Passing the Baton

At the end of Moses’ life, he passes the baton on to his chosen successor, Joshua, imparting his wisdom upon him in the laying on of hands.
Passing-the-BatonJoshua had some big sandals to fill, but he could go forward with the confidence that he had been chosen for the task and carried the spirit of the great prophet with him.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In our lifetimes we are both Joshua and Moses. Like Joshua, we will have many people come into our lives, deposit gems of wisdom and whispers of their spirits, then move on or pass on. While this is often very difficult for us, we draw strength from having known them and recognize that they live on in us and we have the ability to draw from their strength and wisdom.

Like Moses, we will one day come to the end of our lives and need to decide what that will look like. As I pondered this, I picked up one of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. Morrie Schwartz is dying of ALS, but does so with dignity, openness, honesty and humor. Mitch becomes his student, a student not simply of his death, but through that, a student of how to live. As Morrie said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

Mitch and Morrie talked about everything. When they got to the subject of death, Morrie said, “Let’s begin with this idea, everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did we would do things differently… To know you are going to die, and to be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can actually be more involved in your life while you’re living.”

He talks about a Buddhist meditation about death in which you imagine that a little bird is on your shoulder. When you wake up in the morning, you ask the little bird, “Will this be my last day, little bird?” This is meant to lead you to deeper questions: “Am I living the life I want to live?”  “Am I ready to die?” This type of meditation is meant to help us focus on what is really important.

My dad had a dear friend by the name of Tris Juergens who passed away a number of years ago. Upon his death-bed, Tris passed on these bits of wisdom. He told my dad that he had learned two things in life. One, it’s all about love. And, two, everything else is BS.

Perhaps we can learn to die early on in life, so that we can learn to live more fully. I think learning to die means accepting the fact that our death is inevitable and facing that without fear. It means remembering that each moment is precious. There is no time for anger, grudges or petty annoyances. Our time is better spent in awe of the beauty and blessings of the world, working for a better world, and living with love and compassion (even when running errands, cleaning the house and doing the necessary mundane tasks of living).

We will finally come to that place of dying and when we do, will be we ready to pass on the baton? Will we have lived the way we wanted to live? What wisdom will we have to pass on? Will we have left things unsaid that should have been said? Or things undone that could have been done? We will look back and see regrets, or will we look back and see how we loved wastefully and lived gracefully, positively and with joy? What legacy will we leave and how will be remembered?

Me? Well, as they say, I don’t plan on living life so as to arrive safely at my grave. I want to skid in sideways, shouting, “Holy cow! What a ride!”



The Joy Dilemma

We’ve all heard the quote from Philippians 4, where Paul says (my paraphrase): “Rejoice in God always… dismiss all anxiety, present your needs to God and let God’s peace descend upon your hearts.” He makes it sounds so simple, but here’s the dilemma, joy seems to be so perishable. There are any number of things in this world that effectively and efficiently take the edge off our joy. Work was the top of our list when we talked about this in worship yesterday, followed by taxes, relationships, obligation, expectation, health insurance, pain, fear, worry, guilt, other drivers… you name it. How frustrating that we can get a “joy on” and have reality crash it in 2.5 seconds.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In a daily email devotional I received from Richard Rohr last week, he talked about knowing reality by “affinity, by likeness, by an inner resonance.” He asserts that, “We see who we are everywhere else because we see through who we are at any one moment.” So if we are fearful, we will look for things that create more fear, if we are angry we will look for things that create more anger, but if we are compassionate or loving or merciful or joyful, we will look for, and receive, those things into our hearts and lives. We have to be aware of the lense color of the glasses we wear.

There are beautiful, divine moments around us all the time, but we don’t look for them. Rohr talks about “smiling at Tide boxes”. He said he was at Kmart one particularly emotionally trying day, when an ordinary moment was spontaneously filled with the divine. Suddenly he found himself happily standing idly in an aisle just looking at boxes of Tide. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but he was just smiling at the Tide boxes! Life was all utterly okay. He was okay and all was right with the world.

I will often (especially when out for a walk) bring myself out of my mind-wanderings and back to the present by conscious recognition of how wonderful the moment is. Just that moment. Without rehashing the past, or rehearsing the future. And for that moment, my mind and body are released to know peace and freedom.

Paul talks specifically about anxiety. He says, let it go. Present your needs to God and feel the peace that comes. I personally really dislike the cliché “let go and let God,” maybe because it sounds like we’re not taking responsibility, or that God will magically fix whatever is going on in our lives. However, the phrase does remind us that carrying all the stuff we carry doesn’t get us anywhere emotionally or spiritually. There is a reason we use the phrase “carrying our burdens”… the anxieties, worries, guilt, regret, grieve, brokenness, anger, fear, shame and so much more, are “heavy” on our bodies. All these things take their toll on our physical selves as well.

I know that sometimes the sorrow and struggles of this world are enormous. Just watching the news at night makes me feel almost blasphemous talking about joy. But, Catholic priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen, reminds us that the cup of life doesn’t just hold the tears of the world, but the joy as well. They exist side by side and it is often in our shared sorrow that we uncover that deep joy that goes beyond understanding and time to the “peace that passes all understanding.”

