Family Rules

Chances are many of you have something in your home that lists Family Rules.  It may be a wall hanging that looks similar to the one on the front of the bulletin today, it may be a black board or white board with a list developed at a family meeting, it may resemble the rules set down in Cheaper by the Dozen the original or Cheaper by the Dozen the remake.

They likely address acceptable actions which help the family meet their particular needs for keeping everyone safe and healthy while providing for ways to maintain and deepen relationships within the family.

In a family where everyone works and goes to school on the same schedule, rules may call for all chores to be done when everyone gets home in the afternoon.  In a family where schedules vary and someone may need to be sleeping at 3 p.m., vacuuming or clanking dishes may not be the best thing to do as soon as you get home.

Always say please and thank you.  Always tell the truth, are usually part of a family’s rules, but priorities, ideas about what respecting parents means, and if everyone is expected at the table for dinner, likely vary from home to home.

There are Family Rules and grandma and grandpas and Family Rules at grandma and grandpas.  There are Family Rules at mom and dad’s and sometimes Family Rules at Mom’s and at Dad’s.

Sometimes they seem rigid and sometimes flexible.

But even with the difference, for the most part, rules are there in an effort to keep everyone safe, share the responsibilities of keeping a household running, and to help us understand a little about what it is to interact with others outside of our homes.  They are gifts we give each other to help us function together and to develop relationship, while developing our own identities.

Even the rule about taking out the trash can prepare us for the parts of our jobs we don’t like much, but must do so that we are able to do the parts we love.

Rules are gifts of teaching one another of how to be in relationship even when facing conflict.

The people of Israel in this passage from Exodus were under the Family Rules of their Egyptian masters.  Those rules designed to benefit the slave owners, not those they enslaved.  Now free from those rules, developing a system of order to connect them to each other and to the God who brought them out of Egypt was critical to maintaining that freedom.  God provided what they needed each step of the way:  Their means of escape, the food and water in the desert, and guidelines for how to live together peacefully.

Without the gift of God’s rules, the Israelites only had the examples of their captors to set up their way of living and working together.

The new Family Rules set the Israelites’ attention on the powerful Love-filled, one true God and on looking out for others before themselves.  In so doing, God provides a guide which allows all to live in peace and to be the unique persons and community God called them to be.

The top ten list of how to live well all about upholding the basic human rights and dignity of other people, providing clear concise basic, easy-to-remember principles for what it means to live in community with others.  Linking our relationship to our Creator God with our relationships with other people.[1]

All reminding us of God’s vision for life as it should be and can be.[2]

Martin Luther saw in each rule God’s grace and mercy.[3]

Grace in God’s reaching out to us with a plan of salvation, Grace in the freedom from looking for personal worth or power in possessions, wealth, position, or weapons.

Grace in being in relationship with God and others.   Not judging the value of others by anything other than that God loves them and wants them protected as much as God loves you and wants you protected.

Family rules offering worth to a people who have only known slavery to those who saw them as expendable.

Jesus simply summed it up, we live out our love of God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Jesus modeled what living the family rules looks like.  He cared for the children, the poor, the outcasts, the Jews and the Gentiles.  He used the rules to love, even though he could have used them to judge.  He directed us to live with a spirit of love.  Those who sought to destroy him were met with forgiveness.

When someone is baptized in this church we promise to model our lives so they may grow in faith.

That includes living the Family Rules in the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the parking lot, where we work, play, and study, by what we do and what we say.  It means looking out for each other and for others in our community and beyond.

This week the Missions Team voted to distribute the Hurricane relief offering three ways.  A gift to the grandson of a member of this congregation who is rebuilding after the hurricane.  A donation to Hurricane relief in the United States through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and a donation through UMCOR to disasters in the world.  They also decided to help support Ken’s and my mission trip to Cuba.  Modeling the family rules.

On Friday and Saturday a number of you prepared food to offer at an affordable price for those coming to HopeFest.  Working together to support an outreach to those who needed to hear a word of Hope in the midst of a world which offers up natural disasters, mass shootings, human trafficking, power struggles, injustice, and more…   A number of people claimed Jesus as Savior, many others shared in prayer for those facing difficult situations.  You modeled the family rules.

Earlier in the week some of you gathered for a time of prayer specifically for all those impacted by the tragedy in Las Vegas and some sewed quilts which offer hope to those struggling with health issues.  You modeled the family rules.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to live these rules.  It takes time, effort, patience, love.  The grace in the rules is God not only allows us to see how we should be in relationship with others, God also gives us everything we need to live in the way modeled by His Son.  As the Ride4Life testimony to yesterday’s audience said, “You don’t have to do it alone.  Jesus is always by your side ready to walk with you.”

As part of the Family Rules God offers us rest.  The Sabbath is a gift to us.  It is not a demand.  In it we find the opportunity to deepen our relationship with God and others, we find an opportunity to rest, we find a space where we purposely focus on the family rules so we can live them the other six days of the week.

God gives us this gift of Family Rules out of love.  When we live them, we share God’s love with others, extend God’s mercy in the midst of a world that wants to craft rules that benefit the world, setting one person against another person, one community against another, one set of ideas against another.

We accept the world’s Family Rules when we fall into the pattern of finding fault with one another instead of encouraging each other.  We reject God’s gift when the Family Rules are ignored or used as weapons against those with whom we disagree.

