Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epiphany 4 A

Readings for this Sunday

If you remember last week, we were talking about how each of us, with our various thought, feelings, and life experiences can come together and be of one mind and of one purpose. And we also spoke of how we could maintain our Christian identity and still disagree with each other; how we could disagree without being disagreeable. We discussed this and hopefully started to see how we could bring our gifts and our talents to God and trust in God to use them to spread God’s light and love to the world.

In today’s epistle reading, Paul continues the discussion on how to be a Christian in the world. Last week, Paul asks us to be of one mind, and this week he helps us to understand the challenges we have when we bring our message to the world. Paul tells us that the message of Christ is going to sound very different than the message we hear from the world. In fact the message of Christ is going to sound like foolishness.

In our world, I don’t think it would be a surprise if I were to say that when we are allowed to our own devices, we will usually take the path of least resistance. In fact, there is an adage in psychology that says to change a behavior, find an easier way to get the reward. Why is gambling so popular? If we can win money, it is much easier than earning it! It is easier to do drive though than to cook it ourselves. For the most part, we usually look for the easiest way to do things.

And although we so often follow the path of least resistance, we know that the path of least resistance is not often the best way. Quite frankly, the path of least resistance can be very unfulfilling. We have an interstate highway system that can quickly get us from here to there, but in flying along through the countryside, we miss the little towns and the Giant Balls of Twine. When we fly from one place to another, we get there in hours instead of days but we also miss the mountain passes and the roadside artisans. Sure, we have gained something, we are getting to where we are going more quickly, but I also have to believe that we are losing something.

But Paul tells us that God wants something more of us. God wants us to have a full life, not just an easy life. And truly, when we compare the words of Paul to the world, the way of Christianity certainly does look foolishness. And Jesus fleshes out this foolishness in the gospel reading for today. We are supposed to give to the poor instead of keeping everything for ourselves. We are supposed to work toward peace instead of immediately going to war. We are supposed to speak the truth instead of just following the crowd. We are to risk the anger of the crowd in order to speak truth to those in power.

Our world would tell us that we need to look out for ourselves first, but Christ would have us look to the care of our family, friends, neighbors, and community. Jesus is telling us to take the harder path in life. Jesus is NOT saying that easier is better. Jesus is telling his followers, and that would include you and me, that we need to be looking for the better way. And again, this better way is often not the easier way.

When we forget that we are people on a journey, I think we lose a lot. So often we get so caught up in our arrival that we forget to stop and look at the scenery along the way. We get so caught up in looking to our afterlife in Heaven that we forget to look at the world that surrounds us. We get so caught up in the though of living with the angels that we forget to attend to the saints that surround us.

This kind of thing always reminds me of one of those trite saying that used to get passed around the internet: Today is a gift; that is why it is called the “present.” We have been given today as a gift and we are to make the most of the gift we have been given. But quite often, to get the most out of the gift, we need to put some work into it. To enjoy books, we need to learn to read. To enjoy friendships, we need to cultivate a friendly attitude. To enjoy the view from the mountain top, we need to climb the mountain! I guess we could listen to the book on cd or have a helicopter drop us off on the mountain top, but there is something in working achieve the end that brings us greater pleasure than if the end is just placed in our lap. In some ways, the struggle to achieve the results is part of the gift.

I once had a piano instructor who kept nagging me about practicing. He said that even if he could give me a pill that would allow me to play the Bach Inventions flawlessly, he would not give it to me. He said that the beauty of the music does not come from the flawless execution, but from the work that goes into its preparation. It is not the ease that makes the music beautiful, but the work and the insight that comes from the work.

So, too, with life. God knows that if we are to follow the way that is easy, we may have something, but that something in not going to be very beautiful. If we follow the way that is the easiest, we will have a life, but we will not really be living. If we follow the way that the world tells us, we will get from birth to death, but it will be a pretty lonely trip.

As we look toward our future together as a congregation, what are we looking toward? What are we hoping for? Are we looking for the easiest ways to do things or are we looking for the ways that will bring depth and beauty? Are we looking for ways that will just allow us to live or are we looking for ways to thrive? As we contemplate our future as God’s people, what is God asking of us?

Are we content with the easy way or are we willing to trust in God and try what the world may call foolish? Are we willing to just sit in the valley and think ourselves safe or are we willing to risk climbing to the top of the mountain and seeing what might on the other side? Are we content to isolate ourselves from those around us or are we willing to do the work of reaching out, engaging the community around us, knowing that in reaching out we may be hurt? Are we content to grab that which is within reach, knowing that we find the sweetest fruit higher up on the tree?

I will be truthful with you: This is not the easiest to do. This is not what the world would tell us. The world would have us go for the sure-fire pay-off and the safe investments. But our God and our faith is not here to approve of every aspect our lives; our God and our faith is here to challenge us to be more than we ever dreamed. Just like a coach is going to challenge the couch potatoes, our God wants more for us than just the path of least resistance. God wants us to experience more than just the usual. God created this wonderful world for us to experience and enjoy. God created this wonderful world for us to go out and share. God wants us to see the views from the mountain tops! God wants us to be part of the variety and wonder that is our world! God is challenging us to be more than just a little church across from a high-school.

Yes, God’s ways are foolishness to the world. And to those who don’t understand, it may appear to be a waste. But God calls us away from the world, not to make us appear foolish, but to give us a greater gift than the world can ever give. The world can give fame and money, but God gives us love, peace, and forgiveness. These are things that can never be bought. These are only gifts that can be given. And these are the gifts that God calls us to share with each other and our world.

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