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October 29, 2017, 12:00 AM

Saved by Grace Through Faith


On this the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, sitting in a Lutheran church and thinking about Martin Luther, there is so very much I could cover.

We could spend our time talking about Sola Fide, Sola Gartia, Sola Scriptura or in English By Faith Alone, By Grace Alone, By Scripture Alone.

We could get into the doctrine of the two kingdoms, which covers how we are both subject to the laws of the Kingdom of God and subject to the laws of the Kingdom of Earth. We could talk from there about how earthly governance can be a gift from God, if it creates a place to peaceably live out our lives.

We could spend our time looking at a doctrine like the priesthood of all believers and Luther's contribution to that gem, and then how that effects how each of us should lead our lives.

If I wanted to I could probably give an hour lecture on the 95 Thesis or the books that Luther produced, with and without the help of others. The English translation of Luther's works fills and entire shelf in the Library. The German edition of Luther's works is 72 volumes, which more or less fills a standard 6ft book case.

But no I want to something that relates to all of the above and that is the question of Grace. You could say I want to talk about one of the famous Luther quotes, “Saved by Grace through Faith and by no works of my own.”, which is usually quoted as Saved by Grace through Faith. In one sense this too could be a very short discussion because it is simply the notation that when God judges me and if the law is the standard by which I am to be judged, it simply is not possible for me to have done nothing wrong and even so much as one time having transgressed the law is enough to condemn me. Alternatively, if I have been saved by Jesus, then I receive the unmerited give of forgiveness for those places and times that I have transgressed the law. And this is grace, which is even more that not getting what I deserved, which is mercy, no grace is getting that which I do not deserve. I can do nothing to merit my place in heaven and thus thank God for Jesus who lived and died on the cross, and descended to the dead and was resurrected and then ascended because in being joined to the body of Christ through my baptism, I am joined to that same life, death, and resurrection so that ultimately, I too, will ascend to a place at the heavenly banquet, to sit for eternity at the feet of God and in the presence of God.

First a little bit of history. Luther was a devout Roman Catholic, at that time simply a member of The Church, because in Germany what we think of as the Roman Catholic church was the only option and so everyone was part of The Church in Germany, which as part of the Holy Roman Empire, had its capital in Rome. Luther was studying law in college as his father had put him on the path to be a lawyer. Luther was a good scholar, a bright person and a reader. Thus the monk Luther set his sights upon the bible and the teachings of the church. Luther thus came to know and understand the Law as laid out in the bible and also became very much aware that only if perfectly followed or if every transgression of that same law were confessed, repented of and thus forgiven by God, was it possible to merit a place in heaven. This very deep understanding of the legal situation of the human as relates to a just God created a nearly impossible situation and it is said that he spent long periods in the confessional trying to recount everything that he had ever done wrong. It is said that at one point his confessor told him to leave and not return until he had done something at least vaguely interesting.

So, Luther's intense understanding of the impossibility of his earning a spot in the Kingdom of God combined with the tormenting he is said to have received by the devil himself led to near despair on the part of a young Luther. The interesting thing is that as time went on it was not the tormenting of the devil that changed or his understanding of the impossibility of earning a spot in the Kingdom of God but his understanding of salvation changed. Two things in my mind are key to his change of heart if you will. It is reported that his confessor and the head of the monastery told him either turn to Jesus or throw yourself at the feet of Jesus depending on the source. The second is that he became a teacher of theology at the university and thus continued to study theology.

While Luther was an old testament scholar he said that it was impossible to spend enough time reading Romans or to get to deep an understanding of Romans. He even wrote extensively on the book of Romans and from this came to understand the concept of Grace. Grace being in this case that we who can not of our own power live lives worthy of a place in the Kingdom of God, receive a place at the heavenly banquet through grace as a gift, when we are joined to Jesus' body. Since we believe as Lutherans that there is nothing I can do to get it right, we baptize infants not capable of consent, because it is not our action but God's action in our lives that saves us from eternal damnation.

