Lessons Learned After 65 Years

 

This video is the full service from Sunday, July 5, 2020.

 

This is a transcript from the July 5, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

 

You're hearing this sermon on Sunday, July the 5th, which happens to be my birthday. More than that, it happens to be my 65th birthday. There's something about that number that seems pretty big, but whether it's big or small, there is a question I have learned to entertain, particularly around birthdays. It was asked by me years ago, I think around my 40th. It was simply, "What have you been learning?" What a good question. I've been thinking about that as I came to this date.

 

I've been thinking, "What have I learned about life, about myself, about God? What is it that I would preach on a day of my 65th birthday?"

 

For some reason, this odd little passage that I'm going to read here in just a minute keeps coming up. It was like, "Well, that's an odd passage. There's got to be something else." I would think about something else, but no, this one just kept coming back in.

 

One of the lessons I've learned, is to pay attention to those nudges.

 

This is a very strange story. It's an odd story. It is unlike just about any other story that we find in the Bible. It's out of Acts 27, and it's about Paul. It's towards the end of Paul's life. It is on his way to be tried in Rome. He's looking for an audience with Caesar to be tried by Caesar. It begins at the beginning of the Chapter 27. I'm only going to read excerpts. Around Verse 2, he says, "We put to sea." Now, when you and I put to sea, we are usually doing it with anticipation. We are doing it maybe because it's a cruise or there's a trip.

 

We know what we want to do. We've got guides. We've got backup. We're ready to go. That's just very 21st-century thinking.

 

1st-century thinking is much more what we find in the Bible, that when we put to sea, it often means that we're about to take a journey that we did not choose.

 

Often, we would not choose if we didn't have to. The sea in the Bible is the source of chaos. It is the source of storms. It is the source of things that come out of terror and of fear. When in Revelation, it talks about the final scene and it says, "The sea was no more," it's not because it doesn't like beach weather, it's because it is saying symbolically, the place of chaos and where we're out of control, the place of fear will no longer be. That's exactly where they're going. It proved to be true.

 

It proves to be all of those things in this journey. In this voyage, Paul gets on his boat with some friends and he's a prisoner. He's taking off on this and-- Acts 27 is a long story. It's detailed. Who's ever telling the story knows an awful lot about nautical information and what it means to be on the sea. You can read it more yourself if you'd like for all the details. I'm just going to read a couple of excerpts of it around this because in the midst of this voyage, things go very wrong.

 

One of those great storms comes up and it's throughout the journey. It goes something like this. It says, "We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day, they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, with their own hands, they threw the ship's tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned." There's something to that story for our time. Isn't it? There's a lot of people who feel very buffeted right now.

 

They feel very much out of control. Whether it's on land or sea, that there are things going on. The stories I hear within our own congregation of the sorrow, and the grief, and the things that are out of control, and the chaos, it is easy to get to this place of, "It's done there, it's completely out of control." Maybe this story is a good story for this day and this season after all. It goes on, it's Paul talking finally to the crew and trying to encourage them. He can't help at one point to get dug in.

 

He said, "Listen, if you just listened to me earlier, we wouldn't be in this mess." You'll have to read the whole thing to catch what he's saying there. He said, "Nonetheless, let me tell you, it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay because God told me it's going to be okay. An angel came to me and told me it's going to be okay." Several times, he says, "Now, listen, take courage. Take courage, you guys, it's going to be okay. It's not going to be easy. In fact, the whole ship is going to be wrecked, but we're going to be fine." Then it goes on to this part. It goes on to this particular passage.

 

Just before daybreak, Paul urged them all to take some food saying, "Today is the 14th day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing.

 

Therefore, I urge you all to take some food for it will help you survive 

 

for none of you will lose a hair from your heads." After he said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God. In the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.

 

We were all 276 persons on the ship. After they satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea. There's a lot of stories in the Bible where there are outward circumstances, and a prayer is made and then the storm ends, or the enemy is vanquished. Or whatever is outside, the pestilence is diminished. There's a lot of stories like this. Here's what I find odd about this story. Maybe it's why it's so intriguing. When Jesus is with his disciples and they're in a boat and there's a storm, and they, like the sailors in our story, begin to lose it and Jesus says, "Peace," and then the waters calm, the storm goes away. In this case, the storms didn't go away.

 

God didn't calm the storm outside. What God did do was calm the storm, at least of one person inside. Here's what I find so compelling about this. There's this character, Paul, in the midst of this chaotic scene, and of all the people, Paul is the one. Paul is a prisoner on board and yet you get the sense that no one is more free right now than Paul. Everyone is afraid and yet Paul has more to fear than anyone. Even if his journey is successful, it is likely he'll end in death, and yet he is the one telling everyone else to take courage, have courage.

 

There is this sense at the end when it's everyone for themselves, as it is often in times like this, and here's this person who's first concern is for other people's courage, other people's welfare. "How are you doing? You got to eat something. It'll really help you." Here's this person who just seems to be at odds with everything else that's going on. When I look at that, I say, "That is a God thing." The real miracle is not so much that the weather changed. Sometimes weather just changes. That can be a miracle, but what we have here is not just an outward change, but there is a change, a transformation of the heart. That impresses me.

