Friday, March 26, 2010

Messin' with Your Mind

Most sermons focus on a Biblical text. There are preachers who think that it’s their job to tell people what a particular text means, as if there’s only one way to interpret it. That’s the way a fundamentalist approaches the Bible. For every text there is a right way and a wrong way to understand it.

When I preach, I hope my listeners don’t ever think that I’m telling them the right way to interpret a text. There are multiple ways to interpret any passage of the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself testifies to that. Have you ever noticed how the Bible seems to contradict itself, saying one thing in one place and something quite the opposite in another place? Well, it’s that way by design. The Bible tells us about how people of faith have understood God in different times and places based on their experience. So, we have a variety of interpretations of the God experience within the Bible.

The way we make sense of God and Scripture and faith isn’t carved in stone. Our relationship with God grows. Our understanding of Scripture changes. The life of faith evolves.

A few weeks ago I asked the children at Holy Trinity if God is a man or a woman. It was interesting to note how the children and the adults in our congregation don’t have the same understanding about God. The kids pretty much told us that, for them, God is a man. But the adults had a much broader perspective of who God is. Their understanding of God has grown.

When I preach, it’s never to tell folks how they ought to think, but I do try to mess with their minds. What I hope to do in a sermon is offer ways of understanding that will push the boundaries of what my listeners hold to be true, so that they might grow in their faith they don’t stay stuck in the same place. My goal is to agitate them, to jar their brains, so they think, “Hmmm, I’ve never thought of it like that before…”

Over the next week, as we move from Palm Sunday to Easter, we’re hearing once again the story that is central to the Christian faith. Many Christians have latched onto one understanding of the story of Jesus’ passion and they don’t dare to go beyond that. For them, the whole point of this story is that Jesus died for their sins. That’s one way of making sense of Jesus’ death on the cross that has resonated with people of faith for a long time. But it’s not the only way to make sense of it.

The story of Jesus’ death on the cross is so BIG that it demands many meanings. It’s like a multi-faceted diamond. You can turn it this way and that and find new ways of seeing it each time you look at it. And just when you think you’ve got it, it slips away and you find yourself searching for a clearer understanding once again.

You may have heard the story of the crucifixion so many times that you think you have it all worked out. I challenge you not to hold on too tightly to what it means for you. Loosen your grip a bit. As you re-visit the cross of Jesus, dare to doubt and question what you’ve always held to be true. Turn that diamond in another direction and open your heart and your mind to see it in a new way.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Truth about Footprints in the Sand

You’ve probably heard the story of “Footprints in the Sand.” It’s all about a person who looked back on her life and saw two sets of footprints in the sand as God walked beside her. But then, she noticed that when she went through the toughest times, she only saw one set of footprints. When she questioned God about it she was informed that there is only one set of footprints because in those times God carried her. Well, that is pure, unadulterated hooey! It’s not the way it works at all.

Beyond a doubt, the lowest time of my life came after my marriage ended and I moved to a new city to begin again. On a Tuesday I was in court finalizing my divorce, and then on Saturday of that same week, I loaded a Ryder truck with all my earthly possessions and moved 500 miles away to a city where I knew no one. I soon discovered that although I had moved to a new location, I was not yet ready to move on to a new place in my life.

The losses in my life were considerable. I left my son, who would be entering his senior year of high school, and he understandably opted to move in with his father, so my nest suddenly became empty. I was alone for the first time in over twenty years. I left dear friends who had been my support system in both the best and worst times of my life. I left a church I loved so much that I had hoped to stay there until I retired. And then, of course, there was the matter of my marriage ending. Even though it had been harmful to me on so many levels, I still felt a loss. The future I had dreamed of would never be. I had to let it all go.

Trying to figure out how to navigate this wilderness time of my life, I only seemed to find myself more lost in the thick of it. I engaged in self-destructive behavior that just made matters worse. I hated myself and felt like I had become such a miserable failure that what I wanted most was simply to disappear from the face of the earth.

Although I had always prided myself on standing on my own two feet and solving my problems without help from anyone else, I had reached a time in my life when I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. As I prayed, “God, help me!”, I trusted that God would empower me to get my act together so that I could put all this messiness behind me and go on with my life.

As is usually the case, God answered my prayer in a way I hadn’t expected. I thought it was all about God and me. But I learned that God doesn’t come to me in a vacuum. He always comes to me through other people. In fact, that’s the way it works for all of us. It’s why God gives us the gift of community, so that we can be conduits of his love for one another.

Looking back over my life, I can see that during the worst times there are so many sets of footprints in the sand that it would be impossible to tell where one starts and another stops. They are the footprints of family members, supportive friends, an insightful therapist, and a loving faith community, all people God placed in my life to help me through the roughest times. They are the answer to my desperate prayer, “God, help me!”

One set of footprints? Never!