I encourage all of us to look at God’s Gift of Family Rules as sources of grace and mercy to us and to others.  To remember the summary Jesus offers and the ways he modeled how we can live into them.

Maybe Wesley’s 3 simple rules can help us remember the ten we are called to follow.  Do good, do no harm, stay in love with God.

 

[1] Dawn Chesse Discipleship Ministries Children’s Sabbath

[2] Scott Hoezee Old Testament Lectionary

[3] James C. Howell Weekly Preaching October 8, 2017

From ‘Overwhelmed’ to ‘Peace-filled’

The headlines come at us in wave after wave of tragedy, turmoil, distrust, pain.  Billions of dollars in damage from storms, people displaced and lives disrupted, shootings, robberies, corruption, accidents, an endless stream of negative information floods our newspapers, airwaves, social media, and family conversation.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the personal crisis that likely impact all of us in some way this morning: job stress, relationship strain, struggle for survival against health, financial, or grief issues that we face.

This onslaught of the world into our daily existence is overwhelming.  We do not have the physical and mental capacity to take it all in and to work toward solutions for all that we see.  It is enough to make us want to crawl back into bed and pull up the covers, or head out to a beach somewhere and disconnect completely.

Someone told me recently that they don’t even want to answer their telephone any more, sure there will be just one more difficult situation to deal with if they do.  It has been a rough summer for this particular congregation this year with illness, loss, and even weather patterns disrupting the rhythm of our lives.   On some level, we probably all ask, why – when we seek to follow Christ in all areas of our lives – do bad things seem to keep happening.  Why we leave one difficult situation to come face to face with another.  Jesus knew that is a question we would ask and he addressed it head on:

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In this world you will have trouble.  The names, places, and circumstances may change, but the troubles continue throughout history and will continue into the future.

The Israelites were suffering greatly under the Egyptians.  Their work quotas increased while they were forced to find more and more of their own resources to meet them.  Their days were long, filled with hard physical labor, and the product of their work built the Pharaohs’ kingdom, with barely enough resources available to their own families to stay alive.  It was an overwhelming situation even to those in good physical shape.  Into their circumstances comes Moses, and unlikely leader, with let’s face it, seemingly crazy ideas.

But as he negotiates with the Pharaoh with God’s directives, it becomes clearer that God is in charge of the situation.

The people start to believe, to see hope, and to trust that God will prevail.  We know the story, the final plague comes and the Pharaoh says, “get out of here,” and they leave, probably thinking they were leaving all the trouble behind them.

Then they find themselves between the forces of Pharaoh chasing them down because he changed his mind and the watery boundary between them and a new land.  Overwhelmed again, they challenge Moses, and, in essence, God’s ability to get them through.

11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

Faced with the trouble of this world, we may be inclined to raise similar question.  To wonder why when we try to follow where we hear God calling we are faced with obstacles which seem impossible to get through.  Why we often feel caught between the forces of Pharaoh and the realities of physical, mental, and societal barriers in the way of our following the pillar of cloud and fire God sets before us. To feel overwhelmed.

In our humanness I think these feelings are valid.  Facing the troubles of this world alone is overwhelming.  It is why people are looking for ways to address the fear they face through their relationships with others, through their work, through benevolent organizations, and sometimes through things that lead them to behaviors detrimental to their health.  We want control in our lives and our world and sometimes we want to just go back to serving the Egyptians, to the seemingly safety of the “known.”

But …

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.

And the Gospel of John reminds us…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Particularly in today’s world of the twenty-four news cycle, Facebook® posts, Twitter feeds, and text messaging, the moments in our day free of the world’s relentless trouble sometimes seem few to non-existent.  It is easy to feel helpless, angry, ready to just be concerned with self and let everything and everyone else take care of itself.

Hear the good news in the midst of this overwhelming situation.

You are not of this world.  You have seen God’s deliverance.  You know that Christ has overcome the world.  That ultimately every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord and that the things that plague us now are already overcome.

That does not mean that we stand passively at the water which is blocking our way, nor does it mean that we retreat.

Rabbis teach that one of the Israelites, a son of one of the leaders, actually waded into the water before it parted at the command of Moses.  That he took a step toward the future trusting the path would be revealed by God.  Even if the order of events is different – if the water was already parted when the first person took a step on the dry land between the walls of pushed back water, someone had to be the first one to step out in faith.

You do that when you face the trouble of this world by taking a step forward, claiming God’s promise to deliver you, believing Christ has indeed conquered the world and is walking with you through everything you face.

You step out in faith –

As you live out God’s Expectations of kindness, justice, and humility.

As you let the countless times we hear God and God’s messengers tell us: “Do not be Afraid,” “Be Anxious for nothing,” “Do not Worry,” “Take Heart,” guide your reactions to circumstances you face.

As you prioritize your schedule around God’s call on your life.

When you remove the physical and mental clutter that keeps you from seeing God’s purposes in your life.

When you trust God will deliver you.

You live into the future as you believe God’s presence and promises are  real

with your prayers, your worship, your study, your gifts.

with your presence with others, your service to neighbor.

And by facing each day with hope and the joy that comes from the peace Christ gives.

Grady Panek shared a profound thought this week.   He was playing his harmonica while riding in the vehicle with his mom and announced. “I have my window down so I can spread joy”

As people of God you have that joy, that “down in your heart” joy that comes from knowing and claiming Christ has overcome the world, from witnessing God’s deliverance in your own life.