You might be sitting there thinking that you have just gotten off and it does not matter what you do but then that misses a not so minor detail. We must receive that free gift, daily. This is part of why communion is so very important, because it returns us to and helps us to receive that gift of grace in our lives. That is why Luther is said to have believed that we should take communion as often as we can. Luther told, a people that were used to receiving it once a year and then only the bread, that while valid if taken only in one kind all should participate in the whole meal if possibly and that at a minimum they needed to take communion four times a year and again more often if possible. All again because of the importance of being reminded of the forgiveness we have received.

You might ask then what of good works, do they not matter at all. Actually, Luther would argue that if you had any understanding of the enormity of the gift you have received, that would be no problem at all, because you would naturally desire to do good works. In other words the thanks you would have in your heart for the gift of forgiveness and the grace of a place in the Kingdom as a free and unmerited gift would be so great that good works would be your natural response.

You cry that this is unfair that receiving from God that which is unmerited is counter to the question of justice and the response is, you are correct this is unfair, you are receiving that which you do not deserve. Jesus dying on the cross, took your sins and the sins of each and every person here and each and every person ever, upon himself and became the ultimate scapegoat.  Jesus the only person ever to have lived a perfect life, took the guilt upon himself for all the sins of all people for all time and all we have to do is receive that gift. Because however Jesus was also that only person never to have sinned it would be unjust for Jesus to remain forever outside the presence of God and thus Jesus is resurrected from the dead, raised to new life. And since we are joined in our baptism to Jesus, we become the body of Jesus, as we are now permanently a part of Jesus we too shall be resurrected to spend an eternity in the Kingdom of God.

And that my friends is Grace. That is why we read that passage from Romans this morning that includes, “For “no human being will be justified in (God's) sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

And that my friends is the very heart of the reformation. That is why Luther was against indulgences. That is why Luther wanted so badly for people to understand that he translated the bible into German, wrote the Small and Large catechism and started saying mass in German the common language of the people. By making the word of God accessible to people they could come to understand better this gift they and thus we have been given and as we understand the gift it will bring us around to leading lives that are worthy of the calling. And so my seminary professors said that if I ever only preach one thing it must be the grace of God and if there is one thing that must be included in every sermon it is the word of grace from God. For by Grace through Faith and by no works of my own I am saved and forgiven and given the gift of eternal life. And by Grace through Faith and by no works of your own are you saved and forgiven and given the gift of eternal life.




October 23, 2017, 12:00 AM

Pay Your Taxes


One of the challenges of life can be when to go along and when to stand against. I think that for most of us we really prefer to get along with those around us. Phrases like don't stir the pot speak to not committing actions that would be other than peaceful and agreeable to everyone. I think double for those of us in the church we really just want to live lives that are under the radar to steal a phrase. Often the easiest way not to cause or get any grief is to go unnoticed. Sometimes however that is simply not possible either because the right course of action is so clear and the compulsion to follow that course of action is so clear and the action itself does not allow for going unnoticed or because people around us determine that our actions will be noticed.

Jesus today delves into an area, not by choice but of necessity, that is the proverbial mine field. In this case either of the logical answers he gives will be his undoing. Caesar thought himself God and so to fail to pay tribute was punishable by death. Jesus is asked whether we ought to pay the poll tax a mandatory tax upon all adults in the area under control of Rome. This was a tribute tax so was intended to show fealty to the emperor. The tax was designed not to be onerously large but instead to show who was in charge. Sending one days wage to the emperor was a way of showing that you were a good subject, loyal to the emperor. One days wage was not un-doable, Lord knows I would love my taxes for the year to be one days wage and one day's normal wage so if I can make more per day my taxes don't go up.

