October 30, 2011
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Faithing Our Practices,
Rev. Leanne Walt
Tuesdays in college were marked with the arrival of a letter from home from my father. Even though these lengthy epistles came faithfully each week, they were always greatly anticipated. I’ll share with you now a brief excerpt from a fall 2003 correspondence:
“My dearest Leanne:
Had a whirlwind of a week with preparations for Thanksgiving and all-am glad to report that all survived. Last weekend I went food shopping at Market Basket on Sunday morning when the store opened at 8 a.m. Imagine my surprise when I found 50-60 people lined up who had the same idea. My plan was to get in and out quickly, unpack the groceries and head to church in time for choir rehearsal at 9:30. Well, that’s the last time I shall shop in a market with which I am unfamiliar. Although the savings were fairly substantial, I couldn’t find half of what I was looking for. Naturally when I finished there were only 2 cashiers open who were slow as molasses making me even more impatient than usual. Racing home like a madman, I sped by a patrol car parked across from the diner. There was sufficient reason to stop me, but I caught a break because he didn’t move. Once home I quickly refrigerated cold items and left the remainder for after church.”
I got into the habit of sharing pieces of these letters with a few of my close friends. It became some sort of curiously sacred ritual among us. We would gather in one of our dorm rooms and I would read excerpts from that week’s installment – stories of ordinary events of every day life made somehow wonderfully extraordinary through the intentionality of pen meeting paper.
I recently came across a book called Finding Our Way Again, (by Brian McLaren) about the return of ancient spiritual practices. In this book the author suggests that almost any activity can be a spiritual practice – driving your car, folding laundry, changing a light bulb or fixing a broken door hinge, selecting a perfectly ripe melon at the grocery store, a quiet afternoon spent at home, walking your dog or cuddling with your cat - so that instead of talking about practicing our faith as we tend to do, he recommends that we ought to consider “faithing our practices.” Instead of having a kind of a set of spiritual practices that is only confined to prayer, reading of scripture, or worship we ought to have spiritual practices that infuse our daily lives outside of what we do in here.
This idea got me thinking that this may have been what God had in mind when he chose to infuse this world with his extraordinary presence, born in a tiny manger in the form of flesh and bone, when he chose to dwell among us in the human form of Jesus Christ. For this single act - whether Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic or Congregationalist - encompasses the very foundation of our Christian faith: the incarnation, literally meaning “embodied in flesh” or “taking on flesh.”
The incarnation, the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the clearest revelation of God’s presence on earth. In Jesus Christ the Word of God became the deeds of God, living and breathing and walking right in our midst. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.” (John 1:14)
Last year at Pentecost I worked with a group of people from Wollaston Congregational Church to study and memorize pieces of Scripture so that we could present them to the rest of the congregation in story form during worship. One woman had the story of when Jesus appears to Cleopas and the other disciple on the Road to Emmaus after the resurrection. In practice one evening she was acting out this story of when, out of nowhere, Jesus comes and stands with these two men who are in utter disbelief that Jesus is suddenly there with them – the man who they have just seen die on the cross - and one of the first things that Jesus says to them is, “Hey, do you have anything to eat?” All of us who were there listening to this burst out laughing and we laughed and laughed – it’s just such a mundane thing to say at such an extraordinary time.
Jesus made our ordinary human experience, like eating and drinking, somehow wonderfully extraordinary through God meeting humanity face to face, hand to hand, Word to word. He made our otherwise hollow existence and experience on this earth hallow. Hallowed be thy name indeed, that our lives are given sacred meaning through the extraordinary incarnation of God in Christ.
In his second letter to them, the Apostle Paul reminds the people of the Corinth church of the extraordinary presence of God in their midst:
“For we are the temple of the living God, as God said
I will live in them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.” (2 Cor 6:16)
Faithing your practices is about awakening to the God who lives and walks among us, who asks us, “Hey, do you have anything to eat?.” The God whose spirit is closer than our own breath, nearer than our hands and feet. Whose grace is unexpected and whose redemption is everywhere we look.
On this particular Sunday, we join other Protestant churches around the world in celebrating the day on which our forbearer, Martin Luther nailed his 95 grievances to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenberg, Germany as a result of his awareness of the nearness of God, thus setting the Protestant Reformation in motion. When Luther made this courageous gesture nearly 500 years ago now, he did so in order to break down the barriers that the Church as an institution had placed in the way of people’s ability to live and experience an incarnational faith. The way Luther interpreted Scripture led him to believe that we don’t need to empty our pockets in order to buy our forgiveness from the church or go through a priest in order to talk to God. This gesture was one of reform and transformation, of new awareness and deepening perception of the accessibility of God in the world.