It is a joy that can be, and needs to be, spread.

You spread it with the regular and special offering for flood victims this morning.

You spread it by sharing your faith and life stories with others.  I was with another publisher this weekend who shared how her house gets cluttered because of the schedule she keeps.  As you know from last week, I have a similar story.  We talked about the realities of our lives and how our spiritual walk is impacted.  It progressed from a shared experience to a good discussion of faith, which was filled with joy.

We all have those opportunities.

Opportunities to walk with others through difficult times, sharing our experiences with God’s faithfulness.

Opportunities to let go of what we think is safe to experience something new God is offering.

Opportunities to stop for a moment to feel God’s presence, to take heart, and then to move forward into the future confident in the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.

Opportunities to “have the window down” so we can spread joy.

Those are the ways we move from overwhelmed to peace-filled.  Peace not as the world gives, but peace as Christ our redeemer gives.

 

Clutter Conquered

Romans 12:1-2

Ephesians 3:14-19

Luke 10:40-42

Psalm 119:34-37

I choose to include the Shoe comic strip in today’s illustrations because on most days Shoe’s desk looks exactly like mine.  This one was particularly representative because I have been known to locate things I have been missing for a long time under a pile of files and paper setting right there on my desk.  The sad thing about that truth is – I don’t really function well in those circumstances. I really prefer everything organized and in its place.

I have trained myself to function in spite of the clutter.  To become blind to the chaos that often surrounds me.  That can be a good thing when the goals and schedules need to be met, but in the long run, it creates stress and, if left in its cluttered state, will overwhelm me and render my efforts less than effective.  Periodically my clutter expands to the point that mentally and physically I can’t do anything until I restore some order, if only to a small portion of my space.

That is true in my physical space, my schedule, and in my spiritual life.  Clutter ultimately shows I have conformed to the pattern of this world; keeping things, accumulating things, assigning significance to things, focusing on things, allocating time to things – according to the world’s standards.

The gospel of Luke record of Martha asking Jesus if he cares that Mary has left her to do all the work by herself and requesting him to make Mary help her, holds me accountable, reminding me to get rid of the clutter that keeps me from seeing and doing what God has called me to see and do.  The response Martha receives from Jesus is not what she expects: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

Jesus sets the clutter of the world aside and restores order with his answer.  God’s riches shared with us, God’s gift of grace and strength, God’s direction for our lives is found at the feet of Jesus, learning from his words, following his example,

He didn’t own a home, had few clothes and likely only one pair of sandals.  He had a small inner circle of friends, cared about the welfare of everyone, didn’t worry about world standards of success, regularly worshiped and prayed.

 

Clutter can be our “things”  The drawers filled with items we might need someday, the closets without room because our clothes from high school still hang in the back.  The cupboards of the kids pinch pots, art projects, and school notes.  It can be the possessions we have just because they are the latest and greatest or because we are sure we will fix and use it again someday.

Clutter can be our thoughts and relationships.  The grudges, traditions, information we heard at the coffee shop about someone that “must be true,” regrets, things we wish had been different, and broken relationships.

Clutter can be our priorities.  How we spend our time, what we value, who we value.

As Jesus answers Martha, I don’t hear him calling us to focus on making sure someone can eat off our floors because they are that clean.  I don’t hear Jesus calling us to ignore health and safety in how we cook and clean either.  I hear him saying if you want to remove the clutter, the distractions, you need to put first things first.  Seek God first, take time to learn, to pray, to be in a faith community.  Don’t worry about accumulating stuff, accumulate resources that build your faith, that bring you closer to the feet of Jesus.

When  rooted and established in love, the Holy Spirit brings us power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.  And, filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, there isn’t any room for the things that clutter up our lives and keep us from what is truly important.

One of the stories often told about John Wesley reveals that although his income increased throughout his life, his lifestyle remained simple.  He did not increase the amount of money he spent on himself over the years, instead giving away the difference to the poor.  He had few possessions, wore inexpensive clothing and ate simple food.  He kept clutter to a minimum in all aspects of his life, choosing to focus and to call each of us to Do good, Do no harm, and Stay in love with God.

When clutter of any kinds starts to overwhelm us, here are some possible ways to de-clutter.

We can start fresh – taking on one small section of clutter at a time.

If it is stuff in our home.  We can clean out a drawer, a closet, maybe even just clean off one corner of one table.  Figure out what is important to keep, what someone else could use, and what should go curbside, then distribute it accordingly.

If it is stuff in our relationships.  We can start by working on at least one.  Ask forgiveness if we need to, give forgiveness if that is needed.  Find some common ground and find a way to love, even if we can’t find a way to like right now.  Find balance and respond to circumstances with that in mind.

If it is stuff in our faith walk.  We can start by increasing time aside for prayer and study.  We can reduce those “clutter” things keeping us from spending time in worship and conversation with our faith community.  We can set goals and schedules based on God’s call on our lives to be Christ-like in all that we do.

If it is stuff in church.  We may need to let go of a ministry or project that no longer bears fruit.  Create space for new ideas, new people, new projects.  If it’s stained, unused, unclaimed or out of date, it is time to let it go![1]  We need to let go of the stubbornly held beliefs that only keep us stuck.  Negative self-fulfilling prophesies are clutter.  Creating ideas that move ministry forward, in love, are the clutter reducing order bringing ideas.

