids. Instead of feeling depressed, we can drink alcohol or find other drugs to make us forget our pain. Feeling confused, we can totally shut down and allow everyone else to make decisions for our lives. Feeling helpless, we can complain on Facebook, and blame everyone else for our problems. Feeling afraid, we can put on a stiff upper lip and pretend to be strong, and lie and tell everyone that we are fine. Feeling hurt, we can forget about the hurt by playing hours of video games, consuming pornography, or just working longer and longer hours and doing more and more projects to keep our mind off the pain.

In our own ways, we have all done it; we have all found ways of coping with our pain. Some turn to drugs and others turn to criticizing others. Some turn to video games and others turn to working longer hours. We each cope in different ways, but the truth is the same: once we find ways to take our mind off of the pain that we have experienced, we keep trying it again and again and again. We fall into a rut. If it worked once, it will work again. If it made me feel better once, it will make me feel better again. If it helped me forget my pain once, it will help me forget it again.

And so, we who call ourselves “Adults”, we who have had to “grow up” in one way or another, begin to get “set in our ways” and we “fall into a rut.” Self-medicating our pain.

Now, can I tell you a secret?

Children don’t live like that.

Children are creative, Children can play, Children can imagine worlds that do not now exist — and they can live wholeheartedly in those worlds!

Historian William Bouwsma put it this way: “The spontaneity in the Christian ideal of adulthood points to still another paradox: its deliberate cultivation of, and delight in, the qualities of the child, now understood less metaphorically. Childhood, after all, assumes growth, and it is in this respect fundamentally different from childishness, which rejects it; in this sense childhood is a model for adulthood. Indeed, childhood welcomes the years, unaware that they bring decay and death, and the deep and fearless interest of the child in his experience permits him to ask simple but profound questions that, later, may seem wearisome or too dangerous to be entertained. The child is not afraid to express wonder and astonishment.” William J. Bouwsma, “Christian Adulthood,” in Adulthood, ed. Erik H. Erikson (New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978), 91.

Watch my two-year-old throw a ball, he throws it with one arm one time and another arm another time. Right hand and Overhanded one time, Left handed side-arm backward the next! He doesn’t care if he is a leftie or a rightie or how he is “supposed to” throw it. He is willing to try it anyway! He lives in constant change!

We took our kids to the zoo a few weeks ago and I watched my white skinned, four-year-old boy sitting on a bench behind a four-year-old girl of Asian descent. The little girl’s father and mother were talking in a language that I didn’t understand. Suddenly my four-year-old boy took his blue stuffed toy sting ray and was instantly playing a game of “sting you” with the little girl. She loved it! These two children’s parents didn’t speak the same language, they had different skin color, the kids were different genders, and yet they instinctively played together as instant friends.

Or join a child in a game of “make believe.” I guarantee you will lose all sense of time. You will forget all the “important things” you had to do, and you will live, at least for a moment in true joy and contentment.

“Jesus called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We each gained a lot when we had to “grow up” and become an adult: skills, agency (self-reliance), and a sense of purpose. But Jesus says, now that we have grown up, it’s time to return to our childhood. To return to creativity and play, to return to joy and contentment, to return to that shameless courage and willingness to sit with Jesus! Let me ask you this: Do little children care about how they are “supposed to do things? Do little children ever think of themselves as “unworthy?”

Many of us who are now adults remember September 11, 2001. A day of tragedy, when time seemed to stop and the whole country felt the grief and loss of life at the World Trade Center. It’s painful to remember the images of jets flying into buildings, of people jumping, and of buildings collapsing in a gasp of smoke — as a nation, one could argue that we “grew up” in that moment.

Together, we experienced the pain of the world and, following the tragedy, we resolved to do something about it.

A medical doctor was dining with some friends in New York City some time soon-after September 11, 2001. The family told their friend, the doctor, that the father, mother and elementary-school aged little boy had been just a block away from the World Trade Center on the morning of the attack. The parents were dropping the son off to school when the first airplane crashed into Tower 1. Immediately after impact, chaos ensued. People in the school began to run, parents with their kids running on foot. A block away, others were clamoring to escape the burning building. Firefighters were coming in, traffic was going out. Those poor souls who were trapped began to jump to escape the heat and smoke. Elementary school children witnessed this all.

Weeks after the attack, the children were encouraged to draw what they remember of September 11, 2001, as a way of expressing their grief. The elementary school son had drawn a picture of the twin towers on fire. The artwork was hanging on the fridge. The doctor noticed that it was a remarkably detailed drawing, but there was something different about this artwork….

At the bottom of the world trade center buildings, there was a large black circle. Curious, the Doctor asked the boy, “what is this black circle here?”

The boy’s response?

That’s a trampoline. So that next time when people need to jump, they can be caught safely.

“unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Friends, we have each experienced pain in our lives. Real pain. Deep pain. and we have each developed ways of coping with that pain and numbing it. We have each fallen into ruts, ways of taking our minds off of the pain of our lives.

Today, you are invited to come as a child into the presence of Jesus. You are invited to leave all of your “supposed to’s” behind you, you are invited to leave all of your feelings of “unworthiness” in the dust. And you are invited into the presence of Jesus, to be celebrated as God’s beloved Child.

Jesus welcomes you: with all of your addictions, all of your coping mechanisms, all of the ways you blow up at other people and lose your cool, all the ways you try to forget about your pain. The booze, the drugs, the criticisms, the work, the porn, the many distractions …. Jesus welcomes you as a child to come into his presence. Sin and pain will not stop the creative, and childish love of Jesus, who can see even in the gruesome and violent death on a Roman Cross a trampoline of salvation for his children.

and so we end where we began, with a question:

How do we become like children?

I want to leave the last word today with a poet because poets in many ways hare returned to having a child-like heart.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Amen.