On a side note maybe that is the answer to our tax problem in this country. Each adult is responsible to give the government one days earnings. Absolutely fair in that everyone pays the same rate. The rate is One Day's Earnings. I wonder how that would actually work out. Of course we would probably still fight about what is included and what is excluded. Do investments count or only earned wages. And so maybe it does not work any better than the current system but who knows maybe it could work. Either way I have digressed from the topic of the day.

So returning to the question of whether Jesus felt they should pay the tax we return in a way to the question of what we are to do even today. Now the question is doubly interesting because they did not think that this was an answerable question. This was designed to trap Jesus. If Jesus said yes pay the tax then that was showing loyalty to the emperor which would seem to stand in direct opposition to owing it all to God, to service God and especially since the emperor thought of himself as God paying the taxing would be a violation of the ten commandments and particularly the one that says put no other gods before God. So, if Jesus simply said yes pay the tax then he was not putting the God of Israel before all other god's in this case the man who thought himself a god, Caesar

What if Jesus answered in the religiously acceptable way. After all if this is God's son then we would fully expect that he is able to answer unequivocally that one must not give Cesear the honor of tribute. One must not give to Caesar an honor that is due only to God and thus the answer must be don't pay the tax. Jesus however finds another way to look at the problem. Jesus instead of answering in a simple Yes or No answers with  both.

In the story we read today Jesus asks them to hand him a coin, the same coin that was used to pay the tax. Jesus reverses the question a bit when he asks them a question. The good Rabbi never answers the question directly but instead asks a question to answer the question and that is just what happens here. Jesus asks those who came to entrap him whose face is on the coin. And when they say Caesar Jesus tells them to return to Caesar what is already Caesar's in other word the coin belongs to Caesar and so returning it to Caesar is acceptable.

This is interesting in light of the writings of Luther who argued in favor of human governance. Luther thought that good government (yes we need the addendum of good and it is one Luther used) so good government is a gift from God. Good governance leads to a place where we can lead their lives in peace. So, for Luther the way to judge the effectiveness of the government was the creation of a place where we can live out lives in peace and that sounds like a great place to live to me. He also was one of the very first advocates for universal education of some sort. You see he wanted to see people read the bible for themselves and understand it and that would require some basic literacy. So educating people allowed them to improve their faith and thus Luther was in favor of universal literacy, long before it was the cool cause dujour.

I digress again just not as far to show that human governance is something acknowledged not just by the bible but also by the church fathers. Thus if Caesar needs us to return a portion of what we have been given by Caesar then so be it. It is interesting because I can almost hear Jesus saying to the disciples on the side and if Caesar needs to see that as paying tribute well let him have his delusion, we know the end of the story and who is really in charge.

The lesson however does not stop at render unto Caesar what is rightly his but goes on to say and render unto God what is due to God. I think this is interesting because if the coin is Caesar's because it bears the image of Caesar and if I in being created am made in the image of and thus bear the image of God upon myself then the reality is that I, all of me, all of each of us here this morning, each of us is God's and thus using our life for the kingdom is simply returning to God what is already God's and is that not how we speak of stewardship. If we were to speak of tithing we would simply acknowledge that it was us first returning a portion of what God had given us for God to use for God's own purposes.

This is not the only place that Jesus covers giving money to the government in a positive way. There is the day that makes for a great story. The day has come to pay the taxes and Jesus says to go pick up a fish and in the mouth you will find the coin we need. Once again Jesus does not balk at paying the tax and knowing what I do about Luther and his writings I imagine that Jesus saw some positive in the government and thus did not have a problem with it. 

 

Actually as I think about this it is even more interesting because sometimes we think that we want a government that honors our religion and yet in no way was Caesar's government in service to the one true God directly but obviously Jesus felt it served some purposes. Of course I will also note that Jesus regularly points to the Kingdom of Heaven and the presence of God in our and his life. Thus we live in the already but not yet of one foot in this world and one foot in the Kingdom of Heaven. So, long as the government will create a space in which we can live in relative peace then it has done its job. Creating a system of Justice would seem to be a part of the question but the standard is really pretty simple. Either way we return to the question presented to Jesus.