If we can keep our lives from being cluttered up with things that distract us from what is important, the Spirit of God will teach us real wisdom and help us catch a new vision of things as they really are. One of the things Jesus teaches repeatedly is that we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God and all things belong to God, so all things belong to us.

In Christ, we have every bit of the beauty and goodness and truth and nobility and aliveness and joy that are to be found in this world, in all of life, and in death.  We cannot try to own them in some way that hoards them and keeps them away from others.  That only serves to add clutter.  We need to move through life with arms and heart wide open to embrace and to share every good thing.[2]

In Psalm 119:34 The psalmist pleads for God to “Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities,” he asks, “give me life in your ways,” (v 37)   In some respects the psalmist asks God to remove the clutter in his faith walk, to remove the distractions.

When we are open to the fullness of God, when we set aside the distractions of the world, when we focus on what is important.  We are able to handle the clutter, even if only piece by piece by piece.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Rebekah Simon=Peter rebekahsimonpeter.com

[2] Sermon Options, February 19. 2017 Ministrymatters.com

Busyness prioritized

Matthew 16:13-20

Romans 12:1- 8

September begins in 4 days.  It is unlikely that is news to you.  Even if the looming school year isn’t already turning your schedules from summer agendas to fall schedules, the numerous advertisements filling printed pages, internet sites, and the airwaves are already pushing us into a new season.  Sales and displays already leaving the green of summer and moving into the earth tones and bright oranges and reds of fall.  Halloween decorations and treats already available for us to purchase.

My summer flew by, filled with a variety of ministry and other responsibilities.  Already feeling over scheduled and busy beyond hours in the day, the idea of a “fuller” fall schedule seems a bit overwhelming.

I suspect a new school year, ongoing harvests, the upcoming rummage and chowder sale, pie baking, Applefest, as well as more meetings and increased worship and study opportunities at church, have you looking at your calendars wondering if there is room to add anything else.

Busyness may have all of you a bit overwhelmed as well.

We have turned to scriptures over the past couple of weeks to consider how to deal with being overwhelmed with expectations and with worry.  This week we look to the passages from Matthew and Romans to find some ways to handle the busyness of our lives that threatens to overwhelm us.

Our schedule and “to do” list is likely full of important and very important items.  If we name them one by one we can make a case for giving them each the amount of time we have designated.  Unable to remove or reduce any item there.

Anyone who had taken the Franklin Covey time management workshop knows that such an assessment on our part isn’t valid.  Some of the items are urgent but not important, some of them important and not urgent, others. Important and urgent, and we need assessment tools to figure out which is which.  That doesn’t mean which ones we like to do the most, which we find the easiest to do, or the ones others are pushing us the hardest to make a priority.  It means allocating time to the things that best fit our overall goals and values and to those which are effective and meaningful.

As Jesus talks to his Disciples, he asks them who others say he is and who they say he is.  It is the answer to the second question which will determine how they personally prioritize their busyness throughout their ministry.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter responds.

If I asked you who you say Jesus is this morning I expect your answer would be a variation of that statement of faith.

Peter declares Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus points out that no one of flesh and blood can figure that out on their own, but that knowledge only comes through God the Father.   Jesus also declares that his church is stronger than anything that comes against it, even the realm of the dead, even the busyness that threatens to overwhelm those who are part of the church.

We declare Jesus to be the Messiah, informed by the Holy Spirit, and nothing can come against us, even our busy schedules.  Yet it seems that is exactly what happens: we are late for school or work and so we let devotions slide for a day, or two, or three.  We had a really hectic week so we put off making that phone call to someone we promised to check in on, we decide to forgo dropping off a meal for someone who is sick; they aren’t expecting it anyway.

Worship in any form, at any time, needs to fit into the schedule.  A kind word, a generous gesture, a gift of our talents, something we share if convenient.

When we declare with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, transformation of our lives requires that we live what we declare.  The words fall empty without the depth of faith and the overflowing of the Grace and Holy Spirit we receive into every part of our being, and then out into the world.

Peter declared Jesus as Son of God with all aspects of his life, with how he ordered his life and used his gifts of preaching and healing.

Paul writes to the Romans about what worship looks like when we receive God’s grace through Christ Jesus.

We offer ourselves a living sacrifice

We don’t judge others

We use our God given gifts to build up the entire body of Christ.

Paul calls us to worship by offering God our bodies and all that we do with them daily.  As citizens of God’s kingdom, our priorities shift to those things which incorporate Christlike behaviors, ethics, and actions.  J.B Phillips’ translation of verse 2 says: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”[1]

Paul shows us that confessing that Jesus is the Son of God requires us to surrender our busyness to Him.  Every item we add to our schedule, every obligation we accept, every job and every hobby, every agenda filtered through its embodiment of Christ’s character.  Every choice and allocation of time based on the gifts God gives us.  Every relationship centered on the understanding that our gifts help us work together to bring the kingdom of God into a hurting world.

Sometimes things evaluated this way won’t be important or urgent, others will move to the top of the priority list because they are both urgent and important by this standard.  Sometimes some reorganization and new order of things allows most items to stay on our busy schedule.