Faithing our practices means looking at the simple things in your life that are enjoyable and asking, “How are they already a part of God forming me spiritually?” Watching a dog running in his sleep, that first look out onto the golf course at the break of dawn, waiting in too long of a line at the grocery store, pouring a cup of coffee, listening to a game on the radio, reading a book, or knitting a prayer shawl. Faithing our practices is about seeing that which we are already doing in a new light, it’s about awakening to the God that is living and walking among us.
One summer letter from home closed with these words,
“I am fortunate to have such a beautiful spot to pen this to you. Overlooking the wetlands in the backyard I can see the sun setting into the late August sky. I will leave you now to grill some steaks and enjoy dinner on the porch with your mother.
It may seem silly or tedious that these handwritten letters held such detailed accounts of the ordinary, particularly in a day and age when a quick email will do, but that they described such simple joys is precisely what made them simply extraordinary.
In her song “Holy as the Day is Spent,” Carrie Newcomer sings about,
“folding sheets like folding hands,”
to pray as only laundry can.”
In many ways we gather here in worship to learn to pray as only laundry can outside of this place - to grow deeper in our awareness of the God who lives and walks among us, to learn how to recognize simple joys and experience the extraordinary presence of God in our ordinary lives.
“For we are the temple of the living God, as God said
I will live in them and walk among them” (2 Cor 6:16).
October 23, 2011
Scripture: Matthew 22:34-46
Love One Another,
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
It is good to encounter a well-known text this morning, a Word that is familiar even among those for whom the Word may be most unfamiliar. It is good to travel a clear path, to receive a slice of the gospel pie that is sharp and direct. This morning the words of Jesus fall like sugar upon our ears, sounding of something sweet and kind, not punitive and condemning. We hear the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And a second like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We eat up this commandment of the good news - it is good, we say, to love. To love God. To love yourself. To love your neighbor. It is so good, we say. Yes! we say. Right on, Jesus! we say.
Yet, even as we hear, like candy to our ears, the greatest and sweetest of the commandments flowing from the lips of Christ himself, we experience some discomfort beneath the Word we receive this day because we question how truly and how deeply we really do say yes to this candy coated gospel directive – to love God and to love our neighbor.
The Christian faith is a quest for meaning and a journey toward greater understanding, one that breeds questions and doubts, fears and longings. How do we measure our faith? How do we measure the extent and nature of our love – for God and for one another?
In our own individual lives and contexts it seems fairly easy to quantify our love. When we think about our Christian faith as an individual journey, it becomes a journey of the human experience, the meaning and measure of which accompanies the unfolding of our lives. Love develops and evolves through our growing up and coming of age; our falling in love and then making that love more than an elusive nostalgic notion but a public commitment - exchanging vows holy, binding, and true. Love ripens through our own mistakes and missed opportunities, through awaiting and enduring childbirth; through broken relationships, the paralyzing hand of betrayal and our ability to forgive; love grows by way of supporting a friend through illness or a child through failure.
The loving relationships that we hold in our individual lives are important in God’s eyes, in Jesus’ eyes. Marriage, parenthood, forgiveness, reconciliation, birth, and death of loved ones. However, the love that Jesus here speaks of in this moment in the gospel is not entirely descriptive of this sort of love that we experience on a daily basis with family and friends. This love that Jesus proclaims to the Pharisees and Sadducees is broader and wider, more communal than individual, more social than private. This is a radical departure for the Pharisees and Sadducees.
These two commandments that Jesus presents are actually taken from the Hebrew Bible – the first from the book of Deuteronomy and the second from Leviticus. The first commandment from Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” was one of the most fundamental, ancient, and widely read passages in the Jewish tradition. Here Jesus is accusing the religious elite of an egocentric and self-aggrandizing application of this commandment; they lift up their love of God at the exclusion of others. So, Jesus adds the second commandment as accompaniment to the first: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Jesus does not intend our love for God to be solely individual, to mature according to our own isolated and specific contexts. When Jesus says love God and love our neighbor, Jesus is urging us to love what God loves; to love as God loves.
