Crazy, true or a liar...

I had a most challenging moment in worship today: while re-framing what it means to be "born again" through the grace of God, it became clear to me that a number of people - I really wonder how many - don't believe that we can know and experience the peace of God in this life! Scholars are clear that many church people have been trained to believe that the kingdom of God is mostly about heaven - and I appreciate how this insight needs to be deepened and expanded. But I guess I am just too dense to get why and how so many can suggest that the peace and joy Jesus promises is a lie.

Maybe it is too harsh to call these reactions a lie, but as Bono has said: "either Jesus is totally crazy, telling the truth or a liar." So where does this harsh rejection come from? I can understand that many have not experienced this peace and joy deeply. I am clear that our wounds, addictions, fears and pains can keep us from trusting God's promise. And I have had my own experience with doubt. But to call it a lie? There are probably better explanations for why the promise of Jesus is considered to be a lie, but here's what I've come up with:

+ Many of us confuse our feelings with the truth. While our feelings are part of the truth - and can point us towards something important - too many times we don't understand the wisdom of our wounds and fail to listen to what they want to tell us. (More on that during next Sunday's message...)

+ Many more of us are unable or unwilling to trust that God really is God. I know that was the biggest hurdle for me: I wanted to believe that Christ's peace could be mine - that I could be within God's kingdom right now completely - but I hated giving up being in control of my life to do it. Call it what you want - and it is different for women than men - but somehow or another before God's peace can mature within us, we have to let God be God in our lives.

Nothing summarizes these two truths better than Niebuhr's "serenity prayer" that points to the unity of feelings, trust, letting go and putting our choices into perspective in pursuit of the peace of Christ's promises:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

The spirituality of letting go and trusting God is hard work - complicated work - and I know that one of the reasons I didn't do it for so long was because I wanted God's peace to be magic. I wanted it to be easier. I was confused between the free gift of grace and its costly consequences.
Living in the peace and joy of Christ's love - God's grace - is a constant commitment - and sometimes I was too lazy. It is a never ending choice of letting go of that which I cannot change or control, while fully attending to that which is in my power to change. It is giving up the illusion of perfection - in me or others - and embracing the blessings of the small moments.

For joy, in the way of Jesus, has nothing to do with my feelings: it comes from a deep trust that God is God always - and we are not. Some of my old AA buddies used to say that what trapped them was:

+ stinkin' thinkin - that is, always looking for the worst in others or themselves

+ feeling sorry for themselves instead of dealing with the hand they had been dealt in life

+ magical thinking - living in a fantasy world of miracles and illusions

+ refusing to give their lives over totally to God's trust

+ holding on to some unhealthy habits/behavior in secret

+ the geographic solution - going any place in creation without realizing that where ever you go, you still take yourself with you

+ classic insanity: doing the same old shit over and over again while expecting different results

Richard Rohr talks about 12 step spirituality as an authentically American expression of the counter cultural truths of the gospel: they give us practical steps for embracing and experiencing the promises of Jesus about peace and joy. I can't force anyone to trust that God really will bring us peace and inner joy. All I can do is point to what I have experienced and extend the invitation: no wonder St. Paul spoke of this a sacred foolishness. Eugene Peterson reminds me: ...there aren't many happy people in the Bible (that's because life is hard.) But there ARE people who are experiencing joy, peace and the meaning of Christ's suffering in their lives.

Life is brutal - often ugly and mostly unfair and painful - but the peace that passes all understand that Christ promises... is not a lie! We can get stuck - and stay stuck for many, many years - and that doesn't make the promises of Christ a lie either. No, it is clear that Jesus wasn't bullshitting us when he said: Come to me all ye who are tired and heavy laden and I will give you rest.

Peace - God's deep healing, life-changing, grace-filled peace - is not a lie.


SGF said…
Thank you for today's service and thank you for this afternoon as well. You are truly living in the kingdom, and for me, to day you were a healer! That is what we are called to do! You are a living example of what you preached today! JOY!
RJ said…
not a home run sermon today, to be sure, so we'll try again next week... with more clear illustrations. thanks for your encouragement, brother.
Anonymous said…
It's not that what is in scripture is a lie, it's that it's a mystery. I want the peace, I want the rest, but I have no idea how to attain it. Not a clue. I see people who have faith, who seem to live with joy, and I yearn for it, but I don't know the way.
Anonymous said…
What I took from your sermon was a perspective not ever heard or considered before. I grew up with the basic fundamental thinking of what it means to be "born again" and all that it entails. As I have grown older my knowledge of who God is and what that encompasses has grown.

Your messages challenge my concepts in a good way. They shake off the dust and cobwebs that have been there for quite a while an offer me something so refreshing I cannot even begin to express what it means to me.

Your words are spoken in truth. I recognize truth when I hear it. I recognize also someone who seeks after God and wants the best for his people.

God is faithful it didn't fall on deaf ears. You planted more seeds.
Watch and see what happens. Think I just might stick around to see this. It's going to be something!

Joy and peace are my constant companions even in my dark times. May Joy and Peace be yours.
RJ said…
Thank you both for your very helpful words... it seems that I have to take this whole thing deeper, yes? What a wonderful challenge - and I am grateful that you, too, want to be a part of how it unfolds.

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