When I went to college I had mandatory chapel three times a week.  Sunday morning worship was not mandatory and no one was taking attendance and sending a record back home to my parents.  I tried sleeping in a couple of Sundays my freshman year and found I missed being with others in worship.  I joined the choir and made choir rehearsal and Sunday morning worship a priority.  Even when exams and papers loomed I kept that personal commitment to myself.  What I found was that all the other things fell into place.  That committing a couple of hours a week to using my gifts and joining in corporate worship didn’t diminish the time I had to do the things necessary to complete my education or to have some “me” time.

That pattern has continued over the years.  The weeks that I make sure the devotional and prayer time in my schedule comes before anything else, what is truly important “kingdom building” stuff gets done and the stuff I only thought was important takes care of itself.  It is a lesson I don’t always remember and that is when I can become overwhelmed by busyness.

Paul reminds us that God provides everyone in the body of Christ gifts to build up the body of Christ.  We are all important to the work of the kingdom.  Sometimes we don’t recognize our gifts, sometimes others have a difficult time seeing them because of perceptions and histories, but that does not eliminate their existence or our responsibility for sharing them to their fullest potential.  Those gifts also help us focus our busyness.  Putting our gifts to use building the kingdom and encouraging others to us their gifts for that purpose eliminates the pressure to be all things to all people and to take on every job.  It allows the body to function as God designed it.

Do-it-All Christianity.  Occasional Christianity.  Negative Christianity.  Doubt ridden and excuse making Christianity.  Self-determined priority Christianity.  Are NOT Christianity in the terms Peter and Paul set before us.

As we organize the busyness of our lives if we consider Christ priorities and our God given gifts the things that need doing will get done and the others are best left to others.  This way of keeping busyness from becoming overwhelming does not mean that you must attend every worship and study opportunity, or that you need to sequester yourself into a monastery.

It means that in standing with Peter to identify Jesus as the Son of God you are called to a transformed life that replaces world-driven, self-selected schedules for Christ-led agendas every day.

 

 

[1] Book of Romans Sermon Starters Week 13 Discipleship Ministries

Overwhelmed by Anxiety

Genesis 45:1-28

Matthew 6:25-34

Matthew 15:21-28

Worry seems to be a default human action.  Our minds drawn to dwell on difficulty and trouble, productive thoughts pushed aside, our energy drained and our actions paralyzed.  Our worrying putting us into a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems.

Worry seems a natural reaction to the things that come at us every day: Health, stretched finances, employers or employees who are difficult to work with, weather patterns that impact our crops, our outdoor activities, and potentially our property and livelihoods.  Relationship challenges with children, spouses, co-workers, neighbors, and within our faith communities.

That is before we even get to the newspaper and news broadcasts.  Massive weapons in the hands of persons of questionable mental stability and hate filled agendas.  Terrorism designed to divide, create distrust, and fill people with life-changing fear.  Murder, rape, layoffs, businesses closing, accidents, people clashing in the streets, drug epidemics, Human Trafficking….

No wonder we worry.

It seems logical that we should be overwhelmed by anxiety.  The stuff we face is unrelentingly difficult.

BUT  God continually reaches out to us with the message that worry should not be our default position.  That worry has no place in the lives of those who follow God.

Joshua 1:9  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Isaiah 43:1  But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Psalm 23: 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 118:6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid

1 Peter:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

And today’s gospel lesson Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

One commentator noted that there are more than enough “Do not fear” verses in scripture to give us more than one a day to remind us of God’s direction for our lives.

It seems clear God has something else in mind to which we should direct our energy.  It may  not be as clear as to what that looks in our daily lives when there are so many reasons to be overwhelmed by anxiety.

We heard the story of the Canaanite woman this morning, and I shared the story of Joseph with the children.  I think these scripture readings model some ways heeding God’s directive to “not worry,” looks in facing life’s difficulties.

Joseph has every reason to be overwhelmed by anxiety.  He is basically abandoned by his brothers to strangers.  His future looks pretty bleak as he sets off to a foreign land stripped of his freedom and his family.  He is faced with a choice: trust the God of his father to secure his future or give up all hope.  He chooses trust.

Not explicit in the text, but evident in the outcome:  Joseph chooses to pray and to worship God in the midst of an impossible and threatening situation.  The evidence in his encouragement to his brothers that they not be distressed or angry with themselves:  “ for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Joseph’s trust in God does not mean he sits down and waits for something to happen.  He builds on his experience, his talents, his relationships to excel in everything he does.  Never at the expense of someone else, but always to the glory of God.  Trust doesn’t mean he waits around to see what happens.  It means he actively looks for the path God sets before him to change his situation.

He doesn’t hold grudges, he holds on to love and hope, and his first question to his brothers seeks information on the welfare of his father and his actions focus on making sure his family is well cared for.

Worry, which likely surfaced from time to time in Joseph’s journey, never becomes a focus, a distraction, or a deterrent to his watching for and working toward God’s direction in his life.

Many of us understand, at least in part, the anxiety facing the Cannanite woman whose daughter is in desperate need of healing.  All she wants is healing for her daughter. None of the medical experts of her time could or would do anything. There was no recourse. All seems hopeless, an overwhelming worry for a parent wanting the best for a child.

Then she hears about Jesus. He heals people. He heals people who weren’t even Israelites. “Maybe, just maybe”, she thinks, “He can help my daughter.”

It took a lot of courage for this Canaanite woman to come and confront Jesus. She was risking her life. In this society women did not openly speak up to men in public and women from other cultures and races certainly were not welcome in conversation out in the public realm. But this Canaanite woman had great courage — she was willing to risk her life, trade it for her daughter’s healing.

