Last Sunday’s sermon … posted as I work on Palm Sunday! Enjoy …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
March 13, 2016
The Choice Is Ours
Ray Medeiros told me this week that when he comes to the church on Tuesday mornings, it always sounds like we are having way too much fun in bible study.
Honestly, I could not even tell you, week to week, what specifically we are laughing about or carrying on about in the Sadie Perry Room. You never really know how the Holy Spirit will move through our conversation.
In other words, we sidetrack easily.
This week, in particular, the group was privy to my rant on how social media is turning us all into narcissists and how I am so tired of people, myself included, either measuring their value and worth on their social media following or hiding behind the anonymity of a computer screen or smartphone when they spout off and post negative things about other people.
Sorry, I think this election has got me kind of cranky.
But seriously, people, I have to do better; I am not even going to say “we” – I have to do better! I need to find a better balance in my life. Lately I have been reading myself to sleep and I am not reading bedtime stories, I am reading junk. Pure junk; I take my phone and read celebrity gossip, Facebook posts that I already saw during the day, a website that is solely devoted to complaining about bloggers and a synopsis of how many “likes” my Instagram photos have gotten that day.
You can see where I might step back and question the integrity of some of the information that I am choosing to fill my mind with.
Which leads me to my next confession. I have this vice that I cannot seem to shake – watching The Bachelor and The Bachelorette on ABC.
Now, I could do a whole sermon series on some of the stuff that comes out of this show, but for now I will say this: I recently read a book written by Emily Maynard, a former contestant of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. The book was called, I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption and True Love.
In addition to offering some insider info about the filming process of this reality TV show (which, let’s face it, was kind of the reason I bought the book in the first place), Maynard actually talked a great deal about her faith. She talked about the role that her faith did (and did not) play in her childhood and when she first moved out on her own. She talked about something that was missing; something that was missing from her life throughout the filming process of Bachelor and Bachelorette, something that she could not identify at the time, something that – despite the glitz and glam of Hollywood and reality television – could not fill a void in her life.
That something was God.
I have a point: Maynard wrote something in her book that really struck a chord with me. She said one night she realized she needed to close the Internet browsers that she had open that were filled with all kind stories about her, and open her bible, and read those stories instead.
And she did.
And apparently Maynard discovered that when she spent her time reading the bible and pouring through ancient stories that have inspired the faith of billions of people over thousands of years instead of reading gossip posted on the Internet, her life was truly and honestly and humbly changed for the better.
Which leads me to the homework that I assigned to my bible study this week (this was the first time in five years I have actually assigned homework): Read the bible.
I know that kind of sounds redundant (your bible study homework is to read the bible), but I want us all to go deeper. Us – myself included. I want us to read and know the bible. I want us to re-learn the stories we were taught as children, read the random books that we never knew existed and absorb this knowledge so that our lives can be changed for the better. I want us to turn to the bible instead of the useless crap that can be found on the Internet when we are looking for something to read.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi, a city in eastern Macedonia, in the first century about ten years after he visited the city for the first time. I read and re-read this passage of scripture as I was thinking about my sermon this week and kept coming back to Paul’s words, “I want to know Christ.”
Here is what I am starting to realize: I do not think we get much of a choice when it comes to when and how God comes into our life. I think we all experience defining moments in our life, whether we are ready for them or not or whether we seek them out or not. But I think we do get a choice when it comes to how deep we go into our faith. We absolutely get to choose how well we know God, how much time we spend thinking about our faith and how we will live our lives.
This is why we are here. This is one of the reasons that we come to church, why we gather in bible study, why we get involved in the community, why we serve, donate or give back and why we try to find a better balance in life and faith. We want to know Christ; we want to know more about the life that Jesus led and the lives that we are called to lead. We want to know the power of the resurrection; we want to know what the resurrection meant 2,000 years ago and we want to know if resurrection is still happening in our midst today.
And we can choose to learn about these things. We can choose to know these things.
Paul does not deny that we, as human beings, want to know Christ and want to dig deeper in our faith. But he does, however, speculate that perhaps sometimes we get a little distracted by our earthly lives and put value on things that really do not matter when it comes to going deeper into our faith.
Paul started off this passage by essentially giving us his bloodline and resume: He was a Hebrew, a Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day and righteous with the law. He was a member of the people of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin and blah, blah, blah. By religious and cultural standards, he should have been held in high accord.
But do you know what? Paul said that stuff did not matter. Paul said that the successes and the possessions and the bloodlines of our earthly lives did nothing to strengthen his relationship with God; in fact, it hindered it. Paul said:
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.
It would be like if I stood up here every week and said, “If anyone needs any assurance about the quality of my sermon, I assure you I graduated with honors from both college and seminary, completed a intensive unit of chaplaincy and was recommended without revisions for ordination.”
News flash: NO ONE CARES. It is not the tangible stuff or successes that matter in our faith. What matters is not the things that we can see and identify; in fact, very often what matters is the stuff that we cannot see. What matters is that we do the hard work that is required today to get to know God, ourselves and what the Gospel is boldly calling us to do.
But in order to do this we have to look forward; we cannot look back. Paul said:
Beloved … this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.
This may be a controversial statement, but I strongly believe that there is no hierarchy when it comes to Christians. There may be religious hierarchies, but when it comes to our faith, we are all on this journey together. We all wake up every morning facing the day that lies in front of us, trying to find some semblance of balance in our lives and working to make a difference the world. We all have regrets, make mistakes and learn a lot along the way. We all experience moments of struggle and moments of triumph. We all ask questions and sometimes we find some answers (but let’s face it, not very often).
But Paul is saying here that the journey of faith is one that is open to all of us, regardless of who we are or where we are on our journey through life. We all are free to travel this journey, old or young, rich or poor, privileged or oppressed. We all can know God, dig deeper into our faith and discover the real power of the resurrection.
So I am going to give you the same homework that I gave my bible study: Read the bible. Be inspired, be challenged and be strengthened by those ancient words. Learn more about the people of our faith who came before us. And in doing this, learn more about yourself as well.
And if you are not quite ready to read the bible (believe me, I get it, it is not an easy book to get through!), find a new way to strengthen yourself spiritually. Set up a time or email me to talk about my sermon. Find a way to get involved in the life of the church that stretches you a little bit – and then reflect on that. Try to change a habit that you know is not really good for you and try to replace it with something that will draw you closer to God.
Now, I am not trying to be some stereotypical crazy fire and brimstone preacher that says we need to give up everything that is secular about our lives and narrow our focus solely on our faith at all times (because, rest assured, I will be watching the season finale of the Bachelor this week). But I just think that there is real value in using our faith to help us find balance in our lives. I think grace can be found when we seek God out; when we educate ourselves, when we challenge ourselves and when we hold onto to that real and powerful hope of resurrection.
Next week is Palm Sunday; our Lenten journey is about to come to a close. Soon we will be out of the wilderness. Over the next two weeks, I would encourage you all to think about the ways that you can celebrate this Easter season and practice resurrection in your life.
Beloved, now is the time to look forward. Now is the time to get to know God, to really learn about the gospel and to feel the power of the resurrection.
The choice is ours.
Thanks be to God!