They came to Jesus to entrap him by asking him whether they should pay their taxes to Caesar. Jesus' answer is give to Caesar to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's and thus we find that we need to pay our taxes but also that we bear the image and likeness of God in our very selves own all that we are to God as well. So, I am sorry to tell you but even as you serve God with the totality of your very life, Jesus expects us to pay our taxes.




October 15, 2017, 12:00 AM

On Being Gentle and Kind


This morning I want to talk to you about Christian behavior and attitude. I have heard people ask with some regularity what does the bible say about, and name the situation. I have heard people want to know what they need to do to be a good person and no doubt the bible is rather cryptic at moments. Certainly the recent spate of parables of Jesus requires some interpretation to make them understandable. The parables need interpretation because they are intentionally stories with a point, which by nature point toward the right but do not lay it out in black and white. The parables need interpretation because they speak of ancient situations not modern ones and so we need to tease out what Jesus was intending and what that suggests in our modern situation. So, much of the time when we want a message as to how to act as followers of Jesus, we need some interpretation.

This cryptic nature or speaking of situations with no direct corollary in today's world is not always true however. Today we have one of those texts. They are still interesting to explore but the words on the pages are directly applicable every bit as much today as the day they were written. So, let us look for a bit at the text this morning from Phillipians.

1My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

So, right from the beginning we see that Paul understands the following as instruction about what it means to lead a Godly or Christian life. The one thing that might not be obvious and which I had never considered was the equality of the men and women in the text. This becomes more evident in some other cultures where the roles of men and women are much more clearly defined and distinct. Paul though was not just about gender equality but about equality of all people. And this is also seen in the work of Jesus and thus in India, where the church is the one place in which people who no longer believe in the caste system can go because it has never honored that tradition of the Indian culture but instead viewed all people as equal. So, equality of all in the church is a long standing teaching of Paul, think “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” to quote another Pauline text.

The next line reflects a regular urging of Paul and that is to be of one mind or the encouragement to find ways to come to agree with one another. Paul in this text writes, “2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Interestingly though Paul does not just command these women who have both worked with him to be of one mind but provides resources to help them to work it out. In this case he is instructing those he sent and the others of the church in Philippi to work with them to find a common resolution. Paul often urges the church to find a unified message to present but also and maybe more so to find ways for the church to be or have an internal peace that is externally visible.

Moving forward Paul writes, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Faith and living as a Christian was not in Paul's eyes about what we gave up but what we gained and so as we gained salvation as we gain the presence of the Holy Spirit as we gain this community of Brothers and Sisters, we should find that so great a positive that it is nearly impossible to become glum. Paul might say if only you were totally aware of all that you have gained you would never again be sad, which of course indicates that not everyone was happy and usually based on what Paul writes they were not happy about what they had to give up in becoming a Christian. That all said becoming a Christian is a greater good than all the loss you can suffer.

Next Paul says, “5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” This caught my mind as I was reading the text and just kept rumbling around and with it I found myself referring back to the place where Jesus says that people will know his disciples by there love for one another. This is not one of the traits that we often speak about in the church and yet when I think about some of the people I think of as being most evidently Christian they were gentle and kind. You rarely if ever heard a harsh word from them. They are not the ones usually yelling and screaming at others. No, most of the people who I would hold up as examples of Christian living are gentle, they heal instead of harm, they are almost soft instead of brash they have a spirit about them that almost seems like it could not rub you wrong unless you were annoyed at how good they were.

Let us go on down the list and so we read, “The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I read this whole text because it is one big dependent clause. Paul starts with “do not worry” and to his way of looking at the world nothing that can go wrong from this point forward really matters. In other places he writes I count my suffering as gain, so do not go to Paul crying about the woes of your life and expect bunches of comfort but he does give us a plan of action.  So he started this phrase with the Lord is near, which should be comforting to us. Paul goes on after this section to say that we should take those things we might worry about and include them in our prayers. We can if you wish turn those things we think are going wrong over to God. He does not promise you will get what you want but if you release your expectations by giving it over to God then whatever the outcome you will be fine, in other words give up expectations if you want to be worry free and when you have a situation that is bothering you tell God about it and then leave it for God to worry about.