Matthew’s Gospel says that Jesus ignored her at first and then she was told that he had come for the house of Israel. He said that it was not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. She countered with “But even the dogs gather the crumbs that fall to the floor”. With that bold proclamation, she announced her courage and her faith; the consequence was that her daughter was healed.[1]

Like Joseph, she chooses to trust God.  She is able to stand face to face with Jesus, match him point for point, argue her case.  What she does in person, those choosing to heed God’s call for us not to worry, can do in prayer.  We can actively look to God to show us the way through the messiness that often surfaces worry in our hearts.

Like Joseph, she doesn’t look to fix her situation by bringing harm to anyone else.  She doesn’t ask for the children’s bread, she asks for the crumbs that fall to the floor.

Support systems are important in both of these situations as well.  Joseph has an important leadership role which can help his family, but he also has the full support of the Pharaoh who encourages Joseph to send supplies with his brothers and to bring them to Egypt where he wants them to have the best land and to enjoy the fat of the land.

The Cannanite woman must have had people telling her about Jesus.  He wasn’t taking out ads in the newspaper and with her social status she was unlikely to have bumped into him at the corner coffee shop.  People cared about her and gave her a heads up as information that could help her out of a helpless situation.

Joseph and the Cannanite woman don’t let the worry that comes with their situations overwhelm them.  Each in their own way, seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first.  The things that help them move forward come as a result of setting that as their priority.  Choosing to trust God’s promises, to use the experience, relationships, talents given them, they make a transformational difference for others.  They put into practice “not worrying about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.”  We all know the truth that each day really has enough trouble of its own.

Evidence that God is faithful to walk with us through everything is found in many verses of scripture as well.

Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 94:19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Romans 8:38-39 that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

 

There are things which push us to feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.  We don’t have to stay overwhelmed.  God provides encouragement, examples of trust helping us move through the difficult times, people and resources to walk with us, a path for us to find.

Sometimes we are called to be the resources for others, to tell our stories of the many times God has faithfully gotten us through being sold into slavery or brought healing into our lives.  We need to be aware of God’s faithfulness in those times, as much as in the times we need to see a way forward.

In it all, we need to seek God first, leave the worry at his feet, and the rest will come.  This is true for us individually and as a church.  Many of the same stressers: finances, our past history and tradition, things seeming out of our control, relationships, all impact how we move forward as a congregation.

As we prepare for our future together, we need to leave the worry to Jesus and prayerfully and actively seek the path set before us.  It may mean new experiences as it did for Joseph or some time wrestling with our understanding of the overall mission as it did for Jesus, but if we refuse to let anxiety be our driving force, I believe we will be able to see where God is moving us into relationships and ministry that is transformational.

Let’s heed the words God gives us over and over: “don’t be afraid” “do not worry”.

Let us pray

Thank you God for your faithfulness in all things.  Help us to not become overwhelmed by anxiety when things seem out of control, but to trust you to lead us forward.  Help us to actively seek the path you prepare, even when it takes us into unknown territory.  In the confidence of your love shown through your son Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] Ministry Matters, Worship Resources Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 2017

When expectations overwhelm

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Matthew 14:22-33

Every day brings with it a set of expectations.  Expectations we experience as part of our society, our work; our relationships with family and friends, our community, our church, even our relationship with God.

We are surrounded with messages from commercials and peers that we need to eat certain food, wear particular styles and brands of clothing, use specific skin creams, shampoo, and make-up, drink certain brands of beverages, drive specific makes of vehicles, make a certain level of income, have homes that could be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, and more …  if we are to live up to the expectations defined by marketers who are likely more interested in the bottom line than the quality of your life.

In the faith community we sometimes experience others expecting us to dress and behave a certain way, to find God in the same places and people they do, understand scripture exactly as they understand it, to provide hospitality in a specific way and to support ministry in a prescribed manner.

We are pushed by a perception that anything less than perfection is somehow failure.  That everyone else has it all together.  That our uniqueness is imperfection.  That we need more stuff and things marked off the bucket list to have lives which reflect expectations met.

Expectations can be overwhelming.  They can keep us in a constant state of anxiety.  They can prevent us from experiencing the peace Christ offers, as well as from accepting ourselves and others as God created us.  They can leave us feeling alone.

That doesn’t mean that as Christians we accept mediocrity, that we don’t work to develop the gifts and talents we receive, or that we settle for less than we can be.  We have many references in scripture pointing out that we each are uniquely equipped to answer God’s call on our lives and our faithful response is important to the church universal.

As United Methodists we are known for striving for perfection, a pretty significant expectation.  Perfection as defined by John Wesley is not about the world’s expectation of perfection, but rather about our Christian walk.  He saw faith as an ongoing journey following in the footsteps of Jesus, one in which we are made perfect in love.  Being made perfect may sound like one more thing to add to the expectations that “overwhelm” list however, I think the scripture we heard this morning helps us move through those times when expectations overwhelm, so we that can experience perfection in a God directed way.

The story of Jacob and his sons is familiar to most, if not all of you.  Many times it has surfaced as an example of how God is faithful through situations which seem to have no good ending.

In light of this morning’s focus, I took a look at it through the lens of expectations.

Jacob and sons are living in their family’s hometown.  They are well known, respected, and successful members of the community.  Probably everyone expects certain behaviors from Jacob’s sons.  That happens in small towns where families put down roots that extend for multiple generations.  Expectations are directly related to who your parents and grandparents are.

