This is a transcript from the April 14, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
This is such a fun time of year. It is always a great tradition at Palm Sunday to see the kids come down with their palm fronds. That's always year after year, so much fun. Getting to stand back there as they're coming in, you get a different perspective as they've come down, they've cycled around and now they're sword fighting with the palms and they're batting each other with them.
In the first service we had somebody who escaped halfway through and decided to run around the sanctuary one more time. It's wonderful. It's great chaos. It's holy chaos and it's the best. Also, the time of the year when we were finishing up a series and that series we've been working on throughout this time. It is called the quest for a well-ordered heart and what sparks your joy.
It is about the spring cleaning urge that we have that sometimes manifest itself in bringing things to a garage sale. It is also getting to the deeper part of spring cleaning, which has to do with something within our own soul. We've been using two disparate seemingly authorities on this subject, Marie Kondo who is the modern day best selling author of her book The Magic of Tidying Up and her TV show that is a hit and then this fourth century bishop from North Africa named Augustine.
It would seem that they would have nothing in common, but that's the point, they do, because everything's connected. I think sometimes in spirituality, what we do is we do this thing where we have to say, "Well, this is the churchy part of who I am. This is the religious part of who I am, now here's how I live the rest of my life." The whole point of spirituality is to find the connections because it is all connected.
It's to find the integrations, it's to integrate our life of faith with everything else that we do. When Marie Kondo is talking about things like the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. She's talking about shelves, but she's talking about something deeper. There's a fourth century bishop who would agree. Isn't the life and how we want to live our life part of what we talk about here?
It's connected, and when we find those connections it's exciting. We're talking about what does it mean today to have a heart that is set free not to be owned by the stuff that we own or we think we own. It is to ask ourselves, "Are we truly free?" We think we are. I think I am. Then, I step back sometimes and I realize actually there's other things pulling strings in my life. There's things that push or I'm pushing buttons.
I'm not as free as I thought I was. Freedom is what Jesus was talking about when He gives us our passage for the day. It is this when He says, "The eye's the lamp of the body, and so if your eye is healthy and your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness." If in the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness? No one can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon. Now, I put mammon in there even though modern day translations put money or wealth. This is one of those times when I think the King James version got it right. The literal word is mammon and it's not just wealth. It's not just money. Mammon is that thing that is in the Bible that has to do with this. It's a personified spirit that is more than just money.
It is a mindset that is contrary to and pushing. It doesn't have to do with just money. It doesn't have to do with just wealth. It has to do with any and all of those things that we hoard, we gather around to ourselves when we think those are the things that we're going to replace God, when we trust those things to do what only God can do. You can't have both. Jesus says you're going to fight a tug of war.
It's going to be pulling strings on you unconsciously if you're not aware of it. You can't do both. Be careful. In the well-ordered heart, we have this idea that we think we know what we need, but oftentimes, something else is pulling on it. There is a humorous story, old story I was thinking about this week about the guy who was having these terrible symptoms.
He goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, I got to tell you for a while now I've been dizzy, I've had these headaches, I've had double vision, I'm short of breath."
As he went on, the doc said, "Boy, that doesn't sound good. I'd get your affairs in order." He goes out and thinks, "What should I do?" and he's like, "You know what I've always enjoyed? I have always enjoyed tailored shirts. I must go and get me a bunch of them because I don't know how much longer I have."
He goes to his tailor and he orders his shirts. He wants a 34-sleeve and these kind of cuffs, these kind of buttons and a 16-inch collar. The tailor says, "Wow, you need a 17 1/2 inch collar." "No, you don't understand. This is the shirt I've loved all my life. I just love them. This is what I want. You don't understand this is really important to me. Please, just the way I ordered them," and the guy says, "Well, okay. I will, but just note, you wear those collars, you may get dizzy, you may have headaches, you may have double vision."
Sometimes the things we think we want, sometimes the things we really need are the things that are killing us. That's what Jesus is talking about. The things that are out of our own sense of freedom. "This is what I want," and they're the very things that are holding us back. The old book of prayer has things about the bad choices that we make. When it says forgive us for doing the things that we ought not to have done and not doing the things that we ought to have done.
Paul in Romans says, "I do the very things, it's like a tug of war in this. I do the very things that I know I'm not supposed to do. Who can deliver me from this?" It's talking about the human condition. Anybody feel like that? Does anybody wrestle with that? Not you, but the person next to you. Did you notice? Isn't that who we are. There's a couple of ways to come at this and that comes back to Augustine.
Augustine, this amazing bishop of the fourth century in Northern Africa that is probably one of the most brilliant minds by the way that the church has ever had. More than a few historians say there has been no one who has influenced the way we think about God and think about Christ, no one more than maybe St. Paul then Augustine, and there's not too much disagreement. He's just this towering figure and part of what it was, it was his own life.
He was this towering figure before he was a person of faith. He had this brilliant mind and was giving himself to philosophy and arguing philosophy made a mess of his life. He gave himself to all kinds of licentious living, made a mess of his life. He gave himself to power and to money and made a mess of his life. Then, he turned to Christ and it changed him. He says, "You know what's wrong? It's none of those things. All of those things are gifts of God.
The problem is when you order them wrong, when you love them in the wrong way."
He would talk about loving the right thing in the right way with the right kind of love. He says that's what happens. He says all those things that they're not bad. Money is not bad. Sexuality is not bad. Security is not bad. Power is not bad. Nationality is not bad. Self-esteem isn't bad, but boy you put any of those in the wrong order and they make a mess of our lives.