Jesus does not want us to come to this place on Sunday morning and sit in these pews and pat ourselves on the back for doing so, telling ourselves that we are well-intentioned, good and godly people, as the Pharisees and Sadducees did in his day. Jesus wants us to wonder what it means that we sit in these pews. He wants us to wonder what it means to call ourselves Christian. He wants us to wonder what it means to that we sing hymns, pray prayers, and bless shawls. He wants us to wonder who is out there and not in here. Jesus urges our wonderings about our community; the kind and quality love that it engenders and the purpose it serves. Are we loving what God loves, are we loving as God loves?
* * * *
I recently accompanied our youth group to an event at Old South Union Church in Weymouth where we heard from a fantastic motivational speaker, Ed Gerety, who works primarily with youth. He told a story about a kindergarten class that he recently visited as a guest speaker. He talks about how he walked into this classroom full of 5 and 6 year olds - all buzzing about all over the place – then the teacher calmly clapped her hands and they all magically took to their seats. “This is Mr. Gerety,” the teacher said, “Can you say Hi to Mr. Gerety?”
“Hi, Mr. Gerety.” The dozens of little voices chimed in together. He had their undivided attention and he asked the kids what they liked about school. He took several answers from the kids – “Recess,” “Snack Time,” “Free Time,” “Math.”
Then this little boy in the front row raised his hand straight and high and said, “Our seeds.”
At break time, Ed was still curious about this little boy’s response, so he went over to him and asked him, “What are your seeds?”
“I’ll show you,” and he took Ed by the hand and led him over to the far side of the classroom, a wall lined with windows. “We each got a pot with some soil in it and we pushed a seed way down deep into the dirt.” Ed looked at the twenty-plus tiny pots with small seedlings sprouting out of them; they all seemed to be growing so uniformly and well.
“Which one is yours?” Ed asked the boy.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” Ed asked
“I don’t know,” he said again.
Ed picked up one of the pots and looked underneath. Then he picked up another and looked underneath. “There are no names on these,” he said, “How do you know which one to water?” He asked the little boy.
“We water all of them; we take care of each other’s.”
Ed got a lesson in love from this 5-year old that day.
I believe, too, this is a lesson in loving as God loves, indiscriminately and without condition.
“God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” Gen 1:27.
“For God so loved the world that he sent his One and only Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16.
We cannot truly love God and exclude any of God’s creation or creatures. We cannot truly love God for our own feel good satisfaction. We cannot truly love God without loving one another.
The measure of the extent and nature of our love comes when we ask the question, how well have we loved those we find difficult to love? Jesus came into the world as the embodiment of God’s love. Jesus loved prostitutes, sinners, traitors, tax collectors; Jesus loved through betrayal and the cross. Jesus loved as God loves.
The measure of the extent and nature of our love will come when we, as a community of Christians, ask the question, how will we accept those outside of our designated circle of love? What boundaries, what stipulations have we placed around our own commitment to love our neighbor?
For Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Who would be difficult for you to love? To eat with, to be generous toward, to care for?
It is precisely that person whom Jesus is calling you to love. How would it be for you to place one of these shawls upon their shoulders? How would it be for you to water their sprouting seedling, making sure it grows tall?
Hold to that image. Pray about that image.
In her book The Holy Thursday Revolution, philosopher Beatrice Bruteau writes that, “If we cannot love our neighbor as ourself it is because we do not see our neighbor as ourself.”
We sit in these pews, we call ourselves Christian, we sing hymns, pray prayers, and bless shawls with the hope and longing that we have the wisdom and the courage to love our neighbor as ourself. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus proclaims, “I came into this world not to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them,” – with love.
Jesus brings love to the heart of our faith because love is at the heart of the human condition. Our ability to love – or not to love – rules our lives; binds us tight or sets us free. May this sweet gospel directive – to love God and to love one another – set us free.
October 16, 2011
Scripture: Micah 6:1-8
Turning Around, Turning Out,
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
I was 13 years old when I met Erica. We met at Bread and Roses, a soup kitchen in Lawrence, Massachusetts. As part of my confirmation process, I was required to do some sort of service work for a certain number of hours and I had chosen this soup kitchen. It was a winter evening and I was there with my confirmation mentor, Helen. We had served supper and most everyone had cleared out of the dining hall. Helen and I, along with a few other volunteers were cleaning up when I noticed a young girl who looked to be about my age still sitting at a table. She was alone and appeared to be completely engrossed in a little stack of cards that she had in front of her. She was sorting through them, dividing them up in to separate piles, counting them. Probably because she looked like the least intimidating person I had seen all night, I went over and introduced myself.
