Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stay in Love with God

Psalm 105: 1-6, John 21: 15-19

I don't know how many of you remember the TV show "The West Wing", but it is one of my all time favorite shows. Toward the end of the run, as the show and the fictional administration was winding down, there was a plotline about how the President and the first lady, both strong, busy people, needed to make time for each other.

What they would do was this. Whenever the First Lady would have a break in her schedule, she would call down to the President's appointment secretary and see if there was any matching break in his schedule. If there was, she would claim the block of time. However, since it was thought to be unseemly to have "time with spouse" written into a document that would someday be kept at the Library of Congress or in a Presidential Library, they decided to call those times "barbeques".

Can you imagine being so busy that time with your spouse needs to be scheduled?

Why yes. Yes I can. And I bet that most of you can, too.

But it may be necessary, so that you can keep in your minds what it is that you love about each other, what it is that keeps you two together. Sometimes spontaneity is sacrificed, but it is a small sacrifice I think, when the reward is to reconnect, or to stay connected. This simple philosophy can also apply to time with family, with your kids, with all of the loved ones in your life, single or married or widowed.

It's a simple statement--if you want to stay together, be together. And work at being together.

As true as it is for all the earthly relationships that truly matter, it is also true for our relationship with God. If you want to stay together, in sync with God, then be with God.

The ancients knew this. The Essenes, a very strict Jewish sect, were separating themselves from the world by going into the wilderness during Jesus' time. The first people to go out into the desert in pursuit of God through Jesus Christ did so within two hundred years after Jesus. By the 5th century, people had begun to write "Rules" about how to live with each other, and the proper way to stay in love with God. They would schedule each part of the day very clearly, and said which scriptures were to be read, how long, and when. The day for early monks, even down through today, is structures completely around prayer. The chores, the cooking, the washing, the study, is all scattered in between times of prayer.

By John Wesley's time, many of the common practices of staying in love with God had fallen away from the habits of ordinary Christians, and he sought not to re-invent the wheel, but to rediscover the uses of the wheel, to rediscover the usefulness of the wheel everybody knew about, but no one was using.
The way Wesley saw it, there were five common essentials, and everyone could do most of them. Here's what they were:
1. daily prayer
2. daily scripture reading
3. regular participation in the life of a community, including worship, and especially including communion
4. acting in goodness or mercy;
5. Seeking to learn from others who are also in love with God and seek to follow Jesus.

This list is from Bishop Job, generated from his research into the thought of John Wesley. If you were to try to boil this down even further, I think my attempt would be to say this: pray, read the Bible, be around other Christians, and generally do the things that will teach you about grace and generosity.

Now, let's be clear--none of these things should be done for the purpose of showing to others that you're a Christian. We're not constructing a body of evidence of your Christianness with which to present to St. Peter at the pearly gates when you die. These things are the things that you do so you can grow in faith and understanding of the Lord's love of the world. They are like sit-ups, they are like a two mile walk. They are proven ways for you be able to grow strong in the Lord, ways that work for everyone. But they have to be shaped to the person you are.

When you pray, find the way that works for you. Some people prefer kneeling with hands in a steeple position. Others prefer letting their minds wander in the fields of the Lord while their hands are doing work like cutting wood or typing. I knew one guy who would only sit in this particular lounge chair when he wanted to pray. Find a way that works for you.

When you read the Bible, find a translation you can understand. If you do not have a Masters' degree in English, or the language and the poetry does not inspire you, then don't read the King James. If you just sit there and wonder what all those words mean, it's not doing you very much good at all. Get a Bible you can read, and read it. Don't have one? Let's talk, and we'll find one that works. Pick any book, anywhere in the Bible, and start. I'd advise you to start with a Gospel, and I'd also advise you to not start with Revelation. It's pretty freaky, and there is a lot of junk out there passing as proper interpretation of that particular book.

When you come to church, go to a church that feels good and makes sense. An old mentor of mine used to say that there are many churches you could go to (and this was in Dallas, TX, so there were MANY), i'm glad you all are here this morning. I'd agree with him. Nothing's worse than being in a church where you don't feel at home. You don't have to agree with the minister about everything, he or she sure isn't going to agree with everything you think. But does the congregation respect you? Do you respect them? Do they seem to practice what they preach, at least some of the time? Do they act like they are in love with God?
At the end of John, Jesus asks Peter do you love me? Peter, after all of his mistakes, denying Jesus, acting rashly in cutting off ears, and all the other mistakes he made, could still say, simply and with truth, Yes Lord. Jesus asked him three times. Not because he didn't believe Peter, but rather because Peter needed to believe Peter. After each time Peter answers yes, Jesus replies "feed my sheep". Not "take my word to Rome, and die there", not "defend my people against scoffers when my holy spirit comes in the temple", but "feed my sheep".

For those who are sincere about growing in faith and love, this is our command too. Take care of each other. Love each other. See the Christ in each other, and in everyone you meet. Don't hurt them. Help them, and do the things you need to do, schedule all the barbeques you need, to still be able to see the spark of God in everyone you meet.

In other words, Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God.

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