Let me close with part of a prayer by Ted Loder,

Help me to trust that
joy is a now hint
Of what throbs imperishably
At the heart of eternity




Rudder Found

The apostle Paul had quite a pedigree – circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, above reproach in following Jewish laws, so zealous that he adamantly persecuted the early Jesus movement. And then, in a flash of light, his life changed. Jesus “grabbed hold of [him]” (Phil. 3:12). He came to realize that everything he used to believe and practice paled in comparison to connection Jesus had with the Divine. And from that point on, Paul was “all in”. He would not only talk the talk, but walk the walk, no matter what happened. Lock him in prison, throw him overboard, beat him, ridicule him, run him out-of-town, and still he would keep going.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

To continue the metaphor from last week, Paul had found his true rudder, that which would guide him through the seas of life. And he would hold onto that rudder come hell or high water.

Most of us, on the other hand, probably prefer to keep Jesus at arm’s length. When I was a student, the pastor I was interning with looked at me one day as I was trying valiantly to get everything “right” and said, “Kaye, there is only one Jesus, and you ain’t him.” Whew. What a relief, I was off the hook. I thought that was great until this last week when I realized that I’d used this as an excuse to place Jesus up on a high shelf and out of reach – not my reach, his! Having Jesus grab hold of us is a terrifying concept.

To let Jesus grab hold of us means that we would probably be uncomfortable. We’d probably find our lives turned upside down and inside out. Jesus wasn’t some fluffy, feel good preacher (though he did talk a lot about love). Jesus challenged the social, economic and political structures of the day. Jesus challenged the righteous, higher-up-muckety-mucks of the Jewish religion. He encouraged personal change, but didn’t leave it at that. Personal change had to lead to social change.

Having Jesus as our rudder means that we would be stretched beyond our “paltry little selves.” In the words of Joan Chittester, “We must begin to ask ourselves what it takes to teem with the life of the universe, to move to the vibrations of the soul.” Having Jesus as our rudder demands our commitment to discovering the essence of life. To try again and again to find the path that is life-giving. To trust that every moment in life has something to teach us about what it means to live well. (Welcome to the Wisdom of the World, page 57-59)

Once upon a time there was a woman who sought out a famous spiritual master. She finally found him seated at the edge of the lake. Bowing low, she asked him to help her develop a deep connection to the Divine. He simply looked at her, handed her a sieve and told her to go fill it with water. Well, she walked into the lake and tried over and over again to fill the sieve with water, only to fail and return to him frustrated and confused. In answer to her struggle, the master took the sieve from her and tossed it into the water.

We can not just dip our sieve in and expect to be filled. We can’t keep Jesus on the shelf and expect to learn all that he has to teach. We have to be all in.



Without a Rudder

We had fun during children’s time yesterday. I put the kids in a make-believe boat propelled by an adult at each end. Then I gave them a cardboard rudder and explain that this is how we steer the boat. One little boy declared that we needed to go to the castle, so off we went! Then all of a sudden we lost our rudder and the wind picked up and the seas got stormy and we had no way to steer. The kids and I were tossed and twirled around until our boat broke apart. I tried to explain (though I’m not sure how successful I was) that God was like our rudder, keeping us going in the right direction.

(For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)

When Moses went up the mountain to convene with God and didn’t return for a very long time, the Hebrews must have felt like they’d lost their rudder. So, they found Aaron (the second in command) and demanded that he make them a God to lead them. Aaron, in his infinite wisdom (yes, you can read some sarcasm into that) fashions them a golden calf for them to worship. This seems to be a human tendency, to create rudders for our lives of things that are transitory and impermanent like people, jobs, daily routines and structure, or even material things.

I remember when we did visioning about the future at the last church I was at and we asked the people what they felt most identified the church, what was really important for the community, and the responses included “the red doors” and the “the steeple.” I’m not sure that’s any better than the golden calf!

On a more emotional and personal level, we make the people in our lives our rudders; our partners and parents, our kids and our friends. Now, I’m not in any way denying the importance of these people in our lives, the love we have for them, nor the ways that they help us through. But if they become the only rudder by which we guide our lives, then we probably come close to being co-dependent. And we have nothing to fall back on if we lose them.

I have seen people not be able to function for years, and some people for the rest of their lives, because the entirety of who they were was tied up in another who died or left them. I’ve seen people who die shortly after retirement because they had nothing else. David La Chapelle says we need to find the “invariant constant,” that which endures throughout all changes, that which is not impermanent or transitory. The only thing I know of that fits that bill is God.

The question perhaps becomes how do we develop a sustainable relationship with the Divine? We are so used to looking outside of ourselves for answers, for help from God, for direction, support, comfort, that we forget to cultivate our inner relationship with the Divine. Yet, that is precisely what the spiritual journey is about.  If we are able to cultivate a relationship with the Divine when the sun is shining, hopefully when those stormy days come, we will have an invariant constant to guide our little ships.

There is no specific formula for doing this, it is all about what works for you. Maybe it is prayer, meditation, study, worship, music, walking, God-conversations, or journaling. Whatever it is, it is important that we find time and ways to deepen our trust and knowing of the Divine.