It's not because you are bad, it's because we have taken these inherently good, God ordained things and we just put them in a different order he says it will get you every time. Anytime you take something that God has given, a gift of God and then you take it and you separate the gift from the giver. Now, I'm going to do this on my own. I'm going to order and think about money and power and security and self-esteem, all those good things and now I'm going to separate them, you've created something that's part of our own destruction.
Now, it hasn't. You've given it a power it doesn't deserve. Now, it's pulling strings that you may not even be aware of because you have separated it. Augustine says, "Here's what the well-ordered life is. It's not to reject any of those things. It's to integrate them, love them in the right order. Love the right things in the right order with the right kind of love because when we don't prioritize, all those things start to make a hash of our lives."
Think of the times when people do that with money, when they do that with power, when they do that with security, when they do that with their own self-esteem, when all these things that are good, when nations do that for their own security and their own esteem and their own pride. Think of all the ways that has done, multiply that chaos by 6-7 billion times in this world and you get a sense of why things are and you get a sense of the cost of disordered hearts, of all the wars, of all the pestilence, of all the oppression, of all the money that goes into protecting ourselves and defending and trying to guard ourselves and all the things we do from the locks on our doors to the armies that we have to staff, to the resources that we give and the things that we ignore to our own peril.
The cost of a disordered heart. This isn't just about church stuff. This isn't just about not being naughty. This is about a life that makes sense, the life that God gave us. What's the cost in your life? What's the cost that you see around it? This is really about freedom. We think we're free but if we don't have our heart in the right order, we're not free at all.
We have something else that's calling the tune. We got something else that's pulling the strings. We got something else that is pushing our buttons. When Jesus came on that one Sunday into Jerusalem, he wasn't offering a new power structure. He wasn't offering a new religion. He wasn't offering any of those, he was offering a way to be set free.
It began then, it begins today with examining our own heart and that's what we're going to take a few moments to do. If it's just about this, if it's just about how do we put the right thing in the right order with the right love, what's so hard about that? Turns out everything. Turns out this is the inside work that only happens on the inside.
One of the reasons people sometimes ask why do we do contemplative prayer? Why do we do those kinds of things? Why do we have time in worship for that? I truly believe there are things that only happen when we can be still long enough, still enough, and let God work there.
There are things that we can do with education, there are things with principles, but there's work that can only be done on the inside. This is inside work. It is the heart that is surrendered to God, that is the heart that is set free and that takes some work. That takes a lot of effort.
Sometimes the church just focuses on the outside stuff. They work on brow beating people, they work on coercing people, all that does is just push everything into its corners and so that there's this area now that's just where I have to be a certain way at church but it doesn't integrate my life. It just makes it worse.
How do we integrate all of this? The right answer is bigger than just being part of church. Church’s fine. Church’s good but if all it stops because what we do on Sunday morning for an hour here, it's way too small. That's not what Jesus came to do. Jesus came to bring what He called the kingdom of God, the reign of God in every aspect of life, the reign of God in every part of this world. Seek first the kingdom of God, He would say, and God's righteousness and then all those other things, all those other things that are important, they are important.
They get put in the right order. The things about our money and our security and our power and our pride and our self-esteem or safety, those things are all good, those things are all important but when we put the priority so that this is what's at the top, then life begins to make sense. This is not about just losing things.
Sometimes people come to church and the way we talk, sometimes maybe some of us were brought up sometimes it has to do with, I have to give up all these things in order to come to church, actually, it's just the reverse. If we're doing this right, it's not a matter what we give up. It's what we get back. If we get back all of life, we get back an integrated life we get a life that connects to every part of who we are in every part of this world. It is so much bigger and usually, it's us who have the hard time imagining.
The key to spirituality has to do with some imagining. It has to do with this quote. This is a Richard Rohr quote, I've had it so long, I forgot who it came from but it's, “The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender.”
Here's these two moments. I am captivated. I am awed. I allowed myself to be awed by somebody, just it grabs me and then I surrender myself to that. It is that back and forthness, that is the real work of the spiritual life and we are invited to constantly be captivated by the kingdom of God.
Again, not the churchy part, not the religious part, but the pictures that show up in the Bible where the world is in harmony in a way that we can only dream and that's the part of the point. When war has become so obsolete that we get to beat our swords into plowshares, be captivated by that. Surrender yourself to that.
When sin and death are no more and there is no more crying and there's no more grieving. When sickness is gone, be captivated by that. Give yourself to that, be awed by what that would be like. When the poor are brought up and there's justice and there is mercy and there is reconciliation when we gather around a table and it's more than just a communion table but this becomes the symbol of the great table where people will come from the east and the west, they will be reconciliation of the nations and there will be unity with God, be captivated by that. Then surrender yourself to it.
If you're already thinking, well, that wouldn't work. If you're already thinking of all the things and why we're getting away, be careful about the things that are pushing your buttons, be careful and watch the things unconsciously that are pulling strings. We may not be as free as we think.
There is work that needs to be done because in that kingdom of God, imagine this the God who loves us, even though our hearts are all disordered and we're a hot mess, and we don't even know what's pushing our buttons and we can say, I don't know why I do this, or I don't know why I don't do this.
The love of God, even there and especially there and starting there, be captivated by that. Give yourself to that because that's what Jesus came to bring on that street in Jerusalem. That's what he came to bring, as he was doing this parade, not a parade of power like the Roman parade or the day before.
Not the religious uprising, not the nationalistic fervor that was there. All of those things have a place but Jesus was coming to bring a different freedom and it’s the freedom of a heart set free. It's the freedom of a world liberated and set free to become all that it was meant to be.
It's the kind of thing that when people recognize it, they would say blessed is he comes in the name of the Lord. As we go from here, may that be our cry and may that be the theme of our life when we come and we bring that thing. When we are captivated by that kingdom, we are captivated by the one who brings it blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.