And then we get this closing with again a specific list that can be directly applied to situations today as we read, “8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and …..... the God of peace will be with you.”

We talk in the church of the peace which surpasses understanding, we talk about having God's peace and in this text Paul is telling us that if you will exercise the following filter for your thoughts and thus your actions you will find that we know that peace. What is the filter. Paul suggest we ask of everything Is it true, is is honorable, is it just, is it pure, is is pleasing, is it commendable. Think about it for a moment if everything you did was true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable what worry could you have if you have also take those things that would be your worries and given them to God. If all your thoughts and actions were either of such a high caliber that they worked with this filter and those which were not were turned over to God, then I believe you would know a peace that passes understanding.

Now I want you to think about evangelism for just a moment and bringing people to Christ. If others were to meet a person who was Gentle, Worry Free, and only committed to that which was true, honorable, just, pure, please and commendable, they would likely have one of two answers. Answer one, I suspect, is that you are just to good to be true, and thus wanting to know where is the crack in the armor, what are they covering up, they will seek to get to know you. As they got to know you they would probably move from suspicion to wanting to know what you have, so they to can have some of the same. Answer two, skips the disbelief and moves directly to wanting to know what you have because they want the same for themselves. And when you tell them about you filter and where you learned it they might just be attracted to Christian living and thus you never had to do anything other than explain why you were who you were to bring someone to God and you got to lead a pleasant life as part of your efforts.

 




October 8, 2017, 12:00 AM

Biblical Interpretation 101


 

One part of me this morning wants to ignore the tragedies of the week. It seems a bit like that is all I have preached upon recently. Another part of me thinks that this is not the week to ignore the tragedies. We have the continued unfolding and largely forgotten about Houston after the first Hurricane, We have the St Martin, St Thomas, Keys damage from Irma and the clean up still happening in our own backyard. We have the region in Mexico that suffered both a hurricane and an earthquake. We have the tragic earthquake in the region around Mexico City and the devastation that wrought. We have Puerto Rico, which is still largely without power and has suffered so much devastation that I read a story of those who are trying to leave and expect never to return. Now on the Hurricane front we have Nate who tore through parts of Central America and has left a trail of destruction. All of that and I still need to at least mention the mass shooter event in Las Vegas.

All of the above and I have not even left the couple of thousand mile radius. Add these all together and it certainly might start to look like the end must be upon us. All of this must point to some greater message that God is sending us. Well maybe mother earth is sending us a message and so on a stretch given the natural disasters of recent one could potentially make an argument that God's creation was sending us a message. But turning that into a direct and intentional message from God is nearly impossible in my mind.

I know there are preachers out there who have used these events to point out how we are in the end times and how the events are God sending us a message to repent for our wicked ways and I will need to politely disagree with them. While it is possible that I have it wrong and certainly the Old Testament God of Israel and Judah was wrath filled and vengeful, it would appear from the record that God has decided that is not the best way to get our attention. So, I do not believe that God is sending us a message to repent from particular behaviors. Maybe God will use this to waken us from our slumber to renew our commitment to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan but that is a wholly different message from the ones I am hearing from those who think these are God's message to repent of specific behaviors. Beside the God I am most familiar with would probably call us out for the relationship we have with money first.