Joseph likely knows those expectations well and as siblings sometimes do, lets his father know when his brothers aren’t meeting them.  This wouldn’t go well regardless of the circumstances, but the fact Jacob has illustrated that he loves Joseph more than any of his other sons, this only fuels the hatred they have for him.  Then Jacob sends Joseph out to see what his brothers are doing.  An expectation he will continue to report back any “below expectation” behavior.

Joseph’s brothers are definitely not up for having their “dreamer” of a brother evaluate if they are up to the family standard and plot to fix the situation.  Reuben goes along, but negotiates a plan that meets his brother’s expectations and those of his father to keep Joseph alive.

Judah, meets the expectations of a clever businessman and comes up with the plan to rid the brothers of Joseph while making a profit.  A pretty good deal it seems.

The brothers, overwhelmed by the expectations of family and community, take a way out that meets their immediate needs.

Joseph is likely also overwhelmed by the expectations of being his father’s favorite, overwhelmed by the expectations of his brothers, and soon overwhelmed by the expectations of a community in which his unique qualities are unknown and in which he has no standing.

We didn’t hear the rest of the story this morning, however, we know that Joseph chooses to trust God and to make the best of his situation, seeing himself sent by God, surpassing the expectations of those he serves, ultimately earning a position which allows him to save his family from a famine.  He turns his focus to God, to service, to forgiveness, and gratitude.  When overwhelmed by expectations he relies on God’s direction to make the right choices.

Last week we revisited the disciples and Jesus as they met the physical needs of over 15,000 hungry men, women, and children.  We talked about how the disciples had a difficult time understanding how they could meet the expectation of Jesus to feed all these people, struggling to see out God provides the resources for the work we are called to do.

This morning’s reading is what happens immediately after the crowd is fed.  Jesus expects the disciples to go by boat ahead of him, to give him some space to pray and recharge.

The Disciples likely expect that they will have a safe journey and some time off themselves while they wait for Jesus.

Those expectations seem reasonable, until everything starts to go unexpectedly and the disciples are overwhelmed and frightened by a storm.  Jesus focuses on prayer during the night, seeking God in the midst of all the expectations he is experiencing, then heads out over the water.  In what happens next we see more expectations unfold – the expectation that only a ghost could walk on water. Then when that expectation is proven inaccurate, the expectation Peter should be able to walk on water.    The expectation that once walking on the water he can stay afloat.

So many of us think we can stay afloat in the midst of overwhelming expectations.  We recognize the encouraging words of Jesus in the midst of the storms and chaos of our lives, we hear the invitation to join him.  What I, and my guess is, you, at least some of the time, forget is that when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid and began to sink.  When he lost focus on what Jesus expected – Peter to walk with faith, Peter began to sink.

It was in Peter re-connecting with Jesus, and Jesus joining the disciples in the boat that the expectations were truly met and the disciples recognized Jesus as the Son of God and worshiped him.

We may expect that because we claim Christ as Lord that everything should go the way we want it to go.  That getting together as a family and as a faith community will always go just as we expect it to.  We may expect that God has given us all the answers and everyone else needs to come in line.  We may expect that we can focus on what the world sets as standards for us and still have the miraculous ability to walk through all the expectations threatening to overwhelm us like the crashing waves in the midst of a storm.

We may see all the expectations put on us as impossible to fulfill and experience a life filled with gasping for air moments.

Those who stopped letting world directed expectations determine their actions and listened for God’s expectations in these passages saw a way through threatening situations and, while they would not have predicted the outcomes, found themselves moving toward perfection in love.

Micah 6:6-8 tells us what God expects.  In this passage, the people are overwhelmed by what they perceive to be onerous expectations if they are to have a relationship with God

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

.  This passage includes a reminder of what those expectations are.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God. (NIV)

 

John Wesley reflected this scripture in his General Rules – Do no harm, Do good, Walk Humbly with your God.

When we consider the expectations that build our schedules and consume our energy.  These passages and Wesley’s rules can help us connect with which expectations are life giving, and which ones are overwhelming.  They can help us turn overwhelmed into God directed and God sustained.

Reader: I’m so tired. There are so many stresses in my life and now the church wants me to think about What Jesus Would Do. They’ve got to be kidding. I don’t have time for this. There are too many things coming up which will need my full attention. That scripture about Jesus walking on the water to the disciples drives me nuts! Unless you have pontoons on your feet, you can’t walk on water! You know, I think I’m just going to cruise through the rest of the summer and then get back into this church thing in the fall. Oh, I’ll be in worship, because that’s what I do on Sunday, but sometimes it’s just too hard to cope with all this stuff.
Voice off to the side: Do not fear! I’m with you. You can handle this and not feel so stressed.
Reader: Who is that? What do you want? Where are you?
Voice off to the side: I’m right here, with you. Relax. You’re OK.
Reader: Call me. I’ll see if I can find you.
Voice off to the side: Come to me. Bring your fears and burdens. I can help.
Reader: OK, I’ll give it a try. I’m coming in the direction of your voice.
Voice off to the side: I’m right here. Don’t be afraid.
Reader: I’m not sure I see you – I’m trying to focus on your voice. This is ridiculous. What am I doing, following a voice?
Voice off to the side: Keep your focus on me – you’re almost here now.
Reader: No, I’m not. I’m scared. I can’t see you, I can only hear you, I think, unless you are just a figment of my imagination.
Voice off to the side: Do not let your faith weaken. You can do this!
Reader: Help me. I’m falling and failing.
Voice off to the side: Reach out your hand, I’ll help you.
Reader (reaching out): Lord, save me.
Voice off to the side: I’ve got you. You are safe. Place your trust in me.
Reader: Oh, my God! It is you!


