My sermon from March 29, 2015. Palm Sunday.
Monthly Archives: March 2015
Here’s my message from March 22, 2015. This message series was prompted by James Smith’s book “The Good and Beautiful Life.”
Until recently I considered the phrase “lesser of two evils” in a negative light. Faced with two options neither of which was good, the advice goes, take the option causing the least amount of negative consequences. But is that the only way to view this phrase? I think not.
Last year for Father’s Day my daughter and her family made the almost 1,700 mile trek to Illinois for the first time since her wedding. Although I love my daughter and like my son-in-law, I looked forward most to seeing my two grandchildren. Eight months earlier my wife and I visited them and I enjoyed the walks with my active grandson and holding my four month old granddaughter. I anticipated having fun with both of them.
That was not to be. My grandson came to me readily; even at times when I needed a break. Not so the little one. She took to her grandmother and to her auntie, but if I looked at her, she grabbed the closest leg and clung to it peeking occasionally to see if I still showed interest in her. Initially I thought her reluctance would wear off as she observed how friendly her brother was with me. Then I resigned myself to accept her reserve and wait for her to warm up to me.
The heat of June did nothing to thaw her winter. I stayed close and even though she, while securely held by her mother looked at me and let me approach, remained aloof. The activities of the visit didn’t help. Trips to Medieval Times, Great America (I did push the buggy, but she slept most of the time), Lincoln Park Zoo, and a White Sox game all proved diversions from any strategy I could concoct to entice her.
For me the highlight of the visit was Father’s Day. For the first time in seven years my entire family, including two in-laws and four grandchildren, came to church with me. What a privilege to preach to my family and share my spiritual journey with them. Following the service we went to my son’s house for a cookout. Steaks and Father’s Day do seem to go together.
When things settled down, the four children wanted to play outside. They’d been good all day but needed to work out their wiggles. I don’t recall how it was than just my son and I were in the yard supervising the children and my out-of-state granddaughter practiced climbing the miniature slide. It was a peaceful time. And then –
My son reached to pick my granddaughter up. In a panic she turned from him and lifted her hands to me. Finally I held her. Reassured her. Hugged her. How delightful those few moments until she, reassured my son wouldn’t approach, squirmed and I set her down. I laughed with my son over the incident and told him I was “the lesser of two evils” and glad of it.
It won’t be too long before a year will have passed. I’ve had time to reflect. I see parallels between my granddaughter’s behavior and my own. I am on a spiritual journey the goal of which is to know God more deeply. Yet time after time I try to navigate my way through this journey solo. Only after I have baffled myself and can’t figure what is next do I turn to God.
Why do I wait? In part it is because somewhere I adopted a view of God as the stern demanding disciplinarian. Why go to someone who will tell me I messed up? I already know that. But is that how God interacts with me?
Is he not more like me as a grandfather? I didn’t push myself on my granddaughter. I stayed close to be ready and available. When the little one turned to me my thought wasn’t about how long she’d stayed aloof. Rather it was pure delight that she’d finally come to me. I longed to show her the depth of my love and that I would protect her (she didn’t know her uncle intended no harm). Isn’t that what God is like? He stays close to us, longing for us to turn to him, available when we do, ready to pick us up and love on us.
Ultimately, I think, God accepts us even when we come to him as the lesser of two evils. I believe that God more than merely accepting us, longs for the day when we turn to him willingly, first and not as the lesser but as the Good.
We had a guest speaker at church on March 15, 2015. Hope you enjoy Margaret Helms, retired missionary, speak on her life experiences and God’s working in and through her. I know I did.
I attend my writers group to encourage other writers and to develop my skills. My intention is not to have my worldview challenged. But that is precisely what occurred recently. I confronted how neatly I compartmentalize my world, something I don’t particularly like.
I divide my world into “Us” and “Them.” I separate the people in my world into groups based on any number of criteria: politics (Republicans and Democrats), ideologies (Liberal and Conservative), economics (rich and poor), religion (Catholic and Protestant), and recently culturally (Muslim extremists and Western Culture). That which disconcerts me most about this tendency is that by dividing my world into Us and Them I convince myself We are right and They are wrong. We are good and They are bad. The worst part about this tendency is that it allows me to dehumanize Them and lump all of Them into one category.
Thus, dismissing them, I am free to continue as I am, comfortable in my superiority. I can not only avoid seeing myself and possible inconsistencies in my outlook but I also don’t have to engage Them because They aren’t worth the effort. Perhaps the most obvious example is the tragic world situation involving Muslim extremists. Because this group of Muslims commits egregious acts in the name if Islam, I have found it easy to lump all Muslims together as unworthy of consideration.
That was my perception until a few months ago when I moderated my local writers’ group meeting. In came Rania, a vivacious enchanting articulate Egyptian Muslin woman. She attended to improve her English writing.
I knew she was Muslim from her hijab head scarf. Instead of distancing myself from her I felt empathy. I, too, lived in a “foreign” country for four years. I struggled to communicate in a different language. I kn0w how much effort (and courage) it takes to immerse myself in another culture. Yet, Rania seems almost effortless in her interactions in our group. I admire how clearly Rania expresses herself not just verbally but also in writing. As a member of the writers group I willingly offer suggestions from my intuitive knowledge of English, but that is merely to tweak her communication.
That is not all. I have received from her as much, if not more, than what I’ve given. As Rania has shared her observations of my North American culture, I have seen with new appreciation some of the positive aspects of my culture even as I reexamine some ways I’m used to doing things.
She also shared her background and her life as a Muslim in America. At the writers group Rania recently shared a blog about the reaction to her hijab. Surprisingly I found common ground with her as she shared her rationale for wearing this traditional head scarf. I’ll let her speak for herself:
“In any relationship in our life, we usually go through different levels of feelings. First, you know someone then, you feel him in your life. Then, you like him. After that, you believe him. Finally, you love and trust him. I went through all these feelings with people in my life. I’m sure you did with someone in your life also. However, my husband is a normal person. He doesn’t have any super powers. He is a human just like me and you, but I still trust him because I know what his strengths and weaknesses are. He is amazing with road directions. If I go with him anywhere, I’ll never think about the way, because I trust him in navigating more than I trust myself. I myself usually get lost on my way to any new place, and sometime to old places too! I trust that he will take me safely to the right place.
“Now let’s use the same philosophy about God, who created me. I was nothing. He made me. He knows me more than I know myself. I felt my God. I knew my God. I believed him, I loved him, I trusted him, and I felt all his strengths. Through these steps, I learned more about my religion. I understood the reasons for how and why I worship God, by reading the Quran, the prophet’s words and some good books.”
Until reading this I never considered the possibility a Muslim could grow in their understanding of and trust in their God. This desire to love God more deeply and follow Him more fully is the heart of my spiritual journey. I long to develop this attitude and desire to help others develop deeper trust in God. Because Rania joined the writers group I can no longer combine all Muslims into the collective “Them”. Rania is a “You.”
My interaction with Rania shattered my monolithic perception of Muslims. I deeply appreciate her vulnerability and insights. I may not affirm the tenets of Islam; nor do I know how many other Muslims are like Rania but I cannot deny her kindred heart beating as mine.
For that I am grateful.
To read Rania’s blog go to mymindflowers.wordpress.com/category/life/
My sermon from March 8, 2015
My sermon from March 1, 2015