So, if this is a message from God and it was about money then how would that work. God would take and flatten large swaths of properties of those who chose money over God. In so doing God would show them that reliance on wealth was futile and they needed to turn to God. Hopefully, that would lead them to repent and use their wealth to care for the less fortunate in out midst. This can not be true either because then why did God flatten all the homes of the poor people and leave so many of the wealthy peoples homes intact. After all the only home damage from Irma in our parish that I have heard of happened to one of the less wealthy of our parishioners. In the Keys I was reading about the damage to the trailers that were the only housing the lower end workers could afford and the same was true for the Imakolee workers, that they were talking about how the poorest were the hardest hit. So, maybe it raises the plight of the less fortunate in our eyes but no this is not a call to turn from Mammon, even if that would be a positive in God's eyes.

If we were to look at the shooting in Las Vegas, we could start with the thought that this city was a den of iniquity. We could move out from the den of iniquity to talk about how our behavior was being called into question and then I could speak against lascivious behaviors, except this did not happen in the strip club, heck it did not even happen in the gambling parlor. This shooting happened to those attending a country music concert, not even what was once called the devil's music, good old rock and roll. So, if there is a message in the shooting in Las Vegas it is more likely to be that we need to do better at helping retirees find meaning and purpose in life than a judgment from God. Maybe if we focus on the shooter we could get to my grandmother's phrase, “Idle hands are the devils workshop.” but no there is not some great judgment on Las Vegas in all of this.

 

And there you go, I have already spent a good portion of the sermon talking about the tragedies around us and just the ones closest to us. Only yesterday we spoke at out council retreat about how 24 hour news that is accessible at the click of our TV remote has led us to see a more peaceable time as a more violent time. Heck Puerto Rico for all of the problems that it has can be really proud that in the midst of the level of destruction present, the plans they had built to protect human life mostly worked. There were very few injuries or deaths in Puerto Rico from the Hurricane. Even in resource poor Mexico after the earthquake it became apparent the education and better building codes have led to fewer earthquake related deaths, especially deaths from falling buildings. So, fewer people are dying than in the past and that is true for the hurricane, the earthquakes, and the ever prevalent human inflicted violence.

And yet maybe the protest arises in your head that it says we will know the end of time is upon us when we see these natural disasters, and the wars and rumors of wars. Only one problem and we have put this out before. That was attached to Jesus' discussion of the destruction of the temple and so when taken in context has nothing to say about the end times but only the end of the time for the temple, which came in 70 CE a little more than 35 years after Jesus' death.

SO, you protest that I have failed to address the entire book The Revelation of John and you are not as far off with that one. That said you are probably reading it wrong. You see much like we have Romance Novels and Science Fiction and Mystery and fifteen other genres of literature, this was written using a style that would have been distinct to its day and time. The “over the top” nature was part of the style of literature that this book is part of. You see some of the same style of writing in the book of Daniel from the Old Testament. The other mistake you are probably making is in what purpose this book served initially and that was as a source of hope in the midst of occupation by a foreign military, not as a call to repentance. Each of the mythical references in this book are written using reference points that help us to see how they are attached to the Roman occupying forces of the time and the ultimate message is that God is still in control. So maybe in the sense that awful things are happening we can  pull a message of hope that God is with us and will redeem us even as we face the awful things happening to us and in our time.

And so I turn to our texts for today, which may call us to repentance, if like the chief priest and pharisees we are feeling convicted about your behavior. If you think God is calling you to task for your behavior, God is doing that with or without the disaster. And so maybe you need to consider what it is that God wants you doing instead. I am much more likely to think that the guilty conscious is calling us to task, although even with that I would want to make sure that the challenge was biblical not just the voice of an overly concerned parent I my head. That said God might use the small still voice in your head to call you to task but more importantly today is the message we see part of in Philippians when Paul writes, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” What God wants and what God is calling for us to do is simply to have faith in Christ and from our faith gain righteousness and from our being returned to right relationship regaining our relationship with God.  Stop trying so hard and realize that the message is simple. The message is have faith in Christ, have faith in God and return to being in relationship with God, your creator. You have been forgiven all those thing that separate you from God, receive that forgiveness and live out a lifetime in God's embrace.




October 1, 2017, 12:00 AM

Change and Grief


I want to talk about change this morning. Well actually I want to talk about grief but the two are inextricably linked. So, we will start with change.