She shared with me that her dad brought her to this soup kitchen most nights for dinner. Her mom wasn’t around and her dad had lost his job. She wanted to help her dad, so she decided to start selling Valentines Day cards that she had made, she explained, gesturing to the stack of paper in front of her. “Do you want to buy one?”
“Sure.” I said, “How much?”
“I’ll take 4.” I said and handed her a dollar from my pocket (big spender, I know).
We parted ways into the cold winter darkness and I thought about Erica on the car ride home that night so many years ago now. I thought about her in the days and weeks and months and years still, to follow. This was such a profound moment in my life because it was as if Jesus was at that table with us that winter night, holding up a mirror, showing me the nearness of hunger, the proximity of need, and the reality of despair. In Erica I saw my classmates, my friends, I saw myself.
I recently recalled my meeting with Erica when I read a Boston Globe article that someone in the congregation shared with me about a woman whom I have never met, Iris Soares.
As she does most mornings, Iris Soares pushes her empty wire cart across Dorchester Avenue to the Fields Corner Station. It’s just before 6:00 in the morning and the streets in the heart of Dorchester are still relatively quiet. A robust looking woman with tan skin and curly hair cut close to her head, Iris boards an early bus number 19 heading to Kenmore Square. She’s pleased to see that it’s nearly empty and she straightens the skirt of her floral dress as she takes a seat and secures her wire cart in front of her legs.
At that time of day the bus holds mostly sleepy high school students headed for Latin Academy and several others sharing in Iris’ destination. A half-hour into her ride, she reaches behind her and presses the rubber yellow call strip as the bus approaches Dudley Square and comes to a halt in front of the stone-faced Twelfth Baptist Church. As soon as the doors of bus 19 fold open, Iris rushes out and pushes the empty wire cart across the parking lot, eager to assume her spot in line outside of the church’s food pantry. Still nearly three hours from opening and five hours from distributing food, Iris is relieved to see she is among the first to arrive that morning. Her anxiety lessens somewhat and she waits. At 10:00 a.m., hours after her arrival she receives the number 8 from a volunteer at the food pantry securing her place in line, which allows her to board another bus that will take her to an Uphams Corner food pantry and then return just before noon when the Twelfth Baptist will begin distributing food.
Iris has worked to perfect this routine in recent years since she has found herself out of work after slipping on fat covered stairs at a meat packing company in Norwood where she used to work. Now she spends her days travelling to food pantries along the bus 19 route in order to feed herself, her sons, and grandchildren.
At the end of the day when she arrives home, after cooking dinner for her 12 year old grandson and boyfriend, back aching and legs throbbing, Iris will be gratefully fatigued for the sustenance she feels in her belly, well earned through her travels on bus 19. 
Iris and Erica are part of the 325,000 Massachusetts residents who are so poor they live with hunger but not so poor they can get federal nutrition assistance. We must be careful when we share these stories and statistics that “othering” does not occur, for these stories and statistics belong to individuals and families in the neighborhoods in which we live; they belong to people we work with, walk with, and worship with. At this point in time, when the highest ever number of households in this country are currently or at one time have not had the means to feed themselves or their family, these stories not only belong to strangers but neighbors, friends, and family members. They belong to us.
The prophet Micah was living and writing, preaching and prophesying at a similar moment in history, at the end of the “good times.” Micah was one of the 12 Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible and he was in the southern kingdom of Judah where King Hezekiah had introduced a number of religious and economic reforms. The society had transitioned from a bartering, or trade-based economy, to a monetary-based economy. Much of the nation’s wealth was invested in land, leading to the growth of vast estates and the collapse of small holdings.
Within this economic crisis that his country was experiencing and being a prophet as he was more of the village square than of the temple, Micah is moved to ask the question: What does God require of us?
Historically, the Hebrew people believed God required ritual sacrifices, burnt offerings of animals in order to be in right relationship with God. But Micah says no to all of this. He famously declares that all God requires of us is, “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
What does God require of us? Here in these pews, here in this community, here in this nation, and here in this world?
To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
I am going to ask you to repeat this with me now because it is a known and proven fact that repetition has a powerful impact on our ability to remember and I want all of us to remember what God requires of us:
To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
I. To do justice.
The words associated with justice in the Bible are widows, the fatherless, orphans, the poor and hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed. All of these - the widow, the fatherless, the orphan, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed are here among us and they cry out for our response. These are the people God requires us to care about, to advocate for, to minister to, to heal.