Voice: You are safe. Come with me. (1)

 

As Jesus tells us, Do not be afraid, God’s expectations are filled with love and all the resources you need to fulfill them.

 

 

 

(1) Ministry Matters, Worship Elements, August 13, 2017

Promises Kept

Genesis 32, Psalm 17,

Matthew 14, Romans 9:1-5

As we explored “The Apostle’s Tale” over the last few weeks we have explored Alternative realities, Productive groaning, and the Practice of prayer, as we looked at how the Old Testament stories of the Patriarchs, the teachings of Jesus, and the encouragement of the Apostle Paul work together to help us understand God’s faithfulness and our call to action as followers of Jesus.

“’Promises” surface in the readings this week.  Promises fulfilled in the midst of struggle as Jacob continues to figure out his relationship with God.  Promises which cause the Disciples to wrestle with an understanding of the abundant resources they have as followers of Jesus.  Promises, the meaning of which, Paul wishes everyone could grasp.

The song “Promises, promises” began to pop into my head as I worked through the passages.  I’m not sure exactly why, it was popular in the late 1960’s and I suspect I haven’t heard it lately.

It was written as part of a story about relationships that are about pleasing self and some of the consequences of promises broken, and as I looked at the words I thought they reflected some of the things we have talked about.  There are two kinds of promises in this song – promises based on lies which can destroy a life and take all the joy from life and promises which lead to joy and hope and love.

The words, for those too young to remember include:

“Oh, promises, their kind of promises, can just destroy a life
Oh, promises, those kind of promises, take all the joy from life
Oh, promises, promises, my kind of promises
Can lead to joy and hope and love
Yes, love!!

Every night I sleep now, no more lies
Things that I promised myself fell apart
But I found my heart”

Jacob is in the midst of returning to his homeland, all of the questionable decisions he has made over the years likely causing him to wonder what the future holds.  Wondering if God will keep a promise made to someone who has depended on self, rather than God, deceiving so many to get what he wants, including his father, brother, and now father-in-law.  It makes sense he is having a difficult time falling asleep.  He doesn’t have a cell phone or Facebook page to know if he is a forgiven man or if those he has wronged are preparing to pay him back.  No way to know whether he is surrounded by those hoping to bring him harm. He wrestles all night long, discovering that God is faithful, and God-made promises are promises kept.

He learns that promises of success “by any means” are built on lies, are life destroying, and are without joy.  He finds that he needs to put the past behind and work into God’s future with God beside him if he wants joy and hope love.

The Disciples are witnesses to a physically and emotionally tired Jesus who is trying to get some time away from the crowds that surround him.  They understand his need to rest, who wouldn’t with all the demands on his energy and now the news that his cousin, John the Baptist has been beheaded.  They also understand why the crowds are drawn to the healing presence of this rabbi whom they follow.  They don’t seem to understand why he puts others first, why compassion makes him dig deeper to meet their needs, why he doesn’t send the crowds away, how he can possibly feed a crowd probably close to 15,000 people.

Jesus shows them what can happen when we give what we have, even if we thing it is very little, to God to provide an opportunity for those who want to know more about Jesus, to hear more of what he teaches, or those who just need to experience some grace and love in their lives.  He teaches them that God can multiply what the world thinks can’t possibly be enough into more than enough.  That God’s promise of abundant life is already kept in the life and work of Jesus.

The fear of scarcity fuels lies of promises not kept, the understanding of God’s abundance brings a promise kept and filled with joy, hope, and love.

Paul is frustrated.  His brothers and sisters seem to be stuck in their understandings of God’s promises and can’t see them fulfilled in Jesus.    His anguish so deep he wishes they had all come to understand how God’s action in their history points to salvation in Christ even if it meant he would be cut off from Christ.  As deep as his faith has become, this is a significant wish.

He has come to realize that making judgements about others is not his job.  He teaches that it is the example of how we live our lives that will inspire others who do not yet know Christ to want to know more about him, and that it is not up to  us to convert or to point out where others are wrong.  That is God’s work and God’s alone.  It is God’s promises, promises kept, that allow Paul peace in the midst of his anguish as well as the strength to do what he is called to do and leave conversion of his brothers and sisters to God.  His, and our, responsibility is to live as if we believe God keeps promises.  To extend grace and love through all we do.  We can engage in conversations about why we do and believe what we do.  But we aren’t called to point out what we think others are doing wrong.  God, through the Holy Spirit, is already convicting all of us on how we should live.  Our job is to trust and to live as we hear God calling us to live.

When we stand on the promises of Jesus Christ our lives give testimony to his grace and love.

We stand on the solid ground of God’s promises for us, even and especially when we may not see them fulfilled, even in our lifetimes.

Our past won’t keep us from a relationship with God.  We have all the resources we need to do what God calls us to do.  We know that God’s promises are promises kept.  And that knowledge keeps us moving forward touching lives of others in ways they can see Christ in us.