Change is everywhere we read. I have heard the phrase the only constant is change. We have also heard that people don't like change and what I know is that the human mind is wired not to like change. The human mind is wired to prefer to choose as a default that which is familiar, that which we know, that which we have done before and survived. Yes, this preference is a left over survival instinct from the days when we did not have elaborate education systems and fantastic communication systems and we needed to avoid stepping in the fire or we needed to remember to eat blueberries not night shade. What does this default supersede, everything, even those thing that we can see would be more comfortable. We will sit in the wooden chair when the lazy boy arrives unless we challenge ourselves to make the change.

I remember from my grandmothers house the olive drab rotary wall phone and the stool/chair that sat in the same corner, also olive drab. My parents realized that they never called anyone at some point and that the reason was they could no longer operate the rotary dial with their arthritic fingers. So, my parents being the problem solvers that they were, set about to install a push button phone on the table next to my grandfather's chair. This was a white phone with large 1” square buttons and numbers printed on them to match. When it was all done my grandparents noted how nice it was for my parents that they, my parents, could use this new phone and proceeded to never use the phone, ever, not even to call 911. They were not going to use the limited energy they had to make one more change.

The reason by the way it takes energy to make the change, even in this case where the new is to those outside so obviously easier, is at least in part this little, or not so little thing known as grief. If you eat strawberry ice cream and become allergic to strawberries and have to switch to eating hot fudge sundaes with chocolate ice cream you will grieve the loss of strawberry ice cream. And you have heard it from other people. Have you ever heard someone complain about loosing something even when you know they got something better. Perhaps, I miss my old car they will say, when you know they turned in a  base model Honda Civic to lease the new high end luxury car.

Where does this aversion to change come from. Consider the following, in the human brain the part of the brain that says new is bad, old is good and its thought process is no more complicated than that, is the amygdala. This is the smallest part of the brain but it is also the one at the base of the brain stem sitting between the parts of the brain like the cerebral cortex that give us rationality and our central nervous system. It is the filter between body and higher level functions. The amygdala unless we have lots of practice is the first part of the brain to send a signal to the body and what are its messages. The amygdala has now we understand three messages available to it, fight, flight or freeze. When you think amygdala think FEAR. I fear the lion and so I flee, I fear the food I have never eaten so I freeze, I fear the rabbit I have never seen so I kill it because I choose to fight it. And so the aversion to change is wired in at the base of the brain to keep us safe, in a world that no longer exists, for the most part.

So we don't do change for the most part, unless we are intentional and think it through and thus as our brains slow over time and maybe as they get full and it take us longer to think things through we become even more resistant to change. Even the logical part of our brains can make us resistant to change. I have read that people like Steve Jobs and Obama wear the same clothes everyday because it is one less decision they have to make in a day and we are capable of a finite number of decisions in any given day. Exceed the daily limit and it is not going to happen hence the greater resistance to change, especially when we are tired. Making good decisions takes energy, hence fewer and poorer decisions when we are hungry. I can almost be certain I am hungry, when I become incapable of choosing a restaurant or what to eat.

Funny story, I thought I was different at one point. I am a change agent, I like to do new things, I like to try new foods, I thought. Then I realized that I don't change either because every time I go into a restaurant, I look at the menu and find the item I have never had before and I order it. That is correct, my resistance to change showed up in not ordering the item I had liked previously because my default position was NEW is better...

Why then is the world so prone to change. Consider that GOD is “The Creator.” Creating involves making new things and so the author of the universe we live in, is about the work of creating change. We read in our text this morning “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.” The proverb was wisdom inherited from the past, something to be learned and to know to make out lives better, and now God is changing the rules. So, God, the God we worship, the God who changed the game with Jesus, is the author of change.