II. Love kindness.
Love kindness breeds compassion, apathy, gentleness, and benevolence. In the early chapter of Luke’s Gospel that we heard this morning the crowds are asking John the Baptist, “What must we do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus Christ?”
John responds, ““Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
You may recognize these words as they are those that are typically read at the beginning of Advent, when we are preparing ourselves to receive the tiny baby Jesus born amidst hay and livestock in the manger – well let them be ours to hear this morning, to prepare our hearts each and every moment of each and every day to receive Christ - Emmanuel – God with us.
III. To walk humbly with our God.
To walk, not run, slowly and deliberately, with our God. Humbly – realizing that it’s not about us - we will do so today as we walk the streets of Brockton with our youth for our neighbors in need. We will walk with friends and strangers, widows, the fatherless, orphans, the poor and hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak, and the oppressed.
And, by the grace of God, we will do so humbly, realizing that it’s not about us.
The concept of turning-around has been an ongoing theme of the life of this congregation long before God called me here with you. This has been the deepest hope and desire of the faithful souls here in this congregation. And, if you really think about what that would look like, if we all, each one of us, were literally to turn around right now – we would be turning out, into the community, into the world.
If the miracle of turnaround is to happen here in our midst, it will be because we have done what God requires of us. We will have turned out, humbled ourselves to look beyond our own needs to see, listen, and serve others.
Today, this congregation celebrates the confluence of three opportunities to turnaround and out and to do what God requires of us: we have the mission brunch following worship to raise money for various service organizations in the area, our youth as well as some of our adults will be participating in the South Shore CROP Walk to raise money and awareness for hunger relief,
and today marks the first day of our annual ISS Turkey Drive to provide a turkey dinner for the holiday to families within our community that otherwise could not afford one. Turning around, turning out. Justice love kindness humility.
This is how Jesus will measure our turnaround. Daunting, perhaps? But rest assured that we are not alone on the journey to do as God requires of us.
Jesus sat next to Erica and her stack of homemade Valentine’s Day cards at that table the night we met and he walked with her as we parted ways into the cold winter night. Just as he sits next to Iris and her empty wire cart each morning on bus 19 and walks with her across the parking lot of the Twelfth Baptist Church as she finds her place in line.
And he sits with us, too, here in this place and walks beside each one of us as we go from this place seeking to turn around and out – to see, listen and serve our neighbors in need.
 Story premise from the Boston Globe, July 17, 2011 “Life on the Line: At large on a network of need”
 Boston Globe, July 17, 2011 “Life on the Line: At large on a network of need”
 Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. ERR-125, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv. September 2011. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/err125/
 Harper Collins Study Bible, Student Edition, NRSV, general editor Harold W. Attridge HarperCollins Publishers: San Francisco, CA 2006 (1238-1239)
October 2, 2011
Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
“I’ll get some rest tomorrow. I’ll read that book that’s been collecting dust on my shelf and visit my mother and get the tires rotated on the car and make that dentist appointment that I’ve been putting off and get the dog groomed and unpack those boxes from our move this past winter. Well, ok, maybe not tomorrow, but I’ll do it all next week, when life calms down a bit.”
This is my mantra most days, most weeks and my tomorrows indeed become the busiest day of the week, as the Spanish Proverb goes.
"Never put off till tomorrow," insisted Lord Chesterfield in 1749, "what you can do today."
Well, isn’t that nice. I’ve always admired those people who live into this declaration by the wise Earl. Those who know three languages, whose dogs smell like roses, and not only make lists but actually cross them off in a timely manner. Believe it or not, such people do exist. In fact, just last month a good friend delivered homemade pastries to my office, those that she had made in a pastry making class with her husband. They also took sailing lessons on the Charles last summer and just finished canning fresh tomatoes from their garden in anticipation of the winter. Though I’m always the first to give her a hard time about her intense hobby schedule, she takes the time to do all those things that I cast away into the endless pit of my tomorrows while I am far too busy running to wherever it is I’m going.
The first pet I ever had was a guinea pig. I named her Carmelita, which I thought was just the cleverest of names because her coat was the color of caramel. It wasn’t too long after that my brother expressed his eternal desire for a guinea pig. So, we went to the pet store and Tom picked out another female Guinea Pig. He named her Roxanne. Little did we - or the pet store clerk know - that Roxanne was actually Rocky…and it wasn’t too long before our 2 guinea pigs had turned into 8.