 

Over the years, what I have learned is, it's impressive. It's impressive with victories, and goals accomplished, and numbers, and programs, and all the things that go your way when you plan and you execute a plan, that's impressive. I'm even more impressive over these years with people, when everything goes wrong, when there's faults, there's failings, things that they have no control of that enter their life, and yet it's there that we find there's a core of resilience, of generosity, of comfort, of compassion. Sometimes the outer circumstances just change by accident. When I see someone's life who's been changed like that, I know that is no accident.

 

That doesn't happen just by accident. That is truly what I would call a God thing. All these people on the boat are praying to God in whatever way they pray and to whoever God they think they have, and God does show up. God shows up in this story in a way that looks an awful lot like Paul, and so that what they're really praying for, they didn't know it, but what they're really praying is for Paul to show up.

 

It reminds me of the great prayer, Mother Theresa, when she talks about prayer, she said, "I used to believe that prayer changes things. Now I know. Now I know that prayer changes us and we change things." That's what's going on in this story. What I have learned is that's the real God thing. That's the real place. That's the place to pay attention. That's where I get excited, is when people on the inside begin to change because changed people change things. They change environments. They change structures. They change life around them.

 

Mother Teresa | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

 

In a minute, I'm going to talk a little bit more about how that happens, but I want to let that just sit in for a minute. A couple of months ago, somebody asked me what my favorite hymn was, what was the hymn that I go to in times of trouble? What keeps me afloat, if you will, in this story? Without even thinking about it, it just popped in my head. It's a favorite of mine, "Be still my soul. The Lord is on your side, bear patiently the cross of grief or pain, leave to your God to order and provide in every charge, He faithful will remain." Nick picked out a beautiful version of that, and I want you to listen to that.

 

He is Faithful | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

 

Maybe just let the music sink into you. Maybe let the words just marinate your soul a little bit. Thinking about maybe what kind of things have you learned or maybe who are the people who have showed up in your life representing God, who were the people who came and bore witness to the God who is your best, your heavenly friend? If while you're thinking about that, you might also think about this. Who's waiting for you to show up? Who's waiting for you to step forward and be that person?

 

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on Earth, but yours. Yours are the hands through which He blesses this world. Teresa of Ávila said that, and I believe it. This is what happens when God takes hold and transforms a heart. This is what happens when the true us shows up. This is what it looks like. God in us, us in God. This is what changes the world.

 

Here's what I've learned. This doesn't happen by accident.

 

Faith is life. It takes time, it takes energy.

 

Faith is something that needs to be nurtured and it's not by accident, but there are things that we can do and there are things we need to know. One of the phrases that has been coming back to me over the last several months has been just repeating and simply this, "We exist in time, but we belong to eternity." We exist in time. We belong right here. We exist in this time and space, but we belong to eternity. When we keep those two things that becomes part of the engine of change for us. The more that I am present in right here, the more I rely upon my connection and that I belong to eternity, the more that I nurture that connection to eternity, the more I am able to be present and courageous and resilient and compassionate and generous. I get to be the person God is creating me to be. I get to be God's person here and now.

 

Pierre de Chardin gets to this in ways that I think are just beautiful. He said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience." That's what I used to think of that. We, humans, are having a spiritual experience and that's what we're here for. He flips it around and said, "No, no, we are spiritual beings having a human experience." That changes everything. That changes the way I live my life. That changes the way I am human. That changes the way I am in here in time and space. It means that I get to be a different person right here, right now, because of what God is doing.

 

We are Human Doings | New Hope Presbyterian Church | Castle Rock, CO

 

This is a God thing, and it means that indeed faith is a life. That kind of like doesn't happen overnight. This is not a quick fix faith. That means everything I am doing is part of that learning experience. When I say that faith is a life, what I'm saying is, it's much less microwave and much more crockpot. When it comes to developing my soul, it takes time. It takes intentionality. It means that we intentionally nurture both parts. What are the things that nurture your soul? What are the things that nurture you that connect you to the sacred?

 

What are the things that draw your soul and open you up and do those things? I said, five times a week, make sure you do those things. This isn't just busywork. This is soul work. This is the kind of thing that grows us so that we get to be the people God created us to be. The kind of people that our world needs right now.

 

There are habits. There are habits that help us do that, and there's personal habits, the five things a week or every day, the prayer, the reading, the things that we do to open up our soul to God. Then there's some corporate things that we do too, worship is one of those things and in a few minutes if you're part of our online, in real-time audience this morning, our congregation, we're going to extend worship over to zoom for time of communion. That's one way that we do both in real-time and space talk about and emphasize our connection to eternity. In all these things, I guess what have I learned? I've learned this faith is a God thing because this is God's thing.

 

Here's the words I want to leave you with today. Once again, they're from de Chardin, as he's talking about that work of the soul, and what part belongs to God and what part belongs to us, and I'm going to let this be our charge as well today. 

 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

 

On this day, as we go out into this world for what God is doing, for what God has yet to do, for what God is creating in us and through us, the charge of course then is to go and love because that's how we open ourselves to God, love God with everything you've got, love your neighbor as yourself. As you go, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, in believing may you abound with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit now and forever, amen. As you go out this day friends, go in the peace of Christ and make sure that you spread it. Text it, tell it. Tell someone, phone someone. In whatever way. May the peace of Christ be with you. Go in peace.