 

 

I received the following thought this morning in my email, “We human beings may actually be part of God’s process, God’s expansiveness, God’s “becomingness.” After all, “In him we live and move and have our being.”” So, what if God is ever evolving and thus changing. Brother Mark Brown suggest that God is becoming and so if God is evolving, then it makes sense that the world is evolving as God was the creator of this world and thus the creation reflects the creator, much the same way we can look at the child and see the parent. I am in some ways a reflection of my Father and Mother, who were reflections of their parents, ad infinitum. In the same way creation might be a reflection of the creator and we know that the world is evolving and the people have evolved to where we are today and we know that we have evolved from new born to infant to toddler to child to young adult and many of us here to adult and through the various stages of being an adult. At each step we grew and changed, whether we were ready to or not, whether we wanted to or not. What if in that evolution we reflect our creator in the same way children reflect their parents. And so what if this left over was supposed to go away but has yet to get there and go away.

Oh, wait, there is a way for us to overcome the amygdala, it is known as meditation. Yes, that is both what science and my personal experience have shown. If we will enter into meditation, we will slowly learn to over come the unthinking nature of the amygdala and move ever higher in our consciousness. I have heard similar from people who have intentional practices of centering prayers that they have become more pliable and less rash. Science now shows us that meditation increases something known as Neuro Plasticity, roughly the ability to learn but lets face it learning is about change and evolution and so we become more adaptable as we meditate.

So, change is going to happen and what we know is that the rate of change is accelerating. In our gospel text today we had the story of a son who changed his mind being preferred over the one who did not do what they said they would and this speaks to the change in salvation to be for everyone and the likelihood that God will prefer the tax collector and sinner who came into the family after a CHANGE. They changed but also God changed the rules. We also have the story of the temple authorities who out of FEAR that people might not like their answer, read force change, chose instead not to answer. Remember FEAR is amygdala and the amygdala is not the friend of change.

Which brings us around again to grief which is the emotion related to change. And so we know that small changes like the color of the car or the availability of your favorite dessert, as well as the big changes like the death of a friend or the death of a colleague, or a destructive earthquake or a powerful hurricane to name a few recent examples we know, create grief. This means that at some levels we must, if we are to live well, learn to deal with grief. Learn your personal grief cycle. My active grief cycle depending on the infraction level can run from 6 minutes to about 3 months. During this time I am just less productive as my mind makes its peace with whatever has happened. A major shift in my schedule will mess me up for about six weeks.

So, what can we do to help this process. First, I would suggest getting to know what grief looks like in your life. It is there, so learn to identify it. Second, learn to use it as a catalyst. Kind of like the kiddie volcano where you add the liquid and it boils over and changes. Learn to use it as a catalyst for change to the good. Third, since much of it is about change and change is about fear and the amygdala and the amygdala leads to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and the only ways to get rid of them are exercise and time, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or some other activity that involves exercise. Exercise really will help. Fourth remember that this takes time and so be gentle on your self. Finally, if you really want to develop resilience in the face of life and change take up an intentional practice of meditation, centering prayer or other similar activity. Maybe you learn to combine exercise and the activity in something like Tai Chi, Yoga or walking a prayer labyrinth. It is here, It is real, It is not going away and the IT I refer to is change and thus grief.

We have taken a rather long journey this morning, lightly touching on the texts of the day but exploring the nature of our lives. We talked about the possibility of being made in the image of a creator who is in the process of becoming and thus being creatures who are becoming. We talked about the parts of us that resist the process of evolving into, even as we live in the ever changing world. We talked about how change, even small change, leads to grief. Finally, we talked about what to do with all of this change and grief. We talked about getting to know what grief looks like for you, about using grief as a catalyst for positive change, the value of exercise in the process, about being gentle on yourself and the value of an intentional meditative/quiet prayer life. Fear not I will return to this over time and if you feel overwhelmed take a walk, say a prayer and know that this message is available for deeper scrutiny as a print out by request, on our website and by link on our Facebook page. So, I close with change is going to happen let us learn together how to deal with it.


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