I know we want to think of ourselves as rational, thoughtful people. Yet we are subject to a great abyss, which exists in some form in every one of our lives and every culture. That abyss is where our emotions swirl, our instincts plot, and where our hurts and fears find each other and create dynamics which leave us bewildered as to our own conscious thoughts and behavior.
For me, Paul offers a glimpse into his abyss in Romans 7 when he confesses that he can’t understand the forces which drive him to do the very thing he didn’t want to do—and neglect to do the thing he did want to do. He calls the dark force which drives him in the wrong direction the “law of sin.” I’ve come to believe the forces which drive our alienation from God, neighbor, and ourselves are the forces of shame which create a sense of being wholly unworthy of connection. And yet God has created us in God’s own image, and connection is the very basis of who God is. (See Romans 7:14-25)
Then Paul surrenders his will as he realizes God will do for him what he can’t for himself: “What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:24-25)
This is the rock on which I have to build my life. My life has to be built on what God has done for me in Jesus Christ, not what I’m doing to control the chaos in the abyss of my life and at the same time be good enough to win God’s favor and the blessing of the people around me. (See Matthew 7:24-27)
Therefore, everything starts with what God has done and is doing in Christ:
But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.
John tells us the reason for God’s free gift of grace is rooted in the very nature of who God is:
1 John 4:19-21
We love because God first loved us. If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.
One of the challenges, as people with so many options, is that we come to God thinking we have options. Like choosing from a menu, or selecting features for our new car, we can fill out the menu of services God provides, checking the ones we want and leaving off the ones we don’t. This is where the most important truth challenges the very deepest assumptions about how to live our lives. God is the ultimate “prime mover” that breaks the vicious cycle of hurt and shame by first loving us to the point of Jesus the Son dying for us—but that truth only becomes real for me when I am willing to die to myself and my ways of living life, and trust God’s love enough to pass it on to my neighbor next to me.
The game changer is the practice of gratitude which then fuels generosity. It is not based on feelings, nor is trying harder of any help. It is a practice that lifts our eyes and hearts upward to take in the love of God so we know that in no uncertain terms there is “enough,” then letting that love flow from us into the life of the ones next to us. I’m realizing our faith embraces the mystical, yet lives grounded in the reality of real neighbors. I can claim on the mystical piety I want, but it will be in loving the real people who share my life today that God’s Spirit works the miracles.
See you Sunday. Here’s what I have on my desk…
THIS SUNDAY, MAY 21ST, IS “FISH” (FRIENDS IN SONOMA HELPING) SUNDAY!
This is your opportunity to support this vital ministry in the Sonoma Valley. We will be collecting donations of non-perishable food items that will be distributed to families in need. Please leave your donations in the side entry to the fellowship hall this Sunday.
Are you living with grief? Your grief may be caused by the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream or any other kind of loss in your life. We are beginning another Grief, Loss and Forgiveness Workshop. This will be a 3-week progressive discussion of our grief journey. This group will meet in the St. Andrew FELLOWSHIP HALL on Wednesday, may 24, may 31 and June 14. We are offering two separate times to accommodate your schedule: 10:00 AM OR 7:00 PM. Check the box on your Communication Card THIS SUNDAY if interested.