Though I can’t say the same for my parents, my brother and I adored all 8 of these rodents…and the 6 more that were to follow… we would watch them for hours interact with one another and take turns running on the beloved exercise wheel in their cage. They would run and run and run on that wheel with incredible zeal without ever getting anywhere.
This morning, in his letter to the Philippians we find the Apostle Paul’s description of his run on a similar wheel as the guinea pigs and me. Granted Paul’s version is a bit more convoluted – or should I say craftier - than mine. For, this is Paul at Paul’s finest, at his most rhetorical. This is a tough passage to dissect. I like stories and this is not a story, this is rhetoric, pure unadulterated rhetoric. This is Paul arguing with a group of people in Philippi who assume that they have absolute knowledge of Christ; they claim they have it all figured out.
Paul is telling them, “Hey, listen to me because I used to be like you. I thought I had it all figured out.” Paul had been running and running and running throughout the early years of his life. He was following all the rules, he was living by the Torah, and he had status and wealth as a Pharisee. He persecuted followers of Jesus, those whose beliefs ran against his own. He lived a cushy, comfortable life. He was running and running and running. And, it was easy and it was good.
But, we recall that story from the book of Acts of that one day when Paul – then Saul - was travelling on the road to Damascus going to arrest some early Christians and he hears Jesus calling out his name, “Saul, Saul,” Jesus jams the spokes of Paul’s wheel and he is forced to stop running.
Paul writes this letter as he is in tension between the past and the future – between what came before the road to Damascus and what now comes after. All that he thought mattered in his life, all of those things that he thought would lead him toward the ultimate goal of favor with God – his status, his adherence to the law, his wealth, his profession – no longer mattered. Jesus had disturbed his run and Paul reflects to those self-righteous folks at Philippi about his encounter with Jesus, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” All the power and prestige and privilege and wealth loose their luster as Paul is forced to reevaluate the goal of his race. Just like all of those things upon which we base our confidence – the power, knowledge, money, success – all those things that propel our wheels are valueless in God’s sight.
The gospel disturbs Paul. The gospel complicates things for Paul. There are no longer clear rules to follow with Jesus. There are no laws. There is only freedom. There is no to-do list, no tasks to cross off once completed. There is no wheel to run on, but now there is an actual destination.
In this passage Paul is struggling to find the present, to live in the now in the face of new freedom with Jesus. Paul writes in Romans, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
The law of the Spirit sets you free. The law of love. It’s the love that jams up our wheels because love, true love, is freedom. And this is where the tricky part comes in because we are given choices and options in this relationship with God. I’ve recently been reading a wonderful little book called, Love Wins, by a pastor named Rob Bell. In it he writes that,
“For there to be love, there has to be the option, both now and then, to not love. To turn the other way. To reject the love extended. To say no. God has to respect our human freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itself.”
When I was a teenager struggling through 10th grade geometry so much so that I threatened to fail, my dad sat me down at the kitchen table and he drew a series of boxes on a piece of paper. There was one big box on the bottom of the page and then many smaller boxes toward the top. He explained, very pragmatically as he tends to do, “Leanne, life is a series of choices. You can choose to remain in the one big box on the bottom and only have two other boxes that you can move to from there or you can choose to move up to other boxes so that you have many other boxes to choose from. It’s best to put yourself in the position where you have the most options in life.”
I thought about this for a minute. “Why complicate things,” I replied, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay in the big box? After all, how will I know if the next box is any better than the one I’m already in?”
Well, as usual, this wasn’t exactly the response my father was hoping for and I could sense he was beginning to fear that at this rate I would never graduate from the 10th grade.
In many ways our faith is like the series of boxes drawn on that piece of paper. It’s easier to stay in the one, familiar, safe box. I sometimes think that’s why it’s so difficult for people to come to church because doing so, in a sense, requires us to look beyond our box and step off the wheel hopefully long enough to realize that we are busy running so hard and so fast that there is no room for God. But s the gospel makes its way into our hearts, it disturbs our race and we begin to see the real choices that we face. The choice to see the light in spite of the darkness,
to free ourselves of all of those things that we store up,
to forgive others as we have been forgiven,
to fed ourselves so that we can feed others,
to accept God’s love so that we can truly love ourselves.
I have a feeling that if Jesus had anything to say on the matter, he would offer similar words to those of dear Lord Chesterfield, that when it comes to the gospel, "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today."
 Bell, Robert H., Love Wins, Harper Collins: New York, NY (2011) 103-104